Would you wear and use a vintage pocket watch?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Waxing Magic Among the Spirits - The Voice of Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini, attempting the bridge jump

Harry Houdini led the way in the world of showmanship and performance magic and enthralled a generation with his spectacular death-defying feats of escape.

During his life, Houdini was outspokenly anti-spiritualist, and vehemently descried any who claimed to be mediums or fortune-tellers; he penned a book, entitled A Magician Among the Spirits, attempting to expose such performers as charlatans. (He also challenged spiritualists to prove their beliefs were true, under test conditions, in this speech.)

Houdini had some illustrious friends, one of whom was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. In contrast to Houdini's mindset, Conan Doyle readily embraced the Spiritualist world, yet despite their conflicting ideals the two gentlemen were friends until a genuine row over their spiritual beliefs brought an end to their comradeship.  (In early 2011, rumors spread of a possible SyFy channel show about Houdini and Conan Doyle joining forces to solve crimes in 1920's New York. The name of the show is "Among the Spirits"; the scenery and costuming will take aspects of Victorian and Steampunk to appeal to fans of both.)

Houdini in handcuffs, 1905
 But for now, we have access to recordings of Harry Houdini's voice preserved on wax cylinders. Some of the clips came from sessions where he was practicing his lines; here you may download a file of Houdini speaking about his Water Torture Chamber act, from 1914.  The enunciation we hear on the Edison cylinder recording was necessary for the words to be inscribed clearly, so his actual stage voice was probably a bit different even though it is said that when one speaks on stage it should be loudly and slowly as well.

When he finally succumbed to complications from a ruptured appendix, Houdini had already revolutionized the world of stage magic and openly challenged the magicians of the world to better their skills as performers.  You may find details regarding his death and final resting place (including monuments to him) here.

The below video includes photos, a recording of Houdini's voice, and also one of his wife speaking about her efforts to contact him after his death (she held a seance at least once per year to try to contact him, apparently without any luck).

Whether you like Houdini's act or not, he certainly embraced the style of the times.  It has been said by many that certainly nobody before him put on such spellbinding performances and while looking as dapper in collar and jacket. Bonus points for that, chap. Bonus points for that.


Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails