There’s an old joke about why Jews have been so active in the field of magic: Jews always need a good escape plan. Whatever the reason for this cultural affinity for the art of deception, Menorah is honoring Jewish practitioners of modern magic with a a talk on Houdini leading up to a gala fundraiser on Sunday, October 18 featuring table-side magic. (Details below)
The most famous escape artists of all time was born by the name Erich Weiss in Budapest, the son of a rabbi. Early in his career, which got off to a shaky start with card tricks, he re-named himself Houdini under the mistaken assumption that adding an “i”meant “like Houdini” in French. He boldy, if erroneously, compared himself to the father of modern magic, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin (1805-1871).
Although the performance of magic for the public had a long history of street performers who astounded audiences at fairs, markets and outdoor venues throughout Europe, it was considered a disreputable profession, often associated with card sharks and pickpockets. Robert-Houdin moved his act first into the parlors of wealthy homes, then opened his own theater in Paris, where he dressed elegantly and could rig the stage for increasingly astounding feats. The son of a watchmaker, he had mistakenly received a two-volume set of magic, and practiced all hours of the day. Much of what we know about Robert-Houdin comes from his memoirs — and his writings were meant more to entertain than to chronicle, rendering it difficult to separate fact from fiction.
After his death, Robert-Houdin’s son and widow sold the theatre to George Melies in 1888. The movie “Hugo” chronicles the story of Robert-Houdin and Méliès, himself a magician but best known to history as one of the greatest early innovators of film making, who later presented his first movies there.
Jim Steinmeyer said in his book, “Hiding the Elephant,” that every magician of the 20th century was haunted by Robert-Houdin, “…who cast an enormous shadow over their generation.”
American magician and escape artist Harry Houdini began to outdo the master at every turn. He first attracted notice in vaudeville, where Jews had a virtual monopoly, and toured Europe as “Harry Handcuff Houdini,” where he challenged police forces to keep him locked up. Soon he extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and escaped from a sealed milk can full of water.
In 1904, thousands watched as he tried to escape from special handcuffs commissioned by London’s Daily Mirror, keeping the audience in suspense for an hour. Another stunt saw him buried alive and only just able to claw himself to the surface, emerging in a state of near-breakdown. While many suspected that these escapes were faked, Houdini presented himself as the scourge of fake spiritualists. He made an elephant disappear. As President of the Society of American Magicians, he was keen to uphold professional standards and expose fraudulent artists. He was also quick to sue anyone who pirated his escape stunts. Tony Curtis and Adrien Brody are among the actors who have played Houdini on the screen.
Although many Jewish magicians have enjoyed enormous success, David Copperfield chief among them, none have surpassed Houdini in celebrity. Local magician Lamont is a Houdini aficionado who will pay tribute to the remarkable performer and his contribution to modern magic.
Lamont’s talk on Houdini is in anticipation of Menorah’s Magical Morning, a gala brunch featuring magic by eight local magicians performing table-side.
Prepare to be amazed!
Houdini: The Jewish Master of Magic
Featuring the Miraculous Lamont
Sunday, September 20, 7:00 pm at the Boulder JCC
$12 online; $15 at the door
A Magical Morning with Menorah
A Gala Fundraiser Featuring Table-Side Magic
Sunday, October 18, 11:00 – 2:00 pm at Rembrandt Yard
$90 per person
Please join us to
- Marvel at Susan Litt’s contribution to Menorah and the Boulder Jewish Community
- Be astonished by eight local magicians performing at your table
- Savor a bewitching brunch catered by Bay Window Catering
- Wonder at the enchanting offerings of our Silent Auction, which includes Menorah’s trick of the trade: individualized social convocations, hands-on workshops, and captivating cultural events
- Meet the magic mensches at a post-show champagne reception
- Extoll the magnificence of Menorah’s cultural offerings and the charmed people who make the magic happen
Tickets may be conjured online at boulderjcc.org, or by summoning Kathryn Bernheimer at 303-998-1021.