Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chung Ling Soo is a True Nightmare

The Discovery program True Nightmares hosted by Todd Robbins recently aired a segment about Chung Ling Soo and his fatal accident while doing the bullet catch. In the reenactments, Soo is played by magician Frederick Falk and his wife Dot, a.k.a. Suee Seen, is played by my good friend Callie Cleaves (below).


The segment also features Jim Steinmeyer, who wrote the definitive biography of Chung Ling Soo, The Glorious Deception.

Houdini and Chung Ling Soo (actually magician William Robinson) were close friends. In fact, the week Houdini had his career breakout at the Alhambra in London, Chung Ling Soo was on the same bill. Dot and Bess Houdini were also close friends. When Soo was killed doing the bullet catch in 1918, Houdini announced plans to do the trick himself. But he was talked out of it by magician Harry Kellar.

The True Nightmares episode is called "Too Rich, Too Thin" (Season 1/Episode 2) and is streaming at the Investigation Discovery website (the Soo segment starts at 18:15). It also repeats on the Discovery ID channel.

Related:

13 comments:

  1. I was just going to write you to ask for your opinion on something about Houdini and Chung Ling Soo. Please, forgive me if this is explained somewhere in the web. It's HUGE and didn't found anything by now so I put it here. And patience for my english as, you know, it is not my native language.

    I'm reading Steinmeyer's biography about Chung Ling Soo and knew about the collaboration William E. Robinson probably did with the Scientific American Magazine exposing the illusions presented, for example, by Kellar and Herrmann. In 1897, Scientific American collected all this information and sold it in a book called "Magic, Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions Including Trick photography". In his preface, William E. Robinson is thanked for his collaborations. According to the Steinmeyer biography, even Kellar, in a letter explained that William betrayed him ("I know that Robinson gave all my tricks away to Hopkins").

    Well, last year I acquired that book in a Potter&Potter Auction because it was announced as the one that belonged to Harry Houdini (Second edition, 1911, it has his "Ex Libris" in it) so he apparently knew about William's colaboration.

    So my question is this:

    This collaboration of William E. Robinson in the magazine and in the book exposing those illusions affected the friendship between Houdini and Chung Ling Soo in any way? If even Kellar was so angry at Robinson, what part, if any, took Houdini in all of this?

    Thank you very much!

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    1. Really excellent question, JC. Unfortunately, I afraid I don't know whether the book presented any friction between HH and Robinson. My guess is it didn't. Houdini and Robinson became friends well before Houdini developed his close relationship with Kellar, so it might not have come into play. Jim's book is my own go to source for all things Soo/Houdini, so if there's nothing in there, I don't know where to turn (except maybe to Houdini and Kellar's correspondence which, I believe, is in the Copperfield collection). Sorry. But maybe someone here will have an answer.

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  2. Hi John,
    You should read the 'Silence of Soo,' by Todd Karr. He has some very interesting correspondence between Houdini and Robinson.

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  3. The only spat between HH and Soo that I'm aware of occurred when HH asked Soo not to perform Bautier de Kolta's Expanding Die. HH purchased de Kolta's original die from Will Goldston, who had acquired it from DK's mistress. Apparently Goldston gave HH exclusive performing rights and HH believed he had it.

    When HH heard the rumor that Soo was going to present this effect, he sent Soo a registered letter reminding him of his agreement to leave this illusion out of his program. Soo wrote back to say he that he never promised HH not to perform this effect, and that he was not intimidated by him. He also reminded HH that Goldston had already published the construction plans for the Expanding Die.

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    1. Good stuff. Thanks Leo. Also, the De Kolta Expanding Die is a good example of how Houdini continued to perform stage illusions even during the height of his Handcuff King days.

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  4. De Kolta's effect was part of the failed British Grand Magical Revue of the Spring of 1914. By then the cuffs were ancient history.

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    1. Oh, my bad then. There was some illusion that he experimented with during his Handcuff King days (and I don't mean the barrel mystery). I remembered it as the Die.

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  5. I couldn't find any info in HH's early experimental illusion in Silverman. I'm curious as to the source of this piece of information.

    Glad you liked my Soo post but it's all from Silverman.

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    1. I thought I read it in Derek Tait's Houdini The British Tours, which is a great source for his early handcuff king performances. All kinds of unexpected things pop up in those reviews that Derek posts in full. But I had a quick browse and couldn't find it, so I might have been conflating the Barrel Mystery and the Die.

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  6. My Houdini library has fallen behind. I don't have Derek's book and still haven't purchased Witch of Lime Street.

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    1. There will be a new edition of Derek's book coming out next year.

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  7. That's great news! Then it's not a bad thing that Derek's book slipped under my radar. Will pick up the new edition on publication.

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