Harry Houdini Biography And Information

Biography and information on Harry Houdini, the world's most loved escape artist here.

Harry Houdini was born Ehrich Weiss March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. During infancy, he and his parents relocated to the United States, settling in Appleton, Wisconsin. In later years, ashamed of his birthplace, Houdini claimed to have been born in Wisconsin.

Mayer Samuel Weiss, Houdini's father, served as Rabbi in the Appleton community. His mother, Cecilia Steiner Weiss, was a homemaker. Neither parent spoke English, though both were fluent in Yiddish, German and Hungarian. As a result, the family was poor and at the age of eight, young Houdini went to work to help pay the bills. He sold newspapers and shined shoes until age12, when he left home in an effort to help support his parents. For a year, Houdini traveled the countryside, earning an honest living and sending money home as often as he could.

At age 13, Houdini joined his parents in New York City, where they had moved to find a better way of life. Teenage Houdini continued to support the family, first as a messenger, and then as a garment cutter in a neighborhood sweat shop. In his spare time, the young boy began participating in athletics, winning awards in swimming and track and field competitions. He also began performing magic as a young teen, calling himself "Eric, the Great." While reading an autobiography about famous magician, Robert-Houdin, the young boy was so in awe, he changed his name to Houdini, in honor of his mentor.

His father passed away when Houdini was 18 years old. Destined to support his mother and continue learning his chosen trade, he stopped performing card tricks and took to using handcuffs in his act. His younger brother soon joined in the act and the duo became known as the Houdini Brothers, performing at amusement parks, nightclubs and city fairs.

In 1894, Houdini fell in love with singer and dancer, Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner (or "Bess," as she was known to friends and family.) After a two-week long courtship, 20-year old Houdini married Bess at Coney Island. Within a few months, she replaced Theo as a member of the magic act and the couple became known as "The Houdini's."

For the following 33 years, the happily married pair traveled the U.S., working circuses, private shows and parties. As he introduced his escape act to the public, Houdini became a legend, capable of freeing himself from handcuffs, straightjackets, jail cells, milk cans, coffins and his ever famous "Water Torture Cell." Backed by one of Vaudeville's most well-known agents, Martin Beck, Houdini was booked as one of the feature acts of vaudeville, making him a household name and international star.

At age 36, Houdini became the first person to fly a plane in Australia. A seasoned aviator, Houdini gave up flying after that, never again setting himself behind the controls of a plane. Instead, he threw himself into his act, releasing his newest escape trick, "Chinese Water Torture Cell" in 1913. Houdini was at the height of his career and as he traveled through Europe with his wife and their impressive act, when he received word that his mother had died. Shocked that no one in the family had told him of his mother's illness or impending death, Houdini separated himself from his brothers and worked even harder. Just five years later, he would make a 10,000 pound elephant disappear in New York City and he would grab headlines again.

In 1916, Houdini started a film career, starring in five silent films over the course of 7 years. His work would result in a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

In 1926, after hearing that Houdini could tolerate great amounts of pain, an athlete from a local University in Montreal, where Houdini had been performing, asked if he could punch the magician in the stomach to test his tolerance for pain. A few single blows caused the great escape artist's appendix to rupture. In pain, but unaware of the severity of his condition, Houdini performed several shows in Canada before heading to Detroit. After one final performance in Michigan, he collapsed and was rushed to a local hospital. Harry Houdini died October 31, 1926 of peritonitis.

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