Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin
Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin (1805-1871) was in Blois, France and is often credited as being "the father of modern magic".
|Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin|
|Born||December 6, 1805|
|Died||June 13, 1871 (age 65) |
He was educated at the university of Orléans, and for a short time worked as a watchmaker. When he accidentally received a book on conjuring he became very interested in the art and began taking lessons from a local amateur magician. When he felt he was ready he moved to Tours and set up a watch making business doing conjuring on the side. A major turning point in his life came when he became apprenticed to the magician De Grissi.
On July 3, 1845, Robert-Houdin made his debut as a magician. He said in his memoirs that the show was a disaster. Panicked by stage fright, he talked too fast and in a monotone. By the time the curtain fell, he had no idea what he was saying or doing
Robert-Houdin's autobiography is The Memoirs of Robert-Houdin. In it he describes his accounts with the Arabs of Algeria who were said to be excited to rebel against French colonialists by false miracles performed by their religious leaders. In 1856, Napoleon III's Second French Empire sent Robert-Houdin there, hoping that he might perform tricks that were far more impressive, thereby dissolving the excitement of the rebels. Robert-Houdin's tricks, it is said, succeeded in breaking up the influence of the mullahs. Moreover, the Arabs became afraid of Robert-Houdin. In one trick, he allowed an Arab to shoot at him with a marked bullet, but instead of killing him, the bullet was found between his teeth. After that, they believed he could do anything.
He used another famous trick to prove that French magic was stronger than local shamanism techniques. He presented an empty box with an iron bottom that anyone could lift up. He found the trick was more impressive when he claimed not that he could make the trunk heavy, but when he claimed he could make the strong man too weak to lift a trunk that even a small child could lift.
His home in Blois is open to the public as a museum and theatre.
American magician and escape artist Harry Houdini adopted the stage name of 'Houdini' in honour of Robert-Houdin.
Houdini wrote (?) The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin in 1908.
A museum in France, La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin, was inaugurated in 1998 and highlights the life and work of Robert-Houdin.
The Ethereal Suspension
When Robert-Houdin first performed this trick, ether had just come into use and was still quite mysterious. He made good use of this in the presentation of his illusion, by telling the audience the effect was achieved because ether strangely made people lighter.
- Confidences d'un prestidigitateur, T. 1-2 (1858) translated by Lascelles Wraxall as Memoirs of Robert-Houdin (1859)
- Les Tricheries des grecs dévoilées (1861) translated by Professor Hoffmann as Card Sharping Exposed (1882)
- Les Secrets de la prestidigitation et de la magie (1868) translated by Professor Hoffmann as The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic (1878)
- Magie et physique amusante (1877) translated by Professor Hoffmann as Secrets of Stage Conjuring (1881)
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