Saturday, March 25, 2017

Houdini Torture Cell photo escapes with $889

A terrific original photo of Houdini inside his Water Torture Cell sold for $889.20 (including 17% buyer's premium) at Haversat & Ewing's "Houdini's Birthday Auction" today. The photo shows the cell on stage flanked by assistants Franz Kukol, Jim Collins and James Vickery. (The fourth assistant is unknown to me.)


What makes this shot extra special is we see Houdini inside the inner cage, or what he called "the steel grill." This appears to have been later removed from the escape. I believe this photo has only ever appeared in Milbourne Christopher's' Houdini A Pictorial Life, and that image does not have the clarity seen here.

This latest Haversat & Ewing auction contained several other nice Houdini lots. A two-page letter on rare stationary with excellent content ("Do you know in my hardship days I NEVER borrowed a single dollar!!!!!!!!!") went for $6,142. A pair of vanishing umbrellas owned by Houdini took $1,099. Even I was able to land a 1925 "Beware" pitchbook (I've been after one of these).

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Houdini finds 'Guilty Pleasures' in Columbus

A Houdini skit is part of the sketch comedy show Guilty Pleasures now playing at Shadowbox Live in Columbus, OH. A review in The Columbus Dispatch calls it "a tightly structured tale of what happens when Houdini (Jimmy Mak) comes home to his impatient wife (Leah Haviland) after yet another near-death experience."


Guilty Pleasures plays on Fridays and Saturdays through June 3. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

Thanks to @ShadowboxLive for the image.

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American Pinball unveils 'Houdini' in Texas

American Pinball unveiled their new "Houdini Master of Mystery" pinball machine at the Texas Pinball Festival yesterday (Houdini's birthday). This is an all-new design from what was shown in Las Vegas last year. Below are photos from @TOpinhead on Twitter.


You can learn more about "Houdini Master of Mystery" at the American Pinball website and Facebook page.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Happy Birthday Houdini!

Today is Harry Houdini's 143rd birthday. He was born Ehrich Weiss on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary to Mayer Samuel and Cecilia Steiner Weiss. As I do each year, I will gather a collection of birthday greetings from around the web and link below. (Send me your own link.) Also check out Twitter #Houdini, #HarryHoudini and #HappyBirthdayHarryHoudini.

"Is this any way to treat a guy on his birthday?"

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Houdini direct from Hollywood

This autograph album page sold at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury‏ today for £1,612 ($2,018). I love the inscription. Houdini had just completed Terror Island and was embarking on his first tour of the UK in six years. Bradford was his first stop. During this tour he took pride in presenting himself as a freshly minted movie star -- "direct from Hollywood."


This image was shared on Twitter @DreweattsBlooms.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ed Saint considered holding a Houdini seance at the Winchester Mystery House in 1938


Recently collector and magic dealer Jim Rawlins showed me a fascinating letter from Arthur Hinson, Vice President of the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians, to Edward Saint. The letter is dated May 24, 1938, and in it Hinson mentions that Saint and P.C.A.M. president Caryl Fleming recently discussed the possibility of holding a Houdini seance at the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. He writes:

I think the idea as far as publicity for the P.C.A.M., Mrs. Houdini and the Winchester House, would be very fine and all probabilities handled right, might hit the press syndicate. Will you please advise me as to your idea on this matter? Also the time and date of such proposed seance.

This is interesting for a few reasons. First, it's yet another connection between Houdini and this famous landmark of spiritualistic folly (which Houdini himself visited in the 1920s). But it also shows that Ed and Bess might not have been all that committed to the idea that the Final Houdini Seance, held in Hollywood in 1936, was all that final. We know Saint was tempted on more than one occasion to revive the Houdini seances, legit and otherwise.

But considering this seance never happened, it's possible Bess and Ed decided it wasn't right to do another seance after the expiration of the 10 year compact.

The Winchester Mystery House eventually did host a Houdini seance when the Society of American Magicians Assembly No. 94 held what they called a "50th anniversary" seance in 1977. As far as I know, Harry stayed away.

Thanks to Jim Rawlins. Be sure and check out Jim's recently redesigned Magic Collectibles website.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

'Mrs. Houdini' arrives in paperback

The paperback edition of Mrs. Houdini by Victoria Kelly is released today in the U.S. by Washington Square Press.

Before escape artist Harry Houdini died, he vowed he would find a way to speak to his beloved wife, Bess, from beyond the grave using a coded message known only to the two of them. But when a widowed Bess begins seeing this code in seemingly impossible places, it becomes clear that Harry has an urgent message to convey. Unlocking the puzzle will set Bess on a course back through the pair’s extraordinary romance, which swept the illusionist and his bride from the beaches of Coney Island, to the palaces of Budapest, to the back lots of Hollywood. When the mystery finally leads Bess to the doorstep of a mysterious young photographer, she realizes that her husband’s magic may have been more than just illusion.

Released in hardcover in March of last year, Mrs. Houdini was named one of "The 12 Best New Books of 2016" by Entertainment Weekly. It is Victoria Kelly's first novel.

You can purchase Mrs. Houdini in paperback at Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK release date April 20). For more about the author visit www.victoriakellybooks.com.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ragtime at Ford's Theatre through May 20

Ragtime the Musical is now playing through May 20 at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. In this production Houdini is played by Christopher Mueller.


Ford's Theater is, of course, the site of the Abraham Lincoln assassination. As Houdini was a great admirer of the 16th president, this seems like an especially appropriate place to see this production.

For show dates and ticket information visit the Ford's Theatre website.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Houdini's plan to fight a shark


In the summer of 1916, Houdini announced a publicity stunt like no other; he would fight a man eating shark!

The story starts on July 14, 1916, when the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that the remains of a young boy, Lester Stillwell, had washed up in Matawan, N.J. Witnesses reported seeing a shark in the vicinity. One fisherman even took at shot at it. In a scene right out of Jaws, the news caused fear among beachgoers and a frenzy of shark hunting and false reports of the shark's capture. 

In the midst of all this, the following item appeared in Variety:


United Booking Offices was the all-powerful booking agency wing of the Keith-Albee-Orpheum vaudeville circuit, on which Houdini was a headliner. Houdini was appearing at the Brighton Theater in Brighton Beach during the week of July 24. He then moved to Keith's in Atlantic City for the week of July 31. Houdini was 42 in 1916, not an ideal age for shark fighting. Nevertheless, on August 4th, Billboard reported that Houdini had found his man-eater:


Houdini's shark stunt never happened. Maybe he could not come terms with the shark salesman. It's also possible the entire thing was cooked up for publicity. But shark fighting was still on Houdini's mind in November when he explained his shark killing technique, learned from South Sea Islanders, to the Cincinnati Star:

"The secret is this: When you dive for the shark, you hold in your left hand a stick of wood with a [sharped] point at each end and a piece of cloth tied to each to attract the shark. The big fish turns on his back to attack you and you point the stick at him. He opens his jaws to bite off your arm and you thrust the two pointed stick into his mouth. He closes his jaws and they are caught tight on the points. Then you use your right hand to rip open his body. Quite easy when you know how."

Interestingly, news of this same type of stunt appears to have again surfaced during Houdini's silent movie days. In my own collection I have a letter Houdini wrote to a Col. Flinn dated August 8, 1919, in which he states:

The shark stunt is on the square, so don't let that worry you, even if all the papers copied the advert.

Digging a little deeper, it's possible Houdini's shark fighting idea was originally sparked by the Williamson Bros Submarine Film Co., who had planned to make a film with Houdini. One of their films featured a "Death battle between a man and a man-eating shark." Coincidentally, an ad for that film appeared right beside Houdini own advertisement in the April 4, 1915 Cincinnati Enquirer Sun (below).

Click to enlarge.

Real or not, I'm happy this stunt never materialized. It seems fool-hearted and cruel and I don't think it would be a feat we'd celebrate Houdini for today. Give me vanishing elephants instead.

Below are links to a few more aborted Houdini stunts.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

LINK: The Magic of Houdini

National Public Radio WFUV has a nice show today about Houdini with a visit to the Houdini Museum of New York and interviews with Roger Dreyer and George Hardeen (nice to hear him shoot down the silly poisoning theory).

Click the headline to have a listen at WFUV.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

'Our Magic' and the music of Houdini (update)

Recently I watched the 2014 documentary Our Magic. It's a pretty good doc that I'd recommend, and the credits offer up a Houdini surprise. As you can see below, the documentary used several "original songs from the musical The Great Houdini: Don't Break The Spell."


I've never heard of this musical and a Google search turns up nothing. Does anyone out there have any info on The Great Houdini: Don't Break The Spell?

Our Magic can be streamed at Amazon Video.

UPDATE: The following comes from Howard Berman:

The original music used in the documentary was written by Jonathan Astor and myself.

Jonathan adapted/re-scored instrumental parts of songs, composed for a musical, for which we also wrote the lyrics.

The musical is still being developed. As you know, there have been so many aborted or failed Houdini musical projects over the years...we're trying everything in our power to get this right!

Thank you, Howard.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Potter & Potter photo reveals Mama (still) in Europe

The catalog for Potter & Potter's Spring Magic Auction is now available as a free PDF or printed copy for purchase from their website.

As promised, the auction contains a fair amount of Houdini material, including this original unpublished photo of Houdini, Mama and Bess taken in "Berlin Germany June 1901." This image challenges the long accepted belief that Cecilia Weiss's first trip to Europe was from April to May 1901. Either Houdini has this wrong or we do!

One of the reasons this matters is that biographers struggle to pinpoint the date of the famous "queen for a day" reception at the Royal Hotel in Budapest, which reportedly took place during Mama's first visit. Most have relied on the not very reliable Kellock biography and wedge it between Houdini's closing in Hamburg (end of April) and his opening in Essen Ruhr (beginning of May). But if this photo is accurate and Mama was still around after Houdini's Essen Ruhr engagement, it opens up new possibilties for the Budapest trip. Unfortunelty, the Royal Hotel, which still exists today, has no record of Houdini's visit.

Potter's & Potter's Spring Magic Auction takes place at 10:00 am on Saturday, April 8th at their Chicago gallery and online via LiveAuctioneers. As previously reported, the auction will also include Bess Houdini's famous "Royal Crown Brooch" (link below).

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Secret Life of Houdini screenplay reviewed

Here's one that's a spoiler if Lionsgate's The Secret Life of Houdini movie ever gets made. If not, then we have a record of what might have been. Either way, if you're curious to know what the Hollywood brain trust has cooked this time (at least as far as a draft dated May 13, 2011), here's a taste from the website Scriptshadow:

Houdini starts out like you think any biopic would start out. We get one of those oft-used cross-cuts between the present (Houdini trying to salvage a buried-alive trick gone wrong) and the past (Houdini as a child stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family). I figured I was in for one long biopic retread. 
But then things get weird. President Woodrow Wilson calls Houdini and tells him that his 28 year-old daughter, Margaret, has been kidnapped by someone in France. Wilson believes Houdini’s unique talents make him the perfect agent to go and retrieve his daughter. 
Looking for a new challenge, Houdini teams up with Wilson’s stuffy lackey, Andrew Day, and the two seahorse their way to La Francoise. Once there, Houdini calls upon old friend (and rival) Chung Ling Soo, a famous magician who’s been known to publicly roast Houdini. But no worries, it’s all for show, as is Chung himself, who’s actually, under all the make-up, a white American!

If you want to read on, then check out the full review at Scriptshadow HERE. The site also has a review of a 2003 script called The Book of Magic that teams Houdini and H.P. Lovecraft.

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Peepolykus blend Houdini and Dracula on the BBC

The UK comedy troupe Peepolykus have created a radio play that mixes Houdini and the story of Dracula. This is part of their ongoing "A Trespasser's Guide to the Classics" and can be heard at BBC Radio 4 for the next 28 days.

In 19th-century Whitby, a magician prepares to compete with Harry Houdini at a major international Magic Convention. When a ship carrying a cargo of fifty coffins runs aground on the town's beach, he suspects Houdini of pulling a huge publicity stunt. 
In this second series, the comedy troupe Peepolykus assume the roles of minor characters in great works of fiction and derail the plot of the book through their hapless buffoonery.

A Trespasser's Guide to the Classics, Series 2, The Neck is written by John Nicholson and Richard Katz and directed by Sasha Yevtushenko.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Tony Curtis channels the young Houdini

From the collection of the mighty Arthur Moses comes this rarely seen publicity photo of Tony Curtis in Houdini (1953). As you can see, they've taken pains to recreate the famous photo of the young Houdini with his magic props.


I've always thought the opening scene in Houdini, in which Harry meets Bess (Janet Leigh) at a Dime Museum, was an homage to this early image. Now we have proof that this photo -- sometimes mistakenly credited as Houdini's first professional photo -- was part of the filmmakers reference materials.


Thanks Arthur.

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