Houdini’s Last Living Assistant Dies, But His Legend Lives On

Movie Talk
Dorothy Young
Dorothy Young

Dorothy Young, the last surviving assistant to share the stage with Harry Houdini, died this week at the age of 103. Young passed away at a retirement community in Tinton Falls, N.J. according to a spokesman from Drew University where she was a longtime patron.

Young was cast in Houdini's traveling show at the age of 17, reports Variety. She attended an open casting call in New York, and although she was originally stuck in the back of the crowd, Houdini spotted her and asked to see her dance. After impressing the magician and his manager, she was signed to contract to join his show.

Starting in 1925, Young spent a year on the road with Houdini as a dancer featured in as the "futuristic" Radio Girl of 1950, who would magically appear out of a giant radio (which was still considered high-tech at the time). Young left the tour just two months before Houdini died in October 1926 from a ruptured appendix.

Harry Houdini Everett Collection
Harry Houdini Everett Collection

The news of Young's death is just the latest in a recent wave of stories about the legendary magician, who was born 137 years ago today. It was announced on Wednesday that director Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend") is in talks to direct a movie version of Houdini's life.

This joins the list of several potential film projects centered on the escape artist. One, based on the book "The Secret Life of Houdini," is said to focus on his supposed double life as a secret agent. Another script, "Voices of the Dead," is a fictionalized take on Houdini's real life friendship with Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of "Sherlock Holmes." In that, the magician and the author team up to solve a murder mystery.

Houdini may even be returning to the stage in a new Broadway musical. Writer Aaron Sorkin, Oscar-winner for "The Social Network," and composer Danny Elfman are in the early stages of work on the show. Hugh Jackman is interested in the starring role as Houdini.

As for Dorothy Young, her name lives on at Drew University's Dorothy Young Center for the Arts in Madison, NJ. Young -- who danced in movies, published a novel, and became an accomplished artist after her time with Houdini -- donated $14 million to the university for the construction of the facility. Her father was an alumnus of the school, her brother was a professor and baseball coach there, and her great-grandson graduated from there in 2009.

In 2008, Young attended a seance on the 82nd anniversary of Houdini's death in the building that bears her name. It's been a yearly tradition for magicians and fans to reach out to the spirit world on the night he died, which, appropriately enough, was Halloween. But the ghost of Houdini has not appeared. Yet.

Watch a clip of Dorothy Young talking about her experience on stage from "Houdini: The Great Escape":