Dorothy Young Obituary


Seabrook Resident Dorothy Young Dies at 103, Was Houdini’s Assistant


  Dorothy Young, Houdini’s last on-stage assistant, with the magician in 1926 as the “Radio Girl of 1950.” (Dorothy Young’s family)


The long-time Monmouth County (New Jersey) resident was one of the last people to have worked onstage with the escape artist Harry Houdini.


By Amy Byrne
March 25, 2011


She performed onstage with the legendary Harry Houdini, traveled the world ballroom dancing and appeared on a Barbara Walters’ special, but until her death on Monday, Dorothy Young had spent the last three years living quietly in Tinton Falls’ Seabrook Village.


Young, 103, who died March 20, is thought to have been the last surviving person to share a stage with the renowned escape artist Houdini.  She joined his troupe as an assistant in 1925 when she was 17-years-old and quickly became known as the “Radio Girl of 1950,” emerging during the act from a large radio and performing a dance routine.   


“Houdini told me that he chose me from the more the 1,000 girls who showed up that day because, unlike all of them—I was a quiet, little girl sitting all the way in the back—and because I was shorter that he was,” Young told a gathering of the Daughter’s of the American Revolution in 2008, according to a release from Seabrook.


Young, the daughter of a Methodist minister, toured for a year with Houdini and left just two months before his death in October 1926. She married Robert Perkins and had a child shortly after, and Perkins died 13 years later.


According to her son, Robert Perkins, Jr., who is 83, Young befriended the matinee idol and silent film star Richard Bennett—who is also Perkins’ godfather—and made her way into some Broadway and film roles, including the Fred Astaire film Flying Down to Rio.


Young formed a dance act with Gilbert Kiamie, a New York businessman and the son of a wealthy silk lingerie magnate, according to a report by the Associated Press, and they gained international prominence for a Latin dance they created known as the rumbalero. They later married and remained together until Kiamie died in 1992.


Young moved to Allenhurst and later, Little Silver, according to Perkins, who attended Markham Place School in Little Silver and graduated from Red Bank High School in 1944.


Both Perkins and Kiamie entered the military during the Second World War and Young volunteered with the Standards Agency at Fort Monmouth, according to the Seabrook release.


Young moved to Ocean Grove where she lived for many years working on the oil painting that became her creative outlet of choice for the rest of her life. She also wrote two novels based on her professional experiences.


Perkins said his mother had many creative talents—dancing, acting, painting—but “couldn’t carry a tune.”


Young became a benefactor of the Jersey Shore Medical Center where she established a chapel in honor of her parents. She also became a donor of Drew University in Madison and helped create the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts at the university. Her donations also made possible the rebuilding of Youth Temple in Ocean Grove in 1977, according to the Seabrook release.


Young attended many performances at Drew and one her last was a commemoration of Houdini’s death in October 2008 that featured an inner circle of the magician’s enthusiasts and historians.


In 2005, Young appeared in the documentary Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery and was featured on a Barbara Walters special on television about centegenarians in 2008.


Perkins said he moved up from Naples, FL to live with his mother in Seabrook three years ago when it became evident she could no longer live on her own.


He said his mother’s early exposure to travel with Houdini’s show gave her a taste of a world very different from her beginnings as the daughter of a Methodist minister.


“She liked that sort of life,” he said.


Aside from Perkins, Young is survived by four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.


A memorial service will be held for Young on April 16 at 4 p.m. at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Ocean Grove, according to Perkins.



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