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Success: Houdini’s greatest feat

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In his childhood, Harry Houdini didn’t have any of the traits that the great stage magicians of his time possessed. He was small, not tall and imposing. He stumbled over his words and made grammatical errors, making it impossible for him to offer a stream of glib, distracting commentary, as other magicians did.

But Houdini could charm an audience with a boyish smile at one moment and immobilize them with an intense glance from his gray/blue eyes the next. His small frame, packed with sinewy muscles after years of exercise, became an asset in his endeavors as an escape artist.

He also had the brilliance to marry escape tricks, which were common sideshow acts at the time, with spiritualism, which gave him a marketable stage persona. And he performed his act before sophisticated audiences in major cities, not on the circus circuits.

Houdini’s secret to success?

He became the best in his field by using his strengths to redefine his profession.

—Adapted from Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls, William Lindsay Gresham, Henry Holt.

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