Harry Houdini: 144 years after his death

July 3, 1878, New York. Like thousands and thousands of immigrants in search of a better life in the so-called New World, rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss and his wife, Cecilia Steiner, two Hungarians of humble origins from Budapest, disembark from an old, battered ship, the SS Fresia, to set foot, for the very first time, in North America, the land that will become his new home forever. With Cecilia pregnant, the marriage already has five children when it arrives in the US. The medium amongst them, Erik, will pass to posterity as one of the greatest show masters of all time. The immigration official wrote down his name as Ehrich Weiss, although his friends and acquaintances soon renamed him Harry. The artistic surname which would make him immortal, the Houdini legend, won’t arise until later…

Only a few know today that Houdini, precisely, was the Hungarian’s small tribute to Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, a renowned French magician of the time. The young Erik (Harry, from now on) started as a trapeze artist with only six years, and soon discovered his talent for magic and illusionism, which were very fashionable at that time. His beginnings were quite conventional, though, and especially based on card tricks. However, world fame would not come as a Master of Cards, but thanks to a new form of show that he himself would contribute to disseminate and perfect: escapism. Escape from danger; flee from the impossible. Something that until then was just a cheap resource of shoddy spiritualists would become a real mass phenomenon thanks to the talent of Harry Houdini. In 1899, and after leaving the manager Martin Beck bewildered and open-mouthed, the name of Houdini began to head the main posters of vaudevilles and theaters throughout the USA. Shortly after, an European tour would consolidate him as a world star and king of kings on stage. His legacy is such that today this fake name is synonymous with elusive virtuosity and the ability to survive in extreme situations.

Today we celebrate the 144th anniversary of his birth, March 24, 1874. Beyond his great performances and innumerable unforgettable acts we should remember, however, the true essence of the master: his staging, his connection with the public, the essence of the sense of the show. All those attributes any magician wishes. Houdini in pure state!