Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fred Pittella inherits Larry Weeks estate

Some important news in the word of magic today. Houdini collector and all around good guy Fred Pittella has inherited the estate of Larry Weeks who passed away in 2014. That's the good news. The bad news is a large portion of Larry's collection, including many important Houdini artifacts, vanished from his apartment following his death. Now that legal hurtles have been cleared, Fred could use some help. Below is the full press release.

Fred Pittella with Larry Weeks and Houdini assistant Dorothy Young.
It’s official. After a two-year long, legal proceeding, Fred Pittella of Queens Village, New York will now inherit the entirety of the Larry Weeks estate.

Unfortunately, there were many items removed from Larry Weeks’ apartments that shouldn’t have been, just as Mr. Weeks was taken ill, in the hospital, and during Mr. Pittella’s battle to have Mr. Weeks laid to rest.

At this time, no one is accusing anyone of anything directly. It could be understood why people may have removed items from the apartment in order to save them from being lost to the State or even thrown in the garbage by the landlord because people did not know Larry Weeks’ had documented his last wishes.

There are quite a number of items missing from The Larry Weeks estate that belong to and are now the sole property of Fred Pittella. These items mysteriously vanished from Mr. Weeks’ apartment. Some of the missing items include, but are not limited to the entire 16mm and 35mm film library which included many historic films (many were Houdini related / over fifty cans of films), The Houdini Spiritualist slide show, a part of the handcuff and key collection (the lineage of this collection will be lost forever, unless it is returned), Houdini books (some signed), Houdini Photos (some signed), other Harry Houdini and Bess Houdini autographs, two Houdini scrapbooks (one oversized and one small), and countless pieces of personal jewelry.

Before the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office gets involved again in a full scale investigation, this would be an opportunity to send anything back anonymously. If anyone has any information or any of the items that were removed from the apartment there will be no-questions-asked policy and no legal action will be taken.

A plea to the magic community for your help to choose not to deal in, purchase, or put up for auction any of these items. Please contact The Supervising Detective Investigator of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office regarding any information:

Robert Addonizio · 350 Jay Street Brooklyn · NY 11201-2908 · 718.250.2444

Mr. Weeks only sold or gave items after consulting with Mr. Pittella. Please use this address to send back items: Forum Novelties Inc. · c/o Fred Pittella · 1770 Walt Whitman Rd. Melville · NY 11747. If you wish to remain anonymous, please put the above address as the return address as well as the delivery address.

Among the films now missing are said to be complete prints of Terror Island and The Mastery Mystery. Larry sold his print of The Grim Game (the only known print in existence) to TCM shortly before his death.


MAGIA 18 celebrates Houdini's 90th

Massimo Polidoro's Italian magic journal MAGIA: La Rivista Italian Di Cultura Magica devotes a large section of the just released issue 18 to the 90th anniversary of Houdini's death. This beautifully produced 162 journal contains articles about Houdini by Polidoro, James Randi, Silvan, and even yours truly (I guess I know Italian!).

MAGIA Numero 18 can be purchased from

Thanks to Massimo for the kind inclusion and my copy (above).


LINK: Hidden Room’s 'Houdini Speaks to the Living’ creates Halloween magic

The Hidden Room's production of Houdini Speaks to the Living has received a glowing review from austin360. The play features Patrick Terry as Houdini and Robert Matney as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It's running now through Oct. 30 at the York Rite Theater in Austin. A free performance will be held at the Harry Ransom Center on Halloween.

Patrick Terry as Houdini. (Photo by Kimberley Mead.)
"Terry’s work as a close-up magician in Houdini Speaks to the Living is immaculate. The play is performed in the Hidden Room’s atmospheric Masonic hall playing space, with the audience surrounding Terry as he conjures his illusions, making his work here all the more impressive. The magic tricks are mostly old classics, but that does not make them any less mind-boggling or, at times, downright spooky, making this a perfect Halloween-season treat."

Click the headline above to read the full review at austin360. Tickets to Houdini Speaks to the Living can be purchased here.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Rare Houdini images from House of Roulx

House of Roulx & Co. is offering limited editions of rare Houdini photos digitally mastered from the original glass negatives. Some are unpublished. Among them is a terrific solo shot of Houdini's dog Charlie. The site says the images are "From the Personal Collection of Harry Houdini." (I recognize them as coming from a 2015 RR auction.)

"From slide to slide, his expression remains the same - a furrowed brow. His thoughts not entirely centered in the moment, but fixed on a distant point. On something just outside the periphery. His next journey into the impossible; the upcoming challenge, his mind working, formulating the route from entrapment to escape."

What interesting about this collection is these all appear to be very personal photos. It's probably why these negatives were kept together. We see Houdini among Bess's family, Harry and Bess holding a baby (some have said this is Marie Blood), and, of course, there's Charlie. But the other photos show Houdini with identified older men. Who are they? Important relatives whose identities have been lost to time? Might these have even been taken in Budapest? A bit of a mystery.


Houdini will get a call from Colon this year

Looks like we can add Colon, Michigan, "the Magic Capital of the World," to the list of locations that will try to summon the spirit of Houdini this year. Ron Carnell, who does a regular comedy magic and dinner show at the River Lake Inn restaurant in Colon, will be adding a special Houdini seance to his show this Saturday, October 29.

"We'll have a forty-five minute comedy magic show first," said Carnell, "Followed by a leisurely dinner, and then conclude the evening with the séance. How long that lasts will ultimately be up to Harry."

The evening will also include a playing of the original recording of the Final Houdini Seance in 1936.

"The Séance might be a little spooky," Carnell says, "But our shows at River Lake always put the emphasis on laughter and fun. If we're successful this year, I suspect we'll discover Harry still has a great sense of humor."

The "Tribute to Houdini" Magic Show and Séance starts at 5:30 p.m. The cost to attend is $29.99, which also includes dinner. Seating is limited, so call (269) 432-2626 or visit the River Lake Magic website for tickets and information.

Below are links to more seance celebrations marking this 90th anniversary of Houdini's death.


Monday, October 24, 2016

S.A.M. Houdini press conference in NYC, Oct. 26

Click to enlarge.
The Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.) will commence National Magic Week and the 90th Anniversary of Houdini's death with a special press conference and luncheon at Sojourn in New York this Wednesday, October 26 at 7 PM.

There will be announcements of all the activities and events taking place throughout New York and the nation to honor the S.A.M.'s "Most Illustrious" past president. The event is free to magicians, illusionists, enthusiasts and fans. Relatives of the Houdini Family will also be in attendance.

To RSVP, contact George Schindler at the number or email listed on the event invite (right).

Sojourn is located at 244 East 79 St. in the building that was once Mrs. Loeffler's Boarding House, the site of Houdini's first New York home. The restaurant will also be the site of the "Original Houdini Seance" on Halloween.

Keep up with all the 90th anniversary Houdini events via #Houdini90th.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Kaiser and the King of Handcuffs tangle in 2017

Yesterday I received my copy of Metamorphosis by Vivianne Perret, the first book in a new french series featuring the adventures of "Houdini Magicien et détective." Even though I don't read French, it still makes a nice addition to my shelf of Houdini fiction, and I was excited to see an advert for Book 2 in the back.

Le Kaiser Et Le Roi Des Menottes ("The Kaiser and the King of Handcuffs") finds Harry and Bess in Berlin in 1900. The book will be released in Spring 2017. As I had expected and hoped, this fictional series roots Houdini in historically accurate times and places. I love this approach.

Metamorphosis is available now via the French and It will be released on Kindle in the U.S. on November 9.

Related posts:

Saturday, October 22, 2016

90 years ago: The beginning of the end

It was 90 years ago today that Harry Houdini was playing at the Princess Theater in Montreal, Canada. He had lectured a few days earlier at McGill University, where he boasted about his ability to withstand blows to his stomach. He even took a blow from a student as a demonstration.

On October 22, Houdini invited two McGill students, Sam Smilovitz (aka Smiley) and Jacques Price, to visit him at the theater. The boys arrived around 11:15 AM. Houdini was nursing a broken ankle, caused by an accident in the Water Torture Cell, so he reclined on his small dressing room couch and read mail while Smiley, an art student, sketched him. Smiley recalled that Houdini was kind, affable, and seemed to be trying "to impress upon us the he was 'one of the boys.'" He also recalled that Houdini appeared to be a man "much in need of a long, carefree vacation."

As Smiley sketched, Houdini spoke. He told them that even though he found film production "highly interesting," he would not return to it. He said that in a year or two he would write a book containing many of his secrets, but would withhold publication for a long time.

That's when a third student named J. Gordon Whitehead was shown into the dressing room. Whitehead was tall (six-foot-one) and spoke, as Smiley recalled, with "an exaggerated Oxford accent." He wore a blue gabardine coat that seemed too small for him. Whitehead was there to return a book Houdini had loaned him. Houdini invited him to have seat with the other boys.

The talkative Whitehead began peppering Houdini with questions. Eventually he asked Houdini his opinion of the miracles mentioned in the Bible. Houdini declined to comment on "matters of this nature." Whitehead then asked if it was true he could withstand blows to his abdomen without injury, a question Smiley said "came out of a clear sky." Houdini said that it was.

Whitehead rose up and started hitting Houdini in the stomach. He delivered several blows that Smiley described as being "terribly forcible, deliberate, well-directed." Eventually Houdini waved him off saying, "That will do."

After the bizarre incident, the boys settled back and Smiley finished his sketch, which Houdini signed and dated for him. Looking at the image, Houdini is reported to have said, "You made me look a little tired in this picture. The truth is, I don't feel so well."

Later that afternoon, Houdini's niece and show assistant Julia Sawyer found him in pain the dressing room. Houdini explained that he had been struck in the stomach by a student before he had a chance to stand and get ready for the blow, "possibly because of a misunderstanding."

Nine days later Houdini would die on Halloween from complications of a ruptured appendix.

Here are collection of links related to Houdini's final days:

Friday, October 21, 2016

'Original Seance' to be held at site of Houdini's first New York home

Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton will hold their "Original Houdini Seance" at the Sojourn Restaurant in New York City on October 31 at 12 PM. Among the attendees will be celebrity mentalist Marc Salem. The seance is open to the public. Admission is free.

The choice of location is a meaningful one. Sojourn is located at 244 East 79 St., in a building that was once Mrs. Loeffler's Boarding House. It was here that young Ehrich Weiss and his father stayed when they first arrived in New York in 1887. Amazingly, the building would still be recognizable to Houdini and his father today.

Dorothy and Dick's "Original" seance (not to be confused with the "Official" seance, which this year is being held in Milwaukee) traces back to Walter B. Gibson, who suggested that Dorothy carry on the annual seance tradition. Along with the American Museum of Magic's "Lox and Bagel" seance, it looks like Houdini is going to have a choice of destination on this 90th year!

Marc Salem's new show "Haunted Mind" will play a special Halloween night event at The Gramercy Theatre at 127 E. 23rd Street in Manhattan.

You can read the full Original Houdini Seance press release at


Houdini starts speaking tonight in Austin

The Hidden Room's production of Houdini Speaks to the Living debuts tonight at 8pm at the York Rite Temple in Austin, Texas. The play runs through October 30. A special free performance will be held at the Harry Ransom Center on Halloween.

Houdini Speaks to the Living stars magician Patrick Terry as Houdini and Robert Matney as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Author Beth Burns took much of the dialogue straight from correspondence, essays, diaries, and books in the Harry Ransom Center’s Houdini and Conan Doyle collections.

Beth recently told the Austin Chronicle: "I've spent so much time with the Ransom Center's incredible collections. I feel like Houdini and Doyle are my roommates now, because I sit with them and look at their correspondence and listen to them bicker. My job was specifically to activate the Houdini collection on the 90th anniversary of his death. And when I found out that Doyle's collection was nearby, we were all set – I've been poring over the documents, and I've learned so much about the two of them."

For more information and to buy tickets visit The Hidden Room website. Below is a promo for the play from the Humanities Media Project.


The House of Houdini Halloween party

David Merlini's House of Houdini Museum in Budapest, Hungary is throwing a special Halloween party on Saturday, October 29th at 8:00 PM. Today is the last day to book, so if you're interested, RSVP to

For more information, check out the event page on Facebook.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

REVIEW: Bob Loomis delivers a Houdini masterclass

Houdini's Final Incredible Secret by Bob Loomis is a masterclass in the study of Houdini and magic history. It's really one of the most remarkable works ever produced on any single magician. This densely packed 323 page book is about a single magic trick that Houdini performed once. That's it! How can that be a book? Well, imagine spending a week in Houdini's home, getting to know every aspect of his personality and his environment, and then travel with him step by step in the trial and error development of a single perfect magic feat. Yes, that's a book!

The trick that is the focus of Bob's 20 year investigation was performed by Houdini for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bernard M.L. Ernst in his New York home in 1922. Only one description of the trick exists, told by eyewitness Ernst in his 1932 book Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of a Strange Friendship (pages 240-245). The trick involved producing the written message "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin" on a chalk slate suspended in the middle of a room in full view of Doyle and Ernst.

Past books have mentioned the famous feat and some have attempted to explain it, including most recently The Secret Life of Houdini. Bob examines and dismisses all previous explanations, which he shows invent or omit key descriptive information to fit their own theories. Bob assigns himself the task of explaining the trick exactly as described by Ernst.

It's clear that Bob is a researcher par excellence (he was the librarian at the Magic Circle in London). It's also clear he delights in doing research. Bob shares that joy by taking the reader step by step through every bit of his own process with lively prose. It might even be too much process for some. But even if one feels lost at times, there are gold nuggets along every part of the trail, so one never dares jump ahead.

I was especially impressed with Bob's overview of Houdini's character (the good and bad) on pages 67-89. Even if one doesn't want to take this full journey, the first section of the book is required reading for anyone with a desire to better understand Houdini. Gold, gold, gold!

So did Bob solve the mystery of Mene Tekel? Well, he certainly offers an explanation that is technically feasible, and he's backed it up with proof that the methods -- and there are several methods at work -- were all familiar to Houdini. The explanation is not simple or elegant. It requires divergent elements to work perfectly in sync, and the possibility of failure seems remarkably high. Maybe that's why Houdini only performed it once.

One aspect of the explanation that I don't think Bob nailed as well as others is how Houdini acquired the message that Doyle wrote several blocks from Houdini's house. Bob offers several scenarios in which confederates on the street could have gotten a peek at the message. But it just seems high risk for Houdini to leave such an essential part of the trick in the hands of others and chance. It also just seems a little improbable that such a complicated and seemingly nonsensical message could be gotten from a glance or by watching the end of a pencil. And would Houdini really be able to canvas the entire neighborhood with confederates, including policemen? Well, this is Houdini we're talking about, so maybe!

To his great credit, Bob takes Ernst at his word and accepts that Houdini not only had to fool Doyle, but Ernst as well (who remained with Houdini at all times). But I'm not entirely convinced Ernst was an innocent observer. He was Houdini's lawyer and confidant (consigliere?) in all matters. My own feeling is he was in on the trick. This would help explain some things. But there I go twisting the stated facts to fit my own ideas, just as others have done in the past. As I said, Bob doesn't give himself that luxury. As impossible as it all seems, Bob shows us that the impossible was possible.

In the end, whether or not you fully agree with all of Bob's findings, you'll still agree that this is a remarkable book. In Houdini's Final Incredible Secret, Bob Loomis not only teaches us how Houdini did it, but he also gives a lesson in how to research Houdini and magic history in a meticulous and ethical way. It's a book that deserves a standing ovation.

You can purchase Houdini's Final Incredible Secret at (U.S.) and (UK).


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Houdini pinball playfield shown in Chicago

Houdini and pinball collector Robert Somerdin shares with us this photo he took of the playflield for American Pinball's upcoming Houdini pinball machine. This was displayed at the Chicago Pinball Expo last weekend. Robert points out that it's still a prototype and subject to change, but it looks pretty cool! And is that Tony Curtis' "Pagoda Torture Cell" back there?

Click to enlarge.

The game, to be called "Houdini Master Mystery", was announced last month at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas.

Thanks Robert!

UPDATE: Here now is video:


Monday, October 17, 2016

Official Houdini Seance to be held in Milwaukee

The Official Houdini Seance will be held this year at the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The event is being co-hosted by Dead Man's Carnival, a Milwaukee based Vaudevillian, Circus, and Burlesque show. Below are details.

"The Offical Houdini Seance" & "Dead Man's Carnival" are proud to present this tribute to the worlds most famous magician on the 90th anniversary of his death.

As many know, in his later life Houdini had been a crusader against fraudulent mediums. Making it his personal mission to expose con artists who prey on grief stricken family with claims of contacting departed loved ones. He also vowed to prove once and for all if contacting the afterlife was possible. Promising that if there was any way to escape from the afterlife he would find it. He created secret codes only known to a few fellow magicians, friends, and relatives. With this fail safe against trickery he planned to alert them from the world beyond.

Each year on the anniversary of his passing fans honor his life and legacy with a sincere spiritualistic séance in attempt to make contact.

The program will also include expert discussion of Houdini’s life, magical entertainment, and live era approperate music from our house band "The Magnificents".

The Official Houdini Seance takes place on Oct. 31 at the Oriental Theatre on 2230 N. Farwell Ave. The show begins at 7:00 p.m. and continues through 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and will be available soon. 
For more information, visit the event's Facebook Page.

Milwaukee makes a nice choice of location for the 90th year seance. Young Ehrich Weiss spent several formative years in the city. He even worked as a messenger boy and shoe shine on the streets. Maybe this year he'll come home.

Keep up with all the 90th anniversary Houdini events via #Houdini90th.

UPDATE: Tickets are now available HERE. Also, here's the official poster. Slick.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

How "The Houdinis" became "Houdini"

When Harry and Bess set out on their showbiz careers in 1894, they billed themselves as "The Houdinis." But by the time they achieved their first success under Martin Beck's management in 1899, the act was now billed as just HOUDINI.

I've often wondered how and when that change occurred? Was it Beck's idea to sideline Bess in the billing? That might have been an awkward conversation, especially as we know Houdini feared Bess's "brainstorms."

But now I've stumbled on an article from the March 15, 1908 Pittsburgh Post Gazette Sun which, incredibly, describes that very conversation. As with other articles that focus on Bess -- "a little brown-haired bit of humanity" -- it's filled with oddities. Houdini introduced her onstage as his sister? But it also features a knockout shot of Bess and their dog Charlie that I've not seen before.

I know the image quality is poor, so I've also excerpted the relevant paragraph below, but the entire article is worth the read if you can.

Click to enlarge.

"Harry," said the wife one day. "I have never known a act billed as 'Mr. and Mrs.' to succeed. Can you think of one?" He thought awhile and then shook his head in negation. "Well," said she, "suppose you bill yourself just as Houdini and leave me out of it." To make a long story short, the following week, "Mr. and Mrs. Houdini" disappeared from the program and the single word Houdini had taken their place. From that time dates the rising tide of Houdini's fortune.

So is this true? Who knows. Bessie was as much a myth-maker as her husband. Remember the interview in which she talked about her daughter? But it's still a great tidbit.

Check out the links below for more tales from The Houdinis early career.



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