Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The man who kept Houdini's secrets


Is 2014 the year of Jim Collins? After decades behind the scenes, Houdini's chief assistant and trusted mechanic will be stepping into the spotlight in at least two major Houdini projects this year.

This month David Crabb will play Collins on stage in New York in the Axis Theater Co. production, Nothing on Earth (Can Hold Houdini). Then, later this year, Collins will appear in HISTORY's Houdini miniseries played by Evan Jones. In fact, it's looking like Jones/Collins will be the third lead behind Adrien Brody and Kristen Connolly.

So with all this upcoming Collins action, I thought it was time to share this remarkable artifact from the collection of Jon Oliver. This is Jim Collins' last paycheck from Houdini. As you can see, it was issued by "Houdini Attractions, Inc." on November 8, 1926 (a week after the magician's death) in the amount of $40. Collins endorsed the check and deposited it on November 16.

Click to enlarge.

You'll notice that this is Check No. 1. That's because "Houdini Attractions, Inc." was a new company incorporated after Houdini's death by his lawyer, Bernard Ernst, to deal with Houdini-related expenses and to spare Bess.* I like that the first order of business was to cut Collins a check. He was, after all, the man who kept Houdini's secrets.

Jim Collins would go on to assist Hardeen into the '30s and '40s. He died in Philadelphia on March 6, 1942 at age 59.

Thanks to Jon Oliver for the image and to Patrick Culliton for Collins' death date. For more, check out this thread at The Magic Cafe which has some interesting information about Collins as well as comments from relatives.

*UPDATE: According to Jon Oliver, Houdini Attractions, Inc. was created before Houdini's death. In fact, he signed papers bringing the company into existence during the final weeks of his life.

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28 comments:

  1. Thats 546 dollars in todays dollars.

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    1. Is it? Interesting. Thanks.

      I'm wondering if this was his regular weekly rate or if this was money owed.

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  2. Collins was still working for Houdini after October 31st. He still had to pack the show and return it to N.Y.C. so it makes sense to still see a paycheck two weeks later. It also made sense that he stayed to work for the family until his end. He could have written a hell of a book about his time with Houdini.

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    1. A book about Houdini by Collins would have been amazing.

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  3. Through the years I would think Collins would have been interviewed. Any thoughts concerning this? The one quote from him was concerning he planting a ruler in the Margery box. That had to come from somewhere. Cant imagib e Christopher would have made something like that up.......but where did that quote come from?

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    1. Sid Radner told me Collins was interviewed, but I don't know when, by whom, or if the interview is available.

      The Margery box quote didn't come from any kind of an interview. It came from a Houdini hating magician who claimed Collins had said this to him. It gained legitimacy because Gresham published it in his book.

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    2. Why wasnt Sid exhaustively interviewed? He was the last technical link to Houdini via his relationship with Dash. With his passing any hope of gaining insight into ket aspects of Houdinis life and escapes was lost.

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    3. A lot of what Sid knew about Houdini has found it's way into Houdini books and biographies, etc. Authors picked his brain, and he was also interviewed on multiple documentaries. We have a lot.

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    4. Collins and Vickery were approached to talk about Houdini. They never talked. They never discussed Houdini's secrets with anyone.
      Dr Walter Franklin Prince cast great doubt on the folding rule in the Margery Box story -- and he was there.
      I repeat: Vickery and Collins never ratted.

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  4. You would think knowing Houdinis brother he would be a treasure trove of information. I am sure he knew exactly what occurred regarding the Mirror challenge escape. I am also sure he would be the last to reveal this info. Shame really since potentially he could have solved so many riddles.

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    1. Sid had some special knowledge, but not as much as I think you're hoping. At least not from Hardeen. Back when he knew Dash, Sid was more interested in becoming an escape artist himself. I'm not sure he had a historians instinct back then to ask those questions.

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  5. This also raises another point. Could it be that what happened that day in 1904 is really well known by those in the know but they choose to keep it a mystery? If you think about it if Sid or another told a Houdini historian exactly what happened during the Mirror challenge would there be great pause to reveal that story to the lay public?

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    1. If there is a known truth about the Mirror challenge, Mick Hanzlik would know it, and I don't think he'd keep it to himself. Certainly Bill Kalush would know it and Bill would have put it in his book.

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  6. I made a mistake on this. This comes from the collection of Jon Oliver, not John Hinson. So many Johns!

    Sorry Jon (Oliver).

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  7. He was my grandfather. Glad his genius is becoming more public now. We knew little of him as he left my grandmother and her family to move to America.

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  8. He was my grandfather. Glad he is getting some well deserved recognition

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  9. Jim Collins was your grandfather? Wow. Do you have any family mementos, letters, etc? He's still very much a mystery man to many in the Houdini world.

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    1. Sorry. Great grandfather! We know very little of him as he upped and left my grandmothers family for Houdini and that was that. We've seen a few pictures, a few mentions in books and a fascinating clip of him on YouTube (which is weird too see) apart from that we know very little presumably because of sensitive wounds and his career which by all accounts was fairly secretive. It's certainly interesting to hear he is being portrayed. My grandmother was his daughter Hilda by the way.

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    2. Sensational. Thank you so much for posting, Juan. Is it okay if I use your comments above in a post? I think many would be interested in hearing this.

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    3. Yes. No problem at all, there is a member of our family who has done lots of research btw, I don't know him, but my mum does, I could find out for you if interested! My name Toby by the way, that was a joke name for a Google account that my phone found lol.

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    4. Toby, Jim Collins is my great-great-great grandfather. We must be distantly related! His daughter Lucy was my great great grandmother, she passed away when I was about 4 years old. My Nan has a photo of Houdini and Collins

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    5. Would love to share that photo here.

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    6. If I can get my hands on it I will take a photo and send it your way. As long as my nan is ok with it obviously

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    7. I would LOVE it. Thank you.

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  10. Toby I have a question Is it true that your great grandfather was from originally from Macon Ga

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    1. No East England from what I understand from family stories

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  11. Just come across this article in the Guardian newspaper. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/jan/26/harry-houdini-right-hand-man-paul-zenon-linking-rings-interview

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