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Harry Houdini

Icons of the Century

In tough times — such as the early 1900s, when masses of unschooled immigrants struggled to get a foothold in America — a man who excelled at thrilling, death-defying escapes was destined to be a star. Houdini exemplified the human capacity to outfox adversity. An immigrant himself, he became a household word and one of the most popular entertainers in the world from 1899 to his death in 1926.

Born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Houdini suffered a hard-luck childhood, but spun gifts for athletics and magic into a life on the vaudeville circuit, and eventually Broadway and the silver screen.

Tricks like “the manacled bridge jump” and the “Chinese water-torture escape,” which combined high dramatics with supernatural-seeming strength and stamina, helped him draw crowds from 1899 to his death in 1926, and set the bar for the blockbuster illusionists who would follow.

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