Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Houdini learns the title of his movie

Eric Colleary of the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas reports that there is currently a major re-cataloging of their Houdini archive underway. Among the center's massive holdings are many of the business papers related to Houdini's film work, and today Eric shared this gem on Kevin Connolly's Conjuring History Facebook group.

Houdini's first Hollywood production for Famous Players-Lasky Paramount was for a time called Circumstantial Evidence. This letter from Jesse L. Lasky dated May 24, 1919 informs Houdini that a consensus has been reached on a final title. It was actually a return to one of the first titles suggested by writers Arthur B. Reeve and John W. Grey. Looks like Houdini did not object.


As you can see, Lasky sent this to Houdini care of the "Lasky Studios" in Hollywood. It's too bad he didn't send it to the address where Houdini was residing, as it might have finally given us the "smoking gun evidence" that Houdini was living in Laurel Canyon at the time. Perhaps the re-cataloging might finally reveal that evidence?

The Harry Ransom Center recently screened The Grim Game and displayed items from their collection to mark the 90th anniversary of Houdini's death. Check out their official website.

Thanks to Eric Colleary and Kevin Connolly.

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While we're on the topic, check out my new standalone page devoted to Houdini's Movies. I'm slowly building up standalone pages like this that can be accessed from the main menu bar. Just a way to help make the site more navigable.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Houdini's misfits return in 2017

Comic creator, writer, and editor Dwight L. MacPherson is launching a new company, Hocus Pocus Comics, and among the first releases will be a follow-up (or reboot) of his successful 2008 comic, Kid Houdini and The Silver Dollar Misfits.

Hocus Pocus Comics’ second title, Houdini’s Silver Dollar Misfits, is described by MacPherson as “Harry Potter meets Gravity Falls.” The first issue will be released this spring, and it will feature a cover by David Hartman and interior art by Mathieu Benoit.

You can read more about Hocus Pocus Comics and their upcoming releases at Graphic Policy. Good luck Dwight!

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Monday, December 5, 2016

"Daring Dive" and other rarities sell in Potter auction

Several Houdini rarities sold in Potter & Potter's Winter Magic Auction on December 3. Among them was a nice broadside advertising Houdini's jump into the Edgbaston Reservoir in Birmingham, England on December 15, 1908. What I especially like here is that Houdini offered cash prizes for the best photographs "taken of him whilst in mid-air." This went for $5,658.


Other lots of note included an antique pair of Palmer Handcuffs from Houdini's collection ($3,936); a copy of the rare 1927 Russian book "Harry Houdini – Debunker of Spiritualists" ($2,460); a colorful 1908 Christmas card ($3,936); and an invitation to Houdini's Shelton pool test ($1,045).


Potter & Potter's next auction is the highly anticipated "The Golden Age of Magic Posters, Part II" on February 4th, 2017. That auction will include Houdini posters.

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Ehrich Weiss Bible is in The House

The recently unearthed "Ehrich Weiss Bible" is now part of The House of Houdini museum in Budapest, Hungary. The Bible was delivered yesterday by musician Tara O'Grady whose family owned the Bible for some 38 years. The arrival was heralded by a major press event with dignitaries. Later that evening, Tara performed in concert with Hungarian jazz musicians including Attila Korb.

Below is a terrific shot by Richard Velasco of museum founder David Merlini and Tara with the museum's newest addition.


The Bible, which is signed by Houdini's father Rabbi Weiss and by Houdini as "Ehrich Weiss" in 1893, came to Tara's family via the nurse of Houdini's brother Dr. Leopold Weiss. It's a wild story that Tara first shared HERE.

For more information on Tara visit her website and Twitter. You can find out more about The House of Houdini via their website and Facebook.

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Timeless crew werk'in on Houdini episode

Actress Abigail Spencer just posted this to her Twitter. It reveals that the Timeless crew is shooting their Houdini episode today. It's pretty funny, and it gives us our first look at Michael Drayer as Harry.


Timeless airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC. The Houdini episode is set during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. No air-date has yet been announced.

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Hardeen eats no meats

Like his famous brother, Hardeen investigated fake spirit mediums, or so he claimed. While I've never heard of Hardeen actually becoming involved in an investigation or breaking up a seance, this article from the Wilkes-Barre Evening News for June 28, 1928 shows that he at least threw down the gauntlet.

Click to enlarge.

Another article published around this same time includes this interesting detail about Dash:


In 1936 Hardeen made a Vitaphone short called Medium Well Done in which he played a "hardbodied detective" investigating fraud mediums. This might have been his only moment on stage as a spirit debunker. The film is now lost, so we don't know if Hardeen's detective was also a vegetarian.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Puzzling new Houdini book for 2017

Next year is starting to reveal itself and the new Houdini books are lining up! Here's another new title, The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault. I don't think this has much to do with Houdini apart from the title and cover art. But that's enough for me!

At the turn of the twentieth century, Harry Houdini was regularly leaving audiences of thousands amazed at his repertoire of stunts. Escaping locks and chains; digging himself out after being buried alive; freeing himself from a straitjacket while suspended from a crane; each escapade was a little more dangerous than the last and left his growing legion of fans wanting more. The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault contains 100 puzzles inspired by the greatest escapologist to have ever lived. With puzzle chains where one wrong answer can leave you locked in a never-ending circle of puzzles, and logic problems designed to confound the minds of the unworthy, this puzzle book is an enjoyable test for all. Unlock your brain and see if you can escape the challenging puzzles inside.

The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault will be releasd on June 1, 2017. So far it is only available for pre-order at Amzon.co.uk (UK).

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Houdini must have been crazy to do this."

Recently I discovered some old cassette tapes I made as a kid, and on one I found a radio interview with the legendary Doug Henning. This appears to have been recorded in 1980 when he was preparing for a new tour that would kick off at the Los Angeles Pantages theater (a show I saw).


In the interview, Doug talks about performing Houdini's Water Torture Cell on his first television special in December 1975, and how he had a close call that night.

I hit record when the topic turned to Houdini, so it picks up as Doug is talking about looking through some Houdini material provided by his niece (Ruth Kavanagh). Enjoy.


Henning actually revived the Water Torture Cell for this run at the Pantages in 1980. According to the excellent Spellbound: The Wonder-Filled Life of Doug Henning by John Harrison, his first show went fine. But during the second performance, he panicked and had another close call. His lead assistant Nanci Hammond said, "The Water Torture Cell was very hard for him to do. He was really afraid that he was going to die doing it."

After the mishap, Henning's manager and the company staged an "intervention" and convinced Henning to cut the escape for good, which he did.

Below are links to anniversary coverage of Henning's first three live television specials, each of which featured an iconic Houdini feat.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

'Secret Life of Houdini' movie shows new signs of life

Deadline Hollywood reports that Lionsgate is in talks with Daniel Trachtenberg about directing its long-in-development Houdini movie. Here's the report:

EXCLUSIVE: 10 Cloverfield Lane helmer Daniel Trachtenberg is in talks to direct Lionsgate’s film about master illusionist Harry Houdini. This is the film that seemed to pull a vanishing act after reports that Johnny Depp was going to star and Dean Parisot direct. That went by the wayside in a puff of smoke, but I’ve confirmed that Trachtenberg is negotiating to take on a project based on the William Kalush and Larry Sloman’s book The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero. The film has all the elements for a prestige project. The script is by Noah Oppenheim, who won the scripting prize at the Venice Film Festival earlier this fall. And it’s being produced by Frank Marshall and American Beauty’s Bruce Cohen. Houdini is depicted here not just as the master of magic, but as an adventurer and investigator of the occult. Trachtenberg is repped by ICM Partners and Oasis Media Group.

Lionsgate's Houdini movie has been in the works since 2009 and has seen several writers, directors, and even actors come and go. He's hoping this time something will come of this. 10 Cloverfield Lane was one of my favorite movies of the year, so I'm all for this choice.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

When did Houdini become "King of Handcuffs"?


My recent post about How "The Houdinis" became "Houdini" has raised the question of exactly when Houdini adopted his famous "King of Handcuffs" moniker. Some say it was Martin Beck who came up with the name when he signed Houdini to his Oprheum circut in 1899. Bill Kalush in The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare states that Houdini first used the billing in Joplin, Missouri in May 1898 (actually, the book contains a typo, 1889, which is impossible as Houdini was still Ehrich Weiss in 1889).

But now Joe Notaro has found an even earlier mention in The Columbus Daily Advocate for Tuesday, December 28, 1897. This was when Harry and Bess were traveling with the California Concert Co., a medicine show headed by "Dr." Thomas Hill that played the midwest.

Columbus Daily Advocate, December 28, 1897.

So is this the earliest use of "King of Handcuffs"? It certainly is a strong candidate. Bruce MacNab, an authority on Houdini's early career and the author of The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, says that he has not come across anything earlier.

The "King of Handcuffs" billing shows up again in May 1898 when the Houdinis are performing with the Welsh Bros. Circus. After Houdini signs with Martin Beck in March 1899, it becomes almost standard.

In October 1899, The Marion County Herald shortened it to "The Handcuff King" in a headline. As far as I can find, this is the first appearance of that famous variation. One wonders if this is where Houdini got the idea? (There was also a racehorse called "Handcuff King" active at this time.)

Interestingly, the same article says Houdini is also known as "the Needle King," in reference to his East Indian Needle trick. That one didn't stick.

So for the moment, it appears December 28, 1897 is indeed the earliest mention of Houdini as the "King of Handcuffs." It also proves that it was Houdini who came up with the name before Martin Beck came along and helped make it world famous.

Thanks to Joe Notaro and Bruce MacNab.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

FLASHBACK: The birthday magician

Magicians who endure the trials and tribulations of performing at children's birthday parties can take comfort in knowing that they are following in the footsteps of The Great Houdini himself! Yes, at the height of his career, Houdini performed as "birthday magician," and his audience was every bit as unruly as any group of children hopped on sugar. The only difference is these children were all named Roosevelt.

Click below for this "flashback" post from September 9, 2013 and learn all about...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

"A Houdini for the Millennium"

Having scored success using Houdini as a character in its popular Spawn series [see Houdini's SPAWN], in 1998 Image Comics launched a 4-issue mini-series featuring Houdini himself. In Daring Escapes, Houdini is a trans-dimensional time-traveller battling the forces of evil. Escape artist Jim Steranko, who penned an essay for issue #1, called it "a Houdini for the Millennium."

Daring Escapes was written by Andy Grossberg and Tom Orzechowski with art by Alan Weiss, Arthur Nichols and Jim Fern. Each issue containing a unique magic dedication. Below is are the covers and a description of each installment.


ISSUE ONE: Heart of the Matter
"Dedicated forever to Harry Houdini, the man who could not be held!"
Houdini, residing in an afterlife called the "Overlap," is assigned the task of retrieving a statuette made of dangerous Hellite (conjured in Spawn 19-20). The action plays out in 1492 Rome and sees Houdini escaping from the Vatican dungeon. This issue also contains the essay "Houdini Reincarnated!" by Jim Steranko. Released in September 1998 in two variant covers (above).

ISSUE TWO: Matters of the Heart
"Dedicated to James Randi, Esq. for his amazing book on conjuring."
Houdini travels with "Balsamo's Circus of Delights" through Central Italy in 1503 in pursuit of an artifact stolen by a dimension hopping Pope who may be immortal. Meanwhile, evil grows more powerful in modern day New York. With issue #2, Jim Fern replaced artist Arthur Nichols. The issue includes an essay by writer Andy Grossberg. Houdini's aviation career and Bess get brief mentions. There's even a nod to Star Wars. Released in October 1998.

ISSUE THREE: Mind Over Matter
"Dedicated to Kenneth Silverman. 'Houdini!!! The Career of 
Ehrich Weiss' is a must read!"
Houdini teams up with a young angel named Kimiel in pursuit of the Hellite statue in a modern day Manhattan awash in evil. This issue includes a flashback to a 1913 performance of Houdini's Water Torture Cell. It also includes letters to the editors. Released in November 1998. 

ISSUE FOUR: Heart and Soul
"Dedicated to all magicians everywhere, stage or otherwise!"
Houdini and Kimiel battle Pope Borgia and his cultists in a Manhattan church and uncover the true mastermind behind the plot, Judas Iscariot! A grand finale packed with a campy mix of religion and action. Writer Tom Orzechowski provides a final essay about the creation of the Houdini character in both Spawn and Daring Escapes. Released in March 1999.

Despite hopes, Daring Escapes was never collected and released in a combined edition (as far as I know).

Below are links to more adventures of Houdini in the comic realm.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

See Ragtime in London through December 10

If you live in the UK and have never seen Ragtime, know there is a production playing at the Charing Cross Theatre in London through December 10th. The play features Christopher Dickins as Houdini. I've not been able to find a photo of him in character, but I'm guessing that's Harry to the right of the woman with the violin in the cast photo below (click to enlarge).


For show dates and ticket information, visit the Charing Cross Theatre website.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Houdini lived again on Thanksgiving 1947

Here's a clipping from the Bridgeport Post, November 21, 1947 touting "Houdini Lives Again," a traveling magic show headed by Hardeen Jr. (Douglas Geoffrey) and Sherms (Robert Sherman). But it's pretty assistant Sally Shulman who gets most of the attention here.


Despite what the story says, Hardeen Jr. was not Theo Hardeen's brother. He was Hardeen's assistant, Douglas Geoffrey, whom Dash named as his successor shortly before his death.


For the full story of Hardeen Jr. as his long career as "successor to Houdini and Hardeen," check out: The untold story of Hardeen Jr.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Houdini confederate confesses in 1975

Here's an interesting article from the April 22, 1975 Progress Bulletin about a man named Earle Codding who says he and a fellow solider were invited by "Houdini's manager" to offer up a pair of gaffed handcuffs during a performance in 1917. I especially like that Houdini "acted horrified about the military cuffs he was given." Way to make the most of the situation.


While it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Houdini planted handcuffs in his audience from time to time (you couldn't count on people showing up with handcuffs at every performance), there are aspects to this recollection that are problematic.

The first is that Houdini was nowhere near San Diego in 1917. As far as I know, he only performed in that city once in 1907. It's also unlikely that Houdini would be doing challenge handcuff escapes this late in his career. He had abandon the handcuff act nearly a decade earlier and was now featuring the Water Torture Cell and challenge escapes. While it's not impossible that he would occasionally include a handcuff escape in the act, a poster advertising people to bring their own cuffs does not sound like Houdini at this time.

All this makes me wonder if these soldiers might have seen another escape artist. Vaudeville was rife with Houdini imitators and "Handcuff Kings," and some purposely blurred the lines in their advertising.

Interestingly, Hardeen was in San Fransisco and Los Angeles performing on the Pantages circuit in 1917. Did he go to San Diego as well? Note that the soldier says he's not sure whether he was outside the Pantages or Orpheum at the time.

Just another Houdini mystery.

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