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Profile of fengenroll
Hi, I have always had an interest in magic, still I have been on and off the last 10 years, but one thing I always have been wondering: When you talk to people who know nothing of magic, they all have heard about Houdini and of cause Copperfield.

I was just wondering why Houdini did that was different from other greats in that time period?
People still know about him even though he performed like 90 - 100 years ago...
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Profile of irossall
You can sum it up with two words, "self promotion".
Houdini was the king of advertising and he knew how to work an audience (two key ingredients for sucess).
Much of Houdini's career consisted of challenging the public and especially police departments and locksmiths to secure him in locks, ropes, chains etc... and he would always escape (most always, his failures evaded the press). All of this can be summed up with one word "Showmanship".
Houdini would get the audience to join in by telling everyone to hold their breath the minute he had to hold his, I don't think many were able to keep up with Houdini, especially when many times he was not holding his breath as the audience believed.
I think that most people today if asked what did Houdini do, would say he escaped from locks and chains but few (other than those into Magic) would say he did Magic (cards, silks etc...).
Just my personal opinion, I am sure someone will have much more to say on this subject.
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P.S. It was 78 years since the passing of the Great Houdini.
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I agree fully with Irossall. He was a master promoter, etc.

He was also one of the first escape artists to get into the public EYE. For that he is remembered.
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Profile of Brent McLeod
Irossall-sums it up very well-so well said!!

I still have more books on Houdini than any other!

His self promotion & showmanship as mentioned was so clever

Also keeping in the public eye-with no TV etc-His live straight jacket escapes & underwater escapes in boxes etc as well as challenging Authority in Jail escapes especially in Europe in the early part of last century he was a champion of the people-he was rejected by American agents until his fame in Europe was so big!!

So what does he do!!-Creates a new escape-Milk can with Water-incredible tense atmosphere in the theatre

Then the Chinese water torture cell-where he is visible for a few moments upside down in the water-again tense atmosphere!

He needs to perform magic as well-so he makes an elephant disappear in New York

I think this combined with a warp humour of people seeing a man struggle & possibly fail & die on stage combined with my opinion of -

"He had big Kahunas"!!!!!!-to even attempt what he did-earns my respect

What an Entertainer
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Profile of London
Houdini was a great at self promotion. But Houdini is different than others in the fact he was brilliant , work harder than most etc. But Houdini was not completely mentally stable. Not that tht is a bad thing because it helped him greatly. He was not driven by hopes of money and winning contest etc. He was driven by passion and obsession which are very very strong forces. Some one like him only come along every so many years or decades . Not just in magic but in many fields especially the entertainment industry. It was really an escape for Houdini , not just from jackets and wet sheets and coffins etc but a real escape into a world of his own, where he wanted to be and not in this world. Just my useless opinion.

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Profile of donsmagic
Bess Houdini and Edward Saint helped keep the Houdini legend alive and growing. Also the movie Houdini starring Tony Curtis helped too. I still get people that tell me that Houdini died in the Water Torture Cell.
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Profile of daffydoug
Funniest pictures, in my mind, are stories about how Houdini would have the audience holding their breath while he was in the water tank, but in reality, he was back stage sitting down reading the newspaper having escaped long ago, and was just waiting for the proper moment to end the effect. He stretched that out as loooong as he could. Gave the audience their money's worth!

That was the master!
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Profile of JoeJoe
I've said it before and I'll say it again ... history is written by the newspapers. The one thing Houdini did so well was get in the newspaper. As others have pointed out, he would challenge jails and invite his audience to bring their own handcuffs. All of this attracted the media, who in turn wrote the history books. Many magicians of the time have attested that others such as Carter the Great were much better magicians ... they just didn't get the same press.

His biggest achomplishment was the straight jacket escape. The straight jacket was designed to be escape-proff, marketed as escape-proff, and sold as escape-proff. They are rarely used today, mainly because Houdini figured out how to escape from one. To give you some idea of how big this was at the time, it would be like the public learning that it is possible that two people would have the exact same fingerprint.

That achomplishment drew him a lot of press, as he would roll into Main Street USA and be hung upside down from the general store and perform his impossible escape - todays audience see a straight jacket, they automatically assume the person can get out. That was not the case in Houdini's day. He did what everyone knew could not be done, and in turn they all wanted to see him do it. Here is a link to an article from 1916 where 20,000 people gathered to watch him:

One thing I have learned from studying Houdini was how he made things seem more impossible then they really were - like hanging upside down while doing the escape. He had learned that in order to escape from a jacket, he would need to be hanging upside down. But he never revealed that, he instead used it to make the feat even more impossible.

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Evidently, the guy was also a master of timing. I've read a number of first hand reports & correspondence, and he had his audience utterly on pins and needles -- staring at a blank curtain!! -- for 45 minutes or so. And just at the point when some men would express impatience and some women would be almost hysterical -- Houdini would walk through the curtains, dripping wet.

Some have said that modern, impatient (MTV?) audiences wouldn't hold still for it. I'm of the opinion that such a forceful personality could manage it, even today.

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Joe Joe-

Thanks for sharing !!

A brilliant newspaperarticle-you are so right!

Every detail recorded & photos & huge crowds-WOW!!

The Legend continues to grow!!!!
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Profile of irishguy
I was just wondering why Houdini did that was different from other greats in that time period?

Houdini was considered great simply because Houdini considered himself great...and would tell anyone who was within earshot.

He wasn't the most talented of magicians. His card skills were mediocre. But that guy could sell himself like no one else. He had drive.
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Profile of saranacbo
Yes, Houdini was indeed a brilliant promoter. From what I've read he had advance men go into towns before his show and be sure to jazz up the place with posters and probably newspaper promos too (can't remember exactly).

Moreover, he was an incredible showman. When he first did the straight jacket escape, he did it behind a curtain. But then when he came out a few minutes later, the audience wasn't really impressed because they figured someone helped him or it was somehow or other rigged.

After that, he'd struggle on stage, seemingly forever. That really jacked up the audience; made them a part of his struggle.

Interestingly, I knew three people who saw Houdini in person. One was my mother; the other was the man who taught me magic, and the third was an older gentleman I worked with. My mother and the man who taught me magic saw in in NYC, on stage. Just remembered him struggling endlessly.

The other man was German and saw Houdini in a small hotel in Germany in the early or mid-1920's, I think. He thought someone in the hotel's management knew Houdini personally and that's why he was there, because the venue was so small. He didn't remember anything specific. . . except of course how great he was.

A really weird note: An old guy in my town, originally from NYC, and pretty much a B.S. artist, while passing himself off as a man of the world, cornered me (this may be 20 years ago or so). He knew I did magic and proceeded to tell me the story of Houdini and the packing crate escape from one of the rivers in NYC.

In the movie, it had the packing crate crash through the ice and Houdini escape, only to be trapped under the ice and blah blah blah. He in fact had done a packing crate escape in that river, but the river was not frozen over (obviously, he knew more than to take that chance).

Anyhow, this guy told me he was a young fellow at the time, but he was there and saw Houdini go through the ice and all.

Of course he also claime to be Admiral Byrd's personal secretary as well.
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Profile of FLIM-FLAM
Harry Houdini = "Master of Promotion" & "Master Showman"
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Fengenroll asked: "I was just wondering what Houdini did that was different from other greats in that time period?" In my opinion it was because he was a master promoter and showman and he knew how to draw a crowd. Houdini didn't really do anything different, he did them more often and very well.

Take care and take cards
Antony Gerard

PS: It is common knowledge that Houdini was into avaition but it is not common knowledge that Houdini was an aviation pioneer. In fact Houdini was once quoted as saying “The magic of flight was a glorious thrill and that people may forget Houdini the great magician and escape artist but they will forever remember Houdini the aviation pioneer”.
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Speaking of aviation, as I understand it, Houdini was the first person to pilot an aircraft solo over Australia. And it is true that we remember the first & greatest showmen in their given genre - P.T. Barnum, John Philip Souza, Elvis Presley, the infintum. They each captured the imagination and admiration of the common man in a way no one had to that point.
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Antony Gerard
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Hi Skip Way

Skip Way said: "Speaking of aviation, as I understand it, Houdini was the first person to pilot an aircraft solo over Australia." The above statement is only part true. Though Houdini was an aviation pioneer and was the first to successfully take off and land a plane in Australia, he was not the first to pilot a plane over Australia. The catch word that Houdini used is "successfully". He successfully piloted a plane over Australia. Actually, there were already pilots in Australia before Houdini ever set foot on the continent, but they didn't successfully pilot their planes. They crashed or had to abort the flights.

The two paragraphs below are taken out of "The Funny Side Of Magic"

"It is common knowledge that Houdini was a pilot but is not common knowledge that Houdini was an aviation pioneer. In many of his advertisements Houdini claimed to be the first person to successfully fly an airplane in Australia. The statement is true, however, there is a catch. There was a flight school in Australia before Houdini ever set foot on the continent. The problem was the fact that the Australian pilots could not successfully take off and land their planes, hence they crash landed. When Houdini appeared on the scene with his new Voisin biplane that he had purchased in Germany for $5000.00 he succeeded in doing what the other pilots had not. He successfully took off and landed his plane at Digger’s Rest in Victoria Australia. A feat that he was very proud of.

After the flight Houdini said “The magic of flight was a glorious thrill and that people may forget Houdini the great magician and escape artist but they will forever remember Houdini the aviation pioneer”. I find it interesting that Houdini taught himself to drive so he could get to the airstrip where he was teaching himself to fly but for reasons never divulged, after the Australian tour he would never personally fly or drive an airplane or automobile again."

Take care and take cards
Antony Gerard

PS: Another bit of Houdini trivia is the fact that Houdini was the first person to use a robot as a character in a movie. That would mean that R2D2 and C3P0 are somewhat Houdini inspired characters. Just a thought.
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Profile of God-glorified
He was the first
HE was teh best
case closed for me
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Basiclly he invented it all, or brought it to the fore.

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Profile of mark2004
On 2005-06-17 17:27, FLIM-FLAM wrote:
Harry Houdini = "Master of Promotion" & "Master Showman"

I agree that Houdini was a master showman and a brilliant promoter, but his success was also down to technical skills and knowledge. He may not (as another posted suggested) have been particularly good at manipulation or certain other magic skills but he made sure he was good at the areas in which he decided to make his name. He put a lot of time an effort into the techical details of his stunts so that he could make them look dangerous while minimising the real dangers. He worked to make himself an expert in locks and other equipment and he studied and prepared for his stunts. That is a side of his success that we should be careful to remember because there have been too many would-be escape artists who have come to grief through over confidence.
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Houdini was NOT the first to make a successful flight. His mechanic took the plane up before him to check it out and see if everything was OK. The Kangaroo leather flight jacket he wore for that flight used to be on display at the Magic Cellar in San Francisco, but was stolen when the club closed.
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