Click for details and to buy tickets

Monday, January 31, 2011

Houdini's Last Illusion on the Kindle

Yet another Amazon surprise today, Steve Savile's fictional Houdini's Last Illusion has just been released for the Kindle with new cover art. I must say, I like this cover a lot more than the original paperback -- be nice to see it on a new printed edition.

Houdini's Last Illusion can be purchased for the Kindle for only .99¢. The 2004 paperback version is also still available for $8.95.

Cambridge Press releases A Magician Among the Spirits

Cambridge University Press has released a new paperback edition of Houdini's 1924 book, A Magician Among The Spirits, as part of their Cambridge Library Collection. Cover art features a classic spirit photograph of Houdini.

Despite the release date showing as May 19, 2011, Amazon.com has the book in stock now.

A Magician Among the Spirits was Houdini's last published book.

Houdini's crime

Check out this news item from the 1909 London Daily Mirror, courtesy Marco Pusterla of The Ephemeral Collector. Bill Kalush in The Secret Life of Houdini says Houdini was ultimately prosecuted for being improperly dressed and for bathing in the Seine during prohibited hours. I've also read that the charge was "walking on the grass."

The London Daily Mirror, 1909

This stunt was filmed and Houdini would incorporate the footage into his 1909 film for Cinema Lux, Merveilleux Exploits du Célébre Houdini à Paris. The clip can be viewed on the Kino DVD set, Houdini The Movie Star.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Watch the Houdini Voyagers! episode

Michael Durrell as Houdini

In 1982 Michael Durrell played Houdini in an episode of the short-lived time travel series Voyagers! The episode aired on October 31, 1982 (nice). Now you can watch the episode, Agents of Satan, on YouTube. Houdini’s story starts 6:45 minutes into Part 2.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

New feature: LinkWithin. Feedback?

This weekend I'm testing a new third party feature here on Wild About Harry - LinkWithin. You'll see at the end of each blog post is now a "You might also like" tag with links to past stories. It's supposed to learn the site and generate only relevant suggestions, i.e., stories about Hardeen will recommend more Hardeen stories. I don't know what I think about it. I like that it offers up stories that might have been forgotten, but I don't like that it junks up the design of the overall page. It's just a trial run, so I would love to hear your feedback. Should we make this a permanent part of our blog, or send it packing?


UPDATE: Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I've decided to deactivate the feature for now. It just didn't work with the overall site design. But you can always explore old stories by clicking a topic in the Blog Index.

The end of the road...

Here's a little something I recently got on eBay. It's not generally known that the Houdini-Hardeen show continued after Hardeen's death. Dash named his assistant, Douglas Geoffrey, as his successor during his last performance on May 29, 1945. Geoffrey took up the wand and performed as "Hardeen, Jr."

This is an advert for what I believe was Hardeen, Jr.'s first tour in 1945. I like that it has a photo of Houdini and the name, "Houdini Lives Again." Not a big ticket item to be sure (I paid a whopping $1.99), but I love this stuff. I feel like these are fragments of the Houdini story that are too far down the road for most historians to bother with. But I like going to the end and seeing what's there. And what's there is this:

John Cox Collection

For more on the life and career of Douglas Geoffrey see: The untold story of Hardeen Jr.

LINK: Silverman reviews Steinmeyer

The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American WizardsKen Silverman (Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss) has reviewed Jim Steinmeyer's new biography of Howard Thurston, The Last Greatest Magician in the World, in the Wall Street Journal. He gives it an overall good review, although he takes Steinmeyer to task for saying Houdini was "small and unimpressive onstage."

Click the headline above to read the full review at the Wall Street Journal website.

Friday, January 28, 2011

National Handcuff Day, February 20

Get ready to celebrate "National Handcuff Day" on February 20, 2011. According to recently launched official National Handcuff Day website, February 20th is the birthday of the modern handcuff. It was on that date in 1912 that the U.S. Patent office issued a patent to George A. Carney for a "swinging bow ratchet - type" adjustable handcuff. Before that handcuffs were heavy and bulky and there was no standard style.

Visit the National Handcuff Day website for all the details and to enter the National Handcuff Day Contest.

Under the hood of Houdini's Humber

A few weeks back I had a story in which I identified the make of Houdini's car as a Humber. Now, thanks to historian John Tarring of The Humber Register, I can bring you more details about Houdini's first automobile.

According to John, the car depicted in the photo on page 9 of Houdini Art and Magic (which I sent him for identification purposes) is a 1904 14 hp Humber Tourist Car that was made at the Humber factory at Beeston, Nottingham. This model car was only produced in 1904, confirming the 1900 dating of the photo in this book and elsewhere cannot be correct.

Says John, "You will see that the 14 and 25 hp were virtually identical apart from a different size of engine and a few other minor differences. It is possible to identify it as a 14 hp as the 25 hp had transverse front spring above the front axle whilst the 14 hp had two springs, these can be clearly seen in the photo."


Furthermore, John has generously sent pages from a 1904 Humber catalog detailing the precise specifications and options of the 14 and 25 hp models.

Click to enlarge

A very big thank you to John Tarring of The Humber Register for helping with this previously unknown piece of Houdini history.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Link: Interview with Edge Of The Unknown writer/creator Jon Vinson

Bloody Disgusting has an exclusive interview with Jon Vinson, writer and creator of the Houdini-Conan Doyle mash up graphic novel Edge of the Unknown (which I reviewed here).

Says Jon, "I think Houdini is one of the most interesting people who ever lived. The more you learn about the guy, the more amazed you are by his story, and his daring feats."

Click on the headline above to read the entire interview at Bloody Disgusting.

New Houdini fiction coming in June

The mighty Arthur Moses alerts us to some new Houdini mash up fiction coming in June. Escape Artist: An Edna Ferber Mystery by Ed Ifkovic finds Houdini teaming up with a nineteen-year-old Edna Ferber to solve a baffling murder in his old hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin.

In 1904 Edna Ferber is a nineteen-year-old girl reporter for the Appleton, Wisconsin Crescent, an occupation that many townspeople, including her own family, consider scandalous for a proper young girl. By chance, she interviews Harry Houdini, in town visiting old friends. Houdini, as Ehrich Weiss, spent his boyhood years in the small town. When Frana Lempke, a beautiful young German high-school girl, disappears and is soon discovered murdered, Edna asks Houdini for help in solving the murder. The unusual crime baffles the local police because Frana mysteriously disappeared from a locked room at the high school. Houdini, the celebrated escape artist, takes a liking to Edna and agrees to help. But as Edna pursues the story, alienating any number of people, she senses that she is being followed. It’s a troubling summer for her. Her homelife is in disorder, though she is dedicated to a blind father. Her mother and sister dislike her walking the streets as a reporter. Worse, the newsroom has become a hostile environment, with a new city editor determined to undermine her. Piecing together the clues, she comes to see that her own life in the small town is unraveling. As the future best-selling writer starts to solve the crime, she understands that her involvement will impact her life forever.

Sounds pretty good! Escape Artist: An Edna Ferber Mystery will be released on June 7, 2011 from Poisoned Pen Press. It can be pre-ordered now at Amazon.

Link: The Galvanized Iron Can

Today is the anniversary of Houdini's second most famous stage escape, The Milk Can. Houdini first presented the escape at the Columbia Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on January 27, 1908.

For the occasion, Dean Carnegie takes an in depth look Houdini's "Galvanized Iron Can." Wonderful work as aways -- I'm particularly impressed that Dean has nailed down all the various cans still in existence.

Click the headline and take the plunge at Carnegie: Magic Detective.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oscar nominated Black Swan scribe shopping Houdini script

In an interview with shockya.com, Oscar nominated Black Swan screenwriter John McLaughlin reveals that he has written an original screenplay about Houdini.

"Houdini I wanted to write for years and I did," says McLaughlin.

The untitled script focuses on the last two years of Houdini's life. McLaughlin says he and a producer are currently shopping the script around town.

Hey, I say get Darren Aronofsky to direct and let's do it! We need a new Houdini movie!

Read the entire interview at shockya.com.

The greatest Houdini auction ever

I just purchased a November 1980 issue of Magicol magazine for the terrific cover photo of Houdini and his Humber motor car (more on the Humber later this week!). But it is the article inside, "Houdini's Last Sale?", that really blew my mind.

Click to enlarge
The article is by Houdini collector Mario Carrandi who reports on what I believe was the greatest Houdini auction ever. No, I'm not talking about the big Sid Radner, Manny Weltman, or Christopher collections auctions (which offered collectors no bargains, that's for sure), but a little known 1980 auction of Houdini's own personal artifacts that had somehow remained undiscovered in the basement of 278 for over 50 years.

Intrigued? It gets better...or worse, depending on how you look at this.

The Bonnano family purchased 278 from Bess in 1927. Rose Bonnano lived in the house until her death in the 1970s. After she died, her sister-in-law cleaned out the house and discovered "several trunks and cases," as well as framed wall photos and furniture, all which had belonged to Harry and Bess Houdini. Included in the find were sores of original posters, lobby advertisements for his films, handcuffs, advertising material, books, a scrapbook, and even a brass bed. It added up to 110 lots of never-before-seen Houdini material.

The amazing find was consigned to Howard E. Wikoff's New Jersey Auction Service. The auction was only advertised with a small advert in the June 6, 1980 The New York Times Sunday edition (above), and was held at the Church of the Guardian Angel in Allendade on June 13, 1980. Despite the lack of fanfare, the major Houdini collectors of the day were on hand along with about 200 bidders and spectators.

What was sold (and unsold!) that day, and the prices realized, is truly unbelievable to modern collectors. Houdini's scrapbook sold for only $250. Original sepia photos of Houdini, Bess, Hardeen, Mama, etc. sold for about $150 apiece (with Mario nabbing most of them). Two framed pictures of Houdini's parents, which presumably had hung on the wall of 278, sold for a paltry $40 or $50 apiece. "The frames alone were worth it," notes Mario. Handcuffs sold for about $250 apiece, and a letter sold for $150, which at the time Mario considered "terribly overpriced." Ha!

Mario didn't report how much the original posters sold for, but he notes there were about 20 posters from between 1912-1915, including a Milk Can poster (one of these sold in 2005 for the record price of $78,664) and an unpublished poster of "a young Houdini shackled with a red background" (I'm guessing it was this poster). All were in beautiful condition. Unfortunately, the auctioneer glued all but two of them to plywood with Elmer's Glue because he thought that would give them "flea market flair." Ouch!

Mario came away with 15 of the 20 posters, as well as some hand colored lobby advertisements for The Man From Beyond. He also bid against escape artist Steranko for this beautiful framed 50 by 40 inch hand lettered portrait, getting it for $1,500.


Incredibly, "a giant framed photo" of Rabbi Weiss, several original sepia pics of Bess and Mama, and the brass bed did not sell. I'm especially interested to hear 278 contained two pictures of Rabbi Weiss. I only know of one photo of Houdini's father. Does this mean there's another out there?

Houdini's desk, which had been used during seances inside 278, was sold privately.

Mario estimated the total auction added up to $12,000. Heck, that's what a single Houdini item sold for in a recent Martinka auction.

What a mind-blowing find, and what an incredible opportunity to acquire some true Houdini treasures before the insanity of price inflation hit the Houdini market. But what I love most is these were items that were personal to Houdini. To own his own portraits of his parents that hung on the walls of 278...incredible.

What kills me is I was a full-blown Houdini fanatic in 1980 with a father who encouraged me to seek out some good "Houdini investments." If only I known about this auction...

Just thought I'd share the pain.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Houdini and the President

On the occasion of President Obama's State of the Union address tonight, here's a look back at Houdini with another Chief Executive. This photo of Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt was taken aboard the ocean liner Imperator on June 23, 1914.

John Cox Collection

It was aboard this "last boat out of Germany" (before the outbreak WWI) that Houdini would amaze the former President with a demonstration of Spirit Slates -- accurately pinpointing where Roosevelt had just spent his Christmas holiday. The next day it was said that Roosevelt took Houdini aside on deck and asked him, "man to man," if what he did was genuine Spiritualism.

"No, Colonel," Houdini is said to have answered. "It was just hocus pocus."

Original version
The original version of this photo was of Houdini and Roosevelt standing amid a group of other passengers. Houdini had the others cropped out and proudly gave this out as presentation piece. The above photo, from my own collection, is glued into an inscribed copy of The Unmasking of Robert Houdin (those ink flecks are from Houdini's signature). I've seen several other copies of Unmasking with this photo inside. I'm not sure when Houdini did these or how many exist, but it makes for a terrific presentation copy.

In his book Shots At Sea, Tom Lalicki had some fun with Houdini and Roosevelt's ocean-bound adventures, although he set his action aboard the Lusitania and, of course, worked in his fictional young hero Nate Fuller.

Hail to the Chief(s)!

HOUDINI re-released as Tony Curtis Double Feature DVD

Legend Films has released a new DVD version of the 1953 film HOUDINI as part of a special Tony Curtis Double Feature.

The film is bundled with 1969's Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies. The attractive packaging nicely promotes HOUDINI as "Tony Curtis' First Major Film Role."

The Tony Curtis Double Feature DVD is available at Amazon.com.

Click here for our own look back at HOUDINI.

Monday, January 24, 2011

One of a kind Houdini rarities sell in Martinka auction

Several very nice magic items sold in a Martinka and Co. auction over the weekend for some impressive prices. Among the highlights were Houdini's 1908 Dragon Award Cup and his Bean Lock Picking Device. I'm especially thrilled to see the Dragon Cup. I've always wondered what happened to Houdini trophy collection which he proudly displayed in the foyer of 278. For example, where is his Aviation award today? This was certainly part of that collection, so it's great to get a look at it, if only briefly.

Here are the item descriptions and prices realized.


Houdini's Dragon Award Cup - 1908
Item Number : 17533

A grand and important piece once owned by the Great Houdini.  
This unique award cup was given to Houdini and engraved: "Presented to Harry Houdini - March 14, 1908 by the management of the Temple Theater in Detroit Michigan for record breaking attendance." The cup was later presented by Bess Houdini to James Stoppard of the P.E.A.M. The award stands 15" tall with three 9" dragons surrounding the main body.
A truly unique item that would be a highlight, if not the centerpiece in any Houdini collection, as it represents his successful accomplishment of breaking box office records.
Condition is very good, the wood and metal is slightly dulled and could be polished to restore its original luster. Complete with letter of authenticity. 
SOLD: $12,005.00


Houdini's Historic Bean Lock Picking Device
Item Number : 17511

A desirable and historic lock picking device as used by Houdini.
This is custom 5.5" extension key made of brass. It features a Bean Giant handcuff key permanently attached to one end and an identical key held by a key ring on the other. The key was made by Houdini's closest assistant Jim Collins and was used as a mainstay in his act after winning the challenge given by Captain Bean, the originator of the cuff.
This was one of only a few items held back from the Swann Auction of the Doug Edward's Houdini Collection. A unique piece that includes a letter of authenticity from Doug explaining the background of this historic item.
Condition is very good. 
SOLD: $2,770.00

Congrats to the buyers of these one of a kind Houdini rarities.

Hope you enjoyed our Wild weekend with Bess

I hope you all enjoyed our special weekend long celebration of Bess Houdini's birthday(s). Thanks once again to MSW, Kevin Connolly (Houdini Himself), and Dean Carnegie (Magic Detective) for their contributions. For those who might have missed the weekend fun, here's what our site looked like for two days.


Revisit:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The women who have played Bess

We end our special weekend long Bess Houdini birthday celebration with a look at how the great lady has been immortalized on stage and in film. Here are seven actresses who brought our Bessie back to life.

Janet Leigh
Janet Leigh (Houdini, 1953): What can one say about Janet Leigh, other than she was every bit as glamours as her co-star and real-life husband, Tony Curtis, and that's saying something! But did she make a good Bess? Well, for starters, Janet Leigh is a blond-haired, blue-eyed, curvaceous bombshell. The real Bess Houdini had dark hair, dark eyes, and was unusually small and slight of build. But, hey, the 1953 HOUDINI was hardly a biography that sought realism. Instead, this much-loved movie strove to capture the drama and glamour of the Houdini-Bessie story (and make no mistake, the movie is as much about her and him), and in that sense Janet Leigh is a perfect Bess.

When asked about the real Bess in a 1995 interview in MAGIC magazine, Janet Leigh said, "I think she was strong. Completely believing in him and helping in all ways. She obviously truly loved him. It was a great love story, as far as I could determine. At least that's what we tried to make it."

Judith Bruce (Man of Magic, 1966): Judith Bruce played Bess in the 1966 London stage musical, Man of Magic, where she received equal billing with leading men Stuart Damon (Houdini) and Stubby Kay. Bruce appears to have been one of the few highlights of the production, which closed after only 135 performances. Said one review: "At least Man Of Magic provides an opportunity to enjoy Judith (previously Judy) Bruce, one of the lost stars of the British musical theatre, understudied in the show by her sister Lucy Winters. Bruce, who during rehearsal balked at some of the frightening stunts she was asked to participate in (Fielding pooh-poohed her objections, but demurred after taking her place under a giant sawing pendulum) has a glass-edged attack in her opening number 'Floral Sisters' (with a sassy Gaye Brown), and brings her rare quality to everything she does, even if her three solos are unworthy of her."

Sally Struthers
Sally Struthers (The Great Houdinis, 1976): As much as I love Janet Leigh, I actually think Sally Struthers delivered the best performance as Bess, and probably came as close to capturing the real woman as we will ever get. Struthers seemed to embody the eerie combination of little girl and dark woman that Bess Houdini really was. This is because a better picture of Bess was starting to emerge in 1976. So in The Great Houdinis, we get a strong-willed, showbiz savvy Bess, dealing with always being the second most important woman in her husband's life. Along the way she develops a taste for alcohol and throws out more than a few curse words. Check. And while it’s up for debate how much open tension (if any) existed between Bess and Mama, I think anyone who knew Bessie Houdini would recognize her in Sally Struthers. It's a strong performance, as well as an honest and empathetic tribute. And as Minnie says at the end of the film, "I believe. I believe the son-of-a-bitch loved her."

Viviane Thomas
Viviane Thomas (Houdini - A Circus Opera, 1979): Viviane Thomas played Bess when the Dutch production, Houdini - A Circus Opera, when it had it's U.S. debut at the Aspen Music festival in August 1979. Unfortunately, the reviews didn't have much to say about Thomas, instead they focused on Houdini, who was played by three different actors in the course of the evening; tenor Jerold Norman, dancer Daniel Lordon, and escape artist Mark Mazzarella (only 19 at the time). It is noted that at the end Bess gets to sign a dramatic solo number to her husband's departed spirit, saying that "Death is the door from which you will never escape." Door? They couldn't come up with a better metaphor than Door? Maybe something was lost in the translation. Jenny Veeninga played Bess in the original Dutch production in 1977.

Stacey Edwards
Stacy Edwards (Houdini, 1998): Each actress who has played Bess needs to accommodated themselves to the tone of the film, and I think Edwards does this marvelously in TNT's HOUDINI. Edwards gets to play both the sunny-sided Janet Leigh version as well as the later more tormented Sally Struthers take. But what Edwards brings that Struthers and Leigh didn't was a Bess who has showbiz ambitions of her own. Suppressing these dreams become part of her inner demons. That's a new aspect to Bess's character that could indeed be an accurate new insight.

Performance wise, Edwards is superb. She especially knocks it out of the park during the final scenes when Houdini comes back to her (or does he?). In abilities, Janet Leigh and Sally Struthers matched the actors who played their more famous husband (no small task when considering the charisma and acting chops of Tony Curtis and Paul Michael Glaser). But in Stacy Edwards' case, I believe she's the first Bess to surpass her Harry.

Kim Lores
Kim Lores (The Great Houdini, 1999): Chicago native Kim Lores played Bess on stage in the 1999 London Theater Works production of The Great Houdini with the great Jim Bentley. Lores and Bentley recreated several Houdini effects during the course of the show, including, as you can see on the right, Metamorphosis.

This was one I was fortunate enough to see when it played The Stella Adler Theater in Hollywood. From what I recall, the attractive Ms. Lores did a terrific job as Bess. In fact, I think by the time the evening ended, I had developed a Janet Leigh-level crush on her. How could I not? She was Bess!

Mystery Bess
Unknown actress (Death Defying Acts, 2008): While Bess does not appear in the latest Houdini movie, Death Defying Acts, her photograph does. Oddly, the filmmakers elected not to use a photo of the real Bess, but a photo of an unknown actress. Who is this mystery Bess?

My apologies to any other actresses who didn't make the list. These are the performances that I'm familiar with, but I'm certain there are scores of other Bessie's out there, particularly on stage. Please feel free to post any missed names and performance in my Comments.

This weekend we are Wild About Bess.

Link: Bessie the Time Traveler

Was our birthday girl Bess Houdini a time traveler? Dean Carnegie: Magic Detective has smoked out some compelling evidence that she was indeed. Don't believe me? Click on the headline and let Dean lay out the case for you himself.


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.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bessie down under

All this weekend we are celebrating the birthday of Bess Houdini, and for the occasion the mighty Kevin Connolly (Houdini Himself) has provided this terrific unpublsihed photo of Bess (on left) in Australia during Houdini's brief aviation career. What a great shot. What a great smile!

Kevin Connolly Collection

This was probably taken at Rosehill, where Bess took it upon herself to make tea and cake for the assembled onlookers who couldn't always be assured that the weather would allow Houdini to fly that day. Bess saw to it that the spectators didn't go hungry -- on the house. By the way, that's Houdini's assistant James Vickery doing the dishes back there. Looks like he was Bessie's assistant too. 

The celebration continues tomorrow...

UPDATE: According to an article by Bayard Grimshaw in Abracadabra, March 23, 1974, this photo was taken at the Rosehill Racetrack on April 27, 1910.

Portrait of a box jumper

Our favorite mystery contributor MSW has sent us this beautiful original portrait to share as part of our special weekend long Bess Houdini birthday celebrations. Excellent shot. Thank you, MSW!


This weekend we are Wild About Bess.

This weekend we are Wild About Bess

This weekend we celebrate the birthday of Bess Houdini, who was born Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner on January 22, 1876, in Brooklyn, New York. At least that's the date that is most frequently cited. As with her famous husband, Bess's exact birth date is not without controversy. Some sources, including the California Death Index, say she was born on Jan. 23. Some even put the year as 1875. So to play it safe, let's make this a TWO day celebration. As more than one of my fellow Houdini buff said to me, "If Houdini could have two birthdays, why not Bess?"

Like Houdini, Bess came from a large immigrant family and was also bitten by the showbiz bug in her teens. Bess was working at Coney Island in a song and dance act called The Floral Sisters when she was first courted by Houdini's younger brother, Dash (aka Theo. Hardeen). But it was the older Houdini brother, Harry, that she fell in love with and married on June 22, 1894.

Harry & Bess
Bess and Harry worked as The Houdinis for several years before Houdini hit it big as The Handcuff King. But he and Bessie continued to occasionally perform the Metamorphosis. Bess also saw after their menagerie of pets, collected dolls, and made the costumes for Houdini's full evening show. She also always said it was her duty to make sure her absent-minded husband was dressed well and had clean ears (yeah, a little mothering -- but this is Houdini we're talking about here).

By all accounts, Bessie was strong-willed, feisty, and very spirited. While her husband was a teetotaler, Bessie enjoyed her champagne. After Houdini's death, Bess continued promoting his legacy along with her manager and companion (and some say secret husband), Edward Saint. She occasionally performed herself, and also ran a tea room at 64 West 49th Street in New York called Mrs. Harry Houdini's Rendezvous (now the site of Rockefeller Center). In the 1930s she and Ed Saint moved to Hollywood, CA.

Bess & Ed
In 1936 Bess and Ed Saint held the legendary Final Houdini Seance atop the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel just off Hollywood Blvd. The event garnered headlines around the world, which may have been the actual intent. When asked candidly what they would have done had Houdini come back that night, they are both said to have laughed and Saint is reported to have said, "Bess would have dirtied her pants if that had happened!"

In 1939 Bess helped form the MagiGals, a group of female magicians and enthusiasts, which included Irene Larsen, co-founder of The Magic Castle. She also appeared as herself in the film Religious Racketeers. Bess remained a much loved and respected fixture at magic conventions until her death on February 11, 1943, aboard a train in Needles, California.

Here are a few musts for you Bessie fans. Track down the October 1995 issue of MAGIC magazine which contains a terrific cover story about Bess by David Charvet (which I've liberally used as a source in this article) with amazing photos from the Mario Carrandi Collection. Also, the new companion book to the traveling exhibition, Houdini Art and Magic, has a very fine chapter devoted to the woman behind the man. And even though it's rift with mythology -- or "full of lies" as Hardeen says -- Houdini His Life Story: From the Recollections and Documents of Beatrice Houdini is a still a wonderful read. You can also become a fan of Bess on Facebook.

By the way, I've heard talk of a possible Bess biography in the works. Let's hope this is true. Bess's story deserves to be told, just as her birthday deserves to be celebrated. So forget Harry. This weekend we are "Wild About Bess." And so are you.

Bess in 1894, 1920s, 1930s

What's ahead:

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