Friday, December 27, 2013

Getting 'Smarter Every Day' about Houdini

Okay, I'm breaking my self-imposed "vacation" (you knew it would happen) because I had to share this latest installment of the popular YouTube series, Smarter Every Day. This episode tackles everybody's favorite topic: "How Houdini DIED (in Slow Motion)." I had the pleasure of helping out host Destin on this one, and even got a nice credit at the end. So click below and get smarter for crying out loud!



You can check out other episodes at the Smarter Every Day YouTube channel. And if you are coming to WILD ABOUT HARRY from Smarter Every Day, here are a few links with additional information about the punch (and the puncher) that "killed" Houdini:

The McGill explanation

UPDATE: As of January 5, this video has gone viral with over 10 million views! Amazing. It's also attracted some wild comments. My favorite below:

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Have a Harry Christmas and a Magic New Year

From The Original Houdini Scrapbook

Thanks to everyone for another terrific year of being WILD ABOUT HARRY! I'll be back on January 1, 2014 with another full year of the latest Houdini happenings.
-John Cox 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Young Houdini #1 cover and synopsis

I hadn't expected to see anything on Simon Nicholson's first "Young Houdini" book, The Magician's Fire, until next year. But now Amazon.co.uk has posted the cover art and a plot synopsis. Gotta say, I love this cover and the Young Houdini logo. This is going to be a fun series to collect.

The world's most famous magician. But before his name became legend, who was young Harry Houdini? New York City, 1886. Harry Houdini is just a penniless street urchin dabbling with a few escape tricks. But when a well-known magician goes missing in mysterious circumstances, Harry and his friends, Arthur and Billie, are sucked into a deadly adventure. Now Harry must put all his extraordinary skills into action - not just to solve the mystery - but to stay alive. Because when he falls into the clutches of some of Manhattan's most dangerous villains, his spectacular escapes won't be for show - they'll be a matter of life and death!

Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire will be published in the UK by Oxford University Press in November 2014. The series is aimed at readers 9-12. There is no news yet on a U.S. publisher.

Pre-order Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire from Amazon.co.uk.

Related posts:

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hugh Jackman bows out of Houdini Broadway musical


Variety is reporting that Hugh Jackman has dropped out of the Houdini Broadway musical. The article by Gordon Cox says:

Hugh Jackman has stepped away from the upcoming Broadway musical “Houdini,” citing the scheduling demands of developing a new tuner as the cause of his departure from a project to which he’s been attached, both formally and informally, for several years now.

“I have greatly enjoyed the collaborative process on ‘Houdini,’” the actor said in a statement. “Ultimately, though, I wasn’t able to commit to the time this role will require. I have tremendous respect and admiration for the creative team and I wish everyone the best. I know they’re well on their way to making something extraordinary.”

Of the actor’s departure, producer Scott Sanders said in a statement, “Hugh has been terrific to have on this part of our journey. We will continue to move forward with our remarkable creative team as they craft this ambitious new musical.”

Variety optimistically speculates that:

Although the thesp’s exit takes the heat down a tick, the brewing tuner will still be closely watched since it’s the latest project from composer Stephen Schwartz, whose last musical, “Wicked,” has been one of the Rialto’s top grossers for a decade now.

If there’s a silver lining to Jackman ankling his role, it’s that producers won’t be saddled with a property that would likely be indelibly linked to Jackman in tickeybuyers’ minds, thereby making casting his eventual replacement an enormously difficult task.

Can't say this is a surprise. It's been clear that this project was on the ropes after Aaron Sorkin left the project in early 2013. The Houdini Broadway musical has been in the works since 2008.

Unpublished Houdini: FOREVER

Today we have the final installment of Unpublished Houdini. In this series I shared a new never-before-published photo of Houdini every Monday from our generous Hinson Endowment.

This portrait shot of Houdini has appeared in at least one documentary, but I don't believe it has ever seen print; so I think it's a perfect way to end our Unpublished Houdini series. What can I say? This is a fantastic shot of Houdini, capturing his iconic gaze and intensity, and the background gives it a very contemporary feel. It's almost like this was put together in present day to exaggerate the mystery of Houdini. But this is Houdini's own work in his own time. It's Houdini then, now, FOREVER.

"I am going to live as long as I want to and on my 100th birthday I am going to do my upside-down strait-jacket escape hanging from the tallest building in New York City."
-HOUDINI

I hope you all enjoyed our weekly dose of Unpublished Houdini. But don't worry, I still have plenty of unpublished shots of Houdini and Bess from our Hinson Endowment and I'll continue to share them in posts throughout 2014.

The Complete Unpublished Houdini:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Is Houdini headed back under the ice?

Hungarian actress Eszter Ónodi, who plays Cecilia Weiss in HISTORY's Houdini miniseries, has shared an intriguing behind the scenes photo on her Facebook page. It shows the actress under a sheet of ice in a nightgown. A ghostly vision of Mama guiding Harry to the surface maybe?

This should sound familiar. In the classic 1953 Houdini biopic starring Tony Curtis, Houdini finds himself trapped under an ice sheet during an underwater escape and follows the sound of his mother's voice to the exit. It one of the most memorable and harrowing moments in the film.

So does this mean the Houdini miniseries will feature the trapped under the ice story as well? If so, it might raise some heckles among magic buffs. Even though Houdini himself told this tale, it generally accepted to be pure fiction, and even Hollywood has resisted this bit of mythology since the Curtis film.

But there is another possibility. This is just my own speculation (I've not read the script and I've not discussed this with anyone involved in the production), but this could be a dream sequence. This would be a very clever way to have this famous Houdini episode in the film without perpetuating the myth that it actually happened. Having it happen only in Houdini's imagination…that works pretty well!

So is this a dream or "reality"? I guess we'll find out next year.

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

Look who's hiding in this Lincoln mag


Here's one that might have slipped past you Houdini periodical collectors last year. This special LINCOLN magazine was released by Hudson Publications as tie-in to Steven Spielberg's Lincoln biopic in 2012. On page 140 is an article titled "Lincoln's Ghost" which uses the famous spirit photograph of Houdini and the late President. The photo also appears in the Table of Contents.

Weirdly, the article calls Houdini "Harry Price (Houdini)". Price??? Well, it sorta sounds like Weiss...

Houdini called Abraham Lincoln "my hero of heroes." He owned a large collection of Lincoln material, including letters, and also material related to John Wilkes Booth and the Booth family. He also corresponded with the President's son, Robert Todd Lincoln. Houdini's Lincoln collection is now housed in the Library of Congress. The photo here is one of several the magician made.

Thanks to my friend and talented artist Ron Mondz for this find.

Best of 2013: Mythbusting


As we count down to the New Year, I'm directing readers back to a few of the more interesting and popular posts from 2013. This year we challenged a few classic stories and assumptions and tried to separate fact from fiction. Many of these stories garnered comments that are more interesting than the posts themselves! Here are a few of WILD ABOUT HARRY's 2013 mythbusters.

Did Houdini win his London engagement with an escape at Scotland Yard?
Houdini vs Scotland Yard; but did it really happen?

Was Houdini's anti-spiritualist crusade really triggered by his mother's death?
100 years ago: Mama's death and the birth of a myth

Did J. Gordon Whitehead's punch cause Houdini's fatal appendicitis?
Time to rethink the rethinking on the Houdini punch
(This one definitely unleashed the comments!)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Houdini the Budget Gourmet

Here's something from our friend Joe Fox that might jog the memory of a few. These two Budget Gourmet TV spots appeared in the late 1980s and featured "The Great Houdini." The first ad is titled "Houdini Jr." and the longer ad "Houdini 79."

Maybe the concept here is that this is a Houdini protege and not Houdini himself? That would explain the mustache. But whatever the intent, they're good fun, and I've not seen these online anywhere else. I've uploaded them to the WILD ABOUT HARRY YouTube page. Hopefully Budget Gourmet, which is still around today, won't make them disappear.



Thanks to Joe Fox for this blast from the past.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Harry and Mama revealed

Here's our first real look at Adrien Brody as Houdini in HISTORY's upcoming Houdini miniseries. Here he's posing with Hungarian actress Eszter Ónodi who plays his mother, Cecilia Weiss, in the new film. This behind-the-scenes shot was posted to Ónodi's Facebook page.


My guess is this is from the ball in Budapest when Houdini reunites his mother with relatives while she is dressed in a gown made for Queen Victoria (this scene was also memorably dramatized in 1976's The Great Houdinis). Seems fitting that our first good look at Harry would be with Mama by his side.

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


Thanks to Botond Kelle.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Unseen French 'Terror Island' posters

Mega collector Arthur Moses has made an exciting discovery in a newly acquired French film magazine, Bulletin Paramount, from February 1922. As you can see on the page below, there are three French Terror Island posters featured. The poster with Houdini in the bamboo neck stocks surfaced in 2005 and sold at auction for $12,650. But the other two larger posters, as far as I know, have never been seen before!

One poster shows Houdini/Howard Hillary in his pith helmet fighting off a native. The other shows Houdini/Hillary being chained to a chair by thugs (this sequence is, unfortunately, missing from the surviving print of the film).

Click to enlarge.

Oh to see these posters in color! Maybe we will someday.

Merci Arthur.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Guest Blog: Silver Mirror cuffs made before the challenge? Not so fast...

Today we have a Guest Blog by Master Locksmith and Mirror Handcuff expert Mick Hanzlik regarding a new finding about the silver Mirror Presentation cuffs.


There has been a lot written about Houdini's Mirror Handcuff Challenge of 1904, but not much information has been available about the silver replica handcuffs that he was presented with by the Daily Illustrated Mirror, to commemorate his victory.

We know that he was presented with the silver cuffs about six weeks after his victory, during a performance at the Brighton Hippodrome, and we also know that the original cuffs and the replicas were kept in the family in the possession of Bess and they eventually were seen together in a glass case at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls.

Both handcuffs are now owned by illusionist David Copperfield, and are housed in his private Museum of Magic in Las Vegas.

Recently there has been speculation as to when the replica handcuffs were made.

Click to enlarge.
In the Kalush/Sloman book, The Secret Life of Houdini, it states that after analyzing the marks on the sterling silver replicas, an amazing fact surfaced. It stated that the date mark was for 1903, a year BEFORE the challenge took place, so it was evident that the Daily Mirror conspired with Houdini to create a "highly dramatic and exciting challenge"

Well, this of course is possible, but I want to give one reason why there may have been some confusion.

I have been in touch with the London Assay Office who have controlled the marks on silver for hundreds of years. I sent them a photograph of the marks and they came back with the following information:

The H&CO mark is the maker's mark, Hamilton and Company, who were based at 202 Regent Street, London.

The lion denotes that the cuffs were registered with the London Assay Office.

The leopard head denotes that the cuffs were made of Sterling silver.

The "h" denotes the date. 1903.

BUT - it has been confirmed that the date marks did not run from January to January.

The date marks ran from May to May.

The challenge was March 17th 1904. The replica cuffs were presented to Houdini about six weeks after the challenge, so at the latest, that would be towards the end of April 1904. During those six weeks, the cuffs would have to be registered as required by the Assay Office, so that would have had to have been before May 1904, therefore the 1903 "h" mark would have been the only one that could have been used.

Of course, the silver replica cuffs COULD have been made any time between May 1903 and May 1904 and still carry the "h" date mark, so there is still uncertainty when they were actually made. The records for the makers Hamilton & Co would give the definitive answer, but the company stopped trading in late 1904, so they are probably lost forever.

My personal thoughts are these: The replica cuffs were presented to Houdini about six weeks after the challenge. Six weeks would in my opinion, be just about long enough to make the replicas, get them engraved with the inscription saying that Houdini beat the challenge, and then get them registered with the Assay Office.

As the challenge created so much publicity for the Mirror and Houdini, I think that by presenting Houdini with the silver replicas, they were able to gain even more publicity.

So I would like to think that they were made in those 6 weeks following the challenge. Maybe we will never know, but the research continues……

-Mick Hanzlik

Related posts:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Simon Nicholson penning new Young Houdini series

Author and television writer Simon Nicholson is penning a new series of "Young Houdini" books for kids, with the first book, Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire, coming in 2014. I haven't been able to track down much information on the series yet, but I did find this on Nicholson's agent's website:

Simon also writes children's fiction and book one of his YOUNG HOUDINI series will be published in June 2014 by OUP with the second to follow in May 2015. Film and television rights have been sold.

Nicholson has written for film, theatre and television and has worked extensively in children's TV. He is currently on the core writing team for the new pre-school show for Nickelodeon, Quick Quack Duck.

This is actually the second series about a young Houdini to enter the market recently. The first book in The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles by Marty Chan was released in October.

Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire is available for pre-order on Amazon.co.uk.

UPDATE: Young Houdini #1 cover and synopsis

High Schoolers win state finals with help from Houdini

Jonny Smith as Houdini and Olivia Skillern as Bess.

The Madison Record reports that the Bob Jones High School drama department won "Best Play" honors at the Alabama Conference of Theatre state finals with their original production, Houdini: The Last Illusion.

Four actors from the play were named to the "All-Star Cast": Jonny Smith (Harry Houdini), Olivia Skillern (Bess Houdini); Kayla Peel (Cecilia Weiss); and Marcus Mack (Paul). The production also won for "Best Technical Production" and "Best Costumes."

Matt Adams, a professional magician, advised on the show's illusions.

Bob Jones will now represent Alabama at the Southeastern Theatre Conference, the nations' largest drama competition, in March 2014.

Good luck to all!

Thanks to Bill Mullins for the news.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Unpublished Houdini: Among Gods

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

Here's a photo of Houdini and Bess posing with a group of fellow travelers at "Balanced Rock" in the Garden of the Gods National Park in Colorado Springs, CO. This was most likely taken in December of 1915 as Houdini was performing in Colorado Springs at this time, and that date seems right for his appearance. (It's likely this photo was taken during this same trip.)

By the way, notice the tall man in the back without a hat. Looks a lot like Adrien Brody, doesn't it? Spooky...

Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods."
- Surveyor Rufus Cable, 1859

Balanced Rock in the Garden of the Gods National Park still exists today and is a popular stop and photo op for tourists. Now besides being an amazing natural phenomena, we can add: Houdini was here!


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Yikes! Clearly not wild about Harry

Houdini buff Barry Spector, who runs the antique shop Past Time Treasures in Clementon, New Jersey (which sports a Houdini-themed advertising banner in front), has come across a very interesting, if somewhat disturbing, Houdini item. It's a notebook, probably from around 1925-26, kept by what appears to be a Houdini hating spiritualist.

According to Barry, "There are many pages of newspaper clippings written by Houdini or mentioning him, and his crusade. There are also pages of notes on floating trumpets, sittings, spirit guides, a list of birthdays, and the like. The clippings come from the defunct Philadelphia Record. They mention Houdini's engagement at the Walnut St Theatre in Philly."

Barry sent along the following page, which clearly shows the depth of hatred some Spiritualists felt for Houdini during his lifetime. Vicious stuff.


Thanks, Barry, for sharing this fascinating snapshot of the time.

Best of 2013: Marie's memories

This was a big year for WILD ABOUT HARRY, and one of the true highlights happened over Labor Day weekend when I able to share audio excerpts from an interview with Bess Houdini's sister, Marie Hinson (Rahner). In these amazing clips Marie remembers intimate details about her sister and famous brother-in-law. The recording came courtesy of Jon Oliver and Stanley Palm.

If you missed this one, it is a MUST listen. I've loaded all 5 clips to a single page to make them easier to enjoy. So click below and hear from a woman who knew the real Harry and Bess Houdini.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

IT'S A WRAP!

Word is the Houdini miniseries has now wrapped principle photography. The movie, which stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess, started shooting in Budapest in early October and completed its 46th and final day of production today.

Houdini is an A&E Studios Lionsgate co-production. The 4-hour miniseries is directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. It will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY in 2014.

Apart from Brody and Connolly, there has been no official announcements of other cast members. But a few names that have leaked out are: Eszter Ónodi as Cecilia Weiss; Evan Jones as Jim Collins; Connor Kelly as young Hardeen; Iván Kamarás as Rasputin; Luca Bercovici as Dr. Le Roi Crandon; Scott Alexander Young as Heward Carrington; George Mendel as J. Malcom Bird; and Jeremy Wheeler as Mayer Samuel Weisz.

Congrats to everyone involved in the production! Now begins the countdown to the (yet to be announced) air date.

Pat Croce Houdini collection headed to auction


Philly.com reports that a large selection of Houdini items from the private collection of former Philadelphia 76ers president Pat Croce will be auction by Briggs in Pennsylvania on February 21, 2014.

The auction will include "about a hundred lots" devoted to magic and Houdini, including a set of Houdini's handcuffs valued at $60,000 (!), European castle locks collected by Houdini estimated to be worth $50,000 to $70,000 (!!), memorabilia related to Houdini's water-torture cell ($3,000 to $5,000), and various show advertisements, including challenges.

The case containing the castle locks is one of two display cases made for the 1953 film Houdini. For many years they were housed at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Canada. Both cases sold at Butterfield & Butterfield in Los Angeles on November 15, 1999. The case offered here sold for $63,000.

But not all of Croce's Houdini treasures are going in the block. Philly.com says that Croce won't be auctioning off his Houdini straitjacket, "even if he sometimes fears his wife, Diane, would like him to wear it now and then."

Briggs says the auction catalogue is still being researched and will be available online when finished.

LINK: On the set of Houdini

Photographer Mersad Donko has posted to his blog six photos he snapped of the Houdini miniseries shooting on the streets of Budapest. This is the same location in which we got our first glimpse of Adrien Brody as Houdini HERE. While Mersad didn't capture any of the stars, these photos are excellent quality and you do get to see some of the extras in costume. Click the headline and have look.

Click here to view at Mersad Donko Photography

Houdini 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. Houdini is an A&E Studios Lionsgate co-production. It will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY in 2014.

Friday, December 13, 2013

LINK: Is this Houdini's spirit voice?

Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz at the Houdini Museum of Scranton have posted the audio clip from last Halloween's Official Houdini Seance that medium Alan Hatfield claims contains Houdini's spirit voice. Alan, who's specialty is EVP (electronic voice phenomena), discovered voices on the 90 minutes of audio he recorded during the seance.

Has Houdini finally returned? I'm not endorsing nor debunking; just sharing. So click the headline and have a listen at the Houdini Museum of Scranton website.

Related posts:

Photo reveals young Houdini and poster mock-up

A photo posted to the news section of the David Lawson Lean Performing Arts Services for Children shows Adrien Brody posing with a young actor (identified only as "Louis M") who plays Ehrich Weiss in the new Houdini miniseries. It also reveals a mock-up of the famous "Can the the Dead Speak to the Living?" poster featuring Brody's own likeness.

I don't have permission to share the photo here, but I can point you to the post itself. So CLICK HERE and enjoy this Houdini miniseries triple treat (before it maybe disappears).


Houdini 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. Houdini is an A&E Studios Lionsgate co-production. It will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY in 2014.

UPDATE: Looks like the pic has now been taken down.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Alternate endings to Houdini (1953)


Our friend Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence is branching out from his focus on all things Grim Game and has now uncovered two alternate endings to the 1953 biopic Houdini with Tony Curtis. Interestingly, at one point the dressing room punch was to have been included. Joe discovered this in an early script summery by Dorothy Harrington dated 4-30-52, which he transcribed in part below:


While the film was always meant to end with Houdini drowning in the "Pagoda Torture Cell," there were at least two proposed scenes with Bess following the tragedy onstage. The ending as shot accomplished much the same thing more efficiently (they always wanted to end on the image of Houdini's early magic poster), but it would have also been nice to have a beat with Bess as the lonely window in waiting. Still, maybe the movie was sad enough!

Here are the links to the two Bessie endings:


I love this kind of stuff. Way to go, Joe!

Related posts:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mirror and Master

Master Locksmith and Mirror Handcuff expert Mick Hazlink recently discovered this photo on Google images. This is the sold silver replica of the Mirror Handcuffs given to Houdini by the paper after the famous 1904 challenge. It appears the mystery man holding the cuffs is owner David Copperfield. Mick thinks this was taken for a photo shoot that ended up in Forbes Magazine.


Mick also thinks the cuffs here look unusually small. So were the replicas smaller than the actual Mirror handcuffs, or does David Copperfield just have unusually large hands?

As we've seen photos of the replica side by side with the original cuffs, it would appear that Copperfield's hands are just big. Of course, you'll recall that we've established David has a big one.

Thanks Mick!

Audible releases 'Imprisoned with the Pharaohs'

Audible.com has released a new recording of the classic Houdini short story, Imprisoned with the Pharaohs (aka Under the Pyramids), read by Cathy Dobson.

First published in the May-June-July 1924 issue of Weird Tales magazine, the story tells of Houdini's adventures trapped in a Egyptian tomb. While the story appeared under Houdini's byline and is told in the first person, it was actually ghost written for the magician by the great H.P. Lovecraft.

This new reading of Imprisoned with the Pharaohs is available on Amazon.com for $7.91, or Free with an Audible.com 30-day free trial membership.

Amazon notes this recording is: "Unsuitable for claustrophobics, people of a nervous disposition, or people with a vivid visual imagination." Nice.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Official seance medium claims to have captured Houdini's voice


There's a surprise twist to the Official Houdini Séance which was held this year at the historic Citadel in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Medium Alan Hatfield is claiming that the seance was indeed a success and that he has Houdini's spirit voice captured on audio tape!

NG News reports that following the Oct. 31 event, Hatfield took recordings he made during the séance to Scott Ferguson, a Halifax based professional audio engineer and producer, who verified that messages had been captured at a different frequency than the voices of those present in the room at the time.

"It is my opinion that upon intent listening and frequency spectroscopic analysis, the recording is consistent with my expectations for an unaltered, original recording," said Ferguson.

Despite having had technical difficulties with one of the tape recorders at the beginning of the séance, Hatfield, whose specialty is EVP (electronic voice phenomena), had a second digital recording device rolling throughout. During the séance the only audio that was played back for all present to hear was a 31 second clip which contained unusual sounds.

"I could not ask everyone present, including the media, to sit quietly now for another 90 minutes to review what may have or have not been captured on the audio, as impending high wind and rain warnings were forecast for that evening," Hatfield explained. "After the séance I still had roughly 90 minutes of tape to go through and I was very excited to hear a direct response to questions asked of Houdini."

He claims that Houdini said: "Hey you know this is crossed over and all this Indian has to tell you here today."

Hatfield, who is an aboriginal, said "Indian" is the term that would have been used to identify First Nations people back in the 1920s.

Hatfield also claims to have heard a response from Bess Houdini. One of the guests at the séance asked her, "We always wondered why you never had kids."

The response was: "Alan invited me."

Hatfield explained the response as meaning she would only talk to him since he was the one who "opened the door" for her.

Hatfield says he will provide a transcript and recording of the voice.

So there we have it. Houdini has returned!

Believe.


UPDATE: Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz have posted the audio clip at the Houdini Museum of Scranton website. CLICK TO LISTEN.

Related posts:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Unpublished Houdini: From Beyond

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

Here's a terrific photo of Houdini as Howard Hillary a.k.a. The Man From Beyond. The 1922 silent feature was the first film made by the Houdini Picture Corporation and reflected Houdini's fascination with reincarnation. The press book shows that this photo was used on an 8x10 lobby photo (captioned: "Dare you say there's no life after death"), so maybe this is not technically "unpublished." However, I've never seen that lobby photo reproduced outside the press book, and I love this clean image of Houdini/Hillary emerging from pure blackness…from Beyond.

Click to enlarge
"But there is something--of that I am convinced--in the theory of reincarnation. Just how much, I cannot say, nor do I believe it will greatly profit us to try and tear aside the veil. In due time it will be lifted, and we shall see beyond with Milton--'the bright countenance of Truth.'"
-HOUDINI, 1919

Houdini's interest in reincarnation is something that you won't find mentioned in any biographies. I'm not sure why this is, because when looking through primary sources, like newspaper clippings and press books, it is found everywhere. Houdini seemed eager to express his ideas about this particular form of "life after death." He even had his own theory about who he may have been in a past life. But perhaps it's a little hard for biographers to reconcile Houdini the skeptic and/or the Rabbi's son with the idea of Houdini the reincarnation advocate. Although according to aish.com, the idea of reincarnation is found in Judaism.

"Dare you say there is no life after death."

Seeing as we are on a somewhat spiritual journey with Houdini, next week I will share an unpublished photo of Houdini "among the Gods."

Bloomsbury will clarify handcuff claim


Dreweatts & Bloomsbury's conjuring specialist Mike Heseltine informs me that he will prepare a special salesroom notice clarifying that the handcuffs set to be auctioned on Thursday were NOT used by Houdini in his Chinese Water Torture Cell, as has been widely reported in the media (with some even featuring the claim in their headlines).

The auction itself only says the cuffs, which are gaffed for quick release, could have been used for "underwater escapes." However, a press release put out by the auction house on December 2 featured speculation that "the rare pair was probably for use in his particularly risky Chinese Water Torture," and the idea caught fire, especially in the Daily Mail which went as far as to report that the cuffs were a "vital prop" in Houdini's most famous escape.

However, it's well documented in photos and reviews of the time that Houdini did not wear handcuffs in the Chinese Water Torture Cell.

Business Insider.com

The gaffed handcuffs [Lot 47] belonged to the late Billy McComb and are among a selection of 260 lots of conjuring books and magic memorabilia on sale this Thursday, December 12. The cuffs are accompanied by a letter from McComb detailing how he acquired them from Douglas Geoffrey (aka Hardeen Jr.). The handcuffs and letter are estimated at £2,000-3,000.

UPDATE: The cuffs sold for £2300.

Related posts:

LINK: The Master Mystery postpones Buried Alive

Joe Notaro has an excellent post on his blog Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence about how Houdini's wrist break while filming The Master Mystery postponed plans to debut his Buried Alive at the New York Hippodrome's Everything review. Joe has found a nice description of the proposed stunt, and a Master Mystery advert that I've never seen before. Click the headline and enjoy.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Charlotte L R Kane reimagines 'Houdini'

Welsh author Charlotte L R Kane has published a new book titled, HoudiniThe work was inspired by last summer's UK stage production starring Jamie Nichols, Stuart Brennan, and Evanna Lynch. Charlotte has taken the concept of the Houdini Brothers and reimagined it as a modern day story.

"I decided to make the story modernized and updated and bring it into our era as I wondered how they would cope with having the technology we have today," explains the author. "So this is what came from the idea. I hope you enjoy it and are immersed in the lives of Harry and Theo as I was that day in the theatre."

You can buy Houdini as a paperback at Lulu.com, or as a Kindle eBook via Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK).

You can follow Charlotte's work on Twitter @charlottelrkane and on her blog, Charlotte L R Kane: Tales from an admin worker.

Best of 2013: Inside Margery's cabinet

As we count down to the New Year, I'm directing readers back to a few of the more interesting posts from 2013. The week of January 13 was a special occasion here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. Anna Thurlow, the great granddaughter of Mina Crandon, allowed me to share several unique Houdini-Margery items from her family archive.

Below is a link that will will bring up all seven installments of what I called The Margery Files. These will come up in descending order with the newest post on top, so I recommend scrolling to bottom of the page and reading them bottom to top as originally published:

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Houdini miniseries reveals more cast, characters

Mate Haumann as Kelly, Scott Alexander Young as Hereward Carrington, and
(UPDATE) Luca Bercovici as Dr. Crandon.

The IMDb page for HISTORY's Houdini miniseries has been updated with more cast and characters. Newly listed are Máté Haumann as "Kelly", Scott Alexander Young as "Mr. Carrington", and George Mendel as "Mr. Bird."

I don't know who Kelly might be, but Mr. Carrington and Mr. Bird are almost certainly Hereward Carrington and J. Malcolm Bird. Both were members of the Scientific American committee that investigated Mina Crandon aka Margery the Medium, and both men worked against Houdini as secret informants for the medium. While I assumed the miniseries would feature Margery, this is the first real conformation of that.

It's also my guess that these actors -- who all hail from Eastern Europe -- add their names to the official Houdini IMDb page only after their scenes have been completed. The fact that Young and Mendel's name were added just today tells me they probably recently wrapped the Margery scenes. Might that mean we'll soon learn who's playing the famous medium herself?

Houdini 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. Houdini is an A&E Studios Lionsgate co-production. It will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY in 2014.

UPDATE: You can now add Luca Bercovici as "Dr. Crandon" to the roster. Of course, this would be Margery's husband, Dr. Le Roi Crandon.

Related posts:

Reel Mirror

Here's a December 6, 1998 issue of TV Times with a photo of actor Johnathon Schaech from the TNT TV movie Houdini that you don't typically see. What interesting is that he's holding the famous Mirror handcuffs. They look pretty good, but are they the real (or reel) thing?

I ran this past Mirror Handcuff expert Mick Hanzlik who says the actor is actually holding a Mirror replica made by collector Ian McColl. McColl provided handcuffs and restraints for the 1998 production. (You can read all about the various Mirror Handcuff replicas HERE.)

Despite this photo, the Mirror Handcuff Challenge was not in the 1998 TNT film. In fact, no biopic has yet dramatized this challenge. Might we finally see the Mirror Challenge in HISTORY's new Houdini biopic starring Adrien Brody?

Johnathon Schaech's Houdini is available on DVD via the Warner Archive Collection.

Related posts:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gaffed Houdini handcuffs at auction; NOT from the Water Torture Cell


A pair of gaffed Houdini handcuffs that belonged to the late great Billy McComb are among a selection of 260 lots of conjuring books and magic memorabilia at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions Bibliophile sale on Thursday December 12, 2013.

The handcuffs are accompanied by a letter from McComb detailing how he acquired them from an accumulation of props bought by Douglas Geoffrey (aka Hardeen Jr.) from Elsie Hardeen. When cleaning the rusted cuffs, McComb discovered that they had been specially prepared to provide a quick release. The handcuffs and letter are estimated at £2,000-3,000 [Lot 47].

In their report on the auction, the UK's Daily Mail claimed the cuffs "were a vital prop in Mr. Houdini's Chinese water torture escape." It appears the tabloid got this from Mike Heseltine, specialist in conjuring and performing arts at Bloomsbury, who speculated that the cuffs "could have been used in the Chinese Water Torture trick." The Times and other media have now taken the bait and are also reporting that the cuffs "are believe to have been used" in the Chinese Water Torture Cell.

However, there is nothing to indicate that these cuffs were used in Houdini's most famous escape. In fact, Houdini did not even wear shackles in the USD. Houdini did wear handcuffs like these in the Milk Can escape. That might have been the more astute speculation, but it's still a leap. But considering the rust and quick release mechanism, it is likely these were used by Houdini and/or Hardeen for underwater escapes.

Look, Ma, no cuffs!

Other irons at auction include a pair of Lilly Leg Irons estimated at £2,000-3,000 [Lot 45], and a round barrel screw key padlock estimated at £1,000-1,500 [Lot 46]. Both were left by Houdini to Joseph Dunninger and later presented by Dunninger's widow to Richard John Silmser. They were then purchased by Joseph M. Tanner who sold the irons to John Fisher from a catalogue of Houdini memorabilia issued in 1988. Letters of provenance are included in both lots.

Houdini’s personal copy of Arcana of Spiritualism by Hudson Tuttle is among the rare magic-related books in the auction. With engraved portrait bookplate and a few pencil underlinings and markings, it is estimated at £250-350 [Lot 20].

In light of the high prices set this month for Houdini magic props and posters, it will be interesting to see what a pair of gaffed cuffs sell for. It's a shame the Water Torture Cell claim has muddied the waters a bit.

You can view the full action catalog and download a PDF at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions.

UPDATE: Bloomsbury will clarify handcuff claim.

UPDATE 2: The cuffs sold for £2300.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Society of American Magicians to resume upkeep of Houdini's grave


Today we have great news regarding the upkeep of the Houdini family plot in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens. In 2007 The Society of American Magicians stopped paying for upkeep of the gravesite due to issues with the cemetery. Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum of Scranton took on the responsibility of looking after the grave, largely with money out of their own pockets (and sometimes mowing the lawn themselves).

But now the S.A.M. has voted unanimously to resume financing the maintenance of the gravesite. National President Dal Sanders writes in the December 2013 issue of M-U-M:

"Harry Houdini is an icon as revered as Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe. He is not only a magical icon; his gravesite bears the seal of The Society of American Magicians. That seal is our brand and we as a Society should be proud of protect it. This gravesite is clearly our responsibility and I'm proud to report that the National Council unanimously voted to maintain Houdini's final resting place. In addition to this, I have appointed North Atlantic Regional Vice President Eric DeCamps to establish and chair a committee that will oversee the maintenance of the Houdini gravesite and be a contact for those who wish to visit the site and pay their respects."

This is excellent news! Bravo to the S.A.M. and President Dal Sanders for stepping back up to honor their "Most Illustrious" past president.


Thanks to Joe Fox for this news.

Related posts:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

HOUDINI 'GRIM GAME' POSTER SETS NEW AUCTION RECORD

SOLD for $67,166.00.
Houdini history was made today when an original one-sheet poster for Houdini's 1919 silent feature, The Grim Game, set a new auction record for a Houdini poster when it sold for $67,166.00 at Bruce Hershenson's Emovieposter.com. The auction started at $1.00 and received 56 online bids.

The old record was $65,000 set at Swann Gallery in 2006.

The beautiful stone lithograph originally came from the collection of theater owner Charles A. Dyas who kept it from when he first showed The Grim Game at his theater in 1919. He left his poster collection to his children in 1990. They consigned it to Christie's in 1995 where this poster sold for $19,550. Today it did a little better than that.

(What was I just saying about a Houdini boom market?)

In 2012 the website Paste Magazine.com named this the Best Movie Poster of 1919.

Congratulations to auctioneer Bruce Hershenson and to the buyer of this beauty!

Related posts:

Houdini Broadway musical delayed…again


The Houdini Broadway musical has been on the ropes since last January when writer Aaron Sorkin left the project. Over the summer, star Hugh Jackman said that a December read through of the first act would decide the fate of the show.

Now Broadway.com reports that "the musical has disappeared from next year's lineup and is aiming to hit the Great White Way in the 2015-16 season. No official dates, theater or additional casting have yet been announced."

The Houdini musical has been in the works since 2008. Even though it has top talent involved -- music by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) and director Jack O’Brien (Hairspray) -- it's starting to look less and less likely that we will see Hugh Jackman as Houdini on Broadway anytime soon, if ever.

Related posts:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Unpublished Houdini: With his baby

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

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

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


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

"Please read the introduction anyway."

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

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

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

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Houdini and Hardeen magic props sell well at Martinka's

SOLD for $18,750.
A Houdini Gambling Bottle and a Magic Wand that belonged to Hardeen sold today at Martinka's latest auction of vintage magic memorabilia. The Houdini bottle fetched an impressive $18,750 while Hardeen's wand waved up $2000.

What's notable is the Hardeen wand failed to sell back in March when it topped out at $971 without meeting the reserve. Today it doubled that. Is this a sign that we are in a bull market for Houdiniana?

The Houdini Gambling Bottle is a metal bottle approx 10" tall made of painted copper and is gimmicked so that when the top rim is twisted the contents inside are exchanged. Numbered dice or balls would be switched so that the resulting totals could be controlled. The bottle was gifted to Al Flosso and includes a Certificate of Authenticity from Al's son, Jack.

Hardeen's yellow tipped ivory wand belonged to William Mahan who received it directly from Hardeen himself. Says Mahan, "We were close to Hardeen you know. Theo's gifts were the heart of my collection."

SOLD for $2000.

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