Theodore Hardeen

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Theodore Hardeen
Theodore Hardeen 1905.jpg
Ferenc Dezső Weisz

(1876-03-04)March 4, 1876
DiedJune 12, 1945(1945-06-12) (aged 69)
Years active1893-1945
RelativesHarry Houdini (brother)

Theodore "Dash" Hardeen (born Ferenc Dezső Weisz; March 4, 1876 – June 12, 1945), known simply as Hardeen, was a Hungarian magician and escape artist who was the younger brother of Harry Houdini. Hardeen, who usually billed himself as the "brother of Houdini", was the founder of the Magician's Guild. Hardeen was the first magician to conceive escaping from a straitjacket in full view of the audience, rather than behind a curtain.[1]

Early life[edit]

Hardeen was born as "Ferenc Dezső Weisz" (or "Ferencz Dezso Weisz") in Budapest, Austria-Hungary and went by the name "Theodore Weiss" when he and his family were living in Appleton, Wisconsin. He was known as "Deshi" and later "Dash" by his parents.

In 1893, Hardeen performed with Houdini at Coney Island as "The Brothers Houdini". While he and Harry were there, Harry met and married Wilhelmina Beatrice "Bess" Rahner.

Magical career[edit]

Hardeen with his brother, Houdini (seated left) c. 1901.

Will Goldston, English stage magician and editor of the Magician Annual, wrote that:

Hardeen learned his business from Houdini, and he learned it well, as no man could have failed to do with such a master. But the natural ability was always there. Even if Houdini had not existed to point the way, it is quite likely that Hardeen would have become an escape artiste. I have seen him perform several times, and have marvelled at his achievements. The huge chains in the cartoon are hardly an exaggeration of those from which he breaks loose. The handcuffs but a simple thing compared with those with which he is used to toy. Hardeen, like his more famous brother Harry Houdini is a great favourite in the magical world. He is a man of considerable culture and one of the best raconteurs I have ever met. Like Houdini, he is willing to expend both time and money freely to further the cause of magic. Both the amateurs and the professionals of our number regard him as a friend. And the general public regard him as a brilliant artiste and a thrilling entertainer.

After his brother's death in 1926, Hardeen played the vaudeville circuit, doing many of his late brother's routines. From 1938 to 1941, he was featured in Olsen and Johnson's Broadway revue, Hellzapoppin. During World War II, he performed for the troops (as his brother had done during World War I).

In 1936, Hardeen starred in a Vitaphone short film for Warner Bros. called Medium Well Done. In it, Hardeen played a "hardboiled detective" on the case of a bogus medium. The film was directed by Lloyd French, who directed many of the early Laurel and Hardy shorts.[2]

Like his brother, Hardeen was skeptical of the claims of spiritualist mediums. With his friend Julien Proskauer he exposed the fraudulent methods of mediums.[3]

Houdini, in his will, requested for all his files to be given to Hardeen and destroyed ("I give, devise and bequeath to my brother, Theodore, Professionally known as "Hardeen" all my theatrical effects, new mysteries and illusions and accompanying paraphernalia, to be burnt and destroyed upon his death.")[4][5] On August 15, 1927 Hardeen's Brooklyn home had been broken into and some of Houdini's apparatus had been damaged. Later that year, Hardeen burned all of Houdini's personal files in a furnace in his basement.[6]

Planning on writing a book about his brother, in 1945 Hardeen went to Manhattan's Doctors Hospital for a simple operation. He unexpectedly died of complications while recovering from the procedure. He was 69 years old.[7][8]


During his final show on May 29, 1945 in Ridgeway, Queens,[9] Hardeen named his chief assistant, Douglas Geoffrey, his official successor. Geoffrey then went on to perform as "Hardeen, Jr.", following Hardeen in death on January 14, 1990 at the age of 82 years.[10]

Richard Valentine Pitchford (1895–1973) took over the Magicians' Guild after Hardeen's death.[11] Sidney Hollis Radner received the Houdini collection from Hardeen.[12]

Hardeen has been featured in HBO's Emmy award-winning series Boardwalk Empire. He was portrayed by Remy Auberjonois.[13]

The television series Houdini's Last Secrets is hosted by George Hardeen, Theo Hardeen's grandson.[14]



  1. ^ Hardeen, Theodore. (1903). Life and History of Hardeen. A promotional pamphlet sold at performances wherein Hardeen explains how he came to do the straitjacket escape in front of an audience. Hardeen does not take credit for the idea, he merely states the facts.
  2. ^ "The forgotten films of Theo Hardeen". Retrieved February 19, 2011.
  3. ^ Worden, Helen (November 1944). "Exposing Tricks of the Fake Mediums". Popular Science. Vol. 145 no. 5. pp. 67–71, 213–214. Retrieved May 7, 2016.
  4. ^ Randi, James; Sugar, Bert Randolph. (1976). Houdini, His Life and Art. Grosset & Dunlap. p. 153. ISBN 978-0448125466
  5. ^ Price, David. (1985). Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theater. Cornwall Books. p. 203. ISBN 978-0845347386
  6. ^ Kalush, William; Sloman, Larry. (2006). The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero. Atria Books. pp. 530-531. ISBN 978-0743272087
  7. ^ "Hardeen Dead, 69. Houdini's Brother. Illusionist, Escape Artist, a Founder of Magician's Guild. Gave Last Show May 29". New York Times. June 13, 1945. Retrieved 2007-08-21. Theodore Hardeen, a brother of the late Harry Houdini, illusionist and a prominent magician in his own right, died yesterday in the Doctors Hospital. His age was 69.
  8. ^ "Houdini's Brother Dies with Escape Secrets". Chicago Tribune. June 13, 1945. When Houdini died in 1926, he bequeathed his tricks to his brother with the provision that Hardeen should not disclose them. The brothers were sons of ...
  9. ^ The source says Ridgeway, Queens. This may be a mistake for Ridgewood, Queens.
  10. ^ "The untold story of Hardeen, Jr". Retrieved May 22, 2011.
  11. ^ "Richard V. Pitchford Dies. Magician Known as Cardini". New York Times. November 13, 1973. Retrieved 2007-07-21. Richard V. Pitchford, who as Cardini was a prominent sleight-of-hand artist and was president of the Magicians Guild in 1945, died today in Kingston Hospital. He was 79 years old and lived in Gardiner.
  12. ^ Murphy, Dean E. (October 29, 2004). "In Sadness, Prime Houdini Artifact Collector Puts Items on Auction Block". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-02-14. ... Mr. Radner, aka Rendar the Magician, owns one of the world's biggest and most valuable collections of Harry Houdini artifacts, including the Chinese Water Torture Cell, one of Houdini's signature props from 1912 until his death in 1926. Most of the items were given to Mr. Radner in 1940s by Houdini's brother, another escape artist who went by the stage name Hardeen. Hardeen considered Mr. Radner, then a student at Yale with a reputation for jumping from diving boards in handcuffs, as his protégé.
  13. ^ Theodore Hardeen (Character) from "Boardwalk Empire" (2010).
  14. ^ Tang, Terry (December 27, 2018). "Arizona man finds magic moments in TV show on uncle Houdini". Deseret News. Associated Press. Retrieved January 28, 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Goldston, Will. The Magician Annual (1911–1912)
  • Hardeen, Theodore. (1903). Life and History of Hardeen. New York.

External links[edit]