Monday, September 30, 2013

Houdini Museum getting a facelift

WNEP reports that the Houdini Museum in Scranton, run by our friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, is getting a facelift. Construction has begun on a new facade that will resemble an old-time theatre with a marquee inspired by the downtown Scranton theatre where Houdini performed in the 1910′s. Here's video from a local newscast about the project.

HOUDINI MINISERIES STARTS FILMING IN BUDAPEST


It's happening! Cameras start rolling this week in Budapest on History's Houdini miniseries. The Lionsgate/A&E Studios co-production stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. The 4-hour miniseries is being directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. It will air over the course of two nights on History sometime in 2014.

Houdini is a true cradle to grave biopic which promises to dramatize events from Houdini's life that have never been featured in a biopic before. It's unclear if the production is filming in Budapest to accurately portray Houdini's birthplace, or if they are just utilizing production facilities in the capital city (Eastern Europe has become a popular place to shoot American productions). Whichever the case, it's fitting that this major new Houdini film is coming to life in the birthplace of Ehrich Weiss.

Hopefully we'll be seeing photos of Adrien and Kristen in character soon. We should also be getting some information on additional cast. Who's playing Mama, Hardeen, Conan Doyle, and Margery?

Obviously, this is one I will be following very closely here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. I've also launched an unofficial Houdini The Miniseries Facebook page.

www.facebook.com/HoudiniMiniseries

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Great Houdinis Thai novelization

Here's a surprise from the collection of Arthur Moses. This is a 1982 Thai edition of The Great Houdinis by Melville Shavelson. The novelization of the 1976 TV movie was published in the U.S. and UK, but this is the first foreign language edition I've ever seen. What I especially like is how the cover art takes the famous "Houdini for President" poster image and modifies it to look like star Paul Michael Glaser. Or perhaps the resemblance is just a happy coincidence? Whatever the case, this is a rare book and real treat to share on the eve of production of an all-new Houdini television film.

Arthur Moses Collection

In addition to having one of the great Houdini collections in the world, Arthur Moses has the most extensive collection of Houdini foreign language books and magazines. You can see some other rare covers on Arthur's official website.

Click here to read my production diary on the making of The Great Houdinis.

Thank you Arthur.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Unpublished Houdini starts next week

Next week I'll launch a new series in which I'll share a never-before-published photo of Houdini every week for the rest of 2013. This is made possible by our generous Hinson Endowment. So get ready the first installment of Unpublished Houdini, "Bound at Last", on October 1st. It's going to be Wild.

Houdini art doll by Victoria Mock

This unique hand-crafted mixed media sculpture art doll of Houdini by artist Victoria Mock recently sold on eBay for $245. Below is a description from the artist herself:

 "HARRY HOUDINI"
The Great Mystifier, by artist Victoria Mock.

This auction is for a fun collectable of the dark, mysterious turn-of-the-century magician, a direct 'One of a Kind' mixed media sculpture art doll of the infamous Houdini!

Only one was made, and is entirely hand-crafted from scratch. He stands about 12 inches, but was designed to be in this sitting pose. However, his entire body and legs can be gently posed and adjusted, but obviously, his arm movements are more restricted due to his permanent straitjacket.

Entirely hand-sculpted, completely costumed from scratch. His straitjacket is made of real leather and was designed to resemble the ones he used. He also wears ankle cuffs, (complete with tiny locks) and sits on a handmade wooden shipping crate, to resemble his great outdoor escapes.

He also comes with a miniature promo poster that I designed, including a tiny stand, to accompany him.

To see more of my past figures, please feel free to visit my website (you can Google me!) where you will find dolls from the year 1999 to the present.

Thank you for looking and take care!
-Victoria

Friday, September 27, 2013

John Calvert dies at 102

Sad news today in the magic world. Erika Larsen has just confirmed on the Magic Castle's Facebook group that legendary magician and actor John Calvert has passed away at age 102.

Calvert had a long and storied career in both movies and magic. He also knew Bess Houdini and Edward Saint when they lived in Hollywood in the 1930s (it's unclear if he ever knew or saw Houdini himself). When Bess saw Calvert's show she is reported to have said, "Calvert plays the part of a magician better than any actor I have ever seen, except for Harry, of course."

Bess sent a letter to Calvert, who had a seven year contract with Columbia Pictures, saying, "In my opinion, you are the only actor capable of portraying the life of my late husband, Harry Houdini. Are you interested?"

Calvert was interested. Unfortunately, the head of Columbia, Harry Cohn, was not, complaining that Houdini's story was "lacking in romance and needed a better ending than a punch in the solar plexus."

Calvert would go on to star in approximately 40 films in the 1940s and 1950s, including a lead role as the debonair detective known as "The Falcon." In many of his films he performed magic. In the 1940s he transported his magic show worldwide in a DC-3 aircraft which he piloted himself (and once crashed). According to his MagicPedia profile, biographer William V. Rauscher called Calvert a "real-life Indiana Jones" because of his reputation for surviving dangerous circumstances in his travels.

Calvert later produced and starred in a special "Tribute to Houdini" stage show, which was released on what is now a very collectible VHS. His last few birthdays were celebrated in the Inner Circle of the Magic Castle in Hollywood (I had the honor of attending the last one). He's survived by his wife and long-time assistant Tammy.

Aloha Mr. Calvert.

'Mysteries at the Museum' rings Margery's bell box

The Travel Channel's Mysteries at the Museum last night featured a segment about Houdini and Margery the Medium. The focus of the segment was the original bell box used during Margery's seances with Houdini. The bell box is housed in the amazing private collection of Ken Klosterman, the Salon de Magie, in Loveland, Ohio.


The magic historian for the segment was Gabe Fajuri and detailed the contentious Scientific American seances of 1924. The segment featured actors playing the parts of Houdini and Margery. The actor playing Houdini was a decent match. But the actress playing "the blonde witch of Boston" sported jet black hair for some reason. Still, it was well done, and it was great to see the Margery bell box up close.

Below is an abbreviated version of segment from the Mysteries at the Museum website. It's actually quite different from what was on the show itself and, unfortunately, perpetuates the mother myth (which was not in the episode).



For more on the curious relationship between Houdini and Mina Crandon, revisit The Margery Files from earlier this year, as well as our interview with Margery's great granddaughter, Anna Thurlow.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Adrien Brody in Budapest for Houdini

Paparazzi in Hungary (if that's what they're called there) have spied actor Adrien Brody in a restaurant in Budapest where the actor is preparing for the start of principle photography on the Houdini miniseries. This photo appeared on the Hungarian website index.hu and Google offers this translation of the action:

"Pulled his cap over his eyes, his girlfriend ate a soup together, they did not bother anyone."


Well I'm certainly glad they didn't bother anyone!

Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. The 4-hour Lionsgate A&E Studios co-production is being directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. It will air over the course of two nights on History in 2014.

ABC developing 'Modern-Day Houdini' TV series

Here's another one for our Hollywood-Houdini development slate. The Hollywood Reporter (which seems to have the exclusive on Houdini exclusives lately) says that Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman's ABC-based production company, Mandeville, has set up five new projects at the Disney-owned network, among them "a modern take on Houdini." Here's THR's somewhat perplexing description:

Houdini will be written by Jeff Addis and Will Matthews and follows legendary illusionist Harry Houdini when he partners with an unusually gifted female detective to solve the cases that baffle the LAPD in what is described as a fast-paced modern-day procedural. The drama comes as History will unspool its four-hour Houdini miniseries with Adrien Brody attached to star. Addis and Matthews are repped by Gersh and Principato Young.

So if this is a "modern-day procedural," then how can it feature "legendary illusionist Harry Houdini"? Unless it's Houdini's ghost? Or maybe a descendant with the same name? Or maybe they are taking a Sherlock-like approach and transplanting Houdini into the present day as if he were a fictional character -- which would be as creative as it would be confusing.

Whatever they're doing, it's always good to have more Houdini out there. But the Houdini project I'm banking on in 2014 is History's Houdini miniseries which promises to give us the real Houdini (or as real as television gets).

Still, I'll be following this one.


UPDATE: I've now heard that this is indeed Houdini's spirit come back from the beyond to help fight modern day crime. Alright.

LINK: Dinner at The Magic Castle with actress Kristen Connolly

Our good friend Tom Interval has posted to his blog Interval Magic details of how he's helped actress Kristen Connolly prepare for her role as Bess Houdini in the upcoming Houdini miniseries, and about his dinner last Saturday at the Magic Castle with Kristen (which I was honored to have been invited). Click the headline to have a read at Interval Magic.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

BESS HOUDINI IN COLOR

Last week I shared from our Hinson Endowment what I called the Greatest signed Houdini photo EVER. This week I offer what might very well be the greatest Bess Houdini photo ever. This beautiful 8x10 of Bess appears to have been taken around the time of the Final Houdini Seance in 1936 and is one of the only color photos I've ever seen of her. It's tinted rather than being from a color negative, but it's still awesome to see Bess come to life in this way.


Aside from the color, are some other interesting things about this image. First, I believe she is wearing her famous Czar's brooch. This can also be spotted in some younger photos of Bess. Today that brooch is owned by Arlene Larsen who wears it at special Magic Castle events. This photo also offers a rare look at Bess's teeth. Bess did not often show her teeth in photos, possibly because she was self-conscience about two crooked incisors (recall that her sister said in this audio that Bess "never let anyone see her teeth."). Well, her teeth look fine to me here. In fact, I think she looks radiant!

Okay, here's something else about this photo that I have to share, but this one is a bit strange (yes, stranger than talking about her teeth). When I first uploaded a scan of this photo to my Picassa Web Album, under this photo appeared a caption that read: "My beautiful picture." I did not write that caption. The caption appeared all by itself and just on this photo of Bess. Later I uploaded several more scans, two of which were unpublished photos of Bess. On those images and those images alone appeared the caption: "My beautiful picture."


Believe.

Thanks as always to John C. Hinson for allowing me to share this unique family treasure.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bess comes to life tomorrow

Tomorrow I'll post another treasure from our Hinson Endowment that brings Bess Houdini to life in a way that you've never before. And I'll throw in a ghost story as a bonus. See you tomorrow.

Backstage with Houdini The Play

Here are some terrific behind-the-scenes photos of Houdini (The Play) currently touring the UK. Houdini features Evanna Lynch as Bess, Stuart Brennan as Theo, and Jamie Nichols as Houdini. It arrives tonight at the Swansea Grand Theatre in Swansea. It then moves to the Windsor Theatre Royal (September 30 – October 5) and the Dublin Gaiety Theatre (October 7 – 12).

Bess and Beck get into character.

Theo gets top billing at last.

Houdini is in the house.

houdinitheplay on Instagram

Visit houdinitheplay.com for more details, to buy merchandise, and to book tickets.

LINK: The Melvins Houdini turns 20

Rhys Williams at Invisible Oranges has posted a blog about Melvins 1993 album Houdini. Houdini was Melvins first album for Atlantic Record and was co-produced by the legendary Kurt Cobain. The album turns 20 this year and is considered a classic of the sludge metal genre.

Click the headline to read one fan's take on Melvins Houdini.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Glass from Houdini's original Water Torture Cell

Last Saturday marked the 101st anniversary of Houdini's first public performance of his Chinese Water Torture Cell. Last year I marked the occasion by offering a historical retrospective of Houdini's most famous escape. This year I'll bring you a little closer with this look at an actual piece of half-inch tempered glass from the original cell itself.


I received this from John Gaughan, who did two major restorations on the cell, on March 1, 1999. At the time I was writing a comedy about magicians for DreamWorks and producer Judd Apatow called Bad Magic. I arranged to meet with John for research purposes. When I went to his workshop in Glendale that day, I wasn't even thinking about Houdini (believe it or not). Also, as far as I knew, the Water Torture Cell was long gone. The original press reports of the catastrophic 1995 fire at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame claimed the cell was melted into nothing.

Imagine my shock when John took me into his workshop, pointed to a metal frame sitting against the wall and asked, "Do you know what that is?" I certainly did! It was the USD itself risen from the ashes (literally).

John snapped two photos of me with the cell remains. He then went into a back room where he had collected some of the broken glass and came back with a piece for me. Today I keep this treasure housed inside my Water Torture Cell scale replica.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Meet the new Bess

Last night Tom Interval and I had the extreme pleasure of hosting Kristen Connolly and Danny Binstock at The Magic Castle in Hollywood. Kristen will be playing Bess Houdini the upcoming Houdini miniseries co-starring Adrien Brody. We had a wonderful evening talking about Harry and Bess and also enjoyed some excellent magic. I won't reveal what I may have learned about the production itself (except to say that it sounds like the Houdini movie of my dreams), but I will say that it was clear to both Tom and I that Kristen is ideally cast and is going to make a sensational Bess.


Thanks to Trish Alaskey, Lisa Cousins, and all the staff of the Magic Castle for giving Kristen and Danny the VIP treatment.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Footage of Houdini's Australian flight (now with more goggles)

Here's a Pathe newsreel about Houdini's historic first flight in Australia from the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum website. There's more footage here than we typically see, especially in showing Houdini adjusting his cap and goggles. The site also has an interesting article on The Hunt for Houdini’s Airplane which appears in the November 2013 issue of Air & Space magazine.


Thanks to Kevin Connolly at Houdini Himself for this one.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Textbook

Continuing my examination of books about Houdini using images and insights from my own collection.

U.S. first edition (1969).
Houdini The Untold Story by Milbourne Christopher stood for 28 years as the definitive Houdini biography -- the textbook. Christopher was a top magician and magic historian who had a massive Houdini collection, including over 1000 letters, and made good use of his primary sources. Even today the book is a reliable go-to source. It wasn't until 1996's Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss by Kenneth Silverman that a more authoritative Houdini "textbook" would be published. For many years Christopher was king.

Houdini The Untold Story was first published in hardcover by Thomas Y. Crowell Co. on March 21, 1969. The book received rave reviews in the magic journals of the day. Part of this was because Christopher was a member of the magic fraternity. But the book was also deserving of the praise. Genii called it "undoubtedly one of the best books of the year." The Linking Ring enthused, "With the writing of this book [Christopher] now becomes one of the outstanding biographers."

But it's Bayard Grimshaw's review in his "About Magicians" column in the UK that really nails the book's core strength (while foretelling some of the sins that will plague later Houdini biographies). Says Grimshaw:

It is a straightforward factual narrative devoid of padding: no "secrets", no unconvincing imaginary conversations, no scene-painting. But packed with solid authentic detail as the book is, Mr. Christopher with his delightfully lucid and objective style of writing contrives to to make it compelling and enthralling reading none the less.

It's amusing to note that even these positive reviews start off by asking the question, "Do we really need another book about Houdini?" Yes, yes we do.

Original advertisements from Genii and The Linking Ring.

Houdini The Untold Story has enjoyed a long life in print, which makes it a fun book to collect. But there are some challenges. Notably, when seeking out the U.S. hardcovers from Crowell, you'll encounter two different states of the dustjackets. The difference is on the spines, with some having the name HOUDINI running down the spine in bold letters and others have the name running across the spine in compressed lettering. Both first editions in my collection have the lettering running down the spine. The compressed lettering appears on a second edition. But then, oddly, the bold text returns on a third edition. Was the compressed text unique to the second edition? What I have seems to bare that out, but it's also possible that both states were used on all editions and I just happened to draw two firsts with the name running down the spine.

Okay, if you're still with me after that, then you are clearly as into this as I am. So let's continue.

Crowell later released a hardcover that was more compact in size. The compact edition I own is a 7th and carries the ISBN 069040431X. What year Crowell started doing these compact editions is not clear. In fact, none of the dates of any of these hardcovers is clear as the publisher only lists the original 1969 copyright on all editions.

Spine variations of the U.S. hardcovers and the first UK edition from Cassell.

Houdini The Untold Story was released as a hardcover in the UK by Cassell & Company in October 1969. A second impression was published in February 1970. As far as I know, these were the only UK releases. There was no UK paperback (but I would love to be proven wrong on that).

The first U.S. paperback edition was released by Pocket Books in June 1970. The paperback retained all the photos of the hardcover edition. Curiously, the more impressive cover artwork (uncredited) was reserved for the back of book.

Pocket Books first paperback edition, front and back (1970).

In 1975 Pocket reprinted Houdini The Untold Story with beautiful new artwork of Houdini walking through a brick wall (still one of my favorite covers). In October 1976, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Houdini's death, Pocket released a new paperback edition with additional material advertised on the cover as being: "Candid revelations from Houdini's unpublished private papers and letters." The additional content is excellent and makes this last Pocket paperback worth seeking out.

The 1975 and 1976 Pocket paperbacks.

In June of 1988 Houdini The Untold Story returned as a hardcover in an unauthorized facsimile edition published by Aeonian Press (later called Amereon Press). This edition was published without a dust-jacket and was limited to 300 copies. The Aeonian edition did not contain the original book's photos, but it does include the additional material from the 1976 Pocket paperback. In 1996 Aeonian republished the book again (again limited to 300) with a blue cover and embossed gold title.

The 1988 and 1996 Aeonian Press limited editions.

After remaining out of print for a decade (three if we discount the unauthorized editions), Houdini The Untold Story returned in a major way in 2012 when David Haversat's 1878 Press, in cooperation with the Milbourne Christopher Foundation, released a special "Deluxe Edition" limited to 300 hand-numbered copies. The book included a new 8-page section of rare color photos from David's private collection and beautiful binding. Those who bought the book direct from 1878 Press had it personally inscribed by Christopher's wife, Maurine (who passed away earlier this year).

This Deluxe Edition was a fine way to honor the Houdini scholarship of Milbourne Christopher and his "Textbook."

2012 Deluxe Edition from 1878 Press.

Thanks to Arthur Moses for images and information on the 1988 Aeonian edition.

Also enjoy:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Harlan and Bessie will teach you the Needles


Here's an unpublished photo of Bess Houdini with Harlan Tarbell, author of the famous Tarbell Course in Magic. Not long ago Dean Carnegie at The Magic Detective revealed how it was almost the Houdini Course in Magic. Reportedly, Houdini was originally approached by the publishers to author the series. Houdini was too busy and instead recommended Tarbell. The rest is magic history.

So why have I pulled this photo from our new Hinson Endowment prematurely (I'll replace it with a better quality version later)? Because I thought this was a fun way to let you know that the Conjuring Arts Research Center is offering the original 1926–1929 Tarbell Correspondence Course as free PDF until September 22. This is the 11th and final offering in their Summer Reading Program, which also saw a free PDF of The Memories of Robert-Houdin.

This 1243-page PDF contains many references to Houdini and some escape methods. It also has 4-pages on the working method for Houdini's classic Needles!

LESSON 27

First in this lesson, I give you the Famous Needle Trick. The eminent Houdini featured this wonderful effect on his vaudeville programs. He studied it detail by detail from the standpoint of SHOWMANSHIP, and in his hands it became a masterpiece. You, too, must study this effect carefully to make your presentation of it a thing which will make your audiences long remember you.

CLICK HERE to get a free copy of the Houdini...er, I mean, Tarbell Course before September 22 when it disappears.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Glendale & Ridgewood Life go 'Behind Houdini's Final Resting Place'

Our good friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton grace the cover of the October 2013 issue of Glendale & Ridgewood Life. The magazine features writings and photography by residents of the Glendale and Ridgewood communities in Queens, New York.

Of course, one of those "residents" is Houdini himself. The great magician is buried in Machpelah Cemetery in Ridgewood, and in this issue Dorothy Dietrich has penned an article about the history of the grave site, the history of Houdini and the Society of American Magicians (whose emblem graces the exedra), and her own efforts to keep the grave in a condition worthy of the Master Mystifier. It's a terrific article with some nice photos; and congrats to Dorothy and Dick for making the cover!

Glendale & Ridgewood Life is published in a printed edition and online. You can read the online version via THIS LINK.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Evan Jones joins the cast of History's Houdini miniseries

The Hollywood Reporter has landed another exclusive with the news that actor Evan Jones will be joining the cast of History's Houdini miniseries playing the role of Houdini's "nerdy assistant."

According to the report, Jones will play Jim, "a shy but passionate fan of Houdini's who meets his hero while working at a magic store." It's unclear if this "Jim" is supposed to be Jim Collins, Houdini's real life chief assistant and mechanic.

Jones' acting credits include Jarhead, 8 Mile, and The Book of Eli.

Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. The 4-hour Lionsgate/A&E Studios co-production is set to begin production next month under the direction of Uli Edel.

UPDATE: According to IMDb, Jones is indeed playing Jim Collins.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Greatest signed Houdini photo EVER

Let's kick off our new Hinson Endowment today with what I'm deeming to be the greatest signed Houdini photo EVER. Why do I say that? Well, for starters, Houdini has inscribed this beautiful cabinet photo (which is a rare image in itself) in German. That makes this one of the very few examples of his use of the family language. He's also signed it with his real name, Ehrich. Again, only a handful of Ehrich (Weiss) signatures exist.

But what really makes this special and a major piece of Houdiniana is the fact that Houdini has inscribed this photo to his mother. Apart from the famous "Dear Ma" postcard of his youth, this is the only piece of writing from Houdini to his mother that I've ever seen. Boom.


So what does this greatest EVER inscription say exactly? That's not entirely clear, even to our benefactor, John Hinson. So I turned to a German friend, Helmut Schierer from Nuremberg, who gave me his take. Says Helmut:

It's a bit strange, sounds like somebody not having used his German for some time and not being overly concerned about orthography. It's a mix of German and English and makes a - slight - mistake, mixing dative and accusative as Berliners are prone to. It says:

'My Daer Mama, well here I am. Give me (here he used the wrong grammatical case) a kiss your Ehrich.'

Thanks to Helmut for the translation and, of course, to John C. Hinson for allowing me to share this rare family treasure. We're off to great start!

The Houdini Collection

No, not THAT kind of a collection. This is a new clothing line.

"Abracadabra! Magically transform your wardrobe with the HOUDINI COLLECTION. Sure to fit your figure like magic!" 

You can learn more about the HOUDINI COLLECTION on Facebook.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Houdini's Dutch entanglements

Here are two ads from January 1903 that ran in the Dutch newspaper, Algemeen Handelsblad. These come courtesy of their discoverer, Dick Koornwinder. Notice that Houdini is sharing the bill with Milla Barry. That's a name that should ring a bell.

William Kalush revealed The Secret Life of Houdini that Houdini had some sort of a romantic entanglement with Barry at this time. It may or my not have been a full fledged affair, but Houdini complained to a friend that Barry was trying to break up his marriage. "I am having a hell of a time, and it will become worse," he wrote in a letter.

During this same engagement, Houdini offered 500 Gulden if he failed to escape from a straitjacket. I'm sure he succeeded. Escaping from Milla appears to have been more difficult.


Thanks to Dick Koornwinder for sharing these ads. To see a photo of Milla click here.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

American Legends: The Life of Harry Houdini available in paperback

American Legends: The Life of Harry Houdini by Charles River Editors is now available as a paperback from Amazon. It had previously only been available as an eBook.

As I warned when the eBook was released, this is a 36-page quickie "book" that scrambles facts and lifts some of its content from Houdini's imperfect (to say the least) Wikipedia page. The photos have all been sourced from online as well.

Still, I'm happy to see it offered in a printed edition and I will be adding this one to the bookshelf. One for completists.

Purchase American Legends: The Life of Harry Houdini from Amazon.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Announcing the Hinson Endowment


I have something very exciting to announce today. On this blog I've periodically been able share some rare images and items from the private collections of major Houdini collectors, including: Arthur Moses, Jon Oliver, Anna Thurlow, Patrick Culliton, Kevin Connolly, and the mysterious MSW. I've also been fortunate to receive many items from individual readers and fans. I only have a limited amount of Houdini treasures myself, so I'm thankful that so many have contributed to our little temple of Houdini study.

Now I've received what can only be called a major endowment of material that will power this blog for years. That's because John C. Hinson, the great nephew of Harry and Bess Houdini, has generously provided me with nearly 400 slides of Houdini photos, documents, and personal items from his private collection. These are treasures passed down to the Hinson family from Bess Houdini herself, and in this largely untapped cache are many unpublished photos of Harry and Bess. You got a taste of that in our BONUS interview with John's grandmother, Marie. Now John has given me permission to share as many of these images as I like here at WILD ABOUT HARRY. Oh baby...

The only catch is I need to convert these slides to digital photos. The good news is, thanks to all you who have used my Amazon links and/or clicked the occasional Google ad, I have a war chest of funds that makes this doable. So our shared passion has nicely come together in a magic moment and we are all about to be rewarded with Houdini riches!

Next week I will post the first image from the Hinson Endowment. I'm calling it the "Greatest signed Houdini photo EVER"...because it is. Then in October (depending on how quickly I can get the slides transferred) I will launch a new series called UNPUBLISHED HOUDINI. Here I will share a new never-before-seen photo of Houdini every week for the rest of 2013. I will also periodically pull from the endowment to do posts about specific items or illustrate relevant posts. As I said, this will power us for some time to come.

So please join me in thanking John C. Hinson for this generous gift from the other side of the Houdini family. Now let's go WILD!

October 1st - Unpublished Houdini

Thursday, September 12, 2013

LINK: Houdini’s Stamford home identified

Our friend Tom Interval of Houdini Museum has done some fantastic detective work on Houdini's little-known country home in North Stamford, Connecticut. Tom has discovered the exact location as 286 Webb’s Hill Road and has uncovered an article about the house (that we all missed) in The Historic Neighborhood Preservation Program's Fall 2011 newsletter.

You can read that article and all of Tom's findings by clicking over to Houdini Museum.

LINK: Houdini The Play reviewed

Click the headline to read a positive review at The Stage of the new UK stage production, HOUDINI, currently playing at the Stoke on Trent Repertory Theatre.

"Despite a wealth of books, films and documentaries, this new theatre production is a welcome contribution to helping us understand what made the great Harry Houdini tick."

HOUDINI is at the Stoke on Trent Repertory Theatre through September 14. It then moves on to the Blackpool Grand Theatre (September 16 – 21), Swansea Grand Theatre (September 24 – 28), Windsor Theatre Royal (September 30 – October 5), and the Dublin Gaiety Theatre (October 7 – 12).

Visit houdinitheplay.com for more details and to book tickets.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"You know what the lowest form of life is?"

Here's a short clip from the 1998 film Houdini. Here Harry (Johnathon Schaech) articulates his stance on Spiritualism. It's much more extreme than Houdini's actual position, and he also gets the date of his mother's death wrong (it was July 17, not the 16th). Still, I like how this movie took a dramatic timeout to allow a lecture from Houdini on "the lowest form of life."



Houdini recently became available on DVD via the Warner Archive Collection. Read my full review of the movie HERE.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Jackie Gleason in a Hardeen jacket?

This playbill for the September 28th, 1942 performance of Hellzapoppin' at the Erlanger Theatre in Chicago is currently on eBay. This run of the show starred Lew Parker and comedy legend Jackie Gleason, and the playbill features Gleason in a straitjacket on the cover.


Okay, here's the thing. How would the show get their hands on a regulation straitjacket, if only to take this photo? Obviously, they would ask Hardeen, who was also part of this Chicago engagement. So this is almost certainly a Hardeen (and possibly Houdini?) straitjacket. In fact, if you look at the collar and the waist strap, I'd say this is the same jacket that we see on Hardeen in these well-known photos.


So we have The Great One in The Great Hardeen's straitjacket. Pretty great!

Hardeen photos from The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Walter B. Gibson.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Houdini's toughest audience


Houdini performed before royalty, faced down Russian and German secret police, sold out theaters across three continents, and baffled two U.S. Presidents. But did you know he also did children's birthday parties? Of course, it helps when the children are named Roosevelt.

Contained in the amazing lost Houdini Spiritualism scrapbook is a page with two detailed clippings about Houdini's private performance in 1925 for eight grandchildren of the late President Theodore Roosevelt. While there is one well-known photo from the occasion (above), details of this performance have never found their way into any biographies, so I'm happy to share the story here now.

The party took place on February 20, 1925, at the home of Mrs. H.A. Alexander, mother-in-law of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., at 167 East 74th Street in Manhattan. The party guests were: Grace (13); Theodore, III (10); Cornelius (9); Quentin (5); Edith (9); Kermit, Jr. (9); Willard (7); and Clochet (5). This was reported to be the first gathering of the eight grandchildren of the former President by his second marriage (two infant grandchildren did not attend). Chaperons of the party included the President's widow and Mrs. Kermit Roosevelt. Houdini "the great ectoclast" -- as he was called in the Political Notes section of The New York Times -- was the entertainment.

Houdini started with a series of sleight-of-hand tricks, which the Times dubbed as "thaumaturgy." Teddy was the most restless of the children, wanting to know how the tricks were done. Houdini had to twice push him away. "He was getting too close to the secret," said the magician.

Following the magic, Houdini took on the role of "medium" and proceed to give a seance. If this seems to be a curious choice for children, know that in 1925 Houdini was at the height of his spirit-busting fame. He had also amazed their grandfather with the same effect eleven years earlier. The Times account concludes:

Then he gave a mock-seance--only the eight grandchildren would not sit; they insisted on standing up and crowding around the medium. He produced two white pieces of silk, folded them up and gave them to the children to hold. He called upon the spirits. He begged them to make manifest their existence by painting portraits of the late President.

Again the medium set to work. He produced a great slate, 18 inches high and over two feet long. The children examined it; it was quite unwritten on. Carefully the medium wrapped it in a cloth. Teddy and Cornelius were made to hold it. Again the medium implored the spirits. The slate was unwrapped. It bore two portraits--one of the President, the other of Uncle Quentin, killed in France. Under the President's picture was an inscription saying that if he should ever come back, it would be through the medium of Houdini. Below was signed in unmistakable hand: "Your devoted Theodore" and "In haste, your devoted Theodore and Quentin."

Teddy III shouted: "It's a film and you developed it under the cloth."

"No," answered Mr. Houdini, "but believe anything except that spirits did it."

Ice cream and cake! Ice cream!

Houdini The Play opens tonight

I want to wish Jamie Nichols, Evanna Lynch, Stuart Brennan, and all the cast and crew of HOUDINI the best of luck with tonight's World Premiere at the Stoke on Trent Repertory Theatre in the UK. From all I've heard it sounds like this is going to be a phenomenal production. Harry, Bess, and Theo are in good hands. Break a leg, everyone!


Visit houdinitheplay.com for the full tour details and to book tickets.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Houdini's Real Science Adventures continue

Following his appearance in Atomic Robo Real Science Adventures #9, Ehrie "Harry Houdini" Weiss is back for more action in issues #10, #11, and #12, all of which are available for purchase and pre-order from Midtown Comics.

Atomic Robo Real Science Adventures #10
Atomic Robo Real Science Adventures #11 (9/18/13)
Atomic Robo Real Science Adventures #12 (9/18/13)

And if you are a completist, know that Houdini pops up in a short 8-page story contained in Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures Volume 1, which can be purchased on Amazon. You can also read that story for free here.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Knott's 41st Halloween Haunt will have Houdini-themed attraction


Every year Knott's Berry Farm in California remakes their entire theme park into a massive Halloween scarefest -- "Knott's Scary Farm." Among five new mazes for the 2013 season will be one with a Houdini theme called Black Magic. Here's a description:

The veil between the living and the dead is severed when Houdini’s ghost materializes during a séance and ushers a host of demonic illusions to play tricks on anyone who intrudes on his theatre. From the prop room to the main stage this dilapidated theatre will make visitors skin crawl. Will you be part of the disappearing act?

Black Magic is designed by Daniel Miller who, according to PE Bloggers, "found himself contemplating Harry Houdini’s attempts to communicate with the dead and imagines what would happen if the magician were able to return from the other side."

"I’m going to have lots of fun with it," says Miller.

Knott's 41st Halloween Haunt will open on Sept. 29. For more information and to buy advance tickets, visit https://www.knotts.com/haunt.

Boo!

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