The 2006 Columbia Encyclopedia included Dietrich among their "eight most noted magicians of the late 20th century", and entertainment writer Samantha Hart called her a "world-class magician" and "one of the world's leading female magicians". Early on, as a teenager, she already was dubbed as "The First Lady of Magic." Dietrich, often called the female Houdini, has duplicated many of Houdini's original escapes, and has gone one step further by doing the Jinxed Bullet Catch Stunt – the one that Houdini backed away from.
Dorothy Dietrich is a native of Erie, Pennsylvania. In a six-page article about the history of women in magic in the women's magazine, Bust, which contained only two full-page pictures, one of Adelaide Herrmann and the other of Dietrich, Nichole Summer writes:
Among the books that inspired her as a child was a biography of Houdini, who became a childhood idol, a fact that later influenced her desire to perform magic and escapes.
Early on, she learned her craft mostly from books. In New York, she auditioned for Westchester Department of Parks from an ad in a show business newspaper and was booked on the spot for a full summer of work, was recommended to the school district for the winter months, and re-booked the following summer for an increase in dates and price. Around this same time she earned her performing chops working a dime museum "grind show" Ten-in-One operation in hectic Times Square run by legendary mouse pitchman Tommy Laird with such performers as Earl "Presto" Johnson, Lou Lancaster, Chris Capehart, Dick Brooks and others. Showcasing for the Parent Assembly of the Society of American Magicians at about the same time, well-known magicians Russell Swann and Walter B. Gibson, captivated by her performance style, took her under their wing. Walter Gibson, who was a confidant and biographer of Houdini's, said "What you have is very reminiscent of Houdini, when Houdini came out on stage, the audience automatically fell in love with him. In my long years I've never seen anyone who had that." Dietrich also studied with "Coney Island Fakir" Al Flosso, a regular performer on the Ed Sullivan television show, Jack London (for the bullet catch) and Lou Lancaster with the Milk Can and the Straitjacket escape, as well as sleight-of-hand magic. "The recognition gradually put Dorothy Dietrich and her magic into resort hotels, nightclubs, school and college auditoriums, trade shows." She became a favorite of several New York booking agents.
She developed what is known as a flash act that included doves, a rabbit, a duck and two poodles. Early on she was considered a "leading dove worker". She also developed several routines few women had ever attempted. Sawing men in half, escaping from a straitjacket, sleight of hand with coins via the Misers Dream, The Bullet Catch, and levitating audience members. It was her goal to level the playing field between men and women in the field of magic, and to innovate and break barriers where no women, and in some cases no men, have gone. Until she broke many of these barriers, women were not allowed full membership in such organizations as The Society of American Magicians and London's Magic Circle, which early on she tried to join. She has pioneered and paved the way for women in the field today.
Dietrich has created special shows for such companies as Maidenform, Pooltrol, Yago Sangria, Manhattan Shirts, as well as fashion and cosmetic companies. She is a regular performer for trade and industrial events.
On television, Dorothy Dietrich won attention as a woman who, instead of allowing herself to be sawed in half, reversed the traditional illusion and severed into two parts the male hosts of talk shows and network specials. As word got around she was called to do a Bill Cosby special while still in her early teens, but with the help of her sophisticated style and makeup she passed as an adult and was able to work night clubs and banquets in the best hotels and venues. Cosby was so impressed that he recommended her to several agents. At this same time she performed with Loretta Lynn, Dick Van Patten and Tony Randall.
Dietrich was co-editor, contributor and publisher of Hocus Pocus Magazine along with magician/mentalist Dick Brooks. In addition to escapes and large-scale stunts, Dietrich has performs illusions with live animals such as doves, rabbits, poodles and ducks. She is also known for sawing men in half. She also does an updated version of the classic Miser's Dream, plucking coins from the air, nose, ears and pockets of a youngster from the audience. She is also known for levitating volunteers from the audience.
Dietrich was a founder along with Dick Brooks of New York's Magic Towne House a popular magic show spot in New York City, which was the longest-running magic show in New York City history. Always interested in magic history and innovation, Dorothy Dietrich learned that opening a magic show spot in New York City was a dream of legendary magicians Houdini, Thurston, David Copperfield and Doug Henning.
At the same time she wanted a place where best known magicians could be seen, as well as to help to develop future generations of magicians. Along with partner Dick Brooks, she accomplished this goal with The Magic Towne House. Some of the magicians who got their early start at The Magic Towne House are Eric DeCamps, Imam, Jeff McBride, Otto and George, Johnny Ace Palmer, Joseph Pepitone, Joe Raven, David Regal, Rocco Silano, Peter Samelson and Meir Yedid. Established performers of the era also performed with them, including Bobby Baxter, Harry Blackstone, Jr., Milbourne Christopher, Daryl, Fantasio, Frank Garcia, Walter B. Gibson, Wesley James, Presto Earl Johnson, Lou Lancaster, Jack London, Bill McQueen, Max Maven (Phil Goldstein), Ben Robinson, James Randi, David Roth, George Schindler, Slydini and others.
Imam would, after several years, break away and form his own competing club downtown in Greenwich Village. Brooks and Dietrich searched out Brother Theodore, whose career had waned, and helped to bring him back to prominence that led to his appearing on The Tom Snyder Tomorrow Show and a series of TV and movie appearances. Upon the closing of the Magic Towne House, Michael Chaut and Peter Samuelson would later develop "Monday Night Magic" along with Frank Brents, Todd Robbins, and Jamy Ian Swiss, which still runs successfully in New York City.
In 2008, Bust Magazine reported about Dietrich's 1988 attempt to catch a bullet in a metal cup in her mouth. She performed it at Donald Trump's Resorts International's 10th anniversary in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was televised on a special called, Just For The Record, The Best Of Everything. This came about after catching a .22 caliber bullet for the yearly convention of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in Pittsburgh. It was shown on Network TV's Evening Magazine, and on The New You Asked For It with Rich Little as host. She performed it again in Canada on a TV show called Autobus du Canada for the highest amount ever paid a magician on Canadian television. She is the first and only female to successfully complete the bullet catch in the mouth. It was done under test conditions with the bullets bought by a committee. Brought in under guard, an independent marksman picked and fired the bullet. One of two chosen bullets was fired into a concrete backstop and the second was fired at Dorothy. Dietrich challenged anyone who could prove that the bullet did not leave from the gun by offering a $10,000 reward. Feature stories and articles about her have appeared in major publications such as the New York Times and TV Guide.
On exhibit for many years at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada, until it burned down, was a large two-panel display of Dorothy Dietrich and her accomplishments as "The Female Houdini". A similar display is now shown at Scranton's Houdini Museum.
For many years she held the Houdini Seances in New York as a tribute to the legendary magician, continuing a tradition started by Houdini's wife and passed on to Walter B. Gibson. Even though Bess gave up the séances herself, she asked magician Walter B. Gibson to carry on the October 31 tradition. For many years, Gibson, along with several other magicians, held the séances at the Magic Towne House in New York City. Before Gibson died he asked Dietrich to carry on the tradition. Walter was a confidant and biographer of Houdini and also wrote the famous Shadow series. Dietrich continues the seances at The Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, each Halloween, the day Houdini died. The seances have been shown on such shows as TV Lands Myths and Legends, Biography's Dead Famous-Houdini and Exploring the Unknown. The seances at the Houdini Museum in Scranton are often attended by The Houdini Family who are the closest living relatives of Bess Houdini, making this the closest event connected back to the original seances that Bess Houdini held.
When not traveling, Dietrich heads up to The Houdini Museum, the only building in the world dedicated to Houdini, where she performs on a regular basis when in town. She has been featured on many television shows and channels, including CBC, BBC, CBC, NBC, ABC, Travel Channel, Syfi, and Biography Channel, TV Land, Mysteries At The Museum, etc. She is also a featured performer at the museum's hit show eleven years running Psychic Theater's "Haunted! Psychic Mystery and Seance Evening!" along with Paranormalist Dick Brooks. It is the longest-running seance presentation in history.
Dietrich also crusades against those who falsely claim to speak to dead relatives of vulnerable grieving citizens. Early on, Dorothy Dietrich realized that there were those who would use magic and various deceptive arts to manipulate and even cheat people out of money. So following in the footsteps of famous debunkers who came before her, such as Houdini, Milbourne Christopher and James Randi, she takes on such a role where possible. She has a $10,000.00 reward for anyone who says they can contact the spirit of Houdini. One who tried recently was Canadian television "medium" Kim Dennis, who had contacted the Houdini family claiming she was getting messages from Houdini.*A recent article in the Tennessee Star Journal stated October 29, 2014, "Houdini exposed numerous phony mediums and inspired other magicians to follow suit. The Amazing Randi, Dietrich, Penn & Teller and Dick Brookz are magicians that have exposed these unscrupulous mediums. According to Dietrich, mediums are thriving today in the U.S. and Europe. Dietrich doesn't mince her words in her criticism of "psychics" Sylvia Brown, Lisa Williams and John Edwards, who she cites as examples of mediums that are taking advantage of grieving people who are seeking to communicate one last time with their deceased loved one ... "We had a man come into our museum not long ago who had been to a phony medium," said Dietrich. "They tried to get him to take a substantial amount of money from the bank and bring it to them. They told him the money was cursed and they were going to cleanse the money of the curse." According to Dietrich, the mediums were attempting to scam the man with an old switch con in which they take the money and bundle it up. The mediums then tell the victim of their scam to take the bundle home and put it in his freezer and not to look at the money for 30 days. After 30 days, when he looks in the freezer he will realize they switched the bundles and his bundle contains no money. By then the con artists are long gone with the victim's money. Dietrich attempted to persuade the gentleman to contact the police, but he refused and told her the "psychics" know where he lived."
Dietrich also sends out the world's only continuous traveling Houdini exhibit. Besides featuring it as part of her many shows, it has also traveled to corporations, banks, and casinos.
On September 27, 2011 a group she formed, that came to be known in the media as The Houdini Commandos, secretly replaced the statuary bust at Houdini's grave site that had been missing due to vandalism for 36 years. This was reported in a half-page story worldwide in the New York Times on October 24, 2011. Her world-famous attraction, Scranton's Houdini Museum that she runs with mystery entertainer Dick Brooks, has been asked by both the family of Houdini and the management of the cemetery to take over the upkeep of the grave that has been in disarray for many years. In 2013 she petitioned The Society of American Magicians, magic's most prestigious and wealthiest organization, thanks to Houdini, to help take over the care of the grave site, which they agreed to by unanimous vote. Dietrich commented on this, "I will not live forever, but The Society of American Magicians will!" Because of their work over the years, in 2016 Dietrich and Brooks were given the highest honor that can be bestowed on any magician: The Society of American Magicians rare Presidential Citation for their work in promoting the art of magic.
Long considered by film buffs as lost, Dietrich was aware since her teens that the only copy of Houdini's "The Grim Game" was buried in the apartment of Brooklyn collector Larry Weeks. She had seen it several times along with her partner Dick Brooks and attempted to acquire it from him several times to no avail. Finally with the help of a film producer she got him to turn it over to Turner Classic Movies, who then put up the funding to have it professionally restored and commissioned two new movie scores to be added to the film. Turner flew Dietrich and Brookz to Hollywood to introduce the film as the climax to their week long yearly film festival. As part of the festival Turner asked Dorothy to perform a challenge strait jacket escape for which she got a standing ovation. Larry Weeks, who was ill and 96 years old sadly died about 5 months before the showing in March. As a tribute to Mr. Weeks she demonstrated a trick vest of Houdini's that she had acquired from Weeks as a teenager. Dietrich and Brookz are featured on the second title card of the restored film, which was shown on television the following October. The two are proud to say, "because of our efforts more people and future magicians will now see Houdini's best work, than saw him in his entire lifetime!"
Just a few of the television shows in which she has appeared include:The World's Greatest Escapes as "Special Guest Star" on a Home Box Office Special starring Tony Curtis
The Tom Snyder Show along with Kiss
The Montel Williams Show
Twice with Rich Little on You Asked For It
The Travel Channel's Magic Road Trip
The Travel Channel's Mysteries at the Museum
TV Land's Myths & Legends
PBS On The Pennsylvania Road
PBS Strange and Unusual Museums
Exploring The Unknown
Biography Channel's Dead Famous-Houdini
Just For The Record, The Best of Everything
Behind The Scenes with Jonathan Winters
Klein Time with Robert Klein
Man and His Mysteries with Dick Van Patten
Jean-Pierre Ferland's Autobus du Canada - CBC (three segments)
KDKA Pittsburg Evening News Bullet Catch Story
OLN Canada Steve Santini's Deals From The Dark Side, also shown in Australia, England, and in the USA on the SyFi Channel
Mentioned in a 3-minute bullet catch segment on House MD. Year 8, Segment 8, Perils of Paranoia 2012.
"Mysteries At The Museum" 2012 Houdini Mirror Cuffs
Huff Post TV 2013 on Houdini's Birthday
NPR 2013 Weekend edition on the Trials and Tribulation of being a woman in a man's field.