Magician hopes to replicate Houdini’s stunt in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Like his hero Harry Houdini, Lee Terbosic loves the show in show business.

At noon on Sunday, the 34-year-old magician aims to perform a stunt that famed escape artist Houdini executed a century ago to the very day, captivating a breathless lunchtime crowd that jammed the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Wood Street, Downtown.

While dangling upside down by his ankles from a crane, 70 feet in the air above that same intersection, Terbosic hopes to wriggle out of a straitjacket made of real canvas, straps, leather and buckles. The show will feature a stage, LED screen and master of ceremonies Rick Sebak, a filmmaker who has captured much of Pittsburgh’s colorful history.

The actual performance should take 7 minutes, he said.

“I have a very, very, very long checklist,” the Baldwin Borough resident said in a telephone interview. “I’ve always been a daredevil type of guy. I thrive on that adrenaline.”

The Pittsburgh native’s fascination with Houdini’s feat began in 2011 when his longtime mentor, magician Paul Gertner, gave him a 650-page book titled “MAGIC 1400-1950.” As Terbosic studied a particular picture, he spotted a Pittsburg Post newspaper sign on a building and realized that Houdini performed here on Nov. 6, 1916. Houdini repeated the straitjacket stunt in many U.S. cities, visiting a newspaper office to generate publicity and often using the newspaper’s building as a launching pad.

In 2013, Terbosic told some friends about his desire. How epic would it be, he wondered, if he could perform the straitjacket stunt on the 100th anniversary of Houdini’s appearance at the exact same location?

“Could I do it? Do I have the guts to put this all together?” Terbosic asked himself. “I have performed the straitjacket escape on two feet on stages around the country since I was about 15 or 16 years old. I’ve never done it hanging upside down. I’ve done all my homework and research. I’m working with a fantastic safety team that I trust dearly with my life.”

So Terbosic went on to seek sponsors, obtain a special events permit from the city of Pittsburgh and hire a publicist, who rented billboards. There also will be lights, cameras, a stage, an ambulance and a safety team called Adrenaline Dreams. Of course there’s a website: www.houdini100.com

Earlier Sunday morning, about 2,000 runners in the annual EQT Pittsburgh Ten Miler, will run through that intersection where Terbosic plans to perform to reach the finish line.

“I’ve never had a real job. I’ve been self-employed. Every dime I’ve ever made I’ve made off my talent,” Terbosic said, with a note of pride.

The magician, who stands 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 160 pounds, played soccer and ran track at Baldwin High School before earning a marketing degree from Robert Morris University in 2007. His single-minded focus on succeeding at a particular stunt sent him back to the gym where he regularly does push-ups, runs and lifts weights. He also bought an inversion table.

“Every other day, I jump in that thing and I go upside down for 10 or 15 minutes to build up my tolerance so I’m feeling comfortable in that position. I’m like a bat in my house reading a book or I’m on my phone. I’m Birdman in my house,” he said referring to the Oscar-winning movie that starred Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton.

A seasoned entertainer, Terbosic has appeared on “America’s Got Talent” on NBC and “Four Weddings” on TLC. He gives four performances of a show called “Bamboozled” every weekend at the Dave & Buster’s Theater in Homestead.

Cheering on the young magician, who grew up in Lincoln Place, will be his mother, Kathy Terbosic and father Ed of Baldwin Borough plus a sister, Tiffany Linn and her husband, Eric, of Jefferson Hills and his girlfriend, Christy Clementi, 29, of Baldwin Borough.

“You can talk it through. You can walk it through,” Terbosic said about the stunt. “You really can’t rehearse this thing.”