In 1920, Harry Houdini, famed illusionist, met Arthur Conan Doyle, famed creator of Sherlock Holmes. The two became friends even as their complex views on spiritualism and the paranormal often put them on opposite sides of the Skeptic/Fortean coin. Christopher Sandford, biographer of Keith Richards, Kurt Cobain, and Roman Polanski, is the author of a new book about these two amazing and enigmatic men, titled "Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini." I started the book over the weekend and it's a lively tale not just about Conan Doyle's and Houdini's challenging and creative lives, but also an engrossing study of the culture of magic, the occult, and hokum in the early 20th century. From The Seattle Times:
Houdini desperately wanted to believe. He especially longed to contact his late, beloved mother.
At the same time, as a seasoned illusionist, he knew all the tricks that phony psychics used. Houdini thus spent much of his career debunking séances, traveling the world and vigorously revealing how they were faked.
In contrast to this love/hate stance was Conan Doyle, whose attitude toward the paranormal was strictly love and no hate. Conan Doyle's interest in the paranormal was lifelong, but it intensified after the death of his brother and eldest son in World War I. His lack of skepticism convinced him that every loopy theory, from faked photos of "fairies" to brazenly false psychics, was real. This was despite having created a detective whose coolly rational brain and unerring eye made him the ultimate logic machine.
Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini (Amazon)
"Mysterious frenemies: Houdini and Conan Doyle" (Seattle Times, thanks Bob Pescovitz!)