Who was Harry Houdini?
“Harry Houdini didn’t die in the Water Torture Cell. He didn’t have a mother fixation. And he wasn’t just a great showman. Eventually all legends get cluttered by apocryphal stories, and the legend of the greatest professional master of deception is no exception. Much of what has become his story is fabrication. Ironically, the real story is better.”
So begins THE SECRET LIFE OF HOUDINI, the result of William Kalush and Larry Sloman’s years-long journey to discover the man behind the magic. Exhaustively researched, and chock-full of new facts and details, THE SECRET LIFE OF HOUDINI gives readers an inside look at a complicated man who was much more than the world’s most famous escape artist.
Born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest on March 24, 1874, he emigrated to the U.S. and grew up in the small Wisconsin town of Appleton. As a child, Houdini was fascinated with all types of locks and fasteners and hardware, practicing at home by opening the drawers, closets and pantries of his house at will, using a small buttonhook. He became notorious in Appleton as the boy who unlocked all the doors to the shops on College Avenue one night.
Ehrich became enthralled with magic after seeing an English magician doing a decapitation effect. His childhood was scarred by extreme poverty after his father lost his job as Appleton’s first rabbi. Moving to Milwaukee, and then New York, Ehrich was charged by his frail, elderly father with the responsibility of caring for his mother and siblings in the event of his father’s demise.
While working in a necktie factory, he teamed up with a fellow worker and began doing a two-man magic act known as The Brothers Houdini. Ehrich had adopted the name Houdini in tribute to his hero, the French magician Robert-Houdin.
After his father’s death in 1892, Harry Houdini began touring as a magician. With his new wife Bess now added to the act, the Houdinis began their long struggle for supremacy in the field of magic.