Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fact checking HISTORY's Houdini - Night Two


Night One established HISTORY's Houdini as the least accurate Houdini biopic ever made. However, the miniseries redeemed itself in Night Two which, finally free of the silly spy movie narrative, was able to focus on the events of Houdini's real life and even right some wrongs of earlier biopics. For those who'd like to separate fact from fiction, we continue our fact check of HISTORY's Houdini.

Was Houdini's brother also a magician and escape artist?
Houdini was very close with his younger brother Theo a.k.a. Dash. In November of 1900, Houdini invited Dash to come to Europe where he set him up with a complete act and named him Hardeen. The idea was for Dash to take bookings in theaters and circuits that Houdini didn't play, and the brothers could effectively shut out the many cheap imitators of the escape act. This worked well and Hardeen established himself as a popular and credible escape artist in his own right. While the brothers sometimes posed as "rivals" for the press -- and might have had a few moments of genuine competition -- they were not rivals as shown in the miniseries. Dash left show business to run Houdini's film developing lab in New Jersey in 1916. After Houdini's death in 1926, Hardeen inherited his brother's props and resumed his magic career until his own death in 1945. (Read: The Houdini franchise.)


Did Houdini do his first suspended straitjacket escape in San Francisco?
Houdini's first suspended straitjacket escape was in Kansas City on September 8, 1915. He then did the escape in many cities across the U.S., including San Francisco. Houdini would typically do the escape in front of newspaper offices, and would attract crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. It's become one of his most iconic escapes. (Read: Unpublished Houdini: In Los Angeles.)

Did Houdini give up doing escapes for his wife Bess?
While Houdini would sometimes comment to reporters how his wife would like him to give up his dangerous work, there is no evidence that this was an actual issue in their marriage, and Bess was fiercely supportive of her husband in all his career endeavors. Houdini never stopped doing escapes.


Did Houdini make an elephant disappear?
Houdini performed his Vanishing Elephant during a record-breaking engagement at New York's Hippodrome Theater in 1918. But unlike in the miniseries, Houdini vanished his elephant in a gigantic box made to look like a circus wagon. Houdini later revived the illusion using a smaller elephant for live appearances at the Time Square Theater to promote his film, The Man From Beyond. How exactly Houdini made his elephant vanish is still debated today. (Read: The vanishing Vanishing Elephant photos.)

Did Houdini walk through a brick wall?
Houdini did indeed walk through a brick wall in July 1914, although he performed the illusion at Hammerstein's Roof Garden Victoria Theater in New York, and not in London as shown in the miniseries. Houdini only performed the effect for a short time before turning it over to his brother Hardeen. Yet it left such a strong impression that he is still called "the man who walked through walls" today. As to whether the method shown in the miniseries is the correct one... I'm not saying. (Read: When Houdini walked through a brick wall.)


Was Houdini devastated by the death of his mother?
It's true that the death of his mother in 1913 (not 1914) devastated Houdini. However, the direct connection of his mother's death and his involvement in spiritualism is not entirely accurate. Houdini had an interest in spiritualism from the start of his own magic career, and his crusade against fraudulent mediums did not begin until 10 years after his mother died. Although the possibility of contacting his mother was always on Houdini's mind. (Read: Mama's death and the birth of a myth.)

Did The Houdinis perform as spiritualists early in their careers?
It is true that Harry and Bess worked briefly as spiritualists, and it's said Harry even called out the identity of a murderer from the stage one night. (The man jumped up and fled the room.) The parents who confront the Houdinis backstage are based on a mother who did accuse Houdini of black magic when he predicted that her son would fall from his bicycle and break his arm. Houdini had earlier seen the mother scolding the boy for riding recklessly, and prediction had inexplicably come true. After this, Houdini gave up the spiritualism act. (Read: Meet the Robinsons.)


Did Houdini star in silent movies?
Houdini did indeed have a career in silent movies between 1918 and 1923. He made a successful 15-part serial called The Master Mystery; two feature films for Famous Players-Laskey Paramount, The Grim Game and Terror Island (the clip we see in the miniseries is actual footage from The Grim Game); and two films for his own production company, The Man From Beyond and Haldane of the Secret Service. He also owned and operated a motion picture film lab in New Jersey. The Houdini miniseries is the first biopic to acknowledge Houdini's film career. (Read: Houdini's rough ride at Niagara Falls.)


Was Houdini ever tied to a cannon?
Houdini was bound to a cannon in almost exactly the manner as depicted in the miniseries (kudos to technical advisor David Merlini) on two occasions. The first was in England in 1911 when he was challenged by the Royal Navy. The second was in Los Angeles' Pershing Square in 1919. During this second challenge, authorities stepped in and would not permit the cannon fuse to be lit. (Read: Houdini's Cannon Challenge.)


Did Lady Doyle give Houdini a seance in which she contacted his mother?
It is true that in 1922 Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle gave Houdini an automatic writing seance that supposedly contacted his mother. In fact, the words Lady Doyle speaks in the miniseries is largely verbatim. It's also true that Houdini did not accept the seance as legitimate. The three tells were that his mother's spirit made the sign of the cross (she was Jewish), wrote in English (she spoke German), and there was no mention that the day before was her birthday (not Houdini's birthday as shown in the miniseries). This seance was the beginning of the end of Houdini's friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Read: Review: Houdini and Conan Doyle.)

Did Houdini crusade against fraudulent mediums?
It is true that during the final years of his life Houdini exposed fraudulent mediums, both on stage and by going to seances in disguise. He also employed a small "secret service" of investigators who would go to seances on his behalf and bring back information. He testified in front of Congress in support of a bill to outlaw fortune telling in the District of Columbia. He published a book on his investigations called A Magician Among The Spirits. (Read: Houdini, the Hillstreet, and the birth of a ghostbuster.)

Did Margery try to seduce Houdini in his hotel room?
While Mina Crandon a.k.a. "Margery" fostered intimate relationships with some members of the Scientific American committee that investigated her in 1924, there is no evidence that she ever tried or even had the opportunity to seduce Houdini. Of her well recorded charms, Houdini said, "Her applesauce means nothing to me."

UPDATE: In the new book The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, author David Jaher reports that Margery did indeed attempt to seduce Houdini when she allowed the magician to take a nap in her son's bedroom. (Read: Houdini and Margery in the apple orchards.)

UPDATE: TRUE!

Did Margery put a curse on Houdini?
Following her exposure, it was widely reported in the press that Margery had put a "curse" on Houdini. Margery denied it and blamed Houdini for planting the story himself (which he almost certainly did). However, private correspondence shows that, during a seance, Margery's spirit guide Walter predicted that Houdini would die on December 25, 1925. Houdini survived the prediction by 10 months. (Read: Margery's curse.)

Did Houdini break his ankle in the Water Torture Cell?
It is true that Houdini broke his ankle while being raised from the stage during a performance of his Water Torture Cell at the Capitol Theater in Albany NY on October 11, 1926. Unlike what's shown in the miniseries, he did not continue with the escape, but was tended on stage by a doctor. Houdini cut the USD from his show and never performed it again. He died 20 days later. (Read: Houdini's Water Torture Cell accident.)



Did Houdini invite people to punch him in the stomach?
This has become an ingrained part of Houdini lore and is shown many (many!) times in the miniseries, but there is scant evidence that Houdini invited people to punch him in the stomach throughout his life. The first record of such a punch/challenge was a week before his death during a lecture at McGill University. This may have inspired the later punch in his dressing room that would prove to be so damaging. (Read: The Pickleman punch.)

Was the man who punched Houdini a supporter of spiritualism?
While Houdini historians love to debate the motives of J. Gordon Whitehead (named "Kelly" in the miniseries), the two eyewitnesses to the infamous dressing room punch did not indicate that there was any talk about spiritualism, and Whitehead did not scream out any accusations. The official record says that Whitehead asked if it was true Houdini could take a blow to the stomach, and then set about hitting him before he was ready. Even Houdini said it was an accident. However, Whitehead's later life revealed that he had tangential connections to the spiritualism movement and also suffered mental problems. He died in 1953 after living many years as a hoarder. (Read: Is this J. Gordon Whitehead at McGill in 1926?)


Did Houdini collapse on stage during his final performance?
Houdini actually made it through his entire final performance at the Garrick Theater in Detroit on October 24, 1926. Despite having a ruptured appendix and a 104 degree temperature, he concealed his illness from the audience (although some said they could tell something wasn't right). Even after the show, Houdini still refused to go to the hospital. He returned to his hotel and only after having a phone conversation with his own doctor in New York did he allow himself to be taken to Grace Hospital. (Read: 85 years ago: Houdini at the Garrick.)

Did Houdini die on Halloween?
Houdini did indeed die in Room 401 of Grace Hospital in Detroit on Halloween of 1926. The bedside conversation we see Houdini having with his doctor about being a "fake" is also true. Houdini died with his brother Theo (Hardeen) by his bedside at 1:26 p.m. (Photos of the hospital room here.)


I hope you found this Fact Check of HISTORY's Houdini helpful. If there's anything I didn't cover, please ask in the Comments below and I will answer you there. I will be posting my full review of the Houdini miniseries tomorrow.

#HOUDINItruth

119 comments:

  1. Even most of the "truths" could be considered as "half-truths" because they get the "History" channel gets the details wrong.

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    1. That is true. There are incorrect dates and time compression galore even in what I'm calling "true".

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  2. I really wanted to say thank you for your fact checking with this, History Channel's version of Houdini's life. You are keeping Houdini alive, and have my thanks.

    TheDuc

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  3. John Hinson great nephew of Bess and Harry Houdini.September 2, 2014 at 7:57 PM

    Part 2 was much better,it was nice to see how he realy died not made up. I hope some day that the do a accurate bio of his life.

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    1. I agree, John. I enjoyed Part 2 and it was nice to finally see his death done right. This is the first time a biopic has resisted having him die, or at least become trapped, in the USD.

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  4. I feel like the game Midnight Mysteries: Haunted Houdini had more correct facts than this miniseries. However, it was still entertaining.

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    1. That's a pretty well researched game actually. :)

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    2. I am an obsessive fan of that game. It's actually what got me interested in Houdini again. Isn't it sad when a bunch of nerdy developers in Eastern Europe who barely speak English get their facts straighter than the crew of a big-budget film like that?

      -Meredith

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  5. Even even though they couldn't go into glorious detail, they did a much better job tonight. In the end, I sat on the couch and cried and cringed when I knew the punch was coming. Thanks for clearing a lot up. One question about the seance-why did she kiss the reporter and she pulled her hand between her legs for obvious reasons but wasn't that the one he had her leg tied to his and she moved her muscles to get to the bells or am I wrong. I know it was truncated for tv, but I'm curious. I've been fascinated with Houdini since my mom, little sister and I put a 5000+ Piece puzzle together when I was 9. It's the one with him in the middle and six sets of handcuffs. We worked so hard and I snuck pieces to school to work on at lunch. Thank you for the site. It rocks.

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    1. I believe she was kissing Heward Carrighton, who was one of the committee members and one of her inside men. I took the hand to mean that she was encouraging HH to get his freak on if he wished, but he pulled back. The whole leg bell box thing is from real life and I don't think they were showing that in the miniseries, were they? Maybe I need to watch again. In fact, I believe I will in just a few minutes. :)

      Thanks for the kind words about my site. Glad you found it.

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    2. Actually the hand was one of the few accurate depictions in the film. Margery's "ectoplasm" allegedly came out of her vagina.
      Seriously, you can look it up!

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    3. I just threw up in my mouth. Okay. Wow.

      Re: leg, bell, box-they didn't show that in the movie BUT I thought she was the one that they tied down Severn ways from Sunday and then did the seance. Maybe that wasn't her...?

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  6. It took 60 years, in first Houdini Tony Curtis "53" movie, to correct a myth that Houdini died, in that Water Torture Cell ....now it will take another 100 years, and another generation or more, to correct all these new flaws, but that's showbiz, the very least, it keep his spirit alive.

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    1. Yep, we've finally shaken off the USD death, but now we are saddled with the spy nonsense.

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    2. yeah but today we have the internet like this site to fact check, no one in 1953 had instant access to a fact check page

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  7. The History Channel's Houdini won't escape my criticism.
    So...I waited anxiously for the Houdini miniseries on the History Channel. Oy vey. First of all, Adrien Brody may be a good actor but he just isn't Houdini. He is too tall, doesn't look like him at all, and certainly didn't capture the bombastic nature of the man who was probably the greatest entertainer of all time. Houdini was such a fascinating character in real life that there is no need for "poetic license" to pep up a film. Not only did they take poetic license, they got a lot of stuff just plain wrong. And they should have known better.
    Houdini was first captivated by magic when he saw an illusionist perform at a sideshow. But he certainly didn't see the illusion depicted in the movie which was the classic sawing a woman in half. That illusion was not introduced until the 1930s by P.T. Selbit. In the film, Harry uses an invisible thread trick to levitate a little bird in Bess' hand to impress her. This effect was not known at the time, such thin strands of nylon only became available in the 1940s. The `milk can escape, a classic Houdini effect, was performed with a real milk can that was gimmicked not one decorated with all sorts of Chinese symbols. And the vanish of the elephant at New York's Hippodrome was done with a large cabinet not with a cloth draped over the elephant as in the movie. Indeed, the movie version would be impossible. They could have done it properly, as they did with the walking through the wall illusion.
    Houdini never had a misadventure with the Chinese water torture cell forcing his assistant to break it with a sledgehammer to save his life, and he never performed the "bullet catch" in front of the Kaiser, and certainly was never punched in the stomach by Rasputin. The seance with lady Doyle left out the most important part, the fact that she started the supposed communication with Houdini's mother with the sign of the cross.That was a giveaway of fraud since she of course was Jewish, the wife of a rabbi. Margery the medium, whom Houdini showed to be fraudulent never attempted to seduce him to prevent him from exposing her.
    Allegations that Houdini was a CIA agent are totally fanciful but the most ridiculous bit was getting the well documented punch in the stomach episode that led to the magician's demise wrong. It happened in Montreal, not in Detroit. And it was a single punch not a vicious attack as depicted. I know because I had interviewed Sam Smilovitz, one of the students who was present in the dressing room at the Palace Theatre where the incidence took place. Basically a disappointment. One would have hoped for an improvement over the Tony Curtis version. What is particularly disturbing is that they could have got it right.Nicholas Meyer who wrote the screenplay knows better.

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    1. Thanks, Joe. Yeah, I thought it was odd they left out her making the sign of the cross.

      When do you interview Sam Smilovitz? Do you have notes from that interview?

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    2. Horace Goldin and P. T. Selbit innovated the sawing-in-half illusion in the early 1920s, not '30s.

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    3. I should add that the early 1920s is still obviously too late for the young Houdini to have seen that illusion. What he actually saw--if anything-- was (an imitator of) Dr. Lynn performing the Palingenesia illusion in Milwaukee (not Appleton).

      I can understand the filmmakers' decision to swap in the more familiar illusion (despite the anachronism). Audiences know the sawing-in-half but might be confused to see an upright, unboxed person's limbs and head removed.

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    4. "but the most ridiculous bit was getting the well documented punch in the stomach episode that led to the magician's demise wrong. It happened in Montreal, not in Detroit. And it was a single punch not a vicious attack as depicted. I know because I had interviewed Sam Smilovitz, one of the students who was present in the dressing room at the Palace Theatre where the incidence took place."
      ONE PUNCH. You paying attention, John boy. David Byron said that there was one punch and he knows that because he interviewed Sam Smilovitz.
      http://houdinisghost.com/smilovitz1.html
      http://houdinisghost.com/smilovitz2.html
      http://houdinisghost.com/smiley1953.html

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    5. I did notice that. I've always understood it to have been more than one punch. And that was Joe Schwarcz who posted this and says he interviewed Smiley. Would like to read the notes from that interview.

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    6. No, David Byron did *not* say anything about one punch, and David Byron *did not* claim to have interviewed Smilovitz. You're supposed to be a historian of sorts, Patrick. Please be more careful.

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    7. Thank you for writing what you did Joe. You'd think the very first thing a History Ch. min-series would do would be to pick an actor to fit the role of such a legendary figure. Secondly - we expect to see & hear the truth from the History Ch. I'm very curious to know what the heck they were thinking when planning this program or purchasing it? It boggles my mind. Truly one of the most stupid shows I've ever seen.

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    8. I enjoyed it. Also got me to read this blog.

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  8. Once again, wonderful coverage, John. Did you notice anything funny about the "HOUDINI IN HOLLYWOOD" newspaper clipping? I assume the headline is supposed to announce the beginning of Houdini's career in the film industry, which would be around 1919. However, the Hollywood sign (which would have read "Hollywoodland" at the time), clearly seen behind him in the clipping's photo, would not be built for another four years. Also, if Dash ever had a stache, I've never seen it in photographs.

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    1. Yeah...Hollywood sign in 1919. Nope. And no stache on Dash.

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  9. Well done all around. THANKS so much for all your insights … I've really enjoyed following your comments regarding the History channel's miniseries.

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    1. Thanks Linda. I glad you found us. :)

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  10. Really enjoyed reading your notes this morning John. Overall I really liked the mini series and as I do with everything I see on TV and on the internet I try to fact check everything & your notes made that more enjoyable than usual. Thank you

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    1. My pleasure Michael. And even though I feel it's important to Fact Check, I also enjoyed the miniseries. Well, the second night anyway. :)

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  11. The Sawing in Half arrived in the 1920s, but yeah, Joe is correct in that it wasn't around when Houdini was a kid, and neither was Invisible Elastic Thread.

    Was anybody else amused at the small size of Conan Doyle standing next to a taller Houdini? The real duo looked like a Mutt and Jeff pair in photographs.

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  12. Thanks for being the Knight of Truth, John! It's a crime that you weren't brought in for script notes. I admit to using a bit of artistic license myself in depicting the Houdini-Conan Doyle relationship, but this film really takes the cake in manipulating the facts for its own fictional purposes. It's difficult enough seeing Houdini tower physically over Conan Doyle, but c'mon, the Atlantic City seance happened in June 1922 not March 1926, and Houdini wasn't upset that Mama's spirit hadn't remembered his birthday but that she hadn't mentioned it was HER birthday. Houdini, of course, was on the Scientific American committee to assess Margery's abilities, so his motive in the film for sitting in on a Margery seance is completely specious and solely fabricated by Meyer to give credence to Walter's "curse" that Houdini would soon die. Lastly, the stomach punch (how many times did we see it happen -- 100?), as we all know, occurred in Montreal not in Detroit. Clearly, the History Channel (perhaps, it should be renamed the Histrionic Channel) isn't in the least bit interested in depicting history but in restructuring history into a factional story line that better appeals to the much-desired A.D.D. 18-to-25-year-old demographic.

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    1. If anything weakened or damaged Houdini's appendix before the Montreal incident, it probably was performing the straitjacket escape hundreds of times.

      At the McGill lecture he may have talked about wonder workers who can train their bodies to withstand pain and do other stunts.

      He may have talked about how he trained his body to be a perfectly functioning machine for his performing needs, including strength. I doubt if he ever challenged anyone to punch him in the stomach.

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    2. Did you read my post on the Pickleman punch, Eric? I really believe that happened.

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    3. Right. But I'm suggesting several things. I don't think Houdini was periodically punched in his stomach as some sort of challenge throughout his adulthood. I don't think that the Montreal punches burst a healthy appendix, although I suppose they could have. I don't think the Montreal punches were necessarily provoked by an explicit challenge from Houdini to punch him. Of course, I don't know what he said at McGill. Just speculating that he talked about withstanding pain or being strong, perhaps with a reference to his stomach muscles.

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  13. Is the part true with his last words saying he loved her and it wasn't to do with the box or trunk???

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    1. Bessie's presence in these final days is a bit unclear. She was being tended to by her own nurse at the hotel. It's also said that -- in what I hope was a moment of delirium -- that Houdini asked doctors to keep her out of the room, saying something like, "She's the most peculiar woman I've ever met."

      Thought the scene between Brody and Kristen Connolly was beautifully done.

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    2. The surgeon Dr. Kennedy wrote around 1950, that when Bess was brought into Houdini's hospital room, Houdini said, "Get that woman out of here." Dr. Kennedy added that Mrs. Houdini was the most peculiar woman he ever met."

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    3. Oh, Dr. Kennedy said that about Bess? Okay. Either I misread that or Kalush got it wrong in his book.

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  14. Houdinis last words were "I'm tired of fighting".

    What's with Houdinis mother kissing him on the lips with a level of passion not once but twice??. What were they trying to infer?

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    1. I too found this a bit disturbing.. Was there an 'referral'? as per the other movies - they all showed that he loved his mother - but not like that...

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    2. A lot of the Mama stuff was weirdly eroticized. I cover this in my full review.

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    3. Read Bahl Yahn the Giant in Houdini's Strange Tales -- in which ALL the Mama stuff is weirdly eroticized (you said it, I didn't, I just liked the phrase). Then read Yar -- the Primeval Man.
      Both stories (Yar is a film treatment) are very pure Houdini.
      My late mother is my hero to this day. I'm not sure I quite fit the definition of a "mama's boy," but I'd be proud to be called one.
      Rose Mackenberg, who someone described as "a spinster" meaning she was "unmarried," wrote "Houdini had what we would call today a mother fixation."
      The kisses on the mouth were relatively benign. Didn't Mel Shavelson had Paul-Michael slap Ruth Gordon? Am I remembering wrong? Little, cute, Ruth GORDON!
      Bahl Yahn and Yar are both in Houdini--the Key. Bahl Yahn is a part of the section entitled "the Mother" and Yar is in the section called "the Mother and the Wife."

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    4. it is him passing away and seeing his mother as he died

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  15. A medium did received a message from Houdini for his wife, a coded message that was known only to the two of them. This was given to his wife which she apparently authenticated. You can read about it here. http://www.victorzammit.com/articles/houdinicode.htm

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    1. Of course, the code had already been published in 1928 on p. 105 of Harold Kellock's authorized biography-full-of-lies. So the fact that Ford used it shows nothing but cleverness or collusion.

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    2. The code converted innocuous words to numbers, which then could indicate letters (5=E, etc.). The code itself is not a message. The fraud Ford created a message using the code. Bess apparently colluded in saying the message was correct, then recanted.

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  16. IF this movie had not appeared on something mistitled "the HISTORY Channel" -

    IF it had been promoted as historical fiction -

    We'd have no problems with it. Indeed, we would be laughing at how we know better than the muggles who don't and won't research the facts; and joking how human nature hasn't really changed.

    The second night's episode made it very obvious that Meyer never intended to write a biography. This was "the Adventures of the Great Houdini" and every wrong date, every flashback, every flash forward, and every fictional trial - followed the classic format of a good old pulp adventure.

    Make things difficult for the hero. Every small victory leads to a bigger trial/problem/danger, until the cresendo - at which point death either strikes close to the hero (in a continuing series such as Star Trek) or strikes the hero him/herself (in a one-shot story). The death solves and settles the story's Bad Guy or Bad Problem.

    Same outline as Meyer's "the Wrath of Khan" and of so many Doc Savage stories.

    This was a 1930s cliffhanger serial, told in two chapters rather than 12. Each chapter was considerably longer than the old cliffhanger chapters, and we only had to wait 24 hours to see "the thrilling conclusion at this theater!"

    Meyer knew and had access to every fact that he manipulated. He didn't lie, he didn't err: he wrote "the Adventures of the Great Houdini in Two Exciting Chapters!"

    Then some knucklehead decided to call it real history. Just as Houdini would have.

    *jeep! and God Bless! (Thank you, Red!)
    ---Grandpa Cox (no relation?)

    PS: As to the code and the message that was known only to the two of them, and which they had published years before Harry's death - I'll bow to John's expertise.

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    1. Thanks for the comments Grandpa Cox (no relation, as far as I know!).

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    2. you do not history channel that well do you? This is nothing compared to ancient aliens

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  17. Quick comments as we are still running tours at the Museum.
    1) John, Unless we are wrong didn't Whitehead try to turn the conversation with Houdini backstage to religion and challenge Houdini's belief in the Bible? If so, we think this is important and should be added to your comments above in the True or False section.
    2) They credit the writer's father for inspiration for this film. We do not believe the father talked about Houdini being a spy. That was most likely taken from the book "The Secret Life of Houdini" by Sloman and Kalush. Could this be the basis for a legal case?
    3) For us one of the worst falsehoods was that Houdini was shown in a scene doing the bullet catch in the mouth, in a performance. Pure fiction! Houdini backed out of it on the advice of Harry Kellar.
    4) For us Brody does not have the show biz NY swagger and raw edge of stars like Jolson, Harry Richman, Ted Lewis, Houdini, Tony Curtis, etc. James Cagney, Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jimmy Durante had it. To us Brody looks deeply sad most times.

    We will watch it again when we can.

    Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich
    The Houdini Museum
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini

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    1. True that Whitehead asked Houdini how he explained the miracles in the Bible and this has always felt suspicious to me, but this is for general readers/viewers and I don't want to bring them into the weeds. They can use the links I've provided to go there on their own if they like. :)

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  18. Please keep in mind the phenomenon of "Gell-Mann Amnesia" when watching anything else on the "History" channel. Don't spot all the blunders here and then wander off and give credence to what their programming says about Vikings or the Bible or World War I or Charlemagne or the American Revolution.... ;)

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  19. The part were Margery tells Houdini that when he dies - (they can say anything - they will own him) and the part were Bess reads the letter from Doyle and she says -"that's not what happened'... isn't that the movies way of saying - if history has shown us anything - people will lie to their benefit...

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    1. Also, thank you for this.. My uncle is a magician in new jersey. his response to the movie was your link...

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  20. It was just so weird to see Harry's mother kiss him on the lips TWICE! It was so incestuous. Please confirm/deny! :))

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    1. I agree. I'm going to mention this in my proper review. Very weird. Not sure what they were going for.

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    2. This is son Nicholas's tribute to his psychoanalyst father, Bernard Meyer. His book, credited as the basis for the film, got seriously discredited by other shrinks. See The Houdini File for the gory details (www.houdinifile.com).

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  21. Fascinating... Utterly fascinating... I have since pulled out my copies of the Paul Michael Glaser and Jonathon Schaech movies to watch in comparison. Schaech's movie runs more like a love story, Glaser's more like a translation, but it's still my favorite version.

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  22. Being that it was the History Channel I was expecting the mini-series to be more factual than it was. However, I think that's still a part of the mystery and attraction of Houdini even after all this time. Houdini without a doubt was the greatest of his time and set the bar for the rest of the magical entertainment community.

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  23. Great Show... Real Entertainment.
    Many UN TRUTHS but still a wonderful Mini series That will promote Magic

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  24. Did anyone else notice what looked like evidence of a glass walled casket at the end during the 'real' funeral footage. I thought I saw glass on the side wall of the casket. Look closely, when the pallbearers turn toward the hearse.

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  25. Look on historicfilms.com to see this same footage in the same crystal clarity. Let use know your conclusions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. Yes, I see glass panels again.

      Delete
  26. Thanks for your posts John, it was nice to be able to visit your site after watching the show each night.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hey John, Is it true that Houdini kissed her mom on the lips?

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    Replies
    1. There's a very nice photo of Houdini kissing his mother on the cheek. Don't know about lips. That was all a little strange, wasn't it?

      Delete
  28. David Byron,
    Help me will you? What did you mean when you wrote "it was a single punch." So, I provided links that said differently. And you criticized me as a historian. OK. Now don't ever speak to me again.
    Patrick Culliton





    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Patrick, I didn't write any such thing. The remarks with which you find fault were offered by Joe Schwarcz in this comment right here (click me).

      I was one of the people who replied to correct Joe. You were also one of those people. For some reason, you accidentally attributed his remarks to me.

      Delete
    2. Byron has already forgiven for mis-attributing the "single punch" statement to him, and I will let that "your're supposed to be a historian of sorts," remark go. Now John quickly corrected my mistake. So, let's go where I meant to go in the first place: Joe Schwarcz, what did Sam Smilovitz say to you? John, you were talking about would I like to see the notes. The thing is that Smilovitz appeared to me to increase the number of blows every time he was interviewed

      Delete
  29. Unfortunately I don't have any notes from my interview with Sam Smiley, as he came to be called. It was on my radio show on Montreal's CJAD about 20 years ago. In those days we didn't keep tapes of the show either, and it kills me to think about that because it was a fascinating discussion. I'v electured several times in the McCord Museum which in 1926 was the McGill Student Union where Houdini gave his last talk to students. The building has been renovated inside so that the room where Houdini spoke no longer exists as such but I'm trying to get the Museum to put some commemorative plaque somewhere. The Palace theatre where he gave his last Montreal performance still exists as a movie theatre although that too has been renovated so that the dressing room where the celebrated punch occurred is no more. why the makers of the film chose to leave out the McGill connection is a mystery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So Joe.......
      Give everyone an idea of how your conversation with Smiley went. You must remember something of the conversation? ????? Perry.

      Delete
    2. Joe, you've said a few times that it was the Palace Theatre. But it was the Princess Theatre. Did the Princess become the Palace at some point?

      Delete
  30. Nothing is true, Everything is permitted!

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  31. Good show, but the spiritualism proselytism was unnecessary and full of shit, as proved by John Cox. The idea that he died because of the curse, and even worse, that he was unable to communicate from the dead because of the curse is outrageous, and ruined this series for me.

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  32. Many years ago I read a biography of Houdini. I followed many stories about him over the years and anxiously awaited this mini series. When I saw part 1 I thought it was a horrible representation of his life filled with fabrications and inconsistencies particularly him being a spy. These comments confirmed that. Part 2 was an improvement but the whole character as portrayed by Adrian Brody, arrogant and conceited really turned me off. I would think that the HISTORY Channel would promote fact about this man not fiction.

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  33. Thankfill Houdini fanSeptember 7, 2014 at 1:48 AM

    Thanks for the Factchecking on both parts Its helpful to know what's what

    ReplyDelete
  34. Hi, thanks for producing this brilliant fact-checker! I've just finished watching the mini-series and already had doubts half-way into Part 1 regarding the accuracy, particularly the spy sub-plot because as a Brit, I knew that Mi5 didn't exist in that form during WW1.

    Nice work and a great site in general too. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your kind words, Jason. Appreciate it. :)

      Delete
  35. Thank you John: Yes, it's important that we fact check, even when there are uncertainties. The things we do know give us a good indicator of the general 'bent' of the movie. I was DEEPLY disappointed with the film and could go on
    about a lot, but I wanted to focus on Harry's relationship with Bess. Nothing I had read indicated that they were antagonistic to one another. Am I missing something. Weren't they (to the best of our knowledge) happily married? Given how hard she worked WITH him, I found the portrayal of her in the film to be not just wrong, but defamation. I wonder why these film-makers felt that the truth just wasn't good enough?

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    1. Agree. It's a shame that they showed what came off as an unhappy and troubled marriage. By all accounts, the Houdinis were very happily married.

      Delete
  36. I find it astonishing that a tv channel called THE HISTORY CHANNEL would produce so much content that has so little to do with ...history. THIS Houdini film was such a disappointment and will probably be the last one developed in my lifetime. Why not just tell it as it was??????????

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    Replies
    1. I think we'll get another, but I'm not sure we'll get a chance at another "biopic" for a very long time. The next Houdini movie will be some outrageous out admitted fiction. But hopefully this WILL put the kybosh on any "Houdini as spy" projects. They've gotta see that that played badly as history and as drama.

      Delete
  37. I had recorded and just watched and I had never heard Houdini was a "spy". I decided to check that and found this site.Great site and since I found out all the LIES show in the show....decided just to read facts here. Thank you for putting the TRUTH out there. Come on HISTORY channel, at least let us know you are "bending" the facts!!!

    ReplyDelete
  38. My wife and I watched this mini-series over the last two week-ends (we're in Britain, where it's just beenaired). We enjoyed it, but I always do a quick Google fact-check with bio-pics because I don't trust the media industry not to produce what is basically "faction".

    And that's clearly what they've done in this case. You'd think Houdini's remarkable life would be colourful enough without messing about with it. Thanks for the two articles, very informative.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for the post. I'm really happy to hear that these fact checks helped in exactly the way I hoped. Also glad to hear that you were able to find them with a Google search. You're exactly who I wrote them for.

      "Faction"…I like that. :)

      Delete
  39. Very well written, and your entire website is most fascinating and a great tribute to Houdini. Thanks - from Canada!

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  40. Just finished watching Houdini mini series (we recorded it! ) Had the info from this site in hand the entire time. Early on in Part One we were doubtful as to the authenticity of what was being presented and so in researching the facts came upon your site. What an amazing amount of time and research you put into it! Have enjoyed reading even the bickering comments here as well! The History Channel leaves much to be desired these days but even a less than factual series on Houdini is better than Pawn Stars 24/7!

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    Replies
    1. I'm so glad you found my site and found my fact checks helpful, Marilyn. Oh, yes, the bickering comments are the best part of many of my posts here!

      Glad to hear that you were able to get your answers and enjoy the miniseries for what is was -- a break from Pawn Stars. :)

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  41. Don't forget at the start it does say that it's fact but also fiction!!

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    1. That's true. Although that disclaimer was not on the U.S. broadcast version. There was no disclaimer at all. It was only on the International versions that aired later. Assuming it will be on the DVD release.

      Delete
  42. Hey John, this fact checking article and its comments is as interesting as the miniseries,

    The one thing I wanted to say is that the scene where Houdini speaks about being fake and all at the end and the doctor say's that the emotions he gave on stage was true and that it is the beauty of his life work, well it's kind of a metaphor to the entertainment in general and the movies and how they lie and exaggerate all the time but it's ok cause they make it look nice and we enjoy it. I just found it funny not in a wrong way or anything. But I think books don't lie so much though, neither the music. Good things are true.
    Thanks anyway,

    Holden Caulfield

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    Replies
    1. That conversation with the doctor at the end is true and very much what Houdini said.

      Delete
  43. Thank you for sharing these facts. I felt disappointed by this so-called biopic. I wanted the truth out there, so I hope you don't mind that I put a link to your blog on my page: https://www.facebook.com/LiesaFromTaylorMI .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't mind in the least. Thank you, Liesa.

      Delete
  44. Hey man, thanks for doing this, my history fair project is on Houdini this year and this helped clear up the shaky facts i had about Houdini

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure. Glad you found it. Good luck on your project!

      Delete
  45. Thanks for the info, discussion and additional links. I appreciate the attempts to research and document facts. It's good follow-up to the movie experience. I have always wished Hollywood was able to make movies more historical, but understand that film is just too limited, that the art has other goals, and that most people prefer scandal and sensationalism, even if pure fabrication. I'm also glad to discover that some of the drama is rather accurate after all. It is encouraging to see others frustrated by the same thing that I am. Perhaps the most important general point made here is that the History Channel should not be viewed as providing the most accurate picture, but rather as one more entertainment outlet that should drive me to find out the real story.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Well, after reading more comments, I just have to add that, when you really stop and think about it, at the very least, it has to be amusing that anyone would complain about embellishing Houdini's life when they are so well aware of the fact that he himself spent a lifetime doing that very thing. After all, it sells! The scene where the traveling magician says, "All magicians are liars and the best magicians are the best liars," is telling. So, if someone repeats one of Houdini's lies about himself and perhaps even adds a twist, that should hardly be grounds for strong criticism, unless the critic also wants to go on record as saying that Houdini should have been boycotted, shunned, maybe even exiled for his own deceptions. And if he wasn't ever used as a spy, perhaps he should have been as he would probably have been exceptionally good at it.

    The mistake is in taking it all too seriously, which is where Houdini drew the line and thus went on a witch hunt exposing a lot of frauds. I for one didn't mind the revelations of some of his tricks, as it is also a real part of history. It didn't diminish it for me at all, because I don't believe them in the first place, that is, that the magicians are doing what is humanly impossible. On the other hand, I can do without the extremely drawn out drama, e.g., of a David Copperfield supposedly passing through the Great Wall so many years ago, especially when poorly done. It was so obvious that his assistants were deforming the fabric 'covering' him that I was shocked people even bothered to continue watching; yet it was all the rage that night. To each his own, as they say.

    Again, thanks for this site. It really is interesting. Houdini was an interesting guy. And for the record, it was the Tony Curtis film that first turned me on to him. Back then, I didn't know that such films weren't completely true. It inspired me to read about him, but only the more popularized versions about his life. It's fun to learn more about him now.

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  47. Was Houdini really locked in a safe after escaping a safe in his magic act? Was Houdini ever locked in a real safe at all?

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Houdini did escape from real safes during his career, but the whole silly sequence in the Houdini miniseries in which he gets stuck in a safe during his "spy" work is pure fantasy.

      Delete
  48. As much as I dislike the fact that the 'History' Channel depicted so many incidents in Houdini's life so inaccurately, I would still consider this two part 'mini series' beautifully MADE...the direction, cinematography, music and acting itself were top notch, and I must admit that BEFORE I knew to check here for the true details, I LOVED the movie...

    Now I just admire the technically aspects, LOL...

    Many thanks to this wonderful, well done and intelligently maintained website, it was exceptionally educational and overall FAR more interesting to learn the truth behind the details that were incorrectly depicted in the TV movie...

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for the kinds words about my site, Kevin. I agree with you the film is beautifully made. And I've made my peace with it story-wise and now enjoy it very much for what it is.

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  49. Was Houdini's wife there when he died? Or just his brother?

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  50. Watching it now on the History Channel.

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    Replies
    1. Great! Did a question lead you to finding this site?

      Delete
  51. John, new to this whole thing (after years of fascination leading to nothing more than seeing movies). This movie seemed to imply a bit of improper relationship between Houdini and his mother. And is that "love, mother" that i saw in the flowers atop his coffin? Is there anything to these implications?

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I mentioned that in my review. Houdini was certainly a momma's boy in the classic sense. He loved and worshiped his mother. But there's nothing to suggest anything improper. That's a creepy creation/implication from the mind of screenwriter Nicholas Meyer who was writing under the spell of a psychological study on Houdini his father wrote. Just an attempt to give the movie "psychological complexity".

      I'm not sure who sent the gigantic "Mother Love" flora arrangement to his funeral, but that is actual footage of Houdini's real burial service.

      Oh, welcome aboard! :)

      Delete
  52. Absolutely love this site. Like a few here, I loved the artistic portrayal of the film, but landed here on a fact-checking spree (more specifically, the Johnson County jailbreak. Johnson County, Iowa is home to our state university. Had to fact check that). Thank you for your diligence, and the input offered here!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Darcie, for your kind words. So glad you landed on my site. :)

      Delete

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