Magazine
 

A Living Legend
By Lena Basha and Gladys Haynes
Volume 141, Number 5, September/October 2007, Page 5

In 1925, at the age of 18, Dorothy Young landed the job of her dreams—as Harry Houdini’s on-stage assistant. Today, 82 years later, as the last living member of Houdini’s touring show, the 100-year-old describes that experience with so much detail you’d think it happened yesterday.

“Houdini told me that he chose me from the more than 1,000 girls who showed up that day because, unlike all of them, I was a quiet, little girl sitting all the way in the back—and because I was shorter than he was,” she remembers.

Mrs. Young’s career in show business was sparked in high school when she first saw the ballet “Swan Lake.”

“Here I was watching the great Anna Pavlova dancing the divine swan,” she says, “and from then on I knew I had to be a dancer.”

She spent the next few summers studying ballet in New York City and auditioning for various shows, including the fateful audition for Houdini’s magic act.
After a year traveling with the legendary magician, Mrs. Young married Robert Perkins and had a son, Bob. She wasted no time returning to work, performing on Broadway at night and working as a model and a body double during the day. She married her second husband, Gilbert Kiamie, in 1945, after they traveled the world as the internationally acclaimed dancing team “Dorothy and Gilbert.”

When World War II broke out, Mrs. Young (who now goes by her maiden name) contributed to the war effort by taking a job at the Standards Agency at Fort Monmouth, N.J., writing the purchasing specifications for shock absorbers used by the Army and Navy. She didn’t return to the stage when the war ended, but she always kept her love of the arts and started taking painting lessons. “It just came natural to me,” she says. “You completely forget the world when you’re painting.”

She painted regularly for the next 30 years and became a member of the Fifty American Artists, a guild of American realists. Her house in Ocean Grove, N.J., is filled with her stunning landscapes and portraits. One of her works hangs at Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune, N.J., in the chapel she donated to the hospital in memory of her parents.

Mrs. Young has given generously to her community throughout her life. In addition to the hospital chapel, the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts at Drew University in Madison, N.J., was made possible with a substantial donation from Mrs. Young, as was the rebuilding of the historical Youth Temple in Ocean Grove in 1977.

“It just makes me happy to give back,” says Mrs. Young, who credits her father for her giving spirit. “He was a true philanthropist and would give his last dollar to anyone who needed it.”

Today, when she’s not doting on her seven great-grandchildren, the 100-year-old follows her favorite routine: “Every morning I get up, drink a cup of coffee, look at the ocean and count my blessings,” she says. After her daily exercises, she usually goes to brunch with a friend. A Daughter since 1948 and a current member of the Governor William Livingston Chapter, Spring Lake, N.J., Mrs. Young also passes the time reading and playing backgammon—and autographing the constant stream of Houdini memorabilia that still arrives in her mailbox from fans.

“Isn’t that funny?” Mrs. Young says. “Of all of the things that I’ve done in my life with the church, the community and as an artist, the fact that I was with Houdini is how everyone knows me.”

Credit: Photos courtesy of Dorothy Young
 

 
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