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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Danger in the Dark released in paperback

Tom Lalicki’s first Houdini & Nate Mystery novel, Danger in the Dark, is released today in paperback.

Set in New York in 1911, Danger in the Dark finds young Nate Fuller working as a clerk's assistant in a Fifth Avenue hat store. After Houdini buys a hat, leaving his calling card but no money, Nate is sent to the escape artist's home to present the bill. Houdini's wife befriends him, and he comes to trust her and her husband enough to share his concerns about the late-night séances that his aunt's new friend, David Douglas Trane, holds at her house. Working together, Houdini and Nate uncover Trane's scheme to convince Aunt Alice, through bogus exchanges with her late husband, to make him the beneficiary of her sizable estate.

Danger in the Dark can be purchased on Amazon. Details on the first two books in the Houdini & Nate series can be found at the official Houdini & Nate website.

The most recent Houdini & Nate novel, Frame up on the Bowery, is out now in hardcover.

Houdini and the strange

Houdini’s name surfaces in the news quite often. Typically it’s too minor a mention to warrant a full story, but lately there has been a wave of news just strange enough to note. Maybe we’ll even make this an occasional feature. Here’s your first sampling of “Houdini and the strange.”

  • Franklin County authorities say a burglar claiming to be Jesus Christ and Elvis Presley will undergo a mental evaluation. When he was arrested, the man claimed he was the grandson of Harry Houdini and that he could escape from anywhere. (AL.com) - Grandson? Why not Harry himself?

  • Long Beach City College is cracking down on wild rabbits on campus. Spearheading the task force is Jacque Olson who said there's one rabbit she'd particularly like to catch, a white male named Houdini. Houdini, she said, regularly comes around to check on a few captured females from his harem. As soon as he's discovered, he's gone in a flash. "We've tried to get him but he always escapes," she said. "He's a smart one." (TMC News) - I'm on Team Houdini.

  • An Ipswich magician and escape artist who goes by the name Franky Houdini has been accused of making a pornographic movie with an underage girl. (OT) - Good luck getting out of this one, "Houdini."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Who-dini


Matt Smith, the latest incarnation of The Doctor, name checks Houdini in the Season 5 opener of the popular BBC series, Doctor Who ("The Vampires of Venice").

The scene finds the new Doctor cornered by five female vampires, and in his stream of conciseness way of speaking, he observes:

"You're like Houdini, only five slightly scary girls. And he was shorter. Will be shorter."

Here's hoping Houdini and The Doctor will meet up in the flesh some day.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

See Haldane of the Secret Service in Appleton

The History Museum in Houdini’s hometown of Appleton Wisconsin will be screening Haldane of the Secret Service tomorrow, March 25, as part of their “Thursday Night Movies at the Castle.”

Released in 1923, Haldane of the Secret Service was Houdini’s second and final film for his “Houdini Picture Corporation.” The film finds Houdini as Treasury Agent Heath Haldane pursuing a gang of counterfeiters from New York to Europe in a true international action adventure! The film co-stars Gladys Leslie as Adele Ormsby. Haldane also marks Houdini’s first and last directing effort.

The screening starts at 5:30pm and is free.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Jewish Museum plans major Houdini exhibition


The Jewish Museum in New York is planning the exhibition, Houdini: Art and Magic, to run October 31, 2010 to March 27, 2011. Among the rare artifacts will be Houdini’s Milk Can and Needles effect (above) currently on display in Houston.

According to the official website, Houdini: Art and Magic will feature "magic apparatus, posters, broadsides, period photographs, archival films, and contemporary art works by artists inspired by the great magician and escape artist."

We’ll keep an eye on this and bring you more details as they become available.

UPDATE: Houdini collector and friend of the site, Kevin Connolly, has provided us with tantalizing new details on this Houdini exhibition. Says Kevin:

“It will also be in Los Angeles, San Francisco and maybe Wisconsin on its' cross country tour. There will be many items on display that have never been on display before. Also, there will be a hardbound exhibition catalog issued with articles by Ken Silverman and others. This will be a "must see" event for the Houdini or magic historian.”

Thank you Kevin. Sounds like this is going be a major Houdini event!

Visit Kevin’s website HoudiniHimself.com.

The Office continues to tease us with hidden Houdinis

Once again Houdini made a stealth appearance on NBC’s The Office last Thursday. In an episode called “New Leads” a Houdini refrigerator magnet pops up in the office kitchen. You can catch it on HULU at 14:38.


So why is there a Houdini magnet on the Dunder Mifflin refrigerator? As we speculated when we spotted our first hidden Houdini, The Office is set in Scranton, Pennsylvania, so it’s possible this is a nod to the Scranton Houdini Museum run by Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, a popular Scranton tourist stop.

Or it could be they are just messing with us.

Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Hungarian in a sack.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sid Fleischman dies

Sid with Bess Houdini in 1936
Newbery Medal winner Sid Fleischman, author of the well-regarded ESCAPE! The Story of the Great Houdini (Greenwillow, 2006), died on Wednesday at his home in Santa Monica, CA, one day after turning 90.

Albert Sidney Fleischman was born in Brooklyn on March 16, 1920 to Jewish immigrant parents. Early in his, life his family relocated to San Diego. As a teen during the depression, he became interested in magic and developed an act called the Mirthful Conjurers with his friend, Buddy Collins, which they took on the road. It was during this time that the author wrote his first book about magic called Between Cocktails (Abbot Magic, 1939). He sold all rights to the book for $50, and it has never been out of print since.

In 1942, he married Betty Taylor who predeceased him. They had three children, Jane, Anne, and Paul, a poet, who also won the Newbery Medal in 1989 for his book Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices (HarperCollins, 1988). To date, they are the only father and son to both receive the honor. Source: School Library Journal.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

100 YEARS AGO HOUDINI SHOWED AUSTRALIA THAT A MAN CAN FLY

At dawn on March 18, 1910 Harry Houdini made the first powered controlled flight of an aircraft on the continent of Australia. The historic flight occurred 100 year ago today in Diggers Rest near Melbourne.

Ironically, Houdini said the world may well forget his feats as an escape artist, but it could never forget that he was the first man to fly a plane in Australia.

The origins of Houdini’s first flight may have been rooted in world politics. According to The Secret Life of Houdini, Houdini’s Australian tour was encouraged (backed?) by a British friend, Lord Northcliffe, who was eager to alert his county and her allies to the military potential of air power (Japan was already building an air corps). What better way to showcase flight than via the king of showmen, Houdini!

Seeing a chance to get in the record books, and receive full pay during his 12 weeks of ocean travel (which would be agony for the seasick prone magician), Houdini accepted the tour, despite telling a Bristol reporter in 1904 that he would never travel to Australia because it would put him too far away from his mother.

Houdini’s first attempts to fly his 60-horsepower French Voisin (which he purchased in 1909 for $5000 and had his name emblazoned on the wings) were hampered by weather conditions and mechanical problems. Worse was the appearance of a rival aviator, Ralph C. Banks, who setup his new Wright Flyer on the same field. With Houdini was his full-time French mechanic, Antonio Brassac, who worked tirelessly on the plane. “No mother,” said Houdini, “could tend her child more tenderly than Brassac does my machine.”

Group photo at Diggers Rest

Houdini performed at Melbourne's Opera House during the days and slept under his plane in the 40-foot hanger tent at nights (once being awakened by a poisonous tiger snake), waiting for the perfect conditions for flight. Less cautious was Ralph Banks, who attempted a flight in rough winds on the morning of March 1st, and crashed. Banks survived with a black eye and torn lips, but his plane was destroyed. Houdini helped Banks pick up what was left of his flyer.

Then on Friday, March 18, 1910, at around eight o’clock in the morning, the weather cleared and Houdini took flight in his Voisin. Houdini's historic first flight latest only a minute and reached a height of no more than twenty-five feet. But it was a controlled circuit of Plumpton's paddock at Diggers Rest witnessed by at least nine people (including Ralph Banks) who signed a witness statement. Reporters from The Argus and The Age were also present and verified the flight. Houdini would fly three times that day. On the second flight he nearly crashed on landing. The third flight was flawless, lasting three and a half minutes and reaching an altitude of 100 feet. “I know what it is to fly in real earnest,” Houdini told a reporter on the ride back to Melbourne. “I can fly now.”

Houdini flies!

Houdini’s name was officially entered into the record books by the Australian Aerial League (formed by George Taylor who shared Lord Northcliffe’s military ambitions). He was even presented with an impressive trophy, which he proudly displayed in his New York home.

But some controversy surrounded Houdini’s flight. A 19-year-old mechanic from South Australia, Fred Custance, claimed to have beat Houdini with a controlled flight in a Bleriot XI monoplane on March 17, a day before Houdini’s flight, at Bolivar. This may explain why in later publicity material Houdini always recorded his flight as having occurred on March 16, 1910 (a date that stood until the 1980s and still sometimes causes confusion today). But it turns out Houdini didn’t have to worry. According to Houdini expert Patrick Culliton, Custance’s flight was witnessed by only one man, his sponsor Frederick H. Jones, who years later admitted the flight was “mythic” -- they made it up.

Trophy awarded to Houdini
A more serious challenge was made after Houdini’s death on behalf of Englishman Colin Defries, who claimed he flew a Wright Model A aircraft about 115 yards at Sydney's Victoria Racecourse on December 9, 1909. The Defries claim created enough controversy (which may have more to do with regional rivalry) to prevent a special event for the 50th anniversary in 1960. While it is possible Defries flew four months before Houdini, it’s now generally accepted that Houdini’s flight was the first fully controlled flight (per the Aerial League’s criteria), and even Defries defenders admit that “Houdini flew the wings off Defries.”

After his Australia tour (which included several even more spectacular flight exhibitions at Rosenill racetrack near Sydney), Houdini put the Voisin into storage in England. Although he announced he would use it to fly from city to city during his next tour -- and even promised to leap from it handcuffed -- Houdini never flew again. Houdini sold the plane in 1913, but exactly what happened to Houdini’s historic Voisin has long been a mystery [See; Did Houdini’s Voisin land in the hands of Chung Ling Soo?].

Monument at Diggers Rest
Today Australia takes great pride in its association with Houdini and aviation history. The Perth Mint has issued commemorative coins and stamps, a new monument has been erected at Diggers Rest, and Houdini’s historic flight was celebrated with a special ceremony, a Houdini-Centenary air-show, magic performances, a one-third scale model of Houdini’s Voisin, and more.

While the world has certainly not forgotten Houdini the escape artist, it appears Houdini accomplishments as a pioneer aviator are also well remembered.

Sources:
  • Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss by Ken Silverman, pages 142-155.
  • The Secret Life of Houdini by Kalush & Sloman, pages 239-245.
  • Genii Forums - Diggers Rest gears up for Houdini celebrations - post #211243 by houdini’s ghost.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Original Bob Peak Houdini artwork at auction

The original signed artwork for Bob Peak’s beautiful Houdini poster ("See Death Defying Feats By The Master of Escape") is being auctioned by Heritage Auction Galleries in Beverly Hills as part of their April Signature Music & Entertainment Auction. Bidding opens March 22. Auction dates are April 9-11, 2010.

I have a great sentimental attachment to this image as it was one of the first I ever saw of Houdini. As far as I know, the poster was commissioned as a promotional item for the Warren Paper Company in the 1970s. Back in the day, I recall seeing it for sale in various magic shops and novelty gift stores like Spencers.

Bob Peak illustrated many famous movie posters in his distinctive style, including My Fair Lady, Superman, Star Trek The Motion Picture, and The Spy Who Loved Me. A recent exhibition of his work appeared in Los Angeles.

I’ll leave it to someone else to own this original piece of Peak/Houdini history while my trusty copy (the same one I got in 1976) hangs in my hallway.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Death Defying Acts arrives in the East

Check out the attractive cover art for this multi-territory Chinese DVD release of Death Defying Acts.

Released to theaters in July 2008, Death Defying Acts starred 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.

Final update on next week’s Centenary events

Robert Mackay of the Lions Club has released his final newsletter update before the big Houdini Centenary celebrations to be held at Diggers Rest in Australia next week. Click below to download.


The celebrations commemorate Houdini’s historic first flight in Australia and will include a special ceremony, a Houdini-Centenary air-show, magic performances, a one-third scale model of Houdini’s Voisin, and more. More details can be found at the Melton Shire Council website.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Houdini - Man of Magic or Deceit?

Arthur Moses, alerts us to this Australian Houdini book released last November by Macmillan.

Houdini - Man of Magic or Deceit? is aimed at young readers and according to the book description: “looks at two different points of view, whether he was a Man of Magic or really a fraud, just a Man of Deceit.”

This book runs 24 pages and can be ordered at booktopia. At the moment, I can't find a U.S. seller, so this one might prove to be a tricky find for collectors.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Man From Beyond in Appleton

The History Museum in Houdini’s hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin will be screening The Man From Beyond this Thursday, March 11, as part of their “Thursday Night Movies at the Castle.”

Released in 1922, The Man From Beyond was Houdini’s first film for his new “Houdini Picture Corporation.” The film finds Houdini as seaman Howard Hillary resurrected after being frozen is an Arctic shipwreck for 100 years. Howard returns to the modern world to find a woman he believes to be the reincarnation of his beloved fiancee in danger.

The series concludes on March 25th with Haldane of the Secret Service. All showings start at 5:30pm and are free.

New Houdini commemorative stamp and coin

The Perth Mint in Australia has issued a new stamp and coin commemorating Houdini’s first flight on that continent on March 18, 1910.

Both stamp and coin are issued today. A combo pack and several other options are available at the Australia Post website.

Celebrations commemorating Houdini’s historic first flight will be held in Diggers Rest next week. Events will include a special ceremony, a Houdini-Centenary air-show, magic performances, a one-third scale model of Houdini’s Voisin, and more. Details can be found at the Diggers Rest Houdini website as well as the Melton Shire Council website.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Houdini meets the Martians

Click to enlarge

Here’s a nice bit of colliding Hollywood history. This photo shows Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, in costume as Harry and Bessie Houdini, being shown one of the Martian spaceships from the classic War of the Worlds by producer George Pal. Pal produced both HOUDINI and War of the Worlds for Paramount in 1953.

This photo recently sold on eBay as part of a set of personal photos belonging to a film director. The set also included rare color pictures from Creature From The Black Lagoon (Universal monsters are another one of my passions).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Molly Murphy meets Houdini

Heads up for some new Houdini fiction (I love this stuff). The Last Illusion by Rhys Bowen is the latest book in the Molly Murphy Mystery series, and this time Molly is working to save the Handcuff King!

Set in New York City in 1903, Bowen's ninth Molly Murphy mystery opens with a magic show at Miner's Theatre on the Bowery, attended by Molly and her fiancé, police captain Daniel Sullivan, who wants her to give up her unconventional profession of private investigator. When the sawing-a-lady-in-half trick goes fatally wrong, this horrible accident brings the evening's entertainment to an early end, preventing Molly and Daniel from seeing the show's main attraction, Harry Houdini.
After both Signor Scarpelli, the magician whose stage equipment was apparently sabotaged, and his female assistant's corpse disappear, Houdini's wife, Bess, who worries an enemy of her husband is out to get him, asks Molly for help. Later, an act the handcuff king attempts almost ends in another death, confirming Bess's fears. The gutsy Molly, who's no prim Edwardian miss, will appeal to fans of contemporary female detectives.

The Last Illusion is published in hardcover by Minotaur Books and can be purchased at Amazon as a hardcover and for the Kindle.

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