Dorothy Young, the last surviving stage assistant to famed illusionist Harry Houdini and accomplished dancer, passed away Sunday at her retirement home in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. The entertainer was 103.
The news of Young's passing strangely coincides with the 137th birthday of her employer, Harry Houdini.
Born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, Harry Houdini, a legendary name in magic, became in international sensation after accomplishing incredible feats as an illusionist and escape artist extraordinaire. In the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary Houdini, old photographs, film clips and a breadth of interviews give an in depth look into the life of the master magician. Houdini died in 1926 from a widespread infection from an appendix burst. He was 52 years old.
Young joined Houdini's company at the age of 17 after attending an open casting call in New York during a family trip. In the 1920s she played the role of "Radio Girl of 1950," an act depicting the future of radio. As Young recalled, "I kicked my feet together and jumped up and did a curtsy. And then Houdini would take me by the waist and lift me down, and I would go into the Charleston."
After leaving Houdini's company in 1926, two months before the illusionists' death, Young and Gilbert Kiamie, NY businessman and son of a silk lingerie magnate, garnered international attention as a dance act that featured their own Latin dance, the "rumbalero." Young and Kiamie eventually married and remained together until Kiamie's death in 1992.
Young continued her career as entertainer, appearing in Hollywood films and even publishing novels based on her life, Diary without Dates and Dancing on a Dime. She later became a benefactor to Drew University, donating a $13 million for the university's endowment. One of her last appearances there was in 2008, for a celebration of the 82nd anniversary of Houdini's death.
Bianca Wythe is a student at Northeastern University and is currently an intern at AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.
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