Friday, November 29, 2013

Houdini and the Hippodrome


Here's a beautiful old postcard image of the famous New York Hippodrome theater. Houdini had the longest continuous engagement in one theater of his career here -- 19 weeks -- when he starred in the review Cheer Up! in 1918. The theater closed in 1939. A modern office building now occupies the site at 1120 Avenue of the Americas, but still carries the name The Hippodrome.

So what gigantic trick did Houdini perform in this gigantic space?


Speaking of the Hippodrome, not long ago I discovered a spotlight from this theater in an antique store in Hollywood. Cool to think that this spot could have once illuminated The Great Houdini.

17 comments:

  1. I found that Houdini played in Cheer Up 1917-1918 then had his own show there during 1918 only to then be a part of another huge show entitled...Everything....1918-1919. Found this on the Broadway theater database. Does anyone know exactly what Houdini performed during the Everything show?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Houdini did the appearing "Eagle" in Everything.

      I get conflicting info on Everything. Sometimes I hear it came before Cheer Up, sometimes after.

      Delete
  2. Very educational article and I enjoyed learning about Houdini and Hippodrome. A great theater for entertainment it was and that spotlight is a historic sort out indeed. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Todd. That spotlight is exciting. I would have bought it, but the store was asking too much.

      Delete
  3. So in Cheer Up Houdini just did the elephant vanish and in Everything he just did the appearing Eagle. Or did he perform more than just those single effects? I have read that in-between both of those shows Houdini did his own show at the Hip.....among other things he did his submerged box escape three times a day in the pool under the stage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The submerged box was actually part of Cheer Up as well. He would do the elephant. Other acts would perform. And then he would come back and do the box. You can see this in old Cheer Up programs.

      Delete
  4. Great stuff as always, John.
    I believe he did the silks from fishbowl production and produced the eagle from the silks.
    One other thought: Could the spotlight be from the Hippodrome in L.A.? - David

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right, the eagle came from the silks of the fish bow (The Whirlwind of Colors). Actually, a giant American flag came at the end of the silks and then the eagle came from that.

      I didn't even know there was an LA Hippodrome? The store had it marked as having come from the HYC Hip. There might have even been a NYC stamp inside. I'll have to look at all my photos.

      Delete
  5. According to Silverman, in Everything he also performed the dangling straitjacket escape at the Hipp. Then he would perform the Whirlwind of Colors to produce the eagle. Wasn't it actually a falcon?

    What else did Houdini do while working the Hipp?

    1. Teach the doughboys to escape from German handcuffs.
    2. Type out his monthly MUM columns from his dressing room.
    3. Court Charmian London.
    4. Move back to his Harlem brownstone from Hardeen's house in Brooklyn...books, trucks, and all.
    5. Supervise the installation of the film developing equipment for his Hoboken lab.
    6. More charity benefits at the Hipp. Historians credit Beatle George Harrison as the father of the charity benefit concert, but I think Houdini was the real ancestor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And he made The Master Mystery.

      Delete
    2. “Everything” came after “Cheer Up”. “Everything” opened on August 22nd, 1918 at the Hippodrome. According to Variety, Houdini was unable to present his “House of Magic”. He appeared with his left hand bandaged. He explained that because of an accident in which his wrist was fractured, he could not present his burial trick. But he escaped from a strait-jacket while hanging head down, at a height near the top of the proscenium.

      Delete
  6. Hmm…okay, maybe Houdini didn't do the eagle as a part of Everything then. Houdini himself noted on a photo that he did the eagle at "Hippodrome Season 1916-1917". I was thinking Everything came before Cheer Up, so I assumed. But the eagle could have been a part of a regular Hip engagement or something else entirely. I know he did war benefits at the Hip. Could have been during that.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What I find interesting is that Houdini had planned to present his burial trick during the “Everything” show, and we know that didn't happen.

    ReplyDelete
  8. No--Houdini did perform with the eagle/falcon as part of his 9 minute act in Everything. Silverman notes on page 236 that Houdini performed the upside down straitjacket escape "...from a wire high over the Hippodrome stage. For the other effect in his nine-minute act, he presented the patriotic "Whirlwind of Colors," using an American eagle."

    The packing case escape from the Hippodrome pool was probably as close as he was going to get to a buried alive stunt on that stage. Interesting that he resurrected that on his last tour.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cool. Thanks Leo. So in both reviews he did a magic effect and an escape. Cheer Up was Elephant Vanish and packing crate. Everything was Whirlwind/Eagle and suspended jacket.

      Delete
    2. I agree. However, according to “Everything” Show Review in Variety, they only mention him performing the strait-jacket opening night. BTW: Silverman also mentions that he was planning on doing a buried alive escape but had to abandon it after fracturing his wrist during filming. See John’s blog, http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2011/01/digging-into-buried-alive.html and Patrick Culliton’s, The Key, for more information on the buried alive effect.

      Delete
  9. I think Houdini always tried to keep the magic/escape mix into his performances whenever he could throughout his career. When Beck told him to drop the magic, he kept the Sub Trunk and card manipulations in his act.

    ReplyDelete

Translate

Receive updates via email