Bess Houdini

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Bess Houdini
Houdinibessbio.jpg
Born Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner
(1876-01-22)January 22, 1876
Died February 11, 1943(1943-02-11) (aged 67)
Needles, California
Cause of death
Heart attack
Resting place
Gate of Heaven Cemetery (Hawthorne, New York)
Spouse(s) Harry Houdini (1894-1926; his death)

Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner (January 22, 1876 – February 11, 1943), better known as Bess Houdini, was the stage assistant and wife of Harry Houdini.[1]

Biography[edit]

Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1876 to German immigrants Gebhard Rahner (a cabinet maker) and Balbina Rahner (née Bugel).

Bess was working at Coney Island in a song and dance act called The Floral Sisters when she was first courted by Houdini's younger brother, Theo (aka Theodore Hardeen). But it was the older Houdini brother, Harry, that she fell in love with and married on June 22, 1894.[2] Bess and Harry worked as The Houdinis for several years before Houdini hit it big as The Handcuff King. But he and Bess continued to occasionally perform their signature trick, Metamorphosis, throughout his career. Bess also looked after their menagerie of pets, collected dolls, and made the costumes for Houdini's full evening roadshow.[3] The Houdinis remained childless throughout their marriage. Bess's niece, Marie Hinson Blood, said Bess suffered from a medical condition that prevented her from having children.[4]

After Houdini died on October 31, 1926, Bess opened a tea house in New York, and briefly performed a vaudeville act in which she froze a man in ice.[5] In the 1930s she moved to Hollywood, California, and worked to promote Houdini's memory along with her manager and partner, Edward Saint. On Halloween 1936, Bess and Saint conducted a "Final Houdini Séance" on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. At the conclusion of the failed séance, she put out the candle beside a photograph of Houdini that was said to have burned for ten years. She then passed the torch to Walter B. Gibson writer of the famous mystery series “The Shadow” and friend, confidant, publicist and ghost writer for Houdini, and asked him to carry on the yearly tribute, who held them for many years at New York's Magic Towne House with such magical notables as Houdini biographers Walter B. Gibson and Milbourne Christopher. Before he died, Walter passed on the tradition [6] to Dorothy Dietrich, who now does them yearly at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA. In 1943 she said "ten years [was] long enough to wait for any man."[7]

Bess Houdini died from a heart attack on February 11, 1943 while in Needles, California, aboard an eastbound train traveling from Los Angeles to New York City. She was 67 years old.[8][9][10] Her family would not allow her to be interred with her late husband at the Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York as she had been raised a Roman Catholic. She is interred instead at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.

In film[edit]

Bess Houdini appeared as herself in the 1938 film, Religious Racketeers (a.k.a. Mystic Circle Murder) directed by Frank O’Conner and produced by Fanchon Royer. In the film, she expressed her belief that communication with those who have died is impossible. The film sparked controversy among spiritualists, but was praised by magicians. It was released on DVD in 2006 by Alpha Video.[11]

Bess has been portrayed in film by Janet Leigh (Houdini, 1953), Sally Struthers (The Great Houdinis, 1976), and Stacy Edwards (Houdini, 1998). On stage she has been played by Judith Bruce (Man of Magic, 1966), Viviane Thomas (Houdini - A Circus Opera, 1979), Kim Lores (The Great Houdini, 1999), and Evanna Lynch (Houdini, 2013).[12][13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Harry Houdini". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 24, 2014. 
  2. ^ "This weekend we are Wild About Bess". Retrieved January 22, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Dorothy Young remembers her days with Houdini". Retrieved April 2, 2011. 
  4. ^ "The problem with Bessie". Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Bess and the frozen man". Retrieved January 23, 2011. 
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ "Harry Houdini". TIME (magazine). February 15, 1943. Retrieved 2008-07-31. "The late, great prestidigitator Harry Houdini, famed foe of phony mediums, and his wife Beatrice agreed before his death to try to get in touch with each other afterwards. Gravely ill last week in Hollywood, his widow announced that she had not only given up trying but had her doubts about the existence of a hereafter. She had held seances every year for ten years, unsuccessfully. "Ten years," observed patient Mrs. Houdini last week, "is long enough to wait for any man."" 
  8. ^ "AUDIO: Marie Hinson remembers the death of her sister Bess Houdini = September 2, 2013". 
  9. ^ "Died". TIME. February 22, 1943. Retrieved 2008-07-31. "Beatrice Rahner Houdini, 67, widow of Prestidigitator Harry Houdini, famed escape artist, exposer of phony mediums; of a heart ailment; in Needles, Calif., aboard an eastbound train from Los Angeles." 
  10. ^ "Mrs. Harry Houdini. For Ten Years Tried to Hear From Him From Spirit World.". The New York Times. February 12, 1943. Retrieved 2008-07-31. "Mrs. Harry Houdini, widow of the magician, died tonight aboard a train taking her to New York. Her age was 67." 
  11. ^ "When Madame Houdini spoke". Retrieved April 12, 2011. 
  12. ^ "The women who have played Bess". Retrieved January 23, 2011. 
  13. ^ "UK HOUDINI play announces full cast". Retrieved June 26, 2013. 

External links[edit]

Gallery[edit]