Houdini’s last surviving stage assistant dies

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TINTON FALLS, N.J (AP) - Dorothy Young, the last surviving stage assistant of illusionist Harry Houdini and an accomplished dancer, has died. She was 103.

Young’s death was announced Wednesday by Drew University, where she was a prominent donor and patron of the arts. Spokesman Dave Muha said she died Sunday at her home in a Tinton Falls, N.J., retirement community.

Young joined Houdini’s company as a 17-year-old after attending an open casting call during a family trip to New York. She initially sat in the back because she was too shy to step forward, but Houdini and his manager soon noticed her and asked her to dance the Charleston. They signed her to a contract, and she eventually persuaded her parents to let her join the stage show.

During her year with Houdini in the mid-1920s, she gained recognition for playing the role of Radio Girl of 1950, emerging from a large mock-up of a radio and performing a dance routine. She also performed other roles during the tour, which proved to be Houdini’s last in the United States before he died in October 1926, two months after she had left the show .

Young then formed a dance act with Gilbert Kiamie, a New York businessman and the son of a wealthy silk lingerie magnate, and they gained international prominence for a Latin dance they created known as the rumbalero. They later married and remained together until Kiamie died in 1992.

Young went on to perform in several movies and also published a novel inspired by her career. She later became a benefactor of Drew University, endowing it with a $13 million arts center that bears her name. Several of her paintings hang in buildings on its campus in Madison.

She also attended numerous events at the school over the years. One of her last appearances there was in October 2008 for a commemoration of the 82nd anniversary of Houdini’s death that featured an inner circle of Houdini enthusiasts and historians.

Young had a son with her first husband, Robert Perkins, who died after 13 years of marriage.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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