Friday, May 31, 2013

Houdini's secrets for just $5

Gary Hunt of Magic Footnotes shares with us this curious article from the Boston Journal, February 17, 1909. It tells of a woman who found herself facing mail fraud for selling "secrets of Houdini's tricks for five dollars." Five dollars in 1909 would be equivalent of $128.00 today.

Boston Journal, Feb. 17, 1909.

I can't help but wonder whether Houdini himself was responsible for this article. This smells like the kind of story Houdini would plant to keep his name before the public and also expose some methods of his imitators. And the references to the "enormous quantity of mail" this generated is craftily complimentary. However, Gary points out that Houdini was in Eurpope at this time.

I wonder what a copy of Miss Rice's Houdini Secrets would sell for today? Probably $5.00.

Thank you Gary.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Houdini photo frees up $364 on eBay

This sensational 5x7 photo of a young Houdini escaping from a roped chair sold on eBay yesterday for $364. I knew this one was going to fetch a nice price, and I wasn't wrong. On the back is written: "Houdini removing rope from around his neck to prevent strangulation." This is almost exactly the caption that appears on this photo in Kellock. There the photo is credited to "Coover and Rasmussen, San Francisco" and dated 1898 (likely a mistake -- Houdini was in SF in 1899).

It's intriguing to think this might be the original source photo for that book. The seller states this is from the 1920s, but after Houdini's death. Kellock was published in 1928.


Congrats to the winner of this beautiful, and potentially historic, photo.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

LINK: Grand illusions - The collection of Timothy Moore

Want to see Houdini's top hat? Of course you do.

Robert-Houdin unmasked on Kindle

Houdini's controversial 1908 book The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin has been released for Amazon's Kindle. I believe this marks the first appearance of Unmasking as an eBook.

While Houdini's attack on Robert-Houdin as "the prince of pilferers" hasn't found many supporters over the years, the book is still an excellent history of pre-20th century magic with many rare illustrations.

The cover art for this new Kindle edition features the statue of Robert-Houdin in front of his home in Blois, France. This somewhat echoes the original cover which featured a bust of Robert-Houdin. I'd love to see this cover on a print edition.

Purchase The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin for the Kindle on Amazon.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Terror Island available for streaming

Houdini's 1920 silent feature film, Terror Island, is now available for streaming via Amazon Instant Video. I believe this is the first Houdini movie to be made available for steaming, which means you can watch it on computers, phones, and tablets.

The version offered here is from the 2008 Kino box set, Houdini The Movie Star, which collects all of Houdini's available silent films along with rare footage of his real escapes. The steaming page features this unique Kino Terror Island artwork.

It's kind of satisfying to see Houdini's movies being offered via the most modern methods of film distribution.

Click here to stream Terror Island via Amazon Instant Video (Amazon Prime members can stream for free).

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Inside the Copperfield collection

Check out this interview with David Copperfield from CBS News. It includes a nice look inside his magic collection in Las Vegas with its formidable Houdini section. I'm not sure how long this video will be available, so enjoy it now.



You can see photos from this segment, including some very nice shots of the USD and Mirror Handcuffs, here.

International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts

Mirror Handcuffs among "101 Objects That Changed the World"

The Mirror Handcuffs were featured on The History Channel's 101 Objects That Changed the World this week. Houdini's famous challenge cuffs came in at #73, right between The Wedding Ring (#74) and Dorothy's Ruby Slippers (#72).

I didn't catch the show myself, but the fine folks over at Handcuffs.org say the program featured current Mirror owner David Copperfield showing off the original cuffs, keys, and display board in his Las Vegas magic collection. Hopefully the show will repeat.

And in case you're wondering, object #1 was The Bible.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Progress report on new Houdini Plaza


The Appleton Post-Crescent has posted the first photo of the new fountain that fronts the nearly finished Houdini Plaza in Appleton, Wisconsin. Construction started on January 22. Jennifer Stephany, executive director of Appleton Downtown Inc., tells the news site:

"It's an exciting for us and to watch the renovation of Houdini Plaza from Day 1 to where we are today has been really exciting for the entire downtown. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with us all that well in the early part of the year, so we are a little behind. The construction crews and contractors are all working very hard to catch up.
We’re probably looking at about a 15-day delay at this point, so that’s going to adjust a few of our events. Our hope is July 3, that we are up and running for a great concert with RPM in the plaza."

Houdini Plaza is located at the corner of College Avenue and Appleton Street and is said to be the site of Houdini's boyhood home. More information on the project can be found at appletondowntown.org.


By the way, it was exactly 28 years ago today that the original Houdini Plaza was dedicated on Saturday, May 25, 1985.

mooncostumes.com

Friday, May 24, 2013

LINK: Clementine – one of the first Handcuff Queens

Gary Hunt's Magic Footnotes has a very intersing post about Clementina Starr a.k.a. Clementine, one of first female escape artists on record. The post includes a June 19, 1899 article in the Denver Evening Post about Clementine's escape from handcuffs at a police station. This is before Houdini achieved stardom, so I don't think we can classify Clementine as a Houdini imitator. She was an original. Click the headline to have a read at the very fine Magic Footnotes.

Houdini comes to life this Saturday at Landhaven B&B

The Reading Eagle reports that actor Ken Freehill will present the lives of Harry Houdini and George Burns in a one-man show this Saturday, May 25, at the Landhaven Bed & Breakfast, near Barto, Pennsylvania.

Owned and operated by Ed and Donna Land, the historic B&B is known for its house concerts presented in a side room that was formerly a general store. The space accommodates 100 spectators.

Actor Ken Freehill is from Dallas, Texas, and previously performed at Landhaven as Theodore Roosevelt and Edgar Allan Poe.

Freehill said the premise of his 45-minute show is Harry Houdini at a press conference debunking a medium. He said certain members of the audience are given questions to ask, prompting stories that highlight details of his life.

During the performance Freehill does three tricks -- one of mind reading, one sleight of hand and a handcuff escape.

The Landhaven Bed & Breakfast is located at 1194 Huff's Church Road. Admission is free, but reservations are requested.

For more information visit: www.landhavenbandb.com

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Even I wouldn't go this far

This bumper sticker recently cycled unsold on eBay. The seller described it as being from the 1970s and rare. I've never seen this before. Pretty weird.


UPDATE: I just bought it. Maybe I would go this far.

UK Houdini play teases stage concept

The new play, Houdini, set to open in the UK on September 9, 2013, has been doing a great job with online promotion via Twitter, Facebook, and an official website. They also have a presence on Instagram and recently posted this photo with the caption: "Sneaky pic of stage concept ;)". I like what I see!

houdinitheplay on Instagram

Houdini focus on the early years of Harry and his brother, Theo. It's produced by Theatre Giant and directed by Peter Snee. Concept artwork for the play has been developed with Peter Jackson's WETA Workshop based in New Zealand.

The cast includes Evanna Lynch as Bess and Stuart Brennan (who also wrote the script) as Theo. The producers are "still looking for the perfect Harry."

Visit the www.houdinitheplay.com for all the details and latest news on the production.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Houdini returns to Truro

Bruce MacNab, author of Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, will be giving a talk about "Houdini in Truro" tomorrow, May 23, 2013, at the Colchester Historeum, 29 Young Street, Truro, Canada.

Houdini himself performed at Truro's Gunn Opera House during his tour of the Canadian Maritimes in 1896. The Houdinis ill-fated tour with the Marco Magic Company is the subject of Bruce's remarkable book.


Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini can be purchased on Amazon. You can read my review of the book here.

You can also read a recent profile of Bruce and his Houdini work at the Truro Daily News.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Remembering Brother Houdini

Recently I nabbed on eBay this February 1988 issue of the Masonic journal, Knight Templar, which contains Part 2 of an article about "Brother Houdini" by Sir Knight C. Clark Julius, York Commandrey No. 21, York, Pennsylvania (that's all Mason stuff). The cover features an uncommon shot of our favorite freemason in full Master Mystifier regalia. Nice.


Houdini was a member of the Cecile Lodge No 568 in New York City. He received his Masonic degrees on July 17, July 31, and August 21, 1923. He became a life member on October 30, 1923, and a member of the Mecca Shrine Temple in New York City only weeks before his death in October 1926.

The article in this magazine is called Escape and Survive and is a biography of Houdini with a few curious additions. Among them is the "rumor" that following Houdini's escape from the Siberian Transport Prison Cell in Russia, "several secret police officers were executed as a result." (!)

That's news to me; but who am I to question an ancient Order.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Houdini movie mystery

Bill Mullins over at the Genii forum has shared a very interesting discovery from a December 27, 1920 issue of the Gettysburg Times. This is an ad for what appears to be an unknown movie starring Houdini called The Marked Woman. Has Bill found evidence of a long lost Houdini film?


Maybe not. Bill suggests (and I concur) that this is actually Houdini's 1918-19 serial, The Mastery Mystery, recut into a 5-reel feature. The mention of supporting player Ruth Stonehouse is a giveaway.

Below is a second ad for The Marked Woman from a December 1920 Winona MN Republican-Herald. It shows even more cast members from The Master Mystery, including leading lady Margaret Marsh. However there are a few actors named here who are not in the Houdini serial. Certainly silent star Ruth Roland is not in The Master Mystery. So is The Marked Woman some kind of combination of the Houdini and Roland serials?


I suspect Houdini was unaware of The Marked Woman. The practice of recutting movies to sell as "new" attractions went on in the days of silent cinema. In fact, the only reason we have the famous plane crash footage from Houdini's The Grim Game is that it survived as one of these recut jobs -- in that case the footage was made into a short film called Desperate Chances.

Of course, it would be great to somehow find a print of The Marked Woman. The existing print of The Master Mystery is far from complete. Might The Marked Woman contain some of that missing footage?

Thank you Bill.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pausing Houdini

Here's a nice paused moment from the 1953 movie Houdini in which star Tony Curtis points to a collection of real Houdini artifacts and Hollywood mock-ups.

"Everybody knows who I am, Mama. Look at those!"

The yellow Metamorphosis poster behind Curtis is based on a real woodcut The Houdinis used early in their career. A mock-up King of Cards poster is in the upper left corner. Below that is a photo poster of Curtis/Houdini emerging from a safe based loosely on Houdini's Slander in Germany litho. The black and white photos on the table are real shots of Houdini's overboard box and suspended straitjacket escapes in New York. The display cases up front were made for the film but contain real Houdini handcuffs from the Dunninger collection.

UPDATE: I've turned the above shot into my first meme and posted it to the WILD ABOUT HARRY Facebook page. Please give it a look, like, and a share.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Handcuff King's blog: Shipwrecked

When Houdini first toured Europe during his early fame as The Handcuff King, he penned a regular column for the New York Dramatic Mirror. The columns are filled with wonderful tidbits about variety performers of the day, and also contain many revealing opinions and slice-of-life gems about Houdini himself. In a way, these can be read as if they are Houdini's own personal blog -- The Handcuff King's blog.

I'm going to conclude this series with some advice from Houdini for all you American singers, comedians, magicians, jugglers, loopers, hoopers, ventriloquists, cakewalkers, animal trainers, clay modelers, contortionists, and, yes, even escape artists, who are looking to make their names and fortunes in Europe.

It's November 12, 1903, and Houdini writes to us from foggy London:

I arrived safe and sound in England and walked around the streets of London so as to become accustomed to the foggy air. While strolling about Leicester Square, I discovered quite a few "shipwrecked" American acts. When I say "shipwrecked," I mean acts that hail from America that failed to obtain a prolongation of contract, or that came over without being booked. I think that it is only fair and just to let Mirror readers know that you have to make good in England, just the same as in any other country, and if you have a hankering to come over and cut your "capers," you should also be prepared to "do or die." Out of respect and good fellow-feeling the failures are never mentioned, and you only hear of the acts that have made good. So if you wish to come over to England, it is a good idea to have some agent book your act up for a run of six or eight months, and then you don't have to make good. You will work your contracts, and that is your finish, as an English contract is almost as good as so much money.

Houdini knew first-hand the hazard of being "shipwrecked" in England. Legend says Houdini and Bess gambled on making it in Europe and set out with no bookings and only $20 cash in their pockets. But in truth, the European trip was the idea of Martin Beck, Houdini's new manager, who had successfully shaped Houdini's act and booked him on his Orpheum vaudeville circuit in 1899.

Beck entrusted Harry's advanced European bookings to an international agent, Richard Pitrot, was supposed to travel with Harry and Bess to England. But Pitrot stood them up on the dock, and when Harry and Bess landed in the UK, they found that no contracts had been secured. They were "shipwrecked."

It took a handcuff escape at Scotland Yard (maybe true) and several auditions (definitely true) to convince C. Dundas Slater, the manager of the Alhambra Theater in Leicester Square, to give "The Handcuff King" a trial run.

The rest is history.


Also enjoy:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Two recent arrivals

Here are two recent additions to my Houdini book collection (which, ironically, use the same photo of Houdini on their covers). While maybe nothing new to hardcore Houdinites, these are both fairly uncommon books, so I thought I share these finds.


First up is Houdini Houdini, a book of poetry by Lynn Luria-Sukenick published by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center in 1982. A few of theses poems appeared in other publications, including the more common, Houdini, a chapbook published by Capra Press in 1973. But Houdini Houdini collects all of Luria-Sukenick's Houdini-inspired poetry. I've been looking for this one for quite a while. My search ended thanks to the good folks at Artisan Books & Bindery.

Next up is a book that is entirely new to me. This is a Russian Houdini biography by Nicholas Nadezhdin published in 2010 by Major. This is not a translation of an existing Houdini biography (for example, Russian Silverman), this book is original to Russia. The title translates to Harry Houdini: "Just a wizard." What new findings might be contained in these pages? I don't know because it's all in Russian!

"Just a wizard" is jam-packed with photos. All of the photos are familiar and appear to have been collected largely from the Library of Congress online archive. However, there is a shot on page 153 of Houdini and Bess with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that I'm not sure I've ever seen before.

Of course, when talking about Houdini foreign editions, one has to mention Arthur Moses, who has the most complete collection of Houdini foreign editions in the world, and it was Arthur who supplied me with this Russian rarity.

Be sure and check out WILD ABOUT HARRY's Bibliography for a complete (as possible) list of books about our favorite "Wizard."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Two mysteries: Hardeen's partner and a lost patriotic poster


While researching my Handcuff King's blog series (watch for the final installment, "Shipwrecked", coming soon), I came across two curious items in Houdini's Dramatic Mirror column that I thought I'd single out here for closer examination.

The first involves his brother, Theo. Hardeen, whom Houdini set-up in show business during this time. In his April 29, 1905 column, Houdini writes:

Theodore Hardeen is in Paris and shortly returns to England. He has separated from his partner, and will in the future work alone.

Hardeen had a partner?

It's possible Houdini is referring to Hardeen's original female assistant, Miss Trixy, who worked with Hardeen in his version of Metamorphosis. As with the rest of his act, Houdini supplied Hardeen with "Miss Trixy" (a name Houdini would use again for a female escape artist he set-up in Germany). Miss Trixy can be spotted on the early Hardeen poster above. If we believe this image, it looks like not only did she play Bessie's part in Metamorphosis, but she also wore the same costume.

The next concerns a favorite topic here at WILD ABOUT HARRY, lost posters. On March 5, 1903 Houdini writes from Hanover, Germany:

I have had a new lithograph made and have had a small American flag put in the corner. Now everybody thinks that I am a German for no American ever has the American flag on a litho.

What litho could Houdini be talking about here? I can't think of any Houdini posters that have a small American flag in the corner. There is the poster below (from Ken Silverman's Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss) with the Great Seal of the United States in the corner. But because this poster depicts his Washington D.C. jail escape in 1906 (in which he escaped from the death row cell of presidential assassin Charles Guiteau), it can't be the poster Houdini is talking about in 1903.


So we have evidence of a lost Houdini poster, made in 1903, possibly in Germany. Let the search commence!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Master Mystery unlocks $545

The photoplay edition of Houdini's 1918 serial The Master Mystery by Arthur B. Reeve and John W. Grey sold recently on eBay for $545. Copies of The Master Mystery do show up on eBay from time to time, but it's rare to see one that's still in the original dust-jacket.


Reprints of The Master Mystery can be purchased on Amazon. An eBook version for the Kindle is currently available for free. Unfortunately, none of these modern reprints think to feature Houdini on their covers.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Houdini on the ropes

Here's a series of rare photos of Houdini freeing himself from a roped chair. These come courtesy of mega collector Arthur Moses and are quintessential shots of Houdini in action. Enjoy.





Thank you Arthur!

Don't forget that Arthur's collection and Houdini voice recordings are featured in this month's issue of MAGIC Magazine.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Here's to the moms

Bess Houdini with her mother, Balbina Rahner, and mother-in-law, Cecelia Weiss, in 1909. The Houdinis took their mothers to Europe that year. By all accounts the two moms, who were both German-speaking widows with seven children, got along extremely well.

Happy Mother's Day.

Photo from Houdini His Legend and His Magic by Doug Henning.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Wimbledon holds The Seance, May 21-25

The Carlton Dramatic Society presents a new Houdini-themed play by Kristen McGorry, The Seance, at the New Wimbledon Studio in the UK, May 21-25. Here's a description:

The Seance is a theatrical project that blurs the lines between reality and drama. Join Maliphant and his Dark Circus as they take you on a Spiritualistic adventure. An evening of magic, mind-reading and mystery, where we will attempt to answer the question that has raged for centuries. Is there life after death? Two friends sit on opposing sides of the debate. The world famous magician and medium-debunker Houdini, and creator of Sherlock Holmes and Spiritualist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Together, with the help of medium Helena Fox, they embark upon an experiment. One last séance to conjure up evidence of something beyond the veil. But what begins as parlour tricks and sideshow illusion, soon takes a more sinister turn. Something wicked this way comes and it will not rest until the players have the proofs they seek. Can anyone survive the night's entertainment?

The Seance stars Richard Gladwell as Houdini, Richard Vaughan-Payne as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Toni Conyers as Bess, and Debbie Fowler as Lady Conan Doyle.

Tickets can be purchased now at ATG Tickets.

Thanks to Harry Houdini Mysteries author Daniel Stashower for the alert.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Huell + Houdini = Amazin!

I loved Huell Howser and was deeply saddened when he passed away in January at age 67. For those who don't know, Huell Howser was a Southern California institution with his local PBS programs California's Gold and Visiting. His folksy and friendly manner was his signature (as was his tendency to find the most mundane things "amazin'!"), and his low-tech but always interesting and relentlessly positive shows were true comfort food TV. I really miss Huell.

In 2006 Huell visited the workshop of top illusion builder John Gaughan in Glendale, California. It was episode #1031 of Visiting and was simply called Magician.

During Huell's visit he encountered two pieces of Houdini apparatus. The first was John's beautiful reproduction of Houdini's original Water Torture Cell. Unfortunately, John did not identify the cell as being Houdini's most famous escape. Instead he only called it a "stage illusion" for a "magician." This is a shame because Huell -- who was once utterly captivated by a dog that eats Avocados -- would have certainly had a strong reaction this this amazin' piece of magic history. Instead, Huell didn't really give the cell all that much attention.

The only reason I can think that John wouldn't explain the significance of the cell is that this might have been during the time there was some controversy over the existence of the reproduction. Perhaps John didn't want to draw too much attention to the cell.

However, later in the show, Huell did spot the name of Houdini on a trunk in John's collection and was instantly drawn to it. Once again John didn't really provide much information. Perhaps it's just the nature of an illusion builder to be the keeper of secrets.

You can see both Houdini-Huell moments in the video clip below from the WILD ABOUT HARRY YouTube Channel. Enjoy.

History's Houdini will be 2-day event

Ad sales president Mel Berning gave the A+E Networks upfront presentation at Lincoln Center on Wednesday night and officially announced their Houdini miniseries starring Adrien Brody. One piece of new information is that History plans to broadcast the miniseries over two nights. According to TV Guide:

Adrien Brody will also star as Houdini in a two-day miniseries about the escape artist. A premiere date was not announced.

Houdini is being produced for History by veteran TV producer Gerald W. Abrams. Read more about the project here.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Handcuff King's blog: A night at the opera and a day in Liverpool

When Houdini first toured Europe during his early fame as The Handcuff King, he penned a regular column for the New York Dramatic Mirror. The columns are filled with wonderful tidbits about variety performers of the day, and also contain many revealing opinions and slice-of-life gems about Houdini himself. In a way, these can be read as if they are Houdini's own personal blog -- The Handcuff King's blog.

Houdini's letters and diaries reveal that he could be at times quite introspective and also a keen observer of people. He was able to express what he saw and felt quite well. Happily, he also had these moments while writing his column for the Dramatic Mirror.

Below are a couple of passages that reveal the inner Houdini. I love this kind of thing because while we know what Houdini did, it's rare to be able to get inside his head and see how he saw the world around him.

First up, Houdini writes from Dresden, Saxony on October 30, 1903:

At last I have managed to see an opera here in Saxony, and at the Hof Opera House, which means Royal Opera House. I took in Fra Diavolo. The name makes me think of a "Loop the Loop" act, but it was nothing of the kind. The night I saw the opera the house was not well filled, and during the intermission to my astonishment I saw ladies in full evening dress unwrapping ham sandwiches from newspapers and calmly eating them in the vestibule. As all looked as if they belonged to the "400," it was a better sight to me than watching the opera. It looked to me like a small-sized comic opera in the vestibules to see all the well-dressed ladies eating their belegter brodchens, and they seemed to enjoy themselves.

While the above showed an amusingly observational Houdini, the following shows how he could also be introspective and even melancholy. It also suggests a man who might have been haunted by the fear of falling back into the poverty that he had escapes only a few short years before.

On December 5, 1904, Houdini writes from Brighton in the UK:

While walking in Liverpool I looked into a pawnshop and a large American eagle on top of a medal caught my eye. It was the once celebrated medal worth about $3,500, that was given to the minstrel man Sam I. Hague. It bears the inscription: "presented to Sam Hague by a few friends that know him. St. James Hall. Liverpool. May 20, 1875." It tells a mournful tale, lying there in the window, of a once famous minstrel. He has been dead a few years and always refused to part with this while living, but now that he has gone his widow has been forced to part with this once cherished trinket. Seeing this medal in the window brought back to my mind the medals that are pawned in New York with a well-known "uncle" in the Bowery, who displays with pride presentation cups, loving chains and championship prizes of all sorts. Many a time I have walked to this place and looked at the silent remembrances of past favorites and never have I forgotten the fact that "life is but and empty dream."

Ironically, when Houdini died, his own widow had money troubles and a healthy collection of trophies and prsenations cups from Houdini's storied career. But while Bess sold the house at 278 and part of Houdini's book collection, she held onto the trophies. Perhaps she knew all too well Houdini's fear of ending up a symbol of "life's empty dream" in the window of a Bowery pawn shop.

Coming next: Shipwrecked.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Great Houdini reappears as an eBook

In 1999 The Great Houdini by Alan London played a limited run at The Stella Adler Theater in Hollywood. The London Theater Works production starred Jim Bentley as Houdini and Kim Lores as Bess. I was fortunate enough to see this play and I enjoyed it very much. I especially enjoyed seeing Jim perform the Milk Can -- the only time I've seen the Milk Can performed live (it's pretty harrowing).

Now you can discover (or rediscover) The Great Houdini as an eBook available on Amazon. Here's the description:

THE GREAT HOUDINI
A Play in Two Acts

The newspaper headlines are being barked, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Houdini dies! Death ends career of the King of Magic". At least that's what the headlines read. What they didn't tell you is that on this very day, the Eve of Halloween, as his body is being prepared for his final resting place, the irate spirit of Houdini wanders the stage of his last performance before his untimely death. He's not expecting much - after all he's dead. But a scruffy young runaway he encounters is not. The lad is evading a thug he swindled while performing a con. Houdini's last challenge is to unlock the young boys imagination and set him on the straight and narrow. He must do this in order for him to be united with his dearly departed mother, which for years he had attempted to do by attending séances. However, the boy has other ideas. Houdini takes the boy through his struggles from early childhood, to performance in seedy vaudeville shows, to meeting and performing tricks and escape with his wife, and finally leading up to his final performance. The boy finally learns from his mentor, thus allowing Houdini to be united with his mother. The boy turns out to be another prominent figure that is only divulged at the end (Orson Welles).

Purchase The Great Houdini eBook on Amazon.

Speaking of The Great Houdini, check out the blog A Note From Paul Gross about the making of the props for this production.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Italian edition of The Right Way to Do Wrong

Houdini's The Right Way to Do Wrong has been republished in a new Italian edition by ADD Editore as Il modo giusto di sbagliare.

The book includes an introduction by Italian singer Lorenzo "Jovanotti" Cherubini (odd choice). Translation is by A. Maestrini. Cover art uses Houdini's well-known Europe's Eclipsing Sensation poster.

I don't have the book in hand, so I'm not sure whether this is Houdini's original 1906 book or a translation of the new collection of Houdini's writings published under this same name recently by The Neversink Library.

You can purchase Il modo giusto di sbagliare from Amazon.it or Amazon.co.uk.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A new twist in Houdini vs. Houdina


The story of Houdini's altercation at the Houdina Company in New York is well-known. It's a Rashomon-like tale in which, according to the owners, Houdini burst into their office wild-eyed, accused them of using his name, and started to break the place apart.

Houdini's version of the story is that he and his secretary, Oscar Teale, went down to the Houdina office to object to the use of the name because he was receiving their bills. He was threatened by four "Gorillas" and a scuffle broke out.

Said Houdini, "Two of the men started towards me and two were behind. Teale was thrown up against the wall, staggering. Had no idea I was smashing up chandeliers. All I thought was to save myself. I picked up a chair and acted in real life the scenes that I have portrayed before the camera."

The incident made the New York Times on July 22, 1925:


But now our friend Dean Carnegie at The Magic Detective has uncovered a remarkable third version of the story. Dean has been in contact with the son of Francis P. Houdina (a fictitious name) who says the entire thing was staged!

You'll have to visit Dean's site to read the details of this latest twist in our Rashomon tale, but this is a major discovery. My only reservation is that, as you can read above, the incident resulted in legal action. Sure, Houdini frequently staged events...but to involve the legal system in a publicity stunt? Seems even Houdini wouldn't have crossed that line.

Nevertheless, Dean's evidence is compelling and this is a true scoop, so click on over and read Clearing the name of HOUDINA at The Magic Detective.

Is this Nathan Weiss?

This curious cabinet photo was recently listed on eBay as being Houdini's brother, Nathan Weiss. The seller notes that written on the back is: "Nathan Weiss, brother Houdinì 1904."


The photo was listed twice for $89 and did not sell, probably because this doesn't look much like Nathan. Below is a shot of the Weiss brothers probably around 1910. Nathan is the heavyset brother on the end.

Leo, Theo, Harry, Bill and Nathan.

What do we think? Is this Nathan? If not, why the writing on the back?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Brody talks Houdini

This is Guernsey has the first comments from actor Adrien Brody about his starring role in the upcoming History Channel miniseries, Houdini.

"We are in the beginning stages of that, but it’s very exciting and I have a lot of work ahead of me. There’s a tremendous amount of research necessary to play an actual character, who is someone well-known and loved and revered In interpreting someone like Houdini, there are a lot of specifics that goes beyond imagination in that sense and there are a lot of details that need to be incorporated, and have to become essentially a part of me in order for me to interpret and portray him faithfully."

Houdini is being produced for History by veteran TV producer Gerald W. Abrams (J.J. Abrams' father). Read more about the project here.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Rare 1986 Houdini documentary available on DVD


In 1986 Wisconsin PBS produced what I think is still one of the better Houdini documentaries. The 30 minute doc features many unpublished photos (below is a screencap of one) and provides a nice look inside the Sidney Radner collection at his home in Holyoke. Watch Sid page through Houdini's crumbling first scrapbook and try to yank a pair of handcuffs from a massive tangle of cuffs in an old suitcase! Wild stuff.

The documentary also features wonderful footage of Doug Henning performing Metamorphosis in Appleton's Houdini Plaza, and nice footage of the Houdini Hall of Fame in Canada. We also get the full story of how Harry Blackstone's overboard box wound up in the basement of 278, as told by Harry Blackstone Jr. The documentary also contains what might be the first ever on-camera interview with Marie Blood, giving us a nice look inside her home with photos of her "Uncle Harry" covering one wall.

And apart from making the common narrative error of conflating Houdini's mother's death with his anti-spiritualist crusade (and thereby jumping over 10 years of his life), the documentary does a very good job of getting the facts right.

The documentary was first released on VHS in 1988 by Congress Home Video as Houdini: The Greatest Illusionist of All Time (which you can still buy on Amazon). In 2008 Chip Taylor Communications released this digitally enhanced DVD which, believe it or not, I only now discovered.

Chip Taylor sells their DVDs with various licenses, including broadcast, but the most requested is for "Home/Personal Use," which is how you can get a copy of Houdini for $24.95.

Just click on over to Chip Taylor Communications and email for details on how to order and arrange payment.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Houdini and The Doctor meet again!


While Houdini has been name-checked several times on the BBC series, Doctor Who (celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year), it has always surprised me that the Time Lord and the Handcuff King have never been directly teamed-up in any TV, book, or audio adventure.

Happily, this changed back in December with an online short story posted on the official Doctor Who website called, Houdini and The Space Cuckoos. But now we have an even more substantial Who-dini mash-up with Destiny of the Doctor 5: Smoke and Mirrors.

This is the fifth part of an exclusive audio series produced by Big Fish and AudioGo. Written by Steve Lyons and performed by Janet Fielding and Tim Beckmann, Smoke and Mirrors features The 5th Doctor, as played by Peter Davison, and his companions Tegan, Nyssa and Adric. Here's the official plot description:

The Doctor answers a psionic distress call sent from England in the 1920s. There, in the environs of a fairground, he is reunited with an old friend: Harry Houdini. To Adric and Nyssa the name means very little, but to the Doctor's companion Tegan he is a legend. Escape artist extraordinaire, Houdini's reputation will last for decades. But how does Houdini know so much about Tegan herself? Is it really just guesswork, as he says? Is Houdini right to be concerned about the fairground's fortune teller, who claims to have supernatural skills? Both he and the Doctor suspect an alien influence may be at work. What neither the Doctor nor his friends realise is that, somewhere in the shadows, a sinister and all too familiar presence is lying in wait for them...

Destiny of the Doctors 5: Smoke and Mirrors is available now in the UK from Amazon.co.uk. It will be released in the U.S. on June 11 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com.

So now we have a Who-dini adventure in print and audio. Could a TV appearance be far off?

Only a Time Lord can tell.

For a complete list of Doctor Who-Houdini references check out TardisWikia.

LINK: Houdini v city police chief: guess who won?

This post on the blog Medway Memories features two photos of Houdini from the Medway Council’s CityArk archive that I've never seen. Click the headline to have a look at Medway Memories.

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