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Page 4: Houdini - Europe's Eclipsing Sensation

By Ace Starry

Read The Magic Life
The King of Handcuff Escapes - Houdini

Instead of simply relaxing and enjoying his new higher income, Houdini invested in advertising his legend. He embarked on one of the largest personal promotional campaigns in the history of vaudeville. He bought space in the theatrical weeklies on the sound theory that bookers must be sold before the public. He advertised in Mahatma, the magic magazine of the day. If he as to succeed then the profession must be informed about his progress. He became a master letter writer. He mailed hundreds of copies of his newspaper stories to friends, business associates, and fellow magician, conjurers, and illusionists across the country.

When his Orpheum tour ended, Beck sold the Houdini show to the Keith Theater tour. Houdini was now a headliner. With each new town, he would pull a challenge publicity stunt which would pack the houses and lead to extended engagements. On April 211th in 1900, Houdini did his first jail escape as a publicity stunt in Kansas City. To add credibility to his now bulging press package, he would include printed copies of letters from the Chief of police, John Hayes, declaring that Houdini did indeed escape after being stripped nude, searched, handcuffed and manacled, from an absolutely burglar proofed cell. By May of that same year the competitors began to appear. Houdini had done the ground breaking for the escape act. Now, escape kings were appearing like rabbits out of a hat.

"The Houdini imitators began to magically appear like rabbits out of a hat."

Instead of competing with them where he had already done his magic show and escape act and was now well known, Houdini decided to take a gamble and move to a new market. In 1900 he booked passage to Europe. Without a single booking, without an agent, he had faith enough in his promotional wizardry, that he knew that he could sell his magic and ecape act in Europe.

Houdini's next challenge was to take on Scotland Yard. He invited a reporter to accompany him to the Police station, where he proceeded to brag until the police finally cuffed him to shut him up. Houdini knew well in advance how to effect his release. In Europe this promotional technique and his escapes also prevailed. He soon became the toast of London, breaking all theater ticket sales records in England, France, Spain and Germany.

With his new found success in Europe, came the European magician competitors. They would send letters to theatre owners suggesting that Houdini did not live up to his advertising "hype." When he traveled to Germany, he found himself confronted during one of his performances by one of his ever increasing competitors, E. Hilmar, a German magician. the man called Houdini a fraud complaining that he was not a true escape artist and not even a real American. This accusation originated due to Harry's pronunciation of the German Language which he had spoken as a boy in his own house, not because of the true knowledge of his birthplace.

Houdini's credibility during the performance was saved when a man in the audience announced that he had in fact seen Houdini perform a magic show in America. Instead of simply barring the likes of the would-be competitor from his show, Houdini went a step further. He snapped a pair of handcuffs on the German's wrists and challenged him to escape, which he could not. The incident gave him the idea to attack his competitors head on.

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