Houdini, Harry (hōdēˈnē) [key], 1874–1926, American magician and writer, b. Budapest, Hungary. His real name was Ehrich Weiss; his stage name honors the French magician Houdin. He was famed for his escapes from bonds of every sort—locks, handcuffs, straitjackets, and sealed chests underwater. Though his stage magic skills were limited, Houdini was famously the originator (1918) of the celebrated Vanishing Elephant illusion, a trick that still remains a mystery. He toured the United States and Europe, and performed (1919–23) in silent films. In his later years, he devoted himself to the exposure of fraudulent spiritualist mediums and their phenomena (see spiritism). He left his library of magic, one of the most complete and valuable in the world, to the Library of Congress. Among his many writings are The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin (1908), Miracle Mongers and Their Methods (1920), and A Magician among the Spirits (1924).
See Houdini's Magic (ed. from his notebooks, 1932); biographies by H. Kellock (1928), W. L. Gresham (1959), M. Christopher (1970), B. C. Meyer (1976), R. Brandon (1993), K. Silverman (1996), and W. Kalush and L. Sloman (2006); W. B. Gibson, Houdini's Escapes (1930); R. FitzSimons, Death and the Magician (1985); A. Phillips, Houdini's Box (2002); J. Steinmeyer, Hiding the Elephant (2003); R. K. Rapaport et al., Houdini: Art and Magic (museum catalog, 2010).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.