Houdini's Last Photograph

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

Postby Leonard Hevia » 12/26/08 05:30 PM

I've read from several different sources about Houdini's last photograph. In each case, the last known photograph was different. A fellow in the Collector's Marketplace put an old copy of Genii on E-Bay that claims Houdini was photographed at a theater in Boston a few weeks before his demise. Kenneth Silverman published a photo of Houdini waving a checkered flag in some auto race in his Notes to Houdini! Silverman noted that this was the last photo taken of Houdini. I also read in the Linking Ring that Jay Marshall claims it was the picture of Houdini standing in front of his library at his Harlem brownstone. If anyone has the definitive last photo of Houdini--I'd love to see it.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/26/08 07:33 PM

The definitive last photo of Houdini is in his casket when he was laid out.
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Postby Ray T. Stott » 12/26/08 09:44 PM

[font:Arial Black]
Kevin Connolly wrote:The definitive last photo of Houdini is in his casket when he was laid out.


Hello, KC

Is your reference to a funeral photograph of Houdini a reality or were you being factious?

I certainly would not presume to question a reply from a known authority in this field, but I have long been under the impression that the checkered flag photograph that was once the property of the late Marie Blood was his last photograph.

Of course that photograph could have been his last living photograph and the postmortem photograph would trump the checkered flag as the absolute last picture of Houdini.

Does such a photograph exist and if so, do you know who is in possession of it?
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/27/08 12:21 AM

Yes, there is a photo of Houdini, deceased, in his casket. Off the top of my head it was taken at the Elks club. I have the image here, but here is one from online.

Houdini In Coffin <-----


Thanks, but I'm not really a Houdini authority, I just like to collect things about him.
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Postby Ray T. Stott » 12/27/08 01:15 AM

[font:Arial Black]
Yes, there is a photo of Houdini, deceased, in his casket. Off the top of my head it was taken at the Elks club. I have the image here, but here is one from online.


Well, I'll be damned.
Text states that photo was shot at the Rothschild West End Funeral Chapel.
It also states that he was buried in a solid bronze Boyertown (Boyertown, PA) sealer. The hermetically sealed inner liner that is referred to was, and still is, made of curved glass similar to a glass cigar tube cut in half along the horizontal axis and screwed down tight against an elliptical rubber gasket with approx. 50 bronze screws that were sealed themselves against a rubber o-ring with the last tightening twist.

Still considered as the top of the line box.

Houdini must have had some fairly strong pallbearers as an empty full size solid bronze casket tips the scales at between 400 to 500 pounds.

I cannot really make out any of his features as the funeral "correctors" have him flat on his back and shoved deep into the mattress (filled with excelsior). The great man's remains will spend eternity on a lumpy bag filled with wood shaving packing material.

Do you know who served as pallbearers (not honorary but the grunt and lift ones) at his service?

Thank you for your assistance.
RTS

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Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/27/08 02:11 AM

I don't know the names of pallbearers who did the heavy lifting. I know Albee, the one who may really have "discovered" Houdini was one of the honary pallbearers. They are mentioned somewhere by name. I'll see If I can find them. If anyone has them, please list them here.

BTW Again off the top of my head, Houdini was lying in state(?) in at least 2, maybe 3 places before being buried.
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 12/27/08 10:00 PM

Thanks for chiming in Kevin. I was counting on your help on this one. I'm interested in the last photograph while he was still alive. I'm aware of his casket photo, and believe that the photogapher probably wasn't allowed to get closer to take a clearer photo of Houdini. You can barely make out his profile in that picture.

Scarecrow Man--er--Mr. Stott (that scarecrow gives me the willies) also believes that checkered flag photo was Houdini's last photograph. It's strange, Houdini found the time to attend some auto race near the end of his life. He was lecturing at colleges and touring with his full evening show. I believe that 1941 Genii issue mentions that the last photo of Houdini was taken at a theater in Boston on his last East Coast tour.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/28/08 12:57 AM

I would believe that there must be a picture taken when he was in Detroit in October 1926. I have a photo of Houdini with a good amount of beard stubble. In it he looks sick.

While you're all looking, when was his last signature signed by him?
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Postby Ray T. Stott » 12/28/08 07:32 PM

[font:Arial Black]
While you're all looking, when was his last signature signed by him?


07 December 1941 - he signed six of them just before before hand-propping his Voisin biplane that was tied down on Ford Island. He took off to battle it out with Japanese Aichi D3A bombers and was never seen again.
I bought all six on an eBay Dutch auction and I've got six Sid Radner COA's to prove it.[/font]
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/28/08 07:37 PM

LMAO!!! COA'S!!!!
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 12/29/08 09:02 PM

Hi Kevin-I've never seen a photo of an unshaven Houdini. He always seemed ready for the camera, even in group photos. Is this published somewhere? Is it a private collection photo? Can you post here? Or in a private PM? Perhaps it was taken shortly after the death of his mother; that one event in his life that really sidetracked him.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/30/08 01:34 AM

I have it here. It may be out there in a book or online, but I can't remember. To me, the image looks-like Houdini late in the game. He looks older, grayer and almost forcing a smile. Definetly not from the time when his mother passed away.

I have a new scanner here, but I haven't played with it much. As soon as I can, I'll try to scan it. Maybe someone else will come up with it by then.
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 12/31/08 02:12 PM

Thanks Kevin--no hurry here, but I'd still like to take a peek at it. I know that it's not published in any of the Houdini books I own--but then, I don' have the Patrick Culliton set, nor the Mike Caveney set The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare. I bought the The Secret Life of Houdini before Caveney published the set and wish I didn't have to buy it again just to have the bibliogaphy text. I'm sure there are more rare photos in there.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/31/08 04:17 PM

It is a tough sell. With first editions selling for $6.95 for as many as you want, selling a 1,000 2 book sets at $99.00 will be very hard to do.

Don't feel bad. I don't have a set either. And I'm in the book. ;)
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Postby Mike Carr » 01/04/09 02:10 PM

A Happy New Year to you, once again.

In the magic history section of the Genii Forum, the issue of the "last Houdini photo" (about which we've spoken at length) is currently under discussion.

As it sometimes does, unfortunately, AOL will NOT let me post a message on the forum for reasons I can't grasp.

At any rate, I cannot let this discussion pass without commenting. Would you be kind enough to post the information below for me (please feel free to post this entire missive, if you desire)?

Thanks,

Greg

>>The last photo of Houdini alive was indeed the one picturing him with the checkered flag at the end of an auto race, in Detroit.

The photo was given to niece Marie Blood by Bess Houdini. Author Silverman got his information from this source.

The original photo found its way into the hands of a well-known Houdini collector and antique magic dealer under what I can only regard as egregious and despicable (and I'm being very kind in using these descriptors) circumstances. I won't say more about the circumstance because another, and this regard, innocent party was also involved.

The photo was taken shortly before Houdini's last performance; his demeanor and physical appearance speak volumes to those who've been in the company of fatally ill people.

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Postby Leonard Hevia » 01/05/09 09:03 PM

Thanks Mr. Edmonds for the information on Houdini's last photo. It was very insightful.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/06/09 02:00 AM

Let me see if I can do this. This is a photo of Houdini with whiskers. Please look near his chin on the right side.

Houdini With Whiskers <----Click Here

He may even look older here.

Houdini Radio Broadcast <---Click Here
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/06/09 02:03 AM

Greg,

Is the innocent guy still around?

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Postby Greg Edmonds » 01/06/09 02:43 PM

Kevin Connolly wrote:Greg,

Is the innocent guy still around?

Kevin


It would so appear.

Greg
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Postby Ray T. Stott » 01/06/09 04:45 PM

:D
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/06/09 04:53 PM

I hear the guy just sits in his room and looks at Houdini all day while being heavily medicated. ;)
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Postby Greg Edmonds » 01/07/09 11:24 AM

Kevin Connolly wrote:I hear the guy just sits in his room and looks at Houdini all day while being heavily medicated. ;)


Yes, and if the medication is heavy enough, Houdini looks back at me.

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Postby Leonard Hevia » 01/07/09 09:12 PM

Thanks Kevin for posting that Houdini "wiskers" photo. I've seen that picture before somwhere, but didn't notice that detail. It appears to me that he missed that spot on his lower left cheek, or that he went a day or two without shaving. I first saw the other radio broadcast photo in Milbourne Christopher's The Untold Story.

I'm having trouble believing the "checkered flag" photo was taken in Detroit. According to Professor Silverman in Houdini!!!, Houdini had a fever of 102 when he took the night train to Detroit. He was also suffering agonizing abdominal pain. When he arrived in Detroit the following morning, he checked in the hotel and prepared for his evening performance. At this time, he also had to be assisted in changing his clothes. Would a person in that shape attend an auto race?
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Postby Greg Edmonds » 01/07/09 10:21 PM

It might well be the photo was taken elsewhere, but Marie was led to believe it was that final (show) date in Detroit (motor city, even then?), so that's all I have to go on unless someone else has other information.

As to Houdini's condition in Detroit, remember that (we're told, anyway) he performed the entire first half of his regular program before--dramatically--collapsing at the closing of the curtain. One account I've heard (Marie wasn't there), says not even the audience knew he had (literally) fallen ill.

While we're on the topic, of course, the idea that Houdini was knowingly being "murdered" by young Mr. Whitehead (or whomever), is patently ridiculous, but has arisen, along with other far-fetched theories, in recent years. Houdini's appendix was, in fact had to be already inflamed (and grossly infected) for an abdominal blow to have ruptured it. Houdini, too, was hobbling about on a still seriously injured ankle at the time of his last performance. This could account for some of the facial tension and somewhat disheveled appearance--for Houdini--in the flag photo, too.

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Postby Greg Edmonds » 01/07/09 10:25 PM

Leonard Hevia wrote: Would a person in that shape attend an auto race?


If that person were perhaps history's most demonstrably egomaniacal publicity seeker [Houdini], I think it's easily safe to say the answer to that question is "yes."
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/07/09 11:52 PM

The answer is probably no. You may want to trade ego for drive.
With Houdini, he may have tried. He did his strenuous show with broken ankle, ruptured kidney, various broken bones, etc. He even writes in his diary that the "Work is Killing me" "Have to find a better way".

If you really want to know if the picture was taken the last day or two of Houdini's life and if he was at a racetrack, I'm sure the answer is out there. I wouldn't think there be much racing in late October. Maybe things were different 80+years ago?
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Postby Ray T. Stott » 01/08/09 04:46 PM

[b]
Kevin Connolly wrote:I hear the guy just sits in his room and looks at Houdini all day while being heavily medicated. ;)


Hey KC!
When I am sitting in my room after washing down 1200 mg of Oxycodone with long pull of Johnny Walker Swing, I often have long discussions with Harry Kellar on serial polygamy and listen to Howard Thurston telling ribald stories about how the stuck it to Jarrett and Sugden. :)

They both have told me of Magician's Heaven - it's sorta like Hillbilly Heaven but with a lot less music and a lot more rabbits.

Erik Jan Hanussen told me that me that Magician's Hell is nothing more than an eternity of card tricks being performed on a train in the style of Mr. Somerset Maugham's short story, Mr. Know-All. :eek:

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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/08/09 11:00 PM

Ray,

I use vodka myself to wash them down. It seems the right spirit to see Houdini.
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 01/10/09 10:10 PM

Hi Greg--thanks for for your thoughts about the checkered flag photo. I also agree that Houdini's inflated ego would drive him to unbelievable behavior. Houdini also endured great amounts of pain throughout his life, but it was usually in the service of his career. Injuries and illnesses didn't stop him when he had a show, a film shoot or an important appearance to make. I don't know if that auto race was important enough for him to attend given his bad physical condition. Did he make that personal appearance at the auto race for a fat check? Could be. Perhaps it was a way to advertise his touring show.

I also understand that Houdini had an evening performance to worry about as soon as he arrived in Detroit by train that morning. Even if he was perfectly healthy, he wouldn't have a great deal of time to spend at that auto race in the afternoon. I know that he spent that summer of 1926 relaxing, with the exception of the Shelton Hotel pool miracle. Could the photo have been taken then?
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/11/09 12:52 AM

I really don't think "flag" photo was taken near the time of the Shelton pool endurance test. Houdini looks great for 52.
Shelton Pool Photo

Some say this test was the beginning of the end of Houdini. Pat Culliton could tell us more.
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 01/12/09 09:50 PM

Thanks for posting that photo Kevin. I've never seen that one before. The Shelton pool test may well have been the beginning of the end for Houdini. It may have wrecked havoc with his immune system.

Notice that right before Houdini's demise, Bess came down with food poisoning? Assuming that Houdini ate the same meal with Bess, it may have triggered the appendicitis. Professor Silverman notes that Houdini was already showing possible signs of appendicitis before the dressing room punching incident.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/13/09 12:42 AM

I was going to save this one for one of my Houdini books, but I think this needs to be seen now.

Houdini's Last Photo <--- Click Here
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 01/13/09 09:26 PM

That was silly Kevin. I was hoping you found that "last" photo. Going back to that Shelton pool photo you posted, Houdini has his dress shirt rolled up to show off his flat midsection. He looked pretty dammed good for a 52 year old man. He had managed to shed 13 pounds before that stunt, which put him at just a few pounds over his weight when he was in his 20's. Not an easy thing to do. The metabolism slows down with age, yet the hunger remains.

The Silverman bio has a Shelton pool photo of Houdini climbing out of the cut open coffin and getting checked by a doctor. The caption under the photo says "Houdini about to enter the coffin." That can't be right.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/13/09 11:33 PM

Sorry for being silly. I know this is a matter of life and death.

Houdini did this mock-up himself, in his home. It could be from the summer of 26. Oh Well.
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Postby Ray T. Stott » 01/14/09 01:51 AM

Kevin Connolly wrote:Sorry for being silly. I know this is a matter of life and death.

Houdini did this mock-up himself, in his home. It could be from the summer of 26. Oh Well.


:D
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 01/17/09 08:41 PM

Kevin--Do you know the title of that Houdini documentary that included Walter B. Gibson? I remember seeing this in October 1976, perhaps on PBS, and never saw it again. Gibson escaped from a full-body straightjacket and explained how he did it as he went along. I also remember seeing a photo of Houdini in a diving helmet in that film. It had to be that quick-release diving suit he invented.
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Postby Eric Fry » 01/17/09 10:27 PM

I believe you're thinking of "The Truth About Houdini," a 1971 BBC documentary. It has interviews with Gibson, Milbourne Christopher and Randi. However, the person getting out of the straightjacket is Sidney Radner. Good recollection of the diving suit.
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Postby Greg Edmonds » 01/20/09 12:10 PM

I stand by my statement that Houdini's ego would most certainly have prompted and perhaps, permitted, him to take part in a still another photo opportunity, regardless of his health or additional pending responsibilities. The statements made by those opposing this view, that he was frequently known to overcome severe discomfort and pain, when undergoing one of his challenges or regular performances, would seem to agree.

Houdini was an egoist (as opposed to egotist) by classic definition; as with many successful public personalities, his world centered very definitely upon himself. He was literally known to call local media to report events of interest, we're told in various books, just to keep his name before the public, and he briefly finagled his name, as a verb, into a then popular American dictionary. Though he clearly loved Bess (and others), he preferred his own company, and spent most of his private hours alone in his office or in very long walks.

Please do not misunderstand my position; there were many things (most, in fact), related to Houdini that I did and still do admire. His tenacity and capacity to overcome all obstacles are chief among them. He was not, however, the first "escape artist," though he may arguably have been the best. He wasn't a pioneer, by any stretch of the imagination, in the cause of exposing fraudulent spiritualist mediums and related "crimes," as he saw them. Finally, he was, according to almost every other entertainment professional speaking of him in the era, only a mediocre magician, at best.

What, then, made Harry Houdini a household name, generations after his demise (though, sadly, the average child today has never heard of him, a situation I, and others, are trying to remedy in publications for the trade)? The answer is simple, he was, with PT Barnum being the only possible exception, the greatest self-publicist/promoter in American history, and perhaps in theatrical history (though the latter is subject, I realize, to debate -- It's no secret that Houdini was a dreadful actor, too).

Indeed, there is much to admire about Houdini. He was, like all of us, a human being, however, and we all have flaws. Houdini's short-comings may, in fact, very well have been the reason for his notoriety. If so, I consider this reason to admire him all the more. The man was a genuine phenomena, the likes of whom we may never see again.

I loved to read of Houdini when I was a child, and my interest in, and admiration of him have only strengthened over the years. Like many of you, I'm a serious student of magic history (for me, the nexus between occult magic history and illusion -- as we know it -- are particularly fascinating; Houdini, apparently, thought so too). Houdini items do feature prominently in my personal collection (with only one or two pieces coming from my very dear, departed, friend, Marie Hinson Blood), but he certainly doesn't occupy the largest part of my magic ephemera or literature, as seemingly suggested here(?).

As to the photograph at the apparent racetrack (remember, there might have been no race at all -- this might (?) have been a staged photo meant to serve in some promotional or advertising effort that never came to fruition because of Houdini's obviously unanticipated death -- we may never know). All I can relate is what I've written before, which was related to me. Marie was adamant that this was the final photograph (according to Bess), ever taken of Houdini, and that it was taken just before his last performance. That's all I know regarding its provenance, but I can't imagine a better source than his wife.

Bess was, particularly in the well-known scenario regarding the "Reverend" Arthur Ford, known to stretch the truth. Bess did, in fact, knowingly assist Ford with perpetrating this fraud, while undergoing a bout of depression exacerbated by her then dependence upon alcohol. The latter, too, was related to Marie. Neither women were wont to openly discuss the situation, though. Later, as we all know, Bess recanted, but did not provide the particulars to the public. I can think of no reason, however, for Bess to have lied about the Houdini flag-holding photograph. What was there to gain; the photo was not ever to be offered for sale, but to be kept as a family memento? As I've indicated before, it wasn't offered for sale, but was "taken, by means of bullying" for lack of a better phrase, by the well-known collector and dealer previously mentioned [permit to make it clear that said party is not a contributor to this thread].

It's been well over a decade since I've viewed the photo, though I looked at it many times over countless visits to the home of Forrest and Marie Blood over a period of over fourteen years. In the photo, as I recall it, Houdini was quite disheveled in appearance (a rarity for him), his skin, compared to other outdoor black and white photographic images of him, appeared pallid, indicated ill-health, and his face bore a grimace, rather than the standard, studied, "mysterious" look, or smile. Having been educated and employed for some years in the field of emergency medicine, I can easily say there appear, to me, recognizable aspects of Houdini's apparent demeanor, and overall "look" in the photograph, which indicate serious discomfort and illness.

Could the photo have been taken at an earlier date? Once again, it almost certainly could; Houdini no doubt appeared in several photographs when he was ill and in pain, to be sure, during his career. I've personally battled severe pain issues for many years now, issues that have caused me to retire from all professional endeavors. This is another reason for me to admire Houdini; to him, "the show must go on" was much more than a catch phrase, it was an apparent mantra. His stubborn tenacity very likely cost him his life, in the end, but for one who's battled the demons of searing pain, his legendary feats are all the more impressive.

I genuinely loved Marie and Forrest Blood, and I regarded them and their children as family very nearly as I regard my own. Marie purchased the first holiday outfit my son (our first child, ever wore), and he first wore it at a Christmas party in Marie's home. My daughter, as Marie pointed out to her, shares her name (my daughter is named Mary), and though my daughter was too young to remember Marie, she met her many times, and was photographed with her on several occasions at social functions and at public appearances.

On one of our later visits, my wife, children, and I had lunch on the Blood's enclosed back porch in beautiful Pinehurst, North Carolina (about an eighty minute drive from my home). On that occasion, Marie stumbled and fell, while stepping onto the porch, fracturing a rib in the process. I felt terrible, after giving her a quick "once over" as she was obviously in misery, and demanded that we go at once to the local hospital to obtain x-rays. Houdini-like, she stubbornly declined my friendly (and professional) advice, waiting until the following day to have the films done. The latter confirmed my opinion, and I was very angry with Marie for a some time thereafter, as I and my family might well have (as she insisted upon completing the meal) contributed to her demise, had one of the ribs eventually punctured a lung.

Marie dearly loved Harry, but I want to make it absolutely clear that she shared the opinions I mention above. We discussed them openly many times, but we both admired Houdini for the many of the same reasons. Her memories of life with Harry and Bess were priceless. I conducted several formal interviews with Marie over the years. and will hopefully get this information, along with her personal notes, in print with a major juvenile publishing house this, or next, year.

I lift my cup to the great Houdini, long may he wave.

Greg Edmonds
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/20/09 12:21 PM

It's hard to believe that the average child has never heard of Houdini. With Scholastic magazine, a book company that still sells books inside many, if not all public schools, still offers Houdini biographies. I don't think publishers would keep printing them if they didn't sell. There are so many children's Houdini books and comices out there today, Houdini couldn't fly underneath a child's radar.
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Postby Greg Edmonds » 01/20/09 01:09 PM

Kevin, we could debate this issue to eternity, I have no doubt, and not agree. Both alone and with Marie, I made hundreds (if not thousands) of appearances before audiences comprised of both adults and children. Uniformly, I would ask the kids "How many of you have heard of Houdini?" Uniformly, not a single hand would be seen to rise -- ever. Almost all of the adults, however, were familiar with him.

I first encountered Marie, as a matter of fact, through the auspices of Scholastic. I didn't meet her, though, until almost a decade later.

During a brief period in the 1980's, when I'd poll the kids about "Houdini," they'd respond by saying yes, the were familiar with "Hoodini" (SP?), an apparently popular "rap" group of the period (much to my chagrin). :(

Assuming that a child has heard of an historical figure because he or she is found in a school library, might I suggest, is reaching to say the least. Harry Potter, and the newer Stephenie Meyer "Twilight" series notwithstanding, I'd wager the average kid (at least in America) will hold an electronic game controlling device at a ratio of 95/1 over he or she holding a book of any kind.

I'm not guessing about children's knowledge of Houdini, I'm stating facts as I, myself, saw them, as defined above. I try not to suppose, or guess at things I find important. If I ever do the former, I'll indicate that that's what I am doing.

I'm almost sure there's a way, through some national or international forum, to poll children today about their knowledge of Houdini. I'm no longer associated with the IBM Portal (where I was initially managing editor), but one of it's advisers (and perhaps the IBM's next international president?) is a very senior executive at CNN. He might be able to figure out a way to conduct such a survey, I don't know. If you'd care to ask him to undertake such a task, his contact information is found in the Executive Committee, Board of Directors, section of The Linking Ring.

My own daughter, now 15, just walked in and read my post over my shoulder. She informs me that she's never heard of Houdini, in school or elsewhere, but only from me.

Cordially, and I remain your friend,

Greg
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