Houdini was born Erich Weicz in Budapest in 1874. His family moved to the US when he was four. He fell in love with theatrics early in life, performing circus acts in his back yard. He was also an athlete as a racer, a cyclist, a swimmer and boxer.
Bess, Wilhelmina Beatrice Radner, was part of a singing and dancing act, the Floral Sisters. She and Harry met while performing in the same venue and three weeks later, they were married. Both families were opposed to the marriage as Houdini was Jewish and Bess came from a Catholic family. It was years before Bess's mother would speak to her.
They began to perform together as The Houdinis. Harry soon bypassed the magic acts to concentrate on handcuff escapes. They took their act to Europe making headlines as Houdini escaped from handcuffs installed by police forces across the continent. Appearances were sold out and Houdini became a household name. On a cruise in 1914 they met Theodore Roosevelt who was so taken with Houdini he invited him to meet his grandchildren.
When they returned to the US, he moved beyond the handcuffs to a variety of increasingly more sophisticated escapes, a crate in a river, a straitjacket hanging from an airplane.
Bess was unable to have children-she was small, underdeveloped and never menstruated. She gave her full devotion to Harry. He said of her, "All my fights when she thinks I am right she is alongside, helping me load the machine guns."
Houdini's interests were wide ranging from aviation to spiritualism. He was devoted to his mother and was so shaken by her death he fainted at the news. This led him to an obsession with death and a new interest in spiritualism. He became friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a devout believer, but the friendship waned when Houdini realized how naive Doyle's beliefs were and how easily people could be taken in. Houdini then spent years debunking spiritualists and earned many enemies in the process. He believed he could put the debate to rest by giving his wife a secret phrase only she would know and then try to contact him after his death.
Harry died of a ruptured appendix in 1926. His last words were "I'm tired of fighting."
For the next ten years on the anniversary of his death, Bess held seances, attempting to make a connection. No medium was ever able to discover a link to the secret phrase Harry had given Bess.
The tenth year, she said, "Houdini did not come through. My last hope is gone. I do not believe that Houdini can come back to me-or to anyone. It is finished. Good night Harry."
Bess died on a train journey at the age of 67. Her family would not permit her to be buried beside Harry in the Jewish cemetery at Queens. Bess is interred in the Catholic Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne NJ.