Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Houdini at home -- "looks human"

On August 8, 1926, the Oakland Tribune Sun ran a lengthy article about Houdini's famous Shelton pool test ("Houdini Exposes Fakir By Staying Under Water Hour in Metal Casket"). The excerpted paragraphs below jumped out at me. I love first hand observations like these.


Later in the article, the reporter notes that: "Houdini is 52 years old and he avers he is good for many more." The sad irony is that Houdini would live for just three more months.

Human indeed.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A reader remembers 'Man of Magic'


For those still grieving the loss of the Houdini Broadway musical, here's a taste of what could have been. Man of Magic was a lavish Houdini musical that played London's West End in 1966. It starred Stuart Damon as Houdini, Judith Bruce as Bess, and Stubby Kay as Houdini's manager. It closed after 126 performances.

A reader, Alan, recently left this wonderful comment about his experience seeing the musical when he was a boy:

"I saw this show in London for my 13th birthday. That's a long time ago now. I had a copy of the original cast recording which I foolishly sold a long time ago. I came across this site while searching for a replacement.

I still have vivid memories of this production. It opened, as far as I can remember, with a spotlight shining through the gauze curtain, which I think was painted to resemble a Victorian theatre safety curtain, to reveal Stuart Damon as Harry releasing himself from handcuffs and chains.

My other vivid memory is of the Brooklyn Bridge scene. As far as I recall the scene started with the cast portraying a crowd of onlookers on the bridge itself then just before Houdini is hoisted in the air some stage hands came onstage from the wings holding large spotlights that they pointed directly at the audience. While being blinded for a few seconds the stage was transformed to reveal the large model of the bridge populated with small puppet people and carriages and the puppet Houdini performing his escape suspended form the bridge. I remember the puppet actually shedding his straitjacket. The whole scene was a wonderful feat of stagecraft for the time.

My other memory is of the Chinese water torture. I remember noticing how the switch was made when Timothy Dill-Russell took the place of Stuart Damon. Chorus girls came on stage with Chinese screens and crossed back and forth across the stage. On one of these passes, Timothy Dill-Russell swopped places with Damon and Damon went off stage behind the screen. Because Timothy Dill-Russell was then hauled upside down to be lowered into the tank it was easy to disguise the fact that it was a different man. It’s difficult to recognise someone when there face is upside down!

Just seeing a Broadway icon like Stubby Kay live on stage was also so memorable.

Having owned the cast LP, the tracks you have posted seem really familiar even though I haven’t head them for maybe 30 years. Thanks for bringing back fond memories."

-Alan

I originally posted these musical clips from the Man of Magic LP individually last year. But as they nicely compliment Alan's memories, here they are collected together for your musical enjoyment.

Eat your heart out, Hugh Jackman!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Great Houdinis on KMBC

Here's an ad for the TV biopic The Great Houdinis on KMBC-TV in Kansas City. I'm not sure of the date of this ad, but considering the title is still plural, it could be for the original October 1976 airing. The movie became The Great Houdini after its initial showing.


While one can find various TV Guide ads for the Tony Curtis movie, ads for The Great Houdinis are less common. This one I've never seen before, so I thought it was worth the share.

This image come from the Pintrest page belonging to Blue Topaz which is devoted to all things related to Starsky & Hutch.

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An Honest Liar opens March 6


An Honest Liar, the acclaimed new documentary about the life and work of James "The Amazing" Randi, opens this Friday, March 6, in New York and Los Angeles. Co-director Tyler Measom will be on hand for a Q&A at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles during the Friday (March 6) and Saturday (March 7) screenings. Randi himself will appear at select screenings at New York's Sunshine Theater. The movie will then roll out across the country.



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

At the An Honest Liar official website you can now buy "The Amazing Deck," a Limited Edition custom designed deck of professional playing cards with face cards that honor Randi’s heroes. It includes a nice Houdini King of Spades.


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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Interview with Johnathon Schaech

Shockya.com has an exclusive interview with actor Johnathon Schaech, who is currently starring with Bruce Willis in the VOD series, Vice. Of course, we know Johnathon as the man who played Houdini in the 1998 TNT cable film, Houdini, opposite Stacy Edwards as Bess and Mark Ruffalo as Theo.

Schaech only mentions Houdini in passing ("When I played Harry Houdini, I studied magic for most of the shooting schedule"), but it's nice to catch up on what the hard working actor has been doing post-Harry.

Click to read the interview at Shockya.com.

Schaech's Houdini was released on DVD in 2013 and can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Related:

The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles book 2 released today

The second book in Marty Chan's The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles, Infinity Coil, is released today. Here's a description:

Ehrich Weisz, Demon Hunter was introduced to steampunk fans in Demon Gate. Now, he is continuing his increasingly desperate quest to rescue his brother in an alternate universe in the sequel, Infinity Coil.

Now a fugitive from Demon Watch, young Ehrich Weisz hides in the underbelly of an alternate New York where immigrants from other dimensions mingle among Americans. Amid growing racial tensions, Ehrich searches for Kifo, the man who stole his brother's mind and locked it inside an ancient medallion. He poses as a stage magician to draw out Kifo's next target—the commissioner of Demon Watch. In the wings, an army awaits Kifo to accomplish his mission so interdimensional soldiers can invade New York. Ehrich is willing to risk the outbreak of war to save his brother, but he must decide whether or not he can betray his friends.

The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles are not to be confused with Simon Nicholson's "Young Houdini" series. The second book in that series is due for release later this year.

Purchase The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Infinity Coil at Amazon.com.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

When Leonard Nimoy went In Search Of Houdini

Today comes the sad news that the great Leonard Nimoy has died at age 83. While Nimoy will forever be known as Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame, in the early 1980s he had a memorable brush with Houdini.

For many years, Nimoy hosted the popular series In Search Of... Each week the show investigated some fresh mystery, such as Bigfoot, UFOs, or the Loch Ness Monster. On November 21, 1981, the show went In Search Of... Houdini's Secrets. The episode featured Nimoy narrating from the Houdini Seance Room at the Magic Castle (in a cape!).


Nimoy almost had a second encounter with the Master Mystifier in the early 1990s. According the Dean Carnegie (The Magic Detective), William Shatner said on a talk show that he was working on turning his Houdini book, BELIEVE, into a play in which he would play Houdini and Leonard Nimoy would play Sherlock Holmes. This, of course, never came to be.

Below is the entire Houdini episode of In Search Of... R.I.P. Mr. Nimoy.

   

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lost Houdini effects found in 1935

Here's an intriguing news item from George Tucker's "Man About Manhattan" syndicated column from March 27, 1935. One wonders what exactly was found in this mysterious stash of tricks that "Houdini had perfected but never revealed"?

Click to enlarge.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Confabulist paperback cover art

Cover art for the U.S. paperback edition of Steven Galloway's The Confabulist has been revealed on Amazon. Definitely an improvement over the U.S. hardcover edition (IMHO). The book will be released on May 12, 2015 by Riverhead Books.


Speaking of The Confabulist, author Steven Galloway will appear with magician David Gifford at the University of British Columbia's Telus Studio Theatre tomorrow, February 26 at 7:30 pm. The event is being presented by the Chan Centre as part of the Beyond Words series.

Multi-award winning novelist and UBC professor Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo, explores magic in his newest book The Confabulist. This beautiful, suspense-filled novel uses the life and sudden death of turn-of-the-century magician and stunt performer Harry Houdini to weave a critically acclaimed tale of intrigue, love and illusion. 
Join Galloway for this magical (pun very much intended) evening of readings and sleight-of-hand as he is joined in performance by master magician David Gifford to examine reality and illusion, and the ways that imagination can alter what we perceive and believe.

You can get more information and buy tickets at The Chan Centre for Performing Arts website.

Pre-order the paperback edition of The Confabulist on Amazon.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #4

Today sees the release of Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #4. The graphic novel series from Dynamite is written by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery with artwork by Carlos Furuzono. As with the previous three issues, Dynamite has released issue #4 with different covers (below).

The improbable has become the impossible! With magician Harry Houdini arrested after a blood bath that has left his wife at the edge of death, detective Sherlock Holmes must overcome his suspicions – and his demons – to free Houdini and overcome a powerful enemy that commands the unholy powers of the spirits.

Purchase Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #4 at the Dynamite website. You can also read a good interview with creators Del Col and McCreery at Bleeding Cool.

Related:

"Is that you, Mama?"

This photo is currently on eBay with a $105 Buy It Now. The seller notes that written on the back is: "Cecília Weisz Budapest 1869."

So is this really a hitherto unknown photo of Houdini's mother at age 28?

Well, not so fast. This is the third time this same seller "ritamoio" (once under a different name) has magically come upon an unseen image of what is claimed to be one of the Weiss family. Each listing has offered the same vague details, and none have bore any resemblance to the subject.

You know what they say. Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times...

Buyer beware.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Cover art for The Witch of Lime Street

Thanks to Crown Publishing and author David Jaher, today I'm excited to reveal the cover art for David's upcoming book, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World. This is the first major book to cover Houdini and Margery and their famous encounters. It will be released on October 6, 2015.

History comes alive in this textured account of the rivalry between Harry Houdini and the so called "witch of Lime street," whose iconic lives intersected at a time when science was on the verge of embracing the paranormal.

Screenwriter David Jaher's extraordinary debut centers on the ensuing showdown between the world's greatest unmasker of charlatans and the nation's most credible spirit medium. The Witch of Lime Street, the first book to capture their electric public rivalry, returns us to an oft-mythologized era to deepen our understanding of its history, all while igniting our imagination and engaging with the timeless question: is there life after death?

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World can be pre-ordered now in hardcover, audiobook, and for the Kindle at Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK).

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Guest Blog: Mr. Houdini Goes to Washington, Part II

Today we continue Neil McNally's fascinating examination of Houdini's testimony before Congress in 1926. In this installment, an important Houdini operative takes the stand...


Act Two: Spiritualist Charlatans

It’s easy to see why on that February day almost ninety years ago, things were getting so heated. The Representatives were there to objectively investigate the bill from all angles. Houdini wanted things to go his way because, well, he was Houdini. As for the spiritualists, they certainly weren’t going to let their main source of income-honest or not- ride off into the political sunset.

No one would argue that, throughout his career, Houdini was a decisive man of action. In this case, his statements, while powerful and convincing, needed a little more evidence to back them up.

Houdini: (to the Representatives) I am telling you what these mediums will do, and I want to introduce this witness to show what they will do.
William Hammer (North Carolina): Why do you not go into court?
Houdini: The law does not cover it. I want to show you what you can do under the law. You license these people to steal. They are criminals.
Hammer: We do not license them to steal.
Houdini: Yes, you do. I beg your pardon, but they do steal.
Judge McCleod: What statement do you want her to make?
Houdini: I want her to tell you her experiences with Mrs. Jane Coates…
Judge McLeod: You may proceed with this witness.

Enter Houdini’s main spiritualist investigator, Ms. Rose Mackenberg. For those unaware, Ms. Mackenberg was one of Houdini’s most important and little known allies in his crusade and exposure of spiritualists and assorted con artists. A detective by profession, she was hired by Houdini to assist him full time in undercover “field” work because, while he was many things, he couldn’t be everywhere at once.

Similar to Houdini in her covert approach, Mackenberg can frequently be seen in photographs of the time wearing many elaborate and comical costumes. However outlandish they may have appeared, they allowed her access to the dishonest world of phony séance parlors and the mediums who ran them. In the following except, Houdini questions Mackenberg on her dealings with the medium Mrs. Jane Coates, who was in attendance during the questioning.

Houdini: Just go ahead and state what you did yesterday.
Rose Mackenberg: I phoned Mrs. Coates at 9:30 and…made an appointment for 4:00…When she came in she took me to another room and asked me whether I understood the principles of spiritualism and went into details about that. She said she saw a blue vapor about me and got the impression of a man who was strangling and she recognized the condition of that as my husband. This man was also with a couple of children. Did I recognize who they were? She said the children appeared as though they were with my husband and were my children…She then said “You are going on a trip through the East...” I said “How do you get that impression?” She said “The spirits gave it to me very strongly…”

It’s a testament to how much Houdini seemed to respect Mackenberg that he lets her do the majority of the talking and only interjects when asking how much she was charged for these services. As she continues, Mackenberg tells of a similar “supernatural” experience with another medium present in the room, Madame Marcia. What ultimately comes to light from Mackenberg’s lengthy testimony is that Coates feared the long- reaching implications Houdini’s bill would have over her “profession,” and wanted it stamped out at all costs. Things were reaching their boiling point.

Houdini: Were you dressed differently from what you are today?
Mackenberg: Yes, sir.
Houdini: Entirely different?
Mackenberg: Entirely different…
Mrs. Coates (yelling and interrupting): I demand the right to defend myself!
Hammer: Mr. Chairman, I ask that we proceed in an orderly way. There are six to eight people talking at one time, and it is impossible for us to have any record of these proceedings.
Mrs. Coates: It will not take three minutes for me to tell you what I told her, and it will clear the whole situation.
Hammer: You may do that later.

As the already tense mood of the room continued, Houdini’s questioning of Mackenberg touched on the topic of “so called” spiritualist ministers or, more to the point, how easy it was at the time to obtain a license to become one. Houdini’s charisma is evident throughout this humorous exchange at the witness stand.

Houdini: Were you ordained a minister in spiritualism?
Mackenberg: Yes sir.
Houdini: How many times were you ordained?
Mackenberg: Six times
Houdini: Here are the ordinations if you want to see them. She was six times ordained.
Sol Bloom (New York): What did you pay for it?
Mackenberg: I paid from $5-$25.
Bloom: To be a minister?
Mackenberg: Yes sir.
Bloom: What right went with that?
Houdini: These ordinations tell the whole story. 


However, it doesn’t take long for the specter (no pun intended) of Jane Coates to once again rear her foreboding head. 


Jane Coates: May I speak a word in my defense?
Hammer: Mr. Chairman I object. Mr. Houdini is now on the stand, and you cannot take him off until this committee votes for it….
Judge McLeod: (to Houdini) Will you permit Mrs. Coates to ask these question(s) on your own time?
Houdini: Yes sir…
Coates (to Mackenberg): Will you please state if I told you there was somebody standing (at the) back of my chair, and you asked me if it was your husband, and I said I would not tell you?
Mackenberg: No…
Houdini: Did you lead her on in any way?
Mackenberg: No, in no way at all.
Houdini: She said she saw the spirits of your dead husband and children?
Mackenberg: Yes (Of which it was earlier revealed Mackenberg had none).
Coates: I deny that most positively…
Mackenberg: You said you had been to Houdini’s performance and had quite a lengthy discussion or talk with Houdini after the show, and you thought he was very nice and, in fact, you thought he was misdirected.
Coates: I said I thought he was mentally deranged.
Mackenberg: You said he was very nice, and you felt like putting your arms around him.
Coates: Oh no.
Mackenberg: And try to cure him of his misdirection or misdirected ideas.
Coates: Oh no.
Hammer: I move the witness and the two ladies be required to sit down.

The expression “too many cooks in the kitchen” more than applies to these proceedings. However, it’s interesting to note that throughout all the disorganization and heated emotions, Houdini’s apparent steely calm and collected exterior persists. In our next and final installment, many more wonders, flimflam, and questionable business practices will be revealed, but not before a certain woman named Bess will briefly come to our hero’s defense.



A very big thank you to Neil McNally. Visit his website at neilmcnallywriter.com. Photo: Corbis Images.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

BBC Radio: The Witch of Beacon Hill

On September 30, 1989, BBC Radio 4 aired as part of their Saturday Night Theatre The Witch of Beacon Hill by Paul M. Levitt. The radio drama featured the voices of John Woodvine at LeRoi Crandon, Shelley Thompson as Margery, Kerry Shale as J. Malcolm Bird, and Nigel Anthony (right) as Houdini.

You can listen to or download the full 1:25:52 program at Old Time Radio Downloads.

Thanks to Mark Schwartz for this discovery.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Belle Isle Bridge jump

On Tuesday, November 27, 1906, Houdini leapt manacled from the Belle Isle Bridge in Detroit, MI, freeing himself from two pairs of handcuff beneath the cold waters. The Belle Isle Bridge jump is one of Houdini's most well-known, largely because of a fiction created about the escape. In later accounts, it was claimed that the Detroit river was frozen and a hole had to be cut in the ice. This provided Houdini with an additional horrifying dilemma when he found himself trapped under the ice. This dramatic version appeared in the first major Houdini biography, Houdini His Life Story by Harold Kellock, and passed as fact for many years.

When I was a young Houdini enthusiast in 1980, I did my first primary research on the Belle Isle Bridge jump. I wrote to The Detroit News and received this front page from November 27, 1906, which records the details of the actual escape. The first thing to notice is that while the weather report shows it was cold enough for snow flurries, it was not freezing, nor was the river frozen over. But this was still an especially chilly jump for Houdini, and while not the dramatic fiction, it still has several points of interest.


One piece of surprising information this newspaper account provides is that the jump was provoked by an encounter with a rival handcuff king identified only as "Grose" (possibly Russell P. Grose). Apparently, Grose boasted that he could escape from the Wayne Country Jail. Houdini, who was appearing at the Temple Theatre at the time, said the jail was "too strong and too perfectly locked for any man to get out without a confederate inasmuch as a man placed in the center cell is 20 feet from any possible lock." Houdini offered Grose $300 if he could free himself. The paper reported Grose was unable to secure permission to attempt the escape.

Houdini then offered to demonstrate his own skills by making a jump from the Belle Isle Bridge, a 2193 foot span that connects the city of Detroit to Belle Isle Park. Houdini arrived at 1pm with the Secretary of Police, Charles A. Nichols; the Temple Theater Press Agent, John H. Finn; and several reporters. Houdini admitted that while he had made jumps like this before, he had never done one in such cold weather. He was then cuffed with "two of the best and most modern handcuffs" and tethered with a 113 foot safety line ("used solely to save Houdini's life should he get cramps"). Houdini then climbed over the railing, looked down at the water 25 feet below and said, "It's pretty far. Come what will", and jumped.

The paper reported that Houdini stayed near the surface and even came up for air once before freeing himself from the cuffs in just under a minute -- "in spite of the handicap of a cramp that paralyzed his left hand when he struck the icy water." Houdini then swam to a waiting life boat, "safe, but half frozen."

Curiously, the paper makes no mention of crowds of onlookers. It's possible this jump was performed solely for the newspapermen and not advertised in advance. The safety line is another curiosity as it is the only time I've ever heard of Houdini taking such a precaution during a bridge jump. Again, maybe the cold was the reason for this.

So why would Houdini do what appears to have been an impromptu bridge jump in poor conditions? This is only speculation, but it could be he wanted to avoid taking on the Wayne County Jail himself, but still wanted to give the Detroit press boys a story. He might have also wanted to do something that Grose would be reluctant to imitate. In both regards, it worked like a charm. Houdini received nice front page news coverage and Grose vanished from magic history.

As far as I know, there are no photos of Houdini's Belle Isle Bridge jump. Even the Detroit News elected to use a standard Houdini publicity shot. However, today the AP credits a photo of Houdini's 1912 overboard box escape in New York as being the Belle Isle Bridge, so that image repeatedly shows up online as such. But we know better.

The current Belle Isle Bridge (renamed the MacArthur Bridge in 1942) is not the same bridge Houdini jumped from in 1906. Houdini jumped from the first Belle Isle Bridge, which was constructed in 1889 and was a steel and wood bridge for pedestrians. That bridge burned down in 1915 and was replaced with a temporary structure. The current bridge, made of reinforced concrete, opened in 1923. It underwent a major restoration in 1986.

The original Belle Isle Bridge from which Houdini jumped in 1906.

The Belle Isle Bridge today.

LINK: Houdini in Hollywood – in Marshall!

My upcoming talk at the Midwest Magic History Weekend in Marshall, MI got a nice mention on the Magicana blog today. For this event I'll be changing up my talk with some new clips, and I'm also working on something that I hope will make it especially enjoyable for magic collectors. Thanks for the mention, Magicana!


Details of the Midwest Magic History Weekend (May 28-30) can be found HERE.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Haversat & Ewing Galleries March auction

Haversat & Ewing Galleries’ next auction takes place March 7-14 and promises a nice mix of unique, rare and collectible items.

Topping the list is the original apparatus for Ade and True Duval’s Rhapsody in Silk. They debuted it at the 1928 I.B.M. convention and then toured with it coast-to-coast for the next five years. They performed it at the Palace Theater in New York, Radio City Music Hall (four times), The Palladium in London, The Wintergarten in Berlin, and many other places. Duval retired the act in 1939, and put the equipment away. Now it’s offered for sale to the discerning collector.

Another highlight is the rare Ramsey’s poster illustrated above. A one-of-a-kind handmade Society of Osiris program honoring Thurston on the 25th anniversary of taking over Kellar’s show will also be offered.

Consignments have been made from all over the country reflecting all the genres of magic. This auction features quite a bit of equipment, posters, paper ephemera, Houdini letters and a signed photograph, one of the coins Fred Kaps used in his Treasure Chest Miser’s Dream act and much more.

Items may be viewed in advance beginning March 2 at www.haversatewing.com. Lots will be open for bidding March 7-14.

Guild awards elude 'Houdini'

And the winners are...

While HISTORY's Houdini was nominated for several major Hollywood guild awards, it looks like the miniseries has come away empty handed. Here's a rundown:

  • Adrien Brody was nominated by the Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries. Mark Ruffalo took home the award for his performance in HBO's The Normal Heart.
  • Director Uli Edel was nominated by the Directors Guild for Best Director TV Miniseries/Movie. Edel lost to Lisa Cholodenko for Olive Kitteridge.
  • Nicholas Meyer was nominated by the Writers Guild for outstanding achievement in television in the "Long Form Adapted" category. Meyer lost to Jane Anderson and Olive Kitteridge.
  • The Art Directors Guild nominated Production Designer Patricia Von Brandenstein for Excellence in Production Design in Television 2014: Television Movie or Mini-Series. Houdini lost to American Horror Story: Freak Show.
  • The Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild has nominated Gregor Eckstein in three categories: Best Period Character Make-up, Best Special Make-up Effect, and Best Period Character Hair Styling. American Horror Story: Freak Show swept all three categories.
  • Costume designer Birgit Hutter was nominated for Outstanding Made for Television Movie or Mini Series by The Costume Designers Guild. Once again, American Horror Story: Freak Show took home the award.

The miniseries did not receive nominations for editing, music, or cinematography.

Interestingly, the hot rumor at the moment is that the next season of American Horror Story, which took so many of the awards from Houdini, will be set in the world of magic and magicians. Also, the season 4 finale featured a murder via Houdini's Water Torture Cell.

Related:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fire at the HOUDINI cinema in Zürich


A fire broke out at the well-named HOUDINI cinema complex in Zürich, Switzerland this morning. Emergency services were called at around 7.30am after a passer-by reported smoke pouring from the building.

Firemen evacuated 40 people. No one was injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown, though it is thought to have started in the bar on the ground floor of the building.

The HOUDINI cinema opened last August and occupies the first three floors of a seven-storey building which also comprises apartments, shops and restaurants. You can check out the official website at www.kinohoudini.ch.

Source: The Local Switzerland. Photo: Marcel Haertlein.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Houdini and the Presidents

In honor of this Presidents' Day, I thought I'd repost this original photo of Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt taken aboard the ocean liner Imperator on June 23, 1914.


It was aboard this "last boat out of Germany" (before the outbreak WWI) that Houdini would amaze the former President with a demonstration of Spirit Slates -- accurately pinpointing where Roosevelt had just spent his Christmas holiday. The next day it was said that Roosevelt took Houdini aside on deck and asked him, "man to man," if what he did was genuine Spiritualism.

"No, Colonel," Houdini is said to have answered. "It was just hocus pocus."

The above photo is from my own collection and is glued into an inscribed copy of The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin (those ink flecks are from Houdini's signature). I've seen other copies of Unmasking with this same photo glued inside. I'm not sure when Houdini did these or how many exist, but it makes for a nice presentation copy.

The original version of this photo (right) shows Houdini and Roosevelt standing amid a group of other passengers. Houdini had the other men cropped out. This wouldn't be the only controversy related to this photo, as David Saltman explored at The Houdini File.

In his book Shots At Sea, Tom Lalicki had some fun with Houdini and Roosevelt's ocean-bound adventures, although he set his action aboard the Lusitania and worked in his fictional young hero Nate Fuller. In 2011 a remarkable artifact from this voyage sold on eBay.

While fiercely patriotic, Houdini was largely apolitical. He didn't belong to any political party and was said to have voted only once in his life for Warren G. Harding in 1920. In 1914 he met with President Woodrow Wilson, who told the magician: "Sir, I envy you your ability of escaping from tight places. Sometimes I wish I were able to do the same."

Of course, Houdini was also photographed with his favorite President, Abraham Lincoln...via the spirit world!


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