Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some of the most FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS about the life, loves, and career of Harry Houdini. I hope you find these helpful.

Did the Houdinis have children?
(This is the #1 most Googled question that draws people to this blog.) Even though they both loved children, the Houdinis did not have any children of their own. While there are stories about how Houdini might have been sterilized by X-rays (his brother was a radiologist who worked for time out of Houdini's home) and one biographer speculated that Houdini might have been impotent, the truth was it was Bess Houdini who could no conceive children due to a medical condition.
Further reading:
The problem with Bessie
Why does Jerry Seinfeld think Houdini was impotent
Did the Houdinis have a daughter?

Did Houdini have affairs?
While some recent Houdini biopics have painted Houdini as a serial adulterer and ladies man, he was actually a very devoted husband and quite puritanical in matters of sex. However, there is evidence of at least one affair with the widow of Jack London in 1918. There are also rumors and speculation about other women who might have played a romantic role in Houdini's life, but no proof.
Further reading:
The illicit loves of Harry Houdini
Link: A mysterious Houdini girlfriend
Link: Opening the door on Daisy White

Was Houdini a spy?
The theory that Houdini could have been a spy was introduced in the 2006 biography The Secret Life of Houdini. It's true that Houdini was friendly with law enforcement and took great interest in the methods and practices of criminals and con-men. He even penned a book on the subject in 1906 called The Right Way To Do Wrong. While he might have communicated with William Melville of Scotland Yard about what he was observing in Germany and Russia (but the "evidence" for this is paper thin), to suggest that he was a full blown spy using his magic act as "cover" is far fetched. In fact, spy agencies as we know them didn't even exist during Houdini's first tour of Europe. While some Houdini buffs believe there is something to this; most, including myself, believe the spy theory was created, or at least greatly exaggerated, to help sell the 2006 book. Houdini was not a spy.
Further reading:
Experts weigh-in on 'Secret Life' spy revelation.
Decoding Decoded.
Unmasking The Secret Life of Houdini.

Was Houdini a Mason?
Yes, Houdini was a Freemason, although he came to the Order somewhat late in his life. "Brother Houdini" was a member of the Cecile Lodge No 568 in New York City. He received his Masonic degrees on July 17, July 31, and August 21, 1923. He became a life member on October 30, 1923, and a member of the Mecca Shrine Temple in New York City only weeks before his death in October 1926. His funeral included full Masonic Rites.
Further reading:
Yes, Houdini was a Mason
Remembering Brother Houdini
Houdini lying in state at Elks Lodge #1

Did Houdini get trapped under the ice of a frozen river?
Even though Houdini himself would tell the story of being trapped under an ice sheet during a bridge jump, there is no evidence that it ever happened. Houdini would also alter the location and details in various tellings. The most popular location is the Belle Isle Bridge in Detroit in 1906. But newspaper accounts say nothing about the river being frozen over that day. Houdini being trapped under the ice was dramatized in the 1953 biopic Houdini starring Tony Curtis and again in the 2014 miniseries Houdini with Adrien Brody, so the myth endures.
Further reading:
Trapped under the ice with Houdini
The Belle Isle Bridge jump
Punching a new hole in the ice story


Did Houdini go over Niagara Falls in a barrel?
Houdini never went over Niagara Falls in a barrel, although he did conceive of a stunt, never performed, in which he would apparently go over the falls in a packing crate. However, his notes show that he never planned to actually be in the crate. In 1920, Houdini swam the Niagara river rapids for the climatic scenes of his movie The Man From Beyond. Ironically, he filmed these scenes in the day of the funereal for Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to survive going over the falls in a barrel in 1901.
Further reading:
How Houdini planned to (not) go over Niagara Falls
Houdini's rough ride at Niagara Falls

Was Houdini an atheist?
Even though he was the son of Rabbi, Houdini was not orthodox nor overtly religious. He married a Catholic and celebrated Christmas. But he was not an atheist. He even reaffirmed his belief in God while under oath before Congress. However, he was frequently accused by spiritualists that he was "attacking religion" and even today there are those who equate his skepticism with atheism. But this was not the case.
Further reading:
Mr. Houdini Goes to Washington, Part III
Houdini's Bibles
Bessie's Christ

Did Houdini perform as a Wild Man?
During his early days, Houdini did double as "Projea The Wild Man of Mexico" while touring with the Welsh Bros. circus in Pennsylvania. He quit when he got hit in the eye with a piece of meat thrown into his cage by ringmaster Clint Newton.
Further reading:
Freaks of Octoberfest
Houdini joins the circus
Williamsport honors their "Wild Man" with historical marker

Did Houdini do escapes in the nude?
To prove he concealed no keys or lockpicks, Houdini would strip nude and submit to an examination by a doctor during his handcuff and jail escapes. He even advertised himself as "Positively the only conjurer in the world who strips stark naked." He had a powerful physique and wasn't afraid to show it off.
Further reading:
Ebay auction dates Houdini's first 'nude'
Houdini's escape from Murderers Row
Houdini in 1899

Did Houdini live in Laurel Canyon?
While Houdini never owned what today is called the "Houdini Estate" at 2400 Laurel Canyon Blvd in Los Angeles, the property does have a strong Houdini connection. When Houdini came to Hollywood in 1919 to make two feature films for Famous Players Lasky-Paramount, it's possible he may have rented a guest house across the street at 2435 Laurel Canyon Blvd. After Houdini's death, his widow Bess moved into that same guest house and lived there for several years. During this time, she held events for local magicians and magic organizations at the main property across the street, hence, many believed it to be the former home of Houdini.
Further reading:
Inside the Laurel Canyon Houdini Estate
Is this Houdini and Bess in Laurel Canyon?
Mannix at the Houdini estate in 1968

Did Bess Houdini smoke pot?
The same biography that gave us the "spy" theory also claimed that Bess Houdini smoked pot. This comes from a 1927 diary entry in which she mentions that she dined out with "no drink and no weed." However, "weed" was slang for tobacco, so it's possible she is talking about cigarettes (she did smoke). While Bess enjoyed her champagne and did have trouble with substances after Houdini's death, the extent of her drinking during their marriage is unknown.
Further reading:
Did Bess Houdini smoke pot?
Bessie and the Colonel
Marie Hinson remembers her sister Bess

How did Houdini die?
In October 1926, while performing in Montreal, Canada, Houdini was punched by a 30-year-old McGill University student named J. Gordon Whitehead. Believing a boast that Houdini could withstand a blow to the stomach, Whitehead struck the magician several times before he was ready. Houdini ignored the pain and increasing fever and pushed on to his next engagement at the Garrick Theater in Detroit. After struggling through a performance with a 104 degree temperature, Houdini gave into doctor's orders and checked into Grace Hospital.


When Houdini was operated on, it was discovered that he had been suffering from appendicitis and that his appendix had ruptured. Peritonitis had set in. A second operation and an experimental serum failed to save him. Houdini died at 1:26 pm on Halloween, 1926.

While Houdini's doctors concluded that the punch he received from Whitehead caused his fatal appendicitis, many feel that it's more logical Houdini was in the early stages of the disease when Whitehead delivered the blows. The debate on that point continues.
Further reading:
Time to rethink the rethinking on the Houdini punch
Is this the doctor who first diagnosed Houdini?
Getting punchy
The Pickleman punch

What happened to the student who punched Houdini?
J. Gordon Whitehead was deposed by lawyers along with eyewitness Sam Smilovitz (aka "Smiley") and Jacques "Jack" Price. But because the punch was deemed accidental, no changers were filed. Whitehead, who later showed signs of mental illness, lived out much of his life as a hoarder. He died in 1954 and is buried in an unmarked plot in Hawthorn-Dale Cemetery in Montreal.
Further reading:
This is J. Gordon Whitehead
Is this J. Gordon Whitehead at McGill in 1926?
J. Gordon Whitehead revealed in The Man Who Killed Houdini

Why wasn't Bess Houdini buried with her husband?
It's not entirely clear why Bess Houdini wasn't buried in the Weiss family plot on Machpelah cemetery with Houdini as planned (her name is on the headstone). Some have suggested that, as a Catholic, she could not be buried in the Jewish cemetery, but some Jewish cemeteries do make allowances for a spouse. It's also been said her family preferred her to be buried in their own family plot in Gate of Heaven cemetery in Hawthorne, New York as she had re-embraced her faith. It's also possible that the family plot was the easiest and least expensive option for the family as Bess died without money.
Further reading:
Bessie's two graves
Bess and the lost grave (updated)
AUDIO: Marie Hinson remembers the death of her sister Bess Houdini

What is the best Houdini biography?
In my opinion, the best and most accurate Houdini biography is Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss by Kenneth Silverman. It was first published in 1996 by Harper Collins. Today it is out of print, but copies can still be found on Amazon.

Does anyone own Houdini's name and likeness?
No, there is no formal Houdini Estate.

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