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Houdini’s Magic Makes Millions, 100 Years Later

News sparked last week about the acquisition of Europe’s only Houdini Museum by the equity giant CCV Capital Ventures, willing to invest $18.6M in order to get an 87.3% stake of the precious collection and trademark of Houdini.

Here is an exclusive interview with the museum’s founder, by journalist Linda Ackermann.

Most people know the name Houdini. He is synonymous with magic, escapes, and illusion. You may have heard of his audacious modern-day followers trying to emulate his feats who have been drowned alive in chains and so on. You can also see this sort of thing in Vegas or on TV.

Meet David Merlini. The crazy daredevil escape artist who has been putting his life on the edge for more than 25 years. But after a few close calls, he has decided to open a museum dedicated to his inspiration, Harry Houdini. The museum is now about to sell for almost $20M. Sound crazy?

We met David via Skype in his office, hidden behind a secret bookshelf at The House of Houdini in Budapest.

LA: I have seen your stunts and it is incredible that after over two decades of performances risking your life, you still look under 30. Is there some secret we should know about?

David Merlini – Source: Tamas Talaber Photography

DM: No secrets. My life is an open book. I just do what makes me happy. And I am very selective with what I eat.

LA: How has this madness started at all?

DM: I was attracted to padlocks and magic from an early age. My mom bought me a small magic trick set when I was 4, before moving to Italy, -(David was born in Budapest to a Hungarian mother and Italian father)-, and relatively early I had started to dream about staging my very own show.

LA: What was that show?

DM: I started with simple magic tricks that later evolved into escapes, mostly. My first real gig was an upside-down straitjacket escape under a rope on fire on the Main Stage of Sziget, one of the most amazing outdoor festivals in Europe. I think I was 16. My Grandad was my first manager; he truly believed in me.

LA: When did you start to collect Houdini memorabilia?

DM: It was more than 20 years ago, after my third or fourth big stunt. Maybe after Hyberna, where I was frozen into a solid block of ice on Heroes’ Square in Budapest. As the budget of each show started to increase dramatically, I came up with the idea to save some of the costs on my security allowance, and instead of using that for extra ropes, cranes, and so on, I took the risk of performing without being double secured. I would later use the money to buy at auctions. It was madness, if you ask me now. Totally stupid. But I was lucky.

LA: When did you came up with the idea of opening a museum for Harry Houdini?

DM: After being hired to be the consultant in the latest Houdini movie, thanks to my old friend John Gaughan, I have inherited many of the items we used in the film. The producers were incredible and felt my passion, so they gave me the opportunity to keep the most iconic pieces. These were mostly large-scale props that I have decided to store, renting a new warehouse, as the previous one proved too small. A few years later, and after some more money spent on auctions, I wanted to share my Houdini treasures with the world. And I wanted to do that in Houdini’s birthplace in Budapest, Hungary.

LA: After a decade of globetrotting and performing, you have permanently given up on performing, after your accident in Italy?

DM: My leg broke in a stupid way as a big piece of the 1-ton ice block collapsed on me. I am now perfectly fine and working on my next gig, but recovery took longer than I expected.

LA: Thank you for showing me around your museum, David. Does it feel strange that it is now closed?

DM: We had been running without interruptions for the last 4 years, since its opening. This place is almost like home to me. It is a weird feeling to be closed from the public, but if this is what it takes to be on the safe side, then I have no objection.

LA: Are you planning to reopen soon?

DM: That is not entirely up to my decision.

LA: Does this have anything to do with the news of the acquisition that made the news a few weeks ago?

DM: No, I have decided to shut down because I didn’t want it to become a hotspot – and with all the borders closed, it didn’t make any sense either.

LA: You have been offered $18.6M for an 87.3% stake in the business. Can you tell us more about the details of the acquisition? Did you accept? What are your plans if you sell?

DM: I cannot comment at this stage. I will do what I think it is best.

LA: Understood. Can I at least ask you what are your plans if you close the deal?

DM: I will probably buy a ticket to the Moon from Elon Musk.

LA: Thank you, David

DM: My pleasure, Linda.

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