[Harry Houdini, full-length portrait, standing, facing right, in chains]
Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz, March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian-American illusionist began his career in 1891, focused initially on traditional card tricks, but had little success. In 1893, while performing with his brother as "The Brothers Houdini," Houdini met a fellow performer, Wilhelmina Beatrice "Bess" Rahner and married her in 1894. For the rest of Houdini's performing career, Bess worked as his stage assistant. Houdini's big success came in 1899 when he met Martin Beck in St. Paul, Minnesota. Impressed by Houdini's handcuffs act, Beck advised him to concentrate on escape acts. In 1900 Houdini started to tour Europe and gave a demonstration of escape from handcuffs and became widely known as "The Handcuff King." He toured England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Russia. In each city, Houdini challenged local police to restrain him with shackles and lock him in their jails. In many of these challenge escapes, he was first stripped nude and searched. In Moscow, he escaped from a Siberian prison transport van, claiming that, had he been unable to free himself, he would have had to travel to Siberia, where the only key was kept. In 1904, thousands watched as he tried to escape from special handcuffs commissioned by London's Daily Mirror, keeping them in suspense for an hour. Another stunt saw him buried alive and only just able to claw himself to the surface, emerging in a state of near-breakdown. While many suspected that these escapes were faked, Houdini presented himself as the scourge of fake spiritualists. As President of the Society of American Magicians, he was keen to uphold professional standards and expose fraudulent artists. He was also quick to sue anyone who imitated his escape stunts. Houdini made several movies, but quit acting when it failed to bring in money. He was also a keen aviator, and aimed to become the first man to fly a plane in Australia.