True Stories
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15 Tales of Supremely Fearless and Totally Bizarre Houdini Exploits

Updated May 7, 2019 58.7k views15 items

Decades after Harry Houdini's death, magic fans and plebs alike are fascinated by the life of one of the world's great entertainers. Born Erik Weisz in Hungary, Houdini made a career out of doing weird sh*t and getting paid for it (before people knew that was a thing you could do). Madman Harry Houdini buried himself multiple times, even though he almost killed himself on his first attempt, and was the first person to fly over Australian soil (as the pilot, not a passenger). There are hella crazy Houdini stories in this buckwild world of ours; some revolve around weird concepts for illusions, others involve him pissing his friends off. He’s definitely not Tom Hanks.

Some of the most awesome Houdini facts center on his search for truth in everything he did. Harry "Badass" Houdini was not a guy to half-ass things. If he was going to chase down so-called mystics and expose them as frauds, he canceled shows, wrangeld a panel of scientists, and debunked you with fury. There are so many tales of badass Houdini exploits, you should just read them for yourselves. Keep in mind, Houdini was a tough cookie - you shouldn’t try any of his feats of endurance or pissy note writing. 

  • He Starred in Four Movies & Holds the Distinction of First Man to Fight a Robot on Film

    Video: YouTube

    If you thought Houdini was ahead of his time before, get a load of this: he was the first person to fight a robot on film. 

    Houdini had a long affair with film, too deep and passionate to be a fling, neither as committed nor enduring as marriage. He starred in two Hollywood pictures, produced and starred in two more films in New York, and founded a film lab before turning his back on the industry. In The Master Mystery (1920),  Houdini played Quentin Locke, a Justice Department agent who got into a fist fight with Q the Automaton.  

    Who else was fighting robots in that era? As Chaka Khan would say, "ain't nobody." 

  • He Wrote a Book with Instructions on Slipping Handcuffs and Breaking Out of Prison

    Photo: Famous Players - Lasky Corporation / Public Domain

    If you were a cop in turn-of-the-century New York City, the last thing you wanted was Harry Houdini publishing a book explaining how to slip handcuffs, escape prison, and do all manner of bad guyery. In 1906, Houdini released The Right Way to Do Wrong, which detailed his criminal exploits, including breaking out of police stations, and contained  stories of some of the men he met in prison.

    To make sure readers didn't misconstrue the purpose of his book, Houdini included a message: "IT DOES NOT PAY TO LEAD A DISHONEST LIFE, and to those who read this book, although it will inform them 'The Right Way to Do Wrong,' all I have to say is one word and that is 'DON’T.'”

  • He Gave Silent Film Legend Buster Keaton His Famous Stage Name

    Video: YouTube

    Houdini supplied the stage name Buster Keaton used his entire life. In 1895, when Keaton was just six months old, and named Joseph Frank Keaton, he fell down a flight of stairs in his family home. Houdini happened to be hanging out with Keaton's family that night (they were vaudville performers), and picked up baby Buster, who was completely fine, despite his tumble down the steps.

    He noted Keaton could really take a "buster," or a fall, and from then on, the future film star was known as Buster Keaton.  

  • He Was the First Person to Fly Over Australian Soil and the First Person Filmed Flying

    Photo: statelibraryofnsw / Flickr

    Houdini seems like the kind of guy who would get really into something for a week or two before dropping it to move onto building realistic skeletons or whatever. In 1909, he got so into aviation, bought a French Voisin biplane for $5,000, hired a mechanic, and taught himself to fly. After a minor crash, he dusted himself off and flew around Germany for a few minutes, in front of 100 some odd spectators.

    A year later, he became the first person to fly over Australian soil, where he buzzed around for almost eight minutes. He filmed that flight, in doing so becoming the first person to ever be recorded flying. After that, he stuck the plane in storage in England and never flew again.