Houdini's Height

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Postby Richard Hatch » 02/02/11 01:21 PM

Online references vary in giving Houdini's height as anywhere from 5'2" to 5'6". Do we have a "definitive" height for him, and if so, what is it, and how do we know it? Thanks!
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Postby JohnCox » 02/02/11 01:28 PM

I don't know if there's a definitive answer to this. I've always said 5'5" because this was the height most often given is biographies back in the day. I certainly wouldn't go higher than this. I tend to think he could have been 5'3".
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Postby Magic Newswire » 02/02/11 01:35 PM

Why do I have it in my head that I've always heard 5'5" ?
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Postby JohnCox » 02/02/11 02:14 PM

Because you have. It's the most often quoted height.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/02/11 02:19 PM

I think it was more like 5'2" or 5'3". In photos where he is standing next to Thurston (who was 5'6", I think), he is considerably shorter.
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Postby Bill Mullins » 02/02/11 02:54 PM

His draft registration card listed his height as "medium".

Did he ever have a Driver's License?
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Postby houdini's ghost » 02/02/11 02:59 PM

He gave his honest height 5'4" a few times and I've got two of them in my book.
I think it might have been Okito who said he was 5 ft 3 1/2 in.
He started wearing elevator shoes which can clearly be seen in many photos and from that point on gave his height as 5' 6" and I recall seeing 5' 7" in at least one place.
When he was being his most honest, he said 5' 4"--which put him half or inch or so taller than Howard Thurston.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/02/11 03:55 PM

The photos of Houdini and Thurston clearly show the latter several inches taller.
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Postby Joe Pecore » 02/02/11 04:26 PM

> Did he ever have a Driver's License?

Has any state actually ever measured anyone when getting a driver's license?
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Postby houdini's ghost » 02/02/11 09:58 PM

On his first passport application from about May 1900, Houdini says he's 5'4" in height. He also says he was born in Hungary and came to the U.S. as a four year old.
I reproduce the application in the Blackburn chapter of Houdini--the Key.
He filed quite a few passport applications after that, but he was always taller on them--and a native born American.
But, he gave an interview when he was in his thirties in which he says he's 5'4"--then, he apparently experienced some miraculous growth spurts, particularly when he went to work for Paramount.
Bessie was 4'11"--I read that Howard Thurston was 5'3"--what does Steinmeyer say?
Thurston certainly does appear taller than Houdini, but, is he?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/02/11 10:44 PM

I think Jim said Thurston was 5'6" when I saw him in Ohio last weekend.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/02/11 10:45 PM

I assume someone has already measured the height of the interior of the Water Torture Cell and compared it to photos of Houdini inside it. That would make it fairly easy to assess his height.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 02/03/11 12:25 AM

Wonder why the 1918 draft registration says he had a "weak left hand"? Recent injury?
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Postby houdini's ghost » 02/03/11 12:47 AM

He broke his wrist filming The Master Mystery. I think that was the reason. The "weak left hand" doesn't get mentioned again but he broke his left wrist again while filming The Grim Game. In some photos from the movie, his shirtsleeve is hiding a cast on that wrist.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/03/11 12:52 AM

The dude did NOT stop, no matter what happened to him.

You can just see his mother saying to him in Yiddish, "That'll be the death of you, Erich."
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Postby Edward » 02/04/11 12:50 AM

His middle name Handcuff was interesting. I did not know he had a middle name like that.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 02/04/11 09:29 AM

His parents were wise to do that.
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Postby David Byron » 02/04/11 01:40 PM

houdini's ghost wrote:He gave his honest height 5'4" a few times and I've got two of them in my book.

One of those touted as a place where he was being honest is actually questionable and may have been filled out by another person in his behalf; it gives the wrong color for his eyes.
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Postby David Byron » 02/04/11 01:42 PM

Richard Kaufman wrote:You can just see his mother saying to him in Yiddish, "That'll be the death of you, Erich."

Did she speak Yiddish? I thought German (related, but far from identical) was the Weiss family's language of choice.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 02/04/11 02:17 PM

Eyes were blue.
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Postby JohnCox » 02/04/11 02:38 PM

David Byron wrote:
Richard Kaufman wrote:You can just see his mother saying to him in Yiddish, "That'll be the death of you, Erich."

Did she speak Yiddish? I thought German (related, but far from identical) was the Weiss family's language of choice.

Yes, from what I've read, the family spoke German.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/04/11 03:03 PM

I just assumed they spoke Yiddish.
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Postby JohnCox » 02/04/11 03:15 PM

His mother wrote everything in German as well. I don't think she even knew English. Houdini was pretty proud of his German. He attributed part of his tremendous success in Germany to his perfect accent (there's some quote to this effect that's pretty funny). He even reads a poem in German on the famous Edison recordings. But these parts of the recordings have never been made public.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 02/04/11 03:19 PM

Every citizen of Austria-Hungary had to learn German. Cecelia Steiner Weiss spoke German, Yiddish and the Hungarian language, Magyar.
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Postby David Byron » 02/04/11 10:47 PM

Kevin Connolly wrote:Eyes were blue.

Of course. However, I'm referring to the item reproduced on p. 114 of Houdini- The Key. The caption states:
In the only honest passport application he ever made out in his life, Houdini said he was 5'4". Later, he began giving his height as 5'6" or even 5'7" -- the Chicago Record Herald for Nov. 14, 1906, noted the was 5 ft. 4 in.


My point was that it's doubtful that this is an application that "he... made out", since

(a) it marks his year of birth as 1873, and
(b) identifies his eye color as "Brown"

It appears to me that someone whose job was to fill out these forms (especially the physiognomic info) filled out everything in the rightward-tilting hand, and that the only penmanship from HH himself is the signature.

If HH was 5'4" (which I find likely and have no strong reason to doubt), this is shoddy evidence of that fact.
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Postby David Byron » 02/04/11 10:59 PM

houdini's ghost wrote:Every citizen of Austria-Hungary had to learn German. Cecelia Steiner Weiss spoke German, Yiddish and the Hungarian language, Magyar.

Is there evidence of the latter two or is that just your surmise? Not every European Jew of the era spoke Yiddish, and not everyone in Hungary spoke Magyar.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 02/05/11 01:38 AM

Hey, if Houdini's mother spoke no English, why did he write to her in English on the postcard he sent her after running away from home at about age 12? This is the famous one in which he says he's going to Galveston and signs it "Your truant son". My guess is that he probably spoke to her mostly in English (which she likely understood somewhat, even if she didn't speak it well herself), but that she spoke to him mostly in German/Yiddish.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 02/05/11 05:46 AM

Okito wrote about hearing Houdini and his mother converse in Magyar.
It's true that Houdini's eyes are recorded as "brown" on that first, 28 May 1900, passport application and that is difficult to explain. A fellow who worked with Houdini at Lasky-Famous Players wrote an article about Houdini called "I was Houdini's press agent." In it, he describes Houdini's eyes as "coal black." We only have to look at photos to know that wasn't the case.
But, rejecting the veracity of rest of the application over an obvious mistake would be a mistake.
What if it wasn't a mistake--what if it was a misstatement? A deliberate misstatement? Why?
I know a young actor, Sean Flynn, who has hazel eyes. His eyes can go from very light to very dark. His grandfather Errol Flynn had the same color eyes and I notice in his movies that depending on the lighting (and his mood) his eyes could photograph like blue eyes in black and white yet there are shots in Robin Hood in which his eyes look dark brown.
I wonder if Houdini might have had hazel eyes?
In 1914, a tinted photo of Houdini was published in the New York World and his eyes are blue. I've never seen a photo where his eyes look brown.
And what about the birthyear? Could Houdini actually have thought he was born in 1873? He gives 1873 as his birthdate in a few places--the autobiographical article in Goldston's 1909-1910 Magician Annual (as I recall). The Right Way To Do Wrong says 1873.
And then there's the month and the day. He says April 6 on that first passport application. If a watch that Bessie gave Houdini is not a fake, it has the date March 24 engraved on it--which means he knew his correct birthday--but he probably didn't know it until he returned to Hungary as an adult. And after his mother's death, he acknowledges in that letter to Hardeen, that Teller has now, that he will celebrate his birthday April 6 because "Mother always wrote to me on that date." So his mother thought April 6 was his birthday (March 24 was Nissan 6 on the Hebrew calendar in 1874).
He does say he was born in Hungary on that first application. Three months later, on 9 August 1900, he swaps that passport for a new one--the reason? "For protection."
On that application, he says he was born in Appleton, Wisconsin. April 6--I can't remember what year he says he was born. I also can't remember what color his eyes are on that application.
I shouldn't have called that first one the only honest passport application he ever made out--I should have stayed on safe ground and said it was the most honest application.
Ken Silverman wrote on one of his 3X5 cards: "Houdini's half dozen surviving sworn passport applications show a startling disagreement in detail. His height is variously given as five-feet-four, five-feet-five-and-one-quarter, five-feet-six, and five-feet-seven. His eyes variously appear as brown, blue and grey. His birthplace in the earliest application is given as Buda-Pest and after that as Appleton. His birthdate is given incorrectly as 6 April 1874 or, even more incorrectly, as 6 April 1873. His occupation is given variously as Actor, Performer, Artiste and Juggler."
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Postby David Byron » 02/05/11 12:03 PM

houdini's ghost wrote:Okito wrote about hearing Houdini and his mother converse in Magyar.

That's neat. Do you recall where he wrote that?

In fact, what's the best source for learning more about the Okito dynasty?

It's true that Houdini's eyes are recorded as "brown" on that first, 28 May 1900, passport application and that is difficult to explain. ... But, rejecting the veracity of rest of the application over an obvious mistake would be a mistake.
What if it wasn't a mistake--what if it was a misstatement? A deliberate misstatement? Why?

Exactly. The definite error on the application calls into question but does not disprove the other claims on the application. That's why it's weak evidence for any of those claims.

The fact that most of the handwriting on the app is not Houdini's takes us some distance in understanding why mistakes are evident (although the 1873 birth year remains odd). But the presence of those errors weakens the whole.

I wonder if Houdini might have had hazel eyes?

There are a few photos of him in which his eyes appear so pale that the gray/blue range seems clear. Hazel seems unlikely given the data points.

In 1914, a tinted photo of Houdini was published in the New York World and his eyes are blue. I've never seen a photo where his eyes look brown.

Yup.

And what about the birthyear? Could Houdini actually have thought he was born in 1873? He gives 1873 as his birthdate in a few places--the autobiographical article in Goldston's 1909-1910 Magician Annual (as I recall). The Right Way To Do Wrong says 1873.

Possible.
And after his mother's death, he acknowledges in that letter to Hardeen, that Teller has now, that he will celebrate his birthday April 6 because "Mother always wrote to me on that date." So his mother thought April 6 was his birthday (March 24 was Nissan 6 on the Hebrew calendar in 1874).

The fact that she chose to write to him always on that date does not establish that she "thought April 6 was his birthday".

I'm not sure there's much weight in the fact that 6Nisan coincided with 24 March in that year. After all, there's no strong reason to confuse Nisan with April.

The Julian/Gregorian gap was 12 days in 1874, so 24 March/Julian was 05 April/Gregorian. That puts us within a day. Unhappily for that theory, Hungary was an early adopter of the Gregorian calendar (1587), so there's presently no reason to think the Julian calendar was a factor.

He does say he was born in Hungary on that first application. Three months later, on 9 August 1900, he swaps that passport for a new one--the reason? "For protection."

Is that a quote from correspondence?

I shouldn't have called that first one the only honest passport application he ever made out--I should have stayed on safe ground and said it was the most honest application.

I point it out only in the spirit of research. Your tome is rich and fascinating!

His occupation is given variously as Actor, Performer, Artiste and Juggler.

Apart from his card spread flourishes, do we have any other indications of Houdini's juggling? I don't recall having read about that (though of course it would fit right in), and wonder whether/when he ever used it.
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Postby JohnCox » 02/05/11 12:47 PM

Richard Hatch wrote:Hey, if Houdini's mother spoke no English, why did he write to her in English on the postcard he sent her after running away from home at about age 12? This is the famous one in which he says he's going to Galveston and signs it "Your truant son". My guess is that he probably spoke to her mostly in English (which she likely understood somewhat, even if she didn't speak it well herself), but that she spoke to him mostly in German/Yiddish.

I'll be darned. You know, I never thought about this. Why is this written in English? Maybe Houdini could speak German, but not write it. It's very possible. His written English is shaky enough. He would rely on one of the family to translate. That's my guess.

As to eye color, I've always heard grey-blue. "Piercing grey-blue eyes." I think that's what's said in the older bios.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 02/05/11 01:01 PM

Houdini could write in German. Take a look at "Notes" cover by Silverman.
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Postby JohnCox » 02/05/11 01:41 PM

Sure enough.

Then that is curious why he didn't write his runaway note in German. Any ideas?
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Postby houdini's ghost » 02/05/11 02:27 PM

He was twelve or thirteen when he wrote the famous "Dear Ma" postcard.
He had, apparently, completed his formal education. I've read that he had a sixth grade education.
And his schooling was probably all in English--and, privately, Hebrew.
I wouldn't think he could write that postcard in German at that time.
And you know, on that runaway journey, he introduced himself as "Harry White" to the Flitcroft family. It also appears he represented himself as an orphan to them.
As an adult, he spent months that accumulated into years in Germany. He wrote that he loved the people and the food and contemplated living there when he retired.
Didn't he have his mother's letters translated into German so he could read them more easily? German from what?
He stressed that his mother never spoke English in his denunciation of Lady Doyle's spirit writing message, and that may not have been strictly true.
But, however much English she knew or used, Mrs. Weiss sure as hell didn't talk like that message Lady Doyle "brought through."
Mrs. Weiss had seven kids that spoke English, and the six boys married English speaking women.
Herman, Nat and Bill would have been taught formal German in school in Hungary.
Bessie's parents spoke German, but, all their kids were taught in English.
Putting flesh and blood on it, if you live near an immigrant conclave you can observe how they develop the ability to get along in English. It seems to me, for old people, it can be rough and inconvenient. They get through the grocery line with some difficulty, then, get back to the neighborhood to talk with their family and friends in the language they know and are comfortable with.
I think the article in which Okito talks about hearing Houdini and his mother speak to each other in a language Bamberg who was familiar with most European languages had never heard--I think he said it sounded almost Oriental--was in MUM, but, I'm not sure.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 02/05/11 02:39 PM

I think the mother could understand, speak and maybe even read English. With all the children around, it would be hard not to. That's except for pop. He wasn't the brightest bulb in the pack.

Maybe...Houdini wrote the postcard in English because all of his siblings were using the language? They could translate it, if they had to, to Cecilia.
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Postby David Byron » 02/05/11 02:43 PM

Kevin Connolly wrote:Houdini could write in German. Take a look at "Notes" cover by Silverman.

That said, his German (like his English) was far from polished.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 02/05/11 03:00 PM

Kevin,
Remember Ma Joad's speech, the gist of which is about how women are more resilient than men. The scene is in the truck and the light source that illuminates the faces of Jane Darwell and Russell Simpson is the speedometer (Greg Toland was the DP).
Mayer Weiss wasn't a dim bulb, he just couldn't make the adjustment.
I would sure like to know if he attended the wedding of Herman Weiss and Dolly Patterson.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 02/05/11 03:09 PM

Say, what's this discussion doing in "Buzz?"
It should be over on "Magic History and Anecdotes" where no one will ever see it.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 02/05/11 04:05 PM

David Byron wrote:
Kevin Connolly wrote:Houdini could write in German. Take a look at "Notes" cover by Silverman.

That said, his German (like his English) was far from polished.


Not really too bad for a kid who probably didn't finish the 6th grade. To read, speak and write in 3 or 4, maybe 5, languages is a better man than me, Gunga Din.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 02/05/11 04:13 PM

Pat,

I think Mayer had more problems than just not being able to adjust. With all he lacked as a man, husband and father, there would probably be no Houdini. I think a big part of Houdini's drive to excel was his father's shortcomings.

Yes, the history section would be a better place for this thread.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/05/11 04:51 PM

Thread has been moved!
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