Escape artist. Born Erik Weisz in Budapest. Later names include: Ehrich Weiss, Harry Weiss. The family moved to the US in 1878. He had a very close relationship with his mother, to whom he always referred as “my sainted mother”, or “my beloved mother”. Married fellow performer, Bess, in 1894 and she was his stage assistant for the rest of his career. Arrive in London in 1900 and, following a handcuff trick at Scotland Yard, was booked at the Alhambra. He then toured very successfully, in the UK, Europe and beyond. He was an enthusiast for debunking spiritualists, using his knowledge of magic tricks.
Died following an incident in his dressing room when he allowed a student to punch him in the stomach to prove that it would do him no harm, but it did.
2023: From an episode of This American Life: When Houdini met Arthur Conan Doyle he (Houdini) was still grieving for his much-loved mother who had died almost 10 years before. Doyle, while acknowledging that fake mediums did exist, also believed that mediums could communicate with the dead. They became friends and in 1920, when Houdini was in the UK, Doyle introduced him to a number of spiritualists to help him contact his mother. But Houdini, knowing the tricks of the trade, did not believe any of them.
In 1922 Doyle and his wife Jean, a psychic medium, were in the US and met up with Houdini and his wife. They set up a séance on the weekend which, unbeknownst to the Doyles, was Houdini’s mother’s birthday. This took place in the Doyles’ Atlantic City hotel room. Using automatic writing Jean wrote out a message she received from the dead mother and gives the pages to Houdini. There are conflicting stories about Houdini’s reaction. Doyle though Houdini was overcome with emotion at, finally, receiving a message from his mother. Houdini kept the pages and later pointed out that: while his mother knew only German, the text is in English; a lot of the text is about the benefits of spiritualism; the text contains no biographic or personal details; and there’s no mention of the birthday.
Houdini afterwards denied ever having seen or heard anything to convince him that spiritualism was valid, not even the séance with the Doyles. Not surprisingly the friendship between Houdini and Doyle ended.