Deuce of Clubs Book Club: Books of the Weak

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I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski

Guy Debord: Revolutionary

No Place to Hide

Command of Office

The Christ-Myth Theory And Its Problems

The Christian Delusion

Lincoln's Wrath

How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself

The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex

Bossypants

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland

Catching the Big Fish

Dig Infinity

The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones

Crazy for God

Basin and Range

Anarchy Evolution

The File

John Ringo

The Supremes

End the Fed

Burning Book

The Hohokam Millenium

God's Middle Finger

Narcocorrido

In Heaven Everything Is Fine

The Shunning

Wisdom Sits in Places

The Marvelous Country

Hamilton's Curse

The Secret Life of Houdini

The Trouble with Being Born

Schulz and Peanuts

First Into Nagasaki

Joe Miller's Jests

Human Smoke

Dirty Tricks Cops Use

A Futile and Stupid Gesture

All For A Few Perfect Waves

Systemantics

Death in the Desert

American Signs

Secret Proceedings and Debates of the Constitutional Convention

Secrets Of A Stingy Scoundrel

The Self-Made Tapestry

A Constitutional History of Secession

The Neurotic's Notebook

Interrogation Machine

Monster Midway

The Harlot by the Side of the Road

Forced Into Glory

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

J. G. Ballard: Quotes

The Compleat Practical Joker

Laugh with Hugh Troy

Pranks!

A Liar's Autobiography

Cobb

Chasing Rainbows

Letters from Tucson, 1925-1927

The Five Fosters

The Giant Cactus Forest and Its World

How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker

World Famous Cults & Fanatics

That's Not All, Folks!

God's Problem

Will Christ Return By 1988?

Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology

The Whiskey Rebellion

FDR's Folly

Wilson's War

Bully Boy

[If] I Did It

The Dark Side

Secret Origins of the Bible

Godless

The End of Faith

Why I Became An Atheist

"Life's Calendar for 1922"

Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War

The Negro Cowboys

EXPECT RESISTANCE

Monty Python Speaks

Baseball Between the Numbers

The Psychopath's Bible

Satisfaction

J. G. Ballard: Conversations

Days of War, Nights of Love

Gospel Fictions and Who Wrote the Gospels?

The Real Deadwood

Deadwood

The Revolution: A Manifesto

45

The Secret Man

Stormin' Mormon

From Psyche to Soma

I'll Gather My Geese

The Osama bin Laden I Know

Alias "Paine"

A Man Without Words

The Wild Trees

The World Without Us

Arizona's Changing Rivers

The Phoenix Indian School

Realm of the Long Eyes

John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America's First Celebrity Criminal

Buckey O'Neill: The Story of a Rough Rider

Thanks For Tuning In

Adventures in the Apache Country

Waylon: An Autobiography

My Life: Sunrise to Sunset

Mimes and Miners: A Historical Study of the Theater in Tombstone

The First 100 Years: A History of Arizona Blacks

Enter Without Knocking

City in the Sun: The Japanese Concentration Camp at Poston, Arizona

House by the Buckeye Road

Vanished Arizona

The Big Con

The Astronomy Cafe and Back to the Astronomy Cafe

A Handbook on Hanging

The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right

A Mind Restored

Mr. Show: What Happened?!

Reclaiming the American Revolution

Stumbling On Happiness

Treasure Maps of the Superstitions

Sunny Slope

Did Genesis Man Conquer Space?

Look Homeward, America

Radicals for Capitalism

Kayaker's Little Book of Wisdom

God Is Not Great

The Echoing Green

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll

K Foundation Burn a Million Quid

The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes and The Tao of Willie

Just Six Numbers and Our Cosmic Habitat

Wild Goose Chronicles

Behind Bars: Surviving Prison

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce

The Gang They Couldn't Catch

Manhunt

A History of the End of the World

Al Sieber: Chief of Scouts

Apaches & Longhorns

Deep Survival

Captured

DINO

Sock

Bo: Pitching & Wooing

You Are Worthless

You And Your Hand

Access All Areas

Field Guide to the Apocalypse

The War on Terrorism

Those Idiots From Earth

September 11: An Oral History

Mortal Questions

The Heresy of Self-Love

The White Flag Principle

Medieval Panorama

An Honest President

Those Words

À rebours

Peterson's Incident Report Book

Boo! Culture, Experience, and the Startle Reflex

Victory Denied

Nothing, Arizona

A Porcine History of Philosophy and Religion

O Holy Cow!: The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto

DOME COMPENDIUM OF TOPICAL TREATMENT IN PROCTOLOGY

¿Hablas conmigo

Thirty-three Candles

Black Monk Time

Men of Distinction

Alexander the Corrector

Space Viking

Mark These Men

Hallucinogenic Plants

Prohibition: An Adventure in Freedom

JESUS! He's Our President

LOVE

How to Watch Football on Television

Merrill Markoe's Guide to Love

Lincoln: The Man and The Car

Whatever Men Know About Women

Biographies of Italian War Heroes

ABC of Espionage

Art Colony Perverts

Devil-ution

Starting Right with Bees

Planet Earth is a Cult

Baseball Letters

Fetish

Dopey Doings

Democracy: The God That Failed

Handgrenade Talk

Hi, How Are You?

het zingen van het ijs

The Museum of Jurassic Technology Jubilee Catalogue

The Rector and the Rogue

Colorful Cacti of the American Deserts

Odd Jobs: The World of Deviant Work

The Hungry Man's Outdoor Grill Cookbook

How to Get Invited to the White House

How to Work for a Jerk

Never Work for a Jerk!

The Mentality of Apes

Your Vigor for Life Appalls Me

Dr. Strange: Sorceror Supreme

Nautical Notions for Nibbling

A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity

The Fake Revolt

Coup D'Etat

History of the Town of Felicity

Hood of Death

Dolls' House Bathrooms: Lots of Little Loos

Border Security / Anti-Infiltration Operations

Living on Light

God is for Real, Man

Did the Apostle Paul Visit Britain?

Twin Peaks

2001

Power Phrases

The Truth About Wagner

The Life of the Bee

Tombstone

Science Looks at Smoking

The Chiricahuas

The New Dark Ages Conspiracy

The Big Question

Everybody's Book of Epitaphs

The Death of the Fuhrer

Mindfuckers

Gorbachev! Has the Real Antichrist Come?

The World's Worst Poet

Alyssa Milano: She's the Boss

Home is the Desert

Nine Lives: From Stripper to Schoolteacher

How to Start Your Own Country

How to Found Your Own Religion

Sex Objects in the Sky

Indian Oratory

Bastard Without Portfolio

The Bedside Book of Bastards

Hopeless -- Yet There Is Hope

Bible in Pocket, Gun in Hand

Margie Asks WHY

Death of a Hippie

Wake Up or Blow Up

Feeling and Form

Guilt

A Mile in His Moccasins

Mojave Desert Ramblings

Passing of the Outhouse

This Way to Happiness

The Happy Life

Young Only Once

The Monkey Gland Affair

Bert Bacharach's Book for Men

The Two Babylons

For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes...

Why Christians Crack Up!

Why Do Christians Break Down?

Hava Nagila!

Beethoven or Bust

How to Abandon Ship

Livin' in Joe's World

The Last Democrat

Salvation Mountain

The Varmint and Crow Hunter's Bible

Love in the Western World

Jack the Ripper: Light-Hearted Friend

Little Men of the NFL

No One May Ever Have The Same Knowledge Again

The Secret Museum of Mankind

James Bond's World of Values

We Did Not Plummet Into Space

The Boy Who Didn't Believe IN CHRISTMAS

The Great Escape From Your Dead-End Job

All About Tipping

My Loser Godfrey

A Haircut in Horse Town

Mucusless Diet Healing System

Jefferson Returns

Lincoln Returns

Churchill Returns

Corporation Freak

Null Bock auf DDR

So You're Going on a Mission?

Nudes in My Camera

Why I Hate the Nazis

Flesh, Metal & Glass

The James Beard Cookbook

Mortal Refrains

Deadbolt

Amy Grant: A Biography

The X Cars

We Were Five

Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder

Hello ... Wrong Number

I'll Kill You Next!

Murder in Vegas

Did MAN Just Happen?

Terror at the Atlanta Olympics

Criswell Predicts

Your Next Ten Years

They Pay Me to Catch Footballs

The Phantom Menace

Just For Fellows

The Lopsided Gal

Astrology and Horse Racing

The Cokesbury Stunt Book

The Origin of Things

Remarks on the History of Things

U.S. Government Sewing Book

Funeral Tributes II

Blinky, the Friendly Hen

The Serbs Choose War

My Mystery Castle

Iggy

Funeral Customs the World Over

The Right to be Let Alone

Mormonism and the Negro

The Church and the Negro

Preacher with a Billy Club

Fighting Parson of the Old West

Invisibility: Mastering the Art of Vanishing

How to Disappear Completely

The Gentle Art of Making Enemies

How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man

Langenscheidts Konversationsbuch

Marlene Dietrich's ABC

The Bible in the Hands of Its Creators


The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero

William Kalush and Larry Sloman (2006)

 

Houdini learned an important lesson here. For variety artists to win over an audience, the performance itself must be amplified by other variables like presentation. The audience comes to the show essentially unprepared. What's different about this performance? Is this the first time it's ever been done? Is it particularly hard to do? Showmanship is the element that provides the context for the audience to understand what they're seeing. It's a way of making a performance exceptional. That was Mr. White's genius—the ability to contextualize his wife's performance in a grandiose way. (28)

"Houdini, can't you do something on a Sunday night of a religious nature so we can get a house?" Dr. Hill asked him.
"There is one thing I can do of a religious nature and that is make a collection," Houdini cracked. (49)

The years from 1892 until 1901 would be noted as the Decade of Regicide, a time when more kings, prime ministers, and even presidents met their fate at the hands of assassins than in any other period in recorded history. (72)

On August 27, while preparing for a leap into the San Francisco Bay, he wrote his good friend Dr. Waitt back in Boston. "Tomorrow I will take a leap from the wharf into the Frisco Bay ... Perhaps some day my time will come like that, but being a Fatalist, it worries me very little." After jumping into the deep, dark, and cold Mississippi River from a steamer in New Orleans, he dreaded the experience. "That's an awful river," he told a local reporter. "The worst I have ever been in ... It's only a question of time that the man who works trained lions and tigers gets his violent passage to the other world, and it is pretty much the same with me." The reporter noted a tinge of sadness in Houdini's voice. "I'll get in the water some day, my trick will fail, and then good night!" (189)

From 1904 on, Houdini was the only escape artist who accepted such a wide panoply of challenges. Although many of his imitators would do handcuff and rope challenges, only a very few accepted more difficult challenges. Brindamour escaped from challenge paper bags and packing boxes; Mysto did a variation of the box challenge by getting out of a sealed coffin; and Houdini's brother Hardeen accepted challenges against Houdini's explicit wishes. Houdini struck back in a fury. He exposed Mysto onstage, called Brindamour a cross-dressing fancy dancer, and shunned his own brother until Bess was forced to make peace. (191-2)

To a chorus of cheers, he did a magnificent header off the twenty-foot-high structure, cutting into the water clean. Unfortunately, the water itself was anything but. The Yarra had such a reputation for its muddy water that Sydney residents mocked it by claiming it was the only river in the world that ran upside down. For a few seconds the crowd nervously awaited Houdini's fate. Suddenly, two figures emerged from the mucky water. The impact of Houdini's leap had dislodged a corpse from the muddy riverbed. The event so disquieted Houdini that he momentarily froze and had to be helped into the waiting police launch. (250)

"It is good for me that I am not a tall man. Why? Because I must be quick! quick! and a tall man is always slow. It is so all through the profession: The best men are not too high. A tall man is easy-going, good-natured; a short man is sometimes good-tempered, more often not so. All the mean, cunning men that I have known—short! All the keen, eager, ambitious men—short! And for work—the tall man has too much to carry, he is too far from the ground, he cannot lose and recover balance as it is necessary, in a flash. (256)

Bess and the Danish physician went outside to consult, leaving Houdini alone with Jim Collins, one of his trusted assistants. As soon as they departed, Collins locked the door and walked back over to the bed. He bent over his shattered boss.
"Mr. Houdini, can't you do anything for your mother?" he asked.
The question seemed to jar Houdini from his stupor.
"What do you mean, Jim?"
"You know what I mean," Collins said. "Can't you do anything for her?"
An uneasy silence fell between them.
"Do I understand you, Jim, that you think I really possess some power whereby I could help my mother?"
Houdini finally said.
"Yes."
Houdini sighed. (293-4)

Two days later, the German authorities tried to maintain that Houdini was not a good human being and hauled him into court for presenting a professional performance without obtaining police permission when he jumped manacled into the Dutzend Lake twice in one day. He was fined fifty marks for bathing in the water, fifty marks for not obtaining prior allowance for the performance, and an additional twenty marks for walking on the grass. Houdini naturally appealed the case, and the local police became laughingstocks in the press when it was revealed that they had attempted to prevent the jump into the lake on the day after it had occurred. It was also wryly noted that while city authorities had warned Houdini against carrying out his publicity stunt, the city's municipal streetcar administration had placed additional cars in service to transport the thousands of citizens who flocked to see a performance that was verboten. (296)

Houdini canceled his December Paris dates and took Bess to Monte Carlo to divert himself with the casinos. He won two thousand francs but soon got bored with the gaming tables. What seemed to pique his interest was the special graveyard that contained the bodies of people who had committed suicide after losing their life's fortunes. Houdini made several visits to this bleak landscape. It's unlikely that he himself was contemplating such a grisly fate but if he was, the visits seemed to disabuse him of that notion. "A terrible feeling pervades the first time one sees the graves, and thinks of the human beings who finish their lives in this manner." More sociologist than potential suicide, Houdini made some acute observations about the phenomenon in his diary. He noted that there were more suicides in winter than in summer; that the casino workers would stuff money into the bare pockets of recently discovered suicides to suggest other motives than financial; and that the casino now offered to pay for shipping bodies back to their home towns to "keep things quiet." A grave of a man and woman who committed suicide together particularly fascinated him. (297)

The next morning, Houdini and [Theodore] Roosevelt took their usual constitutional around the upper deck of the steamship. Roosevelt stopped halfway around the deck and put his arm around Houdini. He looked him straight in the eye.
"Houdini, tell me the truth. Man to man. Was that genuine Spiritualism or legerdemain last night?" Houdini was amazed that this brilliant statesman, who would go down in American history as one of its most colorful characters, was undecided whether the effect was genuine or not.
"No, Colonel," Houdini shook his head. "It was hokus pokus." (307)

[Houdini:] "We are all more or less an army fighting our way to our own graves." (326)

The previous year had been rough for the French actress [Sarah Bernhardt]; ten years after a serious injury, her right leg was finally amputated and she was continuing her stage career with the assistance of a wooden leg. On the way back to the hotel, the Divine Sarah suddenly embraced Houdini. "Houdini, you are a wonderful human being," she purred. "You must possess some extraordinary power to perform such marvels. Won't you use it to restore my limb for me?"
Houdini was shocked when he realized that she was dead serious. (327-8)

Houdini was too polite to comment on the fairy pictures. [Arthur Conan] Doyle stuck to his guns and eventually published a book touting the [Cottingley Fairy] photos as real and revelatory. Years later, the teenager who took the photos of her nine-year-old niece cavorting with the fairies would admit that the pictures were faked. If Doyle had done better research, he would have determined that the fairies had been cut out of one of the most popular children's books of 1915, a book that contained one of his own stories. (384)

Conan Doyle was stunned. Houdini asked him to take the paper out of his pocket and verify that this was the phrase he had written. Of course, it was.
"Sir Arthur, I have devoted a lot of time and thought to this illusion; I have been working on it, on and off, all winter. I won't tell you how it was done, but I can assure you it was pure trickery," Houdini lectured. "I did it by perfectly normal means. I devised it to show you what can be done along those lines. Now, I beg of you, Sir Arthur, do not jump to the conclusion that certain things you see . . . are necessarily 'supernatural,' or the work of 'spirits,' just because you cannot explain them. This is as marvelous a demonstration as you have ever witnessed, given you under test conditions, and I can assure you that it was accomplished by trickery and by nothing else. Do, therefore, be careful in the future, in endorsing phenomena just because you cannot explain them. I have given you this test to impress upon you the necessity of caution, and I sincerely hope that you will profit by it."
Sir Arthur just smiled. So Houdini's still being cagy about his power, he thought. Is not this yet another demonstration of his psychic ability? (388)

Materialization seances were often just fronts for prostitution rings both in England and in America. Joseph Rinn, Houdini's ghost-busting friend, reported that in the late i880s there were more than a hundred mediums in New York City who advertised in the personal columns of newspapers, many of them actually madams who ran prostitution rings. As late as 1979, the sociologist Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross had clients have sex with "materialized spirits" as part of a therapeutic regimen for people with morbid fears of death. (419)

"Then it is your wits against mine," she [alleged medium Margery Crandon] said, and gave Houdini a "furtive" look. "How would it look for my twelve year old son to grow up and read that his mother was a fraud?"
''Then don't be a fraud," Houdini suggested. (434)

"I am not denouncing spiritualism, ladies and gentlemen, I am showing up the frauds. I cannot show up an honest medium. But trot her out," he said, to much laughter and applause. (443-4)

While he was sparring with the Spiritualists, his own investigations into the mysteries of life after death continued. Repeated exposure to fraudulent mediums hadn't made him lose hope of contact with the dead. His brother Bill had been fighting tuberculosis for years and had been living at a sanitarium in Saranac Lake, New York. During a heavy snowstorm, Houdini drove up to the mountains and stood on Bill's front porch and performed some new effects for him. As Bill's condition worsened, Houdini had a phone installed at his bed and instructed the nurse to ring him when the end was imminent. Shortly after the New Year, the call came and with the nurse holding the receiver to his brother's ear, Houdini shouted, "Remember our compact. After you die, communicate with me."A minute later, Bill was gone. Houdini holed himself up in a room on the top floor of his house and waited for twenty-four hours, going without food or drink, for the message that never came. (446)

Houdini had begun his campaign against mediums in the nation's capital by pleading with President Coolidge back in January of 1926 to throw his "vast influence" with the campaign to abolish the "criminal practices" of spirit mediums, but after his own investigation he was convinced that the president and his wife were believers and that he could prove his case. They certainly fit the profile, having recently lost a son. After the hearings, Houdini wrote his friend the journalist Walter Lippmann, who had been the special assistant to the secretary of war during World War I. "Sorry to tell you that I have heard on rather good authority that they do hold seances in the White House and am looking for further proof regarding same. This is, of course, in strict confidence." (488)

Heartfelt tributes came from all quarters. "Houdini was the greatest showman of our time by far," the great humorist Will Rogers wrote. "I played with Harry at Keith's Philadelphia over eighteen years ago for the first time. I was roping at my pony on the stage and was billed to close the show .... Harry was just ahead with his handcuff tricks. It was late when he went on. He held that audience for one hour and a quarter. Not a soul moved. He would come out of his cabinet every fifteen or twenty minutes, perspiring and kinder size up that crowd to see just about how they were standing it. Now, mind you, when he is in that cabinet there is not a thing going on. A whole Theatre full are just waiting. Now he had that something that no one can define that is generally just passed off under the heading of showmanship. But it was in reality, Sense, Shrewdness, Judgment, unmatched ability, Intuition, Personality, and an uncanny knowledge of people." (528)


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