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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bess and the frozen man

Bess and her ice man in 1927
Welcome back to Day 2 of our special weekend long Bess Houdini birthday celebration.

A year after her husband's death, Bess took to the Vaudeville stage with an effect that Houdini is said to have been working on but could never perfect -- Frozen in Ice.

The act was more of a physical endurance test rather than an escape, not dissimilar to what David Blaine would perform in 2000. Bess oversaw as a Sioux Indian named "Waka Tanka", clad in a rubber suit, was frozen in a large container of ice. The container would be taken away to reveal a solid block. After 15 minutes, a hole would be chopped to expose the man's face, proving that he really was Frozen in Ice.

Bess previewed the effect for press in a vacant store at 420 West Fifty-third Street in Manhattan in late December 1927, which is where this photograph was taken. The New York Times reported that Bess planned to combine the trick with an act that included escaping from handcuffs and a straitjacket.

David Blaine's version
72 years later
But the act didn't go over. Part of the trouble was it took 40 minutes to freeze the ice and another 20 to chop the man out. Not very effective on the quick-paced Vaudeville stage. Also, the carbon dioxide used to quick freeze the ice made Bess violently ill. Bess only performed the Frozen in Ice once at the Longbranch Theater in New Jersey in January 1928.

Patrick Culliton in his book The Tao of Houdini revealed one last wrinkle to Bess's Frozen Alive stunt. The "Sioux Indian" in the ice was supposedly Charles Myers aka Edward Saint.

This weekend we are Wild About Bess.

UPDATE (4/14/11): Pat Culliton tells me he's discovered the man in the ice was not Ed Saint afterall.

1 comment:

  1. I knew about the act idea, didn't know she went through with it. Love finding out new stuff. Great picture too.

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