Houdini’s Relationship with Judaism

Inside Magic Image of Harry HoudiniJoshua Spivak has a great article in today’s Jewish Daily Forward, “The True Story of Harry Houdini’s Tefillin.”

While researching a totally unrelated topic by reading through old newspapers, he came across an article about Harry Houdini’s death.  That led him to further research into the newspapers of the time and into an interesting – if occasionally contradictory – depiction of Houdini’s relationship with the Jewish community and his Jewish practices.

One article, collected the perspective of folks who claimed to be former Wisconsin neighbors and friends, claimed that: “They know him as a man devoutly religious, who, wherever his performance brought him, carried his phylacteries and mezuzahs, Jewish creedal symbols, with him…The mezuzahs, strips of parchment with scriptural passages encased in tin, considered effective in warding off evil, he is said to have nailed to the door of the hotel room wherever he lodged for the night, on the true orthodox Jewish fashion. And the phylacteries, little leathern boxes with scriptural parchment recognized as charms, he bound to his forehead and left arm each morning during his prayers, his friends declare.”

Joshua Spivak is a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in N.Y., and blogs at http://recallelections.blogspot.com/

Mac King Inspires Kids and Adults

Inside Magic Image of Mac KingInside Magic Favorite Mac King received well-deserved, positive press in today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal for his tireless work to promote reading.  This is the fifth year Mac King’s Magical Literacy Tour has visited Las Vegas elementary schools to promote the magic of books.

Beverly Mathis, director of literacy for The Public Education Foundation, praised Mr. King effusively (see how we up our adverb choice when talking about literacy?).

“Mac King is fabulous, and we know how he motivates children to read,” Mathis said. “There’s a little book by Dr. Seuss, and the title is ‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go!’, and just think about that. Children can go anywhere they want, even though they’re right here at Bunker Elementary School. Reading opens up the world.”

Mr. King acknowledges that young audiences can be tough audiences.

“It’s hard doing magic for kindergartners and first-graders, you know?” he said. “They kind of believe it; they believe it’s real.”

“I started doing a few school assemblies when I first started at Harrah’s,” said King, “and I started seeing libraries in Las Vegas and thought, ‘Maybe we can get some more books in there.’  When I was a kid, I checked out a book about magic —Tricks Any Boy Can Do — from my school library, and it literally changed my life.”

Mr. King’s multi-award winning show runs Tuesday through Saturday afternoons at 1pm and 3pm at Harrah’s in Las Vegas.

Each student got a free book, courtesy of a book drive sponsored by local companies and the YMCA of Southern Nevada.

“Some of these kids, it’s the only book they’ve ever owned,” King said. “And that’s just appalling. But, for them, it’s like Christmas.”

Be sure to stop by Mr. King’s website at mackingshow.com

Escape Artist Andrew Basso Profiled

Inside Magic Image of Andrew BassoThe Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a great profile piece on Italian escapologist Andrew Basso today.  Mr. Basso is receiving raves for his twist on Houdini’s Water Torture Cell escape performed as his turn in The Illusionists nationwide tour.

How did he get into magic?  To impress mom.

“If you knew my mother, you would say she’s Morticia [Addams],” he said.  “She was very serious, no smiles. But when the circus came, she watched the magician’s act, and laughed out loud. I thought, Aha! He has the power to make my mother laugh. I want to be like him.”

He has worked escapes professionally since 2003 and has brought audiences to the edge of their seats and the limits of their composure town after town during The Illusionists’ tour.

Mr. Basso can hold his breath for about four minutes but aims to be out of the restraints and back to breathing air in two minutes.  He has had a couple of close-calls.

“It was this big opening, Sydney Opera House, and I was pumped — I just couldn’t get my adrenaline down,” he said.  “After 2 minutes and 30 seconds, it was taking longer than normal, and my guys knew that I was in trouble, so they got me out.”

He was also burned when performing an escape on live Italian TV.  He was locked in a wooden coffin rigged with explosives and severely burned over his face and hands.  “I haven’t done that trick again, but I would, but different,” he said. “I learned something from it.”

Be sure to check out his incredible website here.

Check out The Illusionists’ website to get updates on their tour schedule.

Steve Dacri’s Storage to be Cleared

Vintage-antique-oak-library-card-catalog-remington-rand--2We received the following from Marleen Dacri Goddard this weekend.

Hi, I am Steve Dacri’s ex-wife(married circa 1980s-1995) and mother of his son Jesse.

Jesse and I are going to meet in Vegas the week of 3/31 and will be cleaning the storage area of Steve Dacri’s magic and personal belongings that have been left.  There is a vintage antique Oak Library Card Catalog that Steve used to store many tricks in.  I can’t think of a better use or anyone who might want it rather than a fellow magician who would like to keep his/her tricks in each little drawer.  Steve loved this unit as it kept each “trick” with the proper props it required in each drawer.

I don’t know what is left in the storage unit, but if anyone is interested in what I might find, please feel free to email me.

My main purpose is to get Steve’s Ashes out of the storage unit that his last wife left.  Jesse and I will hopefully find a nice place to let his ashes go during our trip.

Any ideas would be great! Coming from the East Coast.  Thanks for reading!

Magician Ariann Black Profiled

Inside Magic Image of Ariann BlackMagician Ariann Black received a great write-up and interview in today’s Westword in advance of her upcoming shows this weekend at Theatre of Dreams in Castle Rock, Colorado.

Ms. Black is well-known to Vegas audiences and is now taking the craft she began at the age of four to Colorado.  She took inspiration from Doug Henning and his non-traditional appearance.

“At four, you don’t realize that there is more than one magic trick out there. I was fascinated with the idea that there was more than one magic trick and you could do all sorts of things. When I was twelve, I saw Doug Henning on television, and prior to that I had been told that girls couldn’t be magicians. But when I saw Doug Henning and I saw him with his look — he didn’t look like that stereotypical magician — I thought, yeah, I can be a magician, too. He really inspired me.”

The road has not been easy and she points out that within our predominantly male ranks, “women are just an oddity.” She has a small group of female magicians with whom she attends conventions and share.  Ms. Black is “always on the lookout for female magicians, especially the younger ones, to make sure that they know that kind of behavior (toward them) is not okay, it’s not acceptable and that they need to stand up for who they are and be respected. It doesn’t just happen in magic — it happens everywhere.”

Be sure to check out the full interview for her thoughts on animal acts, David Copperfield, Criss Angel and why magic still works with today’s modern audiences.

Ariann Black performs this Friday, March 20 and Saturday, March 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Theatre of Dreams in Castle Rock. For more information on the shows and to buy tickets, visit the Theatre of Dreams website. Check out Ms. Black’s website here.