Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happy Birthday to the Great Houdini

Today is the 137th birthday of one of my real-life boyhood heroes -- the one, the only, the Great Houdini!

The Tony Curtis film Houdini literally changed my life as a kid. By the time the end credits rolled I was hooked on magic for life. Not long after I first saw it, my dad gave me a paperback biography of the famous escape artist/magician. Soon I was studying magic very seriously before I was even ten years old. There's still not a knot that can hold me.

One time my mother locked herself out of our house. After I got home from school, I approached the door lock with a few of the tricks and techniques I'd been reading and practicing, and in a few minutes I managed to pick my first lock with a bent piece of old wire from our garage. Mom was completely astonished and told all our relatives, calling me "Houdini" for weeks. I was very happy that she was so proud of me. (My mom had the good sense not to describe our adventure to the neighbors. I doubt many of them would have been very pleased that the fifth grader living on their street could pick the locks of their homes.)

I still practice magic now and again especially for kids, turning their wooden pencils into rubber and making pennies vanish and then appear again behind their ears. In fact, magic helps in my creative writing too, as sleight of hand and mystery fiction are all about misdirection.

So, Happy Birthday Harry, and thanks for inspiring me to make the great escape from the mundane to the magical.

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