Oct 20, 2014

Harry Houdini and the Gay Ghost

Born in 1874 in Budapest, Harry Houdini was a magician, escape artist, and showman.  And one of the few men of his generation for whom we have beefcake photos.

















One of his favorite tricks was the "overboard box escape": he was handcuffed and manacled, then nailed into a box, which was thrown into the ocean.


No doubt seeing his powerful, muscular body nearly nude in chains was half the fun.





Several contemporary movie hunks have replicated the famous pose, including Paul Michael Glaser (in The Great Houdini, 1979) and Johnathan Schaech (in Houdini, 1998).





But Houdini has a gay connection other than his beefcake appeal to both male and female audiences:

1. He married Bess Rahner, in 1894, and remained married to her until his death in 1926 (she died in 1943). They had no children, reputedly because she had a problem that kept her from ovulating.  Some people speculate that she was intersexed.

2. He starred in several silent films produced by his close friend and fellow magician Arnold DeBiere. They were not financial successes, and one of them caused him near-bankrupcy.  He blamed DeBiere,  leading to a loud public "breakup."





3. He developed another close friendship with Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories and an avid spiritualist.  They, also, had very loud, very public "breakup," and the resulting bitterness led Houdini to spend the rest of his life as a spiritualist debunker.

4. He purchased -- or at least was a frequent guest in -- the Laurel Canyon mansion owned by R.J. Walker, a furniture magnate whose son killed his male lover by pushing him off a balcony.  The lover continued to haunt the mansion until it burned down in 1959.

5. He died of peritonitis while performing in Montreal.  He was entertaining some young male fans in his dressing room, when McGill University student J. Gordon Whitehead punched him repeatedly in the stomach.  Eyewitness accounts are contradictory; no one knows why.  Did Houdini invite the blows to prove his toughness?  Or was Whitehead responding in homophobic rage to some gesture or statement?