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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hardeen dials in Radio of 1950

Here is a magnificent unpublished photo of Hardeen performing Houdini's "Radio of 1950" illusion. This comes from the collection of our good friend Mark Willoughby and there is a lot to love about this image.


First off, I'm struck by how much Dash looks like Houdini in this shot. It it wasn't for the hair, you could almost mistake this for Houdini. This is also the only photo I know of that shows the inside workings of the "radio" apparatus (I'm guessing those light bulbs were illuminated or even blinking). Finally, the assistant here is Hardeen's daughter, Gladys Hardeen (at least that's what it says on the back of the photo), and it's a rare shot of her.

I don't know much about Gladys Hardeen. Her passport application says she was born February 15, 1902 and Genii reported her death in Daytona, Florida on February 17, 1966. But according to Jon Oliver, Dash and Elsie Fozzard married in 1904 (this info came direct from Hardeen's son, Harry Houdini Hardeen). Was Gladys a stepchild? She later assisted Douglas Geoffrey aka Hardeen Jr.

Houdini developed Radio of 1950 for his full evening show of 1925-26. A review of Houdini's first performance of his full evening show in Baltimore called the effect "Radio 1925." Hard to know if this was a mistake or if Houdini later changed the name. In her 2003 booklet, Touring With Houdini, assistant Dorothy Young described how the illusion was staged:

Radio was quite new in 1925. The first commercial station KDKA, had gone on the air in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania just five years earlier. So a magic trick about radio was a very up-to-the-minute feature.

To present the illusion of Radio of 1950, Houdini walked around and behind an empty table in the center of the stage so the audience could see there were no mirrors underneath. Then two assistants put the "radio" on top, completely filling the table.

"I would like to present my original conception of what radio will be like in 25 years." Houdini said, "Tune in to any station and get the girl you want. No, gentlemen, it is not for sale."

He opened the entire front, which consisted of two doors, and removed a panel that held various coils and transformers and large glass tubes the size of light bulbs that were used before transistors were invented. The audience could see there was nothing else inside. He replaced the panel and closed the front.

"Now," he said, "we will tune in Pittsburg Station KDKA." He began twisting the dials. Suddenly a voice from the radio speaker announced, "Miss Dorothy Young, doing The Charleston." That was my cue. As the orchestra started playing that popular jazz dance, I threw open the lid, popped up my head at one end and kicked one leg up in the air. I kicked the other leg, clicked my feet together, jumped up, and curtsied. Houdini opened the front of the radio, lived me down, and I went into a wild Charleston as the audience laughed and applauded.

Hardeen inherited the effect after Houdini's death and featured it in his own show. After he died, it was put up for sale for $125 along with other Hardeen-Houdini apparatus. Today the whereabouts of the Radio of 1950 illusion is unknown.

Below is a shot of Houdini himself doing Radio of 1950, showing the appearance of "Radio Girl" Dorothy Young. And if you're dying to know how this trick was done, check out Patrick Culliton's Houdini The Key (page 402). He gives a very good explanation of the method.


Thanks to Mark Willoughby for sharing this special photo and for the intel on Gladys Hardeen.

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18 comments:

  1. By the way, I'm wondering if Dorothy was confused in how she remembered the presentation of this. She says they'd remove the inner workings. Seems like a much more effective presentation to show the inside workings -- a box too full to hold anything -- and then from it would appear the girl. It's a nice twist on a box production. Not an empty box. A box too full.

    She could be remembering what happened behind the scenes.

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  2. From the photo it looks like there was a false panel with the tubes, etc., and then the girl was hidden behind it. When she says, 'Houdini would open the doors, would prop them back and show there was nothing inside.', maybe she meant 'no person inside'. Just a thought.
    She could've been describing the trick from her perspective, as Houdini pulled it off. And also from how the audience saw it.

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    1. The sentence I was looking at was: "He'd lift out a panel like tubes and things. Then he would close it up..." You could be right, he could have lifted it out to show there was noting but the panel/tubes inside, and then put it all back and close it up. Hard to tell what's she's saying exactly.

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    2. Of course, removing the tubes was what maybe made this a radio from "the future." Wait. Wireless!

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    3. Indeed! In the booklet, Touring with Houdini by Dorothy Young, she said: “he opened the entire front, which consisted of two doors, and removed a panel that held various coils and transformers and large glass tubes the size of light bulbs that were used before transistors were invented. The audience could see there was nothing else inside. He replaced the panel and closed the front.”

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    4. Oh, excellent idea to look in Dorothy's book! Why the heck didn't I think of that? Maybe I'll replace that quote with one from the book. Good work, Joe.

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    5. Interview quote now replaced with the passage from Dorothy's booklet. A much better description. Thanks again, Joe.

      BTW, in Patrick's book he says the back of the cabinet was also opened so the audience could see through it.

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  3. Thanks to Mark and John for this photo! Does anybody know the date? I'm guessing early 1930s or late 20s. Hardeen looks relatively young here.

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    1. Sorry, Leo, we don't know the date. But, yes, I'd also guess late '20s or '30s. Gladys also looks young.

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  4. Wow! That is one of the coolest pictures I've ever seen. Thanks for sharing this! What a treat!

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    1. Glad you also had this reaction, Dean. Mark was sharing with me some of his Houdini's treasures. He has many wonderful things. But I lost it when I came to this photo and said we HAD to put this up on the blog. Just seeing inside the "radio" blew my mind.

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  5. By the way, that's also a great shot of Houdini posing next to Dorothy and the Radio. He definitely mastered the art of the dramatic pose. And what the heck is he holding? Some kind of bamboo rod?

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    1. Have you not seen that shot before, Leo? I love it! Dorothy used to give out signed copies (I have one).

      It looks like he's holding a cane to me. Instead of a magic wand, I guess Houdini use a magic cane, which seems very Houdini. You can also see the cane in a pic in Silverman of HH doing Hello Summer.

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  6. The photo looks vaguely familiar. You know that feeling you get when you know you've seen it before, but you don't remember where?

    Will check my Silverman bio later tonight for the cane pic in Hello Summer.

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    1. If you have Pat Culliton's Houdini The Key there a much larger version of the same photo. Comes from our buddy Kevin Connolly's collection, btw.

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  7. He opened the back doors and either rocked the "works" back or took them out. Then he leaned through from the back and waved the cane to show the interior was empty. But, I thought the "works," tube and lights were inside when Dorothy burst out the top. Also, if the lights were practical there would be a power chord--a lot of illusions have had power chords for various reasons. In the Hardeen photo (when I saw it on Facebook, I thought it was Houdini) the skirt is around the table. I understand that that came off last as shown in the Houdini photo.

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    1. Thanks, Patrick. Yes, the skirt! I saw that mentioned in your description in The Key. Cool that the Hardeen shot shows it. Another reason to love this pic.

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  8. My copy of The Key along with many other of my Houdini/magic books is locked away in public storage for now. The small storage rooms looks like an attic jam packed with "stuff". That can be frustrating when you want to pull a book out to look up something like Radio 1950.

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