Even today, nearly a century after his death, Harry Houdini doesn’t need an introduction. Houdini’s success came not only from his extraordinary skill and showmanship, but also from his mastery in the art of self-promotion. His life was full of intriguing anecdotes, and today I would love to share one of my personal favorites with you.
Houdini was an international celebrity—even in those pre-internet days when being a celebrity actually involved hard work and dedication. By 1914 (the year this narrative takes place) the escape artist was “as famous as any man on the planet. That June, when he played the Nottingham Empire […] he could have dined with any local celebrity, aristocrat, or business mogul of his choice”, tell us William Kalush and Larry Sloman, authors of the New York Times Bestseller The Secret Life of Harry Houdini.
Only a few weeks before World War I broke out, our hero found himself aboard the German steamship Imperator traveling back to America for an engagement in New York City. Among other elite passengers on the vessel was Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States and namesake of the Teddy Bear. [Disclaimer: to all you lovely Houdini nerds out there rolling your eyes, I’m aware this was not the first meeting between these two characters. The idea for the title of this piece was simply too tempting to let go.]
During the transatlantic travel, a picture was taken of Theodore Roosevelt surrounded by a group of passengers. One of those passengers was Harry Houdini. As mentioned before, by this point the escape artist was already a world-renowned celebrity. However, on this particular occasion, the focus of the photography was clearly the former president.
No problem. Houdini fixed the image by vanishing the other passengers, as well as replacing Roosevelt’s left arm, reconstructing the background, and centering the image on its new protagonists. The result was no longer a photo of Roosevelt with others, but a delightful portrait of Harry & Teddy—excellent promotional material for Houdini’s future enterprises!
Remember, dear reader, that our story takes place 76 years before the release of Photoshop 1.0 for Macintosh in 1990.