Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The Heart of Houdini's Magic
It's right there in that poster, the secret. Whether you call it magic or escapes, it's impossible to deny the impact the Handcuff Escapes had in Houdini's career. In fact, they made his career. When Martin Beck saw Houdini at the PalmGarden in St. Paul MN, he thought the act was awful with the exception of the Handcuff bits. I'm not totally sure what handcuff routines he was even doing but whatever it was that alone impressed Martin Beck. From that point Houdini changed his act to all escapes and history was made.
The handcuff act has been copied many times since Houdini's time. Truth be told, Houdini did not originate the Handcuff Act either, but he did popularize it. I don't think anyone since Houdini's time has gotten the real notoriety from the Handcuff Act that Houdini did. I know a lot of escape artists. Everyone of them can get out of cuffs. Is it that the Handcuff act doesn't impress people? Perhaps. I don't mean to say that escape artists cannot entertain, as I know they can. My point is that Houdini used it to launch himself into stardom, while all others may have had success, even very profitable success, but none has achieved the lasting acclaim in the eye of the public.
The Challenge Handcuff Act morphed into the Challenge Escape Act. This too was a Houdini innovation and again, though people have used the concept since Houdini, I don't think anyone has ever gained the fame that Houdini achieved. I tend to think that the idea works best when you are already famous, but it doesn't work so well as a method to become famous. That's just my opinion.
'Borrowing From Houdin' blog, you'll see that Robert-Houdin's version of the Crystal Cashbox was MORE Houdini than Houdini's version. Robert Houdin borrowed normal objects, had them marked, did the impossible with them and then returned them. Houdini missed the mark with that straight magic trick by not being true to his challenge like nature.
Houdini took ordinary objects, chains, ropes, wooden boxes, locks handcuffs and did the impossible. But when he brought out something that was clearly not ordinary, in other words a magic prop, then it diminished the power. When he stuck with ordinary objects he excelled, like the Needle Trick, like Walking Through A Brick Wall, and to some degree even the Vanishing Elephant because the emphasis was more on the Elephant than anything. He used the ordinary to become extra-ordinary, so it appeared he could do his style of magic with anything.
There were other factors that made Houdini famous not the least of which was the time in history. Time seems to play a major role in a number of artists who excel, Elvis Presley for example or The Beatles are surely examples of artists who were talented but the time in history that they appeared also made a huge difference.
One other thing about Houdini. If he was such a bad magician, why has every major magical name in the last 30 years borrowed from him? Perhaps if you think Houdini was a bad magician, well then he fooled you yet again! Man that Houdini is tricky!
I hope you've enjoyed my little blogs on Houdini. I'm going to take a break for the rest of the year (at least that's the plan, I might change my mind). I'll be back in January with more Houdini stuff and more magic history blogs! Until then Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!