Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Houdini conquers Hollywood (at last) in The Grim Game


During his introduction to the world premiere of TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game last Sunday, host Ben Mankiewicz commented on how he'd always heard Houdini was a bad actor. He then said he didn't understand this, because that is clearly not the case in the film we were all about to see -- a film that had remained unseen by the public for more than a half century. When the 71 minute movie concluded, I saw he was right. Houdini in The Grim Game is extraordinary in all regards. Here we finally see the Houdini the world knew, loved, and rooted for again and again. Houdini is a superstar in The Grim Game, which is perfectly tailored to showcase his talents and plucky personality. Yes, it's just as good as has always been rumored. I think I know why Houdini works so well in this particular film, but I'll get to that a little later.

At this point, I don't think I need to retell the story of how The Grim Game found its way to Hollywood and the TCM Classic Film Festival. It's enough to say that the world of magic and silent movie buffs turned out in force to see a film that most thought they might never see. The TCM festival scheduled the movie as their closing night event at Grauman's Egyptian Theater, Hollywood's oldest movie palace. Hours before the screening, the courtyard started filling with people, all hoping to get a seat. While the early word for non-festival attendees was that "it didn't look good," I heard everyone who tried was ultimately able to get inside. The 616 seat theater was packed when the show began at 8:30 PM.


In the audience were Houdini enthusiasts and magic luminaries, such as: Jeff Abraham, Mike Caveney, Lisa Cousins, Patrick Culliton, Rory Feldman, Joe Fox, John Gaughan, John Lovick, Joe Monti, Arthur Moses, José Luis Nazar, Joe Notaro, Fred Pittella, Gene Franklin Smith, Dave Sikula, Bullet Valmont, and Mark Willoughby. Also in attendance, although I didn't know this until after the screening, were the sons of Grim Game director Irvin Willat.

With the sons of Grim Game director Irvin Willat.

Ben Mankiewicz opened the show with his introductory remarks and a message from TCM's Robert Osborne, who couldn't attend the festival this year. He then introduced Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, who are credited as consultants on the restoration. Dorothy and Dick did a short Q&A with Mankiewicz, and then performed a magic trick using a vest once owned by Houdini. Dorothy teared up and received a nice ovation when she thanked TCM for all they had done, saying that she had been "waiting for this moment all of my life." A lot of us in the theater could relate to that.

Restoration Producer Rick Schmidlin then took the stage and explained how the film was acquired from collector Larry Weeks, and exactly what the restorationists had to work with. Mankiewicz then introduced composer Brane Živkovic, who created a new original score for the film to be performed live by musicians: Aimee Kreston (violin), Simone Vitrucci (cello), Joshua Ranz (clarinet), and Susan Svrcek (piano).

It was then time for the movie (projected digitally), and when Houdini made his beautifully teased out first appearance on-screen, there was a burst of applause!

The Grim Game is easily the best written, best directed, best shot, best acted, and best conceived Houdini movie by far. It's clever, fun, funny at times, and the escapes are simply breathtaking! Director Irvin Willat also knows how to play on audience expectations. When Houdini is confined in his jail cell, the director gives us a magnificent slow reveal of the iconically chained Houdini framed in the cell doorway. It's a perfect fusion of Houdini and cinema, and this amazing moment, conceived and shot 96 years ago, brought down the house in 2015. So too did the suspended straitjacket escape (just the appearance of the straitjacket brought applause), the jail escape, the bear trap, and the famous plane crash, which is more complete and much clearer that what has been available (you can see the plane wings shatter). There was sustained applause and laughter throughout the movie (side characters have some great comedic bits), and the movie received an ovation that lasted throughout the end credits, where I was honored to see my own name and Wild About Harry listed among the Thanks.

Afterwards, a group of us went back to the Magic Castle, where librarian Lisa Cousins reserved us a private room to discuss the momentous magic history we had just witnessed.

So why is The Grim Game so much more effective than Houdini's other films?

Apart from being just a better made movie overall, I believe one of the key reasons is The Grim Game is the only one of Houdini's films in which he plays an ordinary man and, basically, himself. In his other films, he is some version of a cliche movie hero: a millionaire inventor, a secret agent, or a man from beyond. Here he is just Harvey Hanford, a working reporter in a realistic urban setting. He's an underdog and an outsider, banned from his wealthy uncle's estate and teased by his office co-workers. But he is an optimist with an infectious grin, who just happens to possess an extraordinary ability to escape from any restraint the modern world throws on him. He is the man who cannot be held back. Harvey is the essence of Houdini, and Houdini is in his element playing the part. I sensed the audience at the Egyptian completely embraced the character, as well as delighting in the overall in-joke of the film -- that Harvey is being played by the real Harry Houdini! Ordinary man and superman in one, The Grim Game provides a quintessential Houdini experience.

Now, back to the acting. I believe Houdini became a worse actor as his movie career went along and he started to "study" the craft. He studied himself stiff. I've always thought his best performance was in his first film, The Master Mystery, when he didn't know better. He was loose and natural (apart from the love scenes). What's wonderful about The Grim Game is that he still has all that same early looseness, but with a bigger budget and better photography. There are no prolonged love scenes to strain him, and the film's plot is so modern he's never backed into a melodramatic corner. Also, when Harvey is planting "circumstantial evidence" against himself, Houdini has to act as if he's acting. He's actually giving a subtle comedic performance here, and he nails it! (Recall that he and Bess did a comedy act, The Rahners, early in their careers.) I believe my first wild-eyed words after the screening were, "The days of saying Houdini was a bad actor are OVER!"

Okay, I know what you are thinking. Of course I would give this a rave review -- I'm wild about Harry! True. There was no way I was not going to love this movie after waiting 40 years for it. But to show love is not completely blind, I will tell you the movie is not perfect. The lengthy set-up of both Harvey's plan and the three villains plotting behind his back drags somewhat, and it's all a little confusing. The beautiful Ann Forest is under used in a somewhat thankless role. And there are key moments that are not played up as well cinematically as they could be -- but you do have to remind yourself it is a 96-year-old movie.

The new score by Brane Živkovic might be the most controversial aspect of the restoration. Make no mistake, his music is beautiful, and it works incredibly well in places. But this is Živkovic's first score for a movie, a specialized skill, and he makes a few unconventional choices for a silent film, such as occasionally using no music at all. The decision to not score the jail cell shackle escape was a point of discussion after the screening. I personally liked the choice to let the escape play in total silence. I thought it created tension, almost like a silent drum roll. But others felt thrown. Also, by the end of the film, his four compositions were starting to feel repetitive. But I was happy and relieved that he created a whole new piece for the final plane chase and crash. Still, I'm hoping TCM allows a little more work on the score -- perhaps having Živkovic compose a few new pieces and bringing in a music editor -- before the movie hits the TCM channel.

A few other notes of interest: The movie appears to be set in New York, even though it was shot entirely in Los Angeles. Check out the map on the wall of the Daily Call office and the license plates on the cars. The movie might still be missing a scene in which Houdini/Harvey scales a high wall of an insane asylum. There are photos of this scripted scene, but it is not in this print. The restored print still shows some of the wear and tear of the original negative, including scenes in which we can see the beginnings of nitrate decomposition. This shows that The Grim Game was in real danger of being lost forever.

The Grim Game was made for an audience who knew and loved Houdini. But that is still the case today. In fact, Houdini might actually be more famous today than he was even in his own lifetime. The Grim Game didn't have a premiere in 1919. But it sure did last Sunday night, and Houdini brought cheers from a packed house 87 years after his death. Houdini became the Hollywood star he always expected himself to be on Sunday, and one can't help get the spooky feeling that Houdini himself is somehow behind this magical resurrection.


A very big THANK YOU to Rick Schmidlin and Charles Tabesh of TCM who provided me with tickets to the premiere and the Houdini experience of a lifetime. Also thanks to Rory Flynn and Patrick Culliton for their extreme generosity; Lisa Cousins for keeping me calm in the final moments as we waited for the theater doors to open; and Arthur Moses for providing all us "Houdini Nuts" with a wonderful Grim Game gift bag. And, of course, to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for making all this happen in the first place.

Related:

Monday, March 30, 2015

TCM Festival screens 35mm print of Houdini (1953)

Yesterday was "Houdini Day" in Los Angeles (literally), which saw screenings of his restored silent film The Grim Game and the Tony Curtis classic Houdini (1953) at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. I will be working on my Grim Game report all day and hope to have it up tomorrow or later in the week. Let me just say that the film is every bit as good as has always been rumored, and even better in some regards. It's far and away Houdini's best film, and the whole evening was magical. Frankly, I'm still feeling overwhelmed. So, for now, I thought I'd report on the screening of the Curtis film, which happened earlier in the day and was, in it's own way, historic.

Houdini screened at the Chinese Multiplex 6, which is a newer complex of theaters adjacent to the famous Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. My good friend and Houdini collector Mark Willoughby had arranged two reserved seats. (Thank you again, Mark!) The screening began at 4:45pm, and after a quick lunch and a margarita, we were ready for some magic.

Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, who came to town to help introduce The Grim Game, also introduced Houdini. Dorothy performed a straitjacket escape, which went over wonderfully well with the audience. They have been doing this escape for years and the have honed it beautifully. Dorothy received a standing ovation. They also shared the official "Houdini Day" proclamation from the City of Los Angeles.


It was then movie time, and the biggest surprise for me -- even shock! -- was that the festival screened an original 35mm print of the movie. All other Houdini screening I've attended have always projected the DVD. I didn't even think a 35mm print of Houdini still existed. The print came from the Paramount Archive and was arranged by Rick Schmidlin who organized the TCM screening (Rick is also the Restoration Producer of The Grim Game).

While some restoration work had been done to prepare the print for projection, it's still in pretty bad shape. The color had either faded badly, or maybe we've just become accustomed to the eye-popping Technicolor of the DVD and Blu-ray, and this is what the movie really looked like back in the day? It was dirty, dull, scratch and dirt filled...and glorious! I'll take this authentic piece of cinema history over a perfect modern digital reproduction any day. Had I known we were going to see a film print, I would have brought a note pad so I could record the number of reels and where the reel breaks in the movie occur. Not sure I'll ever get this chance again.

As always, the movie played wonderfully well with a live audience. After the screening, a woman told me she saw the movie as a child and came to see if it was as good as she remembered. It was.

After Houdini, I headed down a packed Hollywood Blvd toward the Egyptian Theater where the real Houdini would soon appear. I will get back to working on my report about that momentous screening event now, so...

To be continued.

Related:

Sunday, March 29, 2015

TODAY IS "HOUDINI DAY" IN LOS ANGELES

Mayor Eric Garcetti has declared today, March 29, 2015, "Houdini Day" in the City of Los Angeles. This is in recognition of tonight's world premiere of Houdini's The Grim Game at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. The 1919 silent feature, said to be Houdini's best film, has been unavailable to the movie going public for more than a half century.

Today's proclamation was arranged by the tireless and always amazing Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, who are also responsible for the reappearance of The Grim Game. Dorothy and Dick will present the official "Houdini Day" proclamation during their introduction to the film tonight at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.

The last time the City of Los Angeles declared a "Houdini Day" was in celebration of Houdini receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on October 31, 1975.

Below is a pic of a very happy Dorothy Dietrich just after we picked up the official proclamation at downtown's City Hall on Friday.


Follow me today on Twitter @HoudiniWild (#houdiniday) for all the Houdini Day happenings. 

Related:

The Grim Game reviewed in 1919

As we countdown the hours to the premiere in Hollywood of TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game, check out this review of the film from the November 1919 issue of Photoplay. 

The Grim Game, Photoplay, November 1919
This is the best play Harry Houdini has ever grappled with, or wiggled himself out of, and it is the best of school which may be described as trick melodrama. In other words, all of Houdini's celebrated stunts, such as shaking off a set of bracelets, withering out of a straight-jacket, or breaking half a ton of manacles are included, but there are also many new and entirely localized manifestations of his diabolic cleverness; and almost all the feats, escapes, and what-not are part of a well-woven, logical plot. Includes in this five-reel fracas, also, is the actual air-collision which stirred Hollywood a few months ago. Two machines, performing at altitude for Houdini's play, accidentally crashed together and fell to earth wreaking themselves, but fortunately not killing and of the occupants. Ann Forrest -- who, at Triangle, was known as Ann Kroman -- is a delightful ingenue lead in the adroit Harry's adventures; and the cast includes, also, Mae Busch -- reappearing after nearly two years absence: she was formally at Keystone -- Anothy Boyd, Tully Marshall and Augustus Phillips.

The world premiere of TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game will take place at the Hollywood Egyptian Theater tonight at 8:15pm.

Related:

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tomorrow The Grim Game will be free


We are now just one day away from the world premiere of TCM's restoration of Houdini's first silent feature The Grim Game at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. This will be the first general public screening of the film in at least 70 years. This is a momentous occasion as The Grim Game is said to be Houdini's best film, and I've always wanted it to be the representative of Houdini's film work. In one day, it will be just that.

Houdini would be thrilled.

For those who haven't followed this saga, the last known print of The Grim Game, which Houdini made for Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount in 1919, was acquired by magician and juggler Larry Weeks in the late 1940s. Larry only shared the film with a few close friends in his home. So while it was never really a "lost" film, it was unavailable for the vast majority of Houdini fans and film historians, including myself. Shortly before his death last year, Larry sold his print to TCM. The movie has now undergone a full restoration, and by all reports, it is just as good as has always been rumored.

So thanks to Larry Weeks, Dorothy Dietrich, Dick Brookz, Fred Pittella, Rick Schmidlin, those at NYU who worked on the restoration, as well the good folks at TCM who bankrolled the entire project (I was told some posts here on my blog helped in that regard), The Grim Game will soon be free!

Below are a collection of Grim Game related posts here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. After the premiere, I will have news of additional screenings and, hopefully, some indication of when the film will be shown on the TCM channel.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Touring Houdini's L.A. with Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz

On Tuesday, March 24 (Houdini's 141st birthday), I had the extreme pleasure of giving Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Scranton Houdini Museum a tour of Houdini's Los Angeles. Dorothy and Dick are in town to introduce The Grim Game during its world premiere at the TCM Classic Film Festival on Sunday. I live tweeted the tour @HoudiniWild (#houdinitour). For those who didn't follow, here are some pics and highlights of our day.


Meeting my heroes! Picking up the legendary Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz at the historic Hudson Apartments on Hollywood Blvd. The Grim Game and Terror Island producer Jesse L. Lasky built the Hudson in 1917. Did Houdini himself ever stay here? Possibly.


First stop: The Hollywood Heritage Museum barn, which was once housed offices of the Famous Players-Lasky studio where Houdini made The Grim Game. Dorothy shared stories of working with Tony Curtis with fans Joe Fox and Bullet Valmont.


Special surprise stop at The Magic Castle where Librarian Lisa Cousins slipped us into The Inner Circle and gave us a private look at their locked case of Houdini treasures. We also picked up our official photographer and cameraman for the day, the great and never shy, Joe Monti.


Just a short walk from the Castle is an unofficial "Magicians Row" on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. First up on the boulevard is, of course, Houdini himself!


It's easy to get distracted in Hollywood. Back to the tour...


The apartment building where Harry Blackstone Sr. lived his final years. He passed away here.


The house where Ed Saint and Bess Houdini lived in the 1930s around the time of the Final Houdini Seance. A beautiful house (privately owned) that is remarkably unchanged.


Another very special treat. We were allowed behind the private gates of the "Houdini Estate" in Laurel Canyon for a tour with a true Houdini treasure, Patrick Culliton (Houdini's Ghost). Thanks to owner José Luis Nazar for letting us see the beautiful grounds...


...and some of the amazing Houdini artwork within.


Dick Brookz contemplates the unmarked final resting place of Edward Saint at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Got this shot right before we were warned by security that photos in the cemetery were not allowed. Too late!


The former First Spiritualist Church of Los Angeles where Houdini took a photograph that even he couldn't explain. Not looking so great these days. Could be this famous Houdini site won't be around for much longer.


The former Los Angeles Examiner building where Houdini did a suspended straitjacket escape in 1923. Remarkably unchanged, although the building is now empty. Another site to see before it possibly vanishes for good.


A short walk from the Examiner building is the Los Angeles Orpheum Theater where Houdini performed in 1915 and 1923. This is where Houdini had his verbal bout with heavyweight boxing champ, Jess Willard. Today it is the Palace, but the Orpheum name is still clearly visible on the building facade.


We planned our last stop to be Glendale Forest Lawn Cemetery to see the grave of Jacob Hyman, but we were running late and the cemetery was closed. So we instead concluded our day with drinks high above downtown at the Ace Hotel, which turned out to be a perfect way to end our Houdini Tour of L.A.


Who needs a beautiful view when you have Joe Monti!

My next LIVE TWEET event will be from the premiere of The Grim Game on Sunday @HoudiniWild (#houdiniday).

The Grim Game to screen at the Wisconsin Film Festival, April 16

The Los Angeles Times online has an excellent article today about the restoration and upcoming premiere of Houdini's The Grim Game. The article also reveals that the film will next be shown at the Wisconsin Film Festival on April 16 at 6:00pm. Restoration Producer Rick Schmidlin will be in attendance. Tickets are available now via the festival website.


This is the first confirmed news of a screening beyond the Hollywood premiere on Sunday, but I've also heard talk of a New York screening.

Read the LA Times article: Once thought lost, Harry Houdini's 'Grim Game' film reappears.

UPDATE: This article appears in the LA Times print edition for March 27, 2015.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Netanyahoudini

On his show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, commentator and comedian John Oliver recently compared Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu to Houdini. Speaking about the PM's changing position on a two state solution, Oliver said: "If he somehow escapes this, he should go on the road as Netanyahoudini: Words cannot hold him."


I'm not going to comment on the politics of all this, but I will say that I fully support the use of Houdini to call out politicians; a rich tradition that dates back to Houdini's own time. And a mock-up poster is always a plus.

Related:

Houdini is an AHC Badass

Houdini will appear on the new series AMERICA'S MOST BADASS. The series premieres tonight on AHC (American Heroes Channel). The Houdini episode, "Living on the Edge", airs on March 31, 2015. Here's a description:

Living on the Edge Premieres Tuesday, March 31 at 10/9c
Neil Armstrong, Teddy Roosevelt, John Dillinger and Harry Houdini all lived life on the edge and have one thing in common: they're badass Americans. These men never backed down from a challenge. One was shot in the chest and still found the strength to deliver a speech, and another "escaped the inescapable" over and over again. Will one of them win all the glory, or will another competitor seize the win?

AMERICA'S MOST BADASS is produced by Leftfield Pictures for AHC.

UPDATE: Houdini battles for Most Badass

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

HAPPY BIRTHDAY HOUDINI

Today is Houdini's 141st birthday. The great escape artist was born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary to Mayer Samuel and Cecilia Steiner Weiss. As I do each year,  will gather a collection of birthday greetings from around the web and link them all below. Send me your link if you have one.

Today I will also be giving the great Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz a tour of Houdini's Los Angeles. Dorothy and Dick are in town for the big premiere of The Grim Game on Sunday. You can follow our progress, and come meet us if you like, via my Twitter @HoudiniWild. I've moved the feed to the top of the page for the day.

Because today everyone is wild about Harry!

The Birthday Boy

Monday, March 23, 2015

Houdini & Doyle - Believe It or Not!

Last week it was announced that Fox will be airing a Sony produced TV series featuring the paranormal exploits of Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -- a 1920s X-Files, if you will. While this is exciting, it's certainly not a new idea. There have been dozens of Houdini-Conan Doyle mash-up adventures in books, graphic novels, plays, and unproduced screenplays.

This might be the first. This July 1979 issue of Gold Key's Ripley's Believe It or Not! (#89) featured Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a cover story called "The Spirit of Friendship." In the comic, Houdini and Doyle attend a seance by Margery. While Houdini did do several sittings with the famous Boston medium and Doyle was a major Margery supporter, the three never sat together at a seance. So I choose Not to believe It. But I do believe I love this cover art.


Looking back at this comic, one wonders whether this new Houdini & Doyle series will include an episode or two with Margery? Seems like she would be a natural. She could even be an ongoing character.

Other fictional adventures of Houdini & Doyle can be found in novels such as: The Adventure of the Spook House by Michael C. Forsyth; Nevermore by William Hjortsberg; What Rough Beast by H.R. Knight; The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler; The Man From Beyond by Gabriel Brownstein; Believe by William Shatner and Michael Tobias. Graphic novels have included Necronauts by Gordon Rennie, and Edge of the Unknown by Jon Vinson and Marco Roblin. Last year two plays featured the duo in debate; Nothing on Earth by Randall Sharp, and Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter by Gene Franklin Smith.

Past movies and television projects that never made it to the screens included a feature film at DreamWorks called Voices from the Dead by J. Michael Straczynski, a TV series called Among The Spirits at Syfy, and a feature adaptation of Thomas Wheeler's The Arcanum.

In 1997, Warner Bros released FairyTale: A True Story with Harvey Keitel as Houdini and Peter O'Toole at Conan-Doyle investigating the famous case of the Cottingley fairies.


Believe it or not!

Related:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Don't bite on these...

You might have noticed these new Houdini "books" listed on Amazon for pre-order. They have wordy titles such as, Houdini and the Art of Illusion and Disillusion, and show prices as high as $26 with page counts as low as 24.


For those who might be confused, know that these are just excerpts from the 1932 book The Secrets of Houdini by J.C. Cannell, which is in the pubic domain. The book has been carved up and is being offered here hidden under new titles, and it isn't the first time. Disillusion indeed!

No need to take this bait. You can get a brand new copy of The Secrets of Houdini by J.C. Cannell for $9.38 on Amazon HERE.

Read my history of the Cannell book: The secrets of The Secrets of Houdini.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

LINK: The mystery of Harry Houdini’s lost film

The New York Post has an article by Lou Lumenick about the recovery of Houdini's The Grim Game from collector Larry Weeks. Revealed here for the time time is exactly what Larry had in his possession all these years and what restorationist Rick Schmidlin had to work with. The article states:

"Larry didn’t want to part with the movie at first," Schmidlin recalls. "But he was impressed [that] TCM is affiliated with Warner Bros. Larry appeared in Warner’s film version of This Is the Army, an Irving Berlin GI musical that Larry had toured with during World War II."

What Weeks finally retrieved from an amazed Schmidlin — a complete 16mm copy of the 71-minute film that Weeks had transferred from a 35mm negative in the late 1950s.

"The film was in excellent condition, first frame to last," Schmidlin says. After much discussion, Weeks signed a contract selling the print to TCM for an undisclosed sum.

"He was a tough negotiator," Schmidlin says. "But his last deal made him very happy, and he was gone by September. If we hadn’t gotten to him in time, The Grim Game would have been lost forever."

Click the headline or HERE to read the full article at the New York Post, which also include footage of Larry Weeks at the Houdini wand breaking ceremony in 1985.

The world premiere of TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game will take place at the Hollywood Egyptian Theater next Sunday, March 29, at 8:15pm.

Related:

Meet Dorothy Dietrich in Hollywood, March 24

If you're in Los Angeles and can free up some time on Tuesday, March 24 (Houdini's 141st birthday), here's your chance to meet the legendary Dorothy Dietrich, magician, escape artist, and co-curator of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA.

Dorothy and Dick Brookz are coming to Hollywood to introduce The Grim Game during its world premiere at the TCM Classic Film Festival. To welcome them, I'll be giving Dorothy and Dick a personal tour of all the Houdini sites of L.A. on Houdini's birthday.

Our first stop will be at 10:00AM in front of the Hollywood Heritage Museum, which was headquarters for the original Famous Players-Lasky Studio where Houdini made The Grim Game. We thought it would be fun to throw open an invitation for one and all to come meet Dorothy at our first stop. Come get an autograph, watch her do some magic, and hear first hand how she and Dick Brookz helped uncover Houdini's long lost silent film and aided in TCM's restoration. Media is also welcome.

We will then fan out across Los Angeles in search of Houdini. While this isn't a public tour per se -- I will just be scooting them around in my Prius -- you are still welcome to join us at any of our stops. We will be in Hollywood in the morning and downtown Los Angeles and Glendale in the afternoon. While I don't know the exact time of any of the stops, I will live tweet each upcoming destination @HoudiniWild. That way you will know when we are close and you can come out and meet a legend (and learn all about that particular Houdini site).

So come and meet Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz on Tuesday, March 24 at 10am in front of the Hollywood Heritage Museum located at 2100 North Highland Avenue (directly across from the Hollywood Bowl). Or follow me at @HoudiniWild and join us along the way.

This kicks off what is going to be a spectacular week of Houdini in Hollywood!

You can read profiles of Dorothy and Dick at the TCM Classic Film Festival website. Also check out The Houdini Museum's own press release for a preview of some of the stops we will be making on our tour of Houdini's Los Angeles.

UPDATE: Touring Houdini's L.A. with Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz

Related:

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Grim Game musical ensemble and runtime revealed


The TCM Classic Film Festival website has updated their page for The Grim Game with some new information. As reported earlier, the film will be presented with a live musical ensemble performing the original score composed and conducted by Brane Živkovic. Now we have the list of musicians who will be bringing Houdini back to life.

Violin
Aimee Kreston
Cello
Simone Vitrucci
Clarinet/Bass Clarinet
Joshua Ranz
Piano
Susan Svrcek
Musical Contractor
J. Anthony McAlister, McAlister Arts LLC

The Members of the ensemble are represented by Professional
Musicians Local 47, AFM.

The site has also posted the official runtime of 71 minutes.

The world premiere of TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game will take place at the Hollywood Egyptian Theater next Sunday, March 29, at 8:15pm.

Related:

WILD ABOUT HARRY's auction reporting policy


Yesterday RR Auctions sold some very nice Houdini items, including a rare lobby display for Houdini's The Man From Beyond. If you are wondering why I didn't report on this auction until after it ended, I wanted to explain my (somewhat loose) auction reporting "policy."

As a rule, I try not to report on auctions in progress. This is so my good friends in the magic collecting community don't get mad at me for outing that gem that might have been flying under the radar. I will report on such items after a sale, especially if they sold for a price that was unusually high or low. Whatever feels like "news".

Exceptions are when an item is of such historical significance that its very existence is news in itself. The recent Double-Fold Death-Defying Mystery box was an example of that. Also, if an auction house buys advertising, whether it be a sidebar ad or a sponsored post, then obviously their upcoming Houdini items will be covered. (Yes, I can be bought.)

The Man From Beyond lobby display was on the line for me. It is an important Houdini item -- one of only 4 such displays -- and it was definitely flying under the radar. It ended up selling for below the auction estimate (and well below what I think it's worth), so maybe keeping my yap shut helped a collector get a deal. But I'm actually feeling a little guilty today that I didn't do my "job" here. I'm not sure I served Houdini's legacy or the larger collecting community by not announcing that this historic gem was available for all.

I'd love to hear some feedback on this. Should I have reported the display auction? What do you think should be WILD ABOUT HARRY's auction reporting policy?

Thanks.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Breaking: Houdini and Conan Doyle series picked up by Fox

Deadline Hollywood has just reported the following:

EXCLUSIVE: A supernatural crime drama inspired by the unlikely real-life friendship between Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and illusionist Harry Houdini is headed to the small screen in the U.S., UK and Canada. I’ve learned that Sony Pictures TV has sold the 10-episode series to Fox, the UK’s ITV and Canada’s Shaw Media. Titled Houdini And Doyle, the drama — which will go straight to series — hails from The Librarian franchise creator David Titcher, House creator David Shore and House writer-producer David Hoselton. Canada’s Shaftesbury and the UK’s Big Talk co-produce, with Sony TV, where Shore is under an overall deal, distributing worldwide. Fox had no comment.

I'm not going to get too excited about this until we get some more concrete news, such as casting or an air date. In the past few years we've had news of several Houdini TV series being purchased by networks -- including one that featured the "steampunk" adventures of Houdini and Doyle -- and nothing ever came of those. But this sounds like something more than just a development deal, so this could be the one that finally breaks free.

As always, I'll keep an eye on this.

'The Man From Beyond' lobby display sells in auction

A remarkable original lobby display painting for Houdini's The Man From Beyond sold today at RR Auctions for $10,900 (lot #3019). This is one of only four such displays that were owned by Houdini himself. This almost certainly graced the lobby of the Time Square Theatre in NY when the film played there in April 1922. On the back is a return address, presumably a Houdini warehouse. This display, along with other magic rarities in the auction, came from the collection of James Collings.

Amazing hand-embellished advertising art for Harry Houdini's 1922 film The Man from Beyond, 39 x 29, showing the discovery of Houdini, who has been frozen in the Arctic ice for 100 years. An actual photograph beneath, Apeda Studio elaborated upon the image with original paint to artistically emphasize details of the ice and other areas, with the addition of hand-painted red-and-yellow lettering at the bottom, reading: "Houdini in The Man From Beyond." The art is presented in what seems to be the original easel display, measuring 45″ tall, labeled on the backing of the poster in blue pencil: "Return To: Houdini PC, 220 West 42 St, New York." In very good condition, with noticeable chips and paper loss to the top edge, and general scattered chips and dings to the surface. Accompanied by a letter from a previous owner, noting that this poster was acquired from the cache of Houdini's personal items discovered and sold in Allendale, New Jersey, in 1980; also accompanied by a pressbook for the film. Also includes a massive wooden case. This advertising artwork would have been displayed on stage with Houdini, or in theater lobbies to promote The Man from Beyond. In 1921, Houdini formed the Houdini Picture Corporation (the “Houdini PC” noted on the reverse of this display), which only produced two films—The Man From Beyond and Haldane of the Secret Service. These original pieces of Houdini advertising art—which were props belonging to the magician himself—are quite scarce and rarely offered publicly; the impressive size and unique hand-painted aspect of this example makes it extraordinarily desirable.

If this display looks familiar, it should. At my "Houdini in Hollywood" event at Hollywood Heritage last year, I was able to showcase one of the other The Man From Beyond lobby painting displays from the collection of Mark Willoughby. As I said at the time, it was the star of the show.

Other items of note...

A collection of 10 original glass negatives (lot 3018) sold for $2,600. Some of the photos I've never seen, including one showing Houdini with his dog Charlie in his lap (below).


A remarkable letter in which Houdini talks about his Vanishing Elephant illusion -- "I vanish 12 elephants per week, and twill be hard to continue, as they may get scarce" -- (lot 3017) sold for a surprisingly low $932.

Houdini's original hand corrected manuscript for his revised edition of A Magician Among the Spirits (lot 3020) reached $38,000 before it was Passed. Presumably it didn't meet the reserve. This isn't the first time this manuscript has cycled unsold.

Overall, prices realized were on the low side. Some deals today!

Click to enlarge.

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Houdini's death certificate online

The Archives of Michigan have made available images of Michigan death certificates from 1921 to 1939 via their free website www.seekingmichigan.org.

Of course, the certificate that is getting all the press attention is Houdini's death certificate from Grace Hospital, certified by chief surgeon Dr. Charles Kennedy. Photocopies of Houdini's death certificate have circulated on eBay, etc., but now you can get a closeup read for free.

Houdini's death certificate.

One thing that always intrigued me is the time of death is noted here as 1:30 pm. So where did 1:26 pm come from? That is the time that is widely reported as being the exact time of Houdini's death.

The Michigan collection now contains 2.6 million death certificates for researchers dating back to 1897.

Thanks to Todd Karr and Wayne Wissner.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Houdini by Custode

Here is a magnificent woodcut illustration of Houdini by Canadian artist and graphic designer Michael Custode. I think this beautifully captures the drama of a Houdini jail escape, and is a much closer depiction of Houdini's real physique than you normally see in illustrations. In other words, he nails it!

Click to enlarge.

This image was created with ink and brush on Linetek paper. It appeared in a promo piece for the artist called The Little Book of Strange Canadian Facts.

Thanks to Michael Custode for allowing me to share this here. For more of his work, visit Michael Custode: Illustration and Design.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ragtime revival in Bristol, PA

A revival of Ragtime, the popular stage musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's bestselling novel, starts today at the Bristol Riverside Theater in Bristol, PA. Houdini is a character in the sweeping saga about life and politics at the turn of the century, and in this production he is played by Will Connell.


In the Bucks Courier Times, Connell explained how his character motivates Tateh, a recently arrived immigrant from Latvia.

"His family immigrated from Hungary. To this made-up immigrant character for the show, Houdini was a symbol of what he could do if he honed his talent," says Connell.

Ragtime starts today with previews and then runs through April 12, 2015. To buy tickets and for more information, visit the Bristol Riverside Theater website.

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