Monday, September 25, 2017

Rose & Co. remembers their favorite pitch man

English bath and beauty product maker Rose & Co. has posted the following to their Twitter. This appears to be an original. Nice.


You can still buy Zam-Buk from the Rose & Co website. Tell them Houdini sent you.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Houdini's bookcase, bathtub, and piano have been SOLD!

Breaking news from today's open house at 278 in New York. An attendee tells me that the bathtub, piano, and Houdini's famous parlor bookcase are GONE!

According to the realtor, after the first open house in June, someone she identified only as "a collector" contacted the owner and a deal was made to sell the items. This after I was told that the bookcase and piano were to stay with the house. I guess money talks!

Now, I'm sure everyone will jump to the conclusion that this phantom collector was David Copperfield. I admit I do not know who it was, but I had heard that Copperfield was interested in the bookcase (and not the house). So it's possible the items are indeed headed to Las Vegas. But, as I said, I don't know this for certain.

Two bathtubs that dated back to Houdini's time were also on the property in June. One was in the backyard being used as a planter. The other was in the front of the house at the sunken garden floor entrance. (I did not see this one.) The one in the front of the house is the one that sold. Despite the legend, I've never heard anything about either bathtub having the initials HH.

(Speaking of initials my tipster confirmed for me that Bess's top floor bathroom does not have the BH tiles.)

The piano, which was located on the garden level, is also said to be original to the house. I didn't look too closely at it when I was there in June, but I do own a copy of a listing of property inside 278 from 1919 (made for insurance purposes), and on that list is a "player piano."

So, essentially, it sounds like this collector stripped the house of all that was left of Houdini that was not attached to the walls.

It does break my heart to see the bookcase go. I loved that it had survived all these years in the house. I feel like that's where it belongs. But who knows what would have become of it with new owners who might not care about the history. So if it's headed to a private collection to be preserved and cherished as a piece of Houdini history, then I guess that's a good outcome. But this tells us the great dissolution of Houdini's historic 278 has begun.

The sale of 278 is being handled by Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

Related:

    Houdini, Big Pharma's calendar boy

    In 1977, Stuart Pharmaceuticals in Delaware produced a series of Houdini advertising calendars as part of a campaign for their new drug Kinesed ("Working out of tight squeezes."). Each calendar featured beautiful original paintings by James Barkly of iconic Houdini feats.

    Below are three calendars that I own. The first is from June 1977 and the painting is a combination of Houdini's 1903 Amsterdam Jail Break poster and one of his famous 1903 "nude" publicity shots.

    "Escape from Prison when Manacled in Handcuffs and Irons."

    The next calendar is from August 1977. The painting here is taken from a photo of Houdini's 1908 Suffragettes Challenge. Despite the caption, I don't believe the sheets were doused with water for this particular test, but this is still how a "wet sheets" challenge would look.

    "The Challenging Release From Wet Sheets"

    This last calendar uses an image from Houdini's 1917 Ladies Home Journal article "How I get Out of a Straitjacket." It is a bit of an outlier as it's from 1978 and technically not part of the "Tight Squeezes" campaign (although still part of the overall Kinesed campaign).

    "Just When You Think There's No Escape..."

    It's possible there was a variant of this last calendar that shows Houdini free of the straitjacket using the painting below.

    "Something Makes it Happen!"

    To see some of the other calenders, check out The Celebrated Straitjacket Release (July 1977) and The Perilous Escape From the “Spanish Maiden (September 1977) at Joe Notaro's Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence. And next Sunday, October 1st, Joe will share another, "The Spectacular Release From the Cannon Wheel" (October 1977). So watch for that!

    Below are links to more Houdini adventures in advertising.

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    Saturday, September 23, 2017

    Harry Houdini Halloween Vigil in Los Angeles


    This Halloween marks the 91st anniversary of Houdini's death, and the special events are starting to roll in. Today we have news of an event in Los Angeles, the Harry Houdini Halloween Vigil with Investigative Psychic Medium Jill Marie Morris, to be held at the Dearly Departed Tours & Museum on Santa Monica Blvd., right across from Hollywood Forever Cemetery (which happens to hold Edward Saint).

    Here are the details:

    HARRY HOUDINI HALLOWEEN VIGIL WITH INVESTIGATIVE PSYCHIC MEDIUM JILL MARIE MORRIS 
    "Incredibly spooky . . . seriously funny!" 
    Join Investigative Psychic Medium Jill Marie Morris at Dearly Departed Tours & Museum for a special Halloween vigil for the world-famous Harry Houdini amidst the backdrop of artifacts and memorabila related to some of Tinseltown's most notable celebrities. This year will mark the 91st anniversary of Houdini's death which remarkably transpired on Halloween, 1926. Find out what links Dearly Departed's Scott Michaels to the magician, and see what spirit messages Jill may receive from Harry Houdini beyond the grave, as she guides the audience in an open investigation and spirit session at the Musuem.
    You never know who will visit Dearly Departed Tours & Museum from the other side. In addition to dark comedy, Jill will share her psychic impressions, and perform random, open gallery readings for the audience. Audience participation is part of the event, but not mandatory.
    Each ticket includes: Admission into the event, dinner (pizza, salad, dessert and beverages).  

    I'm not yet sure what my own Halloween plans are. But as this is in my own backyard, I might just be joining the vigil!

    CLICK HERE for more details and to buy tickets. You can also check out the event page on Facebook.

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    Friday, September 22, 2017

    Houdini returns to Baltimore in 2018


    Big news today! The Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore will host a major Houdini exhibition next summer called "Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini."

    Magician David London is curating the exhibition. Says David, "I have been tasked with bringing Houdini back to Maryland. I say back, as Houdini made at least 7 appearances in Maryland in the early 20th Century including at least five appearances right here in Baltimore."

    David has written the first of what will be a series of blog posts chronicling his efforts in putting together the exhibition. So check out "Finding Houdini: Bringing Houdini back to Maryland" at the Jewish Museum of Maryland website. And stay tuned for more on what promises to be the big Houdini event of 2018.

    Related:

    Thursday, September 21, 2017

    Duffy Hudson brings Houdini to Davenport

    Duffy Hudson will bring his acclaimed Houdini one-man show to the German American Heritage Center in Davenport, Iowa, this Saturday, Sept. 23 at 2:00pm. The performance is part of the museum's "Houdini: The Magic and Mystery" exhibition which runs through November 4.

    Duffy Hudson has done one-man shows as Albert Einstein, Edgar Allan Poe, and George Burns. In a profile at QCOnline, the actor explained how he decided to portray Houdini as his next subject:

    "I was performing Poe for 500 middle-schoolers once, I was doing a Q & A, asking what character I should do next, and I put out 10 names. When I hit Houdini, they started screaming."

    Visit the German American Heritage Center's website for more information on this and their "Houdini: The Magic and Mystery" exhibition. You can follow Duffy Hudson on Facebook.

    Related:

    Houdini movies screening Sunday in Wilton, NH

    Houdini's Terror Island and The Man From Beyond will screen this Sunday (9/24) at the historic Wilton Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, New Hampshire. As with the screenings last week in Brandon, the movies will include live musical accompaniment by silent movie music specialist Jeff Rapsis.

    "These films are audience favorites, and people continue to be surprised at how engrossing and exhilarating they can be when shown as they were intended: in a theater, and with live music," says Rapsis.

    The screenings start at 4:30pm. Admission is free.

    For more information, visit the Wilton Town Hall official website. You can also check out Jeff Rapsis at his blog Jeff Rapsis / Silent Film Music.

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    Wednesday, September 20, 2017

    Heads up! Open House at 278 this Sunday

    There will be Open House at Houdini's former home at 278 West 113th Street in Harlem this Sunday, Sept. 24 from 1-3pm. After briefly being off the market, the house is once again listed with Douglas Elliman Real Estate at a reduced price of $3,999,000.

    As much as I'd love to, I won't be be jumping on a plane to attend this Open House like I did in June. But it's exciting that we have another chance to see inside Houdini's home. Trust me, it's magical.

    For more about 278 past and present, check out the links below.

    Related:

    See the Magic Castle's lost Houdini display case

    The Houdini Seance Room at the Magic Castle currently has two large display cases filled with various escape restraints and Houdini memorabilia. But it used to have three. This third case was removed several years ago to make way for a fireplace.


    As the Castle does not allow photos (the above photos came from the AMA Newsletter), exactly what that third display case contained has been somewhat lost to time. The best we have is a photo of Mark Wilson standing in front of the case on page 219 of The Original Houdini Scrapbook.

    But now I've stumbled on a sensational color image of the full display case on the stock photo website alamy.com. Unfortunately, the site charges $50 for limited website use, so I'm just going to refer you to THIS LINK where you can see the photo on the site itself (click it to enlarge).

    Some of the items in the case have been spread around the Houdini room, so they are still on view. However, the photos of Houdini's Machpelah plot (which appears to be this recently discussed Oscar Teale photo) and the photo of Houdini and Dorothy Young I've not seen in the Castle. Too bad, because they appear to be originals and would offer much better resolution than the images we have today.

    UPDATE: According to our friend Joe Fox, the items in the case belonged to the late Manny Weltman.

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    Tuesday, September 19, 2017

    Houdini challenges the tax man

    This book just popped up on Amazon today. What is this? A Italian novelization of the Houdini Miniseries? Perhaps the behind the scenes story of Adrien's "Brodini"? Or maybe a new study that tackles the question of why Houdini never performed in Italy. (Yeah, why is that?)

    Turns out it's none of the above. The title, Houdini e il fisco Italiano: Escapologia e Controescapologia, translates as "Houdini and the Italian Taxes: Escapology and Counter-Escapology" (according to Google translate). So it looks like this is a manual to help you escape those pesky Italian taxes. Thanks Harry.

    For you completists, Houdini e il fisco Italiano: Escapologia e Controescapologia can be purchased at Amazon.com (U.S.), Amazon.co.uk (UK) and, of course, the Italian Amazon.it.

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    Sunday, September 17, 2017

    Remembering Steve Baker

    Sad news today. Dean Carnegie of The Magic Detective reports that legendary escape artist Steve Baker a.k.a. "Mr. Escape" has died. Says Dean:

    My friend and mentor, Steve Baker has passed away. He died at 11:11pm on Saturday Sept 16th, 2017 at his home in Illinois. His wife Julie, who was his faithful assistant throughout his career was by his side when he passed. Steve had been ill for quite a long time, but recently suffered several mini strokes which he did not recover from.

    Steve Baker was one of the most prominent escape artists of the 1970s and '80s. He was also very much a part of my own coming to Houdini and magic. I first became aware of Steve from an article in the June 1976 Valley News. The headline read "Bettering Houdini's Stunts" and contained the following:

    "I'm not as great as Houdini...I'm better," said the 37-year old Baker, who says he has broken all of Houdini's escape records. 
    "Houdini could pick most locks with a hairpin but today technology is 20 times more advanced," said Baker, adding with a smile that he is, therefore, 20 times better than Houdini.

    I admit this did not sit well with the 11-year-old me. But on some level I understood that Steve was just engaging is some Houdini-like boasting for the press, which, in a way, was its own tribute to the great magician. The article promoted Steve's upcoming suspended straitjacket escape in front of Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to mark the 50th Anniversary of Houdini's death and kickoff the IBM convention that year. The same paper later reported the escape (below).


    Shortly after this, Steve made an appearance at The Magic Emporium in Tarzana, one of the local magic shops I haunted in those days. Steve performed alongside his wife Julie on a small stage inside the store. This was the first "famous" magic personality I had ever seen in person. Unfortunately, I can't remember what kind of magic he did, but afterward I got a signed photo (above).

    As I was leaving, I spotted Julie Baker in front of the store talking with a friend. I asked her to sign my photo as well. She seemed flattered and amused, saying assistants don't usually get asked for autographs, but she was happy to do so. I guess I felt that every Houdini had a Bess who was every bit as important to his story.

    Another powerful memory was Steve's performance of the Water Torture Cell on Dick Clark's LIVE Wednesday in 1978. It's still the most harrowing version of the escape I've ever witnessed, and it gave me great respect for Steve's showmanship.


    R.I.P. Mr. Escape.

    For a retrospective of Steve Baker's life and career, click over to The Magic Detective and read Dean's full post. And feel free to share your own memories of Steve in the comments below.

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    Saturday, September 16, 2017

    Did Hardeen reveal Houdini's most secret secret?


    While visiting the Houdini Museum of New York last June, I saw a remarkable document on display. It consisted of two typewritten pages by Hardeen from a biography he was writing about his brother at the time of his own death. That book was to be called The Truth About Houdini, and if anyone knew that truth, it was Dash!

    Among several fascinating tidbits is the following paragraph in which Hardeen apparently spills the secret of Houdini escape abilities, which I share here with the permission of museum and document owner Roger Dryer.

    Hardeen first explains how Houdini ran away from home at the age of nine, then follows with this bombshell [spelling errors as written]:

    While on this trip he became a jockey rode horses and mules &...any thing they put before him. He was accidentally shot in the palm of his left hand, and though at the time it seemed a misfortune--it proved to be the turning point of his life. Because the bullet remaing in the palm of the hand, caused the groth to seem the same as the other hand and apparently was the same. Houdini could contract the hand so that he was able to pull it through the smallest kind of hole. This was the secret that he carried to his grave, and not even his wife knew of it.
    No one ever knew about the musclare contraction Houdini was able to perform.

    The story of Houdini being shot in the hand is one Houdini himself told, although he set it later in his life. According to Harry, early in his career, he was taken at gunpoint by gamblers and forced to unlock the door of a casino after hours. But Houdini flung the door into the crooks and ducked inside. They took at shot at him through the door, and when Houdini threw up his hand to shield his face, the bullet lodged inside his hand, where it remained for his entire life.

    Also on display at the museum is an original x-ray photo showing the bullet in Houdini's hand. This photo has appeared elsewhere, but seeing the original is a revelation. That's because one can see the "bullet" has clearly been added, or at least filled in with black ink. Possibly this was done to enhance the image. Or could it be a fake?

    I admit I've never entirely bought the story of the gangsters. Seems like a bit of Houdini fiction. But possibly it was a way to romanticize or misdirect from what Dash claimed was a childhood accident. But I'm still not sure how an object inside Houdini's hand could aid in his escapes. Seems to me it would actually impede his ability to slip out of cuffs, etc.

    That brings me to this intriguing footnote in Houdini's Fabulous Magic (page 19) by Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young:

    Many people thought that Houdini could slip cuffs that were locked about his wrists, but he found that impossible. He even tried compressing the knuckles of his hands in special clamps for hours at a time, hoping to reduce their girth, but it was no avail; so he gave it up.

    I've never heard about these clamp compression experiments, but it's likely the source was Walter Gibson, who knew Houdini personally. Was this Houdini once again misdirecting from his big secret? It should be noted that Houdini did slip handcuffs on occasion, sometimes in full view of the audience, and he can be seen slipping cuffs during the jail break sequence in The Grim Game.

    Finally, it's worth noting that as he aged, Houdini's left hand gave him problems. He repeatedly broke his wrist, and in 1926 he told a doctor that he only has "50% strength" in his left hand. Could all this be related to the big secret?

    While Dash was not above myth-making when it came to his own career (he also claimed to have been once trapped under an ice sheet), he seemed to be the most candid of all the Weisses. He also famously took umbrage to the Harold Kellock biography, Houdini His Life Story, as being "full of lies."

    Unfortunately, Hardeen never completed his Houdini biography, so all we have this tantalizing tidbit. But what a remarkable thing to hear from the man who knew all of Houdini's secrets.

    Thanks to Roger Dryer and the Houdini Museum of New York, located inside Fantasma Magic at 421 7th Avenue, 3rd Floor, New York, NY.

    Related:

    Friday, September 15, 2017

    Hardeen is ready to talk

    Did Hardeen reveal his brother's biggest secret? If we are to believe a remarkable document in the Houdini Museum of New York, he did!

    "This was the secret that he carried to his grave, and not even his wife knew of it."
    -Hardeen

    Check out WILD ABOUT HARRY this weekend when all will be revealed.

    Future of Appleton's "Metamorphosis" still uncertain


    The Post-Crescent reports that the future of Richard C. Wolter's sculpture "Metamorphosis" -- which once stood in the center of Houdini Plaza in Appleton, Wisconsin -- "is about as certain as Houdini's return from the grave."

    The sculpture is currently lying on its side outside the Appleton parks and recreation facility at Memorial Park.

    The iconic sculpture anchored Houdini Plaza from 1985 to 2010, when it was removed because the base was deteriorating. Houdini Plaza underwent a major renovation in 2013. A Houdini bust was added to the plaza in 2015.

    "There's been talk off and on about bringing it back out," said Chad Doran, Appleton's communications coordinator. "There's some people in the arts community who are really pushing to have it brought back out. I don't know that anything is imminent."

    Alex Schultz, president of Sculpture Valley, a nonprofit arts advocacy group in the Fox Cities, said Appleton made a mistake by removing "Metamorphosis" from Houdini Plaza. He wishes the 2013 renovation of the plaza would have reserved a spot for the piece.

    "Everybody recognized it as being part of the plaza," he said. "Having taken it out and not incorporated it into the redesign, I think, was just shortsighted."

    Schultz recommends restoring the sculpture and mounting it in the center of the roundabout at the east end of the College Avenue bridge. He said the location was proposed to the city but wasn't met with much enthusiasm because of safety considerations.

    Related:

    Thursday, September 14, 2017

    Two Houdini movies screening in Brandon, VT

    The historic Brandon Town Hall and Community Center in Brandon, Vermont will screen Houdini's The Man From Beyond and Terror Island this Saturday, September 16, from 7pm to 9pm. Both movies will include live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer regarded as one of the nation's leading silent film musicians.

    Admission is free, with donations welcome. All proceeds support ongoing restoration of the Town Hall, which dates from 1860.

    Terror Island (1920) was the second feature Houdini made in Hollywood for Famous Players-Lasky Paramount. The Man From Beyond (1922) was the first film produced by the magician's own Houdini Picture Corporation.

    For more information, visit the Brandon Hall official website or the event page on Facebook.

    Thanks to the Addison Independent.

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