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And this, too, shall pass away.” – Houdini’s motto.

It’s 1874 in Budapest, Hungary and Ehrich Weiss is born to a poor family. To improve their standing in life, the Weiss family immigrates to America. But nothing gets better in America. They move from city to city to avoid bill collectors. Ehrich’s parents see no value in education when there are bills to be paid. Little Ehrich is sent off to work selling newspapers.

There is little reprieve from the hard work. Which makes it all the more surprising when Ehrich’s father offers to take him to see Dr. Lynn, the traveling magician. Of course, Ehrich jumps at the opportunity.

The audience gasps and so does Ehrich as they watch Dr. Lynn saw a young lady in half. Then, miraculously, Dr. Lynn puts her back together again. The audience explodes in cheers and money is thrown on stage. They love Dr. Lynn and Ehrich falls in love with magic.

Ehrich is seventeen and he must give up selling newspapers and go to work where the real money is – the factory. But Ehrich never does go to work in the factory. Ehrich leaves everything behind and escapes into a new identity.

It’s 1891 in Appleton, Wisconsin. The magician Houdini is born and Ehrich from Budapest is never heard from again.
Houdini is a failure on the magic circuit. His standard tricks barely garner applause. The bills pile up and by 1896 Houdini is ready to quit. He spends the last of his money on a classified ad offering to sell all his magic and secrets for $20. No one responds.

Houdini continues on and adjusts his act by adding more outlandish stunts with real shock value. He bills himself as indestructible and lets people punch him as hard as they can in the stomach. Houdini never flinches. The big money act is the Needle Trick. Houdini stands on the street corner and swallows a dozen needles and thread. For the big finale, he regurgitates the thread with the needles neatly threaded on.

The audience eats up the spectacle, but is bored as he goes through the rest of his routine. Houdini needs something more daring. He needs an escape and he creates the Challenge Act. Houdini places handcuffs around his wrists and miraculously escapes. The crowd goes wild. They want to see more escapes and Houdini delivers. He escapes from a padlocked crate thrown into the river, he escapes from being handcuffed to a bridge and he escapes from jail. Nothing can hold Houdini. He’s a legend. Some call him the greatest magician of all time.

It is 1926 and Houdini is on a giant North American tour. Years and years of contortion and swallowing needles are taking a toll. He’s become stiff and uncoordinated. On stage in Albany, NY he slips and breaks his ankle as he’s lifted into the Water Torture Cell. Houdini refuses medical attention or to even acknowledge the broken bone. He finishes the show in Albany and continues on to the next tour date.

By the time the tour reaches Canada, Houdini is limping and complains of a stomachache. His assistants and his wife plead with him to see a doctor, but Houdini refuses. Seeing a doctor would delay the show. He will not delay the show. Houdini throws everyone out of his dressing room and lays down on the nearby couch, gathering his strength for the performance.

J. Gordon Whitehead, a student at McGill University with a severe drug and alcohol problem, sneaks backstage at the Houdini performance. McGill has told all his friends that he’s going to find out once and for all if the Great Houdini can really take a punch like he does in his act.

McGill finds Houdini lying on the couch in his dressing room. Houdini’s eyes are closed. McGill leans over, pulls his arm back and punches Houdini in the stomach as hard as he can. Houdini awakens and is unable to breath or move, but the show must go on…
Houdini collapses onstage in Detroit. He is rushed backstage and is fed a traditional Jewish stomach cure of raw vegetables and sour cream called Farmer’s Chop Suey. The Chop Suey does nothing. Houdini screams in pain, but refuses to go to the hospital. The show must go on! Against Houdini’s protests, he is rushed to the hospital.

Houdini lays in his hospital bed and whispers to his wife, “I’m tired of fighting.” The legendary magician passes away on October 31st, 1926.

The Last Supper

Farmer’s Chop Suey
Houdini in Cuffs