Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Montage of images and link description. Houdini Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience
The Film & More
Interview Transcripts | Further Reading

David De-Val, illusionist, on:
the Hodgson story

David De-Val In the north of England, there was a man named Hodgson. And about 1902, he challenged Houdini to escape from whatever restraints he was going to present him with. Hodgson was, in fact, a fitness instructor. He had a gymnasium. He did boxing. He taught physical fitness. And he [was] quite well known in the area. So he challenged Houdini in 1902 to a test that he would submit Houdini to. It wouldn’t be a test to punish Houdini, as it’s been suggested many times later. But it was a test that he would restrain Houdini in any manner he wished, and Houdini had to escape. He would forfeit 25 (British pounds), which was an awful lot of money, if Houdini failed, to some orphanage, some good cause.

Houdini accepted this challenge via the newspaper, which again Houdini needed to do to get people to come to the theater. He took this challenge, I think, mid-week. I think it was mid-week. He took to fill the seats. He wanted to get as many people in as he could, so he took challenges every night.

Hodgson came along at the appointed time and fastened him into these restraints. Houdini made some play about the restraints not being standard, not being orthodox, even inhumane or whatever, which he normally did anyway, so that wasn’t strange. Hodgson put the various restraints on Houdini. Houdini complained that he was hurting him whilst he was doing it. Fine. And [Hodgson] then retired to the side of the stage, and Houdini entered his cabinet to escape.

After several minutes, maybe 15 minutes, he emerged and begged to have these released because it was stopping circulation, which was [probably] a bit silly, because I mean, handcuffs are handcuffs. I mean, they’re not made to stop– to restrict circulation. And Houdini was well used to this. They were made just to fit around the various parts of the body. But he made a play, because the audience liked that. He played to the audience, didn’t he? I mean, this guy challenged him. He was going to escape, and he said no, he wouldn’t remove them from his body. Hodgson would not take them from Houdini. And Houdini retired to his cabinet, and he battled and he battled to escape from these things. And finally when he did emerge free, he was covered in sweat, in perspiration. One handcuff, I think, was still on his right wrist, still fastened to him. And he was almost in a state of collapse.

Later he told several reporters, that he would give up escapology. In 1902, we know he wasn’t going to do that. But it’s clear that he wanted to make the most of it as he could.

back to Interview Transcripts | next

Program Description | Enhanced Transcript | Reference

The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline | Gallery | People & Events | Teacher's Guide
The American Experience | Kids | Feedback | Search | Shop | Subscribe

©  New content 1999 PBS Online / WGBH

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: