Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Grim Game screens at the S.A.M national convention

TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game screened today at the Society of American Magicians National Convention in Philadelphia. Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum introduced the movie and participated in a Q&A. Dorothy was recently elected president of her local S.A.M chapter in Scranton, PA.

When Houdini made The Grim Game in 1919 he was into his third year as National President of the S.A.M. He would serve until his death in 1926.

There have been some enthusiastic tweets coming out of the S.A.M. convention (#sammagic). I especially like this one from @KaylaDrescher:

This was the fifth screening of Houdini's long lost silent film. It will screen next at the Stateside Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas on July 19. It will also show on TCM this year, but no air-date has yet been announced.

Photo by Sam Stockton @brewhog74.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Jack Carter, first Hardeen, dies at 93

Comedian Jack Carter has passed away at age 93. Carter was a popular television star who made more than 50 guest appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. He also directed episodes of Here's Lucy and appeared on Broadway in such hits as Oliver! and The Odd Couple.

But for Houdini fans, Jack will be remembered as the first actor to portray Theo Hardeen on film. Carter played Houdini's brother in the 1976 television movie The Great Houdinis opposite Paul Michael Glaser.

Below is a clip of Jack Carter's one scene as Hardeen. I enjoy this. Carter nicely plays both his comedic and showbiz savvy sensibilities. I also like his references to almost drowning in the Milk Can and Walking Through A Brick Wall (both true). And we meet Daisy White played by Adrienne Barbeau.

You can read Jack Carter's full obituary at The New York Times.

Related posts:

Houdini (Himself) in Glasgow, 1920

A playbill broadside featuring "Houdini (Himself)" at the Glasgow Coliseum in Scotland in 1920 has sold on eBay for $1,176. This playbill represents an interesting period in Houdini's career.

In July 1914, Houdini returned to America to fill his regular summer engagement at Hammerstein's Victoria in New York. His intention was to return to Europe soon after, where he already had a full schedule of bookings. But World War I broke out, and Houdini found himself unable to travel for the duration.

After the war Houdini returned to fulfill those engagements, including this stop in Glasgow during the week of March 1, 1920. He was flush with the belief that he was now an international cinema star, and because movies were the only way audiences in Europe would have seen Houdini during the war years, I suspect this is why he's billed here as "Houdini (Himself)."

It was also in Glasgow at this time that Houdini filmed street scenes that would later appear in Haldane of the Secret Service, and this remarkable photo was taken.

One interesting thing about Houdini's return tour is that he received some uncharacteristically bad reviews. The complaint was that Houdini spent half his act telling audiences about all the great things he had been doing in America during the last several years. A rare disconnect between Houdini and his audience.

Unfortunately, Houdini's name appears to have been in a different color on this poster, and it has faded over time (the seller says it was red). Still, this is a nice memento from what would prove to be Houdini's last European tour.

Related posts:

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

'Houdini' concludes in Australia

The second part of the Houdini miniseries aired last night (June 30) in Australia on Seven. The second night had a new trailer which teased: "See the trick that finally killed Houdini. It's not what you think!"

Unfortunately, the unique Australian trailers for Part I and II are no longer online.


11 Houdini lobby cards sell in auction

A treasure trove of rare Houdini silent movie lobby cards sold yesterday at the Profiles in History auction of The Morris Everett, Jr Collection, Part 1. Included was an ultra-rare title card for The Grim Game which sold for $5,500. I expect this is a new record. The auction featured lobby cards from all of Houdini's films except The Man From Beyond.

  • The Master Mystery - "The Madagascar Menace" - $2000
  • The Master Mystery - "The Water Peril" - $1,500
  • The Master Mystery - "The Mad Genius" (electric chair) - $3000
  • The Master Mystery (2 cards) - "The Mad Genius" & "Barbed Wire" - $1,600
  • The Grim Game - Title card - $5,500
  • The Grim Game - "Get above him, I’ll drop to his plane" - $2,500
  • The Grim Game - "Over the edge – with death below and imprisonment above!" - $1,900
  • The Grim Game - "Lock him in the strongest cell!" - $3000
  • Terror Island - "Attempt to murder Harper" - $1,900
  • Haldane of the Secret Service - "What a story he listened to!" (color) - $1,900

Collectively the cards took in $24,800, and that's before the 20% to 28% commissions. You can see each of the cards on the Profiles in History auction catalog pages below.

Click to enlarge.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Houdini miniseries receives IIG Award

Last night the Houdini miniseries was honored with an award from the Independent Investigations Group (IIG), a skeptical research and science advocacy organization. The miniseries was recognized for its depiction of reason and science over superstition (via Houdini's spirit busting activities) in mainstream media.

Academy Award Nominee Robert Forster presented the award to producer Gerald W. Abrams and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer during the 9th Annual IIG Awards held at the Steve Allen Theater in the Los Angeles Center for Inquiry.

Said Meyer, "I thank Gerry [Abrams] for the really wonderful opportunity he gave me and the great time we had putting this movie together. The icing the cake is this award which we were far from expecting, so thank you all very much."

Each year the IIG also presents the "Houdini Hall of Honor Award" to an individual who has devoted their career to promoting scientific and critical thinking to the public. The year's winner was best-selling author (and one-time magician) Richard Wiseman. His name will join Houdini, Carl Sagan, James Randi, Isaac Asimov, and others on a plaque on display at the Center for Inquiry.

On a lighter note, the 2015 "Terrible Television Award" went to Dr. Oz, who addressed the audience from behind the screen with smoke and pyrotechnics like the great fake Wizard himself. The show also featured very funny performances by the talented Hannah Gansen and Jim Coughlin.

"The IIG Awards recognize mainstream entertainment for promoting critical thinking and scientific values and dispelling myths and superstition," said host James Underdown, Chair of the IIG. "This has become an important annual event at the intersection of science and entertainment."

For more information about the IIG, visit their official website. Stay tuned for exciting news of an upcoming IIG-Houdini event and a look at an amazing Houdini artifact at the CFI.

Related posts:

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The King of Vaudeville

Here's a German poster for the 1953 classic Houdini with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. I've never seen this design before. The title translates to Houdini: The King of Vaudeville. That's an uncommon accolade, but apt! This image comes from

Houdini was released in West Germany on March 18, 1954. For an historical overview of the film, check out this post, which also includes the original U.S. trailer. I also have a dedicated Facebook page for this classic that inspired generations of young people (including myself) to study the art of magic and history of Houdini.

Related posts:

Saturday, June 27, 2015

American Pickers find Houdini in Georgia

Houdini turned up on American Pickers on Wednesday (6/24) when Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz visited the collection of a gentleman named Preston in Warm Springs, Georgia.

In his eclectic museum, Preston had a collection of magic and Houdini memorabilia. But what really drew Mike and Frank were a pair of leg-irons said to have belonged to Houdini. Preston has on display his documentation, which appear to be two framed letters from Hardeen. Mike also a noted a pair of "Australian Torture Thumbcuffs" in the collection.

While the Pickers specifically have "Houdini items" on their list of wants, they did not attempt to buy the shackles from Preston. They instead admired the cuffs while several informational pop-ups about Houdini came on screen. A nice tribute, and the kind of tie-in I had expected to see last year when HISTORY aired the Houdini miniseries. But I guess you can never predict a pick!

Thanks to Joe Fox.

Related posts:

Friday, June 26, 2015

All rise for the Robed Houdinis

The big Supreme Court decisions this week have certainly fired up political pundits, with one presidential hopeful calling the court justices "Robed Houdinis." I guess he means by that; shining examples of those at the top of their profession-?

Houdini himself was not a political warrior. He was supporter of both Republican Teddy Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson. The idea of using Houdini's name and image in political attacks, especially cartoons, is something that goes back to Houdini's time, and he loved it. In fact, one poster for The Man From Beyond was made up entirely of such political cartoons.


Animated 'Houdini' coming to DVD

NCircle Entertainment, the largest independent studio for children's non-theatrical DVDs in the U.S., has acquired Houdini (a.k.a. Little Houdini), a French feature-length animated film produced by Dandelooo. Houdini will premiere in the U.S. on DVD on September 15.

"Our team in Paris is thrilled at our new partnership with NCircle Entertainment," said Emmanuèle Pétry Sirvin of Dandelooo. "The launch of Houdini in America has special significance, knowing that this amazingly talented boy was born in Europe, then sailed to the United States where he became the greatest magician of all time."

Below is a trailer:

Thanks to iTricks for this news.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Houdini & Doyle to film in Manchester

Prolific North reports that the new TV series Houdini & Doyle will shoot at the Space Project in Manchester, a 360,000 sq ft facility for large scale TV and film production in the UK. The team is taking two stages – Space 02 and Space 03 – as well as using production office zones. A spokesman said work would see them resident "until the back end of the year."

The article also features this intriguing quote:

The drama will draw on what the production team claim to be historically documented instances of the Metropolitan Police turning to Houdini and Doyle to help tackle “unsolved and inexplicable crimes.”

Historically documented? I suspect what they mean is that Doyle worked with the police on at least one occasion (the case of George Edalji). As far as I know, Houdini was never brought into any kind of criminal investigation, inexplicable or otherwise. This is the first claim I've heard that the series will be based on any kind of fact. Until now, I've heard only that it would feature highly fictionalized adventures of the two men.

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton. The series will air in 2016 on ITV Encore, Global TV, and FOX. Production will also take place in Toronto, Canada.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Houdini & Doyle official logo

Here's a great way to end our big Houdini & Doyle news day – the main title logo! This comes from the FOX press site, so it's the real deal. I like it.

Click to enlarge.

As we've learned today, Houdini & Doyle will star Michael Weston as Houdini and Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The series begins shooting this year in the UK and Canada. It will debut in 2016 on FOX in the U.S., ITV Encore in Great Britain, and Global TV in Canada.


Meet the new Houdini

Today it was announced that Michael Weston has been cast as Houdini in the new series, Houdini & Doyle, set for broadcast in 2016. So what do we know about the man who is following in the footsteps of Curtis, Glaser, Keitel, Schaech, Pearce and Brody?

Michael Weston was born on October 25, 1973 in New York City as Michael Rubinstein. He's the son of actors Judi West and John Rubinstein, the grandson of piano virtuoso Arthur Rubinstein and the great-grandson of conductor Emil Młynarski, the founding conductor of Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.

When he was a teenager, Weston wanted to be a professional baseball player until he injured his arm. He then graduated from Northwestern University with a B.S. in theater arts. In 2000 he changed his name to Weston as there was already a Michael Rubinstein in the Screen Actors Guild.

The 41-year-old actor has worked extensively in American television, his best-known roles being the private detective Lucas Douglas on House, the homicidal meth addict Jake in the HBO drama Six Feet Under and Pvt. Dancer on Scrubs. House series creator David Shore (who is co-executive producing on Houdini & Doyle) planned a House a spin-off series with Weston's character as the lead in 2008, but the show never aired.

Weston has also appeared in the feature films Garden State (2004), The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) and State of Play (2009). He has been married to musician Priscilla Ahn since 2010.

Houdini & Doyle appears to be the actor's first encounter with Houdini and the world of magic. I've already been told (warned?) that the new series is highly fictionalized, so Weston won't have to contend with the same kind of historical scrutiny we're given his predecessors (no Fact Checks necessary). However, he certainly appears to have passed the first test in that he's a good physical match for Houdini.

Houdini & Doyle also stars Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton. The series will air in 2016 on ITV Encore, Canada's Global TV, and on FOX in the U.S.


It's on! Michael Weston and Stephen Mangan are ‘Houdini & Doyle’

Houdini & Doyle is officially set for 2016 with Michael Weston as Houdini and Stephen Mangan and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Here is the full article from this morning's Variety:

Fox Sets ‘Houdini & Doyle’ for 2016 Debut with Stars Michael Weston & Stephen Mangan

Elizabeth Wagmeister

Fox is saying “abracadabra” to David Shore’s supernatural adventure series “Houdini & Doyle” with ten episodes set to debut next year on the network.

Michael Weston (“House,” “Six Feet Under”) and Stephen Mangan (“Episodes”) have nabbed the two title roles in the period drama, inspired by true events. Stephen Hopkins (“24,” “Californication”) has signed on as director.

Rounding out the cast, Rebecca Liddiard (“Man Seeking Woman”), has been set as Constable Adelaide Stratton, the first female constable ever to work for the London Metropolitan Police Force.

The series revolves around master magician, escape artist and paranormal debunker, Harry Houdini (Weston) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Mangan), the prolific writer, paranormal aficionado and creator of “Sherlock Holmes,” as they grudgingly join forces with New Scotland Yard to investigate inexplicable crimes with a supernatural slant.

“I’ve long been intrigued by both Houdini and Doyle; men who were ahead of their time, each fascinating in their own right. But the idea that these two, seemingly so different, could have been friends is almost too perfect,” said exec producer Shore. “In Michael and Stephen, we have found two incredible actors that embody the intelligence, humor and mystique of these men who, even when viewed through the lens of history, are larger than life.”

The international U.K./Canada Treaty co-production from U.K.’s Big Talk Productions and Canada’s Shaftesbury, in association with Shore Z Productions, hails from scribes David Titcher and David Hoselton who serve as exec producers with the “House” creator. Big Talk’s Kenton Allen, Matthew Justice and Luke Alkin, plus Shaftesbury’s Christina Jennings, Maggie Murphy and Scott Garvie also exec produce.

Fox’s stateside premiere date has not been set, other than sometime in 2016, but the series will premiere on ITV Encore and Canada’s Global in spring 2016. Sony Pictures TV is the distributor.


Monday, June 22, 2015

'Houdini' airs tonight in Australia

The Houdini miniseries airs tonight in Australia (where it is already June 23) at 8:40pm on Seven. This marks the premiere of the miniseries down under. Note the use of a somewhat different title logo below. Part Two will air on June 30.

For those about to watch the premiere in Australia, here's a little something I posted on the eve of the U.S. premiere last year: Why today is October 8, 1976.


William Lindsay Gresham on the Houdinis marriage

Today, on the 121st wedding anniversary of Harry and Bess Houdini, I'm offering up a recent find which, if we are to believe it, casts the Houdinis 33-year marriage in a different light. This one definitely falls under the category of the salacious and gossip, but when the person doing the gossiping is William Lindsay Gresham, who in 1959 wrote the first major Houdini biography, Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls, it's worth a listen. So here we go.

While visiting the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan last month, I came across a letter written by Gresham to his agent, Bernice Baumgarten, in 1954. In it Gresham pitches the idea for his Houdini book, taking aim at what was the only other Houdini biography in print at the time, Houdini His Life Story by Harold Kellock. Gresham writes:

I'm sorry you didn't like the Houdini book idea. What you saw (the carbon of the True booklenghther) is just a bare outline of what that guy really was. There has never been a real biography written -- the book by Harold Kellock, Houdini, His Life Story, is just posthumous publicity, with Bess portraying her marriage as a 33-year idyll. It was like hell.

Later, Gresham turns to the subject of Daisy White, for which he appears to have had a singular fascination:

Perhaps I'm just an enthusiast but I'd love to write a true account of Houdini's life and my years as a fact-detective editor have given me enough know-how to avoid libel. Incidentally, many years ago there was a cute little redhead bombshell who worked in the old Martinka's magic store. She was named Daisy White. After Houdini's death Bess Houdini found a stack of carbon copies of love letters Harry had written Daisy. The schmuck, he thought he took one great secret with him to the grave! What a character.

This last paragraph contains a true bombshell. Love letters "Harry had written Daisy." By the time Gresham writes his book, the author and nature of these letters has drastically changed. On pages 291-292 of Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls, Gresham writes:

Knowing Houdini's prudishness and ultraconservatism in his attitude toward women, Daisy had written him several torrid love letters just to see what would happen. Houdini never threw away any scrap of paper unless it was a clipping which boosted and imitator. He kept the gag-love-letters hidden. After his death Bess found them and is said to have pitched quite a fit until Daisy explained the circumstances and managed to pacify her.

So which version are we to believe? Did Houdini write Daisy love letters, or did Daisy send Houdini "gag-love-letters"? The difference is enormous. The truth might be revealed in Gresham's assurance that he knew "how to avoid libel." Did he change the truth to make the letters innocent so as not indict Houdini? Or, with further research, did he discover what he had written to Bernice was incorrect? Tough one.

And what are we to make of Gresham's claim that the Houdini's marriage was "like hell"? Certainly his final book did not reflect a troubled marriage. In fact, in a lengthy passage on pages 75-76, Gresham paints the Houdinis marriage as, yes, idyllic. He even adds: "There was only one thing of which she could be absolutely sure: he was not interested in other women."

So was Gresham exaggerating in this letter, trying to make his book sound more salacious and therefore more appealing to his agent who wasn't yet sold on the idea of Houdini biography? Was he repeating gossip or making a snap judgment that he later backed away from? Or, again, did he avoid the topic entirely in his final book to protect himself from libel?

I want nothing more to believe the fairytale -- that the Houdini's marriage was what Bess characterized as "perfect smoothness." But I have to admit that the more I do primary research, the more I encounter troubling indicators, such as this Gresham letter, that there might have been some problems.

The wild card for me is the extent of Bessie's involvement with alcohol. If she had a serious drinking problem during the marriage -- if she was an alcoholic -- then there certainly could have been times that it was "like hell." But we also have ample evidence of the Houdinis love and affection for one another.

My guess is the Houdinis 33-year marriage was, like many long term marriages, a complex personal relationship. I doubt it was all "perfect smoothness." But until we get more evidence, I find it hard to believe it was "like hell." Still, this is a curious letter from a man who seemed committed to uncovering the truth about Houdini.

Thanks to Alex and Keli Hindenach of the American Museum of Magic for providing me with a copy of this letter, and to Diego Domingo for his help identifying Bernice Baumgarten.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Houdini checks into Gran Hotel

Houdini put in an appearance on the popular Spanish language dramatic series Gran Hotel (a.k.a. Grand Hotel) played by actor Jorge Bosch. The series, which originally aired 2011-2013, is now available on Netflix with English subtitles. The Houdini episode is Season 2, Episode 19, Part 33. Houdini appears doing the Water Torture Cell at 00:35:55.

I'm not sure if this was Houdini's only appearance on the series.

Thanks to @janebabes on Twitter for the tip.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Brandon book

The 1993 biography The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini by Ruth Brandon is maligned by Houdini buffs. This is largely due to Brandon's pet theory, as expressed in the book, that Houdini was impotent. Brandon admitted this notion was not based on any evidence, just a "guess," but she believed it was the best explanation of why the Houdinis never had children. This was promoted as the sensational revelation of the book, and the author repeatedly shared her theory on TV and in documentaries. It even found its way into popular culture via a mention on Seinfeld.

Of course, the reason the Houdinis didn’t have children had to do with Bess's inability to do so, something her niece, Marie Blood, said she would have shared with Brandon had the author shown any interest (I got the feeling that Brandon had rubbed Marie the wrong way). I’ve also heard whispers over the years that Brandon, who authored the 1984 book, The Spiritualists, had a pro-spiritualist agenda. However, I see no real evidence of this in the book itself. (Unless the idea of robbing the great debunker of his sexual power could be considered an attack?)

But if we move beyond the bedroom, I think The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini has a lot to recommend it. Certainly in 1993 it was a very welcome book. It had been 24 years since the last major Houdini biography (Houdini The Untold Story by Milbourne Christopher), and while Brandon didn’t really break new ground, she nicely consolidated a lot of the important new research from smaller, individual studies. It provided Houdini buffs with a nice "everything we know up to now" biography while we waited for the great game changer, Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss by Kenneth Silverman.

It's also a very well written book. In fact, for people who want an easy read on Houdini, it's still a biography I'd recommend, impotency theory and all.


The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini was first published in Great Britain by Martin Secker & Warburg Limited in 1993. It would take a year for the book to find its way "across the pond" to the U.S. where it was published by Random House in October 1994 (although the U.S. first edition shows only the 1993 copyright date). Both hardcover editions featured very nice cover art. The UK art was designed by William Webb with a photo credit to the Radner Collection. The U.S. cover was by Mike Lam with photo credit to UPI and poster images from the Granger Collection.

UK and U.S. hardcover first editions.

The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini has so far seen two paperback editions in the UK. The first was published in 1994 by Mandarin and featured a shirtless Houdini on the cover. The second came from Pan Books in August 2001 and offered up more conventional cover artwork. This later edition also separated the photos into two sections instead of having all in one central section as in all other editions.

UK paperbacks.

The first U.S. paperback edition was published by Kodansha Globe in 1995. It had an attractive cover designed by Lilly Langotsky. A later reprint from Random House appeared in October 2003. It featured an entirely new cover design by Tamaye Perry, who made nice use of stills from Houdini's movies. This paperback is still in-print today and is available on Amazon.

U.S. paperbacks.

In my collection, I also have two U.S. pre-publication editions of the Brandon book. The first is a proof from publisher Random House. A very different cover concept is shown inside along with a review from the London Times. The second is a curiosity; a trade paperback edition featuring artwork that would appear on the U.S. hardcover. It's likely this is an early export edition, typically sold in airports and overseas markets, although there's nothing on the book to indicate it as such.

U.S. proof and early export paperback.

Despite the controversy, The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini, "the Brandon book", is a worthy biography that deserves a place on any shelf of Houdiniana, if for no other reason than for these great cover designs.

Enjoy these other selections of the WILD ABOUT HARRY bookshelf:

Friday, June 19, 2015

LINK: Trip to Scranton is extra special

Link day indeed! Joe Notaro has just posted his full report on his trip to Scranton to see The Grim Game at the Houdini Museum. Click on the headline to read all about Joe's adventures at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence.


LINK: The Knickerbocker Hotel's Haunted History

I guess it's link day today, so here's a link to a terrific article at about the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel. Of course, the Knickerbocker was site of the Final Houdini Seance in 1936, and the article touches on this with a first hand recollection of the "dismal, drizzly night" by L.A. Times reporter Gene Sherman. Click the headline and have a read at KCET.

The Knickerbocker in 1938.



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