Monday, December 2, 2013

Unpublished Houdini: With his baby

Welcome to Unpublished Houdini. In this series I share a new never-before-published photo of Houdini every Monday from our generous Hinson Endowment.

Here's Houdini the proud new author holding his first major book, The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, published in 1908. His baby. In Unmasking, Houdini set out prove that the great French conjurer, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin -- Houdini's boyhood hero from whom he took his name -- did not deserve credit for the many magic effects he was said to have invented. The celebrated "Father of Modern Magic" was, according to Houdini, in reality "the Prince of Pilfers."

"Wrote until 2:30 AM on Houdin book. This is a labor of love. I shall be happy when it is finished, as it will take a lot of worry off my mind."
- Houdini's diary entry, July 19, 1907
(He finished the next day.)


Houdini was immensely proud of his book, which features many images from his own collection, and dedicated it to his father. In adverts he even offered a cash prize of $250 if anyone could name "a book which has taken so much time, energy, travel and money, with such authentic data regarding real magical inventions." While he knew many would not read the book cover to cover, he still implored them in his inscriptions to at least "read the introduction." (This can be found written in many copies of Unmasking, including one in my own collection).

"Please read the introduction anyway."

However, the magic community, especially in France, severally criticized Houdini's wholesale "attack" on Robert-Houdin, and the book still provokes a strong reaction today. Kenneth Silverman writes in Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss: "Some magicians damn the book; others accept or reject its arguments piecemeal; none endorses it whole."

Houdini never expressed any regret for his what is now seen as an over-the-top (one chapter is titled: "Robert-Houdin's Ignorance of Magic") and somewhat Oedipal attack on his namesake. Many think the true roots of the book lie with the French magician's family snubbing the newly famous Houdini during his first tour of Europe.

The one admission Houdini would allow years later was: "The only mistake I made was in calling my book Houdin Unmasked. It ought to have been History of Magic."

11 comments:

  1. Nice photo. Just about make out the signature and date. :-)
    Many happy returns for tomorrow.
    Cheers.

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    Replies
    1. Good eyes. I didn't even notice it was signed until after I posted this.

      Thanks for the bday wishes. :)

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  2. An odd pose. He's looking off, and covering the title. And I'm here to claim his cash prize! "The Escape Artist: Harry Houdini in Russia" has taken nearly ten years. It'll be out in 2014.

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    1. Sweet! 2014 is sure looking to be a great year for HH.

      Do you have cover art yet?

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    2. David, looking forward to it.
      James Hamilton

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  3. John Hinson Great nephew of Bess and Harry HoudiniDecember 2, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Can t wait for the new book.

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  4. Thanks for your enthusiasm! I'm forwarding your comments to my agent!

    No cover art yet. Working on it. Of course I don't want to use something that's been used already, even if fabulous (like that great shot from Moscow in 1903 on Ken Silverman's Notes to Houdini!!!). Do you or anyone know where there's an original of the "escape from the Siberian police van" poster? Maybe a new shot of that? Or is there something yet undiscovered??

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    Replies
    1. No photo from the event itself has ever surfaced. That would be incredible to see.

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  5. Was it Robert-Houdin's widow or daughter-in-law that snubbed Houdini?

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    Replies
    1. According to Gresham it was La Veuve Robert-Houdin who turned him away. Not sure who that was.

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