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 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 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
    • 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.)

No comments:

Post a Comment