|© Nancy Crampton|
Kenneth Silverman was born on February 5, 1936 in Manhattan. He grew up on East Seventy-Fifth Street, directly across from the tenement building where Houdini lived as a boy. As a teen in the early 1950s he performed magic as Ken Silvers. He even once appeared in a TV commercial for M&Ms. He was later educated at Columbia University, and became a professor emeritus of English at New York University.
As a biographer, Silverman won a Pulitzer Prize, an Edgar Award, and the Bancroft Prize for American History. He was also a "card-carrying" member of the Society of American Magicians.
In 1996 Harper Collins published Silverman’s Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, which remains the finest biography of Houdini yet written. I had the honor of meeting Professor Silverman in 2011 when he gave a talk on Houdini at the Jewish Museum in San Francisco.
Ken is survived by his partner Jane Mallison, by his two children, Willa and Ethan, daughter-in-law Ronit, and three grandchildren: Benjamin, Eve and Isaac.
UPDATE: Ken Silverman's New York Times obituary contains the following, which is wonderful tribute to his work on Houdini and devotion to his subject:
In the frantically titled “Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, American Self-Liberator, Europe’s Eclipsing Sensation, World’s Handcuff King and Prison Breaker — Nothing on Earth Can Hold Houdini a Prisoner!!!,” published in 1997 [sic], he outdid himself in wringing every last fact and facticule from the historical record.
“He has sifted through scrapbooks, diaries, letters, playbills, census reports, court transcripts, thousands of press clippings in half a dozen languages and even the minutes of the Hebrew Relief Society,” the magician Teller wrote in The New York Times. The research was so exhaustive that Professor Silverman published his sources in a separate volume, “Notes to Houdini.”
“As part of the research,” Ms. Mallison said, “he had me strap him into a straitjacket, and one New Year’s Eve he asked me to lock him into a canvas mailbag to see if he could get out.”
On certain matters, Professor Silverman nevertheless maintained strict silence. Adhering to the magician’s unwritten code, he refused to reveal the secrets behind Houdini’s most famous tricks. Historian and magician struggled. In the end, Pulitzer or no Pulitzer, the magician won.