Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini began his professional career at age 17 doing magic shows before civic groups, in music halls, at sideshows, and at New York’s Coney Island amusement park, where he sometimes performed 20 shows each day. For a time he worked with his brother Theo as The Houdini Brothers. This changed when Harry met Beatrice Raymond, a teenaged singer and dancer who was also attempting a career in show business.

Harry and Bess married in 1894 and Bess joined the act as Harry’s new partner. (Theo started a solo career as a magician under the name Hardeen). Harry and Bess remained devoted companions for the rest of his life. He depended on her to care for him and handle the necessities of life. Harry gave her the credit for his success, and developed the habit of writing her a love note every day.

In 1895, the Houdinis joined the Welsh Brothers Circus for six months. Harry did magic, Bess sang and danced, and together they performed a trick called “Metamorphosis”, in which they switched places in a locked trunk. Not satisfied with the small scale of the act, Harry continued to work on new tricks and to develop his speaking voice and showmanship. He also became an expert at handcuffs. Arriving in a new town, Houdini would claim the ability to escape from any handcuffs provided by the local police.

His easy escapes provided excellent publicity for his shows. Houdini offered $100 to anyone who provided handcuffs from which he could not escape, but he never had to pay. Through his increasingly complex escapes and his shrewd use of publicity, Houdini became a headliner on the vaudeville circuit, playing in cities across the country. Not satisfied with that low level of fame, however, Houdini decided to gamble by taking his act to Europe.