Houdini's weekly salary

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Guest » 07/06/03 01:00 PM

Does anyone know how much Houdini was getting per week by 1918 in 1918 dollars? Or, if you have seen anywhere his salaries for any other close year...
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Postby Pete Biro » 07/07/03 10:11 PM

My dad told me Frank Van Hoven, comedy magician, billed as "The Dippy Mad Magician" was making the most money for a single act in vaudeville, and making more than Houdini.

Dad said Van Hoven was making $1,000.00 a week. (Geez.. now my memory is shot... it maybe was $10,000 a week. Dad was an opening act making $350 a week).
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Postby Guest » 07/08/03 08:37 AM

I don't have the time to re-read all of these books in my collection to find this info right now. Look here:

Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls, by William Lindsey Gresham

Houdini: The Untold Story, by Milbourne Christopher

Houdini, by Harold Kellock

I think there are also Houdini books by the late Doug Henning and a newer one on the market in recent years.

I know that salary information is scattered throughout the Gresham and Christopher books, though. It is incidental to the narrative, and so hard to find without reading the whole book again.

Jon
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Postby Guest » 07/08/03 07:34 PM

July 1900,(Europe) booked at the Alhambra Theatre: $300.00 per week. 1906 salary was $1200 per week. (America) 1912 Hammerstein Roof Garden $1000 per week. 1914 Hammerstein Roof Garden $1200 per week.

(and still looking :) )
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Postby Guest » 07/08/03 07:54 PM

I too have seen such, and decided to take a look In Milborne Christopher's ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF MAGIC (P.358) it mentions that Houdini recieved $3,750 a week.
I wonder about these figures. For example the same book (P. 63) says that Potter (in colonial times) made$4,800 in 12 days.

This seems increadilbe to me...considering inflation. I mean, couldn't you buy most of your house hold goods for a dollar or two?
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Postby Guest » 07/08/03 08:43 PM

Regarding living expenses in the early 1900's:

A Model T Ford automobile cost around $500. An Edison cabinet model phonograph (all acoustic, no electricity...) with speaker horn built into the wooden cabinet was $300 (a HUGE amount of money back then). The 78 rpm records of the era, one song on each side, cost about $0.75 each. A modest home, purchased as a kit from Sears & Roebuck (!) was around $3,000. Movie tickets were $0.25 in the larger cities, but only $0.05 to $0.10 in the small towns. This information comes from memory, from research I did about 18 years ago for a college course I taught in the History of American Popular Music.

On a more personal note, my grandfather (b. 1906, d. 1992) lived in Detroit and saw Houdini's late 19-teens stage show from the wings at his (gf's) uncle's theater. He said that one could buy a small aluminum dish of candy and a spoon to eat it for a penny in those days! There was no minimum wage.

I trust that my memory of the information is accurate, and that my examples are helpful in putting a perspective on the enormous salaries of headliners.

Jon
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 07/08/03 09:45 PM

If you're wondering how these dollar amounts would come out in "today's" money, go to google and search for "The Inflation Calculator." You fill in the amount and the year and it tells you what it is in today's dollars.
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Postby Dave Shepherd » 07/09/03 07:45 PM

I just got on the Inflation Calculator site.

Houdini's 1906 salary cited above would come to $23072.49 in 2002 (the last year available on the calculator).
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Postby Guest » 07/09/03 09:44 PM

Note that Houdini's 1918 salary, shown in Dave's post in 2002 dollars, was WEEKLY!

Thanks to Richard Kaufman for providing info on this most useful and intriguing site for comparing inflation over the last 202 years.

Although the remainder of this post is not magical in subject content, I could not resist sharing some of my experimentation with the Inflation Calculator.

Just as a comparison, I tried entering $0.75 in 1918 (the cost of a 78 rpm record as mentioned in my post) and comparing it to today's compact disk singles. Here is the result:

"What cost $0.75 in 1918 would cost $10.15 in 2002." Most compact disk singles much less than that in my area of the USA.

Comparing the 45 rpm single in 1955 with the 1918 78 rpm record (both cost $0.75 in their respective time periods) yielded the following:

"What cost $0.75 in 1918 would cost $1.58 in 1955." This means that the new technology of the flat disk record (replacing the cylinder, don't you know...) in 1918 was much more expensive in its time than the new technology of the 45 rpm single was in its time.

Comparing a 1949 album (both LP records and 45 rpm records were invented in 1949, one year after Ampex invented practical magnetic tape recording for the studio) to a 1983 compact disk (new technology in 1983, too) yielded the following:

"What cost $3.98 in 1949 would cost $15.99 in 1983." This means that the new LP album and the new compact disk cost roughly the same amount of purchasing power in their initial years.

Finally, then, comparing the cost of the same two formats 20 years later (respectively) yields the following:

"What cost $7.98 in 1969 would cost $39.70 in 2002." This means that the LP album in 1969 was much more expensive than its CD counterpart today!

Fascinating stuff, IMHO! I will use this calculator quite a bit in my teaching, I am quite certain.

Thanks again, Richard!

Jon
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Postby Dave Shepherd » 07/10/03 05:38 AM

Macintosh users can download songs (legally!) from the Apple iTunes Music Store for 99 cents each, in 2003 dollars. I just discovered this wonderful little feature in the past two weeks, and have downloaded songs to use in a pre-show music track (yes, for private parties and venues that pay for performing rights...).

In 1964 I bought the 45 rpm single of the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" for something between 75 cents and a dollar, I can't recall exactly.

Of course, Windows users still have to buy CD's in a store, at about 15 bucks retail, for a lot of tracks they might or might not need...

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Postby Michael Edwards » 07/10/03 05:40 AM

Jon, Dave, Richard:

While these calculations give you an indication as to what a product might cost in present dollars, they do not give you any real indication of the relative value of that product to disposable income...in other words, of how expensive an individual would consider it to be. Keep in mind, for instance, that there was no federal income tax in this country from 1894 until ratification of the 16th amendment. When collections started in 1914 the top marginal rate was just seven percent on incomes over $500,000. Likewise, there were no payroll taxes until 1935 when a flat one percent was applied to both the employer and employee for income up to $3,000.

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Postby Michael Edwards » 07/10/03 06:58 AM

As for Houdini's weekly salary, it wasn't always very impressive. He struggled for many years. In fact, in the spring of 1899, Houdini may well have been ready to retire from show business. At that point, he was fortunate if he and Bess made $25 a week. The story is that Houdini's luck changed when he met Martin Beck in a St. Paul, Minnesota beer hall. Houdini had already been developing his handcuff act and Beck challenged him to escape from some handcuffs that Beck brought the next day. Houdini did and Beck, impressed with the feat and seeing the potential of such an act, decided to offer Houdini an opportunity. The impressario cabled Houdini from Chicago a short time later: "You can open Omaha March twenty sixth sixty dollars, will see act probably make you proposition for all next season." "This wire" Houdini wrote on the bottom of the telegram, "changed my whole Life's journey." Houdini's weekly salary quickly grew to $400 a week (with Beck getting a 20 percent cut). Houdini continued under contract to Beck until July of 1901. The rest is history.
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Postby Pete Biro » 07/10/03 09:14 AM

I still don't think Houdini topped Frank Van Hoven's $10,000 a week. Anyone know for sure? :confused:
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 07/10/03 02:33 PM

Pete,

The latest issue of Magicol arrived today and believe it or not, there was a short article in it on Van Hoven. You should enjoy it.

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http://houdinihimself.com/
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Postby Pete Biro » 07/10/03 03:28 PM

How do I get a copy???? ASAP....!!!!

Thanks... :D :D :D :D :D
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 07/10/03 04:08 PM

Pete,

I just sent you the info.

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Postby Pete Biro » 07/11/03 06:32 PM

Houdini would work "deals" with the bookers, like Keith's, Pantages, etc. and when the top acts were getting $3,500 a week, he would work for less, but told the agents to say he was making 35... when the scale went up to $4,500 -- same deal.

However, Houdini would Four Wall and make even more per week.

Then, after his FIRST MOVIE he came back to the agents and told them "Now you have to pay me what I am worth." And got the top money for his type of act.

But, Van Hoven still was the top paid act, with his "Dippy Mad Magcian" act.

An example: (straight from my Dad who was his opening act) "Frank would bring a kid up from the audience and have him hold a 50lb block of ice... the audienc would be in stitches, meanwhile Frank would slip off-stage out the door to a tavern next door, buy a beer, gulp it down, then come back onstage to finish the act."

Unfortunately, my dad remembers little else of the act. Except that he was hilarious and got top money.

I have a Van Hoven PLAYBILL on my wall... from the Argyle Theater, in England. It is my prized poster possession.
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Postby Pete Biro » 07/11/03 06:35 PM

Forgot to quote the source of above: Patrick Culliton, probably the foremost Houdini scholar I know. :genii:
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 07/11/03 07:24 PM

This is off the top of my head, but I think Houdini was making $10,000 per week when he did the Hippodrome in 1918 for 18 weeks or so.

Also, when he had his 3 in 1 show in 1925 + 1926, I would guess that his weekly salary was well above $10,000 per week.

I'm still unpacking the Houdini boxes, so I can't really give exact quotes. If something in this area surfaces, I'll let you know.

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