Collective Magic: An Interview with Kevin Connolly

Collective Magic presents a closer look at collectors who have contributed to Houdini: Art and Magic. Kevin Connolly has been acquiring Houdini memorabilia for over three decades. His vast collection includes pamphlets, broadsides, and photographs of the magician’s thrilling feats such as his escape from the Water Torture Cell. Mr. Connolly’s website,, provides comprehensive information on how to start a collection and features a blog with detailed posts on Houdini objects and ephemera. Houdini: Art and Magic, opens at The Jewish Museum on Friday, October 29. It 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?
I became interested in magic when I was about 15 years old. I would look in the stores that sold pranks, etc.; as they also carried small magic tricks. It was about two years later that I discovered a real magic store and that’s when a whole new world opened up for me.

When I started to collect magic, at about 18-19, I knew instantly that collecting was for me. I knew the direction I wanted to go in when my uncle sent me a box of magic books that he bought in the 1930’s. I don’t know what it was that intrigued me about the books, but I knew I was happy just holding them.

2. What is a favorite piece in your collection?

That’s a very tough question. I would presume it would have to be my Houdini pitch book collection, with the Russian pitch book at the top of that list. It’s now on loan to the museum and is also reproduced in the Houdini book that the museum has published.

3. What was your first Houdini experience or memory?
That’s an easy answer, Tony Curtis. When I saw the movie [Houdini, 1953]for the first time; I was hooked.

4. What is your favorite Houdini illusion?
I would have to say Houdini’s escape from the Convict Ship “Success”. This challenge ran for a week in the newspapers as Houdini crossed the Atlantic Ocean to NYC. Today, you can hardly find even a paragraph on the entire escape.

5. Which magician today do you think has achieved the fame or intrigue of Houdini in popular culture?
There aren’t any and probably never will be. As Babe Ruth and Thomas Edison are the zenith in their fields, so was Houdini. We will never see the likes of any one of them ever again.

6. How do you think Houdini would fit in today’s dizzying entertainment culture?
Houdini would probably be head and shoulders above what we have in the “entertainment” world. The celebrity and entertainment gene pool is so shallow today. How could someone with real talent not rise above the masses? When housewives and people who are arrested have their own TV shows as their qualifications; someone with real talent might have to have their own network. 😉

Related Links:
Houdini: Art and Magic
Blog: Happy 136th Birthday, Ehrich Weiss

Upcoming: An interview with Jeff Taylor on October 22.

Image credit: Houdini Upside Down in the Water Torture Chamber, c. 1912. Photograph, Kevin A. Connolly Collection. / Cover image of The Jewish Museum’s exhibition catalogue, Houdini: Art and Magic.