Sunday, March 27, 2011

Happy Birthday Mr. Houdini


A few days late, so it's Happy Belated Birthday Mr. Houdini. Born Erich Weiss, he would go on to become Harry 'Handcuff' Houdini and possibly the first big celebrity in America. His fame has certainly outlasted most from his time period.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Irony of Escape

The Irony of Escape
During my career I have introduced some rather spectacular escapes. The Coffin of Death and Death Race were two exciting escapes that featured a high element of danger.
The Coffin of Death was a wooden crate that I was placed into after being handcuffed to the inside. My legs were also shackled to the inside of the crate. The lid was then nailed on and the entire thing was wrapped and tied with heavy rope.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An Interview

This interview was done for my website back in 2003 or maybe 2004. It was a while ago. I thought you might enjoy reading it.


Mr.Escape & the Art of the Challenge
Over the course of his career, Steve Baker took on over 50 unique challenge escapes and countless on the spot challenges. I took some time recently to talk to Steve about this part of his career and what he had to say was very enlightening.
Webmaster-Steve, I'd like to ask you some questions regarding the many challenges you faced during your career as an escape artist. First, can you tell us a few of the more unique challenges.
Steve-Gladly. One of the challenges that really stands out was actually created by a 14 year old teen-ager who's name was Mark Hayes from Boise Idaho. I had a standing offer of $1000 for my challenges. If someone could secure me in a device or in such a way that I couldn't escape they would win $1000. Well this kid was very eager to get the money.
Webmaster-Why would you even accept a challenge from a kid?
Steve-Normally I wouldn't. But this kid had put a lot of thought into his device. He created a sort of Steel Straight Jacket. Much different than the version offered by Cannons Great Escapes. It was a very clever device and he was very confident that I would not escape. To his dismay, I did. One of the conditions of my challenges was that if I get free, I can keep the device, so I walked away with this very interesting steel straightjacket.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Article about Mr. Escape

The Man Who Became Mr. Escape.
by Nick Lewin
Back in the late seventies I made a fateful trip Calgary in Canada to film a television show. Along with me on the trip were two men who became very good friends. The pair of wizards whom I met for the first time in Calgary's frosty environment were Piet Paulo and Steve Baker.
While Piet and I have remained close friends to this day I lost track of Steve sometime in the early nineties. It was with delight that I read in Magic New Zealand recently that Steve 'Mr. Escape' Baker was coming out of retirement at a future event.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Coffin of Death




History of the Coffin of Death
Friday the Thirteenth conjures up all sorts of images in ones mind. Bad luck and superstitions are the cornerstones of the day. What better time to present the "Thrill Show & Destruction Derby" at the Houston Astrodome? On January 13-14, 1978 that is exactly what took place. On the bill, was a performer who had appeared on TV numerous times and was building his reputation as the most exciting escape artist around, Steve Baker.
Steve was going to attempt to break the world record for the fastest hanging straight jacket escape, previously set by Jimmy Dixon. For this stunt, Baker would hang twenty-two stories above the audience. It would take more than seven minutes just to raise him to the starting position. As was his custom, Steve held a handkerchief firmly in his mouth, which he dropped the moment his escape attempt began.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hollywood Baker

Hollywood Baker-The Escape Artist Movie
(reprinted from my old website, which is why it's not in first person)
In the 1970's Steve was asked to present a stunt to help promote the Society of American Magicians Convention in Hollywood. The stunt that he chose to do was his hanging straight jacket escape from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Through his connections, he was able to secure permission and get approval from the city police. For the stunt, half of the street would be blocked off in order to contain the crowd. As it turned out, they had to close the entire street because so many people came out to watch the escape. Steve received a ton of media coverage both in the press and television. The hanging straightjacket escape at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel created quite a buzz around town and helped to make the Hollywood insiders aware of Steve.
The P.R. Firm that Steve Baker used during this time was LaMagra & Wood. Because of Steve's celebrity status in the Los Angeles area, his press agents sent him out to several movie premiers. One of those was a movie called, "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings" starring Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones. It was a star studded affair and Steve was happy to be one of the many celebrities in attendance.
At the movie premier, a producer by the name of Doug Claybourne came up to Steve and mentioned that he admired his work and had actually been trying to contact him. Claybourne was in the midst of working on a project having to do with escapes or an escape artist. Steve gave him his card and Doug also spent some time talking to Steve's press people.
Some time went by before Doug contacted Steve. Doug invited him to visit his office at the American Zotrope Studios Lot. This was Francis Ford Coppolla's production studio. Doug was executive producer on a new movie called, The Escape Artist based on a book by David Wagoner.
This movie would mark the directorial debut of Caleb Deschanel. Caleb is one of the most respected movie cinematographers in Hollywood. His works include The Black Stallion, Apocalypse Now, Fly Away Home, Anna and the King, National Treasure and The Passion of the Christ. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for his work on The Right Stuff and The Natural.
At the meeting with Doug Claybourne, Caleb Deschanel and Stephen Zito, they wanted Steve's assistance as a technical advisor. But before they would agree to anything, the group wanted a demonstration. Mr. Escape whipped out a pair of thumbcuffs and went into his signature thumbcuff routine. Though they enjoyed it, they told Steve what they really wanted to know was whether or not he could get out of their handcuffs. Baker told them he could.
Doug Claybourne called the head of security who showed up a few minutes later. The security chief had a pair of peerless handcuffs. They locked Steve's hands behind his back and activated the double lock. Facing the four people present Steve began his work. Seconds later he brought his left hand to the front of his body, free of the restraints. Next he brought his right hand, still handcuffed to the front, and right there before everyone proceeded to slowly, gradually pull his hand free from the cuffs. They were floored! Mr. Escape got the job.
They gave Baker the script and told him to go through it and notate anything he thought would be a problem or would not be something feasible for an escape artist to do. After the meeting the group spent some time talking to Steve about his career accomplishments.
At the next meeting, Steve brought the script with him that he had reviewed. It was full of red markings, slashes and notations. They asked him to work with Stephen Zito, the head writer. Basically the two went through the entire script fixing all the problems.
Steve's next duty was to train young Griffin O'Neil, the son of actor Ryan O'Neil and the brother of Academy Award Winning Actress Tatum O'Neil. Griffin wanted to learn how to pick the locks on handcuffs which Steve taught him to do. Baker also convinced Griffin that there was a more effective way to get out of the cuffs that would be more visually interesting. He taught Griffin how to make it appear that his hands pulled free out of the tightly ratcheted handcuffs. Baker also worked with Griffin on breathing exercises because several of the key scenes took place underwater.
The movie relied heavily on the theme of magic. Though he felt he could handle it, Steve met a young magician who specialized in card magic named Ricky Jay, that might be perfect for the job. On a flight back from Canada to Los Angeles Steve asked Ricky if he'd be interested in working on the magic portion of this movie. At this point in his career, Ricky had no involvement in motion pictures and jumped at the opportunity. Steve contacted the movie's producers and suggested Ricky and he was brought on board.
Interestingly, Ricky and Steve were not the only magicians in the project. The roll of the father had not yet been cast. Steve Baker suggested another young magician who was breaking into acting, his name was Harry Anderson. Harry later gained fame as Judge Harry Stone on Night Court.
The Escape Artist movie didn't do particularly well at the box office but over the years has garnered a cult-like following because of some of the people in the cast. The cast included: Teri Garr, Raul Julia, Dezi Arnez, Huntz Hall, Josh Hamilton, Jackie Coogan, Harry Anderson, and Ricky Jay even had a bit part. Incidentally, since that time, Ricky Jay's movie career has blossomed.

    Commentary by Steve Baker I had a great time working on this movie. I was initially the technical advisor. When the producers first showed me the script it was clear there were somethings that were just not within the scope of reality for a magician. So I helped with the rewrite. While working on the movie, I had gotten a call from the folks at the Alan Thicke Show in Canada asking me to come up and appear on their show. I flew to Canada and did the show along with magician Ricky Jay and actor Raymond Burr. Ricky and I shared a flight back to Los Angeles after the show. I felt he was ideal to consult on the magic portion of this project. I really wanted to stick to the escape portion only as I felt it fit my persona much better. Not that I have anything against magicians, but at that time in my life, I wanted to be known as an escape artist and not as a magician. I suggested Ricky to Doug Claybourne, one of the other producers of the movie. I was kept on retainer even though my part of the movie had been done. Much to my surprise I received a phone call from Doug Claybourne a while later informing me that they wouldn't need me any longer and they were going to keep Ricky as the Technical Consultant. When you watch the movie credits Ricky Jay is named as the Technical Consultant. However, near the very end of the credits there is a short paragraph written to me, by the producers, expressing their gratitude for my contributions to the movie. To be honest, I liked that more than getting the T.C. title. Doug Claybourne and Caleb Deschanel have remained friends over these many years. Steve

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One Take Baker, Almost


One Take Baker, Almost
I have always been known in the industry as 'One Take Baker', mainly due to my penchant for getting the escape right the first time and not resorting to camera trickery. I have had heated discussions with producers and directors over the years who wanted to edit my escapes instead of presenting them on TV just as they appeared live. Usually directors in the entertainment community acknowledge my expertise in the area, not just in doing the escape but also how it should be shot for maximum visual impact.
With that in mind let me tell you about a trip to Japan. I was hired by the biggest television station in Japan to present a TV Special made up of several of my thrilling escapes. One of the escapes that I was hired to present was escaping from the tracks of an oncoming roller coaster. Both hands and both feet would be shackled and my job was to get free before the roller coaster ran me over.
Before I tell you the story of the stunt, let me back track somewhat. Previously I had escaped from an amusement park roller coaster for the TV show 'Games People Play'. The Japanese Television Executives heard about the escape and wanted to bring me to Japan to escape from the world famous Japanese Bullet Train. The negotiations for my trip to Japan took over a year and weren't totally finalized until about two weeks prior to our leaving for Japan.
Luckily I was able to procure the services of a lawyer who was familiar with Japanese law. I won't go into the details suffice to say the contract was ripped apart on both sides of the ocean several times before we came to an agreement. One of the stipulations in the contract that I included had to do with outdoor stunts and the weather. I told them I would not do any type of outdoor stunt if the temperature was below sixty degrees. There were certain conditions they put into the contract, one for example had to do with the proper packing of a certain item required for our performance. But that is another story for another time.
Once we arrived in Japan we learned the Japanese Government would not give permission for us to escape from their Bullet Train. Their reasons were sound. If a chain or a handcuff or anything were left on the track, due to the speed of the train it would derail. It would be a National disaster.
So instead we traveled to Kyoto Japan where the Japanese also had one of the fastest roller coasters in the world. When we arrived and my crew and I got out of our vehicles we noticed right off that something was wrong. It was snowing! And it was bitter cold. Remember, my condition about not doing outdoor stunts if the weather was below 60 degrees. I brought this fact up with the film crew and the producers. Because we had driven all the way out to Kyoto, I told them I might consider doing the stunt, but first I wanted to see the coaster and test the speeds.
We had traveled half way around the world, and it really would have been a shame not to do the stunt, so I decided to go ahead and consider it. The first thing we did was run the coaster through its course several times. I knew that as the coaster went over the tracks, the tracks would gradually heat up and the speed at which the coaster would reach me would increase. In other words, the warmer the tracks were, the less time I would have to free myself.
The first test run of the roller coaster was a minute and a half. The second run was the same. On the third run the time was one minute and twenty seconds. Eventually the time was one minute 12 seconds and this seemed to be the point in time that the coaster speed remained. Knowing this crucial bit of information, we broke for lunch.
We were treated to a wonderful feast of western food. The Japanese went all out to make us feel at home with pizza, hamburgers and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Where they found KFC in Japan is beyond me. Let's just say there was all sorts of food including rolls, butter, you name it. It was a feast. We enjoyed it and even snagged some of the butter patties and other food for later.
While still inside, I decided to test out the chains and shackles I would be using. Due to the cold the metal bit into my skin and wouldn't move. It was if the chain became part of my wrists and this would not do. My crew and I realized that this could possibly slow down my escape if not make it impossible. I had to come up with a solution to give myself more freedom of movement. Thankfully, though it was bitter cold, my brain was still warm enough to figure out a solution, we dubbed it the 'Montekia solution'.
It was time. Lunch was over and we headed back out to the coaster. I asked that the roller coaster run through the course several times so as to heat up the tracks again. While this happened a huge foam matt was placed below the area that I would be chained, this would be my landing pad if everything went smoothly.
The Japanese film crew was in position. My safety team were all in position, everything was ready to go. The restraints went around each wrist and there were chains for each leg. Laying against the hard cold steel tracks was extremely uncomfortable, but I had agreed to do this so there was no turning back now.
The signal was given to start the coaster. I began the countdown in my head. Besides being known as 'One Take Baker' I also had another moniker, I was called 'Split Second Baker'. I was going to take this stunt down to the very last moment of safety. That ratcheted up the fear factor pretty high, and made things more dangerous, but my training as a stuntman gave me the experience to pull off this kind of thing.
My liberation began, first I freed one wrist and then the second. I continued the countdown in my head as the time ticked away. Next I started to release my right ankle from the shackles. I took a split second to look up to see the location of the coaster. Tic toc tic toc. As I looked up the track I attempted to release my left ankle but oddly, saw no coaster, so I decided to take my time. It was important to my timing that I see where the coaster was. At one minute eleven seconds in my head, I released my left ankle, stood up to make my run for the rail, looked up the track, still no coaster. I reached the rail and came to a dead stop. I put both my hands on my hips, with a look of utter disgust on my face, because still there was no coaster. Next I did a fence vault over the rail and landed with a thud. I should mention it was a flat full body fall towards the matt. In case you don't know this, foam matts and cold weather don't go together too well. I might as well have fallen 18 feet onto the pavement, that's how hard the matt felt.
As, I recovered from my momentary daze, I heard the sound of the approaching coaster. Seconds later the roller coaster roared over my head, long past the time it should have arrived. What on earth happened?
I was very upset, er, no I was livid!. Immediatly I called a meeting with the producers to find out what went wrong. They assured me that it was fine, they would fix it in the post production editing room. "NO WAY! NO ONE EDITS MR.ESCAPE!" I forcefully declared to them. We argued back and forth. Eventualy, I convinced them to shoot it again. I would repeat the escape. In the meantime though we still had to find out why the timing calculations were all wrong.
Here is what happened. When we were eating lunch and working with the chain, the fellow who operates the roller coaster overheard us saying that the chain was going to slow down the escape. He feared that I would be killed during the stunt, so he purposely slowed down the speed of the train to be sure I had enough time to escape. The producers made the man apologize, I accepted his apology, no harm done.
We prepared the escape for a second time. I jokingly said to my crew, "anyone know how I escaped the first time?" and they all laughed and said loudly, "Montekia!". Indeed the 'montikia solution' was intregal in assisting me.
For a second time I was chained to the tracks. The signal was given to start the coaster. Cameras were rolling. I began my escape. This time, 'Split Second Baker' pulled off the stunt the way it was supposed to appear! Everyone was ecstatic! And for a second time I fell flat onto the rock hard matt to break my fall, ouch! The entire group was thrilled at how the escape played out.
And I once again I asked my crew, "Anyone know how I did that?" This time however the Japanese crew as well as my safety team, all cheered "Montekia!" The Japanese thought it was some sort of chant or good luck cheer that my crew and I said. In truth, montekia is Spanish for butter!

Monday, March 7, 2011

World Records, Bah humbug!

Much discussion has arisen over the Guinness Book of World's records and how they accept escape records. A few years ago Harley Newman mentioned on themagiccafe.com that he was rejected by Guinness because they told him his stunts were too dangerous. He had the last laugh by using the rejection letter to promote his act and it worked quite effectively.
I didn't get into escapes to break world records. My goal was always  to give the audience the best entertainment I could deliver. In the process however, I have broken records. Sadly, none of the records have been accepted by the Guinness people. Whenever we submitted my escapes for possible inclusion in the their book, they would send me a letter explaining why I had been declined. Always a minor technicality and always one that by the nature of the event, could be fixed. Still no world records hold my name.
In 1967, I hung suspended by my ankles ten stories in front of the Tribune Tower Building in Oakland California. Using a borrowed Posey straight jacket, complete with crotch strap, and having it placed on, not by anyone from my crew but by two security guards from the Tribune building. The Mayor of Oakland held the stopwatch. The signal to start the timer was when I released a scarf that I'd been holding between my teeth. The Mayor clocked me at just nine seconds! However, I had my time at six seconds. Why the discrepancy? The Mayor was flirting with the very beautiful Dawn Wells, aka MaryAnn from Gilligans Island. However, the entire thing was filmed by numerous television news teams as well as by British Pathe Limited, which was a newsreel company. You can visit their site at www.britishpathe.com and then type in the name Steve Baker, under the search area and you will see many still photos from the event. They also have the original video footage of the event recorded for history available to view on the site. Guinness declined this escape attempt as well.
In 1978, in front of fifty-five thousand people at the Houston Astrodome I hung twenty two stories in the air with another borrowed straight jacket complete with crotch strap. I was again, put in by people not in my employ. On January 14th, I set out to beat the previous record set by magician Jimmy Dixon, of 19.9 seconds. I did beat the record by escaping in 16.2 seconds. Guinness rejected my attempt, they said there were not enough witnesses. Fifty-five thousand people watching don't count. So in June of 1978, Bill Shirk using a straight jacket with no crotch strap, set the record that Guinness accepted at 18.83. At this point, I no longer submitted anything to Guinness feeling they were nothing but a frivolous organization. I set records, I just didn't GET the acknowledgement.
    Some of my other records:
    • First person to jump out of an airplane in a straight jacket, June 1966 in Vietnam (14,000 feet).
    • Largest amount of television footage by an Escape Artist, over 32
      hours.
    • Largest amount offered for a single challenge escape $50,000 in Las Vegas
    • Largest LIVE audience to view an escape 1967- twenty two thousand people 1978 fifty five thousand people.
    • Longest career as a full time escape artist. (I was not a part time performer with a full time real world job, escapes was my only job.)
    • Set a record on The Guinness Game Show for my Tug of War Rope Tie. I never received the award even though it was set ON their TV show.
    • Created a Close Proximity Stunt with an automobile for his DEATH RACE routine, that has never been properly duplicated by anyone in the Stuntman industry. And they have tried countless times
    • Worlds Oldest Escape Artist, and still going...
    All I have to say is, how many of these world record holders are still working? How many of them performed full time to begin with? To illustrate the ridiculousness of world records, let me share with you a little information gathered by Ed Levitt, the sports columnist for the Oakland Tribune Newspaper. Mr. Levitt had contacted the AAU asking them if they would sanction my record for the Tribune Tower Escape. This is how an AAU Representative replied, "There should have been seven or eight watches. Then the record would be official." He contacted Guinness and they gave him the same song and dance. The entire escape is still available on video from the original newsreel footage. You can time it yourself! I've had an extremely successful career and don't need to share any of the credit with GBWR. So to all the world record recording companies I say, "Bah Humbug. " (But if you've got a record, by all means flaunt it.)

Friday, March 4, 2011

The RC Cola Challenge


The Royal Crown Cola Escape
One of the benefits of being a performing artist is the unique opportunities that arise. In 1968, Royal Crown Cola was putting together a marketing campaign with the slogan "Escape to the Mad World of RC". I was hired to kick off the add campaign.
As an enterprising young performer, I designed a prop to look exactly like a carton of Royal Crown Cola . It looked exactly like the ones you'd buy at the store with bottles of RC in them. I built the carton and painted it all myself. I left no stone unturned in regards to detail. Every letter, every little symbol that could be found on a carton of RC Cola was on my giant reproduction.
To begin my performance we showed the large carton, then chained and locked it shut, and curtained it off. Next I was strapped into a torture rack. The RC Cola Carton was next to me in the curtained cabinet. In full view I proceeded to escape out of the torture rack and then I stepped into the curtained cabinet. As soon as I was out of site, the curtain would fall free to the floor revealing the giant sized RC Cola Carton.
However, I was no where to be found. And for good reason. Remember, the marketing campaign slogan was "Escape to the Mad World of RC." What I had done in a split second was basically do a reverse escape. I broke into the giant carton. The locks were still in place, everything was still quite secure. Now it was time for my assistant to come over and unlock the carton.
One thing I didn't mention. The carton itself was empty except for a single bottle of RC Cola that they wanted me drinking when the carton was opened revealing me inside. So as I was waiting for them to unlock me I picked up the bottle. Suddenly to my great discomfort, I realized I had forgotten to bring a bottle opener. I tried everything I could think of to open the bottle. Finally by pounding the bottle cap against a bolt repeatedly, the bottle cap came free and just in time. About the same time the bottle cap flew off, the carton lid opened revealing me inside holding a foaming bottle of RC. Then I took a nice swig of the cola and felt like I had pulled off another great routine.
My father was with me at the time. He was my head male assistant and my biggest supporter. He asked me what all the loud pounding was. I was about to explain to him that I couldn't get the cap off the bottle when my eyes spotted something that threw me for a loop.
If you recall, I hand painted the giant RC Cola Carton. One of the things that I personally handpainted myself was two red circles with arrows and the words "featuring our brand new twist off cap!" We had a good laugh about it later.
Just another day in the life of a busy professional escape artist!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Heeeeeere's Steve Baker!


Heeeeeere's Steve Baker!
(reprinted from my old website, which is why it's not in the 'first person')
Television has been an important part of Steve Baker's career. It began back in the early 1960's and continued onward into the 1990's. Art Linkletter, famous for his show in which kids said the darndest things, had a show for a while called, House Party. He invited Steve to be a guest. On the show, Steve presented his straight jacket escape and his own version of the mail bag escape before a live audience. (see photo)
Remember Mike Douglas? Steve was a guest on his show as well. He presented his French Transport Chain escape with Mike and another guest watching closely. At the conclusion of the routine, Mike Douglas ends up chained together with the other guest. It was a great comedy escape and served Steve well over the years.
Steve had a reputation not just as an escape artist, but also as a first class magician. He started his career performing as the world's most neurotic magician. On occasion, talk shows would contact Steve and ask if he could do a little magic as well. This happened one night when he got a last minute call from the Tonight Show. David Brenner was guest hosting and they wanted Steve to present his challenge 4 Ace routine over a glass table. It stunned everyone and Brenner was instantly a fan.
In the late 70's Steve was invited to be a guest on the Dinah Show with Dinah Shore. This was another example of a show that wanted Steve to do a little magic. He began his set with his Straight jacket escape which was well received. Next, Dinah was going to sing the song, "It's Magic". The producer wanted Steve to do a little magic while Dinah sang. The decided upon a dove appearance, then later Steve would make the Dove vanish. It did not go as planned, and only Steve can properly relate that story! Check out Steve's commentary below.
Who can forget Merv? Good ole Merv Griffen had Steve Baker on in the 1970's. Steve presented his Austrian Torture Rack before a live audience. It should be noted that on all of Steve's Talk Show appearances, he would present some stunt and that would be followed by an interview later in the show.
Mr. Escape didn't just appear on American Talk Shows, he was also a favorite world wide. In Canada, Alan Thicke had his own Talk Show. Same format as Mike Douglas and similar shows. This was before Alan Thicke came to the U.S. to star in his own sitcom. On that show, Steve was really allowed to shine. He did his thumb cuff routine, the straight jacket escape his 100 foot rope challenge and his Tug of War Rope Tie. Alan really got into what Steve was doing and added some very funny comedic moments along the way.
In Australia, Steve was booked to do the Don Lane Show. This was Australia's answer to the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He presented his French Transport Chain routine which was one of his favorite personality routines. The audience loved it and in true Steve Baker fashion, he ended the routine by having the announcer and the host Don Lane chained together.
The Don Lane Show was also almost the end of Steve Baker's career. He was closing the show with his signature Water Torture Cell and something went terribly wrong. We'll save that story for another day though because it deserves much more space to tell.
The Mike Douglas Show, DINAH, The Tonight Show, House Party, The Don Lane Show and the Alan Thicke Show are just a few of the many talk shows Steve Baker appeared on.
He also appeared on countless Variety Shows, like Dick Clark LIVE Wednesday, That's Incredible, Games People Play, his own HBO Special and many other variety shows across the globe. In the future we will cover a series of appearances by Steve on a Venezuelan Variety TV Show.

    Commentary by Steve Baker I really only have on regret in all my years performing on television and that's that I didn't get to work with Johnny Carson. I was on the Tonight Show, but David Brenner was the guest host the night I was on. Because I used to do a lot of work over at the NBC Studios, I would run in to Johnny Carson all the time. He really enjoyed my work and always stopped to chat when we'd see each other in the hallway. I told Johnny, I'd love to present my Tug of War Rope Tie and let him bring in the two biggest guys he could find to tie me up. You should have seen the smile go across Johnny's face. He said to me jovially, "Steve, let's do it!" Unfortunately that day never came. Being on the Dinah Show was a hoot. First off, Dinah did not like my wife Julie at all. At one point, I thought a cat fight was going to break out between them. Dinah wanted to be the beauty on the set and no one else. The incident with Dinah Shore and the song, "It's Magic" is very funny. I told Dinah before they started filming what I was going to do. I was going to make a dove appear, vanish and then reappear. I warned her not to do anything to scare the birds. While she was singing the song, I produced my bird, 'Starbuck' and she gestured for me to put the bird on her hand while she sang. I did reluctantly do that. But she ended up scaring the bird, even though I warned her against that. The bird, in his already nervous state, crapped on Dinah's hand, it ran down her arm and the audience went in hysterics! She was livid, though she continued to sing. Being the true pro that I am, I magically produced a scarf so that she could wipe her arm clean. Side note to that story. Years later when my friend Dick Clark was doing his Bloopers and Practical Jokes Show, I called Dick and told him the story about Dinah. Search though they did, no footage of that episode remains. Too bad too. Steve

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Promotional Video


This video is from the late 1980s. The narrator makes the mistake of saying Houdini died in 1925, which always bugged me, so we turned the volume down at that point.  There are some great clips here from different TV shows that I did. It's only a small portion of what I had done. With 32 hours of televised footage to pick and choose from, it's not easy. All of these pieces were performed in front of a live audience and they were all done in a single take. I never did multiple takes. I'll share more about that in the future.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Successor!?

Steve Baker & Milbourne Christopher
 True Successor?!
In 1969, I had the opportunity to be presented with a challenge by none other than master magician Milbourne Christopher. Mr. Christopher at the time was the author of 17 books and had just completed "Houdini-The Untold Story." He was an authority on Harry Houdini and owned some of Houdini's handcuffs and other memorabilia.
The challenge was for me to free myself from a pair of Houdini's own escape proof handcuffs. The exact cuff that was shown to me was a pair of Plug 8s which is known to be a formidable handcuff. I accepted the challenge. I owned a pair of Plug 8s and had been practicing with them. I developed a special way to escape that would be the ideal way to handle this challenge.
This was to take place at the Magic Extravaganza Convention sponsored by the Oakland Magic Circle. The actual challenge would be presented during the evening show. Before attempting the challenge, I liberated myself from a torture device which consisted of chains, spikes and thumbcuffs. This helped established me as an escape artist to anyone unfamiliar with me. However, because this was taking place in Oakland, basically everyone knew me because of my Tribune Tower Straightjacket escape two years previous.
The time had come for the challenge. Mr. Christopher walked on stage with a pair of handcuffs that were different from the ones I was shown previously. I mentioned that fact immediately. I looked over this new set of cuffs and determined that I would be able to escape from them also. This set of cuffs, also owned by Houdini, were known as KingBreakers.
You may be asking, how on earth could I determine so quickly that I could escape? Upon quick examination I realized I would be able to slip my hands out. Not easily by any stretch, but with a great deal of effort I knew I could pull them free.
In full view of the audience and Mr. Christopher, I proceeded to do just that. It took me a little over a minute to get both hands out. The audience went wild! Milbourne Christopher took the microphone and said, "I didn't believe he could do it. But I firmly believe that Steve Baker is the true successor to Houdini."
Milbourne and I remained good friends and stayed in contact for a number of years following the challenge event. He was quite an interesting fellow. One of my most prized possessions was a first edition copy of Houdini the Untold Story, that Milbourne gave to me with the inscription, "To Steve Baker the true successor to Houdini."
Of course that was Milbourne's opinion and I appreciated the compliment. When I began my escape career I promoted myself as "The Man Who Outdid Houdini". But later, I realized it was best to leave all reference to Houdini behind. Why be the second Houdini when I could be the first Steve Baker.
(by the way, there is a write-up of the challenge in the March 30th, 1969 Oakland Tribune Newspaper by Del Lane)