In our final installment of Collective Magic we meet Dr. Bruce J. Averbook. A magician since childhood, he enjoys performing card magic and is interested in mentalism. Dr. Averbook started his collection nearly 20 years ago and he has acquired notable objects such as Houdini’s diaries. Currently on view in Houdini: Art and Magic, the diaries offer a glimpse into the daily activities and introspective thoughts of Harry Houdini. The exhibition is organized by guest curator, Brooke Kamin Rapaport. Joanna Montoya, Curatorial Assistant, coordinated this interview.
1. When did you become interested in magic and when did you start collecting magic objects?
When I was 12 years old I studied Karate with Chuck Norris and his group in Redondo Beach, Calif. I injured my left knee and thigh during practice sparing and was confined to bed and had physical therapy for one month. My mother gave me John Scarne’s book of card magic and I was hooked. The Inglewood Public Library became my next resource and after that my Grandfather Charles introduced me to Bert Wheeler’s Hollywood Magic Shop and later Joe Berg’s Magic Shop. I began to do shows in the area assisted by my younger brother, Allen. I made some money and then would take the bus by myself 45 minutes to Hollywood and buy magic tricks at the shops. My parents joined the Hollywood Magic Castle so we could go to the Sunday brunches and shows. I performed on the wards of Daniel Freeman Hospital for patients. The rest is history.
I purposefully started collecting magic in 1991 after I met my good friends, Ken Trombly and George Woo who introduced me to this aspect of magic and told me about dealers who sold this material (Mario Carrandi, Ron Allesi, Keena Thompson and Ed Verba amongst others) and the Magic Collectors Association.
2. What is a favorite piece in your collection?
The two Houdini diaries from 1897 and 1916 have to be among my favorite pieces. To hold a personal item of Houdini’s and to read about his adventures, thoughts, and feelings in his own hand is a thrill.
3. What was your first Houdini experience or memory?
An early Houdini memory was while a teenager going to the Hollywood Magic Castle for Sunday Brunch and for a moment being let into the Houdini Séance Room which was filled with some of his personal items and memorabilia.
4. What is your favorite Houdini illusion?
His bridge jump handcuff escapes because I think these were among the most dangerous.
5. Which magician today do you think has achieved the fame or intrigue of Houdini in popular culture?
The closest magicians to Houdini in terms of fame and intrigue today are David Copperfield and David Blaine.
6. How do you think Houdini would fit in today’s dizzying entertainment culture?
Houdini would be just fine in the current entertainment culture and would probably have figured out novel ways to take advantage of all the media modalities for public relations. He was the master of this when he was alive and no doubt would have been the master of PR in this era.
Houdini: Art and Magic
Blog: Happy 136th Birthday, Ehrich Weiss
Blog: Collective Magic: An Interview with Arthur Moses
Blog: Collective Magic: An Interview with Kevin Connolly
Blog: Collective Magic: An Interview with Jeff Taylor
Blog: Collective Magic: An Interview with Ken Trombly
Image credit: Houdini being lowered in the Upside Down, c. 1912, photograph. Collection of Dr. Bruce J. Averbook, Cleveland. / Cover image of The Jewish Museum’s exhibition catalogue, Houdini: Art and Magic.