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 Robert-Houdin

Robert-Houdin

We decided to call episode 3 "Escapology," which is the art of escaping from restraints (or in Cameron's case delicate situations as well). And of course, no one is more famous than the Handcuff King himself, Harry Houdini. I'll give you a brief description of who Harry and then we'll get to the Art Gallery mirrors. For the most thorough research on Houdini, I suggest visiting John Cox's blog Wild About Houdini.

Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874. His family immigrated to the United States four years later and settled in Appleton, Wisconsin, where his father, a rabbi, held a congregation. When Ehrich took up magic, he decided to call himself Houdini, an homage to Robert-Houdin, whom magicians refer to as the "founding father of modern magic." The great French conjurer, was responsible for making magic a respectable evening performance. Patrons would don their white tie and tails and gowns and attend Robert-Houdin's spectacles in his theater. Before this, magic was a "juggling" act, performed by street practitioners and court jesters. And so, Weiss added an "i" to Houdin, to be "like Houdini."

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Houdini actually started is career as a manipulator of playing cards. Above is a poster from the early years.

In 1893, Harry met Beatrice "Bess" Rahner, whom he married a year later. For his entire career Bess would be his stage assistant. The photo on the right is of their "metamorphosis act." Metamorphosis, or the sub trunk, is credited to John Nevil Maskelyne, who invented it in the 1860's. Below is a video of the Pendragon's performing the sub trunk in record speed. 


If I could give out an Oscar for magic design, it would go to Francis Menotti for his work on the mirror illusions in this episode. There were two tricks: the "Moving Floor" and the "Von Liebig," both terms conjured up by the episode's writer Elizabeth Peterson. 

The moving floor was based on the simple principle of reflecting the floor surface so that one cannot tell where floor ends and mirror begins. Francis used a floor design with enough noise so that the reflection doesn't give away a mismatch of pattern. Now, can a perfectly reflecting mirror really be so bendable it can be rolled up? Better ask Gunther about that.

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Below is a behind the look at the moving floor illusion as we were filming it. 

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For the von Liebig, we decided to base this scene on an old illusion, called the Blue Room. I can't go into the specifics of its design, but you can enjoy the mystery here.

In order to pull this off, Francis created scale models of the Art Gallery. The hole represents what the camera sees: the 45 degree angle reflects the duplicate chamber to the right. The result? See below.