Throughout the history of mankind we have been fascinated by magicians. Those individuals who perform feats that seem impossible, or are impossible according to the laws of the universe as we know it, always seem to captivate our attention. From the earliest of magic tricks achieved by a quick hand and an easy smile, to the elaborate stunts that modern day magicians pull off in front of TV audiences, we are transfixed.
The most famous of these spellbinding performers become household names. In fact some we even think of as synonymous with the term magic. They entertain and amaze us. One of the most legendary was Harry Houdini.
Houdini made famous the great escape. He is the father of handcuff stunts and was a master lock picker. Always a showman, he never revealed how he would free himself from his seemingly inescapable bonds. He traveled for years throughout the United States and Europe performing his feats, amazing crowds around the globe. A common stop would involve him asking the local police force to detain him using their handcuffs and shackles, from which he would escape right in front of the audience on the street. His tricks were all the more amazing because they appeared to be so transparent.
He also became quite famous for the contraptions he would build and then escape from. Tanks filled with water, bolted or locked shut, would be placed in front of a waiting audience where he would escape from them, even after being placed in handcuffs.
While Houdini may be a household name now, there was a contemporary of his who may have even been more famous during his day. Howard Thurston billed himself as the indisputable “King of Cards” and built his acts around sleight of hand tricks involving common playing cards. He could make cards disappear at his fingertips effortlessly. He also incorporated a popular trick into his act where he would have an audience member choose a card, then place the card back in the deck and under a glass case. To the delight of his audience, he would make their chosen card rise to the top of the deck, as if by, well you guessed it, magic.
While Houdini and Thurston were superstars of their day, and earned a good living at their craft, modern illusionists (as they sometimes like to be called), have the game figured out when it comes to financial gain. Magicians like David Copperfield perform shows that are bigger, more elaborate, and more expensive than their predecessors could have imagined.
Making an elephant disappear in a theatre, as Houdini did, is one thing, but to make the Statue of Liberty disappear for both a live audience and viewers at home? For that you need a little more technology than Harry ever had in his day. Copperfield utilized a team involving helicopters, a rotating stage, and cameras to make his viewers believe he had actually made our Lady Liberty vanish.
These stunts are not cheap to pull off, and Copperfield has cashed in on their entertainment value. In his career he has grossed more than $3 billion in ticket sales, more than any other solo entertainer.
While some of his secrets and the secrets of those who came before him have been published in books and TV shows, thankfully for the majority of the public, they remain a mystery. After all, what’s the fun of going to see a magician if you don’t get to believe in the magic?