Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Straitjacket fail

Here's something that has been driving me nuts for quite a while now, and I'm thinking I can't be alone. This is not an effort to embarrass any one performer, but hopefully to help stop what is a relatively new and distributing trend when doing the classic Houdini straitjacket escape.

There are several modern escape artists who, when doing a straitjacket escape, lace the jacket with their arm slung up over their arm. In essence, they are half-way out of the straitjacket before the escape has even begun. This is by no means how one straps on a straitjacket, and it's certainly not how Houdini ever did it. Here is a good example of this modern-day cheat (identity of the performer concealed).


Now here are two shots of Hardeen showing how any self-respecting escape artist (or crazy person)  wears a straitjacket. Arms folded. Of course, this makes it much more difficult to get your arms up over your head. But that's the whole point, isn't it?


Below is a publicity shot from the play Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter, showing just how far this can go. Of course, this is a staged photo with actors and not a real escape artist, so it can be forgiven. Still. Let's be careful out there!



UPDATE: Here's magician Chris Cross doing a suspended straitjacket escape in Newcastle on August 28, 2016. No, this is not him in the middle of the escape, this is how he was put into the jacket. Dude...

Fail Supreme.


  1. I used to do the straitjacket escape years ago. You'll be happy to know I crossed my arms. However, the jacket was stiffer than some, and that probably made it easier to get out of. I actually used the iconic scene from the 1953 Curtis film as inspiration and always poked my hand out from underneath before undoing the buckles. From a purist perspective, I get what you're saying, but I think those cheat methods are perfectly acceptable in terms of effect-based entertainment. As Houdini wrote, "The secret of showmanship consists not of what you really do, but what the mystery-loving public thinks you do." As long as that public is mystified and entertained, does arm positioning really matter?

    1. But then it's not a real escape. It like leaving handcuffs open wide enough for you to slip. And then you say, "This is how Houdini did it." No it isn't.

    2. Agreed. If you say you're going to do it like Houdini, then you should probably do it like Houdini. But let's not forget that not all escapes that HH did would conform to a purist definition of what a real escape is. For example, relevant to what you said about slipping widely open cuffs, in his Handcuff King days when he wore multiple cuffs all the way up to his forearms, we know he didn't need any tools to escape from the ones further up. Basically those were just there to look impressive.

  2. Do you see the positions of Hardeen's and Houdini's arms? A truer test would be to have a strong man force the elbows together, then strap it in the back. In the Houdini/Hardeen photos, they have already got their slack.
    My pet peeve is people who make the damned thing look easy.
    "Houdini can make absolutely anything look difficult." --Sime Silverman
    Do you know how Hardeen began his s-j escape? With a front flip landing flat on his back.

    1. Hardeen started with a front flip? Never knew that.

  3. I agree with the above post.

    I'll also add that the majority of performers doing the jacket escape are magicians - who feel entitled to put "Escape Artist" on their business card - because they feature a strait-jacket escape during their magic act.

    However, the general public has never seen nor owned a strait-jacket, so its poetic license for a performer to take advantage of that fact...and "cheat".

    My guess is that the majority of the people using the "arm ontop of the elbow" method - are using legit jackets (to their credit).

    Certainly, if one was using a gaffed jacket, then the arm can be crossed underneath.

    Side note: the PROPER way to apply a jacket is by INTERLACING the arms (like a pretzel)...but performers are careful not to mention that :-)

    Making a very broad general statement here: MAGICIANS use the "arm over elbow"...and ESCAPE ARTISTS with the training & skill in the art of Escapology - use the "under the elbow" method.

    In short: the public doesn't know nor care...they just want to be entertained.

    Pet-Peeve: Getting out of a jacket, in say, 3.5 seconds...and then boldly proclaiming: "I beat Houdini! took him 3-4 minutes to escape from one!"

    Does the public ever wonder: "Mmm, if so many performers feature the strait-jacket escape in their act...then I guess it isn't too difficult to escape from one!"

    1. Couldn't agree more, Joe! Drives me crazy when escape artists boast that they've "beat Houdini's record" when Houdini never strove to even establish a record. It was not about speed to Houdini. Indeed, he prolonged it to make it look more difficult.

    2. I'm completely with you guys on this one.

  4. Just to play the devils advocate….

    The instructions for a Posey straitjacket, with front and side loops features the "arm over the elbow". Then again, it is not a classic straitjacket...

    Here are the instructions from Posey:®-Straitjacket.pdf

    1. Hmmm...look at that. You know, maybe this IS the "modern" way of lacing on a jacket and not an invention of escape artists. See, I get myself into trouble when I start posting about escape techniques and methods because it really isn't my area of expertise. I just compare everything to the historic Houdini.

  5. The Posey jacket and the jacket Houdini wore seem quite different. With the posey, crossing or uncrossing your arms won't give you any more advantage, being you're in loops.

    It would be interesting to find a picture of a non escape artist/magician wearing a straitjacket and see how they are done up.

    I do agree though, if you're going to do it like Houdini, then do it like Houdini!

  6. But you must take into account that POSEY jackets have the front & side sleeve-loops on THEIR, no matter how the arms are folded, the average patient isn't going anywhere in a Posey jacket

    The other main company selling medical strait-jackets is "Humane Restraint" in Wis...and their jackets are most used by performers, as they have no extra added security sleeve-loops. Its just a basic jacket, and very easy to escape from - even by an amateur,

  7. A genuine straightjacket properly put on is not easy to escape from. Most can eventually get their arms over their head but now they need to unbuckle the jacket while their hands are encased in the sleeves....virtuallyimpossible for someone untrained.

  8. Also there is one escape artist who releases himself from an ultra high security jacket. This has the front and side security loops as well as many multiple buckles...a very formidable looking restraint. Howeverthe artist oobviously has his own people strap him in with straps in strategic areas very loose and both arms OUTSIDE of the front loop. So in other words his arms are not crossed in front of him at all. Just sort of hanging to either side. Of course properly put on this jacket would be virtually impossible to escape he does what he has to do.

  9. I may be a magician, but I have a great appreciation for escapology. Thanks to my interest in Houdini, I used to take apart handcuffs when I was a child and practice rope, cuff, chain, and straitjacket escapes. I used a real SJ at many a paid gig (I'm pretty sure I got it from Humane Restraint, but it certainly wasn't easy to get out of), and I worked up an actual sweat to get out of it, taking longer than I really had to so it would look even more difficult than it was. So I get it, maybe more than some magicians who have never done any escapes. I put in my time and practice.

    But regardless of whether we're magicians or escape artists, at the end of the day, the goal is the same: to entertain our audiences. Yes, the genres are different, but even Houdini had an effect-based approach. We all know that some of his escapes weren't really escapes from a purist perspective; they relied more on brilliant marketing and creating a certain perception in the minds of the public. That's why I think the quote above is so telling. I truly think it applies here as well.

    John, I agree with you: If an escape artist claims to do the straitjacket escape "like Houdini," he or she should probably do it the same way. Even so, I still think performing artists have a creative license to do anything they want so long as it entertains and mystifies the public. Even in escapology, I think the effect is still more relevant than the method because the audience is really all that matters.

  10. Updated with an image of magician Chris Cross. Oye.

  11. #houdini100 in Pittsburgh. Legit or no?

    1. Hey used the fail. But it was otherwise a pretty impressive event. More here.


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