Saturday, October 13, 2012

Genii & Houdini: The lost decade

The aim of this series has been to focus on issues of Genii that have featured Houdini on the cover. From the time Genii was founded in 1936, these have numbered at least two per decade, and many have been Special Houdini Issues. That's why it was so surprising that after November 1975, Houdini vanished from the cover of Genii for the remainder of the 1970s and never once appeared on a cover in the 1980s! That's right, the '80s are a lost decade for Genii & Houdini. Well, kinda.


Technically, Houdini did appear on the cover of Genii in the '80s many times. That's because in 1982 Genii did a cover redesign that featured a background montage of famous magicians, including a nice image of Houdini (hopefully I don't need to point him out). But apart for this, Genii showed little love for the Master Mystifier during the "Me Decade."

Dai Vernon
So why did Genii snub Houdini throughout the 1980s? It's hard to know for certain, but as I noted with the October 1972 issue, a certain hostility toward Houdini seemed to emerging as Dai Vernon became part of Genii and the West Coast magic scene. While Vernon was happy to trade on Houdini's name for his own purposes ("The Man Who Fooled Houdini"), he dismissed him as a magician and sniped at him in his Genii column. Not that Vernon actively suppressed Houdini in Genii, but the environment he fostered was that real magicians discount Houdini as a publicity seeker and instead admire true craftsmen like...Dai Vernon! (It's an attitude that still exists today.)

But it could also be that there were no seismic Houdini events in the 1980s as there had been in the 1970s with a wave of books and tributes commemorating the 50th Anniversary of his death. In fact, the '70s were so Houdini packed, the magic world might have been suffering a bit of a Houdini hangover in the '80s.

Genii, May 1980
Still, Houdini was missed. Many Houdini and magic fanatics--like myself--were born of the '70s boom, and Genii not producing even a single Houdini issue or cover to pull in these new, younger fans might have been a strategic mistake (even I let my subscription lapse). Newer magic publications like Hocus Pocus and Magicol happily filled the void, featuring Houdini on the covers of early issues, just as Genii had done with issue #2 when it was challenging the dominance of The Sphinx back in 1936.

However, the tradition of a Houdini Special Issue would be revived in the 1990s, and by a familiar champion.

Coming next: November 1993


12 comments:

  1. I was just thinking yesterday that there had not been much around on Houdini in the 1980s or at least that was my perception of it. My interest developed in 1980 and admittedly, the internet was not there to make it easy but still ... maybe it really was more than just my perception.

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    1. It never really hit me until I wrote this how lean the '80s were in regards to HH. Didn't seem that way in the '80s because there was some stuff and anything was exciting, but when you now compare to the '90s and forward...lean time.

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  2. The 80s had some great Houdini stuff. The YOUNG HARRY HOUDINI movie with Wil Wheaton, The InSearchOf Episode on Houdini narrated by Leonard Nimoy and the LIVE 2 Hour Search For Houdini Special with a host of magic folk.

    I do agree, there was a distaste for Houdini among some in the magic community. Vernon was only one of many.

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    1. True the '80s had some good stuff. The Fitzsimons bio, the televised seance, and Young Harry Houdini as you say. But nothing that was really a game changer like Silverman or Kalush.

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  3. Great series, John. Looking forward to reading more of these. One of my earliest and favorite childhood "finds" was the Oct. 1961 issue, which I got at a "flea market" at a Pittsburgh magic meeting.

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    1. Glad you're enjoying it, Tom. I'm enjoying doing these, and I'm surprised how much of a narrative has come forward. This is the darkest chapter, but things start to turn around. Stay turned!

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  4. I made the mistake of bringing up Houdini when talking to Len Vintus. Len and Houdini had a set to once, and Len really preferred not to talk about it or Houdini if he could avoid it. Well, by the time I came in to the magic scene here Len was tired of it and brushed off people who brought up Houdini. I was able to get back in his good graces a little later, but never brought up Houdini again.
    On the other hand, the late Charlie Taylor had no problem talking about seeing Houdini perform here, as well as other greats of magic. Local antiques dealer John McClay spoke openly of what it was like to see Houdini perform the water torture cell (sadly, I didn't think to tape record his comments and now he is gone), so it depends on the individual I guess.
    Bruce Thomson

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    1. Taping John would have been wonderful! Not sure we have anyone left that saw or knew Houdini.

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  5. What did they say about watching Houdini in person? Let's hear it in detail!

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  6. I think John Calvert is the only one left that saw Houdini.

    Pete

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    1. I've heard people say that, but I've never heard it from John himself. He talks about seeing Thurston and knowing Bess, but nothing about Houdini. I went to his 101 birthday celebration at the Castle hoping to ask about Houdini, but John was doing his own thing. :)

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  7. My point is.......accounts of what people really saw when they went to see Houdini are all we have since his stage shows were not filmed. So if anyone, especially magicians, new anyone who actually related first hand accounts of performance details concerning Houdini let's here them! If this info is not collected and documented it will eventually be lost. As an example.....Sid Radner knew Hardeen! Did anyone conduct serious interviews with Sid to document what he heard from Hardeen? I'm talking serious in depth interviews to try to understand and visualize what a Houdini performance was all about.

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