Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day Birthday, Dash

Like his famous brother, Theodore "Dash" Hardeen was born in Budapest, Hungry. But also like his brother, Hardeen claimed Appleton, Wisconsin as his birthplace and selected a new birthday to go with it.

While Houdini chose April 6 (because that was the day his mother always wrote to him), Hardeen had a sense of humor about it and selected February 29, Leap Day, as his adopted birthday.

Houdini biographies for children often say something to the effect that "poor Theo could only celebrate his birthday once every four years." Always overshadowed by Harry! But I think what it really tells us is that Dash didn't take himself nearly as seriously as his brother.

So even though we now know he was born on March 4, 1876, lets celebrate Hardeen's adopted birthday TODAY as we only get this opportunity once every four years.

Happy Leap Day Birthday, Dash!

Yet another unseen photo of Houdini surfaces

Just days after we get a spectacular never-before-seen photograph of Houdini, how about another one!

We are all familiar with the photo on the right that shows Houdini holding a ball and chain as he prepares to dive into a swimming pool. Now Kevin Connolly at Houdini Himself has uncovered NEW photo taken at the same event.

Says Kevin, "I don’t ever remember seeing anything as similar to this in any Houdini images. This is just so spontaneous."

Click here to view the photo 'Up Close and Personal' at Houdini Himself.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Automaton loses his title as first movie robot (update)

There isn't much to brag about when it comes to Houdini's movie career, but one point of pride has always been the fact that his 1919 serial, The Master Mystery, featured the very first movie robot (even though "The Automaton" was revealed to contain a man in the end). This is a fact that is often cited in articles on movies and sci-fi cinema history.

But now it looks like we can no longer award this seminal sci-fi moment to The Master Mystery. The blog The End of Being has posted photos and a clip from a lost 1913 Italian film called The Mechanical Man, featuring with a pretty spectacular movie robot -- dang-it.

But I guess we can still say The Mastery Mystery contained the first robot in American cinema history. That's still pretty good.

By the way, I often wonder what ever happened to the Automaton costume, or even just the head? Wouldn't this be a wonderful find in 2012?

Robot from The Mechanical Man (1913)

UPDATE: Not so fast! According to reader Janne Wass, The Mechanical Man was made in 1921, not 1913. Read: The Automaton reclaims his title as first movie robot (kinda). Thank you, Janne.

Sean Von Gorman will play Houdini in cuffs tomorrow in NYC

Here's a publicity stunt worthy of Houdini. To promote the availability of The Secret Adventures of Houdini at Forbidden Planet in NYC, artist Sean Von Gorman will be handcuffed to a traffic light directly outside the store until every copy is sold out! The event will take place tomorrow, February 29, starting at 1pm.

Says Sean, "As of right now weather reports are saying its going to rain at about 4pm tomorrow. So the challenge is now can we sell every copy in 3 hours so I can escape being completely soaked!"

Those not in the area can order the book from Forbidden Planet online and it will count towards the total needed to release Sean. Copies sold on line or pre-ordered before Wednesday will be signed by Sean.

You can read more about the event at The Secret Adventures of Houdini blog. Sean will also be live Tweeting the event at @VonGormanArt.

Forbidden Planet is located at 840 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

Good luck, Sean!

UPDATE: Sean Von Gorman pulls off his NYC publicity stunt

Monday, February 27, 2012

Our man in Glasgow


Scottish escape artist Andy Robertson (Darkart Escapologist) paid a visit to the City of Stars exhibition at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow this weekend to have a look at the phenomenal new photo of Houdini and his Water Torture Cell that is drawing so much attention (it's already my #4 all time most viewed post). As you can see, it's quite large! However, they appear to have cropped it somewhat, shaving James Vickery out of the shot. (Click here to see the full photo.)

Andy also photographed the descriptive card, which says the photo was taken at the Pavillion Theatre, Renfield Street, on June 3, 1920. You can see all his pics at The Magic Cafe.


Thank you Andy!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Arthur Moses in Antique Week

Houdini mega collector and friend of our site, Arthur Moses, is the cover story in the current issue of Antique Week magazine. The article by Brett Weiss (in which Arthur's last name is unfortunately misspelled as "Morris" several times) is also available online.

You can take a video tour of Arthur's amazing "Houdini Room" here.

Houdini's leading ladies: Ruth Stonehouse

The other female star in Houdini's 1919 serial, The Master Mystery, was Ruth Stonehouse, who was born on September 28, 1892 in Denver, Colorado. Stonehouse played the deliciously named Zita Dane, confederate of the villainous Balcom, and is later revealed to be the sister of Houdini's Quentin Locke (if I remember my Master Mystery plot twists correctly). Her character is somewhat dour, and it's hard to believe that Stonehouse is actually five years younger than leading lady Marguerite Marsh.

In addition to being an actress, Ruth Stonehouse was also a director of early silent film, which certainly made her a cinema pioneer. When she did The Master Mystery, Stonehouse was a big enough name to share billing alongside Houdini (see below). Today her participation in the film is overshadowed by the more sensational aspects of the story -- not to mention Houdini himself -- and is all but forgotten.

Here is her biography on Fandango:

Pioneering American silent screen actress Ruth Stonehouse was the first leading lady of Chicago's Essanay Co. She stayed with Essanay for close to four years -- often appearing opposite the era's great matinee-idol Francis X. Bushman -- before seeking greener pastures at the newly inaugurated Universal City. This rambling, somewhat chaotic studio offered Stonehouse the chance to write and direct some of her vehicles, mostly polite situation comedies but also melodramas with intriguing titles such as A Limb of Satan (1917) and The Saintly Sinner (1917). Stonehouse's popularity was on the wane by 1920, and she spent the remainder of her screen career playing fallen women. She retired in 1927. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Ruth Stonehouse died in Hollywood, California of a cerebral hemorrhage on May 12, 1941, at the age of 48.


More Houdini leading ladies:

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Houdini's leading ladies: Marguerite Marsh

I'm going to wrap-up my series on Houdini's leading ladies this weekend by looking back at two co-stars from his 1919 serial, The Master Mystery. First up is Marguerite Marsh, who was born on April 18, 1888 in Lawrence, Kansas. At age 30 Marsh played Eva Brent, daughter of the unfortunate Peter Brent and the love interest to Houdini's Quentin Locke.

Here is her biography from Fandango:

According to legend, D.W. Griffith spotted this dark-haired beauty on the beach at Santa Monica, CA, in the winter of 1911. He could hardly have missed her, according to Linda Arvidson, the director's wife, who, with but a tinge of jealousy, later reported that Marguerite had sported "the most modern black satin bathing suit and high-heeled French slippers." Also according to legend, the newcomer did not entirely believe in the possibilities of film acting and when asked to appear on set for a comedy with Fred Mace instead sent her younger sister, Mae. And it was the blond, waif-like Mae Marsh who went on to cinematic fame and fortune, briefly at least, while Marguerite, who used her middle name of Loveridge at the time, drifted north to Niles, CA, and played in Broncho Billy Anderson Western programmers.

By 1914, Marguerite Loveridge, nicknamed "Lovey," was appearing as second fiddle to real-life cause célèbre Evelyn Nesbit (Thaw) in a Lubin three-reeler, Threads of Destiny, when rescued from near-oblivion by rotund comic Fred Mace, who starred her in his own comedies and wanted to marry her in real life as well. Marguerite routinely turned him down, however, a sad state of affair that reportedly caused the comedian's early death in February of 1917, either by suicide or from a heart attack attributed to crash dieting in a last ditch effort to win her back.
Her own screen career uninspiring at best, Marguerite changed her last name from Loveridge to Marsh in an obvious attempt of riding on her sister's coattails. She was briefly back with Griffith at Fine Arts but then drifted from one studio to another, rather aimlessly and earning reviews that ranged from lukewarm to poor: "While slightly amateurish at times, Marguerite Marsh did rather well in a few well-chosen scenes"; "Miss Marsh did the best she could with an impossible theme"; "Miss Marsh glides through her part mechanically." It was not enough to sustain a career, not to mention a rather extravagant social life, and by the mid-'20s, she was finished, professionally as well as emotionally. When she died from bronchial pneumonia in New York in December of 1925, Marguerite Marsh was all but forgotten. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Houdini cozies up to Marguerite in The Mastery Mystery

Thursday, February 23, 2012

NEW photo of Houdini and his Water Torture Cell unearthed in Scotland

Here is an incredible never-before-published photograph of Houdini performing his Water Torture Cell in Scotland that will be on display starting this Saturday, February 25, at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of the City of Stars Exhibition. The exhibition features 22 photographes from the archives of the Herald and Times newspapers. According to the Herald Scotland, this photo "was taken in 1920 and is the oldest image in the collection."


This photograph is a mind blower for several reasons. It shows Houdini apparently emerging wet from the USD on a wet stage, so it's possible this really was taken during an actual performance. We see the assistants Jim Collins and James Vickery in their slickers, and get a good look at the cabinet that was used to conceal the cell during the escape. We also see the cell itself with what appears to be two locking bands wrapped around it. These I have never seen before and they certainly did not survive with the cell.

There are only a handfull of photos of Houdini and his Water Torture Cell. None are like this. This is really an incredible image to suddenly emerge from nowhere after 92 years. Wow!

The good news is this photo can be purchased at the Glasgow Herald website.

UPDATE: As you can read in the comments below, the consensus opinion is that this photo was taken before the escape, not after. The cell appears to be without the stocks, and Houdini and his assistants could be watching as the stocks are being "flown in" via the block and tackle. What a moment of drama it captures! This photo really reveals how powerful Houdini was on stage.

UPDATE 2: You can see how the photo looks on display HERE.

Wild About Fonzie

Gather around children and let me tell you the tale of The Fonz! He was a man of the '50s by way of the '70s who could start a jukebox with one touch of his mighty fist, and summon any women to his side with a snap of his fingers. The Fonz even jumped a shark (oh yes he did)!

Inevitably, The Fonz would find himself facing a Houdini challenge. This happened on December 5, 1978, in episode #129 of Happy Days Season 6 called, "The Magic Show". The guest star was James The Amazing Randi, but it was Fonzie (of course!) who would perform Houdini's Milk Can escape. Did he make it?

What do you think? Aaaaay...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Groupon discounting tickets to The Houdini Box

Groupon is running a special deal on tickets to see The Houdini Box performed by the Chicago Children’s Theatre. The discounter is currently offering 41% off the price of adult and children's tickets. The deal lasts for 2 days with five shows available.

Head over to Groupon for all the details.

The Houdini Box is a musical adventure based on the book by award-winning children's author Brian Selznick. It opened January 24 at the Chicago Mercury Theater.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Houdini and his bag of tricks

Check out this terrific advertisement from the December 27, 1925 New York Times sent to me by a mysterious contributor named Harry Houdini (his real name!). I love how this unique image sells Houdini purely as a (traveling) magician. I don't even see a pair of handcuffs or spirit slates in that "bag of tricks."


This, of course, is an ad for Houdini's full evening show, which he launched in August 1925 and played until his death in October 1926. The show was more typically advertised as "3 Shows in One: Magic, Escapes, Fraud Mediums Exposed." This ad announces his move from the Shubert Theater on 44th St. to the National on 41st. Street.

Thank you "Harry".

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Crystal Ball now shipping

The Crystal Ball: A Rebecca Mystery by Jacqueline Dembar Greene is now shipping from Amazon.com.

This is the latest release from American Girl featuring Rebecca Rubin, a young sleuth growing up in a Russian-Jewish family in New York City in 1914. In the first chapters of The Crystal Ball, Rebecca and her family go to see Houdini perform an escape in Times Square. The book concludes with a nonfiction essay that further explores the historical aspects of the book, including four pages on Houdini with pictures and illustrations.


The Crystal Ball: A Rebecca Mystery can be purchased as a hardcover or paperback.

Houdini and the President

In honor of this President's Day (also National Handcuff Day), I thought I'd repost this photo of Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt taken aboard the ocean liner Imperator on June 23, 1914.


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 worked in his fictional young hero Nate Fuller. Recently a remarkable artifact from this voyage sold on eBay.

Of course, Houdini was also photographed with President Abraham Lincoln...via the spirit world!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Houdini's leading ladies: Rosemary Theby

The most overlooked of all Houdini's leading ladies (for reasons I will explain below) is Rosemary Theby, who was born Rose Masing on April 8, 1892, in St. Louis, Missouri. Theby played Stella Mourdant, wife of the villainous Guy Mordaunt (described as being "no better than her better-half"), in Houdini's second feature for Famous Players-Lasky, Terror Island.

Here is her biography from Fandango:

Slender, sad-eyed leading lady Rosemary Theby made her film debut in 1912, and that same year starred as Celia in a greatly abbreviated film version of Shakespeare's As You Like It. In her heyday (1915-1922), Theby often co-starred with her husband, actor/director Harry C. Meyers; among other roles, she played Morgan Le Fey in Meyers' lavish version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1921).
Professional and financial reverses forced both Theby and her husband into bit parts and extra roles during the talkie era. Several of Theby's 1930s assignments were obtained through the kindness of comedian Oliver Hardy, who'd been a minor player in some of the actress' pre-WWI vehicles. Rosemary Theby's best talkie role was the laconic Mrs. Snavely in the classic W.C. Fields two-reeler The Fatal Glass of Beer (1932). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Theby is present throughout Terror Island, and even has the distinction of being the only Houdini leading lady to die onscreen (she's shot on the sinking submarine -- blink and you'll miss it). However, Theby's best scene, in which she vamps Houdini's Harry Harper in an attempt to get a map from him, is contained on one of the two reels that are missing from the only known print of the film. There isn't even a description of this scene on the explanatory cards that summarize the missing action on the DVD. All we have of Theby's performance here are a few stills, including a lobby card that reads: "Are you crazy, madam?".

This may be why she is often forgotten among the pantheon of Houdini's leading ladies. In fact, poor Theby's photo in The Secret Life of Houdini is misidentified as being Nita Naldi in The Man From Beyond (wrong vamp, wrong film).

Rosemary Theby died on June 10, 1973 at the Virgil Convalescent Center in Los Angeles, CA.

Rosemary Theby and Houdini in their lost scene from Terror Island.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Houdini's leading ladies: Nita Naldi

While the leading lady of Houdini's 1922 The Man From Beyond was Jane Connelly, the more famous actress in that film was Nita Naldi. Born Mary Nonna Dooley on March 1, 1895 in New York City, Nadi was probably the biggest female star Houdini ever worked with. She had played opposite John Barrymore in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and would famously vamp Valentino in Blood and Sand, released the same year as The Man From Beyond.

In the film Naldi played Marie Le Grande, "the vamp", which was her specialty. Even though she doesn't actually appear in a scene with Houdini (at least in the existing print), she was featured in The Man From Beyond publicity, which played up the fact that she had just signed a five year contract with Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount.

Here is Nita Naldi's biography on Fandango:

The "female Valentino," as she liked to call herself, Nita Naldi became the most outrageous vamp of the 1920s -- reportedly both on and off the screen. Born Anita Donna Dooley and convent-educated, Naldi took her professional name from a school chum (Mary Rinaldi) and set out to conquer the world of show business with a vengeance. A chorus girl in The Passing Show of 1918 and The Midnight Whirl (1919), Naldi was appearing in Morris Gest's Aphrodite (1919) when approached by John Barrymore, who cast her as Gina in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920). Although Barrymore would later dismiss her as his "dumb Duse," Naldi is surprisingly modern in her flamboyant role as Hyde's would-be seducer and she steals every scene she's in. She was personally selected by famed writer Vicente Blasco-Ibanez (who, Naldi claimed, dropped his dentures down her cleavage while engaged in a tirade against the Catholic church) for the role of the temptress Doña Sol in Blood and Sand (1922), outrageously vamping Rudolph Valentino who seems to be literally energized by her lustful behavior. The florid melodrama became her signature film and was so popular that she was reunited with Valentino twice in A Sainted Devil (1924) and Cobra (1925). Gertrude Olmstead met Naldi while filming the latter and later told the film historian Anthony Slide that the notorious femme fatale was "so sweet to me and so very interesting."

Contrary to popular belief, Naldi did not play the native girl in Alfred Hitchcock's directorial debut, The Pleasure Garden (1925), but she did turn up somewhat unexpectedly as the schoolteacher in his second film, The Mountain Eagle (1926), a presumably welcome respite from vamping. A few more European films followed, including Léonce Perret's La Femme Nue (1926), but her type had become an anachronism by then and she wisely retired at the advent of sound. There were brief returns to Broadway -- The Firebird (1932), Queer People (1934) -- and Naldi became one of the former Hollywood luminaries featured at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe nightclub in the early '40s, where, quite appropriately, she recited Rudyard Kipling's famous poem A Fool There Was backed by a line of chorus boys. Naldi's final public appearance came opposite Uta Hagen in the 1952 stage comedy In Any Language.  
One of the last of a breed, Naldi brought old-fashioned screen vamping into the more liberated age of the Roaring Twenties, the true heiress to the throne vacated by Theda Bara. But screen vamps rarely took themselves too seriously, she confessed in a later interview. "At least I didn't and I know some of my best friends and rivals didn't either." Spending her final years as a recluse, Nita Naldi died of a heart attack in her room at Manhattan's then-shabby Wentworth Hotel in 1961. Sadly, she had been dead for at least 48 hours when her body was finally discovered. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi 

Interestingly, Nita Naldi has several things in common with Houdini's Terror Island leading lady, Lila Lee. Both appeared in Blood and Sand and both have the honor of being the only Houdini leading ladies to have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Naldi's star is at 6316 Hollywood Blvd., directly across the street for Bess Houdini's Hollywood hangout, Sardi's.

For more on Nita Naldi, vist the excellent nitanaldi.com.

Houdini and Nita get serious in a moment not in the existing film.

More Houdini leading ladies:

    Friday, February 17, 2012

    Kevin Connolly unearths "The Cologne Papers" (updates)

    Super collector Kevin Connolly has posted on his blog a recent acquisition which, according to Kevin, "may be one the most significant Houdini finds in years, maybe decades." It's a book, commissioned by Houdini, that contains all the documentation related to his famous slander trial in Cologne, Germany in 1902.

    Says Kevin, "This item hasn’t been seen in many, many years and most Houdini collectors and historians don’t even know of its' existence. I’ve been tracking in down, on and off, for about 30 years."

    Click here to have a look at this amazing Houdini artifact at Houdini Himself.

    UPDATES:

    Thursday, February 16, 2012

    The perennial Houdini on Magic

    My recent post about Scholastic's The Great Houdini got me wondering which Houdini book has had the longest continuous life in print. Didn't take me long to figure out that it must be Houdini on Magic by Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young. The book was first published in 1953 by Dover and has apparently never gone out of print. Check out the Dover website or Amazon where you can still buy a brand new copy today. This is also the book that you most likely find looking back at you from any magic shop book rack.

    The original 1953 hardcover and paperback editions.

    The book itself is a confection of previously published material, including Gibson's Houdini's Escape and Magic and Houdini's own books and pitchbooks. This means it contains some Houdini mythology. On the upside, it's very nicely illustrated and Gibson's introduction -- in which he talks about knowing and working with Houdini -- is worth the price of the book alone.

    Paperback editions from the 1960s.

    Here I've gathered a selection of Houdini on Magic covers from my own collection (along with the Gresham bio, Houdini on Magic was the first Houdini book I ever purchased). The Dover copyright pages only ever say 1953, so it's hard to determine exactly when these books were first published. I can't claim these are all the variations, but it's a good cross section of the major changes in cover art that the book has experienced over its amazing 59 years in print!

    Houdini on Magic cover art from the 1970s to today.

    Wednesday, February 15, 2012

    Houdini's tomb tale digs up $680

    A 1924 issue of Weird Tales magazine that contains Houdini's short story, Imprisoned With The Pharaohs, has sold on eBay for an impressive $680. The auction received 16 bids.


    While Imprisoned With The Pharaohs appeared under Houdini’s byline, the story was actually ghost written by H.P. Lovecraft. The auction offered up this excellent description of the story and its history:

    "Under the Pyramids", also published as "Entombed with the Pharaohs" and "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs", is a short story written by American fantasy author H. P. Lovecraft in February 1924. Commissioned by Weird Tales founder and owner J. C. Henneberger, the narrative tells a fictionalized account in the first-person perspective of an allegedly true experience of escape artist Harry Houdini. Set in 1910, in Egypt, Houdini finds himself kidnapped by a tour guide, who resembles an ancient Pharaoh, and thrown down a deep hole near the Great Sphinx of Giza. While attempting to find his way out, he stumbles upon a gigantic ceremonial cavern and encounters the real-life deity that inspired the building of the Sphinx. Although he did not believe Houdini's story, Lovecraft nevertheless accepted the job because of the money he was offered in advance by Henneberg. The result was published in the May-June-July 1924 edition of Weird Tales, although it was credited solely to Houdini until the 1939 reprint. Despite Lovecraft's use of artistic license, Houdini enjoyed the tale and collaborated with the author on several smaller projects prior to the latter's death in 1926. "Under the Pyramids" has been suggested as an early influence on author Robert Bloch and as anticipating the cosmic themes in Lovecraft's later work, including The Shunned House.

    Happily, you don't have to pay this kind of cash if you just want to the read the story. Imprisoned with the Pharaohs is included in several Lovecraft collections and in a stand alone booklet.

    Monday, February 13, 2012

    Paul Michael Glaser helps solve a 'Great Houdinis' mystery

    Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting my favorite "Houdini", Paul Michael Glaser, at The Hollywood Show in Burbank, and I was finally able to clear up one of the mysteries about his 1976 TV movie, The Great Houdinis.

    In my Making of The Great Houdinis blog from last year, I noted that the final day of principle photography (May 25, 1976) was planned for the Belmont Amusement Park in San Diego, which was to double for Coney Island. Here a scene in which Harry proposes to Bess (Sally Struthers) aboard a roller coaster would be filmed.

    While it appears in the script and shooting schedule (as well as in the novelization), this scene didn't make it into the final film. Was it cut, or never shot? It seemed unlikely that a TV movie would cut a scene that took this much effort and expense to film, so it was my guess that the scene and location were scrapped and the last day was used instead to complete a schedule that may have run over.

    Even though it was 36 years ago, I figured Mr. Glaser would remember filming a scene aboard a rollar coaster, so I brought the question to him at the show and he was able to confirm that I was correct. The Belmont Amusement Park/Coney Island proposal scene was never shot. "No, we never did that," he said.

    Thank you Paul Michael Glaser for clearing up the mystery. Below is the scene (that never was) as it appears in The Great Houdinis screenplay.

    Click to enlarge

    Death and Harry Houdini extended to April 15

    Having sold out its entire scheduled run within five days of opening, The House Theatre of Chicago is extending Death and Harry Houdini for another month at the Chopin Theatre in Chicago.

    The avant-garde stage show, which features illusionist and actor Dennis Watkins, will now play through Apr. 15. It then moves to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami where it will run April 26 - May 20.


    Silverman on Radner

    Just a heads-up that the February 2012 issue of Genii includes an obituary of Houdini collector Sidney Radner written by Kenneth Silverman (Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss). As you would expect, it's beautifully written tribute. In regards to Radner receiving Houdini's original equipment from Hardeen, it includes this little gem:

    "He believed that Theo, a serious horseplayer, sold off such apparatus to pay gambling debts."

    I believe this is the first time this has ever been acknowledged in print.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012

    Houdini's leading ladies: Gladys Leslie

    Having cast the unknown Jane Connelly as the leading lady in his first independent feature, Houdini would turn to an established actress as his co-star for his next film, Haldane of the Secret Service (1923). Born in New York City on March 5, 1899, Gladys Leslie was a 24-year-old starlet when she played Adele Ormsby in what was to be Houdini's last movie.

    Here is Gladys Leslie's biography on Fandango:

    "The Girl With the Million Dollar Smile" and at one point a rival to Mary Pickford, blonde Gladys Leslie had begun her screen career in the early 1910s as an extra in Edison one-reelers. She became a star with the Thanhouser company in 1916, appearing as winsome waifs in Falstaff brand comedies.
    The following year, she played the youngest daughter of Frederick Warde's The Vicar of Wakefield and starred in the title-role of An Amateur Orphan (1917), a Pickford-esque fairytale filmed on location in upstate New York.
    Switching to Vitagraph, Leslie continued to play dimpled ingenues, but her career was already waning by the early '20s. She always maintained that she would quit films once her bank balance "has mounted high enough" and by 1925 she did just that, apparently never looking back. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

    Gladys Leslie (Moore) died in Boynton Beach, Florida on October 2, 1976 at age 77.


    More Houdini leading ladies:

    Saturday, February 11, 2012

    Houdini's leading ladies: Jane Connelly

    A mystery of Houdini's movie career is why he chose an unknown, first-time film actress as the leading lady in the first feature for his Houdini Picture Corporation, The Man From Beyond (1922).

    We still know almost nothing about Jane Connelly -- who played Felice Strange and her past life incarnation, Felice Norcross -- except that she was born on May 2, 1883 in Port Huron, Michigan, and died on October 25, 1925 in Los Angeles. She only made one other appearance in a film, Sherlock Jr., for which she was uncredited. Even more perplexing is that Connelly was 38 when she was cast in The Man From Beyond, which made her an unlikely starlet in the silent era which saw ingenues as young as 15.

    So why after working with established names like Ann Forrest and Lila Lee did Houdini go for a complete unknown? It's possible the budget was limited by his choice of emerging star Nita Naldi to play the vamp in the film. It's also possible Houdini knew Connelly from the past, as she was have said to have performed in Vaudeville with her husband, Erwin Connelly (who played Dr. Gregory Sinclair in the film).

    But another, much stranger answer can be found in The Man From Beyond pressbook. In an article titled "Houdini's Perplexing Problem" it says that the production was "confronted with the strange problem that Houdini had to solve in order to engage the proper type of leading woman to support him." It continues:

    The story of "The Man from Beyond," dealing with the theory of reincarnation, the psychic type was required for the leading feminine role. Houdini, determined to secure exactly this type, made composite photographs of Paladena and Eva Fay, Mrs. Piper, the Gohlier Girl and Mme. Tomychik, names, all of them, that are familiar in the field of psychic phenomena.

    Equipped with this composite photograph, Houdini knew exactly what was needed in the way of type for his leading woman and after a long and exhaustive search through all the available talent among screen leading women, he selected Jane Connelly as being precisely the type required to interpret the role.

    So much like the composite photograph was Miss Connelly's own portrait that it seemed as if she had posed for it.

    Pretty wild, eh? And while this could just be typical ballyhoo (The Man From Beyond pressbook is filled with references to reincarnation, psychic matters, and even pro-spiritualist remarks), it does explain the unusual choice, and in light of my recent posts about Houdini's apparent belief in reincarnation, maybe he really did cast Connelly for her "psychic" quality.

    Or maybe she was just willing to work cheap and didn't mind getting wet.


    Friday, February 10, 2012

    Bessie's two graves

    Tomorrow marks the 69th anniversary of the death of Beatrice "Bess" Houdini on February 11, 1943. She passed away aboard a train bound for New York as it arrived in the town of Needles, CA. For the occasion, I thought I'd take a look at the question of her two gravesites.

    Bessie's first grave is the one that was prepared for her in life. Inscribed on Houdini's tombstone in Machpelah Cemetary in Queens, NY, is Bess's full name, Wilhelmina Beatrice, her birth year, and the year of her death which as you can see in the pic below has not been carved. That's because despite Houdini's wishes, Bess was not buried alongside him in the Weiss family plot.


    Instead Bess was buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York. The reason for this has never been made 100% clear, but it's said that her family wanted her buried in a Catholic cemetery (consecrated ground and all that). Some have said Machpelah wouldn't allow Bess to be buried there, but from what I've read online, Jewish cemeteries do allow the burial of non-Jewish spouses.

    According to David Charvet's superb article on Bess in Magic (Oct 1995), Bess's sister Marie claimed "that Bess had re-embraced Catholicism on her deathbed." So if it was Bess's wish to be buried in a Catholic cemetery instead of Machpelah, so be it. But if it wasn't, I think it's sad that religion, which did not prevent Harry and Bess from falling in love and getting married in 1894, would separate them in eternity.

    Nevertheless, Bessie does have an attractive headstone in Gate of Heaven, and she's in good company with such notables as Babe Ruth, James Cagney, New York mayor Jimmy Walker, and Houdini's friend and associate Fulton Oursler nearby.


    Thanks to Joe Fox for the photo of Bess's Gates of Heaven headstone.

    Reminder: Meet Paul Michael Glaser this weekend

    The legendary Paul Michael Glaser will be appearing at The Hollywood Show in Burbank, CA this weekend, Feb 11-12. Glaser is taking part in a Starsky and Hutch reunion, but of course we know him as Houdini himself from the 1976 television movie, The Great Houdinis.

    The Hollywood Show is held at the Burbank Airport Marriott Hotel & Convention Center at 2500 North Hollywood Way. For show information and full list of the other attendees, check out the official Hollywood Show website.

    Link: Magic Castle Battles Back From a Halloween Fire. Was it a Message From Houdini?

    The L.A. Weekly has an article about the Magic Castle fire last Halloween that plays up the Houdini connection, except they've added a fresh detail in pointing out that 126 fire fighters showed up to battle the blaze (Houdini died at 1:26 in 1926). Spooky! Hit the headline to have a read at L.A. Weekly.

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    Houdini comes home to Wisconsin


    Houdini: Art and Magic, the popular traveling exhibition of Houdini artifacts and artwork, opens this weekend at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in Madison, Wisconsin.

    The museum will hold a special opening night celebration tomorrow, February 10, from 6 to 9 pm. The evening will include a talk by the exhibition's curator, Brooke Kamin Rapaport, at 6:30 pm in the museum's lecture hall, followed by live music from Yid Vicious, roaming magicians, Fresco hors d’ouevres, and a cash bar. The evening is free for MMoCA members and $10 for nonmembers.

    MMoCA's Museum Store will also celebrate Houdini: Art and Magic with a special "Magic Annex". Shoppers will find magic tricks, books and DVDs, posters, and other merchandise sure to please Houdini fans, amateur magicians, and lovers of illusion. And don't forget you can also still buy the exhibition's beautiful book.

    Houdini Art and Magic will be on show at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art from February 11 to May 13, 2012. This will be the exhibition's final stop in a tour which has included New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

    For a full list of special related events, visit the Houdini Art and Magic page at the MMoCA website.

    'Houdini' makes it onto 'SSX - Deadly Descents'

    RTT News reports that Foster the People's song, Houdini, will be included on the soundtrack for EA Games' SSX - Deadly Descents, a new snowboarding video game in the popular SSX series from Electronic Arts. The SSX soundtracks feature music from popular artists across different genres.

    You can listen to Foster the People's Houdini on YouTube. For more information on the SSX series visit the Electronic Arts website.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    Happy birthday Edward Saint

    Today is the birthday of Edward Saint, who was born Charles David Myers on February 8, 1890.

    Saint lived a colorful life as a carnival barker and performer until he met the widowed Beatrice Houdini in 1930 and became her manager and companion. Some claim Bess and Ed were actually married, but kept it a secret so as not to tarnish Bessie's marketable "Madame Houdini" image.

    Saint worked tirelessly to promote Houdini legacy and was the driving force behind the Final Houdini Seance in 1936. He died of pneumonia on October 22, 1942 at the age of 52 (same age as Houdini when he died).

    Recently I went in search of the final resting place of Ed Saint with several other Houdini buffs. You can watch our adventure here.

    Happy birthday, Ed!

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    When Houdini went LIVE


    After Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone's vault live on TV in April of 1986 (and found nothing), there was a brief explosion of "Live" television events that hoped to capture some of the rating magic enjoyed by the Capone show. One of these was The Search for Houdini, a two-hour magic variety show and seance created by Dick Mincer and Ken Ehrlich and broadcast "Live from Los Angeles" on Halloween 1987.

    The show was hosted by William Shatner, who made the much-hyped broadcast somewhat of a debacle with unwelcome ad-libs, flubs, and a general attitude of joking ridicule toward the evening's proceedings. Nevertheless, there are some highlights, such as a terrific comedic "Tribute to Houdini" performed by Penn & Teller; an eerie buried alive escape by Steve Shawn; James Randi's bizarre hospital bed bound participation in the seance (Joe Fox tells me this was all an act); and Charlotte Pendragon's famous wardrobe malfunction during Metamorphosis, which Shatner made certain did not go unnoticed.

    The seance itself was treated seriously, at least by the table participants, as it was Sidney Radner's Official Houdini Seance for that year. Houdini failed to appear (can you blame him?), however the spirit of Houdini must have gotten into William Shatner, who in 1992 co-authored Believe, a "novel of psychic adventure" featuring Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

    You can view Penn & Teller's segment from The Search for Houdini below. This has everything that makes Penn & Teller my favorite magic act, then and now.

    Titan brings back 'The Harry Houdini Mysteries'


    Titan Books reprints of Daniel Stashower's first two "Harry Houdini Mysteries" are released today.

    The Dime Museum Murders was first published in 1999 and The Floating Lady Murder was first published in 2000. These new editions sport nice new uniform cover art. They are also available for the Kindle.

    Daniel Stashower's final Houdini Mystery, The Houdini Specter, will be released on June 12, 2012.

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Get 'Edge of the Unknown' on iBooks and meet the author at WonderCon

    Having had only a limited printing in 2010, the Houdini graphic novel Edge of the Unknown by Jon Vinson and Marco Roblin is making its "Southern California Premiere" at WonderCon in Anaheim: March 16th, 17th, and 18th, 2012.

    Originally published as a 4-part comic book series under Vinson’s DIY imprint: DUB Comics, the Collected Edition Edge Of The Unknown brings together the complete series in one graphic novel, plus 8 additional pages of annotated historical notes and a gallery of the 4 original covers.

    Writer/publisher Jon Vinson will be signing books and meeting fans in the Small Press Area of the Anaheim Convention Center during WonderCon. He will have copies of the graphic novel on sale for $18, as well as showing exclusive sneak previews of his upcoming books, including Edge Of The Unknown 2.

    Edge of the Unknown is also now available for download via iTunes and the iBookstore for $5.99. This electronic version can be read using iBooks on an iPad, iPhone (3G or later), or iPod touch (2nd generation or later). You can download the first issue as a free sample.

    Edge Of The Unknown is set in Hollywood in 1923 and finds Houdini, Arthur Conan Doyle, and H.P. Lovecraft investigating a series of grisly cult-like murders. It's a very well crafted Noir mystery with a nice dash of the supernatural and is extremely well researched with many nods to L.A. landmarks both familiar and obscure. (You can read my full review here).

    Translate

    Receive updates via email