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The American Experience
The Film & More
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David McCullough, Series Host: Hello and Welcome to The American Experience. I'm David McCullough.

Houdini... Except, I suppose, for the legendary Merlin of King Arthur's Court, no name so conjures up the realm of magic.

The great Harry Houdini, escape artist extraordinaire, is our story, and, I must say, as one of the many who've known the bliss of a boyhood fascination with magic, I love this film.

No secrets to Houdini's tricks will be revealed here, it should be understood at the start. What is revealed -- through a wealth of old photographs, film clips, and particularly insightful interviews -- is the ardent nature of the man himself and how much he and his breathtaking feats said about America in his time.

In this one exceptional life story is to be found a whole panorama of fads, innovations, popular pastimes, and age-old longings that moved the country then. There's the role of spiritualism, the advent of skyscrapers and the airplane, the burgeoning of show business, from vaudeville to Broadway to the movies, the infinite new powers of publicity. There is the insatiable need in some people for the limelight, a desire for which there is no substitute but more limelight. And there is the striking way this one extraordinary performer embodied the deep desire for escape among tens of thousands of his fellow new Americans.

And in the last analysis there is Houdini himself, who once said simply, "I do tricks nobody can explain."

That he would wind up so triumphant a career longing most of all to escape the escape business is still another compelling part of the story. Houdini by producer, Nancy Porter.


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