Houdini is in the Movies to Perpetuate His Work as a Master Magician (1919)
(From the New York Tribune – December 28, 1919)
If Harry Houdini were to die tomorrow, he would pass out content with the fullness of life and with the knowledge of experiences such as few men have had. He confessed this quite simply as he sat in his study and tinkered with the keys of a typewriter. The room had more of the atmosphere of the student than of the magician. Houdini, among other things, is a writer and lover of books. His shelves are filled with rare specimens of many kinds. His collection of books on magic is the most extensive in existence.
The keen, piercing eyes of the magician were focused intently on his audience as he told something of his life story. The knotted wrists that have defied handcuff and manacle and made Houdini today a universally known figure lay in repose.
There was concentration in every line of his figure. It is this very quality, he says, that has enabled him to do unaccountable things.
“If I were to die tomorrow I could not complain,” said Houdini, “because I have performed every known feat of magic from the smallest to the largest. The most remarkable thing probably was my vanishing elephant Jenny weighing 10,000 pounds, who used to disappear systematically in the Hippodrome. My smallest feat was swallowing a couple of packages of needles and bringing them out threaded.
“In my opinion Harry Kellar, the originator of the levitation wonder, Princess Karnac, is the greatest magician the world ever saw. This feat is one of the classics of wizardry. At present I am writing Kellar’s biography. There is a different spirit among the magicians of today. More of them are specializing and they do not zealously try to keep their secrets from each other as they did in the old days. They are more intent now on improving their art than they are on furthering their interests.”
Houdini’s discovery of his lock-breaking gift dates back to the time of his mother’s pies. As a boy in Appleton, Wisconsin, he wanted to get into the cupboard where the pastry was kept, but mother had the key, so Harry simply manipulated the lock. It cannot truthfully be said he realized then that he had any special gift in this direction. But later, when he worked in a machine shop, a young man came in handcuffed. The key had been lost and he wanted to free himself. Houdini struck on a way of releasing him and thought nothing more of it until he became a magician. Endless theories have been advanced as to the secret of his powers. There are those who say he slips out of handcuffs as an eel slips through the fingers of an amateur fisherman. Others say he manipulates cell locks by muscular magnetism. There is a further supposition that he squeezes himself through bars of cells. Superstitious persons believe that spirits help him to escape.
“I have accomplished everything by natural means,” said Houdini when questioned on this score, “and not entirely by braun. Brainwork has been necessary, and concentration has meant more than everything else put together. It is the presentation of the trick, and not the trick itself that interests me. In mystery work I always believe I am the person who is talking. No, I don’t believe in spiritualism at all, and I think the Ouija board is nothing more nor less than a pleasant pasttime. I have traveled all over the world and studied magic from every angle. It is fascinating beyond belief.”
One and a half years ago Houdini decided to go into motion pictures, because he wanted some of his feats to endure. The next generation would be skeptical and think the stories of his magic handed down to them exaggerated unless they had actual proof, he argued. In his latest picture, “Terror Island,” he was thrown overboard into the sea in a box with five hundred pounds of dead weight, got out of the box and, finally, out of the water. In this picture he also does the Indian rope trick. The rope is supposed to hang without any visible means of support. He climbs up it.
Houdini sails for England this week to fulfill a vaudeville engagement. Then he intends to stay in the movies, and during 1921-22 he will tour the world, making a mystery picture. He thinks motion pictures the most wonderful profession in the world because there is a place in them for the old as well as the young. While in Europe he intends to be picturized jumping from the Eiffel Tower and London Tower Bridge in a parachute. He has a theory that a flash of the director of every motion picture should be thrown on the screen.
Houdini is forty-five years old and looks thirty-five. He runs all his errands like a schoolboy and believes in vigorous physical exercise for everyone. He neither drinks nor smokes. He thinks the greatest thing he ever did was inventing a diving suit from which the diver can escape. He is handing over his invention to the government. Among other things he invented the wardrobe trunk and the double-colored typewriter ribbon. He is the author of “The Unmasking of Robert Houdini,” “The Right Way to Do Wrong,” “Handcuffed Secrets” And “My Life History.” He is president of the Society of American Magicians and of the Magicians’ Club of London.