21 things to know about the real Harry Houdini & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

by Shanee Edwards
May 2, 2016 at 9:00 a.m. ET

A new TV show called Houdini and Doyle features the famous magician and author of the Sherlock Holmes books and their often strained relationship. We did a little research to find out more about these two fascinating men in real life. Here's what we uncovered.

1 /20: Harry Houdini

1/20 :Harry Houdini

American actor Michael Weston plays the world-famous magician Harry Houdini. Weston is best known for his role as Lucas Douglas on House M.D. A friend of actor Zach Braff, he's appeared in Braff's projects such as Garden State and Wish I was Here. In real life, Houdini started his career performing in Vaudeville and doing card tricks.   

2 /20: Budapest to New York

2/20 :Budapest to New York

Harry Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, in 1874. His family arrived by boat to the United States in 1878. Of Jewish descent and one of seven children, he took the stage name Harry Houdini after being inspired by French magician and illusionist Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. 

3 /20: Dedicated to his craft

3/20 :Dedicated to his craft

Houdini was devoted to becoming a highly skilled escape artist and forced himself to become ambidextrous. He also practiced untying knots with his toes. He was so focused that he slept only about four hours a night and kept a notebook by his bed in case he came up with an idea for a trick or illusion in the middle of the night. 

4 /20: Houdini's dark side

4/20 :Houdini's dark side

Houdini liked to study crimes, especially murders, to get ideas for his show. He also enjoyed performing for inmates on death row. Houdini even purchased an electric chair for his own morbid amusement. 

5 /20: The handcuff king

5/20 :The handcuff king

Houdini toured the United States and Europe performing his stunts and illusions and became quite wealthy. He eventually stopped performing his handcuff escapes and instead, began to escape from things such as milk cans, crates lowered into water and even the belly of a beached whale.

6 /20: Houdini's wife

6/20 :Houdini's wife

Houdini met his wife, Wilhelmina Beatrice "Bess" Rahner, while she was performing in Vaudeville and dating his brother. Once they were married, Bess became her husband's onstage assistant. The couple never had any children.

7 /20: Houdini's early death

7/20 :Houdini's early death

Houdini was short — only 5 feet 5 inches — stocky and incredibly muscular. He often let young men punch him in the stomach to prove his physical prowess. One evening, after Houdini had broken his ankle during a performance several days earlier, a college student approached him as he was reclining on a sofa. The student sucker-punched Houdini in the stomach and, without having time to physically prepare for the blow, Houdini was seriously injured. Refusing to go to the doctor, he continued to perform, despite the pain and having a high fever. He passed out during the show and was taken to the hospital. On Halloween, Houdini died of peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured appendix.  

8 /20: Séances

8/20 :Séances

Obsessed with proving the existence of the afterlife, Houdini and his wife Bess established a secret code that he would use to contact her from beyond. After his death on Oct. 31, 1926, Bess conducted séances every Halloween for 10 years. The secret code was never communicated.  

9 /20: Arthur Conan Doyle

9/20 :Arthur Conan Doyle

In the new TV show, British actor Stephen Mangan plays the beloved author of the Sherlock Holmes books, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Best known in America for playing Sean Lincoln on Episodes, Mangan is an accomplished Shakespearean actor. In real life, Doyle had a medical career before he was a successful writer. 

10 /20: Friends in real life

10/20 :Friends in real life

Doyle and Houdini were friends in real life. Both frequently attended séances, which were extremely popular at the time. Doyle was fascinated by the possible existence of the afterlife and even believed Houdini possessed supernatural ability. But Houdini spent much of his life debunking psychics and exposing so-called spiritualists as frauds. Houdini was unable to sway Doyle's beliefs and their disagreements on the subject caused the end of their friendship.  

11 /20: Career in medicine

11/20 :Career in medicine

In 1876, Doyle attended medical school in Scotland, where he met Professor Joseph Bell, who was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. He began writing short stories and was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe. Many of Doyle's early stories were rejected by publishers, however.

12 /20: Cottingley Fairies

12/20 :Cottingley Fairies

In 1917, a series of photographs were published that featured young girls with fairies. Doyle used these photos to bolster his belief in the supernatural. The photos were later determined to be frauds. 

13 /20: Success as a writer

13/20 :Success as a writer

Doyle was surprised and even a little dismayed by the success of Sherlock Holmes. In 1891, he quit his medical practice because he was making a better income as a writer. But Doyle longed to focus on writing what he considered more serious literature. 

14 /20: Killing Sherlock Holmes

14/20 :Killing Sherlock Holmes

In 1893, Doyle decided to kill off Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, in the story "The Final Problem." Fighting on the edge of a cliff, both characters plunged to their deaths.  

15 /20: Public outrage

15/20 :Public outrage

The public was outraged to learn of the death of their beloved Sherlock Holmes. Some fans wore black armbands in protest, others wore mourning crepe tied around their hats. The publisher was inundated with threatening letters from heartbroken fans.  

16 /20: Holmes returns

16/20 :Holmes returns

In 1901, Doyle brought Sherlock Holmes back from the dead in his book The Hound of the Baskervilles. He continued to write stories featuring Sherlock Holmes until 1927. 

17 /20: Doyle's final days

17/20 :Doyle's final days

Pictured here with his children and second wife, opera singer Jean Leckie, Doyle died of a heart attack in 1930. He was 71. There was some controversy over his final resting spot because he considered himself a spiritualist, not a Christian. 

18 /20: Adelaide Stratton

18/20 :Adelaide Stratton

In Houdini and Doyle, a fictional character called Adelaide Stratton, played by actress Rebecca Liddiard, portrays one of the first women to work in police enforcement in London. Liddiard is best known for her work on the Canadian TV show MsLabelled.

19 /20: Women in law enforcement

19/20 :Women in law enforcement

Though not allowed to carry handcuffs, the first females to work in the Metropolitan Police were allowed to enter brothels, betting houses and fortune-telling parlors with the intention of stopping prostitution and suicide. The very first female officer was Sofia Stanley in 1919, who created the first women's police uniform, known as the Stanley uniform.

20 /20: 'Houdini and Doyle'

20/20 :'Houdini and Doyle'

This new show premieres May 2 on Fox.