Showing posts with label Needles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Needles. Show all posts

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Podcast on Houdini's Needle Mystery

Finishing my Houdini Week is podcast Episode 75. In this episode I take a deep dive into Houdini's Needle Mystery. I've written about it several times on the blog. So I took ALL of that information, plus some info from other articles and some new information and compiled them into a great episode.

For those who would like to listen to it, well, just look below!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Houdini's Needles in 1899

When I was doing the research for the piece on Houdini's Needle Trick, I came across a reference in HOUDINI-The Key by Patrick Culliton where Houdini was doing the Needle Trick as early as 1899. I just found an article from The San Francisco Call Newspaper dated June 25th 1899 and the title of the article is, Houdini in His Weirdest Trick of Chewing Needles. This is probably Patrick's source as well. The paper goes into great detail describing his routine. It's clear that Houdini was doing the Needles in 1899, and very likely earlier than that because he already has this piece turned into an amazing routine. If you've ever tried the Needles, it does take a bit of time to get used to placing the needles in your mouth as it is a bit unnerving for the performer let alone the audience.

Below is the complete article and notice the photo at the end of the young Houdini doing the Needle Trick!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Another Look At Houdini's Needles

I recently wrote a short piece in which I mentioned Houdini and his Needle Trick. However, today, I came across a curious reference that sort of throws a wrench into the origins of the trick. And yet, it could very well be, that the person who came forward with the information is full of it. Which is it? Read on...

In the book, Of Legierdermaine and Diverse Juggling Knacks by John Braun & Ken Klosterman, there is an interesting story related about Houdini and who taught the Needle Trick to him. The story came from Dai Vernon and he related the story of meeting a gentleman by the name of Howard Hall. Mr. Hall was a play director and script writer and actor. He told Vernon that he taught the Needle Swallowing trick to Houdini and he claims Houdini had a heck of a time learning it. That's very interesting because I never heard that version of the origin story before. I know that Vernon certainly was no fan of Houdini, but he did apparently like Houdini's presentation of the Needle Trick.

As I mentioned in a previous article, according to Patrick Culliton in his book HOUDINI-The Key, Houdini said the trick dated back to a magician in London, Ramo Sami,  who debuted the trick in the early 1800s. Then the trick was reintroduced to audiences in the later 19th Century by Maxey The Needle King.

John Mulholland in his book Quicker Than The Eye, again mentions Ramo Samee (spelled differently) who he said was a Hindu magician who visited America in 1820 and that's how the trick arrived here. In the book, The Secrets of Houdini by J.C. Cannell, he claims that Houdini said the trick was first brought to Europe by K. Kraus and then does mention Maxey The Human Sewing Machine. Houdini claims Maxey was the first person he actually saw perform the trick.

Then there is Long Tack Sams recollection of the Needles. He learned the trick in China and performed it in his Vaudeville act for years until Houdini took out a U.S. Copyright on the trick and that prevented everyone in Vaudeville from doing the trick. This information comes from the documentary The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam.

So which story is correct? The trick is commonly known as The East Indian Needle Trick, and perhaps it was Ramo Sami or Samee who gave it that title. I think Jean Hugard, writing in his magazine Hugard's Magic Monthly, said it best, "...the name of the actual inventor will probably remain unknown forever..." And though I'm a little skeptical, it could be Howard Hall who taught the trick to Houdini because Houdini never says who taught him, only where he first saw it performed. But, according to HOUDINI-The Key, the earliest record of Houdini presenting the Needle Trick is 1899 and I get the impression that this was long before he ever encountered Howard Hall. So that part of the mystery continues. One thing is for sure, there is no denying that Houdini gave new life to the trick and it's due to his amazing presentations that the trick survives and thrives into the 21st Century.

UPDATE: Here is an interesting image, provided by my friends at the Houdini Museum. It comes from the December 1891 Scribners Magazine featuring Jugglers performing the Needle Trick on the verandah of the Shepeard's Hotel in Cairo Egypt. It doesn't really help figure out who created the trick, but it does show the trick was around and well known during that time period.

To see all the various articles on the 30 Days of Houdini, click here

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The UnMasking of Harry Houdini Part 2

Fatty Arbuckle and Houdini

I hope everyone who read Part 1 understands, I'm not criticizing Houdini or passing any sort of judgement on him. He was and always will be an iconic performer. I'm just giving some background as to where some of his material originated. Make no mistake, though he may not have created everything he did, it all had his unique stamp on it. A Houdini trick was a very specific sort of thing and he really knew how to find and develop those routines that fit him. In many cases he did create something original. Here are a few more for you to enjoy.

The Origins of Houdini's Magic

Once again, I refer to Houdini-The Key, and Patrick Culliton's knowledge. In the book, he says the East Indian Needle trick originated with a magician named Ramo Sami in early 19th Century London. This information came from Houdini. Interestingly, Long Tack Sam, who was a friend of Houdini's was very well versed in the Needle Trick, having learned it in China. So, maybe the trick came from China and found it's way to Europe or vice versa.

Houdini made a masterpiece out of the trick and because of this it became one of his signature routines. This goes back to what I was saying in Part 1. A good performer takes a routine and does it so well that it becomes associated with him. Houdini did add one other thing...according to Long Tack Sam, Houdini copyrighted his presentation which prevented anyone else in Vaudeville from performing it. I can't say I really blame him either.

One piece of Houdini's act that I was surprised to find he did not invent was the Galvanized Milk Can Escape. This was actually the idea and creation of Montraville Wood. You can read all about the Milk Can and it's inventor by clicking here. I will say, that although Houdini did not invent the Milk Can Escape, in this instance he surely was the first to present it and that alone makes it a Houdini Original in my book. He created the iconic performance that other performers try to copy. But Houdini did it first and it was a huge hit for him for many years.

Another Houdini original was the Straitjacket Escape. Houdini was the first to escape from a straitjacket. However, it was his brother Hardeen,  who stumbled upon the idea of doing the escape in full view. Houdini's original presentation had him being tied and secured in full view and then put into a curtained cabinet to escape.

In the Hardeen version, he did the entire escape out in the open. Houdini quickly added that feature to his escape as well. And yet another bit that took the straitjacket from an indoor escape to an outdoor spectacle was the Hanging Upside Down Straitjacket escape. Oddly this too, was the idea of someone else and not Houdini.

It was believed for a long time that a young man named Randini, shared the idea with Houdini. But has presented an article about a man named Mysterio who did the hanging straitjacket escape even before Randini.

I think it's safe to say however, that no one received the kind of press for the Upside Straitjacket Escape that Houdini did.

To be continued....

Monday, December 13, 2010

Houdini's Real Magic

I’ve heard it said that Houdini was not a very good magician. It always amazes me that people can come to this conclusion. I think when he did standard tricks he might not have been a very good magician, but look at his contributions to the art:

The Metamorphosis: Here was a trick trunk invented my John Nevil Maskelyne. But Houdini did something with it that made it far more amazing than any performer before him. He added the element of speed. Even in his advertisements it says "Exchanging Places In Three Seconds". Plus in Houdini's hands this effect was truly impossible. First his hands were tied behind his back, then placed a sack was lifted over his head and tied shut, then he was put in a trunk and locked and roped that shut. It seemed totally impossible, yet three seconds later there he was and Bess was gone. She ended up in the exact position he had been in, tied up inside the sack, inside the trunk. He made that trick his own and no one today calls it the Maskelyne Trunk trick, it's always associated with Houdini.

Interestingly, the next couple to modernize the Metamorphosis, were the Pendragons. How exactly did they make it more modern? They did the same thing Houdini did and made it even faster!

The East Indian Needle Trick: Here is a small trick that takes guts to do. Forget about jumping off bridges handcuffed, in this you've got to put needles into your MOUTH! Of course, after Houdini apparently swallows the needles, he also swallows some thread. Moments later the thread is pulled from the mouth and there threaded on the thread are the previously swallowed needles. Houdini didn't invent this one either but he sure made it his own. In fact, he apparently either patented or copyrighted the routine thus preventing others from performing it. This fact was brought up to Long Tack Sam, by Houdini when Sam wanted to do the trick which he had performed many times before. Houdini stopped his competition cold on this one. 

One of the best Needle stories I've ever read comes from the book "Illusion Show" by FuManchu/David Bamberg. When David was a young boy he would often play at the Houdini's house on 278 W 113th St. in NYC. One day while playing or snooping around as it were, he discovered a packet of needles and the secret to the trick. He never told Houdini that he found them, but always remembered that moment. Fast forward a couple years and Bamberg is about to join a Magic Club (I forget exactly where, I don't have the book handy) and he decides he'll do the Needle Trick as his initiation trick. As he is getting ready he hears Houdini coming in. Holy crap! What is David Bamberg to do??? You can just imagine the thoughts going through his head. Well, Houdini heads straight for the Great Raymond, the Illusionist and the two of them get into a huge argument that broke into a fistfight. Fortunately, the two resolve their issues and everyone forgets about David's initiation, so he is off the hook! Funny Stuff.

Next we have The Milk Can Escape. This is a Houdini original, though according to the Patrick Culliton Book "Houdini-The Key" the method was invented by someone else. In 1908 Houdini was having trouble selling his Handcuff Challenge Act. All the bookers 'had seen it' or seen someone else do it. It had also been exposed in the papers. So in St. Louis Houdini debuted his latest sensation with the tag line "Failure Means A Drowing Death". The escape was promoted with a slightly deceiving poster. The locks were not down on the body of the can but on the neck. Still, that hardly mattered, the dramatic routine that Houdini presented captivated his audiences. He always escaped (and probably much sooner than most of the audience realized).

The video link above is of Dean Gunnerson the escape artist presenting the Milk Can. The actual escape begins about 2 minutes in to the video.

These are just a three of Houdini's feats. Given the fact that they are still staples of modern day performers acts, I'd say Houdini' magic was rather strong. And there is more to come...

(click the name of the trick to see it being performed)