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AMERICAN MOSAIC - January 17, 2003: Music by the Wallflowers / A Question About the Escape Artist Houdini / Theater and Film Director Julie Taymor - 2003-01-16



Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC -- VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.


This is Doug Johnson. On our program today:

We play some music by the group called the Wallflowers ...

Answer a question about the famous escape artist called Houdini ...

And tell about a very creative theater and film director.

Julie Taymor


Julie Taymor is an American theater and film director. She is best known for her work with puppetry -- an art form that uses large dolls and other objects in theatrical performances. Mizz Taymor has been involved in the theater for almost thirty years. Mary Tillotson tells us about her.


Julie Taymor began producing plays as a child at her home near Boston, Massachusetts. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio, graduating in nineteen-seventy-four. She also studied theater and puppetry in Japan, Indonesia, and Eastern Europe.

In the early nineteen-nineties, she directed a version of Igor Stravinsky’s opera, “Oedipus Rex,” for the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Japan. She won an Emmy Award for the American television broadcast of the opera.

Julie Taymor became internationally known for her production of the Walt Disney Company’s Broadway musical play, “The Lion King.” In nineteen-ninety-eight, Mizz Taymor won several Tony Awards for her work on that show.

She received one award for designing the unusual costumes worn by actors to represent the many different animal creatures in the play. Mizz Taymor’s work on the project also made her the first woman ever to win a Tony Award for directing a Broadway musical. “The Lion King” is still one of the most popular musicals on Broadway.

Mizz Taymor directed her first major film in nineteen-ninety-nine. It was the movie “Titus.” The story was based on William Shakespeare’s play, “Titus Andronicus.” The film was not an economic success. But critics praised it as one of the finest films made from a Shakespearean play.

In the movie, Julie Taymor used puppets, strange costumes and other special effects to tell Shakespeare’s story of a fallen general. Mizz Taymor used everything from child’s toys to the Roman Coliseum to tell the story. And she used the play’s violence to create sympathy for its victims.

Julie Taymor’s latest project was directing the movie “Frida,” about the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The movie opened in November. Critics say that Julie Taymor has succeeded in bringing Frida Kahlo’s art to life. Several critics have called “Frida” one of the best films of last year.



Our VOA listener question this week comes from Indonesia. Desmanto Herman asks about the life of the world famous escape artist and magician known as Houdini.

Houdini’s real name was Erik Weisz. He was born in Budapest, Hungary in eighteen-seventy-four. He came to the United States with his family as a child. He became a circus performer. Then he settled in New York City in eighteen-eighty-two. He chose the stage name Harry Houdini to honor a famous French magician named Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin.

Houdini began offering money to anyone who could successfully keep him locked up. And so he became famous for escaping from ropes, handcuffs and different kinds of locked containers. For example, he would be tied up with locked chains and placed in a box that was tied with a rope. The box was dropped underwater from a boat. Houdini would return to the boat after he escaped from the box. Or, Houdini would be tied into an “escape proof” jacket called a strait jacket and suspended twenty-three meters above the ground by his feet. He would then free himself from the strait jacket.

Thousands of people paid to watch these escape acts. Usually Houdini left no evidence of how he was able to make the escape. However, many people watched his escape from the strait jacket.

Experts say Houdini was successful because of his great physical strength and skill with locks. He also studied, practiced and exercised for many hours to prepare for his acts. For his underwater act, for example, he would hold his breath underwater in the bathtub for up to four minutes.

Houdini also did magic tricks. For example, in nineteen-eighteen, he made an elephant disappear from the stage of a theater in New York City. It was the largest object ever made to disappear at that time. He also invented many magic tricks. Houdini appeared in five movies from nineteen-sixteen to nineteen-twenty-three. He wrote several of them. Houdini is the only magician to make five movies, and the first to be honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in California. Experts say he would have made more films had he lived longer.

Harry Houdini died in nineteen-twenty-six of an infected appendix. Today, people who want to learn about Harry Houdini and his magic can visit the Houdini Historical Center in Appleton, Wisconsin. This is the city where he lived as a child.

The Wallflowers


The popular rock group called the Wallflowers has released a new album. Shep O’Neal tells about “Red Letter Days” and plays a few songs from the new recording.


“Red Letter Days” is the Wallflowers’ fourth album. Jakob Dylan is the band’s lead singer, songwriter and guitar player. He says he started writing the songs for the new album while the band was performing after the release of an earlier album. Here is “When You’re On Top” from “Red Letter Days.”


The other members of the Wallflowers were excited about the new songs. So, they decided to test some of them in private recordings while they were still traveling. Jakob Dylan says the band would play anywhere they could find a power source. Here, the Wallflowers perform “Closer To You.”


The Wallflowers have been recording albums together for ten years. But Jakob Dylan says they sometimes forgot what was important to them. He says recording “Red Letter Days” has been a good lesson. He says the band has re-discovered its true goals. We leave you now with another song from the Wallflowers latest album. It is called “Here in Pleasantville.”



This is Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today. And I hope you will join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC -- VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.

This AMERICAN MOSAIC program was written by Bob Brumfield, Nancy Steinbach and Caty Weaver. And our producer was Paul Thompson.