Houdini’s Last Assistant Dorothy Young Dies at 103

Mar 27th, 2011 | By | Category: Lifestyle

Dorothy Young, last surviving assistant of stage magician Harry Houdini, died last Sunday at a retirement home in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. She was 103.

L82 DorothyYoung 236x300 Houdinis Last Assistant Dorothy Young Dies at 103

Photos by Jameseastonp

Dorothy Lena Young was born May 3, 1907 in Otisville, New York. She was the daughter of a Methodist minister and the youngest of four children. Inspired by ballet dancing at a young age, she began taking dance lessons. While visiting New York in 1925 she responded to a Variety casting call for a female dancer to tour the United States with a Broadway show. It turned out the show was Harry Houdini’s Broadway show and national tour.

Young spent the next year touring the United States with Houdini doing an act called “The Radio Girl.” She would appear out of a seemingly empty radio and dance the Charleston. She remained with the act until two months before Houdini’s death in October 1926.

During the tour Young became romantically involved with Robert Perkins. She married Perkins after returning to New York in 1927. The marriage was brief, with Perkins dying 13 years later, but they had a son, Robert Perkins, Jr.

Seeking to return to Broadway, Young met stage actor Richard Bennett, who landed her a role in the production Jarnegan. Meanwhile she began teaching at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio and formed a ballroom dance team with silk underwear fortune heir Gilbert Kiamie. She and Kiamie became famous for introducing a new dance, the rumbalero, a combination of the rumba and bolero.

During World War II, Young’s son joined the Navy, and Kiamie began serving at Fort Monmouth, so Young also decided to volunteer at Fort Monmouth. She wrote the specifications for shock absorbers for the Army, Army Air Corps, and Navy.

After the war, Kiamie and Young married, and Kiamie entered his family’s silk underwear business. They remained together until Kiamie’s death in 1992.

In the postwar years, Young began writing, publishing a novel loosely based on her life experience in 1953, Diary without Dates. She later published a second novel, Dancing on a Dime, and a memoir of her life with Houdini, Touring with Houdini.

After publishing her first novel, Young shifted her attention to oil painting. She became known for her seascapes, landscapes, and still life paintings. She was invited to join Fifty American Artists, and she exhibited her work in New York and Palm Beach galleries.

Young was a generous philanthropist and supporter of the arts. She paid to rebuild the Youth Temple in her hometown of Ocean Grove in 1977, and she supported the Jersey Shore Medical Center, donating a chapel to the center in honor of her parents. She became a supporter of Drew University following the campus hosting a commemorative ceremony for her brother in the 1980s. She donated $13 million to found the university’s Dorothy Young Center for the Arts, which broke ground in 2001. She made one of her final visits to Drew’s campus in October 2008 for The Official Houdini Seance, which commemorated the 82nd anniversary of Houdini’s death.

Young died a day before Houdini’s 137th birthday was commemorated by Google.

A memorial service will be held in Ocean Grove, New Jersey on Saturday, April 16 at 4:00 pm at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, located at 80 Embury Avenue. Donations in Young’s memory may be made to the Dorothy Young Scholarship for the Arts at Drew University, c/o Advancement Office, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940.

Young is survived by her son, four grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

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