Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Houdini in the Cahuenga alley

One of the best sequences in The Grim Game is Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape and fall from a seven-story building. After he's saved by an awning, Houdini is seen dashing down a narrow street to freedom. It's the last shot before the fade out on the sequence.

Turns out there is a lot of history in this shot! Thanks to the amazing detective work of John Bengtson (Silent Locations), we now know Houdini is running down what is known as the East Cahuenga alley off Cahuenga Blvd. just south of Hollywood Blvd. Best of all, the alley is still there! This is one of the few remaining Grim Game filming locations where you can still walk (or run) in Houdini's footsteps.

Here's a photo I took last Sunday. The Jerk House sign, advertising a restaurant in the middle of the alley, is a recent addition.

The Cahuenga alley appears in several classic silent films, including Charlie Chaplin's The Kid (1921) and Harold Lloyd's Safety Last (1923). Buster Keaton shot a famous stunt in front of the alleyway in Cops (1920). In the photo from Cops below you can see the construction of the Palmer Building behind the alley on Cosmo Street. That building still stands and is easily identifiable today.

In the script for The Grim Game, Houdini was supposed to scale a high wall to escape the asylum. Publicity photos of Houdini on the wall exist, but the scene is not in the final film. Instead, this shot of Houdini dashing down the alley and emerging onto Cahuenga boulevard was used to conclude the sequence.

This is pure speculation, but when the wall climbing sequence was either cut or abandoned, could this have been a quick pickup shot to fill the gap? The Cahuenga alley is not far from the location of the Famous Players-Laskey studio at Selma and Vine where The Grim Game was made.

You can read more about the history of the Cahuenga alley at John Bengtson's site: The Kid – Cops – Safety Last! Three comic masterpieces filmed at a common Hollywood alley you can still visit today. John says, "I can think of no Hollywood exterior that plays a greater role in silent movie history than this unique alleyway."


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Amazing Harry Houdini

The Amazing Harry Houdinithe first book in a new collection of pulp adventures featuring the great escape artist, is released today by Ron Fortier's Airship 27 Productions. Here is the full press release:

Presents -

Airship 27 Productions is thrilled to announce the released of its newest pulp anthology starring one of the most famous figures in American theatrical history; magician – escape artist supreme, the one and only Harry Houdini!

Houdini began his stage career as a card manipulator. As his popularity grew, he quickly became known as one of the most colorful stage magicians and escape artists of all time. Then the movies came knocking and the man people had only read about in the newspapers was suddenly starring on the silver screen captivating audiences with his daring serial exploits. Harry Houdini was no longer just a magician, he was a bonafide celebrity known around the world.

“I’ve been fascinated with this character since I first heard of him as a child,” says Airship 27 Productions Managing Editor Ron Fortier. “The more I learned it became clear that Houdini, during his own lifetime, evolved into one of the first true international superstars. Once he became a hero of the cinema, his fame and legend were permanently cemented in the hearts of his admirers everywhere. Wherever he appeared the states, he would attract crowds numbering in the thousands.”

In 1904 Houdini and his manager, Martin Beck, began a world tour starting in London and the adventures grew even more fantastic. “Although our stories are fictional,” continues Fortier, “we saw his globe-trotting escapes as the perfect backdrop for our writers to whip up fantastic, action packed tales.” From encounters with Bram Stoker and Arthur Conan Doyle, Houdini then battles an evil cult in the catacombs of Paris before heading to Berlin on the famous Nord Express where murder reared its ugly. These amazing tales are chronicled here by Jim Beard, James Palmer, Ian Watson and Roman Leary.

The cover is by Carl Yonder with gorgeous black and white illustrations by Pedro Cruz and all put together by our award winning Art Director, Rob Davis. And so Airship 27 Productions is truly excited to present our readers with a brand new look at a truly extraordinary man who was indeed larger life, he was Harry Houdini, Pulp Hero!


Purchase The Amazing Harry Houdini, Volume 1 at (U.S.) and (UK).

Monday, November 23, 2015

Page through a Houdini scrapbook

Here's an intriguing YouTube video showing each page of what appears to be an original Houdini scrapbook. Inside are newspaper clippings from Houdini's time, many I recognize as being from 1914-16.

I'm afraid I don't have any information on this scrapbook or the owner. I've talked to a few collectors, and it appears this might be a scrapbook that once belonged to Larry Weeks and was sold in 2011. I expect this won't be the last we see of this.

Thanks to Richard Bachman.


Houdini & Doyle will feature ghosts, vampires, aliens, and Edison

TV, eh? has landed and interview with Houdini & Doyle executive producer David Hoselton during a press junket in Toronto. The 10-episode series has completed eight episodes in the UK and will now shoot the final two episodes in Southern Ontario.

Hoselton confirmed that the series is set in 1901 and history will be "fudged in favour of story." The article suggests that episodes will find Houdini and Doyle encountering "ghosts, vampires and other beasts that go bump in the night." There's even mention of a space alien.

"We’re trying to stay true to the nature of the characters," says creator David Shore. "We take liberties with the timing of Doyle's wife's illness but she was sick. The big thing is creating a show that says something and is entertaining."

The official IMDb page page also reveals that some famous faces will be appearing in the series, including Thomas Edison played by Peter Outerbridge and W.B. Yeats played by Stuart Adams. One name that has yet to appear on the cast list is that of Bess Houdini. Might Harry be a bachelor in the series?

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini and Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The series will air next year on ITV Encore (UK), Global TV (Canada), and FOX (U.S.).


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Houdini vs. Hardeen in Oakland

It was 100 years ago today on November 21, 1915, that Houdini and Hardeen both opened in Oakland, California. The brothers would play out the Thanksgiving week in direct competition in theaters only a few blocks apart. While they had played against each other in San Francisco the week before, Oakland was a much smaller city. Would it prove too small for two Handcuff Kings?

The papers heralded this first appearance of Houdini at the Oakland Orpheum with news of two challenges awaiting "The Genius of Escape." The first was from Alameda County Sheriff Frank Barnet to perform a suspended straitjacket escape from the First National Bank building at Broadway and 14th Street, then home to the offices of the Oakland Tribune. (Today we tend to think of Houdini's suspended straitjacket escapes as standalone publicity stunts, but they were always promoted as challenges from local police or newspapers.) The second challenge came from the firm of H.C. Capwell Co. to escape from a "strong packing case which we will especially construct." The Tribune enthused:

Interest in Houdini's engagement at the Oakland Orpheum, which begins next Sunday, has apparently risen to a fever heat, for their are a dozen challenges ready to be hurled at Houdini from all kinds of business men, private citizens and firms who wish to test his alleged powers. It is evident that Houdini is too create the same remarkable sensation in Oakland that he has achieved elsewhere. It would be strange if he did not.

Hardeen also came into town with a packing crate challenge awaiting him from the Kahn Bros. Co. Advance publicity for his appearance at the Pantages Theater ("Oakland's Vaudeville Temple") did not hide the fact that he was Houdini's brother, but it did play a little fast and loose with the facts:

Hardeen is the older brother of Houdini, also famous as a handcuff artist, and is the man who taught his brother the first rudiments of the art of making escapes. For years they traveled together as the Houdini Brothers, laying the cornerstone of their fame, and lately they have starred separately, Harry Houdini under the original name and his brother under the name of Hardeen. He is the highest-priced Illusionist in the world.

For the record, Hardeen was Houdini's younger brother, and the Brothers Houdini had dissolved 21-years earlier. As for the claim that Hardeen taught Houdini the "first rudiments" of escape and was the highest-priced Illusionist in the world...well, that's for the brothers to fight out.

Two packing crates await the Brothers Houdini in Oakland.

When Houdini arrived in town on November 21st, the Tribune gave him a reception worthy of show-business royalty:

Houdini is here. He arrived at the Orpheum at midnight last night from San Francisco, and with him came fifteen men who will constitute his entourage. Houdini travels in state as befits one of his rank. A special car conveys him and his enormous quantity of apparatus which he uses in his feats on the Orpheum stage. All is bustle and excitement on the stage of the Orpheum, where everything has been made ready to receive him.

As one might expect, Houdini dominated the papers with his suspended straitjacket escape on November 22, 1915. But the stunt did not go smoothly. Not only was it raining, but as Houdini was being raised, the guide line slipped and he swung hard against the building and hit his head. It was thought at first that he had been knocked unconscious, but then they saw he was smiling.

After Houdini had struggled free from the jacket, he asked to be lowered. But the ropes didn't budge. It was then discovered that his gyrations had tangled the block and tackle. Houdini had to hang for a full eight minutes before the ropes could be reached and fixed. He told the Tribune afterwards:

"The blow on the head I did not mind so much––one gets used to hard knocks––but the trouble with the ropes was different. The exertion of freeing myself so tightened the ropes that they stopped my circulation. My limbs were throbbing painfully, and one of them was bandaged from a previous accident at the time. I was a pretty sick man by the time they got that tackle working. I don't blame the men, of course, they were not used to the thing, but I'm mighty glad I am free again."

There was one other twist to Houdini's escape that day. Hardeen hired boys to fan out into the massive crowd and hand out cards with his photo and the words, "All This Week at Pantages," leading many to assume that it was Hardeen doing the escape. "It took Houdini years to think that was amusing," Hardeen told The Sphinx in 1939.

Wait, who did what where now?

Hardeen garnered his own newspaper attention with his challenge packing crate escape on November 23. In a story headlined "Hardeen Escaped Heavily Nailed Box" the Tribune reported that the box was built onstage and roped with "a hawser that looked strong enough to hold a battleship." Hardeen freed himself in 5 minutes and the box was immediately carried over the footlights, through the audience, and put on display in the Pantages lobby "where those skeptical may examine it." Not to be outdone, Houdini accepted a second packing crate challenge that week from the Roos Bros.

During their respective stage shows, the brothers not only matched each other with their challenges, but each offered up a dash of underwater death-defiance; Houdini with his Chinese Water Torture Cell and Hardeen with the Milk Can. One big difference was that Hardeen rounded out his act with handcuff escapes while Houdini performed traditional magic. Houdini did his famous Needles trick and also "The Illusion of the Burning Turban," in which he cuts and burns the middle section from a long turban and then restores it. The Tribune called it "one of his most mysterious puzzles."

Houdini featured the Burning Turban in Oakland (from Houdini The Key).

This 1915 engagement is notable in Houdini history for another reason. It was during this week in Oakland that Houdini met author Jack London and his adventurous wife Charmian. The Londons came to see Houdini twice at the Orpheum (Jack served as a member of a committee), and they also shared Thanksgiving dinner with the Houdinis at their hotel. The Hardeens and Alexander Pantages were also invited to the Thanksgiving gathering. When the bill came, Houdini presented it to his brother and left. Payback for the straitjacket prank.

Hardeen closed his week with a challenge from Chief of Police Woods to escape from what the papers described as a "torture suit" (a full body straitjacket). Houdini closed with a challenge from the Riggers' and Stevedores' Union in which he was lashed with ropes to a seven foot plank with a broomstick between his knees (which sounds uncomfortably similar to the torturous Hodgson challenge of 1902). The papers noted:

Houdini has accepted this challenge, the last he will accept in Oakland, because he believes it to be the most unique as well as the most difficult test to which he could possibly be put.

While Hardeen returned to Oakland in 1917 (and announced his retirement), Houdini wouldn't make it back until 1923. During these later engagements, the brothers had the city all to themselves.

Oakland today

Last month when I attended The Official Houdini Séance in San Francisco, I hopped across the Bay to see if anything remained of Houdini and Hardeen's Oakland. The Orpheum Theater where Houdini performed sat somewhere near the intersection of 12th Street and Clay. Today the theater is long gone, with three modern office buildings and a park occupying each corner.

Houdini's Orpheum at 12th and Clay is long gone.

Hardeen's Pantages is also gone, but not forgotten. Part of the building exterior remains at 414 12th Street and a replica of the original Pantages marquee hangs on the outside. Seeing this was a very pleasant surprise! It was Sunday and the offices where closed, but through the window I could see a large photo of the original Pantages Theater. This is the only photo of Hardeen's Pantages I've ever seen.

A memento of Hardeen's Pantages remains!

The Pantages in the day.

The First National Bank Building where Houdini performed his head-banging straitjacket escape still stands at 14th Street and Broadway. Today it is better known as the Lionel J. Wilson Building and is a city landmark.

Site of Houdini's 1915 suspended straitjacket escape.

When Houdini returned to Oakland in 1923, he repeated his straitjacket escape from the new Tribune offices at 409 13th Street. The newspaper was in the process of building a 305-foot clock tower at the time, and it was from the construction site that Houdini dangled in his straitjacket. This time the escape came off without a hitch.

The Tribune Building where Houdini dangled in 1923.

The Tribune Building and Tower still stand, and I'm happy to report that they are also well aware of their Houdini history. On the ground floor is the Tribune Tavern and above their bar hangs a terrific shot of Houdini doing his straitjacket escape from the tower construction.

Houdini remembered inside the Tribune Building.

So which brother won the great Oakland face-off of 1915? Well, the citizens of the city might no longer recognize the name Hardeen, but his theater is well remembered, and that's something. Houdini's performance space has been long forgotten, but the man himself lives on in memory.

So I think we can call it a brotherly draw!


Friday, November 20, 2015

Who will you choose?

Houdini and Hardeen go head to head in Oakland! Who will emerge as the true King of Escape? Check out WILD ABOUT HARRY this weekend for the full story.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

John Bengtson uncovers Grim Game filming locations

John Bengtson, "the great detective of silent film locations," has a must-read post on his blog today about the shooting locations used in The Grim Game. Bengtson specializes in Buster Keaton and he's matched many of the locations from Keaton's films to the Houdini movie. This is a treasure trove of information!

Houdini and Keaton at the Bergstrom estate at 590 N. Vermont (SE corner of Vermont and Clinton).

The locations featured here are primarily Hollywood-based. Bengtson is going to follow-up with another post featuring the downtown locations, including the site of Houdini's rooftop straitjacket escape (the former Harbour Apartments).

I'm a big fan of John Bengtson. I have a signed copy of his book, Silent Echoes, and I've heard him speak. Having John tackle a Houdini movie is a dream come true. When I get the chance, I will snap and share pics of these locations as they appear today.

Thanks to Rick Schmidlin for the tip.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Houdini chases spirits in Idaho

The blog Southeast Idaho Yesterday has a nice post about Houdini's appearance at Pocatello’s Auditorium Theater on October 23, 1924. Houdini gave his spiritualism exposé lecture, and the site has uncovered two interesting newspaper adverts for the talk. One says "Houdini and Company" which is billing I've never seen before. It's also interesting how crosses adorn each ad.

As with the recent post at Orhistoy about Houdini's appearance in Portland, I love how these local blogs are uncovering and sharing their Houdini history.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Grim Game coming to the Castro

TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game will screen at the historic Castro Theater in San Fransisco on December 5, 2015. The film is part of "A Day of Silents" hosted by the San Fransisco Silent Film Festival. The Grim Game will screen at 3:00 PM and feature live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin. Producer Rick Schmidlin will be on hand to introduce the film.

You can buy an individual ticket to The Grim Game or a full day pass to "A Day of Silents" at the San Fransisco Silent Film Festival website.

The Castro Theatre was built in 1922 and is one of the few remaining movie palaces from the 1920s still in operation.


Monday, November 16, 2015

November 16, 1975

Today is a special anniversary. Like so many others, my Houdini obsession began with a TV viewing of the classic 1953 Houdini biopic starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. I was 10 years old, and while I can vividly remember the details of that day, I only recently discovered the exact date.

Turns out my first magical first viewing of Houdini was 40 years ago TODAY on Sunday, November 16, 1975 at 5:00 PM on local Los Angeles television station KCOP Channel 13.

Click to enlarge.

I also recently tracked down the original TV Guide for that week. It not only has a nice half-page ad for Houdini that day (above), but it coincidently features Paul Michael Glaser on the cover. Glaser would become the second actor to play Houdini on film in the ABC original movie The Great Houdinis the following year. By the way, in the Houdini ad copy, how did the word "perhaps" get in there?

Needless to say, November 16, 1975 was a day that changed my life. In a way this viewing of Houdini was my own modern equivalent of the moment young Ehrich Weiss discovered The Memories of Robert-Houdin:

"My interest in conjuring and magic and my enthusiasm for Robert-Houdin came into existence simultaneously. From the moment that I began to study the art, he became my guide and hero. I accepted his writings as my text-book and my gospel. I asked nothing more of life than to become in my profession "like Robert-Houdin." -Houdini

Magic fans might also recognize this date a being just six weeks before Doug Henning's historic first World of Magic television special in which he famously did Houdini's Water Torture Cell. That live television event completed the one-two punch that landed me in Houdini's corner for life.

Related posts:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Talking Houdini with Jeff Richards

Dean Carnegie and I just recorded a live radio interview on the Canadian talk show, Jeff Richards: Paranormal. It was good fun and I think we did well. If you'd like to have a listen, click on over to The Magic Detective where Dean has a link to an online download.

Houdini!!! in Columbus, Ohio

Magician, collector, and all around good guy Joseph Hanosek has produced a terrific 15-page booklet on Houdini!!! in Columbus, Ohio. I love specialized works like this.

A Columbus resident himself, Joe chronicles Houdini's appearances in the capitol city in 1907, 1911, 1915, 1916 and 1925. Houdini had planned on bringing his "3 Shows in One" back to Columbus in early 1926, but cancelled when he learned he'd be required to perform the 2 1/2 hour show three times a day and four times on Sunday.

The booklet includes photos and newspaper clippings from Joe's collection. One interesting detail is after Houdini successfully performed a suspended straitjacket escape from the Citizen's Trust and Saving Building at High and Gay streets, the Postmaster gave him a cigar. Did he smoke it?

Joe made copies of Houdini!!! in Columbus, Ohio available at last week's 14th Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. To get your own copy, send $5.00 to: Joseph Hanosek, 1236 Castleton Road North, Upper Arlington, OH 43220.

Related posts:

Houdini & Doyle mini-comic

A free mini-comic, Houdini & Doyle: A Certain Symmetry, is available at Water Closet Press. This is a preview of a full length comic currently in the works by writer Richard Worth and artist Jordon Collver.

We are pleased to present a mini-comic about the unlikely friendship and rivalry between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is a kind of proof-of-concept piece for a much larger project we have in the works called Escape! which will elaborate on the same story, themes, and ideas found here. Although it also stands on its own.

Click to read Houdini & Doyle: A Certain Symmetry.

Friday, November 13, 2015

REPORT: Inside the L.A. Conference on Magic History

Last week I had the great pleasure of attending the 14th Los Angeles Conference on Magic History (my first). So much went on during the 3-day conference that I'll leave it to traditional magic journals such as Genii to properly detail all that hosts Jim Steinmeyer, Mike Caveney and John Gaughan brought attendees this year. Instead, I'll focus on the Houdini highlights.

Thursday, November 5th

The conference had two major Houdini events this year. The first came on Thursday when Houdini himself made an appearance in the form of Casey Wong's amazingly life-like Houdini figure (which you might remember from this post).

Casey gave a talk Thursday afternoon and spoke at length about the creation of his Houdini figure. It was a excellent lecture with photos of every step in the process. The time and effort that went into creating Harry was tremendous -- every hair on his head was individually inserted, for example. Casey explained that he made his Houdini taller than life-size (he's 6-foot) because he wanted to depict Houdini "as he saw himself." Much has been made of Houdini's pale appearance. Casey explained that the idea here was to depict Houdini onstage, so his pale visage is pancake stage makeup.

The Houdini figure was set up in the conference museum. It was certainly a popular display, with attendees taking photos and selfies with the Master Mystifier all weekend.

Other Thursday lectures included Bill Becker on spirit photography; Trevor Dawson on Signor Arvi; Richard Hatch on Dr. Kurt Volkmann; and a thought-provoking talk by Peter Lamont on the history of magic and witchcraft, and why we may have been getting that history all wrong.

I should say that nearly every talk throughout the conference had a reference to Houdini. One of my favorites came during the Thursday lecture by Dean Arnold and Ken Trombly, who spoke about how they recently uncovered a large cache of Chung Ling Soo posters in England. Dean, a pilot, told an amusing story of how he inadvertently invaded an airport's airspace when he flew himself to the site of the find. When Ken asked if he had a photo of his plane, Dean brought up a photo of Houdini's Voisin.

Speaking of aviation, Joe Hanosek gave me a nice photo of Houdini flying his Voisin. It's not an original, but it's a nice clear shot of the plane in flight that I will use on future posts. Joe also gave me a copy of his new booklet, Houdini!!! in Columbus, Ohio.

Friday, November 6th

On Friday, before the afternoon lectures, a group of us snuck out to The Magic Castle for lunch in the Houdini Seance Room (of course!). This gathering of "Houdini Nuts" has become a tradition whenever the mighty Arthur Moses comes to town. It's also a tradition for Arthur to bring a creative gift for the Nuts. This time it was a bag of nuts! Another thrill was that the great Patrick Culliton joined us and held court as only "Houdini's Ghost" can do.

One of the perks of being invited to the L.A. History Conference is having access to the dealers' room. These are magic's top sellers, and the room is a museum in itself. But it's also where one can buy some rare pieces typically only encountered at auction. I hadn't planned on buying anything, but then I remembered my "Moses Buy" philosophy... Buy one quality Houdini item a year.

I found that item at the table of a legend himself, Ken Trombly, collector and proprietor of (flip through the Kalush book, and if there's a photo of Houdini you've never seen, chances are it came from Ken's collection). Ken shared with me a binder filled with original Houdini challenges. I could not resist what I considered the best in the book. You can see my new treasure below.

The Friday lectures were largely Houdini-free, but still fascinating. One of the reasons I go to magic conventions is to learn about other magicians. Bill Spooner discussed the long career of African-American magician Eugene Hellman. Dale Lorzo covered Edwin H. Brush. Bill Liles spoke on Raymond Phillips, Magician of the Radio Waves. Steve Valentine discussed the Cards to Pocket routine (he's wild about C2P!). Bill Becker talked Matthew Brady & Herrmann (more on this below), and our friend Bill Mullins gave a great lecture on gambler Kid Canfield.

The grand finale was Jim Steinmeyer's recreation of Kellar's Blue Room and Self-Decapitation Illusion, with Nicholas Night playing the part of Harry Kellar. Getting the opportunity to see lost illusions from the golden and pre-golden age of magic, recreated for one night only, is what the L.A. Magic History Conference is all about. Unforgettable.

Another highlight on Friday was the announcement of an amazing new find, and even though this isn't Houdini-related, it's too incredible not to detail. Speaker Bill Becker revealed he had discovered in a private collection the negative of a never-before-seen portrait of Alexander Herrmann, taken by the famous Civil War photographer Matthew Brady. What's even more incredible is that the photo is of such high resolution that one can make out Brady and his studio in the reflection of Herrmann's eye.

A large print was made for the conference and displayed in the museum after the Friday night talks. I don't know what the future holds for this image, but it was a beautiful thing to see. Even Herrmann expert James Hamilton said it was the best portrait of Alexander he had ever seen.

Saturday, November 7th

On Saturday we took a field trip to Spectral Motion in Burbank, owned and operated by Mike Elizalde. Spectral Motion is a practical special effects house that creates real movie magic, especially creature costumes and animatronics, for major films such as Hellboy and Hansel and Gretel. But magic fans might recognize Spectral Motion as the makers of a series of beautiful bronze busts of master magicians. During the tour of the workshop, I spied a familiar face looking down from a shelf of original clay molds.

The big Saturday night show saw lectures and performances by John Gaughan (Automata in the Movies), Gene Anderson and Jack Goldfinger (The Torn and Restored Newspaper), John Carney (as L'Homme Masqué), and Mike Caveney who performed John Daniel's "Sawing A Lady in Half" and Maurice Rooklyn's "Birth of a Pearl" using the original apparatus. Saturday also saw the second big Houdini feature of the conference. This was the surprise appearance of Q the Automaton from The Master Mystery.

I've already shared details and a film clip of Q's invasion HERE. Below is one more photo of the Automaton mingling in the courtyard of the Garland hotel after Friday's lectures. Q was played by Jeff Chang whose eyes you can see through the mouth. During his talk, John Gaughan showed how you could see this in the original film. I never realized that the actor was looking through the mouth, but this was a clever way to add a foot or more of height to the robot. Needless to say, the Automaton was a monster hit!

The conference itself was filled with magic luminaries. I was thrilled to meet Lance Burton, and I almost fell over when he said knew my blog and even specifically recalled my post on the Buried Alive. Other recognizable faces were: Ricky Jay, Mac King, Max Maven (who gave me a rivet that popped off the Automaton), Bill Kalush, David Ben, Julie Eng, Adele Friel Rhindress, Rob Zabrecky, Jonathan Pendragon, Erika Larsen, Lisa Cousins, Joe Fox, and many more names and faces familiar and famous. What a magical weekend it was.


Houdini & Doyle wraps production in Manchester

After five months shooting at Manchester's Space Project studio, Houdini & Doyle has wrapped production. The Space Project tweeted the news along with a great image:

The original press release stated that the series would also film in Toronto, Canada. I've not see any reports of shooting there yet, so production might not yet be fully wrapped. But it looks like the UK is in the can!

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini and Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The 10-episode series will air next year on ITV Encore (UK), Global TV (Canada), and FOX (U.S.).


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Houdini art talk in Appleton, Nov. 21

The Trout Museum of Art in Appleton, Wisconsin will hold a panel discussion called "Inspired by Houdini" on Saturday, November 21 at 1:00 PM. The talk is part of the museum's Art of Conversation partnership with Post Crescent Media in which they discuss art around the city. The Trout Museum is located in Houdini Plaza. Here are the details.

Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, 1:00-2:00pm: Inspired by Houdini 
Harry Houdini references and art are everywhere in this town. There's even a new bust of the master illusionist just steps away from the museum.

A free chat about Appleton's favorite son, Harry Houdini, will take place in the Fox Cities Building for the Arts' board room. (Be sure to take a peek at the free exhibit on the third floor on your way into the discussion. It's one of the best-kept secrets in Appleton.)

Panelists include John Adams, curator of Mile of Music's Feather and Bone art gallery, which had a Houdini theme this year, and Tom Boldt, a self-proclaimed Houdini fanatic who helped secure the bust for Houdini Plaza.

We'll look at Houdini-inspired art and talk about his lasting impression on the art world. Then we'll take a walk outside to see the bust.

For more information visit the The Art of Conversation page at the Tout Museum website.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Photos from "Houdini in Milano"

Escape artist David Merlini shares with us today photos from the recent Houdini in Milano exhibition at the Expo Milano 2015. The display was presented by David and the General Commissioner of Hungary and marked the first major Houdini exhibition in Europe. On display were original Houdini artifacts as well as props from last year's Houdini miniseries starring Adrien Brody (David was the technical advisor). Enjoy.

Water Torture Cell from the 2014 Houdini miniseries.

Main room and lecture space.

Original Houdini pieces and the Milk Can from Houdini.

Is that a Margery Box in the back corner? (Click to enlarge.)

Houdini in Milano ran October 22-19, 2015 in Milan, Italy.

Thank you David Merlini.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

S.A.M. hold wand breaking ceremony

The Society of American Magicians held their traditional wand breaking ceremony at Houdini's grave last Thursday. The S.A.M. website reports:

On November 5, 2015 A delegation of S.A.M. members gathered to reenact the wand breaking ceremony created by Harry Houdini. This was the 89th Anniversary of his passing (10/31/1926 – 23 Cheshvan 5687), as determined by the Jewish calendar.
L-R: Jordan Linker, Steve Gross, Lou Sarofsky, Ed Martin, George Schindler, 
John Bohannon, Rich Cohn, Tom Noreika (Photo by Pat Colby)

Houdini was president of the S.A.M. from 1917 until his death in 1926. The S.A.M. now looks after his gravesite.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Look who dropped by the L.A. Magic History Conference

The 14th Los Angeles Conference on Magic History was invaded last night by Houdini's arch foe Q The Automaton! He not only intimidated attendees in the conference museum, but he also marched out on stage! It was terrifying.

This is not the original Automaton from Houdini's 1919 movie serial The Master Mystery (which is, presumably, long gone). This is a faithful reproduction made by the great illusion builder John Gaughan specifically for this year's conference. John lectured on "Automata in Film" and for the grand finale was joined on stage by Q. However, this Automaton was not controlled by clockworks and servos. As in the movie, there was a man inside the suit -- John's assistant, Jeff Chang.

After the big show, Q mingled with guests in the courtyard of The Garland hotel and, as you might expect, was very popular.

During the three day conference, John Gaughan's Q The Automaton was on display in the conference museum where attendees could get a good closeup look. It's really a magnificent reproduction and wonderful to see Houdini's arch enemy -- and the very first movie robot -- brought back to life (so to speak).

The 14 Los Angeles History Conference was held November 5-7 at The Garland hotel in Studio City, CA. This biennial invitation only conference is co-hosted by Mike Caveney, John Gaughan, Jim Steinmeyer and Frankie Glass. This was my first conference and I had the time of my life! I'm overwhelmed this morning thinking about all that I saw and learned. I'm also moved by how welcome this amazing group of historians and magic professionals made me feel.

The full conference events typically get excellent coverage in Genii, MAGIC, and Magicol, so I'm not going to spill all that happened here. But I will be back with a report later in the week with some of the Houdini-specific details and moments that really stood out for me. But I felt the need this morning to report the Breaking News that Q The Automaton -- just like his historical relation, The Terminator -- is back!

UPDATEREPORT: Inside the L.A. Conference on Magic History.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

The escape artist who died in my own backyard (apparently) UPDATE: Fake!

Today is the last day of the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History, so I thought I'd put this one up for attendees who might want to take a look at this bit of magic history for themselves (it's only a mile from the conference hotel). This came as a complete surprise to me.

I've lived in Studio City for six years now and I frequently cross a bridge at Colfax Ave. and Ventura Blvd. that spans the L.A. River flood control channel. I've never thought to stop and read the plaque that sits on the bridge until just a few weeks ago. I just about fell over when I did so:

Click to enlarge.


Norwood was a silent movie star, vaudevillian magician, and escape artist. His most notable films were, "And In Bluebird", "Manchild", and "Bamboo Huts". His career flourished despite being eclipsed by Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini. No prints of his films remain. They were lost in a studio fire in 1919.

Norwood passed away on this bridge while attempting and upside down straight jacket escape. During the stunt, a sudden flash flood rushed through the Los Angeles river and he was struck by a boulder. He was able to release himself from the jacket, but his body was swept away and never found.

I've never heard of Norwood Cheek, nor have I ever heard of any escape artist being killed doing a suspended straitjacket escape, let alone in my own backyard! I've searched Ask Alexander, MagicPedia, and even IMDb and could find nothing on his films, magic career, nor his fatal accident. Nevertheless, there is his story written, literally, in stone. Wild.

If you're at the L.A. History Conference and would like to visit the bridge, turn left out of The Garland hotel onto Vineland. Take Vineland to Ventura Blvd. and turn right. Travel about a mile down Ventura Blvd. to Colfax Ave. and turn right. The bridge and plaque (which is fixed to a boulder in the middle of the sidewalk) will be right in front of you.

UPDATE: Alerted to the possibility that this could be a fake by friends far less gullible than me, I went back and had a closer look. Indeed, it is a fake plaque glued over the real one. What the purpose of this prank was I have no idea (I doubt it was done just to fool me). I also don't know how long this remained in place. But it's gone now. The great Norwood Cheek hoax plaque is now part of my collection.


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