Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kristen Connolly as Bess Houdini

Here is Kristen Connolly as Bess Houdini in HISTORY's upcoming Houdini miniseries starring Adrien Brody. This is our first real good look at the actress in full makeup and costume, and I think she makes a breathtaking Bess!

Bess Houdini (played by Kristen Connolly). Photo by Egon Endreyi © 2014 HISTORY 

Kristen is having a breakout year in 2014. Not only did she star in a second season of the hit Netflix series, House of Cards, but she played Desdemona in a stage production of Othello with Blair Underwood, and has just landed a regular role on the ABC series The Whispers produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin TV. No doubt Houdini will help bring her more success. She might even come to rival Janet Leigh as our most famous Bessie.

Houdini is directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. The 4-hour miniseries will air in two-parts on September 1 & 2 at 9pm ET/PT on HISTORY.

This weekend I'll share several more spectacular photos from HISTORY's Houdini right here on WILD ABOUT HARRY.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

LINK: Houdini breaks through with Rainbow Derby win

In so many ways, 2014 is proving to be the year of "Houdini"...

Ellen Kennedy Living Trust's homebred Houdini broke through with his first stakes win when he rallied on the outside to take the Grade 1, $1,048,682 Rainbow Derby on Saturday at Ruidoso Downs.

Kino discontinues Houdini The Movie Star DVD set

Our friends at the Houdini Museum in Scranton report that Kino's Houdini The Movie Star DVD set is now discontinued. Indeed, the Kino store shows "discontinued" on the DVD homepage, and Amazon shows a 9 to 10 day waiting period (although Dorothy and Dick said when they tried to order from Amazon, it comes back as unavailable). The set was first released in 2008.

If you haven't yet gotten this set, I'd make every effort to do so NOW. Amazon's Marketplace is still a good bet for new and used copies. While Houdini's movies are all now available on multiple DVDs and streaming, this set contains a wealth of archival footage of Houdini's escapes that doesn't exist anywhere else. It also includes The Grim Game plane crash footage, and several minutes of Houdini's very first film, Merveilleux Exploits du Célébre Houdini à Paris (although the set doesn't credit it as such).

Thank you Dorothy and Dick.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A+E makes it official: Houdini airs September 1 & 2 at 9pm

Photo: Colin Hutton / History (click to enlarge).

This won't be news to anyone who reads this blog, but  A+E Networks have officially announced that the Houdini miniseries will air on September 1 & 2 at 9pm ET/PT on HISTORY. They've also released a nice new still photo (above). Here is the official press release:

Iron Will Made Him Famous,

Genius Made Him Legendary…

Academy Award Winner® Adrien Brody Stars in


Two-Night Miniseries-Event Premieres

September 1 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HISTORY®

New York, NY – July 21, 2014 – HOUDINI, a new two-night scripted miniseries airing on September 1 and 2 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HISTORY®, is the story of a man who can defy death, but who really was the man behind the escapes? The event miniseries follows the epic tales of Harry Houdini as he emerges as America’s first bonafide world-renowned superstar.

From humble beginnings at circus sideshows to sold-out concert halls, Eastern European immigrant Ehrich Weiss rose to become a household name across the globe – Houdini. Academy Award® winner Adrien Brody (The Pianist) stars as The Great Harry Houdini as he finds fame, engages in espionage, battles spiritualists, and encounters the greatest names of the era, from U.S. presidents to Arthur Conan Doyle and Rasputin. A thrilling ride throughout Harry’s psyche, HOUDINI delves deep behind the curtain into his life through his stunts, his visions, and his mastery of illusion.

Joining Brody is Kristen Connolly (House of Cards, The Cabin the Woods) as Bess Houdini, the love of Harry’s life and right hand when it came to some of his most amazing feats, and Evan Jones (A Million Ways to Die in the West, The Book of Eli, Gangster Squad) as Jim Collins, Harry’s assistant and confidant.

HOUDINI is a Lionsgate/A+E Studios Co-Production. Gerald W. Abrams (Nuremberg, Family of Spies) and Andras Hamori (Sunshine) serve as executive producers of HOUDINI. Academy Award® nominated Nicholas Meyer (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution) is writer and Academy Award® nominated director Uli Edel (The Baader Meinhof Complex, Hotel Adlon) helms HOUDINI. Academy Award® winning veteran Patrizia von Brandenstein (Amadeus) is production designer and Karl Walter Lindenlaub, whose work ranges from American blockbusters (Independence Day) to award-winning art house movies (Black Book) is cinematographer. Dirk Hoogstra and Julian P. Hobbs are Executives in Charge of Production for HISTORY.

CLICK HERE to view all the news on HISTORY's Houdini miniseries. You can also Like and follow my unofficial Houdini Miniseries Facebook page.

Houdini lurks in The Shadow #0

This week Dynamite Comics releases a new graphic novel featuring Houdini and The Shadow. The Dynamite website shows the official street date as July 23, but the book is in-stock now (I already have my copy in hand). The Shadow #0 is written by Cullen Bunn, with art by Colton Worley and a cover by Gabriel Hardman.

In The Shadow #0, Lamont Crasnton, a.k.a. The Shadow, infiltrates a society of evil magicians who are holding Bess captive in Los Angeles in 1936. During the action, Lamont flashes back to memories of New York in 1925 when he learned the art of escape from Houdini himself. A nice touch is that Houdini remains larger obscured doing these flashbacks, as if he is Lamont's very own "Shadow." It's a good, atmospheric adventure, with the final scene set at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood (site of the Final Houdini Seance). The final panels hint at another Shadow adventure to come, but it's unclear whether it will involve Houdini or Bess.

As far as I know, this is the very first fictional paring of Houdini and legendary pulp crime fighter. Of course, The Shadow was created by Houdini's real-life friend and ghostwriter, Walter B. Gibson, whom Houdini nicknamed "Shadow."

You can purchase The Shadow #0 direct from Dynamite Comics or In October Dynamite will release a graphic novel featuring Houdini and Sherlock Holmes.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Herring Houdini member Mark Lyons spotted this at the Roll'n'Rye Delicatessan in Culver City, California. "Herring Houdini" is by artist Dan Koffman and is part of The DELI Collection. Delicious.

Thanks to Joe Fox for the alert and Mark Lyons for allowing me to share his photo.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Was Houdini killed by Chop Suey?

Anyone who has spent any time reading this blog knows the topic of Houdini's death is a lightening rod for controversy. For some, appendicitis isn't enough. There are theories that he was murdered by Margery, punched with a Ninja death blow, poisoned by his own doctors and, yes, even done in by Bess (I'm looking at you, Brad Meltzer). There was even a dubious plan a few years back to exhume his body to test for poisoning.

But this shouldn't come as a surprise. We've all seen how when a celebrity dies unexpectedly, a wave of tabloid gossip and conspiracy theories follow. This was certainly the case with Houdini, and it seemed to start even before the pumpkins burned out on Halloween. Below is a cable sent to Grace Hospital just two days after Houdini's death in which "more that one million readers" demanded to know what the magician was fed during his final days.

Click to enlarge.

Of course, we now know what Houdini was fed during his fatal illness -- at least we know what might have been his last meal. In his final days, Houdini told one of his attending physicians, Dr. Daniel Cohen, "I have a yen for Farmer's Chop Suey," a dish reported to have been popular with Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. In a effort to make Houdini as conformable as possible, Dr. Cohen went to a nearby delicatessen and bought two helpings which he shared bedside with the magician.

The blog Live To Write Another Day offered up this thought on why Houdini might have requested this dish in his final days:

"This craving was no doubt one of nostalgia rather than hunger, as Houdini was gravely ill with peritonitis and virtually unable to eat. It may also have been a response to his very high fever, as the chilled, creamy salad was traditionally eaten on hot summer days."

Is it just a coincidence that Houdini died a short time later!!!???

Food for thought.

Thanks to John C. Hinson for the clipping, "Kat's Mom" at for the yummy picture, and Antique Recipes for the classic ingredients. Read more about Houdini's Last Meal at Live To Write Another Day and Mae's Food Blog.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Poster for HISTORY's Houdini

Magician Adam Steinfeld of Adam Steinfeld Magic Live has discovered this poster for HISTORY's upcoming Houdini miniseries starring Adrien Brody. Notice it says "Spring 2014." The miniseries was originally announced for broadcast in May, so maybe this is an earlier concept?

Houdini co-stars Kristen Connolly as Bess, Evan Jones as Jim Collins, Eszter Ónodi as Cecilia Weiss, and Tom Benedict Knight as Theo Hardeen. The 4-hour miniseries is directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. It will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY starting September 1, 2014.

Thank you Adam.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Houdini miniseries adapted from controversial 1976 biography

In the interview posted on Screen World News last week, producer Gerald W. Abrams revealed that screenwriter Nicholas Meyer "adapted" his screenplay for the 4-hour Houdini miniseries from the 1976 book, Houdini: A Mind in Chains. That book was written by Meyer's father, Bernard C. Meyer, M.D.

Houdini: A Mind in Chains is a "Psychoanalytic Portrait" of Houdini. It's a controversial book as it puts forth some highly Freudian interpretations of Houdini's Milk Can escape (a womb), hints of bondage in his act, and even suggests that Houdini might have suffered from claustrophobia. It was also the first book to reveal the family conflict between Houdini, his brother Leo, and Sadie Weiss (who divorced Houdini's brother Nathan to marry Leo). Some Houdini scholars dismiss the book as too much psychobabble, but I find it interesting reading, and in 1976 it broke new ground as far as revealing new information. Unfortunately, the book was never published in paperback or any edition after the 1976 hardcover.

If Meyer really did use this book as the main source for his Houdini miniseries script, might we expect see some of these psychological issues explored? The most recent trailer, in which Houdini speaks about "fears", suggests the movie might indeed spend at least some time inside that mind of chains. I'm also wondering if this means we might finally see a reprint of the Meyer book.

"What's your biggest fear?"


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Potter & Potter auction will include the lost Houdini spiritualism scrapbook

Potter & Potter's recently announced Houdini Auction on August 23, 2014 will include the lost Houdini spiritualism scrapbook that WILD ABOUT HARRY had a role in uncovering last year.

CLICK HERE to revisit the story of how a Southern California antique dealer discovered this amazing Houdini artifact, and how I was the first Houdini nut to get a look at it.

The Houdini spiritualism scrapbook will certainly be a highlight of the auction, which is going to include a truly remarkable selection of Houdini rarities.

For more details and to order the Houdini Auction catalog, visit the Potter & Potter website.

Potter & Potter Houdini Auction set for August 23

Potter & Potter have announced August 23, 2014 as the date of their special Houdini Auction in Chicago. Here are some details from the auction house website:

Our summer auction will feature choice memorabilia related to the most famous magician and escape artist the world has ever known: Harry Houdini. Among the featured items are:

-Lithographs, Broadsides and Challenges, featuring the iconic "King of Cards" poster used in Houdini’s earliest days as a circus performer.

-Photographs and Ephemera, among them Houdini family pictures, postcards, manuscripts, autographs and correspondence, including unpublished images and documents.

-A Recently-Discovered Houdini Scrapbook, as well as a Houdini family scrapbook, and other personal artifacts.

-Handcuffs, Magic Props, Locks, and Escape Devices, including unusual restraints used by Houdini and his brother, Hardeen.

-Associated Memorabilia, chief among them documents related to Hardeen, as well as others magicians and celebrities who crossed Houdini’s path; and additional rare magicana.

The auction takes place at 10:00 am on Saturday, August 23rd in our Chicago Gallery. Catalog ship approximately three weeks prior to the sale. Previews take place in the gallery in the days preceding the auction, from 10am - 5pm, CST.

It looks like that "recently discovered Houdini scrapbook" is the lost spiritualism scrapbook that WAH played a role in revealing last year. This will certainly be a highlight of the auction, which sounds like it's going to include a truly remarkable selection of Houdini rarities.

For more details and to order the Houdini Auction catalog, visit the Potter & Potter website.


100 years ago at Battery Park

It was 100 years ago today on July 15, 1914, that Houdini performed an overboard box escape off New York's Battery Park before a crowd of 15,000. It's an escape that, while well-represented in photos, receives scant attention in most Houdini biographies.

Back in February I did a blog all about this escape. So on this 100th anniversary, I invite you to revisit that post. Or if you missed it, you can enjoy it now. Click below and go:

Monday, July 14, 2014

It's Holmes vs. Houdini in October

Bleeding Cool reports that writers Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery will pen Dynamite's Sherlock Holmes vs Harry Houdini. They will be joined by artist Carlos Furuzono and cover artists John Cassaday, Aaron Campbell and Colton Worley.

In Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #1, famed detective Sherlock Holmes and brash showman Harry Houdini must combine forces to defeat a mysterious mystic dedicated to destroying Houdini’s career and killing anyone who gets in his way. But despite their singular purpose, the two titans have too much professional pride between them… and it’s only a matter of time until the deadliest sin has them facing off.

Says Del Col, "Sherlock Holmes and Harry Houdini are two of the most fascinating characters of the last hundred-plus years. Placing them together in the same world produces so many moments of mystery, intrigue, illusion, and reveal."

Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #1 is slated for release in October.

Dynamite seems to have discovered the power of Houdini lately. Later this week the company will release The Shadow #0. That book sees Houdini teaming up with the legendary crime fighter, The Shadow (a character created by Houdini's real-life friend and ghostwriter, Walter B. Gibson).

Thanks at Dave Sikula over at HOUDINI HQ for the tip.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

When Houdini walked through a brick wall

It was 100 years ago today that Harry Houdini first walked through a brick wall at Hammerstein's Roof Garden and Victoria Theatre in New York. Even though he only performed the illusion for a short time, it has become part of his legend, and he is still known as "the man who walked through walls" today. So on this anniversary, here's a look back at this spectacular magic effect.

When Houdini returned from Europe in late June 1914 to fulfill his regular July booking at Hammerstein's Roof Garden and Victoria Theatre in New York, he intended to make a splash. He promoted his appearance with a spectacular Overboard Box escape off Battery Park, and during his first week (July 6) he presented his Chinese Water Torture Cell, which was still relatively new to American audiences. But Hammerstein's required a performer change their act each week, so during his second week, Houdini revealed a dramatic new magic effect: Walking Through A Brick Wall.

Houdini first presented the illusion during the Monday matinee performance on July 13. It was an especially hot day in the city, and before the start of the show, a special announcement was made that any man might remove his coat. Many took advantage of this. Houdini was the 8th act on the 13 act Vaudeville bill -- the closing act before intermission.

What the Hammerstein's audience saw on that hot July day was a brick wall, 9 feet tall and 10 feet wide, rolled out and placed atop a carpet and a sheet of muslin laid out on the stage floor to insure no trap doors were used. Audience members were invited onstage to examine both the wall and stage coverings, some were even given hammers to test the wall's veracity. The audience members then surrounded the wall so that it was visible from all sides at all times. Houdini, dressed in a long white duster, took his place at one side of the wall "like a prisoner awaiting execution." A screen was placed over the magician and another screen was placed on the opposite side of the wall. Houdini waved his hands above the screen and said, "Here I am." Then his hands vanished and almost instantly reappeared from the screen on the other side. Both screens were pulled away to reveal that Houdini had seemingly walked through the wall.

Billboard reported that, "The audience sat spellbound for fully two minutes after this feat was accomplished. They were too dumbfounded to applaud."

It was a good effect, but unlike the Milk Can and Water Torture Cell, it was not an original Houdini creation. During a magic spending spree in England (where he had tried out his first all-magic show, the Grand Magical Revue), Houdini purchased the secret for £3 from magician Sidney Josolyne, whose original plans called for a wall of steel. Controversy would later erupt over whether the secret was Josolyne's to sell. Magician P.T. Selbit claimed to have invented it and accused Joselyne and Houdini of theft. Alexander also claimed to have performed a similar effect in the 1890s using blocks of ice. But the controversy remained largely on the other side of the Atlantic, and it was an inspired touch by Houdini to change Josolyne's steel wall into one made of brick.

As he had done with his Water Torture Cell, Houdini copyrighted his new effect by writing it into a short playlet he called (what else?), "Walking Through A Brick Wall." In the play, a young man named Jack comes to the home of wealthy Richard Sterling to ask permission to marry his daughter, Alice. As Jack is the son of Sterling's "mortal enemy," the man refuses, saying:

Sterling: Nothing. Not even if you had all of the money in the world. It would take a big miracle to make me change my mind; say fly though the air without a flying machine or walk through a brick wall.

Jack: Maybe I can do that.

Sterling: The day you can walk through a brick wall that separates our houses, I'll give you my daughter.

In Act II, Jack succeeds in penetrating the brick wall in Sterling's garden and wins the hand of fair Alice.

Alice: Jack, did you really walk through that brick wall?

Jack: Alice, whether I did or not, everything is fair in love and war. (Embrace. Curtain.)

It's unclear whether the play was ever performed. Houdini received his copyright on July 15. (The full text of the play appears in Houdini's Strange Tales by Patrick Culliton.)

Walking Through A Brick Wall proved to be a sensation during Houdini's run at Hammerstein's. During one performance, laborers from the bricklayers Union No. 34 "turned out in force." One man, dressed in his work clothes and "flashing a trowel, proceeded to hammer away at some of the bricks" until "several were pried loose." In a confrontation almost certainly pre-arrange by Houdini, the bricklayers challenged him to walk through a wall made of their own construction. Houdini accepted the challenge, and before a packed house on the following Friday, he beat the bricklayers wall.

Hammerstein's -- where Houdini walked through his brick wall.

It's interesting to note that Houdini also performed his Double-Fold Death Defying Mystery -- an enhanced version of the Milk Can escape -- during the same 29 minute act in which he featured Walking Through A Brick Wall (he also did the Needles). While the Brick Wall illusion grabbed the headlines, Houdini knew his audience still expected him to defy death.

Houdini may have only performed Walking Through A Brick Wall during this one week at Hammerstein's. During his third week, he featured a submerged box escape. Ken Silverman in Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss said he later presented the illusion at Keiths Theater in Boston, where he was again challenged by the bricklayers union. However, I've not been able to find any evidence of this Boston performance (and some evidence to the contrary).

Hardeen takes over.
After this short run, Houdini passed Walking Through A Brick Wall to Hardeen, who would present it at the Bowdon Theatre in Boston in January 1915. The press claimed that Hardeen "is the originator of it." Hardeen also inherited the controversy with P.T. Selbit, and they continued to exchange barbs into the 1920s. It might have been good research or a happy accident that in the 1976 TV movie, The Great Houdinis, Hardeen (played by Jack Carter) says as he's about to take the stage: "Excuse me. I gotta walk through a brick wall. Hope I make it."

Why did Houdini abandon Walking Through A Brick Wall so quickly? Some say the effect lost its appeal because the secret was known to so many, including stagehands. It's also possible Houdini was uncomfortable with the invention controversy. Curiously, the secret of Walking Through A Brick Wall was offered for sale in September 1914 by a company calling itself "New York Magical Exchange" located at 30 E. 42nd Street. The company even claimed to have a copyright. The fact that Houdini did not take legal action (or worse) leads Houdini expert Patrick Culliton to suspect that Houdini himself was behind the business.

The frame used in Walking Through A Brick Wall survived. It was passed to Sidney Radner by Hardeen along with so many other important pieces of Houdini apparatus. But Sidney revealed to Patrick Culliton that the frame was stored outside behind his house and eventually rusted away. What a loss.

Walking Through A Brick Wall has become a part of Houdini's legend. William Lindsay Gresham titled his groundbreaking 1959 biography, Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls (in which he also revealed the secret), and a 1975 paperback edition of Milbourne Christopher's biography, Houdini The Untold Story, featured on the cover a beautiful painted image of Houdini penetrating a brick wall (artwork at the top of this post).

There have also been some notable modern interpretations. After doing the Water Torture Cell and Vanishing Elephant on his first two live television specials, Doug Henning did his own version of Walking Through A Brick Wall in 1978. David Coppefield later upped the ante when he walked through the Great Wall of China. In both cases, these two modern masters of magic properly paid tribute to Houdini as the original "man who walked through walls."

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Sept 3, 1914. (Click to enlarge.)


Saturday, July 12, 2014

100 years ago tomorrow

Tomorrow WILD ABOUT HARRY will celebrate an important 100 year anniversary. Care to guess what it might be?

"The audience sat spellbound for fully two minutes after this feat was accomplished. They were too dumbfounded to applaud."

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Dear Brave wonderful little lady"

Our friend David Haversat of Haversat & Ewing Galleries shares with us today a truly remarkable letter from his collection. This letter was written by magician William Hilliar to Bess a week after Houdini's death. It has some amazing content, and even a little Thurston bashing for a change. The letter speaks for itself, so enjoy.

Click to enlarge.

You can read more about Houdini and William Hilliar -- including details of Houdini's visit to Hilliar's parents as mentioned in this letter -- in my blog from 2013: Houdini and Hilliar.

Thank you David for sharing this gem.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Haldane of the Secret Service screening in Coney Island, July 19

Houdini's 1923 film Haldane of the Secret Service will be screened with live piano accompaniment by Liz Magnes at the Coney Island Museum in Coney Island, New York, on Saturday, July 19 at 8:30pm. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased in advance here. FREE POPCORN!

Of course, Coney Island was a special place for Harry and Bess Houdini. They met and married in Coney Island and returned each year on their anniversary. A perfect place to screen a Houdini movie.

The Coney Island Museum is located at 1208 Surf Avenue. Click here for more information.

Magicol switches on the Houdini Automaton

This alert comes a little late, but the latest issue of Magicol (No. 187) has some nice Houdini content, including an article by Dustin Stinett about John Gaughan's Houdini Automaton and other writing machines. Made for the 2003 L.A. Magic History Conference, the Houdini Automaton can reproduce Houdini's signature (actually, Jay Marshall's forgery of Houdini's signature).

This issue is largely devoted to magicians autographs and autographs collecting. As always, Magicana has done a stellar job. You can subscribe to Magicol at


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Entertainment Weekly: Now you see him

Entertainment Weekly has what it's calling the "First look at Adrien Brody in History's Houdini", despite the fact that the magazine actually gave us our look at Brody as Houdini back in February. Nevertheless, it's is a great new photo, and along with it comes this new promo trailer which is truly our first look at Brody in performance as Houdini. Enjoy.

Houdini co-stars Kristen Connolly as Bess, Evan Jones as Jim Collins, Eszter Ónodi as Cecilia Weiss, and Tom Benedict Knight as Theo Hardeen. The 4-hour miniseries is directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. It will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY starting September 1, 2014.

Producers talk Houdini miniseries

World Screen News has posted this clip of executive producer Gerald W. Abrams and Sandra Stern, the COO of television at Lionsgate, discussing the upcoming Houdini miniseries. Abrams confirms that it will be a "cradle to grave" biopic, that it will included almost 300 special effect shots, and that it will open with Houdini's (fictional) hole in the ice bridge jump.

Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. The 4-hour miniseries is directed by Uli Edel and will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY starting September 1, 2014.


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