|War of the Wands: Thurston vs. Houdini, Wired, Feb 28, 2011|
So Houdini was a "complete failure at card tricks" and "later gave them up"? This is patently untrue. Houdini was very skilled with cards and continued to perform card work until the end of his career. There is film of him doing very difficult card flourishes in 1926, the year he died, for crying out loud. Also, according to Richard Kaufman, editor of Genii magazine, "[Houdini] excelled at the Pass, and the color change frequently attributed to Erdnase also appears to be his." In reality, both Houdini and Thurston performed as the "King of Cards" early in their careers because it was an expensive way for a struggling magician to have an act, and both went on to bigger and better things. So who "wins" this round? Actually, Thurston may have indeed been the better card manipulator. He made more of a career out of it than did Houdini. So it's still advantage: THURSTON, but not for the reasons stated by Wired.
Next, Houdini "lacked the showmanship to succeed Kellar"? This one shows this writer, Olivia Koski, not only doesn't know anything about Houdini, but also clearly didn't even read Steinmeyer's book (people get paid for this kind of thing, eh?). The Kellar show was purchased by Thurston. It wasn't a competition that Houdini was even involved in. Houdini had his own success and didn't need to buy another magician's show, especially as it involved paying royalties. Kellar himself said that Houdini was already "at the head of the profession." Houdini, in fact, endorsed Thurston as Kellar's successor over Paul Valadon in his Conjurers Monthly Magazine. So who wins? Well, Houdini forged his own "magic pedigree" and name. Thurston purchased his. And to say Houdini "lacked showmanship" is like saying Marilyn Monroe lacked sex appeal. Advantage: HOUDINI.
As to "Spectacle", having just seen Houdini's Goodbye Winter performed at The Magic Castle, I'm not so sure one can dismiss his full evening show's magic as "weak." This revived Houdini effect (revived by Jim Steinmeyer, btw) totally blew away a modern audience. Also conveniently left out of all this discussion of magic is the Needles, a fantastic trick that Houdini mastered and did his entire career to great acclaim and, again, still holds up today. I don't think anyone who saw Houdini do the Needles would say "he really wasn't a very good magician." However, there's no question that Thurston's Wonder Show was a marvel to behold, and he was indeed the preeminent "magician" of his day. But who would you rather see? Advantage: TIE.