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Ken Silverman on:
Hilmar the Uncuffable

Ken Silverman
Ken Silverman Houdini attracted just an endless horde of imitators who used his name. They took his same poses. Their publicity pictures were the same as his. They tried to do the same kinds of stunts. They called themselves Hordini, Hoodini, a whole bunch of names. Houdini loathed them. He truly had a burning hatred for them, for ripping him off. And he tried as much as he could to expose them.

One of my favorite exposé stories is an imitator called– who called himself Hilmar the Uncuffable, who was performing in Berlin, at the largest theater in Berlin. Houdini put on some sort of minor disguise and he went to see Hilmar work. And Hilmar offered a challenge, as Houdini did, that he could get out of any handcuffs. Houdini sprang out of the audience onto the stage with a pair of handcuffs. They were double-locking handcuffs. You had to open one wrist and then open the other wrist. There were two separate locks. He put Hilmar in the handcuffs, and of course Hilmar couldn’t get out. And his face, Houdini said, was red as a lobster. While he was on the stage with Hilmar, he tried to humiliate him all he could.

What I like about this story particularly is Houdini’s remarks later in his diary, when he came back and wrote it all up for himself. And he talks about how he "whipped the whelp", and how he made the audience jeer him, and how Hilmar was nothing but a beer hall waiter. Houdini, who so much wanted to be first, the idea that anybody would, you know, try to compete with him on his own terms, using his own things, was just something he couldn’t stand.

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