Silverman's dense account documents the famous magician's lifelong quest to ensure his reputation—and his metamorphosis from Budapest-born Ehrich Weiss into Harry Houdini, the greatest illusionist of his age. Other biographies of Houdini (often influenced by their subject's pliant versions of events) have sensationalized and distorted the story of his impoverished immigrant childhood, early dime-museum career, and ascent to fame as the ``Handcuff King'' and virtuoso escape artist. Silverman, the Pulitzer Prizewinning biographer of Cotton Mather, approaches this familiar story with painstaking scrutiny and a bit of skepticism, focusing mainly on the magician's act and ego. In response to Houdini's claims of originality, Silverman demonstrates that there were many talented magicians working in the early 20th century. The escape-from-handcuffs act was, he demonstrates, very common. But Houdini transformed it, and the business of stage magic, with his genius for showmanship and relentless self-promotion. Houdini's talents as both performer and publicist get full recognition here: his carefully choreographed, athletic stage act and nimble patter, his open challenges to local locksmiths and staged jailbreaks (executed from the Midwest to Moscow), and finally, at the height of his career, such expensive illusions as making an elephant disappear. Houdini's interior life gets less coverage (although Silverman uncovers a brief affair with Jack London's widow). Houdini also dabbled less successfully as an aviator in Australia and as a movie star. In later life he found a second career as a debunker of mediums, attacking spiritualist frauds more aggressively than he had ever competed with rival magicians. Silverman manages the difficult trick of revealing many of Houdini's personal and professional secrets, penetrating to the reality behind many of the legends surrounding the man, while still leaving some of the mysteries concerning this ferociously driven figure intact. (100 b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-06-016978-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1996

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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