Thursday, December 1, 2005

Is Rachel a Weisz?


The Independent reports that actress Rachel Weisz will be back in the UK next spring to film Death Defying Acts, a new film about Houdini. Weisz will play Houdini's mistress in the film.

The paper claims that Houdini "is a long-standing interest of Weisz's, partly motivated by the thought that he was a distant relative - he was born in Hungary as Ehrich Weisz."

Rachel Weisz related to Houdini? There is a bit of a resemblance.

Weisz is best known for her two blockbuster Mummy films, The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001), and can currently been seen in The Constant Gardener.

This post first appeared on Houdini Lives.

Buried Alive 8-sheet Sells for $14,950

A "Buried Alive" 8-sheet by Otis Litho fetched $14,950 in Heritage's 2005 Rare Movie Poster Auction auction on November 11.

This poster promotes the escape that was to replace the Water Torture Cell in Houdini's full eveing show in 1927. However, Houdini died before the '27 season and the casket that was to be used in the trick was instead used to carry his body back to New York.

In other poster auction news, a rare French Terror Island poster recently sold for $12,650.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Houdini the action figure!

A Houdini Action Figure has been released by Accoutrements -- "Outfitters in Popular Culture" -- who specialize in off-beat action figures of historical figures like Jesus, Einstein, etc.

The figure comes with hand and leg shakles, a chair with rope, and even a straight-jacket in which you can thrust old Harry up. The package notes our hero's "weapon of choice" -- MAGIC!

The Houdini Action Figure can be found in novelty stores and on Amazon.

Where was this when I was ten?

Houdini & Doyle redux

A new novel by by Gabriel Brownstein, The Man From Beyond (not to be confused with the recent Image graphic novel of the same name), is based on the real-life friendship between Houdini and the creator of Sherlock Holmes and the consequences of a séance, held in 1922, in which Lady Doyle claimed to communicate with Houdini's dead mother.

Woven into this historical frame story is the fictional saga of Molly Goodman, a young New York reporter who sets out to interview both men.

Would have been kind of cool if they had called this book The Men From Beyond.

You can purchase The Man From Beyond by Gabriel Brownstein from Amazon.com.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Houdini's NYC boyhood home today

Site of the Weiss home today.

A modern condo now stands at the site of 305 East 69th Street where the Weiss family lived while Houdini was a teen. How ironic that this neighborhood which was once a refuge for poor Jewish immigrates is today among the most expensive places to live in New York City. Oh to be a slum lord with foresight in 1880!

Just up the street is the site of Mrs. Leffler's boarding house at East 79th Street where the Weiss family first stayed upon their arrival in New York. Incredibly, the building still stands and would be recognizable to Houdini today.

Mrs. Leffler's boarding house.

This post originally appeared on Houdini Lives.

Hotel Shelton pool is no more


The Hotel Shelton in New York City is now the Marriott, but it still looks much as it did in Houdini's day. Even the hotel restaurant still bares the name "Shelton Grill."

However, I was disappointed to learn that the famous swimming pool -- where Houdini performed the remarkable feat of remaining submerged in a coffin with only minutes of air for over an hour -- is no longer there. Hotel staff told me the pool had been filled in about 2 or 3 years ago.

Monday, August 1, 2005

Dead Famous: Houdini

The Biography Channel recently aired DEAD FAMOUS: HOUDINI, in which hosts Gail Porter and ghost hunter Chris Fleming go searching for Houdini's ghost.

Their search takes them from Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, to New York City's Palace Theatre on Broadway (where Houdini performed), to the Houdini Museum in Scranton, and Coney Island.

Did they find him? I don't know. I missed it, dang-it! The show aired Aug 2. Watch for repeats.

New Houdini movie in the works!

Variety is reporting that Guy Pearce has signed to star in the Houdini drama DEATH DEFYING ACTS, with Rachel Weisz in negotiations to co-star as the magician's mistress.

The movie follows Houdini's passionate relationship with a woman he encounters in Scotland during a tour of Britain in 1926. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also features in the storyline.

The film will be directed by Gillian Armstrong and was written by Tony Grisoni and Brian Ward.

Disney showcases upcoming Houdini book at Comic Con

At this year's San Diego Comic Con I made an interesting discovery. Disney's publishing division, Hyperion Books, is planning to release an illustrated biography of Houdini in Fall of 2006.

Called HARRY HOUDINI, the book will be written and illustrated by Jason Lutes & Nick Bertozzi. It is part of the Hyperion/Cartoon Studies Biographies. A terrific full color poster of what presumably is the cover of the book was displayed at Comic Con.

This post first appeared on Houdini Lives.

Monday, July 4, 2005

J. Gordon Whitehead revealed in 'The Man Who Killed Houdini'

The Man Who Killed Houdini by Don Bell is a definitive investigation into the events that occurred in Harry Houdini's dressing room on Oct 22, 1926, and the man at the center of the fatal "attack," J. Gordon Whitehead. It is a remarkable work that will blow the minds of Houdini enthusiasts and magic historians.

Within the first few chapters, Bell rewrites Houdini history by discovering that the magician was attacked (or at least "tested") three separate times during that fateful week in Montréal. A native of Montréal, Bell finds independent eyewitnesses to each of these other, non-lethal punches. It's a stunning discovery.

Unfortunately, Bell doesn't investigate these other incidents in detail, but remains focused on the final famous dressing room attack by J. Gordon Whitehead. Bell's hypothesis is that Whitehead may have been acting as an agent for spiritualists. Considering Houdini's vehement anti-spiritualist crusade, this is not a far-fetched theory. Trouble is, absolutely nothing is known about J. Gordan Whitehead (and some have even questioned whether or not he even existed).

It's Bell's search for the phantom Whitehead (which takes up a good middle of the book) that presents my only criticism with the book. Bell describes in detail every step of his 20 year investigation, including his many false leads. Okay, dramatizing a few false lead is entertaining and adds to the detective story (not to mention makes the eventual discoveries all that more exciting), but Bell relates EVERY false lead, devoting whole chapters to lines of inquiry that never pan out. This does becomes a bit tiresome after a while.

However, when Bell finally gets on the right scent and starts uncovering the life and death of "the man who killed Houdini", the book again becomes fascinating. I won't spoil it, but somehow J. Gordon Whitehead turns out to be both a complete surprise and exactly what we would expect. Bell also tracks down the elusive eyewitnesses to the dressing room incident, Jack Price and Sam Smiley. Thank goodness Bell did this investigation when he did, as most of these key players are now deceased (as is the author himself).

In the end, Bell is never able to pin a conspiracy on spiritualists, nor link Whitehead to the movement. There is also a nagging feeling that there is still something untold in all this. But in this age of sensationalized conspiracy theories as entertainment, it's refreshing to finally get book that admits the truth of its own findings (even though this tends to relegate them to smaller publishers, as is the case here). But this honesty also legitimizes this book as a real investigation by a real investigator. And what Bell delivers in The Man Who Killed Houdini is far more interesting than any conspiracy, and of much greater value to the serious scholar of Houdini and magic history.

This book is a must.

Friday, July 1, 2005

Rare 'Terror Island' poster at auction

A rare French color lithograph for Houdini's second feature film, Terror Island (1920), is going to be auctioned by Christies's auction house as part of their Christian Fechner Collection of American & English Magic, Part I. The poster is reported to be the only known copy.


The auction will be held on October 27, 2005. The estimate is $12,000/18,000.

UPDATE: The poster sold for $12,650.

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