Do You Believe in Magic

Magic is a world where illusion and reality blur. Magician, Houdini historian, and Pittsburgh native Lee Terbosic bridges the gap between the fantastical and the tangible, creating a realm where anything seems possible. He stands as a figure of intrigue and his journey is a fantastical tale of lifelong dedication to his craft as well as a homage to the legendary Harry Houdini.

Terbosic’s love of magic began at the tender age of nine. A birthday party magician left young Terbosic in awe, igniting a passion that would shape his life. His parents’ support led him to the Carnegie Library in Homestead. Terbosic recalls, “I wasn’t into reading at that age, but magic got me into reading. The funny thing is, when I found these magic books at the Carnegie Library, I went home, and I became the kid under the blankets with books and a flashlight at night. To me, they were all page turners.” Terbosic’s early brush with magic was not without its mischief. He admits to having stolen those books from the library, a youthful transgression that speaks volumes of his dedication. “I was trying to learn the magic tricks, because it was like becoming a part of this secret society. When I started doing magic tricks for my parents,  I realized very quickly how intoxicating it is to have power. Because when you’re a magician, you can do stuff that people cannot figure out. And as a young kid, doing that to adults and even to other kids – that’s powerful. It’s like a superpower. And all my secrets were in these books that I had to get from the library. So I kept them. What can I say, I took old books. What a rebel. I was learning all this magic and deception and so I thought, I don’t want to give these things back after a month. I want to keep these forever.”

Terbosic’s commitment to magic was unwavering. By the age of 10, he embarked on a professional journey that never saw him take up any other job. “I’ve been a magician since the age of 10. I’m 41. And I’ve never done anything else,” he proudly states. His journey took him from a young enthusiast to a magician of repute, performing shows all over the country and winning many accolades, including the 2015 APCA Magician of the Year.

Despite his early choice of a lifelong career, Terbosic didn’t shun formal education. He attended Robert Morris University, focusing on business and marketing, a decision influenced by his mentor, renowned magician Paul Gertner. “He said to me, ‘Lee, if you’re going to be a magician for your career, you have to understand one word: show business. Because that’s what you’re in. But I’m going to break it down for you: it’s really not one word, it’s two. Most people get that confused. The first word is show. You’re a showman. You’re an entertainer. I can see that. I can see how you perform. You’ve got that part down. The one thing that most people screw up in their career is the second word: business.’ He told me if I could get the business part down, I would be as successful as I wanted to be. So, going to RMU was important. At the same time, I was learning about Harry Houdini, and I read that not only was he an amazing magician and showman, he also understood the business of magic. He knew how to promote. He knew how to sell. When he would go to different cities and do stunts, he would always do it at the newspaper building. He would hang off the newspaper building  upside down because he knew that it would get a crowd and the newspaper would put him on the front cover of the newspaper the next day. That sold tickets to his show. All I did was replicate that a hundred years later. A lot of the time, my professors would say, ‘why are you here? You’re already successful. But I wanted to be more successful. Most kids learn stuff and then they never use it. Or they’ll use tidbits of it into their career later on. No, I was showing these professors, I’m doing it in real time because of how you told me how to market.”

Upon graduating, Terbosic was signed by an agent and was drawn to the road. He spent the next decade touring the country, doing corporate shows and entertaining on college campuses nationwide. “I figured out how the booking process worked and I ended up performing at all these colleges all over the nation. Some would have me come back every semester. They really liked me. I built my career in that world, traveling from city to city, just like Houdini did back when he was going from city to city. I was doing the same thing, just on college campuses.”

During that time, he also had the opportunity to go to New York City to help Gertner, his mentor, produce a show. “There were two reasons I thought something great could come of it.  One was the alone time I would get with him, because that’s a six hour drive to New York City. And in six hours, that’s a lot of questions I could ask him. He’d been on the Tonight Show three times. He was Johnny Carson’s personal magic teacher. Now, I had this chance to learn information from Paul and really see a pro’s proin action. And the second reason was: New York is where Houdini is buried.”

Houdini’s influence on Terbosic is profound. His fascination with the legendary magician turned him into a leading Houdini historian. This obsession went beyond admiration – it shaped his destiny. While in New York, Terbosic not only visited the site of the famed magician’s burial, but also had the opportunity to see original photos of Houdini, including one of him performing a straitjacket escape while hanging upside down in Pittsburgh. This ignited a spark within Terbosic. “Holding the photo of Houdini upside down in  a straitjacket, I knew I wanted to replicate it. I wanted to do the same stunt, in the same place, 100 years to the day, which would be about five years later.  And so, I committed to the idea right then and there, that night. I said, in 2016, on November 6th, at the corner of Wood Street and Liberty Avenue, I will be hanging 100 feet above the city of Pittsburgh, with thousands of people staring at me, escaping from this straitjacket. And over the next five years, I worked on the idea, and that is exactly what happened.”

Pittsburgh showed up for Terbosic in a big way for the stunt. The mayor’s office offered their full support, major roadways were blocked off, and thousands of people showed up to witness history being made – and repeated. “I did the stunt 100 years after Houdini, down to the minute. One hundred feet in the air, suspended from a crane.” 

After his Houdini 100 stunt, Terbosic had all eyes on him. Within only a few months, Discovery Channel had reached out to him to do a 4-episode docuseries called “Houdini’s Last Secrets,” co-starring George Hardeen, the great-nephew of Houdini. When Houdini passed away, he had no children. So the entirety of his collection was willed to Houdini’s brother – George’s grandfather – Theo Hardeen. Most of the items from the home were sold, with very few things remaining in the family. Therefore, when George Hardeen was growing up, he didn’t have access to, or knowledge of, any of this. In fact, he wasn’t aware of his connection to Houdini until he was a teenager, unaware even of his own father’s full name: Harry Houdini Hardeen. Terbosic says, “When I met George, he obviously wanted to be in this show because he was fascinated about Harry’s life, his uncle. But he didn’t have any of this stuff. He had to go to museums to see his own family’s relics.”

The show got rave reviews, and a second season was in the works when the COVID19 pandemic put everything to a halt. However, it was this turn of events that brought Terbosic back to Pittsburgh full time. He recalls, “Being on the road all the time was tough. I had traveled for about 10 years straight. I had done a couple hundred shows a year. So I was never here, but I’m a Yinzer. I’m a Pittsburgh boy, but I had just spent all this time away from here. And for the longest time, it started to eat me up.  That’s when the idea of creating my own residency started. I grew up idolizing guys like David Copperfield, who I now know personally. I know Penn and Teller as well. And I look at David and Penn and Teller, and I look at their residencies in Las Vegas. And they’re at casinos. But what are casinos? They’re hotels and gambling. And that’s when the light bulb went off in my head. I can do a magic show at a hotel in Pittsburgh.”

Terbosic’s show, “52 Up Close” at Hotel Monaco was the culmination of his residency idea and is a blend of sleight of hand, mind reading, and storytelling, deeply rooted in Pittsburgh, the city he adores. Inspired by a deck of cards, there are only 52 audience members per show and only 52 shows per year. It is an intimate experience of magic, and a rare opportunity to experience wonder firsthand.

His current show at Liberty Magic, “The Life and Death of Harry Houdini,” is a 75-minute long journey into Harry’s life, all set against the backdrop of his living room. Terbosic says, “I’ve been obsessed with Harry Houdini’s living room for a long time. The reason why was because, as a magician, where do I create my magic? I create it in my living room on the couch. That’s where I think of everything. So I thought, maybe that’s where all his inspiration was. He had the greatest library of magic in the world. And it all was at 278 West 113th Street, New York – Harlem of all places. His whole house was a museum. It was a living library. There were stacks of books everywhere. But in his living room, he had this amazing, beautiful bookcase. And in that bookcase were the crown jewels of our world – stuff that’s a couple hundred years old, that’s lived on because of Harry Houdini. So I had to replicate that for my show.” 

For the first part of the show, Terbosic plays Houdini on stage. Set on October 9th, 1926 (the last date Harry was ever in his home), you’ll see his life as it was then. You’ll hear stories and anecdotes, and learn facts about Houdini’s life through first person narration, all while witnessing some truly magical moments in time – like the upside-down straitjacket escape. 

For the second part of the show, Terbosic talks about Houdini’s death, then opens up a 15 minute Q&A with the audience. Afterward, VIP ticket holders head backstage into a mini museum. “I have letters that Houdini wrote while he stayed at the Omni William Penn, simply called the William Penn Hotel at the time. It’s his actual handwritten note on William Penn stationery. I have a lot of artifacts I’ve collected over the years. So I’m going to be breaking out some of those things to share with the public because it’s so important to me.”

With his monumental success, one could see Terbosic choosing to be on stage for the rest of his life. However, he already has a trick up his sleeve in regards to retirement. “The number 52 has always stood out to me. And, of course, I became obsessed with Harry Houdini, like most magicians, except my obsession never ended. He died on October 31st, 1926, at the age of 52. And I always thought that was really unique because his life played out like a pack of cards. He lived 26 years in the 1800s, not famous and extremely poor. And he lived 26 years in the 1900s, as one of the most famous, wealthiest people on planet Earth. And then he passes away tragically at the age of 52. Being that Harry passed on at 52, I decided quite a few years ago that my final performance will be at the age of 52. Which means I have 11 years left. And the clock is ticking.”

As Terbosic approaches his self-imposed retirement age, he reflects on his legacy and future. “I hope that in 100 years, some Pittsburgh magician replicates me. I hope kids are writing book reports about my career and what I did here in Pittsburgh. And the legacy that I left. That’s truly what my goal is. When they talk about Pittsburgh magicians, I want my name to be at least near the top. I have 11 years to go. And then I’m retiring. I’m walking away from the stage. I won’t walk away from the magic. I will walk away from hanging from cranes and swallowing needles. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always be a magician until the day I die. But Houdini died at 52. So that is when my career will end as well. I will step off the stage for the last time. I’ll probably headline one of the theaters in Pittsburgh, and that’ll be my final live show. And then I’m going to walk into some next transition of my life. I already kind of know where that’s headed, but I can’t tell you that. A magician never reveals his secrets.”

For tickets to The Life and Death of Harry Houdini, visit 

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