Part Two TONIGHT at 9/8c on HISTORY

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The untold story of Hardeen Jr.


Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with the nephew of Douglas Geoffrey aka "Hardeen Jr." Despite the fact that Geoffrey was the official successor to the Houdini-Hardeen show, precious little is known about him. Most think he only performed for a couple of years, but this is incorrect. Douglas Geoffrey performed as Hardeen Jr. well into the 1950s, and then under his own name until 1988! But let's start his story at the beginning.

Born on May 19, 1907, Douglas Geoffrey Mackintosh fell in love with magic at the age of 8 when he received a Gilbert's Mysto Magic set from his Aunt Lucie. At the age of 12 he saw Thurston perform, and was even invited onstage to assist in a trick. He later took magic lessons from magician Fred Estelle of Brooklyn. One bit of information that the nephew shared with me -- something I've never seen printed anywhere -- is that Geoffrey actually worked briefly with Houdini! At age 19 he got a job in Houdini's full evening roadshow. Unfortunately, his tenure was brief as Houdini died that same year.

Geoffrey assisting Hardeen in 1943
Geoffrey performed his own magic act until he met Houdini's brother, Theo. Hardeen, in Atlantic City in 1932. Hardeen had revived his own career after inheriting the Houdini show. Geoffrey became one of Hardeen's assistants, working alongside Jim Collins, James Vickery, and Dolly Spence. He eventually become Hardeen's Chief Assistant, and may have been the man who rescued Hardeen when he had his mishap in the Milk Can.

Geoffrey was initiated into the Society of American Magicians on May 19, 1944. Then on May 29, 1945, during his final show in Ridgeway, Queens, Hardeen named "Doug" his official successor. Hardeen would die a short time later -- it was Geoffrey who broke the wand over his casket in the S.A.M. ceremony -- and Geoffrey went on to perform as "Hardeen Jr", the professional name bestowed on him by Hardeen.

Along with the "Heir to the Throne of Magic" title, Douglas Geoffrey inherited the Houdini-Hardeen show props. Thankfully, Hardeen did not stipulate in his own Will Houdini's instructions to "burn and destroy" all his props following his death. The props Geoffrey decided not to use -- including most of the escape apparatus -- he sold off in the July 1945 issue of The New Conjurer's Magazine on behalf of Elsie Hardeen. Among the items listed was Hardeen's original Milk Can with an asking price of $500. (I believe this is the can currently on display as part of the Houdini Art and Magic exhibition.) One personal memento Geoffrey held onto was the monogramed pocket from the pajamas Houdini was wearing when he died. (Today it's in the collection of Arthur Moses.) He also wore Hardeen's masonic pin during performances.

The Hardeen Jr. show, first billed as Houdini Lives Again! and co-starring magician Bob Sherman aka "Sherms", toured vaudeville and with the USO starting in 1945. Featured in his act was The Flight of Time (advertised as "the last illusion invented by Houdini"); Mummy Case; Houdini Card Star; Nest of Boxes; and the Book of Life (the last effect invented by Hardeen). Even though his newspaper adverts sometimes featured escape imagery, the only "escape" he did was the substitution truck with handcuffs. At one point he was (unintentionally?) billed as "Houdini's nephew."

Two Hardeen Jr. ads: One for his show and the other for a "magic battle".

Hardeen Jr. specialized in "challenge" magic contests, at one time holding his own in a card manipulation contest with Cardini. He also succeeded Hardeen in the Olson and Johnson Broadway show Hellzapoppin, playing a remarkable 80 weeks. Hardeen Jr. took his show international, performing in such far off locations as India and Saudi Arabia. While performing at Union City's Capital Theater, he was assisted by Hardeen's daughter, Gladys Hardeen.

Reviews where good. The Richmond News Leader noted that "the Hardeen act has all the flair of 'big time'. He moves with a clocklike precision, and an evenness that is so often missing in these performances that hit the road."

Hardeen Jr. in 1980
However, when it came to publicity, Geoffrey was modest, a trait he certainly didn't share with Houdini and Hardeen. This is probably why so little is known of his career today. He even turned down an invitation to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. Instead he enjoyed performing smaller venues, and in a home theater which he built behind his house in Queens that he called the "109th Street Playhouse." Here he would perform magic during parties, which he threw often.

Geoffrey continued performing until he physically couldn't manage the coin and cards manipulations. He gave up the stage in 1988 and died on January 14, 1990 at age 82. The S.A.M. performed a Wand Breaking ceremony and buried him with his magician's baton. His close friend, William Rauscher, who penned the book The Houdini Code Mystery, conducted the funeral. Rauscher would carry on performing many of the Houdini-Hardeen magic effects he received from Geoffrey, including The Flight of Time.

Douglas Geoffrey did not formally pass on the Houdini-Hardeen-Hardeen Jr. show to any successor. But he carried the torch admirably for many years, and his life and name should definitely be celebrated as part of the larger legacy of Harry Houdini.


My thanks to the nephew of Hardeen Jr. for the information and the use of his photos.

15 comments:

  1. Simply excellent work John. Well done!

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  2. One thing I have never been able to locate are the circumstances surrounding Hardeens death. I know he went in for an operation and did not survive but can anyone provide some details?

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  3. Yeah, it is a little mysterious. From what I heard he went in for relatively minor surgery, and never came out. Kind of like Andy Warhol?

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  4. First of all, hello Dean! It's been a while, I hope you're well.

    John, this is great. So great I think I might have to tweet about it. Thanks for taking the time to write such an informative piece. Its all new info for me and I've really enjoyed reading about it.

    What does amaze me is how many magicians get hooked at the age of 8 with their first magic set. I wonder just how many. I smell a topic for my Facebook page :)

    Anyway, thanks yet again. I look forward to reading your next instalment.

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  5. Great article.

    I think you have "William Rauscher" name spelled wrong though: http://www.mysticlightpress.com/

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  6. Fixed. Thank you, Joseph.

    BTW, I found an old article in a magic mag in which Rauscher says he was the successor to the Houdini-Hardeen-Hardeen Jr. show. But the nephew specifically told me Geoffrey hadn't passed it on (I was particularly interested in this and made a point of asking him). I sided with the nephew on this one, but slipped the word "formally" in there for wiggle room.

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    1. I heard from Bill Rauscher himself about this and he never claimed to be the sucessor to the Houdini-Hardeen-Hardeen Jr. show. He was just the successor to the Flight of Time. John Booth called him "The Last Master of the Flying Clocks".

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  7. One point I did pick up was that he had some sort of stomach problem and this was the reason for the surgery.

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  8. Hi John, Hope alls well.....

    When I arrived in NY, I met and became somwhat close to Doug and as he liked to say 'my reputation proceded me " A Very humble man we had many many conversation about Houdin/Hardeen Legacy-
    Doug always would say he could have done more career wise - He loved Performing... but simply did not want to do it on a Large scale.

    He was a huge fan of my Escape & Manupulation work.., and he would tell me stories of What the thought of Cardini ( Cranky ) But he also understood WHY Mr C was so "Bitter" towards the end as he felt that magic organizations HAD No Ethics and were simply to Dumb to know any better as they were giving knock off 'hacks of Cardinis Act and even his own act Awards , as though they had created and even accomplishedment somthing. He was very disillusioned by the SAM /IBM.

    We both loved the Art of manipulation and he had the "Chops ' to prove it .. and its somthing I love do in my show to this day.

    I was moved that he thought of me to leave me a couple of items from the Houdini /Hardeen collections when he passed.

    Doug was a true Gentleman..And is thought of oftem & very missed .

    Michael Lee

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  9. Page 185 of the January 1958 Genii Magazine includes a short article about Hardeen's last performance, which apparently was May 29, 1945, in a Brooklyn movie house. The article doesn't offer any insights into his death, but it does say that Hardeen told the audience, at the close of the show, that he was going to the hospital.

    Incidentally, I wonder if Houdini, had he lived 10-20 more years, would have ended up performing shows at movie theaters as other major magicians did. I think he had some experience of that promoting his own movies. If he couldn't afford to retire, maybe he would have been doing more movie houses in the 1930s-1940s.

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  10. Simon; the unappreciated magic piemanMay 24, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    Does Hardeen's shirt say million dollar pies?!

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  11. Simon; the unappreciated magic piemanMay 26, 2011 at 6:31 AM

    Oh my, now I feel silly. I hope I haven't embarrassed other pie and pastry conjurors.

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