Dorothy Dietrich is a stage magician and escapologist. She was the first woman to perform a straitjacket escape while suspended hundreds of feet in the air from a burning rope as seen on the Home Box Office Special The World’s Greatest Escapes. She is the first woman to gain prominence as a female escape artist since the days of Houdini, breaking the glass ceiling for women in the field of escapes and magic. She has been named one of the top four escape artists in history and one of the 8 greatest magicians of all time. The 2006 Columbia Encyclopedia included Dietrich among their “eight most noted magicians of the late 20th century.” As a teenager she was already dubbed as “The First Lady of Magic.” Dietrich, who has often been called the female Houdini, has duplicated many of Houdini’s original escapes, and has gone one step further by doing the Jinxed Bullet Catch Stunt — the one that Houdini backed away from.
Dorothy Dietrich is a native of Erie, Pennsylvania. Early on, she learned her craft mostly from books. By doing odd jobs, by the age of 13 she had saved enough money to go to New York. She ran away from her abusive father, her first true escape act. Houdini had become a childhood idol, a fact that influenced her desire to perform magic and escapes. Soon after she arrived in New York she auditioned for Westchester Department of Parks from an ad in a show business newspaper, and was booked on the spot for a full summer of work. They recommended Dorothy to the School District for the fall and winter months, and re-booked her in the parks the following summer for an increase in dates and price. Around this same time she earned her performing chops doing magic at a dime museum, Ten-in-One operation in hectic Times Square. Showcasing for the Parent Assembly of the Society of American Magicians at about the same time, well-known magicians Russell Swann and Walter B. Gibson, captivated by her performance style, took her under their wing. Walter Gibson, who was a confidant and biographer of Houdini’s, said, “What you have is very reminiscent of Houdini, when Houdini came out on stage, the audience automatically fell in love with him. In my long years I’ve never seen anyone else who had that.” Dietrich also studied with “Coney Island Fakir” Al Flosso, a regular performer on the Ed Sullivan television show, Jack London for the bullet catch and Lou Lancaster with the Milk Can and the Straitjacket escape, as well as sleight of hand magic. This gradually put Dorothy Dietrich and her magic into resort hotels, nightclubs, school and college auditoriums, and trade shows. She became a favorite of several New York booking agents.
She developed what is known as a flash act, which featured the magical appearance of doves, a rabbit, a duck and two poodles. Early on she was considered a “leading dove worker”. She developed several routines few women had ever attempted: sawing men in half; escaping from a straitjacket; sleight of hand with coins via the Misers Dream; plucking coins from the air, nose, ears and pockets of a youngster from the audience; the life threatening Bullet Catch; and levitating audience members.
It was her goal to level the playing field between men and women in magic and break barriers where no women, and in some cases, no men had gone. Until she broke many of these barriers women were not allowed full membership in such organizations as The Society of American Magicians and London’s Magic Circle, which early on she tried to join.
Dietrich has created special magic shows for such companies as Maidenform, Pooltrol, Coleco, Yago Sangria, Pepsi, American Can Company, Manhattan Shirts, as well as fashion and cosmetic companies.
As word got around, she was called to do a Bill Cosby special while still in her early teens. Cosby recommended her to several agents. On television Dorothy Dietrich won attention as a woman who, instead of allowing herself to be sawed in half, reversed the traditional illusion and severed the male hosts of talk shows and on network specials.
Dietrich was a founder along with Dick Brookz of New York’s Magic Towne House, a popular magic show spot in New York City, which was the longest running magic show in New York City history. Always interested in magic history and innovation, Dorothy Dietrich learned that opening a magic show spot in New York City was a dream of legendary magicians Houdini, Thurston, David Copperfield and Doug Henning. Along with partner Dick Brookz, she has mentored many current celebrity magicians who started at her club as teenagers, some who now sit on the Board of Directors of Hollywood’s Magic Castle.
When not traveling, Dietrich heads up to The Houdini Museum, the only building in the world dedicated to Houdini, where she performs on a regular basis when in town. She is also a featured performer at the museum’s hit show ten years running Psychic Theater’s “Haunted! Mysteries & THE Beyond!” along with Dick Brookz.