Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Moses makes May MAGIC

The May 2013 issue of MAGIC Magazine features an article by Bill Winters that takes us inside the extraordinary Houdini collection of Arthur Moses. The article includes photos of Arthur's magnificent Houdini Room in his home in Texas (I'm honored to say I've worshiped in this temple), as well as covers of Houdini foreign editions that I guarantee you have never seen. Here's a tease:

THE MANY EDITIONS OF HARRY HOUDINI
Arthur Moses not only collects Houdiniana, he specializes in Houdini in print -- every edition of Houdini literature in print. Plus, Moses shares the story of the complete known Houdini voice recordings, along with a transcript.

The article about the complete Houdini voice recordings is written by Arthur himself and includes the full transcript. You'll remember Arthur revealed the complete recordings last year at the Magic Collectors Weekend in Chicago.

You'll also find coverage of Penn & Teller's recent star ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Milt Larsen's latest installment of "50 Years at the Castle", and much more.

The May issue of MAGIC is available now from the official MAGIC Magazine website.

Monday, April 29, 2013

S.A.M. breaks (news of) Houdini's bust

The Summer 2013 issue of The Society of American Magician's North Atlantic Region Newsletter has an article about the resurfacing of Houdini's original grave bust, which was smashed (and "stolen"?) in 1975. Of course, that resurfacing happened here on WILD ABOUT HARRY, and not without controversy (click to read the original post and comments). The newsletter features photos from that post and gives WAH a nice credit and link.

With circulation of 1,950 readers worldwide, I'm hoping this will lead some S.A.M. members to discover my blog for the first time. If you're one of them -- welcome!

S.A.M. North Atlantic Newsletter published and edited by Eric DeCamps (click to enlarge).

Speaking of the S.A.M., they have recently launched a new and very active Facebook Page. Be sure and check that out and give it a Like.

Thanks to Eric DeCamps for allowing me to share this page from the S.A.M. North Atlantic Newsletter.

Houdini escapes D.C.

Here's a nice way to wrap-up coverage of the Washington Symposium on Magic History. My friend and fellow Houdinite, Jeff Abraham, alerts me to this photo of Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape in Washington, D.C. on January 12, 1922. You'll notice this is different from the more familiar shot showing him bound in the jacket. In this photo he has just broken free!


This is an original 4 X 5 photograph that's available for purchase at Gotta Have It! for $1,950. Handwritten in pencil on the back is, "Return to, BML Ernst, 25 W.43rd St. NYC." (Bernard Ernst was Houdini's lawyer.)

That's a pretty steep price for an unsigned photo, if you ask me. But, hey, it's Washington, it must be inflation!

Thank you Jeff.

UPDATE: The Gotta Have It! auction states this is Houdini doing a suspended jacket escape in front of the Washington Herald newspaper building. But this is actually the B.F. Keith's Theater in the Riggs Building on the southeast corner of 15th and G Streets.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Houdini's Russian contract sells for $10,000

The Washington Symposium on Magic History concluded yesterday with an auction that saw the sale of a major Houdini artifact.

According to a report on the conference from attendee Dean Carnegie at The Magic Detective, Mike Caveney offered for sale the original contract, written in Russian, for Houdini's one and only tour of that country in 1903. What makes this contact especially attractive is that it's signed both "Harry Houdini" and "Ehrich Weiss." According to Dean:

"It sold for $10,000 to Bill Kalush, but word is he purchased it for someone else who has a big ass warehouse in Las Vegas, at least that's the gossip going around."

Head on over to The Magic Detective to read Dean's full report. Congrats to Ken Trombly for hosting what sounded like a very successful and memorable magic event.

UPDATE: David Saltman has posted photos of the contract and explains how it helps solve a Houdini mystery on his blog The Houdini File.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bill Kalush shares Houdini gold in Washington


Conjuring Arts Research Center founder and The Secret Life of Houdini author William Kalush wowed attendees of the Washington Symposium on Magic History yesterday with his talk on Houdini. According to mega collector Arthur Moses, Bill's talk included fresh revelations and new unseen material.

Bill has done some research in the David Copperfield collection and has rediscovered some Houdini rarities that were misfiled years ago. First and foremost is a 112 page manuscript written by Houdini in 1924 called The Light Séance. Apparently this manuscript is connected with a 50-60 page Library of Congress manuscript on Spiritualism attributed to Houdini (but most likely written by Oscar Teale). The lost manuscript took up the first part of Bill's presentation.

Bill then showed a clip from a 1928 National Film Institute of Australia film titled Knights of the Air. The Paramount 2 reeler contains a lengthy segment about Houdini's Australian flights with film footage that is much more complete than the spotty fragments we have come to know.

Bill then revealed fresh information about Houdini's father, including a new unseen photo of Mayer Samuel Weiss (which makes this only the second known photo). Bill spoke of how he had uncovered a reliable sourced contact with Houdini relatives in Hungary from 1931 who were able to verify family history. According to these relatives, Houdini's father, who was a lawyer in Hungary (not a Rabbi), left the country because he failed a legal exam.

Thanks to Arthur Moses for these details of what sounded like an incredible talk. Hopefully Bill will be sharing these discoveries in print at some point. The Secret Life of Houdini Revisited? Bring it!

The Washington Symposium on Magic History concludes today.

Friday, April 26, 2013

New Houdini play coming to the UK


A new play, Houdini, will tour the UK from September through October of this year. The play is produced by Theatre Giant and focus on the early years of Harry and Theo Weiss -- "The Brothers Houdini" (which would have made a nice title). Here's the official plot description:

To be the greatest, you have to be willing to sacrifice everything. The highly successful Brothers Houdini soon find this out, as their death-defying feats start to draw in ever bigger crowds and ultimately attract the attention of the major theatre promoters.
Join us for what promises to be an explosive theatrical spectacle, when the prestigious promoter Martin Beck offers only Harry an opportunity that will change his life forever.
This intricate look inside the lives of two of the greatest performers the world has ever seen, explores the impact of family, love and jealousy. Watch as two masters of the stage perform, entrance, delight and surprise, performing a number of famous illusions in this gripping life story that is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Discover the legend. Believe in the magic.

Houdini stars BAFTA award winning actor Stuart Brennan as Theo and Evanna Lynch (who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films) as Bess. The producers are said to be "still looking for the perfect Harry."

Stuart Brennan as Theo Weiss and Evanna Lynch as Bess.

Houdini will have its World Premiere on September 9, 2013 at the Stoke-on-Trent Repertory Theatre. Tickets go on sale May 6.

You can get updates on Houdini via Facebook and Twitter. The official website, www.houdinitheplay.com, is coming soon.

LINK: Davenport’s to exhibit Death Defying Acts Torture Cell

Our good friend Tom Interval has discovered that the Water Torture Cell featured in the film Death Defying Acts will be put on display at Davenport’s Magic Kingdom -- a new magic museum set to open in Norfolk, England, on May 25. Click the headline to read the full scoop at Tom's excellent website, Houdini Museum.


UPDATE: You can see a photo of the cell on display at Dean Carnegie's The Magic Detective.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Washington Symposium on Magic History starts today

The highly anticipated Washington Symposium on Magic History kicks off today at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Houdini is going to be well represented at the conference. Bruce MacNab will be giving a special talk about his highly acclaimed new book, Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini. David Saltman of The Houdini File will give a talk on magician Jerry Andrus and will share details about his recently completed historical novel that focuses on Houdini in Russia. William Kalush, co-author of The Secret Life of Houdini, will also give a talk on Houdini.

There will also be a private showing for conference attendees of rare artifacts from The Library of Congress' Houdini and McManus Young Collections. The 3-day event is being hosted by Kenneth Trombly.

With so many great Houdini happenings, I kills me that I couldn't make it. However, our friend Dean Carnegie of The Magic Detective is at the conference, so I will be watching his blog and Facebook for updates.

Have fun everyone!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Handcuff King's blog: The inescapable Loop the Loop

When Houdini first toured Europe during his early fame as The Handcuff King, he penned a regular column for the American newspaper the Dramatic Mirror. The columns are filled with wonderful tidbits about Vaudeville 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.

In 1900 a unique Vaudeville act took Europe by storm. Born of the circus in the 19th century, no one had ever seen anything like it on a Music Hall stage. The sensation spread from England to France and Germany and even traveled into Russia in 1903, defying police and garnering headlines at many stops. Imitators abounded, many pilfering the original act's very name.

Sounds like I'm talking about Houdini, doesn't it? But I'm not. I'm talking about the "Loop the Loop," a Vaudeville sensation that paralleled Houdini's own rise to fame and oddly seemed to follow him from country to country. Of all the acts Houdini discusses in his Dramatic Mirror column, none get as much attention as the various "Loopers" and their misadventures. It was the act he couldn't escape.

So what is a Loop the Loop? It's best described by the poster below advertising Diavolo, who was one of the most famous Loopers of the day. As you can see, a performer would ride a bicycle around a large wooden loop to loop apparatus. Some would perform the loop on roller skates and even in a car. What's shocking is just how many artists were injured and even killed performing the hazardous stunt


What follows are several excerpts from Houdini's columns which discuss the Loop the Loop. Gathered together, these provide a nice history of this unique turn of the century sensation, which may have helped shape Houdini's later career.

Manchester, Nov. 23, 1902 - Diavolo is being eagerly sought for by mangers on the Continent as all the riders that were going to do the "loop the loop" have lost their nerve and none of them will attempt it. Mrs. Barber [Diavolo's manager] will have to go to Berlin and France and scoop in the marks and francs.
Berlin, Feb 21, 1903 - I arrived here from Amsterdam and found things in the theatrical business, especially in Berlin, are booming. Every theatre in Berlin is playing to sold out houses. At Circus Schuman, Mrs. Barber's "Loop the Loop" has packed them in for the last two months, and is prolonged for the month of February. Nothing has ever drawn like the "Loop the Loop." Herr Director Busch, of Circus Busch, has had a "loop" built and for the last three months has looked for some one to ride it. Up to the present time no one has been successful, although every morning is devoted to trail performances. One German racing man named Mindner has tried it five times, but has come to grief every time. They are now reconstructing the "loop," and Busch hopes to have the trick in good running order in a few weeks
Cologne, March 25, 1903 - The Isoias Freres have again shown that the are lucky managers. Having engaged "Loop the Loop" from Mrs. Barber, they were busily billing Paris as it has never been billed before, and they have actually been compelled to raise the roof of their already high theatre Olympia. What was their astonishment to find one day, to their great consternation, that Dupre and Bornea, of the Casino de Paris, had also engaged a Loop the Looper, and were also busily engaged in letting Parians know the fact. Naturally this aroused great excitement and it was with great pleasure that both managers announced that they would positively have the only Loop the Looper to do the act in Paris. It was announced that the Mephisto Loop the Loop at the Casino would be stopped from trying to break his neck by Diavolo, who claimed through his mangeress, Mrs. Barber, that the Loop was patented. But the papers wanted to know how you could patent the Loop when it was already done in 1856, and said that you could not patent the Loop an more then you could a twist double somersault or a twister. Be that as it may, on the first attempt by Mephisto, he had an accident and smashed his wheel, and Mr. Police stepped in and stopped the show. But not so with Diavolo.
Berlin, March 31, 1903 - Since writing my last letter regrading Paris and the "Loop the Loop" affair, Mephisto has again started in to work. He was stopped by the police, who were told that the act was patented, etc., but after several nights had passed Mephisto merrily risked his life just the same as Diavolo, who is drawing large houses at the Casino, while at the Olympia big business is also the rule. It seems that the people go first to see one and then the other "looper" as they wish to see which comes nearest to having an accident.
Berlin, April 12, 1903 - I have heard that an act called "Sloping the Slope" has opened in Paris. It consists of a man sitting down, and doing a kind of "Loop the loop," while in this position. Up to the present moment he has not received any medals for courage.

Interestingly, when Houdini traveled to Russia in the summer of 1903, the Loop to Loop followed...

Moscow, May 12, 1903 - Weston has brought a "Loop the Loop" act here and open at Aumont's inside of fifteen days, provided that the police will not interfere. News has reached Moscow that a young man was killed in Paris while giving a trial show, riding the loop, which will make it risky for any one to open up here, especially as I have heard that "Loop the Loop" will not be permitted.
Moscow, May 31, 1903 - Looping the Hoop opened last last night at Aumont's, and the police allowed four performances to be given, after which they were forbidden, and will have to move to St. Petersburg, where, I think the police will permit this "Hoop," for they allowed Madame Barber's "Loop" to work. Gifford's "Hoop," with which he was so successful in Berlin, and has so many uncertain first nights in Leipzig, has opened very successfully at the Hippodrome in London. Loop the Loop riders are again becoming scarce, as the late record of accidents is showing plainly that to ride the "Loop" successfully you race with a rider named Death, and there is no telling when something will happen.
Moscow, June 1903 - The latest sensation which is promised to Russia is the "Loop the Loop on Roller Skates," but I hardly think the police will allow it.
Moscow, July 19, 1903 - Emil Nolsett is drawing packed houses as Mephisto, King of Loopers, and with his loop the loop is going to tour the provinces of Spain. Barber, with his loop, is touring the South of France, and is also making a fortune. The looper Browns in Buda Pest was badly injured at Circus C. Sidoli last week and there is little hope of his recovery. Rambler, who had advertised a "Hoop the Hoop," failed to make his hoop work, and the young lady that he had engaged to ride the hoop sued him salary and was given the verdict.
Novgorod, Russia, Aug 8, 1903 - In Mannheim, at the Theatre Saaibau, there is a "Loop the Loop" being advertised and as far as I know the theater the only place that a "Loop the Loop" could be placed would be on the roof.
Holland, Sept 18, 1903 - In Frankfort A. M., a "loop the loop" was going to be delivered to the public, not the common way, with a bicycle, but with a man and woman seated on a tandem. At their first attempt they went around the loop, but the man, who was on the front seat and whose duty it was to steer the tandem safely around, must have forgotten to attend to affairs, for when they had completed the circuit he managed to steer the wheel out of the loop, and from what I hear they both are going yet. The lady recovered her senses the next day, and the gent has not recovered yet, as he says that he will try it again as soon as he finds a lady with the required nerve to make a second attempt. The first lady says that she is not taking any more chances, thanks. She is cured.
Dresden, Oct 14, 1903 - Noisett is touring through Spain with his own company, and the crop of Loopers is as large as ever. To give you an idea of how cheap Loop riders have become in Europe (outside of playing on percentage), you can obtain a Loop and rider for less than one-third of the price it cost at the time it was the rage. A Hoop the Hoop can be had for less than 300 marks a night, and two months ago they were paid 800 marks. So as, roughly counting, 420 marks make $100, you can easily figure out how much you can get risking your neck. Barber and Diavolo are still the highest paid of the entire lot, and rumor says that Madame Barber has collected the largest of the "filthy lucre" in connection with this device.
London, Aug 30, 1904 - Morock, a trick cyclist, killed himself while trying to throw a somersault after coming out of the Loop the Loop. He had some kind of an arrangement made which would make him throw a somersault after leaving the loop. He went after the trick, was carried from his apparatus covered with blood, and died a few days after. Two of the boards on the loop broke and he was thrown twelve feet into the air.
Liverpool, June 4, 1905 - All Europe is waiting to hear what the judges will say in Paris to Dupree and Berney, managers of the Casino de Paris, for permitting Mile. Randle to do the "Somerset of Death" in a motor car. It seems her uncle forced the girl to do the leap, and some people are going to prove that she tried to jump out of the window the evening before she was killed. From what the Paris papers say it looks like some one will be severely punished; at any rate, this will be the death-knell to all hazardous performances in France.

Indeed, it appears the Paris case did help put an end to death-defying loop the loops acts. Or it's possible that by 1905 the public had simply had their fill. As to it being "the death knell of hazards acts" in Vaudeville...well, three years after penning this last entry, Houdini threw off the mantle of "The Handcuff King" and became Houdini The Death Defier when he introduced his Milk Can escape.

I can't help but wonder whether his early years playing alongside the death-defying Loop the Loop had anything to do with his decision.

Coming next: A night at the opera and a day in Liverpool.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Great Houdinis at home

The Great Houdinis aired twice on American television; first on October 8, 1976 and again on April 6, 1977. If you didn't catch one of those airings, then you probably didn't see what I consider to be one of the better Houdini biopics. That's because The Great Houdinis was never released on any home video format in the U.S.

But the rest of the world had a better shot at seeing the film. I've never been able to determine weather The Great Houdinis got a theatrical release in Europe (as some American T.V. movies did back then), but I do know it was released on VHS in The Netherlands, France, England and Australia. Below are a few covers for the film on VHS. To my knowledge, all of the home video versions carry the title The Great Houdini and not the original broadcast title, The Great Houdinis (which can be seen here).

Star Video release from Australia (click to enlarge).

Dutch release from ABC Video.

UK release from Guild (note reduced running time).

French release.

Thanks to Robert from Sydney, Australia for the Star Video artwork and Kai Andersen for the Dutch sleeve.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

History has a script for their Houdini miniseries (update)

Last week it was reported that The History Channel (which I guess is now just "History") is developing a miniseries about Houdini with Adrien Brody set to star. Today I can report that the project is further along than just "development" (which can mean anything).

I've learned that the network already has a finished script by a major writer. I'm not at liberty to reveal the name of the writer, but know that he has vast experience with books, television, and movies, and also has an interesting connection to Houdini.

Why am I bringing this up if I can't spill the name of the writer? Because news that History has a script and a major star (and momentum coming off The Bible) makes me think that of all the Houdini projects swirling around Hollywood at the moment, this one actually has a chance of being made, and maybe sooner than later. This is good news because, according to reports, this is the only project taking a biopic approach to the Houdini story. (Although we shouldn't kid ourselves that it won't still have a heavy dose of fiction -- that's just the nature of the beast.)

It's also possible that this fast track History project could unstick one of the other Houdini projects and we'll actually get more than Houdini movie project in the coming year.

Believe.

UPDATE (8/17/13): Okay, so I decided to spill the name of the writer in my post about the various Houdini projects in development in Hollywood. It's Nicholas Meyer, writer director of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, author of the best post-Doyle Sherlock Holmes novel (IMO), The Seven Per Cent Solution, and the man who directed a television miniseries event in the 1980s with The Day After. And what's Meyer's connection to Houdini? His father, Bernard C. Meyer, wrote the 1976 psychoanalytical portrait, Houdini: A Mind in Chains.

Nicholas Meyer

Friday, April 19, 2013

Adventures in investing in Houdini

Dr. Harold A. Stein, one of Canada's leading ophthalmologists, has written an autobiography called, The Way I Saw It. Why is this of interest to Houdini fans? Because Dr. Stein was one of the original investing partners in the infamous Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada, and he writes about the experience in his book.

Dr. Stein recalls how his friend Henry Muller learned from The New York Times that Joseph Dunninger was looking to sell his Houdini/magic collection. Stein and Muller flew to New York where the collection was being housed in various warehouse around the city.

"Dunninger's chauffeur picked us up at the airport and took us to his large home in New Jersey," recalls Dr. Stein. "There, Dunninger began to mesmerize us with all this magic. For me it was a most exciting event--not only to meet the great Dunninger, but also to have him display so many tricks from the world of Houdini. We were so enthusiastic that bought the whole collection sight unseen. The only competitor we had was a Las Vegas casino that was bidding on it."

Dr. Stein talks about opening day in which Dunninger entertained the assembled guests and media, and also some promotional stunts and the seances held at the museum over the years. He also recalls how the museum was destroyed by fire in 1995. However, Dr. Stein points out that, "We saved all the contents but the building was lost and a few years later Houdini's treasures were sold in an auction in California to the highest bidder."

I believe this is the first time I've ever heard anyone officially involved with the museum state that none of the Houdini artifacts were destroyed in the mysterious fire. News reports at the time stated that everything was destroyed. Maybe that was just media exaggeration, but I lived for years with the idea that the Houdini/Dunninger collection was gone until I started seeing items from the museum pop up for auction (like Houdini's head). Dr. Stein doesn't mention the Water Torture Cell -- which was destroyed -- but that was conveniently not part of the Dunninger collection.

Dr. Stein concludes, "The milk can that we paid $5000 for went for $100,000. It was an era when collectables were sought after and the real magic seems to be the return on our initial investment."

In the spirit of smart financial moves, know that you can read the Houdini museum section of The Way I Saw It via the free "Click to Look Inside" preview on Amazon.com and save yourself the steep $68 cost of the book.

The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in 1990.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rare Houdini booklets by Woods and Lead now available as PDFs

Two long out-of-print Houdini booklets by Roger Woods and Brian Lead, Houdini The Myth Maker (1987) and Harry Houdini Legend & Legacy (1993), are now available as PDF downloads for $12 each from Lybrary.com.


Both books provide excellent examinations of specific episodes and challenges from Houdini's career. I would recommend Legend & Legacy in particular as it contains rare photos of Houdini exposing the Mysto coffin escape, and also shots of him from a 1920 The Illustrated Chronicle climbing to the top of a castle in Newcastle and hanging from the parapet (which recalls the scene in Death Defying Acts when Houdini climbs atop a parapet in Edinburgh).

Thanks to Eric Fry for the tip.

UPDATE: Looks like printed versions of the books can still be purchased at rogerwoodsmagic.co.uk.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Handcuff King's blog: The Flower Medium

When Houdini first toured Europe during his early fame as The Handcuff King, he penned a regular column for the American newspaper the Dramatic Mirror. The columns are filled with wonderful tidbits about Vaudeville 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.

At the turn of the century a medium named Anna Rothe made a specialty out of producing various kinds of flowers for her sitters "from the fourth dimension of space." For this she was known as the "Flower Medium." In 1902 Rothe was arrested in Berlin, Germany. The book A Science for the Soul by Corinna Treitel, describes the episode:

In March 1902, two officers on the Berlin police force interrupted the medium Anna Rothe in the act of plucking first a hyacinth and then a narcissus flower out of thin air. They grabbed Rothe's hands, wrestled her to the ground, and whistled to bring several more policemen pouring into the room. As the other seance participants watched in horror, a female police assistant subjected Rothe to a physical examination that revealed 157 flowers as well as several oranges and lemons tucked under her petticoat. Placed under arrest and charged with fraud, Rothe spent most of the next year in jail awaiting trial.

When Rothe finally came up for trial, Houdini was playing his third month at the Berlin Wintergarten. While many TV documentaries and movies connect Houdini involvement with Spiritualism to his mother's death in 1913, the truth is Houdini's interest in spiritualism and spiritualistic trickery dates back to the beginnings of his interest in magic itself. Houdini was well aware of the Rothe episode, and in his Dramatic Mirror column for March 31, 1903, he writes:

Anna Rothe, the "Flower Medium" was found guilty of swindling and given eighteen months in prison, for swindling the public, although she had several well-known professors to testify that she was a real spiritualistic medium. This city is very rough on spiritualists, as you will know from the treatment of Anna Eva Fay, Doctor Slade, Schraps and many other well-known mediums, and it has been a sad blow to the cause of spiritualism as Ann Rothe was looked on as the prominent medium of the time. She is pretty well on in years, and she has been in jail ten months waiting trial, this time will be deducted from the original sentence, so she will have to serve only eight months. I saw the trial, and had to go at eight in the morning in order to get standing room. All the spiritualists in Germany tried to be there, but the court room in Moabit was to small to even hold a small percentage of the hundreds that tried to obtain admission. Although there were no prices charged, it cost me 10 marks to stand up.

Houdini's tone here is interesting. He certainly does not reveal his own skepticism toward Spiritualism. Indeed, with phrases such as "a sad blow to the cause of spiritualism", he almost sounds sympathetic.

The story of Anna Rothe, the Flower Medium, surprisingly did not find its way into Houdini's book, A Magician Among The Spirits. However, Houdini did mention attending the trail in a letter he wrote to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when the two men were first beginning their friendship and discussions about spiritualism.

Coming next: The inescapable Loop the Loop.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Houdini: the untrue story

We've had Houdini biographies, poetry, plays, self-help, erotica, psychological analysis and every form of fiction, but I believe this is the first comedic take on the Houdini story. Get ready for The LIEography of Harry Houdini: The Absolutely Untrue, Totally Made Up, 100% Fake Life Story of the World's Greatest Escape Artist by Alan Katz with illustrations by Joey Ahlbum. Here's the description from Amazon:

Fans of 'Captain Underpants' and the Wimpy Kid series will love the silly, slapstick comedy in the parody 'The LIEography of Harry Houdini'. Get ready to split a side and roll on the floor laughing with Alan Katz's satirical look at history's greatest escape artist.
Magic is magical. And humor is humorous. Put them together and what have you got? Nothing… unless you read 'The LIEography of Harry Houdini'. And when you do, you’ll be giggling and laughing faster than you can say, “Presto Chango!” Readers everywhere agree: this is the funniest book ever written with this title!

You have to say “The Great” Harry Houdini. You have to. Really. It’s just the way it is. Because if you do leave out “The Great” when talking about him, strange things happen. Seems mystical, almost crazy, to be sure. But recent history shows that if you don’t add “The Great” to his name, you might have trouble talking, or even typing.
Find out what else didn't happen in 'The LIEography of Harry Houdini!'

The LIEography of Harry Houdini is available for the Kindle from Amazon.com. The LIEogpahy series, which also includes Thomas Edison and Babe Ruth, is only available as eBooks.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Houdini's Escape Gastropub opens in Appleton


Houdini's Escape Gastropub opens today in Appleton, Wisconsin. The restaurant and bar is located at 1216 S. Oneida St., and celebrates Appleton's favorite adopted son with posters on the walls and images on the menu.

"Houdini is a cool celebrity," said manager Joshuah Woltman. "He appeals to every age and demographic. We wanted to create a place that accepts every single demographic. It’s a place where they can escape from a bad day."

Houdini's Escape Gastropub is owned by Linda Mischler and a silent partner. Chef Bert Cooper organized the menu. The restaurant serves from 11 a.m. to midnight every day. A website (www.houdinisescape.com) is under construction.

You can get a peek inside the new Houdini's Escape Gastropub in a one-minute video at The Appleton Post Crescent. Below are some screen captures.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Houdini and Holmes investigate The Clairvoyant Murders

Houdini and Sherlock Holmes team up in a new eBook, The Clairvoyant Murders by Charlie Mount.

According to the description on Amazon, this is Volume 1 of a serialized novel in which "Sherlock Holmes meets Houdini in this thrilling detective serial about murder, clairvoyants, a mysterious suffragette, a secret society, German espionage, magic, and more!"

You can purchase The Clairvoyant Murders by Charlie Mount for the Kindle on Amazon (where you can also read a small excerpt). No word on a print release.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Wild About Adrien

With the recent news that History is developing a Houdini miniseries with Adrien Brody, guess it's time we all get wild about Adrien. This video helps. Thanks to iTricks for this one. (Warning: you will not get these 4 minutes of your life back.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

New cover for The Treasure Chest #4

Ann Hood's young adult series The Treasure Chest has received a cover art makeover, and included in the new set is last year's Houdini-themed release, The Treasure Chest #4: Prince of Air. The new cover features an image of Houdini along with Houdini's name added to the title itself. That's what we like to see!

However, the trick is actually getting this new cover. This artwork appears on the Amazon listings for the both hardcover and paperback, but I ordered and received the old cover. So this might be one that you'll need to seek out in the stores.

The Treasure Chest series finds then Robbins twins, Maisie and Felix, transported via a treasure chest time machine into the past where they meet up with famous historical figures. In Harry Houdini: Prince of Air the twins meet Houdini and his brother Dash in Coney Island in 1893.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

History developing Houdini miniseries with Adrien Brody

EW.com is reporting an "exclusive" that The History Channel is developing a Houdini miniseries with Adrien Brody attached to star. Here's the full report:

And for History’s next miniseries trick…
The network is developing a multi-hour project on the life of Harry Houdini with Adrien Brody attached to star.
The deal just closed and details are scarce. We can tell you that History is developing a miniseries project (working title: Houdini) that traces the arc of the turn-of-the-20th-century master magician’s life from desperate poverty to worldwide fame.
Veteran TV producer (and J.J. Abrams’ father) Gerald W. Abrams (Modern Marvels, 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out) is attached as an executive producer. Brody (King Kong, The Pianist) is attached to star in what would be a rare venture into television for the Academy Award-winning actor.
The development comes on the heels of History enjoying enormous success for two miniseries projects over the past year – The Bible and Hatfields & McCoys.

Sounds like a genuine biopic, which instantly makes me more interested in this project than any of the dozen fictional Houdini projects currently in development around town. Interestingly, Adrien Brody already had a brush with Houdini in the 1999 film, Oxygen, in which he played a serial killer who calls himself "Harry Houdini" and leaves clues on Houdini's grave.

Obviously, this is one we will watch closely.

Brody getting into character?

UPDATE: History has a script for their Houdini miniseries

The Handcuff King's blog: Death of a rival

When Houdini first toured Europe during his early fame as The Handcuff King, he penned a regular column for the American newspaper the Dramatic Mirror. The columns are filled with wonderful tidbits about Vaudeville 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.

When Houdini opened at the Alhambra Theatre in London in 1900, he was challenged onstage by another "Handcuff King" named Cirnoc. Cirnoc not only claimed that he was the true inventor of the handcuff act, but said Houdini had never been to America. Houdini was defended on this point by a man in the audience (Chauncey Depew) who vouched for having seen Houdini in America several years earlier. Houdini then challenged Cirnoc to escape from a pair of Bean Giant handcuffs. Cirnoc failed and the next day newspapers wrote accounts of the dramatic onstage confrontation. Houdini The Handcuff King was off to fame and fortune.

Cirnoc was later booked against Houdini in an opposition theatre in Germany, but after this he vanishes from the Houdini story and indeed from magic history. In his December 1, 1903 Dramatic Mirror column from Huddersfield, England, Houdini revealed the true reason for Cirnoc's disappearing act -- he died.

Several deaths have occurred lately, among whom may be mentioned Paul H. Conrich, better known as Cirnoc, who has made quite a reputation as a "Handcuff King." He had been failing in heath, and had just signed a contract with Manager Richards to open in Australia, according to London Era, and died on his way to Sydney, where he is buried. He was about forty-five years of age and had been a performer for many years. He leave a son and daughter. He was recently married to a lady who used to manage Karo, when Karo toured America.

For such a "hated" rival, Houdini is respectful and even sounds somewhat mournful here. Maybe Cirnoc was not so hated after all? Maybe he was actually a plant that night at the Alhambra? Or maybe Houdini's vitriol towards "all other magicians" has been somewhat overstated. I am quite surprised in reading these columns that Houdini isn't at all hostile towards other magicians. He even gives name-lifting escape artists such as Nordini space in his columns right alongside T. Nelson Downs, Horace Goldin, and his own brother Hardeen.

But as the years and sheer number of imitators continued to pile up, Houdini is clearly starting to get irritated. In a column dated October 19, 1904 he laments:

When I landed in England in May 1900, no one knew that a handcuff could be made useful as a stage effect. Now, alas, I see hundreds billed as "World's Greatest Handcuff Kings," so I changed my billing to "Jail Breaker" and the all took that title too. All you have to do in England to become a "jail breaker" is to buy an English handcuff with two keys and you are made. But there is one thing I will say--no one tries to steal your name or change their name to sound like yours, as is the case in Germany. Here in England they do not go so far, and make good with their own names, which is something that German artists ought to think over. I believe in the motto: "Live and let live," but then I am not an undertaker.

Interestingly, it wasn't just Houdini who suffered from imitation. The stealing of acts and names seemed to be the endemic in the world of Vaudeville at the time. In his same December 1, 1903 column, Houdini writes about a familiar performer (and friend) who's act and name was being purloined while he was out of the country:

While W.C. Fields is in South Africa he has an imitation in Germany--or he will find one--who calls himself O.C. Shields. Same make-up; the only thing lacking to make it the same act is that Herr Shields is a sad comedian. I hear his real name is Oscar Streirhauer. My word!

A gallery of "Handcuff Kings."

Coming next: The Flower Medium.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

USC says Houdini "deserving of a monument"

The University of Southern California is my alma mater, so I was exited to find this item about Houdini's death in the November 3, 1926 issue of the USC school newspaper, The Daily Trojan.


The only other world events the paper felt worthy to report was the failed assignation of Mussolini, a visit to the U.S. by Queen Marie, and the latest in the Tea Pot Dome scandal. Really shows what a far-reaching impact Houdini death had at the time, and further discredits the "Houdini wasn't famous in his lifetime" crowd.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Wild About Fantasma

I'm pleased to announce that WILD ABOUT HARRY is now an affiliate of Fantasma Magic. Fantasma is the world's leading manufacture of magic and home to the spectacular new Houdini Museum of New York which showcases authentic Houdini rarities from the collection of Roger Dreyer.

You'll notice in my sidebar there is now a link to Fantasma with special Houdini Museum of New York artwork. When you enter Fantasma via that link (or any link in this post), WILD ABOUT HARRY gets a little percentage of the sale. It's a great way to get some essential magic and Houdini needs while also helping (enabling?) my own madness.

So click on over to Fantasma and maybe grab the special box set edition of the Kalush book; a Carl Williams Houdini Wand (only 1 left); Fantasma's special Houdini Bundle; or even a straight-jacket (never can tell when one might come in handy). Fantasma also has a limited number of true Houdini collectibles, such as an original signed lettergram.

Thanks as always to everyone for your continued support of this blog, and thanks to Fantasma Magic for allowing us to join their team of affiliates.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Penn & Teller join Houdini (and Copperfield) on the Walk of Fame

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

On Friday I had the pleasure of seeing Penn & Teller get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Their star is located at 7003 Hollywood Blvd, right near Houdini's star and right down the street from The Magic Castle. (It's also not far from the apartment where Harry Blackstone Sr. lived his final years.) Their star is the 2,494th on the boulevard.

The ceremony was scheduled for 11:30am. I arrived to park at the Magic Castle around eleven o'clock, and was excited to see Penn & Teller themselves standing in front. I figured it was the best opportunity I might get during the day to meet my favorite magicians, so I introduced myself. I chatted to Teller for a few moments about Houdini, telling him that I had seen the Witness to Yesterday episode at MCW 43 in which he portrayed Houdini. Teller made a joke about how it "must have been awful" (no, it was excellent) and said that he had actually never seen the episode himself, but he would like to. (Paging David Ben.)

I then walked down Orange Ave. to Hollywood Blvd., where a massive crowd has already gathered. On the way I was surprised to see David Copperfield standing mid-block. It didn't feel right to accost him on the street, so I enjoyed watching him greet Penn & Teller as they traveled down to the boulevard together.

I've gone to a handful of star ceremonies (including Houdini's re-dedication in 2008) and it's always a little tricky getting a good spot to watch. The city does not close Hollywood Blvd. for these events and there's not a lot of room for all the tourists, press, and invited guests on the sidewalk. However, I was able to get a pretty good spot and enjoyed the proceedings.

Houdini got a nice mention right off the bat when Hollywood Chamber of Commerce president Leron Gubler explained how Penn & Teller's star was "just steps away from Houdini's star on the corner." He also pointed out that it's not far from David Copperfield's star "just a few feet to the west." Gubler then introduced David Copperfield himself, who made a speech in which he joked about his one-time rivalry with the magic duo. "Our relationship was born out of seething hatred," said David.

Trey Parker of South Park and The Book of Mormon fame also made a nice speech, complimenting Penn & Teller on being a successful showbiz partnership -- a rarity these days -- and joked how his own partner, Matt Stone, wasn't there because, "He's a dick."

Penn & Teller then took the podium. Penn did the talking (of course) and thanked many people who helped in their career success. Penn thanked David Copperfield, calling him "indisputably the greatest magician alive." He also acknowledged Johnny Thompson ("the greatest magical mind in the world today") and "the whole Magic Castle family." He also gave a heartfelt thanks to James Randi, saying that there would not be a Penn & Teller if it weren't for The Amazing Randi.

It was then time to "make the star appear" as photographers clicked away. When David Copperfield joined them for a group photo, he stood on a riser, which I thought was downright Houdiniesque of him.

Click to enlarge: Copperfield (left) and Penn & Teller (right) during the ceremony.

After the ceremony everyone headed back to The Magic Castle for a special private ceremony in the Palace of Mystery in which Penn & Teller accepted the AMA Magician of the Year award (the big show is tonight). Being a "semi secret location" this time it was Teller who gave the acceptance speech while Penn stood mutely by and nodded. Pretty funny.

Following the ceremony, everyone headed downstairs to the Inner Circle for a buffet lunch. I enjoyed chatting with my usual Friday lunch friends. I also enjoyed when Castle librarian, Lisa Cousins, showed Teller their annotated copy of Spiritualism: Its History, Phenomena and Doctrine by J. Arthur Hill. Lisa pointed out the page in which Houdini wrote, "Don't make me laugh" (you can see it here). Teller was so tickled by this that he got up from his meal and brought the book across the room to show Penn, who also had a laugh.

All in all, it was a great day and a real pleasure to spend the afternoon with these legends of magic.

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Orson Welles remembers Houdini

David Saltman at The Houdini File has discovered this remarkable footage of Orson Welles talking about Houdini on his BBC television series, Sketch Book. The show originally aired on June 5, 1955. Orson's Houdini talk starts at 04:00.

LINK: Re the Birthdays...

Click on the headline for a post from 2011 about why today, April 6, is considered Houdini's other birthday.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Alfred & Agatha meet Houdini

Houdini co-stars in the newest book of the Spanish language children's series: Las Aventuras de Alfred & Agatha: El Gran Truco de Houdini (The Adventures of Alfred & Agatha: The Great Trick of Houdini) by Ana Campoy. Here is a translation of the plot description from publisher Edebe:

Alfred and Agatha, his inseparable companion Morritos are enjoying the hospitality of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his home city of Edinburgh. There they learn that a dangerous-looking stranger thief plans to steal the Koh-i-noor on the train that will take them back to London.

Aided by the great Harry Houdini, the famous magician friend of Sir Arthur, children and Lips jump on the train determined to protect the diamond. Although do have to live for a trip full of mysteries, disappearances and even amazing magic tricks. A trial journey where nothing is what it seems.

Las Aventuras de Alfred & Agatha: El Gran Truco de Houdini can be purchased via Amazon.com.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dixie Dooley writes Houdini fiction

Las Vegas magician and Houdini collector Dixie Dooley is dipping his wand into the world of Houdini fiction with a new book, From Death He Departs. The novella was released on April 3, 2013. Here's the description on Amazon:

The great Mystifier Houdini, claimed if there was anyway to come back from death he would find it! In this exciting story, Houdini travels through time and finds a way back, only to realize he's come back in a whole different world from which he lived. With very few of the people he knew remaining alive, and unfortunately, one of them is his arch enemy. He has waited for Houdini's return, so that he might murder him and send him to a hell in which he can never return! It's an exciting fictional book, that really makes you think, WHAT IF? What if you could return after dying? Would you really want to? I hope you enjoy this book and will check out all my other books and new releases!

You can purchase From Death He Departs by Dixie Dooley at Amazon.com. Dixie's non-fiction work, Houdini-Question Reality, is also still available.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Handcuff King's blog: Breaking into Russia

When Houdini first toured Europe during his early fame as The Handcuff King, he penned a regular column for the American newspaper the Dramatic Mirror. The columns are filled with wonderful tidbits about Vaudeville 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.

In 1903 Houdini traveled to Russia. It would be the first and only time he performed in the country. Much has been made of the fact that Houdini could or would even want to travel into Czarist Russia at the peak of his European fame. Certainly this is irrefutable evidence that Houdini was a spy!!!!

But Houdini's column for the Dramatic Mirror clearly shows that Russian Music Halls were booming along with the rest of Europe, and there were a great many American and European acts flowing into Russia at the time. As to the fact that Jews could not perform or even sleep in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Houdini himself provides the explanation for how he and his fellow performers got around this anti-Semitic edict:

Hebrews are not allowed at all into Russia, but this is easily overcome by simply denying your religion when you are having your passport vised by the Russian consul, or you can go into Russian with a license, like a dog.

OR you can be a Top Secret Secret Agent on a Top Secret Secret Mission!!! Believe what you like.

Anyway, with visa in hand and audiences waiting, the task was getting into the country, which Houdini discovered was a magic trick in itself. In a column headlined "Houdini in Russia" dated April 23, 1903, the Handcuff King writes:

The above is the Russian date, but it is May 5 in other countries. We left Berlin, and taking the "Courier" train, we were soon speeding on our way to Russia. We arrived in good time at the frontier, Alexandrowo, and the merry revenue inspectors were soon looking at the odds and ends as well as other things that we had in our trunk. Such an inspection! No detective ever looked for a clue with greater zeal, no Sherlock Holmes ever tried to find a needle in a hay stack as these official searchers did. They stop you first to take away your passport; then calmly proceed to ransack your baggage. All my reading material was taken away and my desk-trunk was to have stopped there until everything was read through by the censor, but I shipped it back to Berlin. [...] As I carry a lot of burglar tools in my baggage, I had to obtain permission from the Russian Ministerium to take them into Russia, and I think they would have sent me back to Germany had it not been that I carried a permit to take in the tools. Eventually the inspection came to an end, and once again we were on our way to Moscow.

Houdini's Russian tour was very eventful. He performed for the Grand Duke in Moscow and made a spectacular escape from a Siberian Transport Prison Van. These exploits have be told in the many Houdini biographies, so no need for me to go into them here. In fact, Houdini himself doesn't write that much about his Russian triumphs, but on June 22 ("Russian Date") he does offer up an untold story of how he and Bess celebrated the most American of holidays:

Although yesterday was the Fourth of July in American, it is only June 21 here in Russia, but just the same our American Consul, Smith, invited all the American performers who were in Moscow to a celebration on the grounds of the consulate, over which waved a large American flag, while the Russians looked over the fence and wondered what the "always-in-a-hurry Americans" were up to. Among the guests were the Manhattan Quartette, Smith and Doretto, Weston of loop the hoopology, four of the Florida Girls, Miss Walcott, Mrs. Harry Houdini and myself. There were many speeches, but not a single firecracker or report of a gun was heard, and without these it did not seem at all like the Glorious Fourth to me.

Houdini's fellow celebrators that day, the Florida Girls, who did a popular dance called a cake-walk (performed by Bess herself early in her career), later ran afoul of the Russian police. Houdini writes:

Every theater is under the power of the police. Nothing can be said or done against their wishes, and if the wish to stop any performance, why they stop it, and that is all that there is to it. For instance, the Seven Florida Creole Girls do a cake-walk. The police saw their first performance and allowed them to go on. Now, after their tenth performance, the police have stopped them, saying that the American cake-walk is too suggestive. As I saw the act, I can honestly say that it is not one-tenth as suggestive as some of the can-can dancers I have seen on the same stage. But then I am not the Russian police; I am simply the man that escaped out of their Siberian "transport-cell," greatly to their astonishment. [Snap!]

Cakewalkers in 1903.

Coming next: Death of a rival.

Monday, April 1, 2013

No joke! Never before seen footage of Houdini and Marie Blood

It may be April Fools Day, but this is no joke. Recently our friend Jon Oliver -- the man who sleeps in Houdini's bed -- shared with me a remarkable 40 second fragment of film showing Houdini and Haldane of the Secret Service co-star Gladys Leslie cuddling and cooing over a small child with a puppy. The child, it turns out, is none other than Houdini's niece, Marie Hinson, who many Houdini buffs came to know as Marie Blood later in life. While there are photos of Houdini with young Marie, this is the only film footage that is known. Wild indeed!


But this footage is fascinating even apart from Marie. What is this exactly? It could just be Houdini, Leslie, and Marie relaxing on the set of Haldane having some fun before the camera. But I think this is much more. The head of the footage also contains a slate. This tell me this was shot specifically for the movie and looks like it could have been an alternate or even lost original ending. Terror Island had a similar ending; there Houdini and co-star Lila Lee are brought together for the final screen kiss by a small child. As it exists now, Haldane ends rather abruptly with a still photo of a ship presumably bringing Houdini/Haldane back to the United States.

The slate is also curious in that it shows the director as "King." This is almost certainly Burton King, director of The Man From Beyond. Houdini is credited for directing Haldane, but this shows that King was involved at some point. That's a bit of a game-changer. The name Zuker refers to Frank Zuker, one of two cameramen on Haldane. Note that the slate calls the film "Houdini Pro 2" (Production #2).

But enough of my yapping. I know what you want, and Jon has graciously allowed me to post the full footage here. So click below and watch film of Houdini and Marie Blood that has never been seen before (sorry for the time code). Action!



Marie Blood retained a handful of vivid memories of her "Uncle Harry" and spent the last decades of her life touring and talking about Houdini and "Aunt Bess." Marie also penned a delightful afterward in Ken Silverman's Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss. I had the pleasure of meeting Marie in 1995, at which time she shared some family secrets. Marie Blood passed away in 2004 at the age of 87.

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