Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Close Encounters of the Houdini Kind

Today sees the release of a new piece of Houdini fiction with the premise that the Handcuff King was a space alien! A Small Medium At Large by Stephanie Osborn is the second book in her "Division One" series. Description below:

What if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was right all along, and Harry Houdini really DID do his illusions, not through sleight of hand, but via noncorporeal means? More, what if he could do this because...he wasn't human?

Ari Ho'd'ni, Glu'g'ik son of the Special Steward of the Royal House of Va'du'sha'ā, better known to modern humans as an alien Gray from the ninth planet of Zeta Reticuli A, fled his homeworld with the rest of his family during a time of impending global civil war. With them, they brought a unique device which, in its absence, ultimately caused the failure of the uprisings and the collapse of the imperial regime. Consequently Va'du'sha'ā has been at peace for more than a century. What is the F'al, and why has a rebel faction sent a special agent to Earth to retrieve it?

It falls to the premier team in the Pan-Galactic Law Enforcement and Immigration Administration, Division One -- the Alpha One team, known to their friends as Agents Echo and Omega -- to find out...or die trying.

A Small Medium At Large can be purchased at Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK). Below are links to a few other Houdini science fiction excursions.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

High Schoolers bringing Houdini and Doyle to life


High Schoolers in Maryville, Tennessee will perform an original play that combines the story of Houdini and Conan Doyle with a Sherlock Holmes adventure. The Game is Afoot will be presented at River Oaks Community Church in Maryville on May 5 and 6.

The play by written by Blount Home Education Association drama instructor Kate Clabough, who was inspired to write the play by last year's television series, Houdini & Doyle.

"In my play, Doyle sees Houdini do this performance, and he disappears at the end and reappears," Clabough said. "Doyle comes up on the stage and he tells them, 'This is awesome. Bravo! You have inspired me, and I am going to go home to write a new Sherlock Holmes story.' So Doyle and his wife and Houdini and his wife meet for tea, and Doyle tells them, 'I’m going to write the story of The Case of the Disappearing Brides.' So it’s a story within a story."

The cast for The Game is Afoot includes 37 high school students, ages 14-18. Each cast member has a speaking part.

Clabough encourages everyone to attend and support the talented young thespians in the group. Admission is free and the play is appropriate for all ages.

What: The Game is Afoot presented by the BHEA Players
When: 7 p.m. Friday, May 5, and Saturday, May 6
Where: River Oaks Community Church, 1220 Brown School Road, Maryville

Thanks to the Daily Times.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Houdini's free show for Buffalo's newsies


Houdini's good relations with the press went from top to bottom, including that staple of turn-of-the-century city streets; "newsies." On Saturday, October 24, 1925, Houdini gave free show for the newsboys of Buffalo, New York. He explained:

"Having been a newsboy in Milwaukee and living among them in New York, if affords me great pleasure to give the newsboys of Buffalo a show and at the same time impress them that loyalty will put them at the top of the ladder of success regardless of what professiona they may choose as their life's work."

The show was held at the Shubert-Teck Theater where Houdini was playing the first season of his 3 Shows In One. The Buffalo Evening News gave a remarkable account of the show that provides what might be the best description of Houdini's stage magic, right down to some of his patter. In fact, it's so good, I thought it worth reproducing in full below. How many tricks can you identify by name?

The Teck theater was filled to capacity Saturday morning when the curtain went up for a special two hour entertainment which Harry Houdini, world famous mystifier, psychic Investigator and wizard of escape, is giving for the of boys who carry the Evening News.

Admission was by ticket only, distributed to the youngsters Thursday through district agents of the News. Long before the scheduled opening of the theater doors at 8:30 o'clock, Main street in front of the theater was packed with the carriers, all eagerly awaiting one of the biggest treats of their lives.

Houdini's program was prepared especially for the newsboys. More than 28 feats of baffling magic were performed in addition to the manipulation of ordinary playing cards and sleight-of-hand in the tying and untying of knots in scarfs and streamers of silk, satin and other materials.

His opening feat was to transfer back and forth eight French coins from an ordinary water glass to a crystal cabinet suspended in midair. The glass stood on a table in full view of the audience. The boys thought it was great and applauded enthusiastically.

Then Houdini caused a lighted lamp with a flimsy shade to vanish from one table, and re-appear, still lighted, on another stand on the opposite side of the stage. He caused a large stand of artificial flowers to be transferred from a solid pot of pewter to a crystal bowl of water. From Pandora's box he brought forth a live rabbit, which he told the boys laid all the Easter eggs, then he made the bunny disappear before their eyes.

A live rooster, which crowed lustily, was produced from an apparently empty tin pan and then made to disappear from a solid wooden cabinet. Large bowls filled with water in which goldfish swam, were produced and whisked away. Pigeons fluttered from a picture frame on which only tissue paper was fixed. He changed a colored handkerchief from one water decanter to another. He did all manner of sleight-of-hand tricks with knots in kerchiefs, scarfs, etc.

One of his tricks was designed only this week for the special entertainment. He called it Noah's ark and caused figures to shift from one cylinder to another without being seen and without touching them. Then, from the ark which a moment before had been empty, a live pigeon appeared. From a huge, solid funnel, he made a pretty young girl disappear. In her place a huge bush of flowers appeared. He showed them Dr. Linn's [sic] trick, which he said was 78 years old. It was the apparent dismemberment of a human form in full view of the audience.

Houdini next cut a long strand of cheese cloth and burned the ends. But when the youngsters who assisted him in the trick pulled the cheese cloth straight again there was no sign of a cut or of the burning. He changed a big wooden dice from a hat to a box and back again and then caused it to vanish. He tied two thongs about his neck—so tightly he appeared to be choking—but when youngsters pulled opposite ends, the bands slipped from his throat.

One of the most popular of his tricks was performed with an ordinary appearing oven pan He showed it empty, covered it a fraction of a second with its own solid metal top, removed the top and it was filled with a peck of candy kisses, which he tossed into the auditorium to his guests. He made a pretty girl appear in a radio cabinet, where only a moment before there were nothing but wires and coils and tubes.

For a finale, he drew from a small crystal bowl of colored water hundreds of yards of silken streamers and lastly a string of flags of all nations—enough that when folded and packed tightly would fill and ordinary wardrobe trunk.

Notice there is no mention of the vanishing elephant, so this helps debunk earlier reports that Houdini was featuring this famous effect at the Shubert-Teck. And even though the article has a terrific photo of Houdini being bound by the newsboys (above), it sounds like this was a magic only show.

Thanks to Gary Hunt of Magic Footnotes for sharing this find.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Become immersed in Houdini


A Houdini-themed combination of escape room and immersive theatre is playing at The Silos at Sawyer Yards in Houston, Texas. The Man From Beyond is a 90 minute experience created by Strange Bird Immersive. It opened in January as Houston's first permanent immersive theatre installation.

Madame Daphne cordially invites you to a private séance to contact the spirit of Harry Houdini. But all is not what it seems, and when the ghost appears, things take a dramatic turn. Unravel mysteries a century in the making, and you could find yourselves doing more than escaping a room.

Visit the Strange Bird Immersive website for more details and to book tickets.

Below are links to more Houdini-themed escape rooms and immersive attractions.

UPDATE: I just received this very kind comment from Co-Artistic Director James Cameron Cooper on Facebook:

"We found Wild About Harry to be invaluable in building The Man From Beyond. Thanks to John Cox for the notice and for keeping Houdini alive."

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Handcuff King and The Tramp

An original photo of Houdini and Charlie Chaplin sold on eBay this week for $550. The photo shows the two men in Los Angeles in 1915 when Houdini was making a Vaudeville tour of the U.S. A great image of two entertainment giants of the time.


On page 117 of Doug Henning's Houdini His Legend and His Magic you can see a photo taken at this same time that includes Bess.

Congrats to the winner.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Unknown 6-sheet Master Mystery poster surfaces

Exciting news. David Haversat of David Haversat Magic has uncovered a hitherto unknown 6-sheet poster for Houdini's silent serial The Master Mystery. Details below.

David Haversat has recently located an unknown image of Houdini's Master Mystery! The lithograph is also special as it's the only six-sheet lithograph of the Master Mystery series known to be in existence. 
The Mastery Mystery was produced in [1918] with Harry Houdini starring in all 15 episodes. 
The pressbook for the series boasts an extensive list of Otis lithographs; one, three, six and twenty-four sheet posters. The image discovered by Haversat is labeled as Episode 14, yet it's totally different art from the one-sheet lithograph from the same episode. In fact the image depicted on this six-sheet is actually a scene from Episode 15, the final production of the series. 
This poster was the only magic related item among a number of antiquities including other silent film posters found in Canada. The poster's survival may be due to the fact someone had taken the time to mount the lithograph many decades ago. It will now be scheduled for modern day conservation.


In 2013 David uncovered a rare German one-sheet for Houdini's Water Torture Cell. In 2015 he uncovered an "American's Sensation" poster in California.

Congrats to David on another amazing find!

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Did Houdini revive the vanishing elephant in 1925?

Our good friend David Charvet sends over an intriguing newspaper clipping from the Buffalo Evening News, October 21, 1925, about Houdini's engagement at the Shubert-Teck Theater in Buffalo, NY. This was during Houdini's first tour with his 3 Shows In One and the article covers familiar territory, until this remarkable paragraph:

One of the biggest mysteries of "vanishing" which Houdini offers in his performance at the Shubert-Teck is the disappearance of a mammoth elephant from the stage. Another is his East Indian Needle trick.

The vanishing elephant!? This is the first time I've ever heard of Houdini performing this outside of New York City and beyond the years 1918 and 1922. It's also the first I've heard of it being associated with his full evening show. It seems remarkable that Houdini would be able to take something this large on the road. But the Shubert-Teck was an unsually large venue which could accommodate the illusion. So did Houdini really perform the vanishing elephant here in 1925?


According to Koval (The Houdini Research Diary, Part 6: 1921 to 1926], Houdini performed at the Shubert-Teck on October 19-24. During this week Houdini gave a special performance for the city newsboys. He also performed at the School for Crippled Children on East Ferry Street.

The Shubert-Teck was converted to a movie theater in 1945 and became a Cinerama theater in the 1950s. It was abandoned in the 1960s and finally demolished in the late 1980s. You can read about the theater history HERE.

Thanks David.

UPDATE: Gary Hunt (Magic Footnotes) has uncovered a review of the free performance Houdini gave for the newsboys on October 24. The article spells out in detail many of the magic effects Houdini performed, and there is no mention of the vanishing elephant. (The article also includes a terrific photo of Houdini with the newsboys which I will feature in an upcoming post.)

It's now seems likely that the mention of the vanishing elephant came from pre-show publicity -- listing Houdini's past feats -- and that the Buffalo News reporter misunderstood and thought the effect would be performed at the Shubert-Teck. So unless we find a first hand account of the vanishing elephant in 1925, I think we should leave Houdini history as written.

Thanks Gary.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Russian Witch of Lime Street?

According to the website WorldCat, this is a Russian edition of David Jahre's 2015 book about Houdini and Margery, The Witch of Lime Street. But I'm not entirely convinced. I don't find Houdini anywhere in the book's Russian description, and who's that supposed to be on the cover? A Russian Houdini?

Still, the title does translate to Witch of Lime Street and the book description does include "Tainstvennaia Mardzheri Krendon" (the mysterious Margery Crandon), so this has something to do with our gal.

You can buy this on Amazon.com.

Thanks to Arthur Moses (who else) for the find.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

'Death & Harry Houdini' returns to Miami

The acclaimed play Death & Harry Houdini will return to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, April 26 through May 21.

Written and Directed by Nathan Allen Magic by Dennis Watkins Reappearing by popular demand following a sold-out run in 2012! Bold, visually stunning and highly entertaining, Death and Harry Houdini delivers a roller coaster ride through the life of the legendary Harry Houdini! Death and Harry Houdini is reappearing on stage with The House Theatre of Chicago, the great Chicago company that presented The Magnificents! House Company Member and award-winning magician Dennis Watkins performs Houdini’s original magic including Houdini's most renowned and dangerous escape - the dreaded Water Torture Cell! This dark and tumultuous story is guaranteed to keep audiences on the edge of their seats!

For more information and to purchase tickets visit the Arsht Center website.

Thanks to Stacey Zimmerman.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Houdini and Doyle among 'Stories To Tell' at the Ransom Center

The story of Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is part of the current Stories To Tell exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin. Among the items on display is this spirit photograph of Houdini with Jim Collins and friends (right).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, fiction’s most rational protagonist, was an ardent proponent of spiritualism, the belief that departed spirits communicate with the living through a medium. Harry Houdini, the world’s most convincing illusionist, was not. Learn about the story of how Houdini confronted Doyle and sought to debunk spiritualism in our current Stories to Tell exhibition. On view through July 16.

For more information visit The Harry Ransom Center website, Facebook and Twitter. Next year the Center will have a special exhibition devoted to Vaudeville that will showcase more items from their extensive Houdini collection.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Houdini's great radio debate


I'm always excited to run across evidence of a specific Houdini radio broadcast because I continue to hold out hope that one day a recording of one of these will surface. And wouldn't it be nice if it was this one?

On Wednesday, July 22, 1925, Houdini engaged in a panel discussion and debate on station WOR. Below The Brooklyn Daily Eagle spells out the particulars.


While broadcast from New Jersey, in 1924 WOR established a studio in Manhattan specifically so stars based in New York would have better access to the station. It's likely this was the studio Houdini visited on this day. As you can see from schedule itself, "Houdini, interviewed by scholars" was broadcast at 10:05 PM and lasted 30 minutes. 

Click to enlarge.

WOR is still around today (home to the Mets and the likes of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh). I'm not sure if they made recordings back in 1925; but if they did, you'd think the Houdini broadcast would have been something to save. Any WOR radio archivists out there what to find this recording and make history?

Below are links to more Houdini radio activity, including a transcript from my own collection of a radio address he gave on WTIC in Hartford, CT on December 3, 1925.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Unused Houdini miniseries poster art

At the risk of bringing on traumatic memories, here are some unused posters that I recently stumbled across for the 2014 Houdini miniseries starring Adrien Brody. These were created Progressive Productions in Hungary. You'll notice that each promote the series as airing in "Spring 2014." It ultimately aired at the end of summer.


Progressive also produced the concept poster below. This one did find its way into use online (I first shared it HERE), but it was never an "official" poster. You can see it carries the wrong air date as well. Below is a photo of Brody doing the photo shoot for this poster with Creative Directors Michael Scalere & Steph Sebbag.



Progressive was also responsible for the final poster as well as several character stills. To see all their work on Houdini visit their official website.

In other Houdini news, noted English actor Tim Pigott-Smith, who played Houdini's (entirely fictional) spymaster "M", passed away last week at age 70. You can read his obituary at TV.BT.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Killer first selection for the American Museum of Magic Book Club

The American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan kicks off their new season this month. Along with a host of Spring activities, the museum has launched a book club with the first selection being Don Bell's The Man Who Killed Houdini.

This groundbreaking 2004 study investigates the life and mysteries behind J. Gordon Whitehead, that McGill University student who punched Houdini in his Montreal dressing room on October 22, 1926.

The American Museum of Magic is located at 107 E Michigan Ave, Marshall, MI. Many Houdini artifacts are on permanent display, including a Houdini-Hardeen Milk Can and Houdini's original overboard box. You can keep with the latest via their official website and Facebook page.

The Man Who Killed Houdini can be purchased on Amazon.com. Click the image above for details on how to join the American Museum of Magic book club.

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Bessie's brooch pins down $72,000 at auction


An emerald and ruby encrusted "Royal Crown Brooch" that once belonged to Bess Houdini sold today at Potter & Potter's Spring Magic Auction for $72,000 (including buyer's premium). It beat the auction estimate of $30,000 - $40,000.

Legend states that Bess received the brooch from the Czar of Russia during Houdini's one and only tour of the country in 1903. But it's more likely she received if from Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich in Moscow as the Houdinis never performed before the Czar himself. There are several photos of Bess wearing the brooch, including this color photo.

Bess gave the brooch to Geraldine Larsen, wife of William Larsen, Sr., in the 1940s. The brooch remained in the Larsen family -- it was worn by Arlene Larsen, wife of Milt Larsen, at Magic Castle events -- until today. The identity of the buyer is unknown (at least to me).

This latest Potter auction contained many other Houdini rarities. A historically significant photo of Houdini, Bess and Mama in Europe in 1901 (which I blogged about here) took $2,280. Three pages of rhyming verse written by Houdini sold for $12,000. A "Is Houdini Beaten?" broadside found a buyer at $4,320. A "scathing letter" from Houdini to the editor of Scientific American regarding the Margery case brought in $9,000. (All quoted prices include the 20% buyer's premium.)

Potter & Potter's next magic-themed auction will be The Grossman/Nicholson Collection II on June 10th, 2017.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

September 29, 1911: "Saw Houdini"

A diary from 1911 that belonged to an Alice M. Ellison of Boston sold this week on eBay for $11.50. What makes this interesting to us is that on September 29th Alice noted that she "saw Houdini" at Keith's Theater in Boston.


As you can see from the auction photo above, it's just a one line reference, but it's still exciting. The person who wrote those words had in her head a fresh first-hand memory of Houdini. It's also worth pointing out that was an historic week for Houdini in Boston. It was during this same engagement that he accepted the famous "sea monster" challenge on September 26.

According to Houdini His Life Story [page 229], on the day Alice saw Houdini he accepted a wet sheets challenge. "He permitted hospital attendants to bind him on a cot with sheets and bandages until he looked like a mummy, and then pour a dozen buckets of water over the cloths."

Alice also records that it was raining that day. Between the rain, sea monster and wet sheets, this was one soggy week for Houdini.

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