Looking for a good movie to rent this weekend? May we recommend “The illusionist” or “The Prestige,” two very different films built around magicians, and the realities that intrude on their lives.
The life story of Harry Houdini, the self-invented legend of American legerdemain, unfolds like a movie. A poor immigrant boy’s genius for free publicity as he escapes from handcuffs and chains, and eventually builds large-scale illusions tailored to theater audiences, creates a magical personality that wins him the admiration of millions.
More than 80 years after his death, Houdini still has the ability to mystify us. Today brings the revival, by a descendant of Houdini, of a story that surfaced soon after his passing: that he was not killed by a fan invited to test the magician’s physical strength, but by a cabal of fake spirit mediums whose livelihood was debunked by the illusionist.
The generally accepted version was that Houdini suffered a ruptured appendix from a punch in the stomach, leading to a fatal case of peritonitis.
But no autopsy was performed. When the death certificate was filed on Nov. 20, 1926, Houdini’s body — brought by train from Detroit to Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal — was already buried in Queens, along with any evidence of a possible death plot.
A new investigation being launched today into the death of Houdini conjures up some of the most famous names of his age, who were true believers in communication with a spirit world- among them, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
It’s being alleged again that spiritualists were not above murdering Houdini, to stop his skeptical attacks on their beliefs, and protect their income from seances, lectures and books. Could they have conspired to poison the master magician? True or false, the mere asking of that question and the reaction to it prove that Houdini’s ability to captivate and mystify lives on in our imaginations.