Friday, April 18, 2014

Stephen Saracco plays Andy Rohan in Houdini miniseries

IMDb has revealed a new character and cast member for the Houdini miniseries. Hungarian actor Stephen Saracco will play Andy Rohan, the Chicago police Lieutenant who in 1899 manacled Houdini with handcuffs and irons in his Chicago headquarters. Houdini remained good friends with Rohan, who later arranged for Houdini to give private performances for his Chicago detectives during which he acted as Houdini's MC.

Saracco says that he's "very happy to be a part of [the miniseries]."

In the 2006 book, The Secret Life of Houdini, much is made of the fact that Rohan was friends with U.S. Secret Service chief John E. Wilkie, and this is used to bolster the idea that Houdini worked as a spy (a theory I don't support, despite my epic respect for author William Kalush). Possibly Rohan's presence is a sign that the miniseries is going down this spy route? Or it could be that the 1899 Chicago escape, which garnered Houdini some of his first press, will feature prominently in the miniseries.

Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. The 4-hour miniseries is directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer.

By the way, shouldn't we be seeing some promotion on this by now? It's been reported that the miniseries will air next month. Let's get the party started, HISTORY!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hardeen dials in Radio of 1950

Here is a magnificent unpublished photo of Hardeen performing Houdini's "Radio of 1950" illusion. This comes from the collection of our good friend Mark Willoughby and there is a lot to love about this image.


First off, I'm struck by how much Dash looks like Houdini in this shot. It it wasn't for the hair, you could almost mistake this for Houdini. This is also the only photo I know of that shows the inside workings of the "radio" apparatus (I'm guessing those light bulbs were illuminated or even blinking). Finally, the assistant here is Hardeen's daughter, Gladys Hardeen (at least that's what it says on the back of the photo), and it's a rare shot of her.

I don't know much about Gladys Hardeen. Her passport application says she was born February 15, 1902 and Genii reported her death in Daytona, Florida on February 17, 1966. But according to Jon Oliver, Dash and Elsie Fozzard married in 1904 (this info came direct from Hardeen's son, Harry Houdini Hardeen). Was Gladys a stepchild? She later assisted Douglas Geoffrey aka Hardeen Jr.

Houdini developed Radio of 1950 for his full evening show of 1925-26. A review of Houdini's first performance of his full evening show in Baltimore called the effect "Radio 1925." Hard to know if this was a mistake or if Houdini later changed the name. In her 2003 booklet, Touring With Houdini, assistant Dorothy Young described how the illusion was staged:

Radio was quite new in 1925. The first commercial station KDKA, had gone on the air in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania just five years earlier. So a magic trick about radio was a very up-to-the-minute feature.

To present the illusion of Radio of 1950, Houdini walked around and behind an empty table in the center of the stage so the audience could see there were no mirrors underneath. Then two assistants put the "radio" on top, completely filling the table.

"I would like to present my original conception of what radio will be like in 25 years." Houdini said, "Tune in to any station and get the girl you want. No, gentlemen, it is not for sale."

He opened the entire front, which consisted of two doors, and removed a panel that held various coils and transformers and large glass tubes the size of light bulbs that were used before transistors were invented. The audience could see there was nothing else inside. He replaced the panel and closed the front.

"Now," he said, "we will tune in Pittsburg Station KDKA." He began twisting the dials. Suddenly a voice from the radio speaker announced, "Miss Dorothy Young, doing The Charleston." That was my cue. As the orchestra started playing that popular jazz dance, I threw open the lid, popped up my head at one end and kicked one leg up in the air. I kicked the other leg, clicked my feet together, jumped up, and curtsied. Houdini opened the front of the radio, lived me down, and I went into a wild Charleston as the audience laughed and applauded.

Hardeen inherited the effect after Houdini's death and featured it in his own show. After he died, it was put up for sale for $125 along with other Hardeen-Houdini apparatus. Today the whereabouts of the Radio of 1950 illusion is unknown.

Below is a shot of Houdini himself doing Radio of 1950, showing the appearance of "Radio Girl" Dorothy Young. And if you're dying to know how this trick was done, check out Patrick Culliton's Houdini The Key (page 402). He gives a very good explanation of the method.


Thanks to Mark Willoughby for sharing this special photo and for the intel on Gladys Hardeen.

Related:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

James Randi documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival

Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom's documentary about the life and work of James "The Amazing" Randi, An Honest Liar, will have its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, April 18-25.

With a life and occupation not unlike Harry Houdini's, "The Amazing" Randi set out to shame fakers and sub-par psychics with his performances. But going beyond his bewitching story, the investigative documentary, An Honest Liar, takes a closer look at the deceptive escapade that became his life-long career.

Randi is one of my heroes and one of the great men of magic, so I'm very excited about this doc. Check out the all-new trailer below.




For more information and some great photos of Randi during his career, visit the official website for An Honest Liar.

Related:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ITV announces The Magic of Houdini with Alan Davies

ITV in the UK have (officially) announced details of their upcoming documentary, Perspectives: The Magic of Houdini with Alan Davies. The show will air in the UK this Easter Sunday, April 20 at 10:00pm - 11:00pm. Here is the full press release and some images of Alan thanks to ITV:

Perspectives: The Magic of Houdini with Alan Davies

“I’ve always liked magic. I had a pack of cards when I was a kid and a book of tricks – even a wand. As a kid growing up in the seventies, you couldn’t turn the television on without somebody sawing a lady in half. But of course, the magician who intrigued me the most was Harry Houdini.” - Alan Davies

"My brain is the key that sets me free" - Harry Houdini

Having had a fascination with the world of magic since he was a boy, Alan Davies explores the extraordinary life of illusionist and stunt performer, Harry Houdini, the man who against the odds became one of the most successful entertainers in the world.

In a bid to understand why Houdini felt compelled to perform such terrifying death defying acts, Alan visits New York where the young Eric Weiss [ahem] arrived as a child with his Hungarian immigrant family, made his entry into show business and ultimately performed some of his most death-defying stunts. Immersing himself in the world of Houdini, Alan tries to hold his breath under ice cold water, lies on a bed of nails, gets strung upside down in a straitjacket and takes an exclusive look at David Copperfield's priceless collection of Houdini artefacts in Vegas.

Alan talks to Houdini enthusiasts and delves into the family history of a man driven to conquer his rivals and be the very best. And the star of Jonathan Creek reveals he learnt very few tricks of the trade creating illusions in the drama but marvels at the lengths Houdini, and his modern counterparts, go to protect their illusions.

From his most famous escapology stunt the Chinese Water Torture Cell to the momentous showdown of the Daily Mirror Challenge performed at London's Hippodrome, this film takes a journey through the life of the diminutive magician born Erich Weiss [ahem!].

Says Alan: "For Houdini it really was mind over matter...it is amazing what he could withstand, what he put himself through. Physical discomfort most people would find beyond endurance was routine for him, part of his preparation and training for the cold water escapes when he dropped himself into rivers off bridges. He would submerge himself in ice baths and hold his breath for three minutes.

"I had a bit of a go and half a minute is my absolute limit. I don't really know if could do much more than that. Of course I might be able to do a minute or even two if it came to it but I don't have the inclination to push myself to find out...the thing with Houdini is he was pushing himself to find out his own limits and human limits for endurance and pain."

Directed by Louise Hooper

Executive Producer: Claire Whalley

There is no word yet on a U.S. air-date, although it would certainly make sense for HISTORY to pick this up to help promote their upcoming Houdini miniseries.

Related:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Facts and Chicks checks Houdini

The tumblr blog Facts and Chicks has offered up the following fact and chick. I like everything that's going on here.


By the way, the site sourced my own Houdini biography for this fact. I had nothing to do with the chick.

Young Houdini to be published by Sourcebooks in U.S.

Good news today about Simon Nicholson's upcoming Young Houdini series. It looks like the books will be published in the U.S. by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky with the first book, The Magician's Fire, due out on October 7, 2014.

Not only will the U.S. release be a month before the UK edition, but it will be in hardcover. Cover art (right) is the same as the UK paperback from OUP.

Aimed at readers 10-13, the series features the fictional adventures of a young Houdini in 1886 New York. The concept follows similar successful series such as Young Bond and Young Sherlock Holmes.

You can pre-order the U.S. hardcover edition of Young Houdini: The Magician Fire on Amazon.com.

Thanks to Derry Wilkens and Shifa Kapadwala at Sourcebooks for the cover art.

LINK: Is Hardeen full of ice?

Our good friend Joe Notaro of Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence has uncovered Hardeen's very own version of being "trapped" under ice during a bridge jump, as told in his pitchbook, The Life and History of Hardeen. Hardeen's version isn't quite as dramatic as his brother's harrowing adventure, but that's the story of Hardeen's life, isn't it?

One wonders if Hardeen's story is any more true than Houdini's. It would be interesting if Hardeen's story is what inspired Houdini to create his own far more dramatic version. Or maybe the brothers shared stories just as they shared props and poster art, etc.

Click on over to Joe's blog and read all about Hardeen's own under-the-ice exploit.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why does Jerry Seinfeld think Houdini was impotent?


Seinfeld is a television classic that will probably run in syndication forever. This is not the best news for Houdini. Because in Episode #65, "The Mango", there is this exchange between George and Jerry on the topic of erectile dysfunction:

JERRY
You know it happens to everybody. Happened to Houdini, and he could get out of a trunk underwater with his hands in chains. But he had a problem with that.

Later George returns to the subject...

GEORGE
Hey, is that a joke about Houdini?
JERRY
No.
GEORGE
Well if Houdini couldn't do it, what chance do I have!?

So why does Jerry Seinfeld think Houdini was impotent?

The answer has everything to do with when this episode was made. "The Mango" was taped on Tuesday, August 17, 1993 (directly across the street from where I'm writing this now) and aired on September 16, 1993. At that time a new Houdini biography had just been released in the UK, The Life And Many Deaths of Harry Houdini by Ruth Brandon. This was the first major Houdini biography in several years, and in it Brandon engaged in some amateur psychology as to why the Houdinis didn't have children and why Harry wrote love letters to Bess. On page 52 the author states:

One can only conjecture as to the reason for this childlessness. […] Infertility is not uncommon. But my own guess, based on his effusive daily--sometimes thrice-daily--outpouring of love-declarations--is that Houdini may have been impotent. Why all those protestations? What was so wrong that he had to keep proclaiming his devotion? Was this constant need to reassure both Bess and himself?

This salacious "revelation" was treated as a hook and featured in book reviews and in interviews with the author. Brandon also chirped her theory in the 1993 BBC documentary, Houdini, The Life of the World's Greatest Escapologist. It was in this environment that the Seinfeld writers wrote what at the time was a topical reference to Houdini's "impotency."

Of course, the reason the Houdinis didn't have children was because Bess suffered from a medical condition that prevented it, information that was shared with me by her niece, Marie Blood. (You can read more about that here.)

Brandon's theory received a dose of cold water when Kenneth Silverman revealed evidence of an extramarital affair Houdini had with Charmian London in his own biography, Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (1996). Now the pendulum may have a swung a bit too far the other way with Houdini sometimes portrayed as a bit of a Lothario (we'll see how the upcoming Houdini miniseries handles all this).

It's too bad this blip in Houdini history had to be immortalized in pop culture. True or false, it's just not the kind of thing you want people to know!


Related:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Houdini's house then and now

Here is a photo of Houdini's house at 278 West 113th Street in Harlem, New York. This comes from the collection of John C. Hinson and appears to be the house during Houdini's own time. The house still stands today and still looks much the same. However, in Houdini's day you can see that the top floor had an open balcony, and the rooftop has now been enclosed, probably to contain modern heating and plumbing equipment.

Also notice there is someone looking out the window. Who might this be?

278 in Houdini's time.
278 in 2005.

Soon I will share some interesting details about what happened to 278 after Bess sold the house in 1927. For other look at the house today, click here for a Google street view.

Thanks as always to John Hinson.

Related:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Houdini the young runner

This is an excerpt from Houdini's 1925-26 full evening show program highlighting his early days as a runner. Athletics were a true passion of young Ehrich Weiss. What I like about this is it shows an uncommon shot of the young Houdini in the uniform of the Allerton Club, which pre-dates the more well-known shot of him from the Pastime Athletic Club. I also find it interesting that it states Houdini "is not a believer in Prohibition," which was the law of the land at the time.


You can read more about Houdini's pre-magic days as a young athlete HERE.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Houdini in FLIM-FLAM at the Malibu Playhouse in June

An all-new Houdini play is set to premiere at the Malibu Playhouse in Malibu, CA, June 20 - August 3, 2014. FLIM-FLAM is written by Gene Franklin Smith and directed by Thomas James O’Leary. Here's a description:

In the summer of 1922, Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle team to investigate psychic mediums for the Scientific American committee. Their friendship is challenged when Conan Doyle champions a beautiful and seductive psychic as authentic. Houdini is determined to prove that she is a phony, until she appears to make contact with Houdini’s beloved dead mother, and he must confront his own beliefs about life-after-death.

The Malibu Playhouse is located at 29243 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265. It doesn't look like tickets are available just yet, but I will keep on top of this and, of course, I will be reviewing it for WILD ABOUT HARRY.

For more visit the Malibu Playhouse website. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks to Mark Willoughby for discovering the one.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Michael Redhill is 'Saving Houdini'

A new work of Houdini fiction is heading our way May 20, 2014. Saving Houdini by Michael Redhill is published by HarperCollins Canada and appears to mix magic and time travel. Here's a synopsis:

A classic adventure story set in historic Toronto—with a dash of humour and a lot of heart

Dashiel Woolf is ecstatic when famous magician Bloom the Beguiler brings him onstage during a special performance to mark the eighty-fifth anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death. But a century-old trick invented by Bloom’s grandfather goes inexplicably wrong—sending Dash back to 1926. Wandering the historic streets of Toronto, he barely recognizes his city but with the help of his new friend, Walt, he hatches a plan to invent the trick that will transport him home. In doing so, they just might prevent the Great Houdini from taking part in the event that ended his life, possibly changing history forever.

At the moment, Saving Houdini is only available for pre-order at the Canadian Amazon.ca. Here's hoping it appears on the U.S. and UK Amazon sites by publication.

Thanks to Michael Redhill for this first look at the cover art.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Houdini's grand finale: 3 Shows In 1

Today, April 6, is Houdini's "adopted" birthday. So I thought this was a good day to look back at his last great career metamorphosis.

"3 Shows In 1" program.
It might come as a surprise to learn that if you saw Houdini at the peek of his career, you would not be seeing him in his own theatrical show as magicians perform today. Back in his time, seeing Houdini meant seeing him as part of a Vaudeville program -- a show that would include a dozen or more Variety acts. Houdini's time on stage was only ever about 20-30 minutes long.

While contemporaries like Thurston and Blackstone toured with their own full evening shows, Houdini remained in Vaudeville. But Vaudeville was the mass entertainment of it's time, and not only was Houdini at one point the highest paid performer in American Vaudeville, but he dominated the circuits and the cities in which he played. It could be said that part of Houdini's all-eclipsing fame had to do with the fact that he appeared on more stages and in more cities more often than any other major magician of that time.

But Vaudeville as the most popular form of mass entertainment began to decline with the rise of movies in the late teens and '20s (the major Vaudeville houses eventually became movie theaters), and in 1925 Houdini decided to make the transition to a full evening show of his own.

Houdini threw himself into the effort, teaming with renowned theatrical manager, L. Lawrence Weber. Advanced publicity touted the partnership: "'L. Lawrence Weber Presents' is the highest endorsement any attraction can possibly have and Mr. Weber's presentation of Houdini promises to be the most novel and gorgeous entertainment of its kind ever seen." Houdini commissioned a musical score and hired new assistants (8 total). Bess made the costumes. The show's apparatus filled 50 crates and was hauled in a 60 foot railway car.

"Some of the magicians thought I was going to use a lot of women in my forthcoming show and they are trying to beat me to it. They have been misinformed. I am going to specialize in Houdini stuff." 
- Houdini on his full evening show

The show opened for a 3-night run at the Maryland Theater in Baltimore on August 31, 1925 (a full review of this performance was reproduced in Genii, October 1962). In December it arrived in New York and played on Broadway, first at the Shubert Theater on 44th St. and then the National on 41st. Street.

Houdini billed the evening as "3 Shows In 1." In many ways it was the culmination and a celebration of his entire career. The two and a half hour show (with two 10 minute intermissions) opened with Houdini arriving on stage to Pomp and Circumstance. The curtain was a gigantic tapestry made up of ribbons and awards that Houdini had been presented during his career.

Nothing up his sleeves.
The first of the "3 Shows" (Acts) was Magic. To prove there was nothing up his sleeves, Houdini would "tear" off the arm sleeves of his tuxedo and perform with bare arms. This section also included illusions that "startled and pleasured your parents and grandparents." Here Houdini did some effects by Dr. Lynn, the first magician young Ehrich Weiss ever saw. He also revived Metamorphosis with Bess (billed a Miss Beatrice Rahner in the program). Ken Silverman observed in Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss that, "It would not exaggerate the novelty of Houdini's 1925-26 show to say that, after a lifetime in magic, it marked his professional debut as a magician."

The second act was Escapes. This was, essentially, his Vaudeville turn, and it was classic Houdini. Here he did the Needles and the Water Torture Cell, or another famous escape, such as the straitjacket or a packing crate challange (he later introduced a Buried Alive stage effect). Act 3, which by many contemporary reports was the strongest part of the show, was devoted to exposing the methods used by fraudulent spirit mediums.

It must have pleased Houdini to read a review in the Dayton Herald which said: "Last season Thurston presented a remarkable entertainment. But Houdini captivated this reviewer in a much greater measure than his predecessor in magic." Max Holden wrote in The Sphinx: "The Houdini show is one of the most interesting I have ever witnessed. The spiritualistic part being worth many times the price of admission."

While no-one could fault Houdini's escapes and spiritualist exposures (Orson Welles recalled Act 3 as being "riveting, like a perverse sort of revival meeting"), his magic did come under fire by some magicians. In Hiding The Elephant, Jim Steinmeyer quotes Chicago magician Vic Torsberg as saying: "Houdini's magic was just a bunch of junk. You know, that push-button German crap. That's what he performed."

Walter Gibson said Houdini intended to tour his full evening show for 10 seasons. But Houdini only completed one full season (36 weeks). His second season opened at the Majestic Theater in Boston in September 1926. Of course, he was struck down on Halloween of that year. An irony is that his 1926 advertising featured Halloween imagery.

Below is an amazing photo of Houdini on the stage of his 3 Shows In 1. He is standing center stage doing card flourishes with Jim Collins who is holding Robert-Houdin's Crystal Casket. Behind him you can see the Water Torture Cell and Jim Vickery. To the left is the prop for "Radio of 1950", from which would appear Dorothy Young. To the right is the cabinet used for "Welcome Summer" and the silks from the "Whirlwind of Colors."

It must have been a heck of a show!

Houdini on stage (click to enlarge).

Thanks to John C. Hinson for the photo of Houdini on stage. "3 Shows In 1" advert from Houdini A Pictorial Life by Milbourne Christopher.

Related:

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dean Robbins - Houdini in Wisconsin

This is a well-done remembrance by Dean Robbins about his "lifelong love affair with The Man Who Walked Through Walls'." It originally aired on Wisconsin Public Radio's Wisconsin Life.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Potter & Potter planning "spectacular" Houdini auction

The catalog for Potter & Potter's April 26th "Spring Magic Auction" is now available for purchase or as a free PDF via their website. As always, there are some nice Houdini items for sale, including a signed Houdini baseball? That's a first to me and, according to the auction description, a first for Potter & Potter as well (Lot 227).

But it's this ad in the back of the catalog that really got my attention. It appears that Potter & Potter are planning a special Houdini auction. There are no details except that it will be a "spectacular auction event." My guess is it will happen in Fall. What a year 2014 is turning out to be!

Click to enlarge.

Visit the Potter & Potter Auctions website for more details on their April 26th Spring Magic Auction.

Adrien Brody talks Houdini in April MANHATTAN


Adrien Brody is on the cover of the April MANHATTAN Magazine along with the tagline: "The NYC native stages a comeback in Houdini." Inside is a profile on Brody by Andrew Myers which includes a nice mention of the upcoming miniseries:

In a conversation with the actor in Los Angeles following the 86th Academy Awards last month, Brody is clearly thrilled to have focused his powers on this particular project: "Harry Houdini is one of my heroes and has been since childhood, not only because he was the greatest magician and escape artist of all time, who escaped the confines of chains onstage, but because of his fearless, adventurous nature," Brody says. "He also escaped the chains of poverty and bigotry—and his audiences and the public understood this grand metaphor."

You can flip through the digital edition at the MANHATTAN website. This a regional magazine, so this same article appears in Modern Luxury's ANGELENO (Los Angeles), RIVIERA (San Diego), MIAMI, etc. But it looks like MANHATTAN is the only one with a mention of Houdini by name on the cover, so...

Adrien Brody's 4-hour Houdini miniseries co-stars Kristen Connolly as Bess and will air on HISTORY in May.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Alan Davies Houdini documentary airs in the UK, April 20

There was a special press screening at The Hippodrome Casino in London today for the new documentary, The Magic of Houdini with Alan Davies. The program will air in the UK on ITV as part if their Perspectives series on April 20, Easter Sunday. No word on a U.S. air date.

Our good friend and Master Locksmith Mick Hanzlik was invited to the screening as the show used his replica Mirror Handcuffs. Mick says they are "keeping tight-lipped about it until closer to air time", but he was able to give a few details:

"Well John, I’m back from the screening. The program is wonderful! Very precise and accurate (apart from a date they got wrong – but nobody would ever know that). Filmed in New York, Las Vegas (Copperfield’s collection!) and the London Hippodrome. Alan Davies is the presenter, who is the star of a TV drama series Jonathan Creek – a magical investigator, and he is very good and knows his subject. My Mirror Cuffs got a good viewing in the Hippodrome segment."

Below is a photo of Alan Davies doing a Q&A after the screening.


Thank you Mick!

Related:

Is that Houdini in The Sims 3?

On Houdini's birthday last week, our friend Michelle Cushing, author of Rosabelle, believe, posted to Facebook this screenshot from the 2009 video game, The Sims 3. Says Michelle:

"This 'gnome' showed up in my Sims 3 game today. While my character put on a magic show, a 'gnome' magically appeared in his hand. The game says the gnome's name is Cranston Boonitz, but I say that's Harry Houdini ... and he showed up just in time for his real-life bday today! Ha!"

I'd say that's definitely Houdini!

Thanks for sharing the discovery Michelle.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Haversat & Ewing dig up Buried Alive!

The second magic auction from Haversat & Ewing Galleries -- the teaming of magic powerhouses David Haversat and Tom Ewing -- is currently live. Once again there are several nice Houdini items for sale, including an original 8-sheet Buried Alive! poster with NO Reserve (Lot #54).

In case you're wondering, this is not the same Buried Alive! poster that recently sold at Heritage Auction House. This poster comes from the private collection of David Haversat and is conserved on rice paper and canvas.

The auction description says that Houdini never performed his Buried Alive. This was the conventional thinking for many years, but Houdini did perform the effect at least once (more on that soon). He also appears to have conceived it as early as 1914.

The auction ends this Saturday April 5th at 5:00 PM EST. Click here to view all the auction lots.

UPDATE: The poster sold for $4,628.75.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Dearest Vincent" - Lost Bessie letter comes home

A few weeks ago a truly incredible letter from Bess Houdini to her nephew Vincent sold on eBay for $434. Vincent Ehrich Hinson was the son of Bessie's closest sister, Marie, and the father of our friend and benefactor, John C. Hinson. I didn't blog about this at the time because there's a story behind this letter and this auction that I couldn't really share until now.

This letter was a cherished part of the Hinson family collection. It was the only letter from Bess that Vincent had saved. But it was recently lost in storage. In fact, John Hinson discovered the loss when he went to make a copy of the letter for me as part of our Hinson Endowment. Then the letter showed up on eBay via a seller that the family did not know.

The good news is the letter is home! The letter was purchased by Houdini collector and close family friend, Jon Oliver (the man who sleeps in Houdini's bed), who returned it to the Hinson family yesterday. I'll let Jon tell the story himself:

A couple of weeks ago, while coming back from New York, I was talking to a friend named David Sigafus on the phone. David is a magician, and he and I were the adopted sons to another magician named Rev. Robert Olson. Rev. Bob was an world expert on Howard Thurston, as well as many others. David and I are both history nuts to ALL things magic, and talk often about things we see or acquire.

David knowing of my fondness for Houdini told me about a letter from Bessie for sale on Ebay. As he described it, he turned on the computer and brought up the link. The letter was addressed to Vincent Hinson, and written in 1935. It was also being offered by a dealer in Mass., near where John Hinson lives.

I was a little shocked because any letters from the Houdinis to any of Marie Hinson's family in that area of the country would be in John Hinson's ownership. Telling David this, I called John and confirmed what my thoughts were, and when after unpacking, I wrote this seller asking him to call me. The next day when he called I tried to explain how the letter belong to John's father and that either a family member took it, or it was stolen at a show.

Becoming a little gruff, he told me he hears that story all the time, and how could he believe me. He was told how Vincent Hinson was John's father, and Bess was his aunt. If he didn't believe me he could check it out himself, and he was given John's number. I also gave him the name of Ray Goullets magic shop in Watertown, and told him Ray will confirm John's honesty.

20 minutes later he called me back and told me he had confirmed my story, but wouldn’t pull the auction.

John called me, and said the guy told him there is really no way John could prove it, but said if John really wanted it back, to put a really high bid on it. Like $5000.00 and if it went over that amount he would eat the difference. My wife Melissa and I talked about this, and agreed the fellow was trying to shill bid it up much over what it was worth.

On the last day of the auction, I placed a $500.00 bid 3 minutes before it was to end. It was enough for it was won for just $400.00

In the listing on Ebay it said there was a Houdini photo with it, that the seller claimed was a copy, and it would go with the letter. Turns out it is an original 11x14 photo of Houdini.

-Jon Oliver

As I said, Jon returned the letter yesterday, but he was able to keep the original Houdini photo, which alone is worth the price of the auction. It's a bit of poetic justice that the seller didn't realize what he had there.

This amazing letter (transcribed below) was written on January 19, 1935 while Bess was living in her Laurel Canyon house in Hollywood ("right here in the mountains it is so beautiful"). Twice she evokes "Gods Will", showing that she was more outwardly religious than her husband. It also shows that she was, ironically, the more literate of the Houdinis. Her letter is not filled with the misspellings and what Ken Silverman calls the "tortured grammar" of her husband's letters. I'm not sure what accounts for the difference as it's unclear if Bess had any more education than Houdini, and she was also raised with German speaking parents.

Bess also makes mention of their "sad memories of Harry's tragedy." This is not a reference to her late husband, but to the premature death of Harry Houdini Hinson. This is an untold story that I will be sharing soon here on WILD ABOUT HARRY.

Below is a wonderful unpublished photo of Vincent Hinson, courtesy of John Hinson. It shows him with the famous Houdini bust and Mirror handcuffs. He is holding a Houdini magic wand. Happily, this photo has remained safe in the family collection. Now his letter is home as well!

Vincent Ehrich Hinson with treasures from his Uncle Harry.

Hollywood Calif Jan. 19 - 35
Dearest Vincent 
        Your letter was a pleasant surprise - you know Vincent it was the most manly letter you had ever written - and you have no idea how pleased I was - it proved to me that no matter what you or any one may say about your fondness for play - you are growing into a fine young serious minded nam - and I am sure you will never fail your parents. I was sorry to hear of your friends death - it was Gods Will - however it is also Gods Will that children should not disobey their parents commands - and it makes me very happy to know that when your parents asked you not to go sleighing - that you obeyed them. You know their sad memories of Harry's tragedy is still very deep - and you must help them never to have cause for any more. It is really very little to give up isn't it? Some day when you become rich you must come to California - and right here in the mountains it is so beautiful - I wish I could have you during your Summer Vacation - but alas it costs too much - but and this is a big but - you will have the entire vacation in Rye - that isn't so bad either is it? And I'm going to whisper a secret to you - keep it to yourself for awhile - maybe if all turns out as we hope it will - we may take a trip to N.Y. this coming July - I did not say anything to your mother or Marie - because I am not yet quite sure that I can take the trip - but as you are one of the men of the house - I can tell you the secret - and you can tell your Dad - but not the women folks - they would take to worrying - and I do not wish to have them worry - but won't it be grand to be together again? I'm all excited about seeing you all again - and I'll bring Satan along - you will love him. 
        Well Dear Vincent - I want to thank you also for your congratulations on my birthday - and write soon - Edward sends his best to you. 
Lots of love from your Aunt Bess
(Mrs. Harry Houdini)

Thanks to John Hinson and Jon Oliver for sharing this remarkable letter and the story behind it.

UPDATE: In case you're wondering who "Satan" was; Jon Oliver tells me it was Bessie's pet marmoset monkey, which was vicious, hence the name.

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