Thursday, January 19, 2012

Randi reappears at The Magic Castle

The legendary James "The Amazing" Randi made his reappearance at the (now re-opened) Magic Castle on Monday to continue his interview with Max Maven in the Inner Circle. It was, once again, standing room only, and Randi at age 83 was as energetic as ever.

Randi again told terrific stories about his life and career, and this time showed clips from The Tonight Show (the infamous psychic surgery segment) and Not For Women Only with Barbara Walters. Randi was especially keen to show the Walters clip, where he shared the stage with Mark Wilson and Doug Henning, and he revealed how he accomplished his feat of psychic drawing, which he says still baffles Walters to this day (you can check out the clip on Randi's JREF YouTube Channel).

Houdini got a few mentions in the course of the 2 hour interview. Randi and Maven talked at length about William Lindsay Gresham, who wrote Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls in 1959. Maven chided the book for being "filled with inaccuracies", which I didn't think was an entirely fair characterization. Sure, errors and embellishments crept in, but the Gresham book was a quantum leap forward from what had come before and exploded many of the myths created by Kellock. In fact, Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls was the first book to reveal that Houdini was born in Budapest on March 24. This was at a time when no less than Walter B. Gibson was insisting on an Appleton April 6 birth. I think the book deserves a lot of credit for that alone.*

Randi assisted Gresham on the book, and for his trouble Gresham promised Randi would be the "first and last name mentioned in the text." If you have a look at the book, you'll see that he kept his promise.

A special treat for every guest in attendance was a $1 million check from the James Randi Educational Foundation, redeemable "for proof of any paranormal activity." Randi has offered this challenge since 1996, and the prize has never been claimed.


At the conclusion of the talk, Maven presented Randi with a surprise. Sitting beside the stage was a covered easel. The black cloth was then draw away to reveal Randi's famous "The Man No Jail Can Hold" poster beautifully framed. The poster will be added to the Magic Castle's portrait gallery that joins the dinning rooms with the showrooms, a wonderful addition and a well deserved honor for one of the great men of magic.

Randi took delight in noting that the poster contains the name "Harry Houdini" hidden somewhere in the artwork, and promised "a quarter" to anyone who could find it. After the talk, people swarmed over the image, searching every detail, some using the lights of their cell phones. As far as I saw, no one found the hidden Houdini. (Yes, I know where it is.)

All in all, it was another magical evening with The Amazing Randi.

Looking for the hidden "Harry Houdini"

Thanks to Mark Willoughby for the photos. You can watch Randi's first Castle interview here.

*UPDATE: Along with correcting me on Randi's age (83 not 82), Max Maven also pointed out that while he did say that Gresham was filled with inaccuracies, he also said it was, to him, "the best of all the Houdini biographies." Thanks for the corrections, Max.

16 comments:

  1. Very cool stuff. Randi is a character. I have a number of Randi stories from over the years. Sounds like a very fun evening!

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  2. Along with correcting me on Randi's age (83 not 82), Max Maven also pointed out that while he did say that Gresham was filled with inaccuracies, he also said it was, to him, "the best of all the Houdini biographies."

    I'm sorry I didn't hear that part. I would have included it if I did.

    Thanks for the corrections, Max. :)

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  3. Hey, Max Maven reads your blog! That's pretty awesome! I just watched the Randi video mentioned above. I only wish I could see what Doug Henning and Mark Wilson did on the show! Randi's part was great.

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  4. I'm also excited that James Randi reads my blog. He actually posted a link to this on his own Facebook page. I was going to tell him about my blog and give him a card on Monday, but I was too shy.

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  5. trying to find Houdini's name must have been riveting

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    1. Actually, it was. In fact, I couldn't get near the freakin' thing to take a picture. I had to ask people to step back so I could take the picture, and they wouldn't! That's when I decided not to tell them the secret. ;p

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  6. Great story John. I have always wondered about the list of cities on that Randi Poster. Did The Amazing Randi really escape from jails in all of those cities? If so, is the Orlando listed, Orlando FL? I have looked for old newspaper clippings with no luck. If JR reads this, maybe he can shed some light.

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    1. Don't know anything about an Orlando jail break. Sorry.

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  7. Speaking of Randi, I watched the doc "Houdini Never Died" last night and forgot that it has sensational footage of Randi escaping from a straightjacket while suspended above Niagara Falls.

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  8. Is there a recording of the discussion? My grandmother was married to Willian Lindsay Gresham; as he died when my mother was still rather young, I would love to hear Randi's recollections of my mother's stepfather.

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    1. I believe the Castle tapes these events, but the recordings are available only to magician members. Cool that you have family connection to Gresham. I'm going to do a little something on his book soon.

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    2. Darn...my mother still speaks of the Amazing Randi with a great deal of fondness, and I know she would have enjoyed hearing him talk about working with Bill. I'll definitely have to check back to see what you do on his book. Thanks for the reply.

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    3. Erin -- a Gresham researcher would like to get in contact with you. Can you email me via my Contact Page? Thanks.

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  9. Houdini exposed scores of fake mediums in his day, and Randi has done quite a lot of debunking himself. The main difference here, is that while Houdini exposed all the fakes, he still always went to a seance with an open mind. He ached to believe, but never found a true medium. If he had thought it was all baloney, he would never have given Bess a secret code to recognize him in the event he was able to contact here from the beyond. James Randi on the other hand, flat out says it's all nonsense. Whether it be psychics, ghosts, or any area of the paranormal, it's all baloney because he says so. He styles himself as an instigator, but I am unaware of any time that he has actually gone out in the field to investigate any reported paranormal event or purportedly haunted location. He is much too close minded, in my opinion. In fact, have you ever heard the joke about him? >>> Anybody know what James Randi's blood type is? "Be Negative." LOL!

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    1. Fair points. However, it's possible had Houdini done this as long as Randi, he might have been just as hardened and skeptical.

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  10. Id imagin the fact that though skeptical,he does offer the reward would imply that he too would like to believe . And is willing to admit in the possibility of being wrong on these subjects if only one claim is found to be true lacking such efforts to claim this million dollar reward or any real attempt by those who steadily make such claims as to be supernatural in the field would lead me to be skepticsl as well who cant use one million dollars especially if its for doing ehat you slready claim to be capable of

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