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fireperformer911
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What is your thoughts on the book The Making of American's First Superhero? First do you think Houdini was a agent? I have never read any where else that the strain of challenge escapes was so great on Houdini.

Thanks
Harley Newman
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BS.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain

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fireperformer911
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BS on both accounts?
Harley Newman
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America's first superhero was George Washington. The second, arguably, was PT Barnum. Third, Dan Rice. Edwin Booth and Buffalo Bill should be in the mix. Sarah Bernhardt also, though most of her work was in Europe, and she was French. Houdini came along, after all of them.

If Houdini was an agent, he would've crowed about it. He crowed about everything that would gain him positive publicity. He did however, keep his mouth shut about how he stole other people's material, and attacked them, physically in some cases.

Nothing in any of the competent biographies suggests that he did anything professional, for any motive except self-publicity. Most of the bios either continue to spread his publicity, or serve the interests of the biographer.

The Brandon book, for example, is in service of Freudian psych. She states "truths" about H that suggest a complete misunderstanding of how he worked (like, he had a "death wish"). While her writing is interesting to read, I suggest that she has very limited understanding of stunt performance.

In all fairness, it's not a one-way street. If you put most magicians in a therapy room, they wouldn't understand how to do that either. I know a lot of magicians and therapists. Few would have a clue about stunt work. Houdini did a lot of stunt work. It requires a very different attitude.

The definitive bio is Kenneth Silverman's. His research was painstaking and thorough. His book's a great read.

The secondary work is Willam Rausch's "Houdini Code Mystery". I think of it as the secondary book, not because it bios H completely, but because it approaches the man's character through the opinions of his friends and competitors. It details specific incidents about what a jerk the man was, details that don't make it into the books that merely restate and reglorify the myths H spread about himself.

But Houdini as a secret agent? I bet it's sold quite a few books.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain

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Harley Newman
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I also recognize that a lot of people will disagree with me. To each his own.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain

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Kevin Connolly
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I do! Smile
Please visit my website.
www.houdinihimself.com

Always looking buy or trade for original Houdini, Hardeen and escape artist items. I'm interested in books, pitchbooks and ephemera. Email [email]hhoudini@optonline.net[/email]
fireperformer911
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I would have to agree with Harley about that Houdini was never a special agent. But am curious kevin how many chance you really think Houdini took with his handcuff challenge escapes. I believe he took no real chances on larger challenge escapes since he had the apparatus in his possession over night from what I have read.
Kevin Connolly
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Try being challenged for 10-15 years and I know you would think differently. Escaping from cuffs, straight-jackets, wet sheets, dead animals, etc. or whatever else, it was a challenge.

Just to go under water with the simplest of restraints adds a higher degree of risk. Add more cuffs, filthy/cold water condition, Houdini's age and the risk factor moves up very quickly.
Please visit my website.
www.houdinihimself.com

Always looking buy or trade for original Houdini, Hardeen and escape artist items. I'm interested in books, pitchbooks and ephemera. Email [email]hhoudini@optonline.net[/email]
Stuart Burrell
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Whilst I can offer no data on the agent story, I found the discussion on the mirror cuff and the contributions from many members of the Café and leading EA's very insightful.
Kevin Connolly
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Mick Hanzlik is the go-to guy with Mirror Cuff info. And, he's a great person too. Smile
Please visit my website.
www.houdinihimself.com

Always looking buy or trade for original Houdini, Hardeen and escape artist items. I'm interested in books, pitchbooks and ephemera. Email [email]hhoudini@optonline.net[/email]
Stuart Burrell
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Thanks Kevin, I have had the pleasure of reading Mick's work in the Handcuff Annual, the book just added another part to the picture.

Also there is a great deal of background info on Houdini in the book.
1200handcuffs
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While I can't say that I agree with the premise of the book, I did find it very useful a few months ago. I read parts of it on the plane on my way to Italy to challenge Andrew Basso on his TV show. One of the cuffs for the challenge was Cannon's (Ian's) copy of the Mirror cuff. The information in the book was very useful for my patter in telling about the cuff before the challenge. So, for me the book was very useful.
Stan
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Paul Reardon
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Hello,

It has been a while since I read the book, but remembering what I can...

The authors convinced me that Houdini maintained friendships with members of various emerging (US) federal intelligence agencies. I hadn't really read that in any other biographies. Further, their research plausibly concludes that Houdini employed those contacts in the pursuit of bookings and publicity.
However, like Harley, I was not persuaded by the authors' work that Houdini would seek to serve security interests of the USA, or any interests much outside of his own.

With regards to the strain of the challenge escapes, of course, many of the "challenges" were actually orchestrated by Houdini himself! Local law enforcement, boiler makers, basket weavers, shipping companies, casket firms, etc., worked silently with Houdini to promote the challenges, thereby getting ad space themselves. That said, I believe Houdini was trying to cut down on the role challenge escapes played in his act. The "distillation" of his escape work was to become his Magnum Opus: the Water Torture Cell. A challenge, yes, but this time it was Houdini who challenged the audience: "Houdini offers this sum to anyone proving that it is possible to obtain air in the upside down position in which he releases himself from this water filled torture cell."

Like Kevin, I think it is likely that Houdini had a palpable fear of physically failing some random escape, or being "done in" by a rogue challenger with jammed cuffs. He spoke about the toll escapes had taken on his body; he gave up aviation and driving, too! Houdini was shifting his persona away from risk-taker to one of scholar, historian, criminalist, master magician, educator, spiritualist de-bunker, etc. Though he was taking measures to reduce the sources of physical strain, sadly, he couldn't escape the debilating strain of his own fear of being upstaged by those he viewed as usurpers to his legacy.

:stout: Paul
jay leslie
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I have a request.

Would an attorney (possibly someone who just passed the bar) be willing to make a demand under the "Freedom Of Information act" for any files?

Who knows, we might get lucky.

Jay (just thinkin) Leslie
Stuart Burrell
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I would like to second that request.
Doc Allgood
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I assume that you mean requesting material from the CIA under the FOIA. However, there are a few problems.

1. The documents must be "reasonably described." That means we can't just say "Give us everything on Houdini."

2. Section 552(b)(1)of the POIA prevents requests for records classified national defense or foreign policy materials. These are typically classified under an executive order.

3. Section 552(b)(3) exempts information specifically exempted from disclosure by another statute. The CIA charter provides that information concerning the sources and methods of intelligence collection must remain secret. Also, the CIA Information Act, 50 U.S.C. 431, exempts from the search, review, and disclosure provisions of the FOIA all operational records of the CIA.

Now, I haven't read the book, but I have read the statutes. If someone can "reasonably describe" the material they wished searched, I would be happy to put in the request. All they can say is "No". Then put me on a list. A list for asking too many questions. Then if I all of a sudden have a "heart attack," you guys will know what really happened. You can then file an FOIA request on the incident. Then get put on a list.
Harley Newman
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The CIA didn't exist for, what, 20+ years after H died? Operational records wouldn't be relevant, and all the other interested parties would probably be dead too. It would have to be some very interesting material, if they still wanted to keep it secret 80 years after his decease.

I have great difficulty imagining H being involved in such high-level foreign policy work. It's questionable that he would have had access to the right people to spy on. It's even more questionable whether he could have written coherent reports, without a ghostwriter.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain

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jay leslie
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Will someone please reasonably describe the material in 50 words or less?
Father Photius
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Well there were predecessors to the CIA such as the OSS, but I doubt Houdini was any form or "agent". As far as Superhero or even Super Star. It is generally accepted by entertainment historians that one Annie Oakley was considered the first "super star". But then , there is no official determination of that. Certainly he was one of the great publicist of his day.
"Now here's the man with the 25 cent hands, that two bit magician..."
Harley Newman
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At publicizing, maybe even the best of the age.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain

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