Thursday, September 18, 2014

Penn & Teller & Houdini's Needles

Penn & Teller are great heroes of mine, both as magicians and as thinkers (I'm excited to be seeing Teller's Tempest next week). Now The Commercial Appeal in Memphis has a nice profile of the duo -- Magicians Penn & Teller on Houdini, Graceland and their first Memphis show in 17 years -- with some great Houdini content, including this gem from Penn:

Once, after a show about 25 years ago, Teller received a compliment he's never forgotten, his partner said. This came after Teller performed "Needles," one of Houdini's most famous tricks. In the trick, the magician appears to swallow 100 needles followed by thread, then pulls them back out threaded together.

"Even when Houdini did his biggest tricks, that was his closer," Jillette said. "Teller wouldn't tell you this, but I'll tell you this. Twenty-five years ago, an elderly woman came to our show. She had seen Houdini do the needles and she'd seen Teller do the needles that night, and she said Teller was better. That's all that matters."

Teller with Houdini's original Needles at Houdini Art and Magic.

Read the full article at The Commercial Appeal, which also includes a nice newspaper clipping of Houdini doing a suspend straitjacket escape from the Commercial Appeal building on September 1, 1923.



  1. According to David Bamberg in his autobiography, as a teenager he visited Houdini's home around 1920. Houdini offered him some chewing gum and invited Bamberg to open the desk drawer and help himself. Bamberg saw packets of the Needle Trick tucked away in one of the desk drawers. I would imagine that Houdini would grab one or two of these on his way out somewhere in case he was called upon to perform impromptu.

    1. I've heard that story, but I never knew where it came from. Great stuff. Thanks Leo.

  2. Bamberg's autobiography is called Illusion Show. His father Okito had sent him on an errand to Houdini's house to pick up something and gave Bamberg the railcar fare money with a little more for ice cream. Bamberg made the trip from his home in Brooklyn and when he arrived at 278, he saw Houdini walking around the house shirtless. This was during the summer.

    Bamberg mentions another great Houdini story in the book. During an SAM meeting in the early 1920s that he attended, Houdini almost got into a fistfight with the Great Raymond. I can't remember what the reason was but it got really ugly.

  3. Houdini appeared in Memphis around 1903 according to the Doug Henning book.
    There is one interview published in a Memphis newspaper. The reporter referred to Houdini as an Australian and from "down under".
    I suspect the reporter copied the" interview" from a press release and read Austria as Australia.
    One badly degenerated copy exists on microfilm at a Memphis library, I will send a transcript when I can get around.

  4. Houdini was in Europe in 1903 and didn't return to the U.S. until 1905.

    1. Around the turn of the century. I lost all my reference books last November.