Walking through walls……

Houdini 1Every magician remembers his first ‘meeting’ with Harry Houdini.  My introduction to the greatest icon in the magic world was at age thirteen when my mother bought a book about him from a local library that was selling it’s excess reading matter. That book started a journey that is still going on.

The book was called ‘Houdini: the Man who Walked Thru Walls’ and she left it out for me to find on my return from school. Mum was away on her weekly trip to her doctor in London.  She visited a psychiatrist for my entire childhood and teenage years with no noticeable improvement to her condition, which was referred to in those days as manic depression.  It wasn’t until after her psychiatrist’s death that she seemed to improve at all.  Coincidence? I will be charitable and say maybe.

Mum always tried to leave a little surprise or gift for me when she took the bus to his afternoon appointments at the busy Middlesex hospital in London. This time she had really picked a winner in the Lindsey Gresham biography of this fascinating man.  In fact to a young man already infatuated by the art of magic it was like pouring gasoline on a lit match!  As soon as I found the book on the kitchen table I made a triple-decker peanut butter sandwich and began to devour them both.

Houdini was certainly an amazing man and like so many other young magicians I fell under his spell and decided that this was the life for me.  As synchronicity would have it, that very week BBC television played the classic “Houdini” movie starring Tony Curtis. As you can imagine this brought the book to life for me in a very special manner.  I was right up there in the screen with the tall, dark, handsome and debonair movie version of the great man.

I was to later discover that as usual Hollywood got it all wrong and if you had to compare Houdini with anyone in a movie it wouldn’t be the roguishly loveable TonyHoudini 2 Curtis, it would be closer to Joe Pesci in ‘Goodfellas’. I was later to discover that Houdini was a short, rough, tough little fella’ with equal parts paranoia, delusions of grandeur and sheer guts!

I was later to discover that Tony Curtis also wasn’t quite the charming figure I remembered. In the late ‘70’s I performed a private, show for him and his guests at the Magic Castle.  What started as a dreamlike experience, getting to sit with my childhood hero and perform an hours worth of my very best close-up for him and his guests, wound up as a major disillusionment when he stiffed me for my very modest fee! I should really have forgiven him by now but I haven’t. However, the theory in Hollywood that if you’re going to be stiffed it is better to be stiffed by a movie star than an average Joe!

My identification with Houdini was the final thing that sealed my fate as a professional magician.  Houdini had been born in Budapest, was short, in great physical condition and dead. I on the other hand was a tall, overweight Londoner who was very much alive.  You need imagination to make it in magic though and the very fact that I identified with him at all was probably what I needed to follow in his footsteps.

I was also fascinated with the curious Houdini characteristic of continually rewriting his past. I certainly didn’t object to this, in fact I really liked it.  In future years my two major heroes shared this same character trait.  I have since come to think that people who are consistent or tell too much of the truth about themselves are at the very best lazy.

It seems to me that what we believe or create about our past is every bit as accurate as what actually happened. It is often more revealing and honest to the ‘I’ we currently are.  If you can’t change your past then you don’t have much chance of shaping your future.  Truth and time is like salt water taffy, it can be pulled and stretched into any shape without affecting its substance.

~ by Nick Lewin on June 3, 2013.

4 Responses to “Walking through walls……”

  1. Wonderful post, Nick. Thank you. It’s funny, I’m working on a post for my own blog about the Gresham book (might even post today, in fact). I consider that book “The first great Houdini biography”.

  2. well written, as always

  3. I love your blog. Keep them coming!

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