Arguably, the most famous entertainer of all time was a magician. Harry Houdini, who died some 80 years ago, is still a household name today. Try to name a contemporary of Houdini from an era that lacked televisions, video and DVDs. Perhaps today, only Charlie Chaplin can compare.
Born in Hungary :
Harry Houdini was born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary on March 24, 1874. Weiss became Houdini by naming himself after the famous French magician, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, the greatest conjuror of the nineteenth century. Weiss added an "i" to "Houdin" to imply "like Houdin." Weiss was probably unaware that the "Houdin" in "Robert-Houdin" was actually the family name of the magician's wife. Jean Eugene Robert had added his wife's name, "Houdin," to his.
Houdini was initially unsuccessful as a magician. Early on, he touted himself as the "King of Cards" and "King of Handcuffs." And along the way, he met Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner (Bess), who became his wife and a permanent part of the act.
While Houdini featured some escapes in his early act, another entertainer advised him to focus on escapes, which seemed better suited to Houdini's stage persona. When Houdini followed this advice, his career eventually flourished.
No Stopping :
Seemingly nothing could hold Houdini. He escaped from chains, jail cells, ropes, handcuffs, straitjackets, submerged packing boxes and more. He was legendary for accepting challenges, and in the process, gained an enormous amount of publicity. After his mother passed away, he often exposed fraudulent mediums and psychics and their methods. Spiritualism, a movement that encouraged communication with the dead, was popular during the era.
End of a Career:
Houdini died on Halloween, October 31, 1926 of peritonitis that resulted from a ruptured appendix. His condition was aggravated, if not caused, by blows to his mid-section from a college student who wanted to test Houdini's stated ability to withstand heavy hits, but who attacked before Houdini could properly prepare himself.
In death, spiritualists and mediums tried to reach Houdini who had established a secret code with his wife Bess Houdini. (After all, if anyone could communicate after death, it would be Houdini.) Seances were held for years after his death and are still being held today.