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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » All tied up! » » Houdini vs Scotland Yard a myth? (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

John Cox
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It was 113 years ago today on June 14, 1900 that Houdini won his career-making engament in London by escaping from handcuffs at Scotland Yard police headquarters. But did it really happen?

I've tackled the question on my blog:
http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2013/06/......-it.html
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Harley Newman
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Hmmm. Wasn't he was still learning how to do PR, at this stage of his career?
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain

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John Cox
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Quote:
On 2013-06-14 16:17, Harley Newman wrote:
Hmmm. Wasn't he was still learning how to do PR, at this stage of his career?

He was pretty expert by then. He had been doing handcuff and jail escapes in police stations from the mid 1890s as well as concocting all kinds of publicity stunts to get press. He really breaks out in 1899.
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Ian McColl
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Hi Jon, I wrote a letter to Scotland Yard, (circa 1980) In the letter I received they tell me that Houdini did in fact visit Black's museum and signed the visitors book. He didn’t do any type of escape.
John Cox
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Quote:
On 2013-06-14 20:01, Ian McColl wrote:
Hi Jon, I wrote a letter to Scotland Yard, (circa 1980) In the letter I received they tell me that Houdini did in fact visit Black's museum and signed the visitors book. He didn’t do any type of escape.

Hey Ian. Yes, I actually quoted that letter in my article. It was published in Norm's Escape Masters newsletter. Hope you don't mind me quoting it. What you uncovered is an important piece of the story. Also no record of him meeting with Melville.
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Ian McColl
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You have certainly done you research, excellent. Do we just love Harry, full of it and so good at spin he lives on.
Kevin Connolly
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And Houdini did it the best, before or since.
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]
John Cox
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Quote:
On 2013-06-14 23:35, Ian McColl wrote:
You have certainly done you research, excellent. Do we just love Harry, full of it and so good at spin he lives on.

Thank you, Ian. How awesome is it that 113 years after this event we are still puzzling over it via the most modern means of communication. Houdini lives indeed.
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Ian McColl
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I don't think Houdini would have been able to do it so easy in the modern era. (although our governments seem to still tell lies and get away with it)
I remember one escape enthusiast who noted that in a “live to video, all angles covered” footage shown on TV of an escape involving a parachute jump, that the colour and style of the EA’s socks changed. I bet that won’t be told in 113 years.
Kevin Connolly
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Maybe, maybe not. I do know that no other escape artist did as many escapes as Houdini. He more than likely did more escapes in one year than most EA's did in a lifetime. I think Houdini was on the cutting edge of technology of his day. If he was alive today, he probably would be using the very latest in tech to get to the top. Just with the advent of TV, Cable and the Internet, all would be great tools to get his name out there. If people can become rich and famous today without any talent, imagine what someone could do if that had a real talent.
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]
Harley Newman
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Kevin, we all know you're a Houdini fan, and that's fine. However, what you say in the above post is opinion and conjecture. You do NOT know that he did more escapes than anybody else.

He did more escapes in a year than most EAs do in a lifetime? Maybe, maybe not. Most of the people I know, who call themselves EAs, are part-timers/hobbyists, who don't even do a dozen shows a year. For them, it's certainly true.

As a vaudevillian with good bookings, let's assume an average of 4 shows a day, 6 days a week, 40 weeks a year, for 30 years. His shows were 20 minutes long, and I think he did two escapes per show, one small, one big. (His fillers were cards and the needle trick, with which he originated nothing.)

That multiplies to a yearly total of about 1,920, and a career of about 60,000. Yes, it's impressive. However, the world has changed quite a bit since H lived. We don't have vaudeville any more, so most EAs will never have the opportunity to equal the numbers. This makes comparison an apples and oranges thing. You may be technically correct, but it's not a fair comparison.

Since he featured Metamorphosis (which some of us see as an illusion) for most of those years, we might consider his actual escape numbers to be lower by as much as 1/3.

It makes me curious, though. I've done thousands of stage shows (with 2-3 escapes per show), and a lot of roving. In roving and practice, I've probably done 40,000 rope escapes. I never really thought about it before, but my grand total (at the moment) is probably around 50,000. And my career is not over. I wonder about other EAs. I'd guess that Dean Gunnerson, Steve Santini, and perhaps Michael Griffin would all have big numbers.

Part of the problem is, we don't hear about others, because H's PR eclipsed most of them, even up to the present day. Every EA who uses H's name in his/her PR places him/herself in a subservient position, continuing that legacy. H dedicated himself to making even the creative ones look like copycats, defining the art form so closely to himself, that many thousands of years of its practice are unknown to his hero-worshipers. The similarities of practice, for example, between Siberian and North American shamans, strongly suggest that the art form was well-defined before any of our ancestors migrated to North America. Looking at the range of those practices, we can reasonably recreate material that's 15,000 years old.

H would not have been able to do PR now, the way he did then. He often claimed things that did not happen. Anybody now, could check the internet and expose him.

On the cutting edge of technology? I don't understand this. How? He had a couple of patents for movie-related chemistry. Do you actually think that a guy who was borderline literate and spent most of his time on the road, could have figured those out? I'd bet there are parts of that tale that we'll never hear. Airplanes? He played with one a bit, and never took it farther. His performance was almost entirely based on other folks work (and we all stand on the shoulders of our forbears.)

Would he be as powerful a performer now? It's hard to say. With so much attention on mass-media, I wonder if he'd be able to pull it off. His attempted transition to movies was not successful, either financially or artistically. He'd be in the same boat as the rest of us, doing occasional media appearances according to the whims of show producers and agents. AGT would beg him to come on, every season. Maybe he'd be able to pull off a regular gig in one of the entertainment Meccas. Maybe not. Again, with the changes in the entertainment world, what worked doing 20 minute vaudeville sets would not work for a big show. And we know that his final big-show tour was not as successful as he wanted, either financially or artistically.

Was he talented? Certainly. He was a solid stunt man, and an absolutely brilliant publicist. Would he have been able to use those skills to compete with the Kardashians? Who knows?
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain

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John Cox
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I actually think if Houdini were around today, he wouldn't be an escape artist. He would be doing something completely new and completely modern. Heck, he might not even be in the field of magic. He was WAY ahead of his time in his own day, so there's not reason to think he wouldn't be WAY ahead of us now. What he would being doing we can't imagine, because he's not here to show us. But he would be famous for it. Smile
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Harley Newman
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John, your hero worship gets in the way of your objectivity as an historian.

His psych? He had a dark twist to him. Insecure, jealous, paranoid? Yes. Acting out the paranoia? Yup, that too, clearly evidenced by the number of performers he attacked verbally, legally, and physically. He invented an heroic persona for himself. Much of what supported that persona was a fraud, imaginary, so he was in effect, playing a one-ahead game with himself. At some point he would no longer be able to keep it up.

The historical era? He was very much a man of his time. Horatio Alger stories were not in the distant past. The actuality of American frontier experience had not yet bypassed the romanticism of it (nor has it today). It was a time when Everyman could be a success. The western world was in flux, migrating all over the place, with shifting politics and erosion of old social strata. But Victorian sensibilities shifted drastically with WW1 and the great influenza epidemic.

He was able to ride the waves of his times to great professional success, for most of his career. Ahead? Certainly not. His career was fading. He wasn't drawing the audiences he wanted, or having the ability to entertain them the way he once had. He'd reinvented himself a few times. Escape artist had worked. Magician didn't. He hadn't found another route to the sensationalism that made his success.

He wasn't able to adapt to the changes in the world around him. He looked backwards, trying to achieve success through routes that others had traveled. He'd patterned his PR on what he learned from the Davenports. But he was not them. Times had changed, and his PR didn't.

One thing that worked very much in his favor, was the way he died. With his death, Bess was able to work the system to her advantage with Ford's help. Otherwise, he'd have been on an historical shelf.

He was in a position not unlike Lincoln and Kennedy.

Had Lincoln lived, he'd have had to walk a very thin line to maintain the political success he developed with the Civil War. Reconstruction had great potential to rip his reputation apart. But he died. Some would say it was heroic. I reserve "heroic" to people who make a choice, which concerning his death, he didn't. He was still an amazing man.

Kennedy had potential to be a major screw-up as president. Death by assassination, along with the rise of television, made the tragedy a household event. So he became a hero.

Houdini's rep followed the same pattern.
“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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Harley,

Even if your post is very long, most of it is wrong. It's hard to believe the numbers you have posted. "Probably" doing 40,000 to 50,000 might be a stretch. Doing one a day would take anywhere between 110-130 years. Do it 5 or 10 tens a day, just divide.

If you don't know Houdini was interested in and using cutting edge technology, then you may want to read up on it. You can may be interested in his work with X-Rays or monkey testicle transplants into humans he was heavily involved with.

To pick apart the rest of your post would take some time, which I don't have.
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]
Harley Newman
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Kevin, you don't know my practice schedule, or much else about me. We have never met, except in these threads. You're getting judgmental, because we disagree about your hero. You can worship him all you want. I still think he was an overrated !@#$%^&.

You made a bunch of statements that you said were factual. They are opinion, not the same thing.

Unlike most of the sideshow and escape people I know, I do not need to brag. I say what I do, or practice understatement. At one time, I did 40-50 rope ties a day, for months on end. That adds up. I've done a couple of thousand saran wrap escapes, many more straitjackets, and a wide variety of others. 50,000 is not an unreasonable number, though I'm surprised to have figured it out.

Of course you don't have time. You don't have a leg to stand on.
“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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BTW, x-rays and monkey testicles made him cutting edge in technology? That's absurd. I guess I am, too, since I've had an MRI and an MRA, and CAT scans. At the time, that was state-of-the-art thinking and experimentation.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain

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Ian McColl
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I like the notion of what I want to believe is great about Houdini. To this day, I want to believe he is bigger than live and did some myterious and boarder line miracles. The logical side of me says he is just a man and the beat up and myth is bigger than the truth. It's like all mythology around events and indiviuals. One big name on the myth list comes to mind!!!!!. But no-one is alive to tell the real events the real truth and like Chinese whisper through the years ( and centuries ) it all get out of hand and people will blindly follow the dream of the legend, not the truth.

However, give me REAL truth any day and not mythology truth.
John Cox
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Quote:
On 2013-06-15 22:07, Harley Newman wrote:

He was able to ride the waves of his times to great professional success, for most of his career. Ahead? Certainly not. His career was fading. He wasn't drawing the audiences he wanted, or having the ability to entertain them the way he once had. He'd reinvented himself a few times. Escape artist had worked. Magician didn't. He hadn't found another route to the sensationalism that made his success.

Oh, don't forget about his anti-spiritualist crusade. That was his last great reinvention and a HUGE success. It made him a newsworthy sensation all over again. A case could be made that he was as popular as a "ghost-breaker" as he was as The Handcuff King. In fact, today Houdini is as known for this as for being an escape artist. And this was just in last 3 years of his life/career.
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Kondini
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On the numbers game I have just checked 1986 to 1989 period we worked escapes for Four Seasons Events and nightly cabaret with the Mike O Malley and Heals Management Agencies. Average of 940 per year. That to me was working hard. Ken.
Harley Newman
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I totally agree with you about the anti-spiritualist crusade, and if H were alive today, I hope he'd be carrying it on. It was a way for his combative personality to be an asset.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain

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