Harry Houdini was a magician who influenced the magic and entertainment business and gave hope to immigrants. He was born in Budapest, Hungary on March 24, 1874 under the name of Ehrich Weisz.
In search of a better life, Houdini and his family immigrated to the United States. He took on any job he could find like polishing shoes, selling newspapers, and delivering messages to help support his family. Houdini was 9 years old when he had his first performance: a trapeze act. As he became more interested in magic, he decided to change his name. “Ehrich” was altered to an American form of his name: “Harry” and “Weisz” was changed to Houdin, named after his idol Robert Houdin, a French magician (“Houdini”).Houdini soon left his family to pursue his magic career. Following minimum success with magic tricks, Houdini became recognized for his escape tricks, including escapes from handcuffs, straight jackets, water torture cells and enclosed spaces like coffins, milk barrels, and even prison cells.
Houdini escaped from Washington, D.C.’s prison, Murderer’s Row, and unlocked all the other prison cells under 5 minutes (“Houdini’). He caught the eye of an entertainment manager, Martin Beck, who booked him at big venues and eventually a tour through Europe. Houdini had his own show dedicated to himself and became the highest paid performer in the United States (“Harry Houdini”).
Houdini was elected president of the Society of American Magicians in 1917 and kept his title until he died, a very honorable position for a magician (“Harry Houdini,” p81).In the early 20s, Houdini got involved in the movie business where he showcased his escape tricks on the big screen. After starring in a few films, Houdini later formed his own company, Houdini Picture Corporation, where he wrote and starred in many of his own films including The Grim Game and Terror Island (“Houdini – The Life of Harry Houdini”).
Houdini dedicated much of the last few years of his life to exposing spiritualists as frauds. He uncovered many psychics and other scams though his magic training that allowed him to see what scientists and laymen could not. Along with this, Houdini continued to perform escape stunts until the very end of his life. Houdini died in 1926 at age 52 from a ruptured appendix. Houdini was an example of how society both changed and stayed the same in the U.
S. Houdini made a difference because he was accepted and appreciated even though he was a foreigner. He was a walking image of the American Dream and gave hope to immigrants in the United States. However, immigrants continued to be treated worse in times of despair and depression. For example, when Americans were out of work, they were angered by the immigrants willing to work for such low wages and thought they were unrightfully taking jobs away from the native people.
Houdini also illustrates the big idea of affluence and glamour in the 1920s. Big shows and performances created all the buzz for the American people. Houdini became a celebrity as he performed for hundreds of people who nicknamed him “Handcuff King” and “Jailbreaker.” People of the 20s were looking for entertainment and adventure and were not worried about the money left in their pockets after the night was over. Houdini became the “show to see” once he was in town, exemplifying the upbeat, thrill-seeking culture of the 20s.