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Don Wilmeth on:
the importance of the press

Don Wilmeth At the turn of the century, about all a performer had was press. And one of the reasons Houdini had such a hard time getting established early in his career was, he had no press. He didn’t get reviewed. He didn’t get talked about. Houdini figured out as well that the best way to get press was to create the demand for that press. I think one of the reasons he did so many outdoor performances to create interest in his show was to get press. The press was always there, and he often initiated it through the press, advertised it through the press. He did this with his challenges.

The one thing everyone read was the paper, you know. We always have to remind ourselves, you know, this is pre-radio; this is pre-television. You had the press and you had paper on the wall of a building. That’s about all you had. So if you could get something in the press, even if you had to buy it– I mean, I’m convinced that virtually all of the great showmen in our history did that. Barnum did this by running ads, challenging himself, as if somebody else had written a letter to the editor. And I think you can track virtually all of the great performers and showmen. That’s what they do, certainly before mass media. So press was extraordinarily important.

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