any man or woman one hundred years from now if he or she has
ever heard of the name David Blaine, Chris Angel, or Copperfield
or for that matter even magician entertainers such as
Blackstone, Doug Henning, Ace Starry (now there is one they
won't forget) or for that matter any entertainer who is so
famous that he is known today by a single name, and you'll
probably get a blank stare. However in 1874, over 125 years ago,
a man was born whose name has become synonymous with his art for
nearly a hundred years and will no doubt remain so for many
years to come - maybe hundreds more. Of course were talking
about the king of handcuffs, a master of magic, the man who
practically invented the escape artist.
The man's given name was Erik Weisz, but for
history he will be remembered by another moniker, the great "HOUDINI."
A name which actually became so well known during his own time
that to "houdinize" was listed in Funk and Wagnall's
1920 dictionary as a verb in the English language.
The name "Houdini" still conjures
up visions of magic and illusions. Houdini was truly one of the
most successful magicians of all time. There are volumes
dedicated to his artistry of magic and escapology. But one must
remember that however fascinating the effect, where it was
escaping from handcuffs from underneath a frozen river, being
sewn into the bowels of a sea monster, nailed inside of a barrel
of beer, or a nude prison escape from a high security prison;
Houdini was primarily an illusionist. He was not the first to
attempt many of the tricks and escapes which made him famous,
nor was he the only on to accomplish many of these amazing
feats. But rather, Houdini's real magic was the "legend of
Harry Houdini", a self-perpetuated myth that created real
magic out of illusions. This myth, this legend, created for the
public, by Houdini was what set him apart from his
contemporaries, and from all who would follow in his footsteps.
These mythical secrets are not as often
discussed as the secrets to his tricks, nor as well known, but
Houdini the escape artist recognized the power of effective
marketing and publicity, well before it was commonplace. In
Minneapolis he spoke to the Advertising Forum. "Advertising
is vital to vaudeville. Unless people knew who was playing in a
theatre they wouldn't come." He said to as he held up a
batch of front page stories and photographs. "I get more
advertising space without paying for it than anyone in the
country." Houdini stated the truth. According to an article
in Popular Science Monthly, October 1925, Jay Ramond Brown
states, "He is a business man, whose shrewd investments
have made him one of the wealthiest men of the theatrical world."
It was estivated that on any given day during the height of his
career, newspaper columns across the country and in Europe
carrying his chronicles would total more than 25 miles in
More than just a master of free advertising,
he was a master of marketing. Houdini's publicity stunts have
only one modern comparison, Blaine. David Blaine used the same
formula to a great success, developed by Houdini. Create a
stunt, exploit it in the media and use it as a lead-up to sell
his show. Of course Houdini was selling to a theater crowd while
Blaine's medium of choice is television.
Houdini's competitors would materialize and
Houdini would make them vanish, and when Vaudeville as a market
began to falter, Houdini became a quick-change artist with his
marketing strategy and entered the motion picture business.
Houdini's career never seemed to decline, even though he enjoyed
over 35 years in show business. If the magician hadn't died at
the early age of fifty-two, he would have been even more famous.
It was the master of marketing, Harry Houdini, who created the
legendary master of escape and deception.
Starry's Magic Pages /