Posts Tagged ‘harry houdini’

Dorothy Young Obituary

Saturday, March 26th, 2011


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.



Harry Kellar — the Dean of Magic

Monday, November 30th, 2009



 Harry Kellar-portrait 


Harry Kellar signature 

…the dean of magic


The Magic Castle, located at 7001 Franklin Avenue at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, is currently observing the centennial of it’s headquarters which was built by banker Rollin B. Lane in 1909. To celebrate, over the next couple of weeks I will post a biography of Lane and the history of the mansion and articles on magic and magicians in Hollywood. Today is a look at the dean of magicians, Harry Kellar, who upon his retirement, spent the last fourteen years of his life in Los Angeles and is also interred here.


 By Allan R. Ellenberger


Harry Kellar, known as the “Dean of American Magicians,” enjoyed both public recognition and financial success. His was the largest and most elaborate stage illusion show touring during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He is best known for his spectacular version of the Levitation, in which a girl mysteriously rises up from a couch, floats across the stage to the audience, then disappears into thin air. Upon his retirement in 1908, Kellar chose to spend his remaining years in Los Angeles.


Kellar was born Heinrich Keller on July 11, 1849 in Erie, Pennsylvania. The son of German immigrants, his father, Francis P. Keller, had been a soldier under Napoleon. At the age of ten, Harry was put to work and found employment at Carter’s pharmacy on North Park Row. One day, while experimenting with chemicals he knew to be off-limits, he blew a hole in the shop floor. Knowing his father would be harsh with him, he jumped aboard an outbound train and left Erie.


Now a vagabond, Harry performed a series of odd jobs and was soon taken in by a minister in upstate New York, who offered to adopt him if he would study for the ministry. However, it was a chance visit to a traveling show that displayed the conjuring of The Fakir of Ava that enchanted the youngster. Kellar later confided to Houdini that he “immediately got the urge to go on the stage… became very restless, bought books on magic and finally left my friend and benefactor.” Harry traced down the Fakir, became his assistant, and began his professional training.


After several false starts and some disappointing results, Harry became connected with the Davenport Brothers and Fay, celebrated mediums who were involved with the “Spiritualism” movement. Harry continued with the Davenports for four years as their business manager, learning the cabinet tricks and becoming more expert at them than the brothers themselves. During this period he traveled extensively throughout the United States.


Harry reportedly changed the spelling of his name to Kellar because there was another popular magician named (Robert) Heller and wanted to avoid any possible confusion. It wasn’t until 1911 that he legally changed his name to Harry Kellar.



Harry Kellar poster



Kellar was famous for his playbills and advertisements featuring imps and devils, implying, without totally stating, that his skills were really powers gained through dealings with dark forces. This enticing idea brought people to his show in droves.


In 1873, Kellar formed a partnership with Fay, former partner of the Davenport Brothers, and as Fay and Kellar, toured Mexico and South America, acquiring an extended knowledge of the magician’s craft. Combining Kellar’s old magic tricks with a Davenport-inspired séance, was one of their showstoppers. After a shipwreck in 1875 on their trip to England left them destitute, Fay left the act to rejoin the Davenports.


On his return to the United States, Kellar joined Ling Look and Yamadura, billing themselves as Royal Illusionists, setting out on a tour of South America, Africa, Australia, India, the Philippines, Japan and China. While performing in China in 1877, both of his partners died, and for a time he toured alone.


For five years beginning in 1879, he traveled with J. H. Cunard under the name of Kellar & Cunard, giving exhibitions in Asia and Egypt. In 1882, Kellar was performing in Melbourne, Australia and met a fan, Eva Lydia Medley, who wanted his autograph. Kellar was smitten and promised to correspond with her while on the road. They exchanged letters for the next five years.


Kellar specialized not so much in feats of sleight-of-hand, as in other branches of the magicians art, more particularly those involving the use of apparatus, many of which Kellar was the originator, and are still models in magic today.



  Harry Kellar poster

  Harry Kellar poster



One of Kellar’s more popular illusions was The Levitation of Princess Karnac. One version of this was later purchased by Harry Blackstone, Sr., who used the trick for many years. Others included the Vanishing Birdcage, the Vanishing Lamp, and his automation Psycho, which was a popular attraction wherever it played.


Kellar returned to the United States in 1884 and began appearing alone and played here continuously. Eventually Eva arrived in America and played the cornet in the show and began learning about magic. They were married on November 1, 1887 at a church in Kalamazoo, Michigan and she continued to play an important role in his shows.


Kellar’s strength was his presentation. Over the next twenty years, he became one of the best known magicians in the world and once performed “The Nested Boxes” illusion at the White House for President Theodore Roosevelt and his children.


On May 16, 1908, Kellar retired and in a grand onstage ceremony at Ford’s Theatre in Baltimore, removed his cape and placed it on the shoulders of his chosen successor, Howard Thurston. Not long after, Kellar and his wife retired to Los Angeles where his sister Anna Marie lived. They bought a house at 698 Wilshire Place (demolished) and it was here that Eva died sometime before 1910.



Harry Kellar and Houdini



At the end of his career, Kellar befriended Harry Houdini, who idolized the elder magician. Houdini was a frequent guest at Kellar’s Wilshire Place home. Much of what is known about Kellar comes through Houdini, who conducted several interviews to help chronicle the history of magic. Houdini, in his fight to unmask fake mediums, once admitted that there was only one man who knew more about them than he did – Dean Harry Kellar.


Houdini once announced that he would perform the bullet catching feat, which had already killed several magicians, at an upcoming convention of the Society of American Magicians. Kellar got wind of it and fired off a letter. “Don’t try the damn bullet catching trick,” he warned, “no matter how sure you may feel of its success. There is always the biggest kind of risk that some dog will ‘job’ you. And we can’t afford to lose Houdini.”


Few men were more stubborn than Houdini, but he was no fool. He knew that Kellar had investigated the stunt himself and assumed that there must be more than enough reason for such strong advice. Houdini quietly withdrew his plan.


On September 7, 1917, a banquet in Kellar’s honor was held at the Angelus Hotel on the corner of Fourth and Spring Streets. After the meal, each magician gave exhibitions of their skill. Kellar demonstrated his famous “Kellar Rope Tie” and string tricks, and even those who assisted could not solve them.


Two months later, on November 11, 1917, Houdini convinced Kellar to perform once more. The event was an enormous show held at New York’s Hippodrome to benefit the families of soldiers who perished when the USS Antilles was sunk by a German U-boat.


After his performance, Kellar started to leave, but Houdini stopped him, saying that “America’s greatest magician should be carried off in triumph after his final public performance.” The members of the Society of American Magicians helped Kellar into the seat of a sedan chair, and lifted it up. The 125-piece Hippodrome orchestra played “Auld Lang Syne” while Kellar was slowly carried away.



Harry Kellar grave



At some point, Kellar moved in with his sister Anna Marie Buck at 460 S. Ardmore Avenue (demolished) near S. Normandie and 5th Street. It was here that Harry Kellar died after a brief illness on March 10, 1922. He was interred at Rosedale Cemetery but his grave was unmarked for almost 80 years until 2001 when the Academy of Magical Arts, who are headquartered at Hollywood’s Magic Castle, placed a stone there.



Click below to view a 16 second film of Harry Kellar with Houdini.





Celebrity Recipes…Harry Houdini

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008


Harry Houdini






Three large pieces white bread — buttered. Cut in quarters, and line an enamel pie dish with same. Prepare custard of two eggs, one cup granulated sugar, one quart of milk.


Pour custard over bread and butter, and bake it in moderate oven forty-five minutes.


“I happen to have a weakness for sweets, and this one you will not find in any other cook book.”


— Sincerely yours,

Harry Houdini