Two recent eBay auctions offered evidence of a Houdini biopic in development at Paramount some 17 years before their HOUDINI with Tony Curtis would hit the screens.
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Two trade ads, both from 1936, show the film was to be called Houdini The Great and would be produced by the legendary Dore Schary for Paramount Pictures. Writer Pierre Collings is credited with an adaption (presumably of the Kellock book) on the first ad. Collins wrote the acclaimed The Story of Louis Pasteur for Paramount. He died in 1937.
At the late great Aladdin Bookstore in Fullerton, I got a peek at what I believe was an original script for Houdini The Great (I don’t recall if it was by Collings or O’Conner). Interestingly, the story ends with Houdini being assassinated by a spiritualist gunman in a crowd. As Bessie was involved in this version, it’s maybe telling that she was okay with pinning the direct cause of Houdini’s death on the spiritualist community. Did she consider J. Gordon Whitehead an “assassin”?
It would take more than a decade for Paramount to finally make the Houdini movie, and when they did both Bessie and Edward Saint were dead and Dore Schary had moved onto MGM. That film was, of course, the classic HOUDINI starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.
One wonders who the studio might have had in mind to play Houdini in their 1936 version?