He played Harry Houdini in the 1953 film, entitled, Houdini.
Once I saw it, I was hooked. I wanted to know those tricks, to learn the craft. The Deceit of Illusion. But more than that, I wanted to actually make magic.
I had help early on. In the department of creating illusions, my Grandpa (the same one who taught me Black Jack) taught me a wealth of card stunts. He also gave me a little coin trick which I cherish to this day.
And then, there was my Uncle Ed. Charles Croghan. Uncle Charlie. He was one smooooth customer…. he was. Once he found out I liked magic, he taught me all sorts of things. Mostly card gigs. But he would also buy me little tricks, here and there.
Around my 10th Christmas, I received a whole big magic set from Santa. I was on Cloud Nine. I worked with that thing, and worked with that thing. And finally, I put on my first magic show. The audience? Mom, Dad, Uncle Charlie and Aunt Dee. They humored me, immensely. All four were great actors, too. They made me feel like I had just performed in the ranks of Houdini.
I was on my way. But then, the plastic mold magic hat, got a crack in it. I could no longer do the “Pour the Milk Trick.” About a week later, one of my sisters crushed the little red “shell” for my ball trick. And then my Magic Deck went missing.
The Art of Illusion was vanishing before my very eyes.
At that point, the call of the Spring Season was on the doorstep, and my Magic Cape transformed into a softball uniform. Batter up.
However, to this day, I am completely fascinated with the magical side of our world. It is alive and well, and dancing about all over the place. Yet, this is not to be confused with the conjured, with the slight of hand, with trickery.
Tricks are tricks. They are entertaining. And some people are very good at the Art of Illusion. David Blaine. Criss Angel. Dynamo. Penn & Teller. David Copperfield.
And sometimes, they are not so good. There are numerous accounts of these “stunts” gone awry.
Take for instance a guy named Joe Burrus. This guy often compared himself to the famed Harry Houdini. And always looked for the big trick. He arranged for a Halloween night spectacle in 1990 where he would settle into a glass coffin and have nine tons of dirt and cement poured over him.
Sound pretty tense. The performance took place at Blackbeard’s Family Fun Center in Fresno, California. They lowered good old Joe seven feet into the ground. He was all chained-up. Burrus waited while assistants directed a cement truck to unload its contents over the coffin. Glitch. After one false start—the chain around his neck was too tight—Burrus made a second attempt. The cement crushed the coffin, suffocating him. So, yeah, just like Houdini, he died on Halloween night.
Now me? I don’t really explore the trickery of things any more. Especially not of the life-threatening variety. Once my plastic magic hat broke, I think I became discouraged.
Since that time, I’ve found that real magic truly does exist in our world. But contrary to trickery, true magic isn’t about creating tension. It is about relieving it. It is not found in deep water tanks and straight jackets. The real magic is deep with in us, freely. The power to do good. True magic comes from love and understanding and compassion. The greatest of teachers have shown the way on this.
So. Tony Curtis. Thanks for Houdini.
And for the rest of you. Thanks for the wonder. The magic.
The next time you’re faced with something that’s unexpected, unwanted and uncertain, consider that it just may be a gift. — Stacey Kramer
[H]e, who will not reason, is a bigot; he, who cannot, is a fool; and he, who dares not, is a slave. — William Drummond
If not us, who? If not now, when? — Hillel the Elder