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Houdini - Magician and Master of Marketing

By Ace Starry

The Great Marketing Magician - HoudiniAsk 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.

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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 length.

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.

- Continued -

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