Thursday, July 25, 2013

Smoking gun: Is this Houdini and Bess in Laurel Canyon?


This intriguing candid photo of Harry and Bess Houdini will be auctioned by Potter & Potter this Saturday, July 27, as part of their Summer Shelf Sale. The auction includes almost 1000 collectible and contemporary magic books, as well as Herrmann, Kellar, and Houdini memorabilia, including a nice Challenge poster.

This photo excites me for several reasons. First, I've never seen it. Also, you gotta love the parrot on Bessie's shoulder. (Possibly "Laura" or "Pat Houdini". See: Houdini's pets.) But it's the location of this shot that has me most intrigued.

The catalog listing says circa 1924, but the auction house tells me that's just a guesstimate. To my eye that looks like Houdini with his black-dyed silent movie hair. He also appears dressed as he was in his Jesse L. Lasky "Extreme Houdini" publicity photos. That means this could be Houdini and Bess in Hollywood in 1919 while he was making The Grim Game (the auction house has now changed the date on the online listing to 1919).

So if this is Hollywood at that time, is it possible that this is the first and only shot of Houdini and Bess at their rented bungalow in Laurel Canyon? Could this be the "smoking gun evidence" that I spoke about in my lengthy post about the famous "Houdini Estate" last year? Those trees do look a lot like Laurel Canyon to me (I used to live there), and the house on the right does look to be in the style of a canyon home of the time.

Unfortunately, the consignor of this pic wishes to remain anonymous, so no clues where this photo came from. If only that parrot could talk.

Potter & Potter's Summer Shelf Sale auction takes place on July 27, 2013. The auction catalog can be downloaded as a PDF from the Potter & Potter website.

Thanks to Adam Steinfeld for the find and Gabe Fajuri for the auction info.

UPDATE: The photo sold for $960. See: Houdini Challenge poster and other rarities sell at Potter & Potter.

11 comments:

  1. Very intriguing! I need to think about this one.

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    1. What do you think, Joe. Does that look like Hollywood Harry to you?

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    2. Okay, I compared this photo with all of the Hollywood stills and other photos I have from the Grim Game and Terror Island and it could very well be Hollywood Houdini, but it needs closer examination and research. However, the more I focus on shots with Houdini in a bow-tie and side shots similar to the photo and compare the hair, sideburns and makeup, the more confused I get.

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    3. It's the coal black hair that does it for me. That's his "Hollywood hair", dyed for the flickers. He also almost looks like he's in makeup here.

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  2. There appears to be another house behind those trees.

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    Replies
    1. You know, that could be significant. In the one image of the house from a Laurel Canyon postcard (posted HERE) you can see there is another house -- a white one like we see here -- behind Houdini's dark wood bungalow.

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  3. You can see a double hung window next to Houdini's right shoulder and something that appears to be a roof overhang above that. That overhang is at roughly a 45 degree angle.

    Will check that postcard again to see if there are similarities.

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    1. You can't tell much from that postcard. You can barely see the house at all. I actually now have an original of the card and it's still hard to see detail.

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  4. I see a large cream colored house behind that dark wooden bungalow. That large red arrow is pointing to the bungalow--right?

    Admittedly, that house at a distance and on a small hilly landscape.

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    1. Yes, the red arrow is pointing to the bungalow which you can just see between the trees.

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  5. Okay, and right under that arrow is the cream colored house that might be the one behind the trees. That house in the postcard has double hung windows and the slanted roof edge we see in the photo.

    Admittedly, double hung windows and slanted roof edges are common--but still.

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