E.L. Doctorow, writer, on: Houdini's boyish appeal
He was very boyish. I think his boyishness, his brashness, his apparent heedlessness and recklessness appealed to people. And this country with the expression of individual worth was such a great liberation for everyone. Even if you were in some sweatshop somewhere making 6 cents an hour, you were in a country where it was all right to be yourself; that you were not presumably, theoretically, in a fixed position in the hierarchy that could never change, no matter what you did for yourself. So that was a kind of idea that he seemed to express in his whole being and in his whole deportment: "I am who I am. I am the greatest. I am Harry Houdini."
You know, in our age, the appeal of Muhammad Ali has something of that. So of course there Ali was really in a game that was real. There was no illusion in his achievements. But that kind of brashness, that kind of confidence, which was very self conscience and part of the way he was presenting himself to the public, was also true of Harry Houdini. And people loved that. They love that kind of self-assertion. It was very, very democratic.