Harry Houdini exhibit to open at SF museum

September 28, 2011 8:42:07 PM PDT
The most legendary performer of the early 20th Century is now the subject of a new exhibit opening this weekend in San Francisco. The life and legacy of magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is being celebrated at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

He captured people's imaginations. Harry Houdini, the ultimate magician and escape artist.

"People are forever on the edge of their seats when the think people are in peril and not going to make it," said curator Dana Solomon, "so that sort of transcends time."

There is still notoriety today: The escape from the water torture cell and getting out of handcuffs.

Houdini was the son of a rabbi from Budapest who became America's biggest star.

"The fact that he died in the 20s is amazing because people think about him as so living and vibrant," Solomon said.

Thousands of people would watch him in the era of television. Always a showman and promoter, he'd conduct his tricks on newspaper building so he'd get press conference. In San Francisco, he hung from the Hearst Building at 3rd and Market in 1923.

Before that, he escaped from a locked box in Aquatic Part during the Pan Pacific explosion in 1915.

Houdini didn't stop with theatre performances; he went to Hollywood and became a silent film star. Years later, Hollywood made a film about him starring Tony Curtis.

Later in life, he went on a crusade to debunk people who claimed to have supernatural abilities.

Houdini died on Halloween 1926 and for 10 years, on every Halloween, his wife would conduct a s?ance hoping he would return. Finally, she stopped, saying 10 years is long enough to wait for any man.

The exhibit includes works by artists inspired by Houdini.

"Many artists have made the analogy between art and making magic," Solomon said.

Don't expect to learn how Houdini did his tricks though. That's still part of magic.

The show will be in San Francisco until next January.


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