Sunday, September 17, 2017

Remembering Steve Baker

Sad news today. Dean Carnegie of The Magic Detective reports that legendary escape artist Steve Baker a.k.a. "Mr. Escape" has died. Says Dean:

My friend and mentor, Steve Baker has passed away. He died at 11:11pm on Saturday Sept 16th, 2017 at his home in Illinois. His wife Julie, who was his faithful assistant throughout his career was by his side when he passed. Steve had been ill for quite a long time, but recently suffered several mini strokes which he did not recover from.

Steve Baker was one of the most prominent escape artists of the 1970s and '80s. He was also very much a part of my own coming to Houdini and magic. I first became aware of Steve from an article in the June 1976 Valley News. The headline read "Bettering Houdini's Stunts" and contained the following:

"I'm not as great as Houdini...I'm better," said the 37-year old Baker, who says he has broken all of Houdini's escape records. 
"Houdini could pick most locks with a hairpin but today technology is 20 times more advanced," said Baker, adding with a smile that he is, therefore, 20 times better than Houdini.

I admit this did not sit well with the 11-year-old me. But on some level I understood that Steve was just engaging is some Houdini-like boasting for the press, which, in a way, was its own tribute to the great magician. The article promoted Steve's upcoming suspended straitjacket escape in front of Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to mark the 50th Anniversary of Houdini's death and kickoff the IBM convention that year. The same paper later reported the escape (below).


Shortly after this, Steve made an appearance at The Magic Emporium in Tarzana, one of the local magic shops I haunted in those days. Steve performed alongside his wife Julie on a small stage inside the store. This was the first "famous" magic personality I had ever seen in person. Unfortunately, I can't remember what kind of magic he did, but afterward I got a signed photo (above).

As I was leaving, I spotted Julie Baker in front of the store talking with a friend. I asked her to sign my photo as well. She seemed flattered and amused, saying assistants don't usually get asked for autographs, but she was happy to do so. I guess I felt that every Houdini had a Bess who was every bit as important to his story.

Another powerful memory was Steve's performance of the Water Torture Cell on Dick Clark's LIVE Wednesday in 1978. It's still the most harrowing version of the escape I've ever witnessed, and it gave me great respect for Steve's showmanship.


R.I.P. Mr. Escape.

For a retrospective of Steve Baker's life and career, click over to The Magic Detective and read Dean's full post. And feel free to share your own memories of Steve in the comments below.

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7 comments:

  1. John, Thank you for your kind words and great recollection of meeting Steve and Julie. I'll be gathering these various things up and sending them to Julie at some point because she doesn't have internet access. I had to chuckle when you said that Steve's boasting didn't set well with you. When I was a kid and saw Steve do the Water Torture Cell on Dick Clark LIVE Wednesday, I didn't like the guy. Who did he think he was copying Houdini. LOL. And then years later we are best buddies. Funny how life plays out.

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  2. As we recall the only time we meant Steve was when Dorothy Dietrich was booked as Special Guest Star on the Rick Markowitz's Home Box Office Special "The World's Greatest Escapes" billed as America's Number One Female Escape Artist. As we recall Amazing Randi was supposed to get out of a safe, but failed, so he was dropped from the show. Steve liked to brag and blow his own horn. He said at a big lunch with the other well known escape artists attending the show, you guys do tricks, I really do these escapes. He also said he was going to make Julie a better known escape artist than Dorothy. In his heyday he was an excellent performer, and did raise the bar in several of his stunts.
    Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich
    The Houdini Museum, Scranton, PA
    The Only Building in the /world Dedicated to Houdini

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  3. RIP, "Mr. Escape", Steve Baker.

    Re: The 1980 HBO Special---Steve featured JULIE in a solo escape act, wearing a sexy one-piece red sparkly outfit, and a partial face mask..doing a "torture Board" type escape.
    ...Sadly, it ended up on the cutting room floor.

    Julie has my admiration for sticking by Steve all through the years.

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    Replies
    1. Any pics of that particular Special?

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    2. I have a couple of Dorothy's suspended straitjacket escape. The special was hosted by Tony Curtis. I haven't seen it since it aired. I'm now inspired to go check it out at the Magic Castle library.

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    3. Ohhh, I was referring to pics of Julie doing that supposed escape she did.

      Delete

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