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).