Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Live tweeting from the Midwest Magic History Weekend 2015

This week I'm in Marshall, Michigan for the 2015 Midwest Magic History Weekend. I'm excited to be giving my "Houdini in Hollywood" talk on Thursday night, along with screening a Houdini film. I will then be enjoying the other talks and events, including an escape attempt by Hatari from a genuine Houdini-Hardeen Milk Can during the big show on Saturday night.

It promises to be several days loaded with magic, Houdini, and good friends. Below is my Twitter feed @HoudiniWild where I will do my best to keep you up-to-date with all the magical happenings in Marshall. #MHW

I'll resume normal posting on June 1st.


'Houdini' up for Emmy consideration

HISTORY has included the Houdini miniseries in their 2015 Emmy campaign DVD pack sent out to voting members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Houdini is up for consideration as Outstanding Limited Series; Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series (Adrien Brody); Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series (Kristen Connolly); Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series (Evan Jones); as well as "all other categories."

Nominations will be announced on July 16. Winners will be announced during the live Emmy telecast on September 20, 2015.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Laurel Canyon Houdini Estate homes for lease

The LA Times reports that two houses on the "Houdini Estate" in Laurel Canyon are available for lease at $7,500 and $16,500 a month.

One house is 2,060 square feet and the other is 1,240 square feet. Believe it or not, the smaller house is the one with the larger price tag. It is the beautifully renovated "carriage house" that sits atop the property and contains original Houdini artwork throughout.

Debi Raveh and Adrienne Doty-Carolan of Rodeo Realty are the listing agents.

For a full history of the property and its connection to Houdini, check out my post from 2012: Inside the Laurel Canyon Houdini Estate.

Houdini Plaza turns 30

Today is the 30th Anniversary of Appleton's Houdini Plaza. The plaza was dedicated on May 25, 1985, in a celebration that featured magic performances by members of the Houdini Club of Wisconsin.

The original plaza design centered around an abstract sculpture created by Richard C. Wolter called "Metamorphosis." The original dedication plaque said the plaza was built on the site of the Weiss family home, but that claim has been dropped in recent years.

In 1986, the great Doug and Debbie Henning (right) performed their famous quick-fire version of Houdini's Metamorphosis in the plaza center. You can see a clip of that performance in the 1988 documentary, Houdini: The Greatest Illusionist of All Time.

Houdini Plaza was completely renovated and rededicated in 2013. In August, a spectacular new bronze bust will be installed in the heart of the plaza celebrating Appleton's favorite son.

Doug and Debbie Henning pic from Houdinez Home Page.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Houdini threatened to cancel his 1926 tour after Detroit

In his new booklet, The Houdini Correspondence File, Wayne Wissner provides a collection of Houdini letters which have largely escaped examination. Many come from the final months of Houdini's life, and one letter might add a troubling new dimension to the story of his death.

In an urgent letter, sent from his dressing room at the Van Curler Theater in Schenectady on October 14, 1926, Houdini threatened to cancel his 3 Shows In One tour after his engagement at the Garrick Theater in Detroit. The reason for this was because Houdini discovered a clause in his contract that he found unacceptable.

Following his accident in the Water Torture Cell in Albany on October 11, a clause was brought to Houdini's attention that stipulated should he be struck down with any illness or accident that would necessitate closing the show, he would have to pay the theater $1000 (over $13,000 today) for each day the theater was dark. While lying flat on his back nursing his broken ankle, Houdini dictated a letter to Jules Murray at the Shubert Theatre, saying:

"If that is the case with contracts on the tour, I herewith cancel everything after the Detroit engagement as I positively will not accept any contracts under these conditions."

Houdini sent a copy of the letter to his show manager, L. Lawrence Weber, further stating:

"I am amazed any sensible manager would sign a contract with such a clause in it and I am perfectly willing to leave the road before I would take such a chance. [...] Am perfectly willing to continue if a new clause is inserted but under the present contract I retire gracefully."

Houdini's 1926-27 full evening show was to be a "Coast To Coast" tour. The tour kicked off in September and featured new effects such as Buried Alive and Slicing A Girl in Eight. Presumably, Houdini had signed contracts up through his appearance in Detroit.

I don't think this was a bluff by Houdini. I'm sure he would have walked away from the tour if the contract was not amended. But I expect it all would have been worked out and the show would eventually move on as planned. However, Wayne says that he could find no documentation that a change had been made before the troop reached Detroit.

Ironically, in Detroit the worst case scenario happened. Houdini was struck down with appendicitis and the theater went dark for his entire engagement. One wonders if the Garrick charged Houdini/Weber for the missed days. (The full cause has no "Act of God" allowance.) In light of Houdini's death, this would have been pretty ruthless. But had Houdini recovered from his illness, in which case the theater probably would have enforced the clause, you could bet there would have been a battle royal.

Here's a final, dark thought on all this. We know Houdini stubbornly refused to do anything about the growing pain in his stomach during his final days, and even insisted on taking the stage at the Garrick with a 104 degree temperature. He even returned to his hotel after the show. Could Houdini's reluctance to seek medical attention been, in part, because he knew this $1000 a day fine was hanging over him? Was he trying to make it through Detroit before surrendering himself to the doctors?

Did a contract clause kill Houdini?

Thanks to Wayne Wissner for opening up this new rabbit hole. Wayne is currently offering The Houdini Correspondence File on eBay.


Come see the historic Houdini Milk Can escape, May 30

Here's the poster for the big Saturday night show at the upcoming Midwest Magic History Weekend in Marshall, Michigan (May 28-30). As you know, the show will climax with a one-time only escape from the American Museum of Magic's original Houdini-Hardeen Milk Can!

The good news is this Saturday show is open to the public, so you can see this historic Houdini event without having to buy a full 3-day convention pass.

I will be attending the full Marshall weekend and will be presenting my "Houdini in Hollywood" talk on Thursday, May 28. I will be live tweeting all the weekend happenings right here at WILD ABOUT HARRY, but I still hope to see some of you in person.

CLICK HERE for more information on the Midwest Magic Weekend. Tickets for the Saturday night show can be purchased from the American Museum of Magic.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Bristol Historical Society screening 'Houdini' this weekend

The movie loving Bristol Historical Society will offer two screenings of the Tony Curtis classic Houdini tomorrow, May 23, at 1:00 pm and 7:00 pm. The screening will include classic cartoons and and an episode of Flash Gordon starring Buster Crabbe. They stress that the movie will be shown on film (not DVD).

The Bristol Historical Society is located at 98 Summer St. in Bristol, CT. Admission is a $3 donation. Proceeds benefit The Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum and the Bristol Historical Society. For more information, call (860) 583-6309 or visit preservehollywood.org.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

WIN tickets to see The Grim Game in Scranton

The Times-Tribune is giving away 10 pair of tickets to the screening of Houdini's The Grim Game at the historic Leonard Theater in Scranton, PA on June 13th. Plus, you could be randomly chosen to win 2 VIP Tickets to the show if you answer the question, "What year did Harry Houdini perform at the Poli Theater here in Scranton?" (If you need help, here's a clue.) 

All entries much be received by June 5th. Good luck!

The Times-Tribune has also run a full page ad for this in their print edition. Click to have a look at that ad. Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz at the Houdini Museum in Scranton for this.


Death Defying Acts on BBC 2 today

It's not often you hear about a showing of Death Defying Acts on television, but it look like the movie will screen today in the UK on BBC Two at 11:20pm.

Death Defying Acts is a romantic fiction starring Guy Pearce as Houdini and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Scottish psychic. It had a very limited theatrical release back in 2008. It's available on DVD.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

HISTORY pulls Houdini bust episode hours before airtime

As if HISTORY hadn't already done enough to rile Houdini fans (recall Brad Meltzer and a certain miniseries), now, according to WBAY, the network has pulled tonight's episode of Monument Guys that was to feature the making of the new Houdini bust. According to the report:

A spokesman for Boldt Company in Appleton says a show that was scheduled to air on the History Channel Wednesday night about Houdini Plaza will no longer do so.

The episode of Monument Guys was pulled by the network Tuesday night according to the spokesman, who says he was notified Wednesday.

The spokesman says the show has been moved to H2 (History Channel 2), but it is unclear when the episode will air.

I have no idea why the network would do this, and it's pretty disappointing. The episode promised to reveal the bust's "hidden secret."

Brodini is upset.


LINK: TV series gifts Houdini bust to Appleton

Good article today by Shane Nyman in the Appleton Post Crescent about the new Houdini Plaza bust. (Click headline to read.) The making of the bust will feature on the series Monument Guys tonight on HISTORY.


Edinburgh Festival Fringe is wild about Harry

The subject of Houdini is certainly popular these days. Now here's more evidence that 2015 is The Year of Harry. The upcoming Edinburgh Festival Fringe (August 7-31) will have four different events related to the Handcuff King. Below is a description of each from the festival website:

Theatre (drama, magic)
Seances, spirituality, immortality and magic. The true story of the deadly feud between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Starring Phill Jupitus as Conan Doyle and Alan Cox as Houdini. By Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky, writers of previous Edinburgh smash hits Coalition. Directed by the multi award-winning Hannah Eidinow. More details.

The Titanic Orchestra
Theatre (drama, contemporary)
John Hannah stars in this madcap comedy of illusion. Four tramps huddle together at an abandoned railway station, full of vodka-fuelled dreams of escaping on one of the passing trains. But the trains never stop. Until one day, a dishevelled stranger is thrown into their midst. He claims to be the great Houdini, and promises that together they will perform the most astonishing vanishing act the world has ever seen. A UK premiere by Hristo Boytchev (British Council International Playwriting Award) in a new version by Steve King. More details.

The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini
Spoken Word (talk)
Arthur Conan Doyle investigated psychic phenomena objectively as a member of the Society for Psychical Research for years, before becoming convinced of their reality and following spiritualism as a religion. Houdini famously debunked phony physical mediums, but was hopeful that he could receive a valid communication through a psychic medium from his deceased mother. This presentation will highlight their history together, examine novel research methodology, and feature a 10 minute excerpt of a sitting with a psychic medium, during a reading in which both men were contacted.  More details.

Linking Rings
Theatre (storytelling, true-life)
1926: Houdini's right-hand man deals with the death of his boss. A half century later, a Blackpool joke shop proprietor takes on a wide-eyed young protégé. An affectionate look at a misspent youth and unsung heroes; a touching true story of interlocking lives. This new work is an exciting change of direction for Paul Zenon, who has made regular appearances everywhere from Countdown to La Clique and is known as the UK pioneer of Street Magic. Not a magic show, but magical nonetheless. More details.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world's largest arts festival. It runs August 7-31 in Edinburgh, Scotland. For more information visit the festival website.

Monday, May 18, 2015

New Houdini Plaza bust revealed

WHBY in Appleton has revealed the first images of the new bronze Houdini Bust that will be installed in Houdini Plaza in August. The creation of the bust will feature this Wednesday, May 20, on the HISTORY Channel series, Monument Guys. The episode description says the life-size bust includes a "hidden secret."

Tom Boldt of The Boldt Company, who played a major role in the renovation of Houdini Plaza in 2013, says sculptor Craig Campbell captured a look of confidence and resolve with the Houdini piece.

"I think this image of Houdini is universal, and I think it’s something that has distinguished America," Boldt told FOX 11. "A land of opportunity, and through your hard work and effort, you can be successful."

I have to agree. I think this is a beautiful bust and I can't wait to see it in Houdini Plaza.


The Houdini Correspondence File

Magician and collector Wayne Wissner has a new publication called, The Houdini Correspondence File. Wayne has made 10 copies available on eBay TODAY. Below is the cover and description:

About two years ago I discovered a small stach of original Houdini corresponcence that hasn't been looked at in almost 70 years. I culled several of these letters, most from 1926, the year that Houdini passed away. These are now the basis for this 30 page publication. References to Dunninger, Carter, Thurston, Hardeen and many others. Should make a great read as well as a wonderful research tool. Please do let me know if you wish it signed and thanks for looking! The cost is $25.00 postpaid.
Click here to buy The Houdini Correspondence File on eBay.

Wayne previously released a 22-page collection of correspondences between Houdini and Robert Gysel called, Houdini & Gysel.

And in case you are wondering, that is Houdini with his Terror Island leading lady Lila Lee on the cover.

UPDATE: The 10 copies have now sold out.

Houdini Brainteaser puzzle game

ThinkFun has released a new brainteaser puzzle game based on Houdini. It's described as the "World's First 40-Challenge Escape Puzzle."

So you think you’re Houdini? Well, let’s see what you’ve got! Try your hand at these 40 disentanglement puzzles. Just secure Houdini using the ropes, lock and rings and work your magic to set him free without undoing the clasps! Sound easy? Well, let’s just say we won’t ask you to tie yourself up quite yet!

You can purchase ThinkFun's Houdini Brainteaser puzzle at Amazon.com.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Houdini to Bess – "Sweetheart Mine"

Houdini famously wrote love letters to his wife Bess that he would leave on her pillow or around the house. Now a fellow Houdini buff shares with us one of those letters from his collection. I don't believe it has ever been published. It's dated July 8, 1925, and appears to have been written while the Houdinis were staying at the Adams House hotel in Boston.

The letter is handwritten and a little hard to decipher. I've made my best attempt below. Maybe someone can improve on it?

To the only Mrs Houdini
July 8 - 25
Sweetheart Mine –
No ink in room here but all my love could not be told with all ink in World –
Missed train. Sawyer told me wrong time & I bot ticket!
Am off to Sommerville to see spiritualist [illegible] - then to a E Fay.
Kilby with me.
Love & Kisses
Yours and yours alone!

"Sawyer" is likely Bess's niece Julia Sawyer (I've also seen it spelled Sauer), who worked as an assistant to the Houdinis both onstage and off. "Kilby" is Houdini's friend and fellow theatre collector Quincy Kilby. Houdini's reference to "a E Fay" is Anna Eva Fay, the famous medium who lived in Melrose, Massachusetts.

This is a wonderful and also somewhat curious letter. Houdini's assurances to Bess that she is "the only Mrs Houdini" and that he's "yours and yours alone" feel like reassurances, as if they've had a fight. It's known that Bess would sometimes have fits of jealously. Perhaps this letter followed one of her "brain storms" (as Houdini once called them).

The Adams House was a Boston hotel built in 1883 that offered long-term lodging in the heart of the theater district. Next door was an annex where B. F. Keith opened his first vaudeville house in 1885. In 1908 he converted it into one of Boston's first cinemas, the Bijou Dream. The Adams House was closed in 1927 and demolished in 1931, although the annex building still stands today.

Thanks to our friend for sharing this wonderful letter. And thanks to "Ace Underwood" and David Saltman for helping improve the transcription.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bessie and the Colonel

Remember that scene in the Houdini miniseries in which Bess (Kristen Connolly) sits on the lap of a soldier at a party and Houdini (Adrien Brody) goes to pieces? Believe it or not, this is based on a real event. The curious story was first told in Harold Kelock's 1927 biography Houdini His Life Story as follows:

Once and once only did Mrs. Houdini venture in a small way to put Houdini's personal jealousy to the test. They were at a party at which the pace was a bit swifter than at those they commonly attended. A certain colonel invited Mrs. Houdini to sit on his knee and drink a glass of champagne with him. The colonel and his knee had no attraction for Mrs. Houdini, but she was seized with a whimsical desire to see how Houdini would react to such a performance. A few minutes later, when Houdini entered the room, the scene was set. Mrs. Houdini was sipping her champagne and gazing roguishly up at the colonel, and his arm was about her waist. 
Houdini stopped sharply in the doorway with an expression of incredulous horror on his face that his wife never forgot. His knees sagged as if he had received a knockout blow. Mrs. Houdini rushed to him and helped him to a chair. He could hardly speak. She helped him into a taxi and into their lodgings. None of her explanations could lift him from his utter prostration of spirit. He wept bitterly far into the night. For days he dragged himself about, brooding and dejected. 
Weeks afterward they were dining with friends at a hotel. In the party was a young lieutenant in dress uniform. A passing waiter slipped and spilled the contents of nineteen cocktail glasses over this resplendent young man. As he stood up mopping himself off, he remarked, with mock concern: "I wonder what the colonel would say?" 
At the words "the colonel," Houdini pushed aside his knife and fork and an expression of deep gloom over-spread his face. His evening was ruined. Mrs. Houdini had to take him home before he spoiled the occasion for every one else.

The story of Bess and the colonel also appears in Houdini: A Mind in Chains by Bernard C. Meyer, the book on which the Houdini miniseries was based (the author is screenwriter Nicholas Meyer's father). This incident is ripe for a psychological read, and Dr. Meyer observes: "It was as though the nightmare of abandonment had come true."

Bess had an adventurous spirit, and while I don't believe she was ever unfaithful to her husband, she did enjoy her flirtations and escapades. In a taped interview, her sister Marie recalled how when she and Bess would go out dancing, Bess would tell men they were single girls. After they had gotten their fill of attention and a box of candy "for their mother," they would excuse themselves to the ladies room and then "beat it."

"Houdini never knew she did that," says Marie. "She was a devil."

TOMORROW we'll continue our look at the Houdinis marriage with an affectionate letter from Harry to Bess that I don't believe has ever been published before.


Gene Franklin Smith reading 'Flim Flam' in Calabasas, May 16

Playwright Gene Franklin Smith will be appearing at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Calabasas this Saturday, May 16 at 2PM, reading selections for his acclaimed play, Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter.

Come meet Gene, hear him read, and get your book signed! (I'm hoping to be there.)

Barnes & Noble is located at 4735 Commons Way, Calabasas, CA 91302. Phone is 818-222-0542. For more details and directions click here.

Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter ran at the Malibu Playhouse in the summer of 2014. It starred Rick D. Wasserman as Houdini, Melissa Kite as Bess, Sabra Malkinson as Margery.

Purchase Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Appleton adding bust to Houdini Plaza

Today it was revealed that the city of Appleton, Wisconsin, will be adding a life-size Houdini bust to their downtown Houdini Plaza. The bust will be made of bronze and show Houdini from the torso up doing a straightjacket escape. It will be accessible so people can take pictures with it.

Sculpture Valley, of Appleton, spearheaded the effort to guide the bust design and find a permanent place for this exquisite new work near the site of Houdini Plaza's former abstract piece, “Metamorphosis". The new sculpture will fill the void left in the new plaza design which called for a piece of public art but was conspicuously missing from the final execution.

Sculpture Valley is also working alongside Tom Boldt, president of the Boldt Company and a devoted Houdini fan, on a new series of Houdini walking tour markers to add more depth of history to the current set of makers Boldt placed back in 1986 mostly along College Ave.

The new bust and the new markers will be officially unveiled on the weekend of August 27-29th when the Houdini Club of Wisconsin comes back to Appleton to host their annual convention at the Raddison in downtown Appleton.

You'll be able to get an early look at the new Houdini bust on the HISTORY channel reality show Monument Guys next Wednesday, May 20. The show follows the inners workings of The Crucible bronze foundry in Norman, Oklahoma, who cast the bust.

Houdini Plaza, which was once said to be the site of the former Weiss family home (we now know it was a few blocks away), underwent a massive renovation in 2013.

Thanks to Alexander Schultz of Sculpture Valley.


The Grim Game is coming to Scranton

TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game will screen at the historic Leonard Theater in Scranton, PA on June 13, 2015. Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz from Scranton's Houdini Museum will be on hand for a discussion before and after the screening. The gala evening will include a cocktail reception and Houdini artifacts from the Houdini Museum.

Here's the evening schedule:

6:00 PM – VIP Admission
6:00 to 7:00 PM - VIP Cocktail Party, includes hors d'ourves & OPEN bar.
7:00 PM – Reserved & General Admission
7:00 to 8:00 PM - Houdini displays, pre-movie discussion & cash bar.
8:00 PM - The Grim Game movie screening
9:30 to 10:30 PM - Houdini displays, post-movie discussion & cash bar.

For advance tickets, go to: www.theleonardtheater.com

Houdini himself performed in Scranton in 1915 at the Poli Theater (now the Ritz Theater). Posters and details of Houdini's performance in Scranton a century ago will be on display at The Leonard Theater before and after the movie screening.

The Leonard is Scranton's oldest theater. Thought the years the Leonard building has housed an Opera House, a Vaudeville Theater, and even a speakeasy lounge. The Leonard Theater is located at 335 Adams Ave in downtown Scranton, PA.



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