Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tim Burton’s HOUDINI

A Houdini movie directed by Tim Burton? Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? Well, it exists!

Of course, this Tim Burton’s HOUDINI was a short film he shot in grade school instead of "reading the book", as he explained last year on the South Bank Show. (The "book" appears to be Christopher's Houdini The Untold Story.)

Click below to see a YouTube segment from the interview that includes a clip from Tim Burton’s HOUDINI. The clip starts at 0:54 seconds in.

Monday, December 22, 2008

LIFE photos reveals cut wing walking scene from Houdini (1953)

Adam Steinfeld of Adam Steinfeld Magic Live has alerted us to a remarkable find! LIFE magazine has posted 200+ behind the scenes photos taken on the set of the 1953 movie HOUDINI starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

Among the photos are several shots of cuts scenes, including a performance of the Cremation illusion and The Milk Can escape. However, the most amazing revelation (for me at least) is that the film originally was to feature a recreation of Houdini’s death defying plane to plane mid-air transfer and wing walk from his 1919 film, The Grim Game.


This is significant in that all the movies so far made about Houdini’s life and career have ignored his stint as a silent movie star in Hollywood. But here is evidence that the 1953 film did not ignore this aspect of Houdini’s life. It just wound up on the cutting room floor.

My question is, where is this footage today?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Six Flags Houdini attraction SBNO

The popular ‘Houdini’s Great Escape’ ride at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey is currently SBNO (“standing but not operating”). That’s fancy amusement park parlance for “closed.”

According to greatadventurehistory.com, the experience of Houdini's Great Escape was a complete themed presentation from start to finish. Guests passed through the gates (marked 278) and entered the garden in front of the house. Guests were then ushered into the parlor, sometimes by a costumed actor who helped set the scene. The room was decorated with gothic fixtures and escape devices from Houdini’s career, including an eerily smashed Water Torture Cell.

An unseen narrator gave background information on Houdini with an accompanying film showing him as a young man. The spirit of Houdini was channeled and moved objects in the room in an attempt to cross over from the other side.

A set of doors opened and the audience was ushered into the next room with the sets of benches lining both sides of the room and a small table in the center. Once everyone was seated, Houdini locked his guests into place with a set of lapbars and the illusion began with the room rocking and then eventually turning a full 360 degrees.

After the first season, the storyline was modified slightly. The original show concluded with a huge illuminated mural of Houdini visible through the large skylight above the room. When modified, the center table with crystal ball and the illuminated keys at the ends of the rooms were added to conclude the story.

Houdini was closed for safety modifications after a power failure in the park had trapped riders for a period of time. Modifications made the ride safer and it re-opened to the public.

For the 2008 season, Houdini's Great Escape was SBNO. Before the season had started plans were in place to open the ride, and new signage was even in place in the weeks leading up to the park's opening day. At the last minute a high level decision was made not to open the ride, and for opening day all the ride's signs had been removed, and the entry gates padlocked. During the season the building was used as a venue for autograph signings, but no other activity took place.

For more pics and information about Houdini’s Great Escape and other Six Flag Great Adventure attractions, visit Great Adventure History.com.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

French Master Mystery poster beats auction estimate

A rare French poster for Houdini’s 1918/19 movie serial The Master Mystery (Episode 8 -- Un Plan Diabolique) sold for £5,000 ($7,345) at Christie’s in London on Dec 4.

The poster was Lot 18 / Sale 5425 and carried a £2000 - £3000 ($3,022 - $4,533) estimate.

As a rule, Master Mystery posters that feature either the Automaton (said the be the first movie robot) or Houdini in restraints are the most desirable...and this beauty has both!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Houdini goes high-def!

Bruce Cardozo's amazing restoration of Houdini's The Man From Beyond has been released on Blu-ray, giving it the distinction of being the first silent movie released on the high-def format.

This version of The Man From Beyond offers the best quality and the most complete print of this movie ever presented (see full review here). At 80 minutes, it is also the longest of all the other versions out there.

Bonus material, which includes the almost complete screenplay for The Master Mystery, comes on a second CD-ROM disc.

Purchase The Man From Beyond Blu-ray at Amazon.com.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

'The Amazing Harry Houdini' by Tanya Savory

This one slipped right past me, but in September Townsend Press released a new Houdini paperback biography for young readers, The Amazing Harry Houdini by Tanya Savory.

Harry Houdini escaped from prison cells, swallowed needles, and made elephants disappear. How did he do such amazing tricks? Some people believed he was actually a wizard with secret powers. But Houdini knew his only “secret powers” were hard work and imagination. This is the story of the poor boy who grew up to be the most famous magician in the world. He was fearless and determined to amaze his audiences, and there seemed to be no limit to the risks that The Great Houdini would take.

You can order The Amazing Harry Houdini from Amazon.com.

For more information about Townsend Press visit their official website.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Houdini" aided in Obama victory

No doubt you’ve heard that last night Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. But did you know Houdini had a hand in his historic victory?

In an online preview of a special Newsweek post election issue, we find a revelation about “Project Houdini.”
The Obama campaign’s New Media experts created a computer program that would allow a “flusher”—the term for a volunteer who rounds up nonvoters on Election Day—to know exactly who had, and had not, voted in real time. They dubbed it Project Houdini, because of the way names disappear off the list instantly once people are identified as they wait in line at their local polling station.
Read the article at Newsweek.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Link: Houdini's Final Trick, a Tidy Grave

Check out this article and video in the New York Times about Houdini’s grave in Queens. Some interesting information here, including the fact that Houdini paid for perpetual care of his family plot. The comments are also worth a read. Click on the headline to go.

Official Houdini Seance held at the Dorothy Young Center

The Official Houdini Seance was held last night in the Black Box Theatre of the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts. The 101-year-old Young, who worked as an assistant to Houdini during his 1925 tour, participated in the seance alongside organizer Sidney Radner.

“It's still an honest attempt to see if we can contact Houdini,” said Radner, who brought a pair of Houdini's handcuffs which Houdini said he would open, if he could, from beyond the grave. Radner noted. “We would be satisfied right now if it was put on a table and then he comes back in a physical way, he moved it across the table and it fell on the floor, or something like that.”

Last night’s seance was conducted by psychic Jane Doherty of South Plainfield, who investigated the Massachusetts home of accused ax murderer Lizzie Borden and said her stomach expands by several inches when spirits are present.

“I think now, the point of doing it is really to honor (Houdini's) memory,” said Barbara Parker, who is the granddaughter of Dorothy Young. “(Dorothy) talks about the Houdinis as being her second parents during that period of her life.”

Source: The Star-Ledger

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Death Defying Acts released on DVD


Death Defying Acts didn’t get much of a theatrical release (only two theaters), but it’s getting a second shot at life on home entertainment as it is released today on DVD.

The DVD includes commentary by director Gillian Armstrong and producer Marian MacGowan, a Making Of documentary, and the trailer.

The DVD art now sports the subtitle: Houdini’s Secret. Guess the marketing department behind this film decided maybe they should trade on the power of Houdini's name after-all.

Death Defying Acts stars Guy Pearce as Houdini and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Scottish psychic. While it is an entirely fictionalized episode in Houdini’s life, it’s a decent movie with excellent production design and performances.

Houdini’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star rededicated


Neil Patrick Harris, Penn & Teller, Tippi Hedren, Milt Larsen, and other notables from the world of magic and movies were on hand yesterday to rededicate Houdini’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

A large collection of media and tourists gathered for the event at 2pm on the corner of Orange & Hollywood Blvd, just east of the famous Graumans Chinese Theatre. After the unveiling, press and guests were invited back to The Magic Castle for a reception and performance by Jim Bentley in the Palace of Mystery. Playing the role of Houdini, Bentley escaped from a straight jacket in true Houdini style. Guests were also given tours of the recently renovated Houdini Seance Room.

Houdini’s star was first dedicated in 1975 to commemorate the great magician’s life-long involvement with film and his brief stint as a Hollywood movie star. According to the Magic Castle press release, the star mysteriously cracked on Halloween 2000.

Among those contributing to the restoration include magicians David Copperfield, Lance Burton, and Siegfried and Roy.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Plymouth man believes house bricks from Garrick Theater

The Detroit News reports that a Plymouth man is selling bricks from his home which he believes came from the Garrick Theater in Detroit where Houdini last performed before his death on Halloween 1926.

An avid fan of Harry Houdini, Jamie Flora learned from his Plymouth home's original owner that it was built with bricks from the historic Garrick Theatre. He began researching, corroborating the homeowner's tale with a building permit issued by the township in 1928 -- the same year the theater closed and was demolished.

Flora, who removed more than 300 of the bricks during a restoration project, is selling off the 312 remaining "Houdini bricks" at the Lotus Gallery in Plymouth.

"I live in the house made from some of the brick from that theater," Flora said Thursday. "When I go to bed at night all the bricks on stage that night are around me and my wife and five kids."

Three of Flora's bricks have previously gone out -- one of which was donated to David Copperfield for the International Museum & Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas.

But Kevin Connolly isn't convinced. The member of the Magic Collectors Association has about 3,000 Houdini-related pieces, but said the brick isn't any more valuable than a paperweight -- even with concrete proof of origin.

"To me it's just a novelty. You've got to have provenance this is Houdini's," Connolly said. "When you look at my stuff you know that's Houdini's. That's the quality I want. I don't want questionable stuff."

The custom-made brick displays will go for $945 for a museum edition that includes a large plaque and backboard with historical photos and text and $450 for a smaller, collector's edition, Flora said.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Houdini star rededication ceremony Friday

Siegfried Fischbacher, Neil Patrick Harris and Magic Castle co-founder Milt Larsen will unveil Houdini’s newly renovated star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame on Friday, October 24th at 2:00pm on the corner of Orange & Hollywood Blvd (one block East of Graumans Theatre).

The unveiling comes exactly 82 years after Harry Houdini's final performance.

A reception is to follow afterwards at The Magic Castle at 7001 Franklin Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90028.

Among those contributing to the restoration include top magicians such as: David Copperfield, Lance Burton, Tihany, Marvyn Roy (Mr. Electric), as well as Siegfried and Roy.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Houdini (1953) makes list of 10 most inaccurate biopics

Yahoo Movies has named the 1953 Paramount movie HOUDINI as one of its 10 Most Biographically Inaccurate Movies. Says the site:

“To be fair, figuring out what was fact and what was fiction in Houdini's actual biography wasn't always easy. Even though he was born in Hungary, Houdini claimed in interviews to have been born in Appleton, Wisconsin. Of course, this film -- starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh -- didn't help matters much. The film states that his family name was Schwartz when in fact it was Weisz. The relationship between his Jewish mother and non-Jewish wife was portrayed as harmonious, when in real life it was definitely not. And in the movie, his death was caused by failing to escape from a Chinese Water Torture Cell following an injury with a prop sword. In reality, Houdini died of a burst appendix after being punched in the stomach.”

A few fact checks on Yahoo. The movie never says Houdini’s real name was Schwartz (wasn’t that Tony Curtis’ real name?). The movie actually make no reference to his real name. Their claim that Mrs. Weiss and Bess didn’t get along is speculative fiction from the 1976 TV movie The Great Houdinis. All evidence points to a good relationship between Bess and Mama in real life, not unlike what we see in the Curtis movie. The Water Torture Cell claim, however, is bang on.

HOUDINI was recently on DVD and can be purchased at Amazon.com

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Unpublished early Houdini photo at auction

In what’s become an annual event, Swann Auction Galleries will be hosting an all-magic auction at the end of the month. “Magic Collection of a Gentlemen” will take place on October 28 at 1:30pm at the Swann Galleries in New York.

Once again, the auction features a wide range of Houdini memorabilia, including a press booklet for The Master Mystery inscribed by Houdini (Lot 104), and several nice rare photos, including this incredible unpublished photograph of a young Houdini with an unidentified youth, most likely taken at the Pastime Athletic Club (lot 148). Photos of Houdini in his teens are rare indeed.

Lot 148

You can order the catalog for at the Swann auction website and view the lots. Houdini items start at lot #91 to 176.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sidney Radner plans to open new Houdini Museum

The Republican reports that Sidney H. Radner, who at one time owned the largest collection of Houdini props in the world (including the Chinese Water Torture Cell), is seeking funds to open a new Houdini museum in his home town of Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Radner, 88, is working on the new enterprise with Elizabeth C. Dobrska, a 19-year-old Mount Holyoke College student who sees the new museum as being an interactive experience. "I want it to be an interactive museum," said Dobrska. "I don't want it to be just artifacts."

Dobrska will serve as director of the museum which will also focus on the life and work of Radner himself.

The museum will be located at 147 High St., but before it can open, Dobrska and Radner need to raise $200,000 to renovate the building. "We are definitely searching for sponsors," says Dobrska.

Dobrska and Radner are optimistic because they believe many people will support a museum aimed at helping revitalize downtown.

While the bulk of Radner’s collection was sold at auction in 2004, he still has many Houdini-related items currently housed in Las Vegas. Those items will be shipped to Holyoke when the museum is ready to open, says Radner.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Houdini’s Walk of Fame star gets a much needed restoration

While I was in Hollywood the other day I made a nice discovery. It appears Houdini’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame has received a much needed restoration.

Located on the North West corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Orange (across from the Chinese Theater and down from the famous Magic Castle), the star, which was dedicated in 1975 and commemorates Houdini's work in film, has fared badly under the heavy foot traffic on this congested corner. The star had cracks, was gum encrusted, and the bracing beneath the letters had worn through.

Now the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, as part of a $4.2 million Walk of Fame face-lift (which will see the restoration/replacement of 778 stars), has come to Houdini’s rescue and restored the star, which now looks as good as the day in was dedicated.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Magician launches with Houdini cover

What better way to launch a new magic magazine than put the greatest magician of all time on cover? That’s what Black’s Magic Group has done with their inaugural issue of Magician.

This first issue of Magician features an extensive Q&A with William Kalush, co-author of the controversial The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero.

Curiously, the magazine does not appear for purchase at the Black’s Magic website. I found my copy (the last on the shelf) at good old Hollywood Magic.

Happy hunting.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gamble on Houdini!

Think you’ve seen it all? So did I, until I stumbled on these Houdini slot machines at the Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

Actually, I’m not even sure what kind of machines these are. All I know is they made my money disappear like magic. Two helpful women playing beside me told me these were “penny slots.” They also pointed out that I was unusually unlucky.

Well, not too unlucky, because I was thrilled to have lucked into finding these! Here are a few more pics (which I later discovered I was not supposed to take). Enjoy.



Saturday, August 30, 2008

Death Defying Acts DVD gets new packaging and a subtitle

It appears The Weinstein Company is struggling with exactly how to sell Death Defying Acts on DVD. Amazon now shows new packaging that returns to the original title, but adds the subtitle, "Houdini’s Secret". This is a modification on their first modification which retitled the film, Houdini’s Death Defying Acts.

New packaging (left) replaces the old (right).

The new tag-line “Magic is Inescapable” -- instead of "Love is Inescapable" as used on the film poster -- has been retained, however, it appears the DVD will no longer be marketed under The Weinstein Company’s classics label, The Miriam Collection.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Clairvoyant Kim can’t conjure Houdini

Having claimed to have made contact with Houdini’s spirit, Canadian TV and radio medium Kim Dennis (aka "Clairvoyant Kim" aka "Antiques Psychic") was unable to prove it at a seance conducted at the Houdini Museum in Scranton.

According to the press release issued by the museum, Dennis asked if anyone had questions for Houdini. Jeff Blood, a living relation, presented a health question only Houdini would know. Ms Dennis she said she’d answer later, but never did.

Curator Dick Brooks then brought out three questions sent by celebrated psychic investigator James Randi, whose answers were in a sealed envelope. Dennis would not consider the questions, abruptly stopped, and angrily walked out, never to return.

Event organizer Dorothy Dietrich, said, “We have it all on tape. If she were truly psychic she'd have known these questions were forthcoming. Many have tried to contact the great Houdini since he died in 1926 but none have succeeded.”

Dennis refused to appear for a TV cameraman from network affiliate WYOU TV who arrived later to interview her. Instead, the press release states, “she ran up the stairs to the parking lot and got in her car.”

Dennis stated on her website, “I travelled to heaven where I was sometimes taught by a guide, but did not appear to have their help on this occasion.”

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kid Houdini and the Silver Dollar Misfits

A printed copy of the terrific online comic Kid Houdini and the Silver Dollar Misfits has been released as a 90 page Graphic Novel by Viper Comics.

Written and created by Dwight L. MacPherson, Kid Houdini and the Silver Dollar Misfits is set in 1886 and tells the fictional adventures of Houdini’s days a runaway.

Purchase Kid Houdini and the Silver Dollar Misfits at Amazon.com.

This article first appeared on Houdini Lives.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Houdini’s Coloring Book

Here’s a fun Houdini tie-in produced and sold exclusively at Houdini’s Magic Shop, the magic Houdini’s Coloring Book.

The first time the magician flips through the book, the pages are all normal coloring book type pages. The second flip through the book and all of the pictures have become brightly colored. The third flip through the book and the pages are blank! The final flip returns the book to its normal condition. A great effect, and the illustrations of Houdini are pretty nice in themselves!

CLICK HERE to purchase Houdini’s Coloring Book from Houdini’s Magic shop online.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Death Defying Acts opens in the UK

Death Defying Acts, starring Guy Pearce as Houdini and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Scottish psychic, opens today in the UK.

Death Defying Acts played a VERY limited engagement in New York and Los Angeles last month. I’m not sure how wide this UK release will be, but it is currently playing in cinemas of the Odeon chain.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Charity event at the Houdini Estate

The fabled "Houdini Estate" in Laurel Canyon CA will be the site of what sounds like a pretty magical charity event on August 23, 2008.

The Guardians Young Divisions invite you to enjoy "A Night of Fantasy and Illusion at the Houdini Estate; an unforgettable night of astonishing live entertainment -- including fire performances and illusionists -- as well as an open bar, fine cuisine, dancing, Poker and gaming, and more!!"

The event will take place on August 23, 2008 from 8pm to 1am, and will benefit the residents of the Jewish Home for the Aging.

Click here to purchase tickets (I just got mine). Hope to see you there!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Now you see him, now you don’t

It looks like Death Defying Acts limited engagement was very limited indeed. The film played on only two screens in New York and LA for only one week.

It's a shame The Weinstein Company, who reportedly paid $5.5 million for the distribution rights, didn't do more to support the film. I thought it was pretty good.

For those who missed it, never fear. I expect Death Defying Acts will make an amazing reappearance on DVD. When we get news of exactly when that might be, we will let you know.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Death Defying Acts opens in New York and Los Angeles

Death Defying Acts, which stars Guy Pearce as Houdini and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Scottish psychic, opens today in limited engagements in New York and Los Angeles.

In New York the film is playing at the Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema, 139-143 East Houston Street, East Village. In LA it’s playing at the Manns Chinese Theater 6 (multiplex attached to the famous Graumans Chinese theater) at 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 777-3456.

LA showtimes for Friday, Saturday and Sunday are: 12:10pm, 2:40pm, 5:10pm, 7:40pm, & 10:20pm.

If you want to see this in a theater, my advice would be to move quick. These limited engagements may only last a week or less.

Harry Houdini for President

Magician Adam Steinfeld of Adam Steinfeld Magic Live fame sends us this political commercial for, yes, a "Harry Houdini for President" campaign.

Not sure what more I can say about this except...watch it and decide for yourself.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Death Defying Acts - the novelization

A novelization of the new movie Death Defying Acts will be released on July 15. The book is a paperback published by Pocket and written by Greg Cox.

Death Defying Acts stars Guy Pearce as Houdini and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Scottish psychic out to claim the magician’s $10,000 prize for genuine communication with the dead. The film is due for release in New York and Los Angeles on July 11.

This is the second novelization of a Houdini film, the first one being for the TV movie The Great Houdinis in 1976.

Purchase Death Defying Acts by Greg Cox on Amazon.com.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Death Defying Acts soundtrack CD


The original soundtrack to the new movie Death Defying Acts has been released on CD and can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Death Defying Acts stars Guy Pearce as Houdini and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Scottish psychic out to claim the magician’s $10,000 prize for genuine communication with the dead. The film is due for release in New York and Los Angeles on July 11.

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