Stranger Than Fiction: Harry Houdini May Have Been the Real James Bond
11.06.12 by BJSprecher
When Skyfall opens in North America this weekend — the Sam Mendes-directed action thriller opened two weeks ago in the U.K. and has already racked up nearly $300 million in foreign markets — it will be the twenty-third time American audiences will have the chance to marvel at the daring exploits of Ian Fleming's classic British spy on the big screen. Though Bond is indelibly British, one of America's greatest entertainers may have actually worked for the real-life "M" that inspired Bond's spymaster boss.
The Strange Truth
Born Erik Weisz on March 24, 1874, in Budapest, Austria-Hungary, the man who would one day become known around the world as Harry Houdini began entertaining audiences in New York City as a trapeze artist at the tender age of 9. Houdini began his magic career in 1891, but met with little success until his manager arranged for him to tour Europe. Now billed as "The Handcuff King," Houdini toured England, Scotland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Russia, often challenging local police to restrain him and lock him in jail cells.
In 1900, while showcasing his abilities as an escapologist at Scotland Yard, Houdini met Willian Melville, the head of the British Secret Service Bureau. The two became friends and possibly much more than that. Cryptic references to an informant named "HH" in Melville's diary have led many to speculate that Houdini was actually a spy. The theory supposes that Houdini used his fame to travel freely throughout the world and to gain access to foreign jails and government facilities that civilians would otherwise not be allowed to penetrate. Houdini would then report back to Melville about the things he had seen, from security information to troop movements.
Ian Fleming's James Bond novels; 23 motion pictures in 50 years, from Dr. No (1962) to Skyfall (2012)
The first head of the British Secret Service, William Melville was the inspiration for Bond's fictional boss, with both the real spymaster and the fictional one bearing the code-name "M". Many of Bond's skills, from lockpicking to his seemingly uncanny ability to escape from one deathtrap after another — "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die" — can be traced back to Melville, who reportedly learned lockpicking from Houdini himself.