Here are the major suspects:
Lila Lee - According to actor Georgie Jessel, Houdini and his Terror Island co-star Lilia Lee were romantically involved. Jessel worked with Lee in Gus Edward's School Days. Could they have hooked up while on location on romantic Catalina Island in 1919? Afraid we only have Jessel's word for this. But you know what they say in Hollywood -- all rumors are true.
|Houdini turns on the charm with Terror Island co-star Lila Lee|
Lee continued acting into the 1950s and died at age 72 in 1973. Shame she appears to have never been interviewed by any of the major Houdini historians or biographers of the day. Sounds like she had some stories to tell.
|Daisy White at work|
By all accounts, Daisy was a stunner. She was memorably played by Adrienne Barbeau in the steamy TV movie, The Great Houdinis. After Houdini's death, she fell in with the Rev. Arthur Ford crowd and become a proponent of Spiritualism.
The affair broke off when London returned to her home in California, but she would continue to exchange passionate love letters with Houdini for years.
|Mrs. Frank Gilmore with son Gary|
Considering the vague timeline, the fact that Frank Gilmore was a con-man and Gary a raving psychotic, I think we'll give Harry the benefit of the doubt on this one.
But was Houdini having an affair with this mysterious redhead, or just escorting her home in a rough neighborhood as he claimed? Bess ultimately accepted his explanation. When I hear this story, I always imagine this redhead as a Gibson Girl.
But was this an affair, or just a fatal attraction situation? I tend to think it was something other than romantic. Most of Houdini's mistresses come into his life in the late teens and early 1920s, when Houdini was in prime male mid-life crisis age. I also don't think Houdini would cheat while his mother was still alive.
I couldn't find a photo of Milla Barry, so here's a pic of Milla Jovovich instead. They probably they looked similar. You think? (Update: Pic of the real Milla here.)
It's worth speculating, as Ruth Brandon did in The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini, that Sadie's real crime was choosing Leo over Harry. She certainly played the Weiss brothers, and this did take place right during the period of Harry's other amorous experimentations. Then his fury makes a bit more sense. It was Houdini scorned. You can see a photo of "Dark Sadie" over at Kevin Connolly's Houdini Himself.
|Harry steps out in Death Defying Acts|
But what of Bess Houdini in all this?
Not long after Harry's death, Bess discovered a cache of love letters written to her husband (some reportedly from Daisy White) in Houdini's safe. She invited all the women to tea at 278. When they left, she presented each with a parting gift -- their letters.
|Don't mess with Bess|
Have any other suspects to add to the mix? Feel free to post them in our Comments section below. (And a big thanks to Eric Fry for helping me find the source of the elusive redhead story.)
UPDATE: Looks like I slightly bungled my information on Lila Lee. I originally wrote that she told Georgie Jessel she was involved with Houdini. In truth, Jessel, who knew Lee, claimed there was a romantic involvement between the actress and the magician, but where he got this information is unknown. The paragraph has now been revised.