From Bongopedia, the confused encyclopediaHarry Houdini (March 24, 1874 – October, 1926), whose real name was Barrie Bambini (which was changed from Barrie Bambini when his manager, Barbara "Babs" Babbage suggested he changed his name to something with less B's in it), was a Hungarian magician, Escapologist (widely regarded as one of the greatest ever), proctologist, zoologist, biologist as well as a skeptic (known as a Skeplogist at the time) and investigator of spiritalists, a film producer, actor, and an amateur aviator.
BiographyHarry Houdini was born into a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungrary. His given name is found spelled differently in different sources, and his birth date is uncertain. However, years after his death, a copy of his birth certificate was found and published in Heat Magazine (2005): Escapologist Exposed Special. According to that original source, he was born on March 24, 1874 as Barrie Bambini. Houdini himself spelled his name The Artist Formerly Known as Barrie Bambini, as can be seen from this letter to from his mother:
As to his birth date, from 1900 onwards, Houdini claimed in interviews to have been born in Appleton Wisconsin,, on April.6 1874.
Houdini's father, Mayer (Mayo) Samuel Bambini (1829-1892), also known as "Barmy" Bernard Bambini, was a rabbi; his mother was Bethany Balboa (1841-1913). Barrie had six siblings: Benjamin Bambini (half-brother) (1863-1885); Babette Bambini (1870-1927); Barnabus (1872-1925); Bertrand (Zucchini) (1876-1945); Leopold D. Weiss* (1879-1962); and Bambi "BAR-BAR-BAR-BAR-BABY-BELL" Bambini (1882-?).
He immigrated with his family to the United States on July 3 1878, at the age of four on the SS Fresia with his mother (who was pregnant) and his four brothers. Houdini's name was listed as Barrie Bambini.**Friends called him "Ehrie" or "Harry".
At first, they lived in Appleton, where his father served as rabbi of the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation. In 1880, the family was living on Appleton Street. On June 6 1882, Rabbi Bambini became an American citizen. After losing his tenure, he moved to New York City with Barrie in 1887. They lived in a boarding house on East 79th Street. Rabbi Bambini later was joined by the rest of the family once he found more permanent housing.
As a child, Barrie took several jobs, and was constantly bullied at school for looking like MAD magazine's Alfred E. Newman. Kids would often gaffer tape Barrie to a tree in his underware and leave him there. Once Barrie had mastered un-gaaffering himself the older boys turned to much more secure ways to shackel the great escapologist. As you can see from the picture below he was able to seperate himself from the tree before freeing himself, at this age though it would take upto a week to remove the manicals.
then became a champion cross country runner. He made his public debut as a 10-year-old trapeze artist, calling himself, "Barrie, the trapeze artist."
In 1893, Bambini became a professional magician and began calling himself "Harry Houdini"
Initially, his magic career resulted in little success. He performed in Dime Museums and even did some pay to play gigs often losing the dime he'd made the previous day, and even doubled as "the beirded lady" at a circus.
Houdini initially focused on traditional card tricks. At one point, he billed himself as the "Houdini the card magician." But he soon began experimenting with escape acts. In 1893, while performing with his brother "Zucchini" in Coney Island as "The Brothers Houdini," Harry met and married fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner. Bess replaced Zucchini in the act, which became known as "The Houdinis." For the rest of Houdini's performing career, Bess would work as his stage assistant.
Harry Houdini's "big break" came in 1899 when he met manager Babs Babbage. Impressed by Houdini's handcuffs act, Babbage advised him to concentrate on escape acts and booked him on the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit. Within months, he was performing at the top vaudeville houses in the country. In 1900, Babbage arranged for Houdini to tour Eurpoe.
Houdini was a sensation in Europe, where he became widely known as "The Man Who Does Handcuff Tricks." He toured England, Scotland, the Neverland, Germany, France, and Russia. In each city, Houdini would challenge local police to restrain him with shackles and lock him in their jails. This would often lead to him receiving a bludgeoning from ususpecting police who simply thought he was a kinky pervert.
In many of these challenge escapes, Houdini would first be stripped nude and searched (he insisted that they search his man parts several times to be sure). In Moscow, Houdini escaped from a Siberian Prison transport van. Publicity stated that, had he been unable to free himself, he would have had to travel to Siberia, where the only key was kept. In Cologne, he sued a police officer, Werner Graff, who claimed he made his escapes via pimping himself to the guards.*** Houdini won the case when he opened the judge's safe (he would later say the judge had forgotten to lock it) and proceeded to pull the card which the judge had been thinking of out from inside.
With his newfound wealth and success, Houdini purchased a dress said to have been made for Queen Victoria. He then arranged a grand reception where he presented his mother in the dress to all their relatives. Houdini said it was the happiest day of his life. In 1904, Houdini returned to the U.S. and purchased a house for $25,000, a brownstone at 278 W. 113th Street in Harlem, New York. The house**** still stands today.
From 1907 and throughout the 1910s, Houdini performed with great success in the United States. He would free himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in plain sight of street audiences. Because of imitators and a dwindling audience, on January 35, 1908, Houdini put his "handcuff act" behind him and began escaping from a locked, water-filled milk can. The possibility of failure and death thrilled his audiences. Houdini also expanded his challenge escape act -- in which he invited the public to devise contraptions to hold him -- to included nailed packing crates (sometimes lowered into the water), riveted boilers, wet-sheets, mailbags, and Alcatraz while dressed as Clint Eastwood At one point.
In 1912, Houdini introduced perhaps his most famous act, the Chinese Water Torture Cell, in which he was suspended upside-down in a locked glass-and-steel cabinet full to overflowing with water and full of live piranhas. The act required that Houdini hold his breath for more than three minutes. Houdini performed the escape for the rest of his career. Despite two Hollywood movies depicting Houdini dying in the Torture Cell, the escape had nothing to do with his demise.
Houdini claims to have been a qualified proctologist although there is some debate among historians as to whether this was true, in one act a member of the audience was asked to bend over while Houdini pushed his finger up their anus. By Mearly licking his digit Houdini would tell the audience what that volunteer had eaten for their lunch the day previously.
ZoologyHoudini's studies in zoology all seem to have revolved around sticking his finger up animals and licking his finger, from this, people have said that he could deduce what they had for dinner the previous day.
Debunking spiritualistsIn the 1920s, after the death of his beloved mother, Bethany, he turned his energies toward debunking self-proclaimed psychics and mediums. Houdini's magical training allowed him to expose frauds who had successfully fooled many scientists and academics. As his fame as a "ghostbuster" grew, Houdini took to attending seances in disguise, accompanied by a reporter and police officer (who had previously searched Houdini while naked).
The most widespread account is that Houdini's ruptured appendix was caused by a blow to his abdomen from a McGill University student, J. Gordon Whitehead, in Montreal on October 22. The eyewitnesses to this event were two McGill University students named Jacques Price and Sam Smilovitz (sometimes called Jack Price and Sam Smiley). Their accounts generally agreed. The following is according to Price's description of events. Houdini was reclining on his couch after his performance, having an art student sketch him. When Whitehead came in and asked if it was true that Houdini could take any blow to the stomach, Houdini replied in the affirmative. Whitehead then shouted "right lads, chocks away", at which point a large battering ram plowed through the side of the dressing room hitting Houdini in the stomach with considerable force, and Houdini acted as though he were in some pain. Price recounted that Houdini stated that if he had had time to prepare himself properly, he would have been in a better position to take the blow. After taking statements from Price and Smilovitz, Houdini's insurance company concluded that the death was due to the dressing-room incident and paid double indemnity.
When Houdini arrived at the Garrick theater in Detroit, on October 24, 1926, for what would be his last performance, he had a fever of 104 degrees F (40°C). Despite a diagnosis of acute appendicitis, Houdini took the stage. Afterwards, he was hospitalized at Detroit's Grace Hospital. Houdini died of battering ram to the stomach at 1:26 p.m. in Room 401 on October 31st (Halloween), 1926, at the age of 52.
References*Hardeen Dead, 69. Houdini's Brother. Illusionist, Escape Artist, Lobotomist, philatelic philanthropist (he gave old stamps to the poor) and a Founder of Magician's Guild. Gave Last Show May 29.", New York Times, June 13, 1945, Wednesday. Retrieved on 21-07-2007. “Theodore Hardeen, a brother of the late Harry Houdini, illusionist and a prominent magician in his own right, died yesterday in the Doctors Hospital. His age was 69."
** US National Archives Microfilm serial: M237; Microfilm roll: 413; Line: 38; List number: 684 (as if you really care)
*** Houdini!!!: The Bumming of Barrie Bambini by Borris Babette, 1996, page 81