Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Houdini grave restoration has begun

Our friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton have posted a video documenting the start of the Houdini grave restoration project. Dorothy and Dick are overseeing the project along with The Society of American Magicians.

Says Dorothy: "The Society of American Magicians hired mosaic artist Kim Hogan to go to the grave a make an estimate of what would be needed to repair the SAM mosaic there. She also brought the president of a large glass supplier to help check with color matching, which is of great concern to the management of the cemetery and The Society of American Magicians. The video was done by Bruce Wade."

Literary Orphans "Houdini" is live

The latest issue of Literary Orphans online literary journal is titled "Houdini" and celebrates the great escapist on the cover. Edited by Mike Joyce, "Houdini" (Issue 16) contains collected works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art, and interviews. It is live now through February at www.literaryorphans.org.

Below is some promotional artwork for Houdini Issue 16 from the Literary Orphans Facebook page.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Houdinis 1924 Christmas card

A magnificent Christmas postcard sent out by Harry and Bess Houdini sold on eBay over the weekend for $355. The card has the original stamp and postmark of December 23, 1924.

This card image appears undated in Gibson's The Original Houdini Scrapbook.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

German Houdini (1953) program

This original German movie program for Paramounts 1953 Houdini biopic starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh recently sold at an eMoviePoster auction for a modest $35. Houdini was released in (West) Germany on March 18, 1954.

Friday, November 21, 2014

How I learned to love the Houdini miniseries

You know those annoying romantic comedies in which the characters start off hating each other, but then slowly begin to fall in love despite themselves? And then there's that moment when the girl comes down the stairs in her beautiful new dress, and the boy sees her as if for the first time, and he's suddenly head over heels. Well, I think that's what's happening with me and the Houdini miniseries, and I think I had my down the stairs moment with the extended edition DVD, or what screenwriter Nicholas Meyer calls, the "Lionsgate version."

The villain in this story is (still) the HISTORY channel. Showing a drastically edited and severely compromised version in the U.S. on September 1st & 2nd (also included on the DVD) did not help love bloom. The network let down the audience and the filmmakers by showing us something that I would call unfinished. While some of the cuts were small, they were critical, and I'd even say the filmmakers' work and intentions were totally misrepresented by the network. We should never have seen that version of Houdini.

For starters, the extended version starts with this disclaimer:

What you are about to see is FACT.
It is also FICTION.
We defy you to tell the difference...

It's hard for me to say for certain, but had I seen this disclaimer on the original broadcast, I might have written a very different review back in September. Because with this the filmmakers not only announce their approach, but they also announce the tone. The disclaimer doesn't come off as arrogant. It seems playful; almost like the start of a magic performance. It reminds me of the disclaimer attached to Meyer's Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which read: "The story is true…only the facts have been made up."

So from the start, we now know we are going to get a story that is fact and fiction, told by Houdini himself, and if you accept the challenge to tell the difference, you'll notice there are clues along the way. For example, when the miniseries goes into its spy movie mode, the music changes significantly. I didn't notice this the first time. I just felt that the miniseries had made a sudden and silly lurch into fiction, and I felt betrayed by what I had been told was a "biopic." But in this version, with the disclaimer and challenge in my head, I noted the musical shift as a clue that we were entering a fantasy moment. Suddenly I was watching Haldane of the Secret Service, and now I was seeing Houdini (the storyteller) work his silent movie spy fantasies into his real life story. That's fun. Maybe I am reading too much into this and giving the filmmakers too much credit…but, damn, this is a whole different girl coming down those stairs!

Because the extended miniseries now has a scene in which it's specifically stated that Martin Beck arranged for Houdini's European tour, this also made the spy narrative more palatable. Without the mention of Beck, the entire trip to Europe appeared to be a concoction of the U.S. government, and that was too big a pill to swallow. But now we are giving the facts and the fiction in much the same way it's laid out in the book, The Secret Life of Houdini, from which all this derives (again, this book should have been credited as the source).

This extended version also seems to have an entirely different pace. The frenetic editing seems to have been removed, or at least reduced. Certainly there are very noticeable extensions to scenes. The Houdinis' wedding night bedroom scene is now longer, and I love the moment when Harry discovers that Bess's curls are just a wig. We also see a quick scene in which Bess's mother angrily slaps her and throws her out of the house for marrying a Jew. This helps us better understand her demons and her later behavior when she turns her mother's words back on Harry. Overall, you get more time with the actors, small but critical connections are made, and the experience is much more enjoyable.

One very big difference is that the break between Part One and Part Two is completely different. In HISTORY's version, Part One takes us all the way to the bridge jump and Houdini becoming trapped under the ice. They go for the life and death cliffhanger (which we already know will resolve). But in the extended version, Part One ends with Houdini learning his box-office is slipping and his angry outburst: "I write the writing!" This version ends on a career turning point, and it's much less certain how or if it will resolve. Part Two then opens with Harry watching a Charlie Chaplin movie, the future, and he begins to work on his response. It's so much more effective.

I always liked Part Two, so there was no dramatic conversion for me here. Part Two is still largely fact-based and strong. But a bonus is that we now get to see Arthur Ford (played by Alexis Latham) along with Bessie's doll collection at the end. And Bess's line to Ford, "You're pretty," is nicely chilling. (The real Bess said of Ford that he was "just so handsome.")

Are there still things I dislike? Absolutely. There are still dozens of sloppy inaccuracies in regards to dates and details, and all the points I made in my Fact Checks still stand. I hate that Meyer fictionalized how and when Houdini became famous. I'm still offended by the revelation of magic secrets (expect for Walking Through A Brick Wall, which I think serves a narrative purpose). I'm also now even less in love with John Debney's bombastic, contemporary score, which I think cheapens this better version of the movie. In fact, I think it's telling that the music on the DVD menu isn't Debney, and it sets the mood so much better.

I also wish they would have taken the time to correct the misspelling of "Erich" to Ehrich in the subtitles. I still bristle at moving Houdini's home to Brooklyn instead of Harlem (why!?). But I guess those warts will always be there.

So, yes, all of a sudden these two characters who hated each other are now a kissing couple, and I'm sure there are plenty who will find this disgusting. Maybe I'm crazy and none of what I said above is there. Maybe this is still the same bitch who offended me and I insulted in return. But I can't go back from that moment at the foot of the stairs. Yes, I now see a beautiful new Houdini movie before me. But love is blind.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


A Brief History of Houdini's Water Torture Cell is the first publication of what I'm calling the WILD ABOUT HARRY Press. This is a 15 page illustrated eBook version of my post about the famous escape that ran on the 100th Anniversary. You can still read that post HERE for free. This is for those who want a standalone version for their Kindle library. It's also an experiment.

For some time I've been thinking about offering this blog in some kind of a printed version, and this is my first baby step into the world of self-publishing. While this is an eBook only release (it's too short for a printed edition), I'm planning my next WILD ABOUT HARRY Press offering to be in both eBook and print editions.

Eventually, what I plan to do is offer a series of printed annual YEARBOOKS containing every post within a specific year. These will contain not just all the posts and photos, but also all the internal links and comments (which in some cases are more interesting and insightful than the posts themselves!). I think this will be a great way to archive this blog and provide a helpful research tool.

So head on over to Amazon and have a look at my page for A Brief History of Houdini's Water Torture Cell. If you are an eBooker, maybe grab a copy and help me with this latest experiment. Thanks as always to everyone for their support.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

LINK: Houdini and his niece have NC connection

Click the headline to read an article by Teresa Leonard at the Past Times Blog about Houdini in North Carolina and the connection the state has with his niece Marie Blood.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles Book 2

The second book in Marty Chan's The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles, Infinity Coil, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com. The book is due for release on March 1, 2015. Here's a description:

Ehrich Weisz, Demon Hunter was introduced to steampunk fans in Demon Gate. Now, he is continuing his increasingly desperate quest to rescue his brother in an alternate universe in the sequel, Infinity Coil.

Now a fugitive from Demon Watch, young Ehrich Weisz hides in the underbelly of an alternate New York where immigrants from other dimensions mingle among Americans. Amid growing racial tensions, Ehrich searches for Kifo, the man who stole his brother's mind and locked it inside an ancient medallion. He poses as a stage magician to draw out Kifo's next target—the commissioner of Demon Watch. In the wings, an army awaits Kifo to accomplish his mission so interdimensional soldiers can invade New York. Ehrich is willing to risk the outbreak of war to save his brother, but he must decide whether or not he can betray his friends.

Pre-order The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Infinity Coil at Amazon.com. You can also still purchase Book 1, Demon Gate.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Houdini biography from India

The mighty Arthur Moses has uncovered a Houdini biography from India published in 2013. The book runs 96 pages with over 24 photos and is written in Tamil. The title translates to: Houdini The Magician.

Arthur has added this to his growing collection of Houdini foreign language books. But he has also made an extra copy available on eBay HERE.

'Bound By Flesh' streaming on Netflix

Bound By Flesh, the 2012 documentary about conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, is now streaming on Netflix. Houdini was friends with the young Hilton sisters and gave them advice during their time in Vaudeville. The documentary mentions Houdini and includes recordings of the sisters talking about the advice the magician gave them.

In their heyday, the Hilton Sisters were Vaudeville superstars who earned a weekly salary that was as high as Houdini's. This documentary tells their strange and somewhat tragic story.

You can watch Bound By Flesh on Netflix or buy the DVD from Amazon. For more information visit the official website.

Thanks to Steve Bingen for the alert. Check out Steve's new book, Warner Bros: Hollywood's Ultimate Backlot.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ehrich Weiss book pulls a Houdini

An 1856 edition of The Confessions by J.J. Rousseau inscribed by its owner "Ehrich Weiss" magically blew past its estimate of $1,000-1,200 and sold for a healthy $13,800 (including the 15% buyers premium) in today's Haversat & Ewing Galleries magic auction. The buyer's ID name was "Copperfield", which is either someone being cute, or it really was the magic man (he did win most of the high-end lots).

It's pretty rare to see an Ehrich Weiss signature of any kind come up for auction. What's especially interesting here is the date of 1893. This is two years into his professional career as "Harry Houdini", yet he still thinks of himself as Ehrich Weiss. Perhaps the act of getting married the following year was what finally made him shed his boyhood name.

Overall, the Houdini items did extremely well, with most selling for well above their estimates. The Houdini Bible fetched $6,238. A Houdini lock pick unlocked $3,018. A letter that mentions H.P. Lovecraft went for $2,817. A rare Dutch advertising card sold for $2,213. A pair of leg-irons grabbed $2,415. (All prices include the 15% buyers premium.)

The lot that I was after (but didn't win) was a Souvenir Program from Houdini's 3 Shows In One. While these aren't particularly rare (and there was a nice reproduction done by Lee Jacobs in 1979) what drew me to this program were the words: "Coast to Coast Tour - Season 1926-27" on the cover. I don't recall ever seeing this on one of these programs before. The fact that Houdini's second season was to be a "coast to coast tour" (his first season didn't travel beyond Illinois) is also a new piece of information to me. Presumably, this would have meant a stop in Los Angeles, which would have been his first appearance in LA since 1923. I wonder what theater he would have played?

Congrats to all the winners, and to Haversat & Ewing for another successful magic auction.


Capital One "Houdini" ad

This Capital One ad aired during the Houdini miniseries back in September. I never got a chance to report on this at the time, so I'm happy to discover that it's been posted to the Pacific Motion Control website, where you can also read about how it was made.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Midwest Magic History Weekend

David Charvet has announced that he will be hosting The Midwest Magic History Weekend on May 28-30, 2015 in Marshall Michigan. The event will be held in cooperation with the American Museum of Magic which will offer attendees a special behind-the-scenes tour of rare museum artifacts and their incredible research library that is not open to the public.

In addition, the 3 days will be filled with speakers on a variety of historical magic subjects; a private day tour to Colon, Michigan, "The Magic Capital of the World" and home to Abbott's Magic Company. The day in Colon also includes a visit to "Blackstone Island," home to the famed illusionist.

Full program details and speakers have not yet been announced, but I have a feeling this will be a convention Houdini fans will enjoy (recall that the American Museum of Magic owns a Houdini-Hardeen Mik Can).

You can find more details and register at the official website: MagicHistoryWeekend.com. There is also a dedicated Facebook page.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Haversat & Ewing auction goes live on Saturday

The next big magic auction from Haversat & Ewing Galleries goes live this Saturday, November 15. There are over 15 lots related to Houdini this time, including one of Houdini's trick Bibles (Lot #150).

Manufactured to Houdini's specifications, the Bible is handed to a spectator who is asked to turn to any page and silently read a selection of their choice. Houdini would then automatically know what words the spectator was reading. Approximately four of these trick bibles were made.

The auction estimate is $7,000-$10,000. But the last time one of these Bibles came up for auction, it sold for $24,000, so this will be one to watch.

CLICK HERE to view all the auction lots and to register to bid. Active bidding begins at 11:00 AM EST on Saturday, November 15, 2014. The first lot closes at 3:00 PM EST.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #2

Today sees the release of Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini issue #2 by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery. As with issue #1, Dynamite has released the graphic novel with two different covers (below).

After Harry Houdini's opening night performance is undone by a grotesque murder, he clashes with Sherlock Holmes when Holmes refuses to allow the legendary magician to help bring the perpetrator to justice. But the proud Houdini won't take 'no' for an answer, leading to an epic game of cat-and-mouse in London's dangerous streets.

Purchase Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #2 at the Dynamite website or Amazon.com. Issue #3 will be released on December 10.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Flappers adopt Houdini

Here's a great little news item from the Washington Times Sun dated August 20, 1922. I'm not sure I understand exactly how "Houdini" equates with being "on time for a date", but that's the young generation for you. Twenty-three skidoo!

Click to enlarge.

Of course, Houdini knew his way around a Flapper. Oh you kid.

Flapper Bess.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Houdinis by Ludwig Reiter

Here's a unique "period" photo of Adrien Brody and Kristen Connolly as Harry and Bess Houdini that was not part of the regular Houdini publicity stills. This appears to have been taken either before or after filming of the miniseries as the actors are sporting different costumes and hairstyles. This comes from the website of Viennese shoemaker Ludwig Reiter (the caption points out that Brody is wearing Ludwig Reiter "Chelsea Boots"), so it appears to have been shot specifically for advertising purposes.

The Houdini miniseries was released last month on DVD and Blu-ray and can be purchased at Amazon.com.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rare Houdini pitchbook sells on eBay

An uncommon edition of Houdini's standard pitchbook sold today on eBay for $801.68 (condition might have held this back from making even more). The auction says this was printed by The Caxton Press, Furnival Street, London, E.C. No date is given.

Houdini's pitchbooks were issued with several different covers and contain wide varieties of subtle variations. The inside of this edition states: "Three Million of these Books in circulation since 1900, in various forms, Editions and Languages."

Collector John Bushey has undertaken the task of collecting and/or documenting all of Houdini's pitchbooks (as well as those of his imitators) as part of his massive "pitchbook project." You can see many of those pitchbooks at John's site HERE.

In 2012, a pitchbook with a Weed Chain cover sold in auction for $1,230. Houdini's very first pitchbook, Magic Made Easy, sold on eBay back in 2007 for $4,457.


Houdini and Randi

Here's a clip from the documentary An Honest Liar about how Houdini influenced the life and art of James The Amazing Randi.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Houdini at Yankee Gathering XV

Yankee Gathering XV, the biennial convention of the New England Magic Collectors Association (NEMCA), concludes today in Westboro, MA. John Hinson is attending and has sent over these pics of three table displays filled with his original Houdini photos and memorabilia (some of these can be seen seen in our Unpublished Houdini series from last year). Nice to see the recently rediscovered "Dearest Vincent" Bessie letter back among John's collectibles. Click each photo to enlarge.

Here are Houdini items on display from the collection of our good friend Jon Oliver.

NEMCA has also released The Yankee Magic Collector #16. This latest issue includes Houdini articles by Arthur Moses (Houdini's "The Unmasking Of..."), Ron Cartlidge (The Harry Houdini Collection: Boxes 7-9 & 19), and William V. Rauscher (Houdini and the Hippodrome).

For more information visit the New England Magic Collectors Association website.


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