Escape!: The Story of Harry Houdini

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Escape The Story of Harry HoudiniWhat the Book is About:

This entertaining biography tells how the most famous magician in the world, Harry Houdini, went from a childhood in poverty to fame and fortune as he performed seemingly impossible escapes from sealed boxes, chains, and straitjackets. In this fascinating and lively book, readers see Houdini’s determination to succeed, as well as his egotism and jealousy. Author Sid Fleischman was an amateur magician himself. His friendship with Houdini’s widow gave him access to the rare photos included in the book, many of which are published here for the first time.

Jewish Content and Values

  • Born Ehrich Weiss to a poor rabbi and his wife in Hungary, Houdini was not religious and married a Catholic woman, but he chose to be buried in a Jewish cemetery in New York, near his parents, and when he became successful, he set up a charitable theatrical association for other sons of rabbis.
  • Honoring parents (Kibud Horim): Houdini exemplified the Jewish value of honoring one’s parents. Before his death, Houdini’s father made Houdini promise that he would always take care of his mother, and he did. Houdini adored his mother and she lived with him and his wife. He is said to have wept by his mother’s grave every day for the full year of traditional mourning following her death.

Positive Role Models

Harry Houdini’s ambition, focus, and determination to succeed helped him to become the most famous and successful magician and escape artist in the world. He was also an extremely devoted husband and son.

Content Advisory

There is an instance of bad language when Houdini exposes a medium as a fraud and her husband swears at him.

Talk it Over

One reason that Houdini was so single-minded in his quest for success was his determination to provide his family with financial stability and his memory of his difficult childhood in poverty. Once he was a star, he did whatever he could to keep at the top, including working to ruin the reputation of competitors such as Robert Houdin, the magician who had been his idol and on whom he based his own name. If you were in Houdini’s position, how far would you go to be at the top? How far is too far?

More for You

Harry Houdini was a Jewish magician at a time of widespread antisemitism. Perhaps because of that, he changed his name and kept his Jewishness private. But since Houdini, there have been many well- known Jewish magicians, including David Copperfield, who has earned more than any other magician; Israeli spoon bender Uri Geller; illusionist and endurance artist David Blaine; New York City’s “Official Magician” under Mayor La Guardia, Abraham Hurwitz; Fred Kaps, the only person to win the international federation of magic societies’ award three times; and Max Malini, who performed at Buckingham Palace and the White House.

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