Dec 03, 11
Read from August 27 to September 14, 2011
"Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss" is a fascinating biography of America’s most famous magician and escape artist. The author, Ken Silverman, is a Professor Emeritus at the New York University and a 1985 Pulitzer Prize winner for biography.
In the past I read several other biographies beginning as a teenager with Harold Kellock’s "Houdini, His Life Story." However, none surpass Silverman’s in detail and depth of research. For example, other writers have recounted how Ehrich Weiss adopted the name Houdini from the French conjurer Robert-Houdin, but I don’t recall any telling how his first name, Harry, was selected. Silverman points out that Ehrich’s nickname was “Ehrie” that easily became anglicized as Harry.
While others have documented Houdini’s campaign to expose fraudulent mediums, in Silverman’s book it becomes a thread weaving through the book. He points out that the first escape artists were actually mediums who allowed themselves to be tied up and restrained to prove that they could not ring bells or be responsible for floating aberrations. Surprisingly, Silverman reveals that at the very beginning of his career, Houdini had performed a séance himself.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, spiritualism was quite popular, and many such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame were convinced that Houdini had psychic abilities. Houdini always said he worked by natural means and never claimed any supernatural powers.