Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Location of Houdini's pool escape revealed in two new photos

Building on Kevin Connolly's recent discovery of a second photo from what we've been calling "Houdini's ball and chain pool escape", here I offer up two more new photos from my own collection. While Milbourne Christopher credited this escape as taking place in San Francisco (Houdini A Pictorial Life page 52), these photos refute that and reveal exactly where this escape took place.

This first photo is an 8x10 reproduction of a newswire photo that shows the moment of Houdini's head first dive into the pool. Christopher had it correct that this is the West Coast; however, the original caption on the back of this photo places it at "a swimming pool in Los Angeles" on May 7, 1922.


This next photo, which I just purchased on eBay, is an original shot taken at the event, probably by the same photographer who took Kevin's pic as the angle is the same. Unfortunately, it does not include Houdini (this is how I could afford it), but you can easily match the spectators to the photo above, and I think I can see Jim Collins back there. But what makes this pic most significant is that it takes us one step further and identifies this as the pool at the historic Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.


The Ambassador Hotel was famous for its Coconut Grove nightclub and also as the site of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination in 1968. The hotel was closed to the public in 1986, and at one time Donald Trump wanted to build the worlds tallest building on the property. After years of legal wrangling, in 2005 the hotel was demolished and the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools were built on the property.

I used to go to the Ambassador quite often. It was a wonderful L.A. landmark that seemed frozen in time. Shame that I didn't know then it was the also the site of what I think we can now call "Houdini's Ambassador Hotel pool escape".

Check out this wonderful tribute video to the Ambassador featuring photos of the hotel and pool during its heyday.

10 comments:

  1. I didn't think Houdini played Los Angeles in 1922.

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    Replies
    1. Perhaps the date on the photo refers to when it was archived and not the day of the event?

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    2. It's possible he was in LA. Koval has nothing listed for May 1922. HH was at the Time Sq. Theater in April (pushing TMFB) and with the Doyles in Atlantic City in June. May is wide open.

      Maybe we need to check some newspapers.

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    3. Also possible he wasn't in LA performing. He could have been here on movie biz business. Did TMFB have an LA premiere? And this doesn't look like a typical "bridge jump" stunt. With my new pic showing other men diving, this could have been a private event or exhibition of some kind.

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    4. I've now seen a photo from this escape dated 1923. That makes more sense.

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  2. The Pool Photo was one of the first photos I ever saw of Houdini in a magic history book when I was in elementary school. Before that, I had seen at least one photo of a much younger bushy haired Houdini in black formal wear and handcuffed up to his elbows.

    When I saw that Pool Photo of Houdini standing on that diving board cradling that metal ball with chains around his ankles, I thought "That's a chubby bald old man, he doesn't look like Houdini." I always imagined he dove in feet first after that photo was taken. Man was I wrong.

    This was another great blog, John. Thank you for those childhood memories and for solving the location of this pool. Pegging the exact date would be cool. Is it me or does the water look black?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Leo. The diving board shot was one of the first photos I ever saw of Houdini as well because it's in the paperback edition of Gresham. I very excited that we can peg this as being the pool at the Ambassador. That's historic. The date could be correct as well.

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  3. I remember seeing a photo on this site of Houdini in a bathing suit chatting with a taller gentleman. I can't find it right now but I wonder if that photo is connected to the Pool Photo demonstration.

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    1. You're probably thinking of this pic:

      http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2011/02/houdini-in-h-o-l-l-y-w-o-o-d.html

      Nothing to do with this.

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  4. Oops! I just noticed the diving photo is in Patrick Culliton's Houdini The Key (along with a photo of Houdini surfacing). Sorry Patrick.

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