I have a personal annual tradition, on Halloween each year I watch the 1953 HOUDINI movie starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. This was the movie that first inspired me to get into magic and search out the life and world of Houdini. IF you're new to The Magic Detective, my name is Dean Carnegie and I'm a full time magician and have been for nearly 20 years. Let me tell you about my early days and how this movie played a role in my magic life.
I remembered my fondness for Hamburg 8 handcuffs, and that was due to the scene in the movie where Houdini is short some money and his wife questions him and he says he had a chance to get 'a bargain' and produces the cuffs. A moment later he escapes from them and I remember being quite struck with the way that escape was done. Tonight as I was watching the movie and recalling my first set of Hamburg 8s it occurred to me that my cuffs may have been stolen about a year ago today. When I say stolen, it's more likely that I forgot them and someone picked them up and they're gone now. I've searched a number of times for them and I can't find them anywhere...though my storage unit is a nightmare so they might still be there.
I remember the scene with someone I always looked up to and actually used to correspond with fairly
That also triggered the memory of meeting Mr. Larsen for the first time. Not at the Magic Castle however. It turns out that the very first time I went to see Le Grand David in Beverly Mass, that Bill and his wife Irene were also attending for the very first time. I saw Mrs. Larsen standing by herself in the back of the theatre and I looked around and sure enough there was Bill Larsen. I went up and introduced myself and got to speak with him for several minutes. Sadly, that was the only time I would ever get to meet Bill. But his kindness and all his advice he had given me through his letters have always meant a lot.
Now as strange as it is, I never really added the Sub Trunk to my show. I did perform it a couple times, but I think because so many other acts were doing the sub trunk I just left it out. That didn't stop a young 8 year old magic fan from doing escapes from trunks. That's right, my first magic show that I ever did featured and escape from a large blue box, which was actually my toy box that my Dad had built. I had my brother and best friend Billy wrap the outside with ropes and chains and locks and I escaped at the end of the show from this trunk. I didn't have handcuffs at the time, so my hands were wrapped in a bicycle chain and I got out of those as well. I was a daring 8 year old.
Years later I actually built a sub trunk with my Dad. But again, rather than use it as the regular Substitution Trunk routine, I used it as a packing box escape. I would leave the box and the lid at a venue for examination. We'd put a big poster on the box promoting the show. Then at showtime I would climb inside that thing and get out. I still remember the reaction from a friend who had hired me to do this very thing. I knew he had spent a good deal of time with the box and the lid and he was dumbfounded when I got out. Come to think of it, that was a Halloween gig too.
Another scene that always stuck with me was a brief scene just before Houdini attempts the escape
Still later, as my mind moved from thoughts of magic and into escapes, I saw the potential for even stronger routines. I used the SSJ to close the show at my Underground Magic Theatre for one season. That was also the year that I met Steve Baker the famous escape artist known as Mr. Escape. I sent him a video of the routine and we talked about ways to improve it further. He had so many fantastic ideas and there was no way to include them all. But the key ones I did eventually use. The last time I performed the SSJ was at the National Theatre in Washington D.C.. I performed it two times and during the first show wanted to test out an idea. I had always heard that modern audiences would not sit through long drawn out escapes like they did in the time of Houdini. But I always heard this from folks who didn't do escapes. So I figured, why not test the theory. I struggled and struggles and even tore my shirt and did some very unorthodox things to get out of the jacket. The audience sat there spellbound. In the show that followed I did the SSJ again, but this time without all the lengthy drama. There were people present who had seen both shows and they immediately asked about the difference in the performances when it was over. They were very intrigued and frankly, I was thrilled with their interest.
Here is an interesting thing I had also forgotten. When the movie opens up, this picture is the first
It's amazing to think just how much that movie inspired and even shaped my magic career. A lot of it I really didn't pay much attention to, but now that I look back, it's quite ironic. And to think, most of that movie was fiction! What kind of trouble could have I gotten into if they had made a truthful movie??? Well, they did eventually with Paul Michael Glaser. That movie was called The Great Houdinis. And yes, that movie also played a part in my early magic years, but that's a story for another time.