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October 29, 2006

Halloween Fun: Harry Houdini Was A Spy (?)

That's the claim, probably just plain wrong, made in a new book. But Harry Houdini was such a frickin' cool guy I'll post it anyway.

Eighty years after his death, the name Harry Houdini remains synonymous with escape under the most dire circumstances. But Houdini, the immigrants' son whose death-defying career made him one of the world's biggest stars, was more than a mere entertainer.

A new biography of the legendary performer suggests that Houdini worked as a spy for Scotland Yard, monitored Russian anarchists and chased counterfeiters for the U.S. Secret Service - all before he was possibly murdered.

...

The biography lays out a scenario where Houdini, using his career as cover, managed to travel the United States and the world while collecting information for law enforcement. The authors made the link after reviewing a journal belonging to William Melville a British spy master who mentioned Houdini several times.

...

This silliness is based on police cooperation in allowing Houdini to escape from their prisons and demonstrate escape-artist skills and the like. "Must be a quid pro quo," the biography claims.

Yeah, or people just wantint to be nice to celebrities. Not like that happens very often.

No less a Houdini enthusiast than Teller - the mute half of Penn and Teller, and one of the legendary performer's spiritual descendants - felt the link between the escape artist and the authorities was no leap.

"Law enforcement is about bureaucracy and cronyism," Teller said. "So they're going to let some entertainer walk in and escape from their jail cells? That suggests to me that (the authors) are on the right track."

Of course he'd think that. Is there any magician who's actually a sorta badass, non-goofball hero like Houdini? Who else does Teller have to look up to?

...

The biography's other hook is the suggestion that Houdini's relentless debunking of the Spiritualist movement, whose proponents included "Sherlock Holmes" author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, led to his death. The group believed they could contact the dead; Houdini believed they were frauds.
...

The authors recount a pair of October 1926 incidents in which Houdini was viciously punched in the stomach, once by a college student in his dressing room and later by a stranger in a hotel lobby.

Houdini - the book suggests the Spiritualists may have arranged the attacks - died days later in Room 401 at Grace Hospital in Detroit. His aura of invincibility seemed over. But as the authors discovered, it still lives on today.

Eh. Almost certainly jackass. But good if you're running a Call of Cthulhu game.

The Houdini-Conan Doyle Feud: Via Wikipedia:

hese activities cost Houdini the friendship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle, a firm believer in spiritualism during his later years, refused to believe any of Houdini's exposés. Doyle actually came to believe that Houdini was a powerful spiritualist medium, had performed many of his stunts by means of paranormal abilities, and was using these abilities to block those of other mediums that he was 'debunking' (see Doyle's The Edge of The Unknown, published in 1931 after Houdini's death). This disagreement led to the two men becoming public antagonists.

Odd, given that Holmes was always exposing the supernatural or mystical as mundane trickery.


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posted by Ace at 07:24 PM

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