On the night of October 31, 1986, a handful of lucky participants, including myself, attended a Houdini seance at the Variety Arts Center -- a short-lived sister club to the Magic Castle housed in a historic theater in downtown Los Angeles -- that honored and recreated the famous 1936 Final Houdini Seance on its 50th Anniversary.
Organized by Houdini collector and historian Manny Weltman, the reenactment started with the tickets. Each ticket was an exact replica of the gold invitations from the 1936 seance with the modern details on the back. To enhance the event, guests were encouraged to come dressed in "optional 1930s dressy attire" (my buddy Mark and I rented vintage tuxedos from Western Costume).
Guests arrived at 7pm for an 8:30 seance, just as they did in 1936. On the seance table were laid out the items exactly as they were laid out 50 years earlier, including a custom built copy of the Houdini shrine and a replica of the Mirror handcuffs, reported to have been "brought from Montana".
|John Cox and "Edward Saint" (Stefan Krayk).|
Bess was portrayed by Geraldine Larsen Jaffe, matriarch of the famous Larsen magic family, who was also good friends with Bess Houdini and attended the 1936 seance. For the occasion, Geri wore a jeweled Russian broach given to her by Bess. The part of Edward Saint was played by Stefan Krayk, complete with fake beard. Magic Castle co-founder Milt Larsen introduced the seance, and "Bess" and "Ed" read from the same script the real Bess and Ed had prepared for the original seance.
Sitting in the "inner circle" at the seance table were: Manny Weltman and his wife Nanette; Milt Larsen; ventriloquist puppeteer Shari Lewis and her husband Jeremy Tarcher; Gerald Kosky, who had attended the original 1936 seance; Universal Studios Vice President and Houdini enthusiast Tom Thayer; Penny and Michael Grosz-Salomon; legendary Famous Monsters of Filmland publisher Forrest J. Ackerman and his wife Wendy; and KABL-TV reporter Fred Anderson. Guest attendees included Batman creator Bob Kane, a long time Houdini buff. (My girlfriend's most vivid recollection of the night was meeting "some guy who told me he invented Batman.")
|"Bess Houdini" (Geri Larsen) heads up the seance table.|
Much like the evening in 1936, Houdini did not return, and there were no mysterious storms that night which would have really made this a true recreation. After the seance, guests lingered for an informal chat with Geri who shared stories about her friendship with Bess.
At the close of the evening, all the guests received a bottle of Magic Castle Houdini labeled wine, which were spirits enough for most.