Houdini: Life, Death and the Rest
A lecture by Stuart Harley
South Downs Magicians Club
6th September 2006
Reviewed by Giles Cartwright
Stuart has for a long time been an admirer of Houdini and performs a ‘Houdini
Tribute Act’ for an ‘Olde Tyme Music Hall’. His respect and passion for Houdini
was immediately evident; he has a professional, high quality set with
photographs and posters of Houdini all around. Stuart brought his personal
collection of memorabilia: from books, comics and postcards to old handcuffs and
Houdini action figures. He also had a large projection screen playing a
compilation of highlights from Houdini’s career.
In an extremely detailed and well researched lecture we had a multimedia presentation which included movie and audio clips of Houdini, pictures and visual aides, quotes, facts and background information all interspersed with videos of Stuart’s own performances.
Stuart first talked about the impact Houdini has had on subsequent generations; the many films and songs about his life he has inspired and all the memorabilia and merchandise which have followed.
The lecture chronicled (the then) ‘Ehrich Weiss’s’ early years; his move from Hungary to America, his first jobs and his growing fascination with magic. Stuart charted the formative stages of Houdini’s career; via the circus and vaudeville, and described how his transition from ‘Magic’ to ‘Escapology’ took place.
Stuart talked about Houdini’s renowned use of ‘publicity stunts’, and illustrated this with examples, including the ‘Mirror Cuffs’ story. He described many of the effects that Houdini either invented or uniquely improved upon through the years: The ‘Milk Can Escape’, the ‘Water Torture Cell’, the Disappearing Elephant’ and ‘Buried Alive’, amongst others.
He then talked about Houdini’s interest in Spiritualism and his foray into ‘Motion Pictures’ before sensitively dispelling some of the myths surrounding Houdini’s death.
It was an excellent lecture; beautifully presented, informative and interesting. Throughout the evening Stuart answered questions knowledgeably and with obvious enthusiasm.
It was a rare opportunity to delve a little deeper into our history; to remember and honour the most famous magician who has ever lived and to learn more about one of the true legends of our Art.
© Giles Cartwright, September 2006