What Harry Houdini, the Quintessential Escape Artist, Declined to Escape

Houdini’s was the prototypically self-made American tale. But even while turning himself into the world’s greatest breaker of constraints, he remained a proudly identified Jew.

A poster for a performance of Harry Houdini’s in the late 19th-century. Alamy.

A poster for a performance of Harry Houdini’s in the late 19th-century. Alamy.

Observation
March 17 2020
About the author

Michal Leibowitz is a Krauthammer fellow at the Jewish Review of Books.


“My birth occurred April 6, 1874, in the small town of Appleton in the state of Wisconsin, U.S.A,” wrote Harry Houdini in an autobiographical essay for the Magical Annual of 1910. The sentence is revealing not in its facts—Houdini was actually born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Austria-Hungary—but because its falsehoods illustrate the difficulty of attempting a biography of a man who spent his career showing the public only what he wanted it to see.

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More about: American Jews, Arts & Culture, Harry Houdini, Magic