Thursday, September 15, 2011

HOUDINI: My Visit to His... Art & Magic Exhibit @ The Skirball Center

Photo by Linda Siag

I've always frickin' loved Houdini! I told myself; Ray ... you are not gonna to miss the Houdini: Art and Magic exhibit at The Skirball Center (which ran from April 28 – September 4, 2011.) Cuz, I LOVE HOUDINI!! But I almost did! I got there only a few short  hours before it disappeared. And apparently everyone in L.A. had the same idea! I waited in line fifteen minutes just to get my admission ticket! Yeah, it seems that “The Great Houdini” can still pack a house, I’m happy to say. For those of you not familiar with the magician Harry Houdini (hey, there are folks out there that don’t know who “The Fonz” is!) Well, Houdini (born Erik Weisz in 1874) became one of the most well known public figures of is day. In a time where people stumble into being famous for making sex tapes and being dumb as rocks (you know who!) Houdini was crazier than any rapper, he gained his fame the hard way… he risked his life for it; being handcuffed (his bling!) while locked in a trunk then dumped in the freezing East River... now that's DOPE! Actually THAT's MACHO... really FN MACHO!

Houdini didn't have a big ass... but he did have a powerful stout frame.

Houdini was the originator of the flash mob. Only the impromptu way Houdini did it, was to find a building (in a town he was performing) and dangle himself out a tall office building in a straight jacket while thousands of people gathered below. Like many people of my generation (I hate to say that… “My generation”) my first impression of Houdini the magician, was from a old 1953 movie the starred Tony Curtis (which co-starred his wife; Janet Leigh.) In the film, Houdini / Curtis, dies on stage trying to do the most dangerous of feats, The Chinese Water Torture Cell  (the one that strikes fear in the hearts of all magicians) trying to please his public… the quintessential fabricated Hollywood ending (actually, Houdini died from a burst appendix, on Halloween 1926.) We'll at least Houdini and Tony Curtis were both Hungarian and Jewish? As a teenager in the 70's, staying at my aunts home in the hot San Fernando Valley, with a big swimming pool in the backyard, I remember having my hands tied with rope and jumping of the diving board many times (WTF?) Thank goodness my aunt never caught me... or worse!!

For those who don’t know, The Skirball Center is a wonderful (speaking of which) Jewish cultural center nestled off of Sepulveda Blvd. (by Mulholland Drive) in Los Angeles. They put up a fantastic exhibit (sorry, you missed it) to honor the man who’s still to this day considered the worlds greatest magician. Son of a Rabbi, Houdini was a Hungarian Jew who came to the United States as a boy. He came from humble means and became a superstar of his day.

Filled with a myriad of Houdini artifacts (and some replicas) from old photos, those incredibly wonderful magic posters, straitjackets and handcuffs (sorry, no photos allowed.)  Also amazing in the time of the multi-media, we were treated to large screen projections of Houdini himself, from vintage silent films with the master himself dangling upside down from several stories high escaping from a straightjacket seventy-five years after his death (and how amazing was it, for Houdini to have the foresight to film himself in action.) Sure there were magicians before Houdini (hey there were singers before Sinatra too! but who’s name do you remember?) Houdini paved the way for all the names you know today; David Copperfield, David Blaine, Chris Angel… and dare I even say… Harry Potter?  Yeah, I said it … his name ain’t Brad Potter! It’s Harry! Houdini was also a crusader. He made it a personal mission to flush out the false spiritualists who ran rampant (some say like today?) preying on grieving people who wanted to contact loved ones on the other side. This was spurned on after losing his beloved mother. Houdini went on a quest to try and find away to contact her in the hereafter. Houdini remained on that quest until the day he died. Houdini himself promised his wife Bess, that if there was a way to comeback to her if he died before her, he would find away. And for many years she would conduct a séance on Halloween night (the anniversary of death) to test him. Alas, it seems that death was something the great magician never was able to escape from... even just to give his wife a small sign...

The Houdini exhibit, also coincided with an equally wonderful exhibit called: Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age. Again this exhibit was beautifully put together with wonderful material the showcased magicians who are now unknown to the general public, but were headliners of their day. Just another fantastic Los Angeles exhibit of a time... that will never be again. Harry Houdini, who would today be 137 years old, remains as they say on the street; "The O.G."