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.
Webmaster-I understand there is more to this story however. Didn't the kid try again?
Steve-Yes he did. On May 21, 1973 at a club called Cactus Petes in Jackpot Nevada I met him for round two.The kid came back with a brand new steel straightjacket. He watched me very closely during the first escape and noticed all the weak points that I took advantage of. In his new model, he corrected all of those weaknesses. This jacket was quite formidable. In addition, I had to be secured inside a canvas straightjacket first and then this steel jacket was placed over top of it.
Webmaster-So the kid one the thousand dollars?
Steve-No. I successfuly escaped in five minutes making that my 28th successful challenge escape. I kept that jacket too by the way. Looking back upon it, that kid was quite ingenious and also quite the mechanic. I imagine he must have gone on to great success in life because he was a go getter and didn't let setbacks stop him.
Webmaster-Ok, that's a unique escape. What about something more normal, like a rope challenge or handcuff challenge.
Steve-In Australia, I encountered a gentleman who wanted to tie me up with 100 feet of rope. He actually had 2 50 foot lengths. He was somewhat of an eccentric looking guy and he knew how to tie a person up. It took him 30 minutes and when he was done he had me hogtied.
Webmaster-For anyone unaware of what that is, a hogtie is when they tie your hands and feet together.
Steve-Exactly. And in this case, I was on my belly with my hands and feet tied behind my back. There wasn't a lot of room for movement. And the escape was made more difficult by the unusually strong body odor this man had. Needless to say, before a packed audience I did prevail.
Webmaster-Can you tell us about the challenge presented on Dick Clark's Live Wednesday?
Steve-Sure. That guy was a member of the Magic Castle and had seen me work, but we had never met. He was certain he could secure me and win the $1000 quite easily. He contacted the people over at DC Live Wednesday and they asked me if I'd be willing do to it.
I told them I wanted to see the device first and they set up a meeting. After looking at it, I agreed to the challenge. Keep in mind, the challenger kept the device in his possession. I did not take it with me to figure out a method of escape. I'd also like to mention that he altered the device after showing it to me.
Webmaster-So are we to assume that you had already formulated a method upon seeing it for the first time.
Steve-Prior to this I had done 32 unique escape attempts. I was confident in my abilities as an escape artist.
Webmaster-So that's a yes then?
Steve-I don't accept challenges upon the basis of whether or not I know I can get out. There are conditions to my challenges. But they can be summed up very simply, whatever the challenge it has to be humane. And it has to be something show worthy. Some challenges are just plain silly and I pass on those.
Webmaster-Can you tell us what your other conditions were?
1. The challenge has to be humane. Cannot cause injury to me in anyway. For example, no choking me
2. Cannot use super glue, no wire, no electrical devices, no fishing line, no hemp rope.
3. If I am unable to escape after accepting your challenge, I forfeit $1000 to you. If however, I am able to escape, I keep my money, and I keep your escape device.
Webmaster-How does someone go about challenging you?
Steve-Often they would come to one of my shows and try to challenge me right there. I never accept a challenge during my show because the nights entertainment has already been planned out. However, I do tell them if they will meet with me after the show, and if there challenge is worthy, I will attempt it the following night.
Webmaster-What about on the spot challenges?
Steve-I've had untold on the spot challenges. They came from all over. Back stage crew members would challenge me, police officers would challenge me, it would happen. If it was a handcuff or rope challenge I'd usually go ahead and accept the on the spot challenge. But I'd inform them of my conditions. I get out, I keep the device. Now to be honest, I didn't always do this with police. I figured the word of mouth of the escape would be worth much more to me in the long run than another pair of cuffs.
Webmaster-What about from other performers? Would you accept challenges from another escape artist for example?
Steve-Do you mean today? Would I accept challenges now? Let me tell you, I've had a very long, very successful career as an escape artist. I reached heights with escapes that honestly surpass even Houdini. My Death Race and Coffin of Death are just two of my stand out escapes that really go beyond what he did.
The point is, I have nothing to prove. I've made it to the top. I've done more TV than any escape artist around. In the early days, I had plenty to prove because no one had heard of me. But I established myself. I raised the bar on what an escape artist could do. I tried my best to change the face of escape.
Webmaster-It's clear that you did change greatly what could be done by an escape artist. But would you accept a challenge by another escape artist?
Steve-I was getting to that. I would, even today, accept a challenge by another performer, on the grounds that they accept one of my challenges first. Again, I have nothing to gain from this. The person who has something to gain is the challenger. Just being in the position to challenge me is going to get them publicity.
Webmaster-What would you challenge the challenger with?
Steve-One of two things. Either an escape from 10 feet of rope, or escape from my Challenge Belt. Though for one particular person, I'd need 20 feet of rope to acommodate his girth. And of course, I get to search them first and I don't offer any monetary reward for performers. They'd have a big enough reward in the notoriety of beating me. That is, if I fail in escaping from their device after they have escaped mine.
Webmaster-And if they escape, you'd take on their challenge?
Steve-Yes. But they won't escape. Recently, a good friend of mine and a fellow escapist asked me if he could try on the challenge belt. I put him in it and even allowed him to use some tools he brought along. He was unable to free himself completely even with the tools he had. I wouldn't allow that in a real challenge.
Webmaster-So he didn't escape?
Steve-No. As I said, he got pretty far along in the escape, but he was unable to get completely free.
Webmaster-Any other thoughts on having another escape artist challenge you?
Steve-When you are at the top, everyone wants your title, they want your position. In the world of boxing, look at all the people that want the heavy weight title. But only a few are even granted the privilege of trying for it.Why? Because they have to work their way up the ranks before they even get a shot.
I made it to the top. Why do I need to keep proving myself. If someone wants a shot, they need to prove they are worthy first.
Webmaster-Steve, as always, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for the readers of the website.
Steve-Anytime. By the way, thank you to everyone that comes by and visits my site each week. I really appreciate it. Good afternoon and may you always escape!