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Monday, September 22, 2014

Antiques Roadshow finds Houdini in Knoxville

A set of signed Houdini books and a letter appeared on the popular PBS series Antiques Roadshow today. The collection was discovered in the attic of a home in Knoxville, Tennessee by a woman whose grandfather was friends with Houdini. Ken Gloss appraised the collection at $7,600 - $11,600. While the segment just aired today, the appraisal was made on July 13, 2013.

You can see photos, read a transcript, and watch a video of the Houdini segment at the Antiques Roadshow webpage at

French animated Houdini TV series in the works

Variety reports that a French animated Houdini TV series is being pitched at Cartoon Forum, a Toulouse-based co-production mini-mart that runs Sept. 23-26. "Houdini" is one of 84 projects being shopped at the event. Here's the full report by Elsa Keslassy:

Master illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini will get a youthful treatment in “Houdini,” a French animated series set to be pitched at Cartoon Forum, the Toulouse-based co-production mini-mart.

Toon series – comprising 26 half-hours – is produced by Jean-Baptiste Wery and 
Emmanuèle Pétry-Sirvin at France’s Dandelooo, which is competing for a Cartoon Tribute.

Set in 1887, the series follows the adventures of Houdini, a gifted 11-year-old illusionist driven by an urge to analyse the many mysteries of New York, which tend to get him embroiled in dubious situations.

Cédric Babouche, the co-author of the novels that served as source material for the series, is directing.

Although the series is not based on a major franchise, it still holds a large potential due to the near-cult status of Harry Houdini, explained Petry-Sirvinn who will be pitching the show at Cartoon Forum.

“Houdini was one of the first illusionist to become internationally acclaimed while alive, thanks to his talent and although kids probably don’t know him as yet, adults do and are intrigued about his mysterious and amazing innate gifts for magic.

The source for this series is "Little Houdini", a multi-platform concept by Cédric Babouche (not yet books as far as I can find). You can read more at the author's website, Cedric's little adventures.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

New German Houdini documentary

A new German Houdini documentary, Spiel mit dem Tod – Harry Houdini der Meistermagier, will air today on arte TV in Germany and also on French station TV8. Produced by ifage Filmproduktion and directed by Jens Monath, the documentary features reenactments of Houdini's escapes by German illusionist Jan Rouven. The documentary will repeat October 12th on ZDF.

Above is a photo of an uncredited actor in full Houdini guise (clearly trying to recreate this publicity photo from the recent Houdini miniseries with Adrien Brody). Below is the description of the documentary from the TV8 website (translated by Google).

Click to enlarge.

You can read more about this documentary, and read an interview with Jan Rouven, at the ARTE website.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Magic Castle members 20% discount to 'Houdini in Hollywood'

Looks like Houdini has brought two great Hollywood-based institutions together. Hollywood Heritage and The Magic Castle have teamed to offer special 20% discount tickets for AMA members to my "Houdini in Hollywood" event on Wednesday, October 8 at 7:30 pm. Tickets can be purchased at the event or via brownpapertickets (bring your AMA membership card to show at the door).

The Hollywood Heritage Museum is located at 2100 North Highland Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90068, directly across from the Hollywood Bowl (enter on Odin St.). Parking is plentiful and free. Phone is (323)-874-2276. For more visit

Friday, September 19, 2014

Houdini's last suspended straitjacket escape?

Here's a clipping from The Indianapolis News showing Houdini performing a suspended straitjacket escape above a crowd of 12,000 on April 2, 1925. This is pretty late in Houdini's career, and I'm thinking this could be his last suspended straitjacket escape. In fact, before I discovered this clipping, I would have said he didn't do a suspended jacket escape beyond 1923.

Click to enlarge.

In a follow-up article published on April 6 (Houdini's 51st birthday), the magician praised the paper for helping draw the record crowd that day:

"It is a wonderful tribute to The Indianapolis News for, with only one day's publicity exploiting my performance, The News drew between 12,000 and 15,000 people in front of its building last Thursday at noon. I have performed similar feats in cities all over the world, usually with a week's heralding. The News announced my intended public appearance in last Wednesday's issues alone. On Thursday we had the show. The pictures tell the story."

Speaking of pictures, Houdini awarded photographer Robert A. Twente $10 for the best photograph taken that day. Houdini presented Twente his prize from the stage of B.F. Keith's Theatre on the Saturday following the stunt. Runner-up prizes of $5 and $2.50 where award to Turner D. Bottome and the Coburn Photo Company respectively.

Robert Twente's prize winning photo.

I admit I haven't tried all that hard to confirm or deny whether this really was Houdini's final suspended straitjacket escape. So if someone wants to drill down deeper and find evidence for or against...Houdini may award you a $10 prize!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Penn & Teller & Houdini's Needles

Penn & Teller are great heroes of mine, both as magicians and as thinkers (I'm excited to be seeing Teller's Tempest next week). Now The Commercial Appeal in Memphis has a nice profile of the duo -- Magicians Penn & Teller on Houdini, Graceland and their first Memphis show in 17 years -- with some great Houdini content, including this gem from Penn:

Once, after a show about 25 years ago, Teller received a compliment he's never forgotten, his partner said. This came after Teller performed "Needles," one of Houdini's most famous tricks. In the trick, the magician appears to swallow 100 needles followed by thread, then pulls them back out threaded together.

"Even when Houdini did his biggest tricks, that was his closer," Jillette said. "Teller wouldn't tell you this, but I'll tell you this. Twenty-five years ago, an elderly woman came to our show. She had seen Houdini do the needles and she'd seen Teller do the needles that night, and she said Teller was better. That's all that matters."

Teller with Houdini's original Needles at Houdini Art and Magic.

Read the full article at The Commercial Appeal, which also includes a nice newspaper clipping of Houdini doing a suspend straitjacket escape from the Commercial Appeal building on September 1, 1923.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

NYPL shows us "America's Sensation" in color

Here is another amazing original Houdini poster from The New York Public Library's Digital Collections. While this is not an unknown poster like I shared yesterday, this is not one that you typically see reproduced in color. Gorgeous.

This poster was printed by the St. Paul's Printing Co. The NYPL dates it as 1900-1906, but according to collector Gale Molovinsky, who owns one of these rare sheets, Houdini commissioned it right after he arrived in London in 1900. This poster was part of selling the then only modestly successful Houdini to Europe as "America's Sensation," just as the "Europe's Eclipsing Sensation" posters were created to sell Houdini back to America. The size of this poster is another clue to how early it is. It's about the same size as the King of Cards poster. And the photo used to illustrate this image we now know was taken in July 1899 (see: Ebay auction dates first Houdini 'nude').

This could be the first real poster to advertise Houdini solely as an escape artist, which makes this an especially important piece of Houdini history. It also might be the only Houdini poster (or at least the only one that's currently known) to spell out his name as "Harry Handcuff Houdini." You also gotta love the red white and blue shorts. Eat your heart out, Rocky Balboa.

The NYPL did extensive restoration on this poster, which was found in a scrapbook. You can read the story of that restoration by Renée Wolcott and Grace Owen on the blog Refried Bean.

You can also purchase this poster as a high resolution digital image for publication, or as 8x10 or larger decorative print. Details can be found at the NYPL Digital Collections website.

Thanks again to Andrea Felder, Permissions & Reproduction Services NYPL, for allowing me to share this image here on WILD ABOUT HARRY.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

NYPL reveals unseen Houdini poster

The New York Public Library has posted several vintage magic posters to their Digital Collections, including this incredible Houdini poster that I've never seen!

There's a lot to love about this poster. It was created by the U.S. Lithographic Co. Russell-Morgan Print and celebrates Houdini as a European superstar. It is part of a commonly themed set of posters, the most famous of which is this one. (I actually think these posters were created expressly for Houdini's return to America in 1905-06, but I don't know that for a fact.) The typeface that spells out Houdini's name is today called "Houdini." And how cool is the mention of daily matinees "to seat the crowds" and the invitation to bring your own cuffs? Magnificent.

You know, there's just something about seeing a new Houdini poster. It's like cracking open a fresh time portal into Houdini's world, even more so than a new photo. It's also just an incredibly rare occurrence. Houdini must have used hundreds of different posters in his career, yet we've only seen a handful.

The great news is you can purchase this poster as a high resolution digital image for publication, or as 8x10 or larger decorative print. Details can be found at the NYPL Digital Collections website.

Thanks to Andrea Felder, Permissions & Reproduction Services NYPL, for allowing me to share this image here on WILD ABOUT HARRY.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Houdini aviation manual lands in the Copperfield collection

Back in July The Daily Press had a story about how music store owner, Gordy Price, uncovered a 1909 aviation manual twice signed by Houdini. The inscription was to "M.M. Wood", almost certainly Montraville M. Wood, who not only helped Houdini devise his Milk Can escape, but also worked closely with the magician on his aviation exploits.

Now Gordy tells us that the aviation manual has found a new home in David Copperfield's "International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts" in Las Vegas. Says Gordy:

"It was a great adventure researching the Houdini aeromanual. I found out a lot of things I never knew about Houdini and his aviation cohorts. Before I started researching the book, I didn't even know he was an early aviator. I had never heard of Montraville M. Wood. I met a lot of Houdini enthusiasts via the internet while doing my research and want to thank you guys for helping me piece together clues on the book. It's really been a honor finding this book some 40 plus years ago at my great aunt's house and rediscovering it a few months ago, and playing history detective on the origins of it for a couple of months, and then selling it to David Copperfield. I'm sure David will appreciate the historical value of the book.

I hope in some way I have contributed in shining a light on an aspect of Houdini's life that many people never knew. That Houdini was a member of a small group of aviators who pioneered air flight and changed the world. I think Harry was very proud of it. Cheers."

Congratulations to Gordy and to David Copperfield. There are precious few mementos of Houdini's brief aviation career, so this is pretty special. I think it flew into good hands.


New 'What Rough Beast' paperback

After the Houdini miniseries, I'm not sure there's much appetite for Houdini fiction at the moment. Nevertheless, I thought I'd share news of a new paperback edition of the 2001 book What Rough Beast by H.R. Knight.

Harry Houdini asks Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to help him expose Maximillian Cairo—a spiritualist medium. But the two men underestimate Cairo. He's a master of the occult and the most debauched man in London. When they interrupt a magic ritual, a force for ecstasy and chaos explodes on an unsuspecting 1903 London. One by one, each of the people who attended the ritual are tainted by the touch of the monster. Each feels an ecstatic burst of creativity, only to succumb later to an act of uncontrollable madness. When the temporary insanity passes, each is left drained and broken. Soon Conan Doyle and Houdini face a locked room murder mystery that baffles even Houdini. And clues they find convince them that the thing they set loose has completely taken possession of one the people who attended the ritual with them. Even worse, the unearthly beast is determined to hunt them down, before they can figure out how to stop it. The proper Victorian gentleman and the exuberant New Yorker must team up to solve the murder and stop the thing they unleashed before it completely unravels their ordered world. In the end, Conan Doyle must face the monster alone and find the courage to literally embrace that which he fears most in order to defeat it.

Unfortunately, the new cover doesn't feature Houdini or any type of Houdini-themed image. Here's a tip to all you publishers of Houdini fiction; put the old boy on the cover for crying out loud! Don't make it this easy for me to pass up.

Purchase What Rough Beast on (U.S.)
Purchase What Rough Beast on (UK)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A tip of the hat from Robert-Houdin and J. Eduardo Caamaño

J. Eduardo Caamaño, who is writing what will be the first Houdini biography in spanish, is currenty on vacation in France where he visited Blois and La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin, a museum devoted to the French master magician and Houdini's namesake. Here's a photo he just sent from his travels.

Says Eduardo, "Your blog is an important source of information and this is the way I found to say thank you."

Thank YOU, Eduardo. Je l'adore!

'Houdini' concludes tonight in the UK

Channel 4 in the UK will show the second and final part of Houdini tonight at 9pm. Channel 4 is showing the full extended version of the miniseries from A+E Studios/Lionsgate, which will be released here in the U.S. on DVD October 7.


The UK DVD is now available for pre-order on Release date is October 6.

    Saturday, September 13, 2014

    New thoughts on the firing of Rabbi Weiss

    It's part of the established Houdini story that his father, Mayer Samuel Weiss, lost his job as the Rabbi in Appleton, Wisconsin because he was  too "old world" for the progressive American town. The fact that he didn't speak English is often cited as evidence of this. All this was recently dramatized in the Houdini miniseries.

    But now, Appleton resident and major Houdini collector and expert Tom Boldt (his construction company built the new Houdini Plaza), shares his "2 cents" on why Rabbi Weiss might have really lost his job. Now, 2 cents from a guy like Tom is a little bit of gold, so I thought I'd share his thoughts here:

    "I did want to add my 2 cents worth on the reason Rabbi Weiss left Appleton. While his inability to speak English well might be a reason, I think the real reason he lost his job is that the growing congregation wanted their own person. If you look at the places where many of the immigrants to Appleton came from you'd find that they came from Germany and a lot from the Mecklenburg area. That's where my ancestors came from. Take a look at the Outagamie County census record and you'll see this. I think Rabbi Weiss and his supporters were outnumbered by the Germans. They simply wanted to get their man, Rabbi Salomon, to come to Appleton and lead them. I doubt that Salomon was able to speak English any better than Rabbi Weiss. The English problems wouldn't have been that big of a deal in Appleton since German was so common at the time."

    On a related note; for all the talk of Houdini coming from "poverty," it appears the Weiss family was doing pretty well in life until this firing forced the family to move to Milwaukee. Only then did they fall into a trap of poverty that took a Houdini to escape.

    Thank you Tom.

    Tom Boldt and I in the Moses Temple in 2012.

    Houdini: Magic Mediums & Murder

    Houdini: Magic Mediums & Murder by Craig Fraley is a 51-page doubled spaced Houdini biography with an extra chapter about the "murder theory." The chapter parrots the speculative and sensationalistic theories we saw in Brad Meltzer's Decoded last year, suggesting that Bess murdered her husband and/or committed insurance fraud. Silly stuff.

    I do like how Fraley gives context for what was happening elsewhere in the world at the start of each short chapter, but, overall, Houdini Magic Mediums & Murder is a self-published quickie that offers nothing new and contains quite a few errors. Still, it's print book, so worth adding to your Houdini bookshelf if you're a completest.

    Purchase Houdini Magic Mediums & Murder on (U.S.)
    Purchase Houdini Magic Mediums & Murder on (UK)

    Friday, September 12, 2014

    St. Louis catches 'Houdini' fact check fever

    Looks like that "dare" to tell fact from fiction in the Houdini miniseries is being taken up by more than just us Houdini bloggers. Check out this this report from NBC affiliate KSDK Channel 5 in St. Louis. This is pretty awesome.

    To be fair to the embattled HISTORY/Lionsgate (and I still think the real offenders here are producer Gearld W. Abrams and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer), they obviously chose the Eads Bridge for maximum visual impact. But a jump from a bridge this high would obviously be suicide.

    This just speaks to the fact that cites are proud of their associations to Houdini and his stunts. In Boston there is and plaque commemorating Houdini's jump from the Harvard Bridge. People care about Houdini history because it's also their own history, and messing with that is messing with civic pride. This news story is a nice example of that, and I certainly hope the makers of the Houdini miniseries see this.

    One thing that's surprising here is that the Missouri History Museum discovered a Houdini Eads Bridge jump announcement in 1899. That's extremely early for Houdini to be talking about a bridge jump of any kind. I wonder if this might actually be the first mention of a bridge jump, even thought it ultimately didn't happen.


    Preview Sherlock Holmes vs. Houdini

    Bleeding Cool has posted several preview pages from Dynamite's upcoming Sherlock Holmes Vs. Harry Houdini graphic novel. Written by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery with artwork by Carlos Furuzono, issue #1 is slated for release on October 1st.

    The world’s most famous detective meets the world’s most famous magician… and death ensues! 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.

    Check out the preview pages at Bleeding Cool. You can also get a sneak peek at the cover art for issue #2 at Comic Art Community.

    Sherlock Holmes Vs. Harry Houdini can be pre-ordered from Dynamite HERE.

    Dynamite also recently released The Shadow #0which teams Houdini with the legendary pulp crime fighter, The Shadow.

    Thursday, September 11, 2014

    Tickets now available for "Houdini in Hollywood"

    Online tickets are now available for my "Evening @ the Barn: Houdini in Hollywood" event at the Hollywood Heritage Museum on Wednesday, October 8 at 7:30 pm. Here are full details:

    Evening @ the Barn: Houdini in Hollywood

    Hollywood Heritage will kick off the 2014-2015 season with a special "Evening @ The Barn" hosted by screenwriter and blogger John Cox of WILD ABOUT HARRY ( Learn about Harry Houdini's amazing life and career with a special emphasis on his life-long involvement in cinema. It's not generally known that Houdini produced and starred in several silent films, including two features for Famous Players-Lasky Paramount. But Houdini's film career began even earlier than that! In many ways, Harry Houdini was a film pioneer, and that is the story that we will unlock. John's talk will feature dozens of rare photos, as well as film clips of the real Houdini in action. The evening will include a screening of Terror Island (1920), one of Houdini's legendary films produced by Jesse Lasky.

    Also in person: Jim Steinmeyer, who is an internationally respected designer of magical illusions and theatrical special effects. His best known illusions include Origami, Interlude, and Walking Through a Mirror. In addition, he is a best-selling author, consultant and producer. Jim will be signing two of his Houdini-related books, Hiding the Elephant and The Last Greatest Magician in the World, in our museum shop.

    Plus! Refreshments courtesy of Grub Restaurant. Displays of Houdini memorabilia in our revolving gallery and our famous raffle where you can win a chance to visit the world famous Magic Castle in Hollywood! This promises to be magical, memorable evening for everyone!

    You can buy advance tickets NOW via brownpapertickets. Tickets are also available at the door, but know that The Hollywood Heritage Muesum has a capacity of 110 and I've seen events sell out before.

    Hope to see you there!

    The Hollywood Heritage Museum is located at 2100 North Highland Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90068, directly across from the Hollywood Bowl (enter on Odin St.). Parking is free. Phone is (323)-874-2276. For more visit

    "The critics agree"

    So it looks like we've been all wrong about the Houdini miniseries. Apparently, "the critics agree," Houdini is some kind of masterpiece. I know this is true because I saw it on the HISTORY Channel.

    Okay, all kidding aside, I like this TV spot. Even though it's just marketing spin at this point, it's fun to see any Houdini project given the "blockbuster" treatment. This "encore presentation" aired September 6.


    Wednesday, September 10, 2014

    'Houdini Speaks Out' in new 2014 edition

    A newly revised 2014 edition of Houdini Speaks Out ("I am Houdini! And you are a fraud!") by Arthur Moses is now available on Amazon. This book recreates Houdini spiritualism lecture with exclsuive material from the Moses collection, including Houdini's full slide show. Here's part of the Amazon description:

    NEWLY REVISED 2014 EDITION - Revealing new insights, this ground-breaking updated edition vividly recreates Houdini's debunking lectures which he presented from 1922 until his untimely death in 1926. The reader becomes involved in understanding his struggles to reach into the afterlife to contact his late mother during an era filled with deceptive spirit mediums. Each of the fifty glass lantern slides that Houdini used to highlight his lectures are painstakingly recreated and matched to his original lecture text.

    "Houdini Speaks Out reveals that Houdini was more than magic and escapes. Houdini´s passion to fight fraudulent spiritualists consumed his final years." -David Copperfield 
    "Houdini Speaks Out is a very strongly recommended addition to personal, professional, academic, and community library collections -- and should be considered mandatory reading by anyone with an interest in spiritualism, magic, and the occult." -Midwest Book Review

    This revised edition has several updates and corrections to the slide presentations. Also, thanks to CreateSpace/Amazon, it can now be offered at half the price of the original 2007 edition.

    Purchase the newly revised Houdini Speaks Out at (U.S.) and (UK).

    Related posts:

    The Automaton reclaims his title as first movie robot (kinda)

    While we're on the subject of Houdini's movies, back in 2012, I ran a post with the unfortunate news that "The Automaton" from Houdini's 1919 serial, The Mastery Mystery, was not the first movie robot as is often credited. That's because I found a blog about an Italian film with a robot called The Mechanical Man, said to have been made in 1913.

    But now reader Janne Wass has corrected my correction! I'll let the clearly knowledgeable Mr. Wass deliver the news himself:

    "Hold your horses! L'uomo meccanico, or The Mechanical Man wasn't made in 1913 (don't know why that date keeps popping up). It was made in 1921 in Italy by French acrobat-comedian-actor-writer-director André Deed as a planned trilogy of full length feature films. Only 26 minutes of it remains.

    Q the Automaton still is the first robot in a lengthy production - the Houdini series was over 230 minutes long all in all.

    Gugusse et l'Automate by Georges Méliès was, indeed the first robot on screen, but as most films back then, it was only about a minute long. The Mechanical Man, on the other hand, is the first robot in a full length feature film."

    Robot from The Mechanical Man (1913) (1921).

    Thank you Janne!

    I'll be discussing this and more about Houdini's life-long involvement in cinema during my talk at the Hollywood Heritage Museum on Wednesday, October 8 at 7:30 pm. Click here for more details.


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