Thursday, July 30, 2015

Juvenile star and a Yankee inventor

Here are a few more unique Terror Island newspaper ads that do their own thing. As I explained in my last post, the official Terror Island pressbook provided images, but local newspapers or theaters would somethings come up with their own ad copy and "ballyhoo."

This first ad from The Circle Theatre not only uses a rarely seen Production Cut from the pressbook (no. 9934), but I'm intrigued by how they call Houdini "the artist who has a record of never having faked the public." Do they mean in regards to doing his own stunts, or is this a reference to his stage career? Also, how about the fact that this theater stayed open until 4am. I wonder if that was typical of cinemas back then? It's also worth noting that this ad appeared on Halloween.

Oregon Daily Journal, Oct. 31, 1920.

Women played a huge role in silent cinema. Not only were they biggest stars, but women were also writers and directors. This ad below illustrates that, for the patrons of the New Strand in Madison, the real attraction of Terror Island was actress Lila Lee.

Capital Times, July 2, 1920.

Here's another ad from the New Strand showing Lila Lee as an equal in Terror Island. Lee is referred to here as "The Juvenile Star" and Houdini is "The Handcuff King." That was a name Houdini had long ago walked away from, but this just shows how he never really escaped his early fame.

Capital Times, June 30, 1920.

Finally, the ad below from the Fayetteville Observer uses an image which is not from the Terror Island pressbook. In fact, this appears to be from a different film entirely. But it still works. The ad copy––including the reference to Houdini's character as a "Yankee inventor"––comes from the pressbook.

Fayetteville Observer, August 5, 1921.

If you enjoy this kind of thing, know that on August 15th I will be giving a talk on "Houdini in Hollywood" at the IBM Ring 96 in Seal Beach. Click for details.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Official Houdini Seance 2015 will be held in San Francisco

The Official Houdini Seance 2015 will be held this year at the Brava Theater in San Francisco. This year's event is being hosted by magician Robert Strong in conjunction with Wonderfest, the Bay Area Skeptics, the Bay Area Science Festival, and the Pan-Pacific International Exposition. Says Robert:

"After being a magician for 30 years, I just found out that I am related to magic royalty. My great great uncle was The Great Rendar (Sidney Radner). After connecting with his son the past few moths, I have some very exciting news that will launch in about two weeks. Please do me a little favor and join the page The Official Houdini Seance and get ready for the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!!!"

San Francisco is a great choice for the 2015 seance. It was 100 years ago that Houdini and Hardeen famously played opposite each other in the city and in nearby Oakland. Houdini performed a suspended straitjacket escape and also performed an overboard box escape in the Bay. It was also on this trip that Harry and Bess met writer Jack London and his fetching wife Charmian, and we all know what came of that!

The Official Houdini Seance 2015 has an official Facebook page and a website (still under construction). Sounds like this could be a great one. We'll see if Houdini finds it good enough to attend!

Thanks to Dean Carnegie for the alert.

Official Houdini Seances past:

Special London preview of Impossible

You don't have to wait until the Edinburgh Fringe festival to see the new play Impossible starring Alan Cox as Houdini and Phill Jupitus as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The play will have a "special London preview" this Friday (July 31) and Saturday (August 1) at The Cockpit on Gateforth Street.

Click here for tickets and directions.

Impossible will play at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe from August 5 to 31. It is one of several Houdini-themed events at this year's festival.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Oregon knows how to ballyhoo

Here are two terrific newspaper ads for Houdini's Terror Island at the Oregon Theater in July 1920. While the official Terror Island pressbook would provide basic ad images, it was largely up to theaters to come up with their own ad copy. As you can see, the Oregon goes all out in this regard. My favorite line: "It won't be necessary to drink the evening cup of coffee. SEE HOUDINI."

Morning Register, July 27, 1920.

Morning Register, July 25, 1920.

Later this week I'll share some more Terror Island newspaper ads that go their own curious ways.


Monday, July 27, 2015

LINK: Widow of magician & Houdini biographer scammed out of $1M

DNAinfo has a detailed article by James Fanelli today about how the late Maurine Christopher, widow of legendary magician, collector, and Houdini biographer Milbourne Christopher, was allegedly "looted" of her savings in the last years of her life by two scam artists. Click the headline above to read the whole, distressing tale.

Before her death in 2013 at age 92, Maurine worked with David Haversat on two beautiful collector editions of her husband's Houdini works: Houdini The Untold Story and Houdini A Pictorial Life.


LINK: Reuel Meditz conducts live score for The Grim Game

Joe Notaro has discovered photos from the screening of The Grim Game in Austin last week via musician Reuel Meditz's social media. Meditz, a Las Vegas-based musician, composed and conduced an original live piano score for the screening at the historic Stateside Theater in Austin on July 19.

Collector Arthur Moses attended the screening and said he thought Meditz's score was excellent.

Click on the headline to have a look at all the pics from the State Theater screening at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Houdini bust revealed on Monument Guys

Appleton's new Houdini Plaza bust was revealed on Monument Guys Saturday night. Commissioned by Tom Boldt and the City of Appleton, the bust was created by artist Craig Campbell. As you can see from the pics below, it's a stunner!

The episode showcased the planning and creation of the 125 pound silicon bronze bust. For research, Craig Campbell visited Appleton's Museum at the Castle and was shown into their special Houdini vault. There the museum has a collection keys and lock-picks from Houdini's famous trunk No. 8. Campbell incorporated several of these into the sculpture, including a bobby pin hidden in Houdini's hair and a key that pulls out from behind his ear.

The Houdini bust will officially be unveiled during the Houdini Club of Wisconsin's annual convention in Appleton, August 27-29 .

You can watch the entire episode ("Metal of Honor") at the Monument Guys website.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Houdini in Hollywood (mega lecture!) at IBM Ring 96, August 15

Houdini might have been an S.A.M. man, but next month he's headed to the IBM when I bring my "Houdini in Hollywood" talk to IBM Ring 96 in Seal Beach, CA. The talk will take place during their regular monthly meeting on August 15, 2015 at 7pm. It's open to the public and admission is FREE.

This will be a "Houdini in Hollywood" mega lecture (with intermission) and will include all the clips that I've only selectively shared at previous talks. Also, thanks to our friends at Park Circus, I will be showing 10 minutes of select footage from TCM's newly restored The Grim Game!

Ring 96 was chartered in 1949 and serves IBM members in the Seal Beach/Long Beach area with lectures, competitions and other magic based events. (One of their past presidents was George Boston, who served as technical advisor on the Tony Curtis Houdini.) Ring 96 has hosted some impressive speakers, so I'm very honored to have been invited to speak at their meeting.

The meeting will take place at the Seal Beach North Community Center, 3333 St. Cloud Drive in Seal Beach, CA 90740. For more information and directions visit the IBM Ring 96 official website. I've also created a Facebook event page.

Looking forward to making Houdini an IBM man!

Thanks to Cliff Gerstman.


Friday, July 24, 2015

A chilling Houdini challenge

Jon Oliver has sent over a copy of a curious Houdini challenge letter from the Wayne Country Morgue in Detroit dated October 23, 1916. In it, coroner J.W. Ratbach (sp?) challenges Houdini to escape from their cold storage vault. It's unclear if Houdini accepted, but as he once turned down a challenge to escape from a coffin casing as being "too gruesome," he may have taken a pass on this one as well.

Click to enlarge.

The tone of this letter is a little playful ("your efforts, though strenuous as they maybe, will not cause you any perspiration"), so maybe this challenge wasn't completely serious. However, the letter is somewhat chilling to read today. That's because exactly 10 years to the day after it was written, Houdini would travel by overnight train to Detroit and give his last performance at the Garrick Theater. Six days later, he would be dead.

But according to Jon, Houdini once again avoided confinement at the Wayne Country Morgue (this time for real). His body was taken direct from Grace Hospital to the Wm. R. Hamilton's Funeral Home just a few blocks away to be readied for transport back to New York.

Still, a macabre Houdini memento to be sure.

Thank you, Jon.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Daily Mail captures Houdini & Doyle

The Daily Mail has captured closeup shots of actors Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton in Houdini & Doyle. The pics were taken as the production filmed scenes in Manchester's city center.

This is our first good look at Weston as Houdini. Unlike how it appeared in the distant spy shot I shared on Monday, it looks like he will play the part clean shaven.

Michael Weston as Houdini.

Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton.

Houdini & Doyle will run 10 episodes and will air in 2016 on ITV Encore in the UK, Global TV in Canada, and FOX in the U.S.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Paul Zenon as Jim Collins in Linking Rings

Magician Paul Zenon will play both himself and Houdini's chief assistant Jim Collins in Linking Rings, one of several Houdini-themed productions at the upcoming Edinburgh Festival Fringe (August 7-31).

Paul Zenon is proud to present the premiere of his compelling autobiographical tale of a childhood spent in the world of wonders that was a seaside magic emporium; a story that also looks at the final weeks of the life of his hero; Harry Houdini, as told by his right-hand man Jim Collins - a man about whom, until now, very little has been known.
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.
Linking Rings is 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.

In preparation for the play, Paul has done some important research on Jim Collins. Paul is the man who discovered that Collins was likely born in Portsmouth rather than the commonly accepted Irish/Scottish/Cockney origins.

Below is the official poster for Linking Rings. You notice it shows Houdini hanging from the Blackpool Tower. According to Paul, Houdini wanted to do some kind of "hanging" stunt from the tower when he was headlining at the Blackpool Hippodrome in 1905, but was refused permission to do so.

Click to enlarge.

You can buy tickets to Linking Rings at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

E.L. Doctorow dies at 84

E.L. Doctorow, who wrote the popular bestselling novel Ragtime, has died at age 84. The cause of death was complications from lung cancer.

Published in 1975, Ragtime featured Houdini in a key role and helped kick off the 1970s renaissance of Houdini in popular culture. It was made into a film in 1981 (with Houdini in a reduced role) and became a popular stage musical in 1996.

You can read E.L. Doctorow's full obituary at The New York Times.


First look at Weston & Mangan as Houdini & Doyle

Today we get our first look at actors Michael Weston and Stephen Mangan in character as Houdini & Doyle. The pic below was taken as the production filmed scenes on Back Piccadilly in Manchester and shared on Twitter by Derek Heath @monkeyboydez.

In this pic, Mangan/Doyle is the grey bowler hat and Weston/Houdini is beside him. It appears Weston has an unshaven face, so it looks like his Houdini will sport a contemporary look. In fact, both characters appear to have very distinctive "looks."

The Chester Chronicle captured a closer photo of Mangan as Conan Doyle during a shoot yesterday in Chester. The paper reports:

The Chronicle spotted Mangan in the alleyway alongside Alexander’s Jazz Theatre Bar, complete with fake moustache, smart chequered waist coat and green trousers, waiting for his next scene.

An empty house had been commandeered overlooking the Dean’s Field which was blacked out from the exterior. TV trucks were parked up around the back of Bollicini’s restaurant.

The crew, who are filming in other northern cities including Manchester, were only here on Monday (July 20) but are expected to back in Chester at the end of the month.

Houdini & Doyle will run 10 episodes and will air in 2016 on ITV Encore in the UK, Global TV in Canada, and FOX in the U.S.

Thanks to Derek Heath for allowing me to share his pic.

UPDATE: Looks like Weston will be clean shaven after all. Better shots from this same shoot here: Daily Mail captures Houdini & Doyle.


Monday, July 20, 2015

"I don't drink smoke or chew"

Last month I saw the Houdini miniseries receive an IIG Award at the Los Angeles Center For Inquiry. During the reception, I was excited to discover that the CFI has several framed letters on display from Houdini's early career. These are copies of originals from a rare document collection in Santa Barbara, and are letters that I've never seen before.

The letter below I found especially interesting. It appears to be the second page of letter in which the young Houdini pitches himself for work.

Click to enlarge.

There's a lot to love here. It's a really interesting mix of bravado and humility. First off, notice that the stationary says "6th Annual Tour - 1890 to 1896." The Houdinis act began with their marriage in 1894, only two years earlier. Possibly Houdini is including his own first appearances on stage, which were around 1890. But this shows just how important it was at the time to be perceived as a "seasoned" act.

I'm also intrigued by the claim that "Herrmann the Great stole the idea for our act from us and he featured it." Alexander Herrmann was by far the most famous magician of the day (and was also indirectly related to Houdini). It's hard to know exactly what "act" Houdini is referring to here. The obvious candidate would be Metamorphosis. But while Herrmann did substitution illusions such as Indian Mail, Asiatic Boxes, and Lost Strobeika, they don't seem similar enough to be considered a lift. It's possible Houdini is referring to the mind reading act he did with Bess, a version of which Herrmann did perform. But claiming this as an original creation is a stretch. So this accusation is a bit of mystery. (Herrmann would die the year this letter was written.)

Finally, you gotta love Houdini's line: "I don't drink smoke or chew and we are good useful people, dress fair and willing workers." This really gives a feel for the frontier world Houdini lived and worked in at this time.

Today we tend to think of everything before 1900 as a prelude to Houdini's real career -- the struggle. We also tend to ascribe this thinking to Houdini himself, that all was in service of some future point of success and fame. But the sense I get from reading this letter is that Houdini already considered himself a success. The kind of worldwide fame Houdini would later achieve was born of 20th century mass media and might have been inconceivable in 1896. Houdini couldn't see the future (as far as we know!), so his life on the road with Bess at this time was his career -- his 6th Annual Tour, in fact. So successful even Herrmann The Great steals from him!

A fascinating letter and a nice surprise discovery at the CFI.

Thanks to Herrmann expert James Hamilton for help with the Herrmann info.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

LINK: The Great Harry Houdini Museum

Artist and art blogger Rhonda Mum has created her own mini "Great Harry Houdini Museum." It's really nice work. Click the headline to see more pics and learn about the process and inspirations that went into the creation of her Houdini piece.

"I was thrilled when I was able to create this tribute to Houdini using lots of theme appropriate items from Alpha Stamps including the new Houdini collage sheet as well as Vintage Magician Posters. I want to share several pictures from my museum, and then I have several photos to show you how I put some of these items together."

Friday, July 17, 2015


"I'm on my way!"

Here's the news we've all been waiting for! TCM will air their restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game on Sunday, October 18 at 8:00 PM (ET) and again at 11:45 PM (ET). The movie will be part of a special evening of "Lost and Found" silent films, which will also include the recently discovered 1916 Sherlock Holmes starring William Gillette.

This news was fished out of the TCM advanced schedule by our great friend Meredith Secaur. Thank you, Meredith!

For those who might not have been following, the last known print of The Grim Game was acquired by TCM last year from collector Larry Weeks. It was restored and premiered at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood in March. It has since screened at a handful of theatrical venues. October 18th will mark its television debut.

Needless to say, mark your calendars!


Monument Guys try again July 25

The episode of Monument Guys about the creation of Appleton's new Houdini Plaza bust will air on Saturday, July 25 on H2. The episode, "Metal of Honor," was originally scheduled for May 20, but was pulled only hours before broadcast.

The Houdini bust will officially be unveiled on the weekend of August 27-29 during the Houdini Club of Wisconsin's annual convention in Appleton. The bust is said to contain a "hidden secret" which will be revealed on Monument Guys. 

Hopefully this time Houdini will appear!


An Honest Liar on DVD and Netflix

An Honest Liar, the acclaimed documentary about the life and work of James "The Amazing" Randi, is now available for streaming on Netflix and well as on DVD and Blu-Ray. Among the DVD extras is a deleted scene, "The Fonz and the Milk Can," from Randi's 1978 appearance on the popular TV show Happy Days.

AN HONEST LIAR is the award-winning, critically acclaimed feature documentary about the world-famous magician, escape artist, and world-renowned enemy of deception, James 'The Amazing' Randi. The film brings to life Randi's intricate investigations that publicly exposed psychics, faith healers, and con-artists with quasi-religious fervor. A master deceiver who came out of the closet at the age of 81, Randi created fictional characters, fake psychics, and even turned his partner of 25 years, the artist Jose Alvarez, into a sham guru named Carlos. But when a shocking revelation in Randi's personal life is discovered, it isn't clear whether Randi is still the deceiver - or the deceived. With Penn & Teller, Adam Savage, Bill Nye, Alice Cooper and more! A New York Times "Critics Pick", the film is rated 97% by Rotten Tomatoes. DVD includes bonus scenes and commentaries by the directors and James Randi.

You can buy An Honest Liar on DVD and Blu-Ray via Amazon or the official website.

Randi himself is currently hosting TAM 13 (The Amaz!ng Meeting). The annual gathering of advocates for science-based skepticism and critical thinking runs July 16-19 at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas.


The Grim Game in Austin, Sunday

Just a reminder that TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game will screen at the historic Stateside at the Paramount theater in Austin, Texas, this Sunday, July 19 at 7pm. Composer/pianist Reuel Meditz will accompany the film with his own original score.

As far as I know, this is the last announced screening of The Grim Game. While the movie will eventually air on TCM, the network has yet to announce a date. So this might be the last chance to see the film until then. The Grim Game is being distributed theatrically by Park Circus.

The Stateside theater was built in 1935 and sits adjacent to the Paramount Theater where Houdini appeared in 1916. That theater recently held an event in which a Houdini hologram addressed the audience.

Tickets for The Grim Game can be purchased online or by calling the box office at (512) 474-1221. For more information visit the Austin Theater Alliance website.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Houdini miniseries locks up 7 Emmy nominations

The Houdini miniseries has been nominated for 7 Emmy awards, including nominations for star Adrien Brody and director Uli Edel. Below is a list of all the nominees.

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Limited Series Or A Movie
Adrien Brody

Outstanding Directing For A Limited Series, Movie Or A Dramatic Special
Uli Edel

Outstanding Cinematography For A Limited Series Or Movie
Karl Walter Lindenlaub, ASC, BVK

Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing For A Limited Series Or A Movie
Sabrina Plisco, ACE
David Beatty

Outstanding Makeup For A Limited Series Or A Movie (Non-Prosthetic)
Gregor Eckstein, Co-Department Head Makeup Artist

Outstanding Sound Editing For A Limited Series, Movie Or A Special
Michael J. Benavente, Supervising Sound Editor 
David Beadle, Sound Editor
Timothy A. Cleveland, Sound Editor
Rachel Corrales, Sound Editor
Paul Diller, Sound Editor
Gary Megregian, MPSE, Sound Editor 
Ryan Maguire, Sound Editor
Michael Sana, Sound Editor
John Snider, Sound Editor
Robert Ulrich, Sound Editor
Lance Wiseman, Sound Editor
Jim Harrison, Music Editor
Joan Rowe, Foley Artist

Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Limited Series Or A Movie
Tamás Csaba, C.A.S., Sound Mixer
Onnalee Blank, C.A.S., Re-Recording Mixer
Ken Burton, Re-Recording Mixer

Winners will be announced during the live 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards telecast on September 20, 2015 on FOX.

A very big congratulations to all the nominees!



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