Sidney Hollis Radner
Sidney Radner (1919-2011), a retired rug salesman from Holyoke, Massachusetts, was a Houdini enthusiast and gambling history expert.
Sidney Hollis Radner
Born Sidney Hollis Radner
December 8, 1919
Died June 26, 2011
In 1935, Radner was an aspiring magician using the stage name Rendar. At a convention in Springfield that year, Radner met Theodore Hardeen, Houdini's brother. Hardeen considered Radner, when he was a student at Yale University, as his protégé. He eventually bought from Hardeen during the 1940s many Harry Houdini's items, eventually having one of the world's largest and most valuable collections of Harry Houdini artifacts.
During his Army service in World War II, he helped investigate card cheats on troop ships. He later wrote books about card games, including several on how to spot cheaters.
Radner organized the annual Official Houdini Seance beginning in the 1940, a tradition started in 1927 by Houdini’s widow, Bess. She held a séance on the anniversary of his death for 10 years, then gave up. But Houdini buffs like Radner carried on in his honor.
Radner allowed pieces of his collection to be displayed at The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada. In 1995, a fire destroyed the museum and many of the items.
Radner archived the bulk of his collection at the Houdini Museum in Appleton Wisconsin, but pulled it in 2003 to auctioned them off in Las Vegas on October 30, 2004. Many of the choice props, including the restored Water Torture Cell, are now owned by David Copperfield. More props were auctioned off in 2008.
•Radner On Dice: How to Win, How Gamblers Cheat, Odds and Percentages (1957)
•How to Spot Card Sharps and their Methods (Ghost written by Walter B. Gibson, 1957)
||Magic Library (Home)
Sidney Radner, who has died aged 91, was the self-appointed keeper of Harry Houdini's flame, and owned the biggest collection of props and artefacts used by the world's greatest illusionist and escapologist, including straitjackets, manacles and his famous Chinese Water Torture Cell.
Also known as "Rendar the Magician", Radner acquired his collection of Houdiniana when he befriended Houdini's younger brother, Theodore, whom he met at a magic convention in Massachusetts in 1935. Theodore was also an escape artist, known professionally as Hardeen, and considered Radner to be his brother's protégé.
Six years later, at Yale, Radner was earning a reputation for jumping handcuffed from diving boards. But rather than follow his hero into showbusiness, Radner settled for joining the family business and became a rug salesman.
In the early 1940s, however, Theodore sold Radner a large hoard of his brother's professional paraphernalia, describing it in a letter dated 1942 as "the greatest collection of Houdini material of anyone in the world". According to several Houdini biographers, Hardeen needed the money.
Hardeen had stored these props and tools in a warehouse since his brother's death in 1926. Radner paid "a modest amount", and when Hardeen died in 1945 he bequeathed the rest to Radner.
Over the years Radner added to the collection himself, until it amounted to some 1,000 pieces, and in 1989 he leased the bulk of it to the Houdini Historical Centre, part of the Outagamie Museum at Appleton, Wisconsin – the town where Houdini had been brought up – and the rest to another Houdini attraction at Niagara Falls.
In 2004, when Appleton failed to renew the lease on his Houdini relics, Radner reluctantly sold them at auction for close to $1 million. The Chinese Water Torture Cell (a tank of water into which Houdini was lowered, head first, his feet chained), was bought by the illusionist David Copperfield.
Sidney Hollis Radner was born on December 8 1919 at Holyoke, Massachusetts, where his father had a carpet shop. As a boy Sidney became interested in magic and card tricks; he was also fascinated by Houdini, and years after the star's death came to realise that, like his hero, he had grown up Jewish in a community with few Jews. Although he followed his father into the carpet trade, Radner also performed professionally as Rendar the Magician. A self-taught expert on crooked gambling, he helped investigate card sharps operating on troop ships during the Second World War.
But for Radner, much of Houdini's collection of apparatus would have been broken up and lost, especially many smaller items such as lock picks which Houdini surreptitiously swallowed before regurgitating them for escapes, as well as assorted pulleys, wrenches, latches and levers. There were also more than 200 pairs of handcuffs.
In its larger pieces, like the Water Torture tank and the giant Milk Can (from which Houdini also escaped twice nightly), the collection represented the key to one of the most spectacular and mystifying escape acts in the history of showbusiness. "I know secrets about Houdini that nobody knows," Radner said at the age of 84, "and they are going to die with me. I think the mystery is better than the knowing."
Before the war, Radner started organising an annual Houdini Seance, taking on an annual tradition started in 1927 by Houdini's widow, Bess. One year a medium announced that she had "got through" to Houdini, a claim that Radner sought to verify by bidding her ask him what Hardeen's nickname had been. (The answer was Deshi).
The medium hesitated a moment as she conjured Houdini's reply from the Great Beyond. "It was so long ago," she announced on behalf of the spectral Master Mystifier, "I don't remember."
Sidney Radner, who died on June 26, was predeceased in March by his wife of 64 years, Helen Cohen. Their two sons survive him.