Houdini: Master Magician and Photoshop Editor?

Have you seen this photo?

Harry Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt, 1914

Perhaps you’ve seen this version of it?

Harry Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt, 1914

No?  How about the original?

Harry Houdini, Theodore Roosevelt and others, 1914

One of Harry Houdini’s greatest pieces of magic was making an elephant vanish on stage. A lesser known, but equally brilliant, trick involved making a group of passengers disappear from a photo. Nearly a century before magazine editors relied on Photoshop for every minor touchup, Houdini understood the importance of visuals. As you can see, the original photo was like any ordinary fan photo with a celebrity–an assorted group of people with former President Theodore Roosevelt and Houdini. Ever the publicity hound (and without the aid of photo editing software), Houdini edited the photo to remove the other people, create Roosevelt’s left arm, and recreate the background of the ship. All of a sudden, the photo showed two of the most famous people in the world, alone, together, as if they were close friends. It was brilliant marketing.

These photos come from my friend and associate Bill Kalush’s fantastic book called “The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero.” If you caught an airing of “What is Magic,” one of the David Blaine specials I wrote and co-produced, Bill was the guy who shot David with a 22-caliber bullet (“the Bullet Catch”). I highly recommend reading his book on Houdini, which gives great insight into to the psyche of the magician and delves into his connection to the Secret Service. If you’re not really the book-reading type, then just wait for the movie adaptation currently in development by Summit Entertainment.

P.S. Despite what Sam may tell you, I am not a magician (although if I have had a few beers, I may do a few magic effects to pick up girls at the bar, but that’s neither here nor there).

The Economist, In 1843

Via Marginal Revolution, I came across this volume of “The Economist” from 1843.

I’ve only skimmed it, but I usually enjoy reading old publications. On the Irish bullying Canadians:

A few days ago, a party of Irish labourers, who had received, as they supposed, some offence from a few Canadians, at Beauharnois, attacked and nearly killed two respectable old inhabitants, who had nothing to do with the affair.

That’s the most significant news from Canada that reached London that particular month?

The Dragon’s Awake

The other day in a conversation, someone reminded me of a famous Napoleon quote: “Let China Sleep, for when the Dragon awakes, she will shake the world.”

I looked it up to double-check. That was in 1803.

And then this morning, via Chris Blattman, I read this:

“When the presidents of China and the United States meet next week in Washington, neither will likely be aware that, measured in terms of purchasing power, it is Hu Jintao not Barack Obama who represents the world’s largest economy. Some time in 2010, the Chinese economy overtook that of the United States.”

Somehow I think Hu Jintao is all too aware of his country’s economic position.

And then while I was waiting for that sweet dragon picture to upload, I read this, this and this about China’s military and the Gates and Hu meeting. It really doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal, but is pretty interesting nonetheless.

So now what?

Mike, this one was for you.

A Cambodian’s Perspective on American Politics

Earlier today I had a slightly serious, slightly humorous, but mostly enlightening conversation with a Cambodian man who’s been generous enough to spend the past two days teaching me about rural economic development here. Here’s what he had to say about American political history:

He really likes John McCain and John Kerry because they fought communists.

He thinks Bill Clinton won the presidency because he’s good looking and all the American women must have voted for him. But he’s glad that Clinton won, because he’s a good man and the economy grew while he was in office.

He believes Ronald Reagan was a bit old to be President. In fact, he thinks John McCain is too old to be president too, but had he won, it would’ve been okay because he fought communists.

He thinks JFK earned his name in history by giving his “ask not what your country can do for you” speech, and because in the end, he dealt well with Khruschev.

He finds it funny, yet tragic, that both Bush’s went to war with the same country. He likes that they were both tough, and thinks they scared many unstable powers.

He thinks Sarah Palin blew the election for John McCain.

He told me that Obama is too docile. When pressed on what he meant by docile, he said that Obama is too peaceful and accommodating, and as a result, North Korea is going to take advantage of him. I asked him if he thinks an American president should seek peace, and he said that peace is very important and should be a top priority.

In all seriousness, given Cambodia’s tragic recent history, it’s not entirely surprising that he overwhelmingly favors leaders that have demonstrated the will to take action against the types of forces that oppressed his country for so many years. He very clearly wants peace, but fears complacency. And it’s apparent that there’s no partisan influence coming into play here, even though it was obvious to me that he understands our political system very well. I always find it fascinating to reevaluate history from someone else’s perspective.