Houdini’s Life and Afterlife

Posnanski_Houdini

I’m neither a Harry Houdini fan nor a scholar, but I’ve read several biographies on him over the past few decades (Kellock, Christopher, Silverman and Gresham come to mind, plus parts of Kalush/Sloman). And there are quite a few things I like about the particular approach Joe Posnanski, a sports writer by profession, has taken in this latest offer on the market. Let me tell you what and why in this brief review.

First, he’s trying hard not to rehash all the lore, but to tell the many myths about Houdini from the facts. For that, he sets himself on an enthusiastic journey to talk to a lot of knowledgeable magicians, both scholars and performers, some of them huge Houdini fanboys, others not so much.

So, secondly, we get to learn interesting insights and opinions from luminaries like Jim Steinmeyer, Mike Caveney, John Cox, David Copperfield, and others.

Third, the book is also, as the title promises, about the afterlife of Houdini. What makes him stand out still today? I found this an aspect worth spending time and thoughts on. However, it may appeal more to us magicians than to “normal” readers.

Fourth, Posnanski delivers a swift read and has a knack for catchy phrases and summaries that stick (like “Houdini never surrendered. That was what made him Houdini.” or “Death, ironically, gave Houdini a second life.”). He also has a great way of foreshadowing and leading you with hooks straight into the next chapter, which made me digest the entire book in only two sessions.

In terms of structure and dramatization, Posnanski decided to let us readers accompany him step by step on his quest. That’s why his attempts to contact Houdini expert Patrick Culliton (first futile, finally successful) are a recurrent theme and supposed to build some suspense. I agree with others that the book could have been done without this dramatization. And I found that Mr Culliton (whom I don’t know anything else about) comes across as a very strange and pitiable person. If this portrayal happens to be unfair and overdramatized, as claimed in the Genii Forum here and here, Mr Posnanski should be reprehended for that.

Apart from this quibble, which I cannot judge, I recommend this book for “Non-Houdinians” as a refreshing and enlightening addition to the bulk of “regular” Houdini biographies.


 

20th Anniversary of France’s Maison de la Magie

Blois

This comes a bit late, but I’m going to mention it anyhow because more people should know about it. Last year, the Magic Museum of Blois, France celebrated its 20th anniversary. Its full name reads “Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin Blois”, and it was established in appreciation of Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, commonly and affectionately known as “the father of modern magic” (which is at least partly true), in his hometown of Blois.

The museum does not only feature the life and art of Robert-Houdin; it covers magic’s rich history as well as automata and props. Harry Houdini, both Houdin’s epigone and nemesis, is portrayed here as well. Outside, every half hour a huge mechanical dragon with six heads makes his appearance at the museum’s windows. In addition, there are regular live performances of magicians plus special exhibitions inside. The next one will feature “Optical Fascinations”, starting on April 6th and running until September 22nd.

On occasion of the 20th anniversary, several magical “zero Euro” souvenir bills (the latest hoot for currency collectors) have been issued in 2018, one of them featuring Robert-Houdin in front of the Museum:

RH0

For more information on the Maison de la Magie (in English and French), click here.

Deutschsprachige Informationen gibt es hier.


 

Houdini befreien – in Köln

In Köln startete im letzten Jahr eine besonders originelle Variante der zunehmend beliebten “Escape Rooms”: eine Gerichtsverhandlung mit und über Harry Houdini, dem “Fesselsprenger”, um seine Ehre wiederherzustellen. Schließlich war er des Betrugs angeklagt worden, und zwar in Köln im Jahre 1902. Derzeit ruht das Geschäft aufgrund des Brandes mit tödlichem Ausgang in einem polnischen Escape Room, sagte mir einer der Betreiber kürzlich. Es soll aber ab Juni wieder geöffnet werden. Hoffentlich stets mit Freispruch, wie im historischen Vorbild!

HH1902


 

Houdini’s alive in New York

Recently, on the occasion of a business trip, I had a chance to revisit the tiny, but wonderful Houdini Museum of New York. It is located right within Roger Dreyer‘s Fantasma Magic store, hidden now at 213 West 35th Street, 4th floor. Roger is an avid collector and a super nice guy. He is also a great salesman, so beware: He may make you want magical…uumm…things from his many shelves and boxes!

On display are a sub trunk, an escape coffin, posters and handcuffs, the famous robot from one of Houdini’s movies, an original bust from his gravesite (on loan from the Society of American Magicians), and many other paraphernalia. Hard to escape their timeless magic!


 

Fooling Houdini etc.

Harry Houdini
Harry Houdini

Marketing question: If I ever happen to fool Joshua Jay, who fooled Simon Aronson, who fooled Dai Vernon, who fooled Harry Houdini – how can I use that in marketing?

Answer: I guess I would market myself as “The man who fooled J. Jay who fooled Aronson who fooled Vernon who fooled Houdini.” Would take a pretty long business card, though.


Addendum: I’ve been mulling over a shorter version: Were I not just another man then who incidentally fooled, umm, Houdini? Please advise.


Another Addendum added: If I ever manage to meet Daryl and fool him with a trick or two, I will start advertising myself as “the magicians’ magician’s magician”!


 

Zauberhafte Reiseziele: Las Vegas / New York / London

Las Vegas

Auch wenn die Mega-Magier Siegfried & Roy seit Roys schwerem Unfall nicht mehr auftreten und Lance Burton sowie The Amazing Johnathan ihre langjährigen Shows aufgeben mussten – es gibt in dieser verrückten Stadt immer noch genug gute Magie zu sehen, zum Beispiel hier:


NEW YORK

Hier sind einige gute Adressen für den nächsten zauberhaften Trip nach New York:


LONDON

Und damit auch die nächste Reise nach London zum magischen Ereignis gerät, dafür folgende Empfehlinks:


+++++ Warning +++++

This list is about nine (!) years old! I should really re-check all names and dates one day…