Harry Houdini’s primary residency was in the Harlem neighborhood of the Big Apple, making him likely the most famous Manhattan Magician who ever lived. He was an artist and an entrepreneur or to put it another way, he was an ArtisticPreneur – the ultimate ArtisticPreneur. He not only paid close attention to his art of magic but he also realized that to be successful he needed to focus on the marketing aspects of his creative career as well.
One of the ways that Houdini would bolster his publicity would be to escape from a straight jacket while hanging upside down in the middle of the town square of whatever city he was currently performing in. These publicity stunts would draw a large crowd and newspaper coverage, providing an opportunity to let others know that they could come see the escape artist live and in person at a local theater.
Houdini also paid attention to what people wanted to see. For example, early in his career he billed himself as the “King of Cards” which was an act he was doing with lukewarm response. But then when he began to do escapes in his shows, the escapes resonated with his audience. And through the suggestion of a booking agent Houdini decided to focus on escapology. Hence he became known as an escape artist.
Some believe that the reason that Houdini’s escapes were popular was because vicariously and metaphorically his fans would see the escapes as an affirmation that a person could escape from any problems she or he might face. Whatever the reason, Houdini brought his escape work up front and center by freeing himself from chains, large milk cans and even jail cells.
Houdini’s ArtisticPreneur orientation was ever present. He was proactive when it came to his creative career and created opportunities for himself rather than waiting for or hoping that others would do it for him. He knew that the promotional aspects of his creative career were in his charge.
Later in life, around 10 years prior to his early death at age 52, Houdini recognized the importance of the then burgeoning art form known as cinema and anticipated the very strong impact it would have on audiences. Ever the master marketer, he produced, acted in and promoted several films. Unfortunately, his film career was not successful at the time. But now in the present day Houdini’s movies are one of the ways we are able to learn more about this incredible showman. Some believe that had he lived longer, Houdini may have ultimately triumphed with his film ventures.
Toward the end of his life one of the missions that Houdini had was to debunk phony mediums and mystics by matching any of the acts of spiritualism that they would do. Houdini’s aim was to show that using the art form of magic he could do the same feats that so-called psychics did such as manifesting spirits in a dark room.
Ironically, even though he was somewhat cynical regarding most spiritualists, Houdini at the same time secretly held on to the idealistic notion that there might be some way of getting in touch with his beloved mother once she had passed away.
As another attempt at finding out if people could communicate with the dead, Houdini made a pact with his wife Bessie Houdini. The arrangement was to remember a phrase that would be kept only between the two of them. And after Houdini’s death Bessie contacted psychics hoping to find one that could channel Houdini’s spirit and utter the secret words. As we’ve mentioned before in this website, Bessie Houdini spent the last days of her life in a home within blocks of where we the editors of Manhattan Magician work.
And the death of one of the greatest Manhattan Magicians of all time – Harry Houdini – couldn’t have happened on a more opportune day in terms of marketing. His demise was on Halloween, 1926, the holiday known for ghosts and goblins. Even now many years after the escape artist’s passing, magicians gather annually in congregations all over the world on All Hallow’s Eve, October 31st. They hold seances in an attempt to reach Houdini’s spirit and find out if he is able to escape death.
Although no one has been able yet to manifest Mr. Houdini’s spirit, he is still very much alive in terms of interest from a global audience. This is a testament to the wonderful marketing abilities and artistry of this Manhattan Magician and ultimate ArtisticPreneur.