Friday, December 30, 2016

It's almost time...

Here's Houdini counting down to 2017 and another year of WILD ABOUT HARRY. I'm going to kick off the year with a look back at what Houdini himself was up to 100 years ago. So have a safe and Happy New Year and I'll see you all on January 1st.


This terrific unpublished photograph comes from the collection of Mario Carrandi, Jr., and is a companion to the photo of Houdini's hands. Mario shared this on his Facebook group THE MAGIQUARIAN.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Harry's WILD 2016 in review

It's time to wrap-up the year with a look back at the highlights of 2016.


January's 45 posts kicked off with a look back at what Houdini himself was up to in 1916. We then found a piece of Houdini's silent movie career at Beaver Falls. Rarities from Houdini's early career swept eBay and offered up a mystery. Houdini's long lost steel box and Milk Can resurfaced in Santa Monica. Houdini toured Texas and joined the Rough Riders. Duffy Hudson brought Houdini to Pasadena. Guest blogger Leona Preston shared her vision of The Last Séance while Neil McNally gave us his full reflection on the Mirror Challenge.

February (31 posts) took us inside 278 today. Houdini met Aleister Crowley, Doctor Who, the Wizards of the South, and had a showdown with Brindamour. We locked down the Guiteau cell and a found a pair of handcuffs Houdini left behind (or not). We also revisited Mysteries & Scandals and relived the details of Mama's death in Asbury Park.

Mrs. Houdini arrived in March (47 posts). Houdini & Doyle premiered in London. Palm Springs recognized Houdini the aviator while Jamy Ian Swiss shared a story that never has been told. The Cancer of Superstition was FOUND! Scarne remembered Houdini while we remembered his Flatbush years. Haversat & Ewing's "Houdini Birthday Auction" nabbed impressive prices. MUM celebrated our friend Dorothy Dietrich. Houdini again met Argamasilla and I reviewed the first episode of Houdini & Doyle. But the big question of the month; was Houdini toothless?

April (38 posts) saw The Real Ghostbusters busting Houdini. We pondered Houdini's electric chair and discovered the shocking truth. I met the new Houdini who showed off his, ahem, card skills. We all read up on Houdini the bibliophile. Washington D.C. celebrated a Houdini centenary and Potter & Potter held their mega Houdiniana auction. The month ended with a look at the curious case of an incomplete scrapbook and the real story of Houdini & Doyle.

The Fox series Houdini & Doyle dominated May (40 posts). I had the pleasure of live tweeting the U.S. premiere with star Michael Weston at Fox Studios, where I also made a stop at 278 of the west. I then reviewed and fact checked all 10 episodes of the series, and if you think that was a waste of blog space, I beg to differ. But there was more to the month than the fiction. The real Houdini threatened to sue the real Doyle. A forgotten assistant showed up in Yorkshire. Guest blogger Neil McNally took us inside the amazing Houdini Museum of New York. Bessie found herself Boxed. The S.A.M. rededicated Houdini's gravesite, and I offered up a detailed look at Houdini in 1900.

June (34 posts) kicked off with the release of a new Houdini biography in Spanish. David Merlini's major new museum, The House of Houdini, opened in Budapest. Hollywood mocked up Harry for Now You See Me 2. I explored whether Harry and Bess married in 1901 and shared The Greatest. Margery's seance kimono appeared in New York while A Regular Little Houdini appeared in Hollywood. Larry Weeks became "Houdini's Biggest Fan" for eternity and Hardeen challenged Clara Bow's "IT".

In July (34 post) we punched a new hole in the ice story. The Grim Game landed in Leeds. Williamsport honored their "Wild Man" and a photo from Medium Well Done materialized. Mannix visited the Houdini estate. I took a detailed look back at Houdini's escape from the Siberian Transport Cell and the theories of how he did it. Houdini then went poolside and planned to not go over Niagara Falls.

In August (34 posts) we discovered Tara O'Grady's "Ehrich Weiss Bible" along with the amazing story of how it came to be in her family. Houdini returned to the Edinburgh Fringe. The Shelton pool test turned 90. Chris Hardeen entered the ring, but it was Houdini & Doyle that suffered a knockout by Fox. Houdini feuded with A.M. Wilson. We got a nice look at Houdini's hands and found the location of his last publicity stunt. An imposter was revealed. Bess went Beyond and Back. We ended the month with a week at Tony Pastor's.

In September (40 posts) Wild About Harry got a new look, a new store, and new pages. Mark Willoughby shared his remarkable recordings of Edward Saint. We took a look back at the making of the Houdini Miniseries and did a deep dive into the transformative year of 1899. The Magic of Houdini arrived on Netflix. So did Houdini’s Girl Detective. Houdini hit the workshop -- now the "Houdini Studio" -- and spoke in Coney Island. Houdini pinball appeared in Las Vegas. And Houdini was a sight to behold on Hollywood backlots in 1919 and 1953.

October (40 posts) was all about #Houdini90th. The month was packed with seances and special events in New York, Marshall, Milwaukee, Colon, Austin, Danville and Budapest. The month also marked the 100th anniversary of the Houdini-Weiss exedra and the 40th anniversary of The Great Houdinis. A new French series kicked off with Metamorphosis. The Witch of Lime Street appeared in paperback. I reviewed Bob Loomi's Houdini's Final Incredible Secret. The Houdinis became Houdini. Fred Pittella inherited Larry Weeks' estate. Houdini shamed Congress and spoke in Austin. And I marked the 90th anniversary of Houdini's death by telling the story of the long lost Houdini-Hilliar code...and then revealed the code! Then, curiously, Houdini seemed to reveal it back to me. Believe.

Things did not slow down in November (40 posts) with news that 2017 would see a reprint of Houdini's Paper Magic and a new book by Wayne Alan. Appleton held a "Houdini 10k" run. Lee Terbosic recreated Houdini's Pittsburgh straitjacket escape. The United States elected a Houdini-like President and Houdini got Drunk (can you blame him?). An original Master Mystery poster sold at auction and Houdini's underwater battle surfaced. Olive Films released Houdini (1953) while Delta Bravo found Houdini's Harvard jump site. A confederate confessed. Houdini became "King of Handcuffs". The Secret Life of Houdini movie showed signs of life and the late Doug Henning remembered doing the Water Torture Cell.

December (18 posts) saw the Ehrich Weiss Bible arriving at its new home in Budapest. Potter & Potter again sold rarities in auction. Houdini learned the title of his movie and we got a peak at NBC's Timeless crew werk'in' on their Houdini episode. David De-Val reveled the secrets of Houdini cell escapes. Houdini had a mouse adventure. Bess joined the Mantell-Houdini Show and Jim Collins joined Hardeen.

Sadly, we lost some notables from the Houdini world; Irene Larsen, Abb Dickson, David Bowie, Elizabeth Swados, and Wisconsinite Gene Wilder.

This year I enjoyed giving talks at LILA, UCLA and The Magic Castle. Being included in the Houdini & Doyle press event at the Magic Castle was a real treat. I also enjoyed appearing on Beyond Reality Radio and doing an assortment of interviews with various media outlets and journalists for Houdini's 90th.

I will be taking the rest of the year off, but I'll see you all back here on New Year's Day for what I expect will be another WILD year. Thanks for all your support. Feel free to share your own 2016 Houdini highlights in the comments below.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

New menu pages

This year I decided it was time to better organize all the content that I've built up here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. Creating drop down menus was part of that effort (and bit of a magic trick as this is not a Blogger feature). The menu links take you to a specific post or bring up all the posts on a particular topic.


But now I'm creating menu linked individual pages to better organize larger topics such as the Water Torture Cell (for which I currently have 117 posts). Here you can read a quick overview of the topic and find links to a deeper dive. This way people can learn the basic facts about, say, Houdini's Vanishing Elephant, without having to wade through a dozen posts about whether Jennie wore a pocket watch (hey, we gotta get into that!).

I've already created a dozen pages that are now live. I will work on more over the Christmas break. I especially want to flesh out the "People" menu. So far, only Bess and Hardeen have pages.

Just part of my ongoing efforts to make WILD ABOUT HARRY more navigable and one of the best places to find Houdini information on the web.

Related:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Was Collins Hardeen's Kukol?

(And if you understand that headline, you're in the right place.)

Recently our friend Bill Mullins discovered Jim Collins' obituary in Variety for March 11, 1942 (p 54). It's not a long obit, but it contains a bombshell bit of information in regards to when and how the all-importnat Jim Collins came into Houdini's world.

James Collins, 60, assistant for many years to the late Harry Houdini, died Friday (6) in the Philadelphia General Hospital, Philadelphia. At his bedside was Hardeen, Houdini's brother, with whom Collins was appearing in 'Hellzapoppin,' which wound up a long stay in Philadelphia last week. Collins suffered a heart attack last week.
He began his career as a magician's assistant in 1902, when he answered an ad in a London newspaper placed by Hardeen. He later shifted to Houdini, with whom he worked until 1926, and was credited with inventing several illusions used by both magicians. He is survived by his widow.

So the thing that immedialty jumps out at me is the information that Collins started working for Hardeen in 1902. I don't believe I've ever heard that!

Most biographies say Collins came into Houdini's life around the time of the Milk Can. Gresham says Collins was hired in 1908, but Christopher in Houdini The Untold Story says Collins signed his assistant's oath with Houdini on December 3, 1910. It's been said Collins, who had carpentry skills, was hired specifically to build the Double Fold Death Defying box.

But if we are to believe Variety, Collins had been Hardeen's assistant for some eight years before he went to work for Houdini. As Hardeen's act was mirror of Houdini's -- right down to his own Bess in "Miss Trixy" (who left the act in 1905) -- this makes Jim Collins Hardeen's own version of Franz Kukol (Houdini's chief assistant during his Handcuff King days).

Now, I admit I've not tried very hard to confirm or refute this. I'm taking Variety at its word. But it is amusing to think that Harry not only snatched Bess from his younger brother, but also Jim!

Collins once again went to work for Hardeen following Houdini's death in 1926. At the time of his own death, he clocked an amazing 40 years with the Brothers Houdini.

Thanks Bill.

Related posts:

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rock! Shock! Pop! reviews 'Houdini' on Blu-ray

The website Rock! Shock! Pop! has reviewed the new Houdini (1953) Blu-ray from Oliver Films, offering a nice comparison between this and the 2011 release from Legend Films. Here's a taste:

Houdini arrives on a 25GB Blu-ray from Olive Films that probably came from the same source used for the Legend Films Blu-ray release from a few years back. However, this 1.33.1 fullframe AVC encoded 1080p presentation is not identical. The colors on Olive’s release look better and more natural and grain looks better here too, resulting in a slightly more film-like picture. The image is clean and shows reasonably good detail and nice texture. Black levels are pretty decent as well. All in all, this is a perfectly nice looking picture. 

Head on over to Rock! Shock! Pop! to read the full review and see some high resolution screen captures. You can purchase Olive Films Houdini Blu-ray at Amazon where it is currently marked down 33%.

Related:

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Water Torture Cell poster at auction, February 4

Potter & Potter's "The Golden Age of Magic Posters, Part II" auction is set for February 4th, 2017. The just released catalog includes several Houdini posters. The most significant of these is a 1912 poster for his Water Torture Cell. This is one of only three know examples. Auction estimate is $50,000/80,000.


I can't help but correct this listing in one regard. It describes Houdini as being 5'2". According to a 1926 physical, Houdini stood 5'5.276". Why do people keep trying to shrink him?

Also at auction is a King of Cards poster, a playbill for Houdini's Grand Magical Revue, two Hardeen posters, a poster for Brindamour (described in the catalog as "Houdini’s most successful competitor"), and a nice poster depicting Nicola in several Houdini-like escapes.

All the posters in this auction came from the collection of Norm Nielsen. Norm also owned what I believe is the only surviving poster for Houdini's Overboard Box escape. Word is that poster was sold privately.

The Golden Age of Magic Posters, Part II catalog can be downloaded as a free PDF or purchased in hardcover from the Potter & Potter Auctions website.

UPDATEHoudini Water Torture Cell poster makes history at Potter & Potter auction.

Related:

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

David Saltman continues to reveal Rabbi Weiss

Our friend David Saltman of The Houdini File continues to uncover incredible new information about Houdini's father, Mayer Samuel Weiss. His most recent post on Mayer Samuel's early years is a must read!

Below are links to David's posts. I will add more as he does.

THE EARLY YEARS OF HOUDINI'S FATHER
HOUDINI'S RADICAL RABBIS
HOUDINI'S RABBI (NEW)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Houdini's great mouse adventure

Amazon Video now has the series The Country Mouse and the City Mouse Adventures available for streaming. Season 2 includes an episode called "Houdini Mice" that finds our tiny heroes traveling to Budapest where they help Houdini defeat a rival escape artist. The episode features a pair of handcuffs that look suspiciously like the Mirror cuffs. Someone did their research!


The Country Mouse and the City Mouse Adventures aired in the U.S. on HBO from March 2, 1997 to October 28, 1998. "Houdini Mice" first aired on October 17, 1998. 

You can purchase "Houdini Mice" (Season 2/Episode 15) for $1.99 at Amazon Video.

Related:

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Mantell-Houdini Show

After Houdini's death, Bess took on several projects to earn income and perpetuate Houdini's name and fame. None of them worked out in the long run. While we know about her Manhattan Tea Room and the Frozen Man act, here's one that's new to me: The Mantell-Houdini Show.

In 1932, Bess teamed up with "The Great Mantell" as part of 2 1/2 hour magic show. Despite claims that Mantell was a protege of Hermann the Great and "the closet personal advisor of Mr. and Mrs. Houdini for many years," I've never heard of him. Could Mantell have been Edward Saint? It certainly sounds like his kind of ballyhoo. Bess and Ed met in 1930 and were living together in Florida at this time.

The Mantell-Houdini Mystery Production, as it was first called, appears to have made its debut at the Shirne Theatre in Fort Wayne, Indiana on November 24, 1932 (Thanksgiving). Among the feats performed by Bess was "The Spirit Hands of Madam Golum," with Bess acting as a medium. It was also reported that The Great Mantell did escapes.


After Fort Wayne, the show moved to Logansport, Indiana, where it played 3 consecutive days at the Logan Theater. An added feature was passing 750,000 volts of electricity through a young female assistant who then lit cigars and torches from the tips of her fingers and tongue.

At the start of the program, Mantell informed the audience that "in the days of old" his wonders would be attributed to supernatural powers, but that every trick was merely "a matter of skill and illusion." (Again, sounds like Saint speak by way of Harry.)

The local paper gave the show a good review: "Houdini-Mantell Show Pleaseing To Audience At Logan." But despite claims that the show was booked for a week in Indianapolis and also would play two weeks in Cuba "under the auspices of the Redpath Chautauqua," I could find no mention of the Mantell-Houdini show beyond Logansport.

UPDATE: Our friend Bill Mullins has found a review of the Mantell-Houdini show in The Sphinx, January 10, 1933. Bill has also found enough references to Mantell before and after this show that he believes he was not Edward Saint. Here's the review:

Mrs. Beatrice Houdini, widow of Harry Houdini, and Honorary member of the Parent Assembly of the Society of American Magicians, has returned to the stage and recently appeared with "The Great Mantell" of Jonesville, Michigan, in a full new show of magic and mystery. The company opened for a three-day stand at the Shrine Theatre, Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Thanksgiving Day. Ten assistants and the usual stage crew assisted at the performances in what is known as "The Great Mantell-Houdini" Mystery Production. Many illusions were presented, including the tea chest, substitution trunk, pillory and Asrah. The first part of the show is described as the wanderings of an explorer who discovers an old Chinese castle containing mysterious boxes, torture apparatus and the like. As each discovery is made the effect is produced on the stage, and as a climax the Great Mantell produces Mrs. Houdini from a cabinet and she vanishes again after a performance of small magical effects. The entire company appeared in Chinese costume. Prior to the opening of the tour two preliminary performances were given by the company at the Jackson, Mich., State prison before 5,000 inmates. After Ft. Wayne the company played the following week at the Logan Theatre, Logansport, Ind., and at New Albany in "The Greatest Mystery Extravaganza Production on the Entire Globe." Mantell served as master of ceremonies and presented a number of spectacular effects as well. The "Death Chamber" in which a girl is placed to have thirty-eight swords thrust through the box is said to be the smallest ever used by any magician.

Related:

Friday, December 9, 2016

David De-Val reveals 'The Real Secret' of Houdini's cell escapes

Here's something very exciting for those who are interested in learning the secrets behind Houdini's amazing feats.

During his career, escapologist and magician David De-Val visited and/or escaped from all of the surviving jail cells in the UK that Houdini escaped from. In doing so, De-Val claimed to have discovered Houdini's secret. In 2000, he recorded his exploits and findings in a privately printed book called Cell Escape - The Real Secret, which is a rare collectible.

Now Allan James Taylor and Rebecca De-Val have released a "new and improved" edition with all the original content from the 2000 edition along with new images and information. The first batch sold out immediately, but more are in stock and can be purchased now from the David De-Val Tribute website store.

For all you Escapologists – David De-Val’s Cell Escape – The Real Secret

“…I extensively researched Houdini’s seemingly supernatural escapes, concentrating for a period on his remarkable jail cell escapes. Many authors have put forward theories. Believe me, none have even come close to the real secret! I personally visited the jail cells in England from which Houdini performed his escapes all those years ago. Their locations were drawn from contemporary newspaper accounts made by the reporters who actually witnessed the stunt being performed. And very detailed they are – most running into many column inches. After four years of almost weekly study, at last I had his closely guarded secret! I set about proving this by duplicating his naked cell escapes at every opportunity…” - David De-Val.

For more on the life and work of David De-Val check out the David De-Val Tribute Site.

Thanks to Allan and Rebecca.

Related:

Coverage of the Houdini Bible event in Budapest


Last Saturday musician Tara O'Grady delivered her Houdini Bible (or what I've been calling the "Ehrich Weiss Bible") to David Merlini's The House of Houdini museum in Budapest, Hungary. The arrival received worldwide press coverage. Below are a list of links. I'm pleased to see many contain a nice mention of WAH and the small role we played in bringing the bible to light:


David Merlini tells me the bible is now housed in a bullet proof climate controlled display case along with the museum's other most valuable "dark room" collectibles.

The House of Houdini is the first and only Houdini museum in Europe. For hours and more information visit their website and Facebook. For more on Tara and her music visit her website and Twitter.

Photo by Richard Velasco.

Related:

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Houdini learns the title of his movie

Eric Colleary of the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas reports that there is currently a major re-cataloging of their Houdini archive underway. Among the center's massive holdings are many of the business papers related to Houdini's film work, and today Eric shared this gem on Kevin Connolly's Conjuring History Facebook group.

Houdini's first Hollywood production for Famous Players-Lasky Paramount was for a time called Circumstantial Evidence. This letter from Jesse L. Lasky dated May 24, 1919 informs Houdini that a consensus has been reached on a final title. It was actually a return to one of the first titles suggested by writers Arthur B. Reeve and John W. Grey. Looks like Houdini did not object.


As you can see, Lasky sent this to Houdini care of the "Lasky Studios" in Hollywood. It's too bad he didn't send it to the address where Houdini was residing, as it might have finally given us the "smoking gun evidence" that Houdini was living in Laurel Canyon at the time. Perhaps the re-cataloging might finally reveal that evidence?

The Harry Ransom Center recently screened The Grim Game and displayed items from their collection to mark the 90th anniversary of Houdini's death. Check out their official website.

Thanks to Eric Colleary and Kevin Connolly.

Related:

While we're on the topic, check out my new standalone page devoted to Houdini's Movies. I'm slowly building up standalone pages like this that can be accessed from the main menu bar. Just a way to help make the site more navigable.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Houdini's misfits return in 2017

Comic creator, writer, and editor Dwight L. MacPherson is launching a new company, Hocus Pocus Comics, and among the first releases will be a follow-up (or reboot) of his successful 2008 comic, Kid Houdini and The Silver Dollar Misfits.

Hocus Pocus Comics’ second title, Houdini’s Silver Dollar Misfits, is described by MacPherson as “Harry Potter meets Gravity Falls.” The first issue will be released this spring, and it will feature a cover by David Hartman and interior art by Mathieu Benoit.

You can read more about Hocus Pocus Comics and their upcoming releases at Graphic Policy. Good luck Dwight!

Related:

Monday, December 5, 2016

"Daring Dive" and other rarities sell in Potter auction

Several Houdini rarities sold in Potter & Potter's Winter Magic Auction on December 3. Among them was a nice broadside advertising Houdini's jump into the Edgbaston Reservoir in Birmingham, England on December 15, 1908. What I especially like here is that Houdini offered cash prizes for the best photographs "taken of him whilst in mid-air." This went for $5,658.


Other lots of note included an antique pair of Palmer Handcuffs from Houdini's collection ($3,936); a copy of the rare 1927 Russian book "Harry Houdini – Debunker of Spiritualists" ($2,460); a colorful 1908 Christmas card ($3,936); and an invitation to Houdini's Shelton pool test ($1,045).


Potter & Potter's next auction is the highly anticipated "The Golden Age of Magic Posters, Part II" on February 4th, 2017. That auction will include Houdini posters.

Related:

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Ehrich Weiss Bible is in The House

The recently unearthed "Ehrich Weiss Bible" is now part of The House of Houdini museum in Budapest, Hungary. The Bible was delivered yesterday by musician Tara O'Grady whose family owned the Bible for some 38 years. The arrival was heralded by a major press event with dignitaries. Later that evening, Tara performed in concert with Hungarian jazz musicians including Attila Korb.

Below is a terrific shot by Richard Velasco of museum founder David Merlini and Tara with the museum's newest addition.


The Bible, which is signed by Houdini's father Rabbi Weiss and by Houdini as "Ehrich Weiss" in 1893, came to Tara's family via the nurse of Houdini's brother Dr. Leopold Weiss. It's a wild story that Tara first shared HERE.

For more information on Tara visit her website and Twitter. You can find out more about The House of Houdini via their website and Facebook.

Related:

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Timeless crew werk'in on Houdini episode

Actress Abigail Spencer just posted this to her Twitter. It reveals that the Timeless crew is shooting their Houdini episode today. It's pretty funny, and it gives us our first look at Michael Drayer as Harry.


Timeless airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC. The Houdini episode is set during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. No air-date has yet been announced.

Related:

Hardeen eats no meats

Like his famous brother, Hardeen investigated fake spirit mediums, or so he claimed. While I've never heard of Hardeen actually becoming involved in an investigation or breaking up a seance, this article from the Wilkes-Barre Evening News for June 28, 1928 shows that he at least threw down the gauntlet.

Click to enlarge.

Another article published around this same time includes this interesting detail about Dash:


In 1936 Hardeen made a Vitaphone short called Medium Well Done in which he played a "hardbodied detective" investigating fraud mediums. This might have been his only moment on stage as a spirit debunker. The film is now lost, so we don't know if Hardeen's detective was also a vegetarian.

Related:

Friday, December 2, 2016

Puzzling new Houdini book for 2017

Next year is starting to reveal itself and the new Houdini books are lining up! Here's another new title, The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault. I don't think this has much to do with Houdini apart from the title and cover art. But that's enough for me!

At the turn of the twentieth century, Harry Houdini was regularly leaving audiences of thousands amazed at his repertoire of stunts. Escaping locks and chains; digging himself out after being buried alive; freeing himself from a straitjacket while suspended from a crane; each escapade was a little more dangerous than the last and left his growing legion of fans wanting more. The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault contains 100 puzzles inspired by the greatest escapologist to have ever lived. With puzzle chains where one wrong answer can leave you locked in a never-ending circle of puzzles, and logic problems designed to confound the minds of the unworthy, this puzzle book is an enjoyable test for all. Unlock your brain and see if you can escape the challenging puzzles inside.

The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault will be releasd on June 1, 2017. So far it is only available for pre-order at Amzon.co.uk (UK).

UPDATE: Release date has now changed to October 5, 2017.

Related:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

International Houdini curiosities

It's becoming clear that the DVD market is drying up, and this is distressing for Houdini buffs as The Grim Game and Houdini & Doyle have yet to appear on any physical home format (in the U.S.). So it might be a good idea to shore up the collection before it's too late. Recently I had a look at what's available internationally, and in doing so I found some curiosities.

For starters, check out the Region Free Spanish language Blu-ray of the classic Houdini (1953) with unusual cover art. The photo of star Tony Curtis is actually from a different film. The image of him suspended in a straitjacket is from Houdini, although I've never seen this image in color.

Another oddity is an Italian Blu-ray that combines the 2008 film Death Defying Acts with the 2006 movie The Illusionist starring Edward Norton. (Notice that in international markets the name HOUDINI was added to the title of the film.) There is also an Italian Magic 3 pack which includes the 2009 film Dorian Gray, which is really pushing it as far as a magic theme is concerned. Death Defying Acts has yet to appear on Blu-ray in the U.S. (and probably never will).


Finally, here's the artwork for a Japanese DVD for Houdini (1953). It's funny how they've used the exterior shot of Tony Pastor's Theater and just left the "Tony" visible. But notice how this cover doesn't depict any magic or escapes. Heck, it looks like it could be a musical!


The latest DVD and Blu-ray release of Houdini (1953) in the U.S. is by Olive Films. Might it be the last?

Related:

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Houdini must have been crazy to do this."

Recently I discovered some old cassette tapes I made as a kid, and on one I found a radio interview with the legendary Doug Henning. This appears to have been recorded in 1980 when he was preparing for a new tour that would kick off at the Los Angeles Pantages theater (a show I saw).


In the interview, Doug talks about performing Houdini's Water Torture Cell on his first television special in December 1975, and how he had a close call that night.

I hit record when the topic turned to Houdini, so it picks up as Doug is talking about looking through some Houdini material provided by his niece (Ruth Kavanagh). Enjoy.


Henning actually revived the Water Torture Cell for this run at the Pantages in 1980. According to the excellent Spellbound: The Wonder-Filled Life of Doug Henning by John Harrison, his first show went fine. But during the second performance, he panicked and had another close call. His lead assistant Nanci Hammond said, "The Water Torture Cell was very hard for him to do. He was really afraid that he was going to die doing it."

After the mishap, Henning's manager and the company staged an "intervention" and convinced Henning to cut the escape for good, which he did.

Below are links to anniversary coverage of Henning's first three live television specials, each of which featured an iconic Houdini feat.

Related:

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

'Secret Life of Houdini' movie shows new signs of life

Deadline Hollywood reports that Lionsgate is in talks with Daniel Trachtenberg about directing its long-in-development Houdini movie. Here's the report:

EXCLUSIVE: 10 Cloverfield Lane helmer Daniel Trachtenberg is in talks to direct Lionsgate’s film about master illusionist Harry Houdini. This is the film that seemed to pull a vanishing act after reports that Johnny Depp was going to star and Dean Parisot direct. That went by the wayside in a puff of smoke, but I’ve confirmed that Trachtenberg is negotiating to take on a project based on the William Kalush and Larry Sloman’s book The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero. The film has all the elements for a prestige project. The script is by Noah Oppenheim, who won the scripting prize at the Venice Film Festival earlier this fall. And it’s being produced by Frank Marshall and American Beauty’s Bruce Cohen. Houdini is depicted here not just as the master of magic, but as an adventurer and investigator of the occult. Trachtenberg is repped by ICM Partners and Oasis Media Group.

Lionsgate's Houdini movie has been in the works since 2009 and has seen several writers, directors, and even actors come and go. He's hoping this time something will come of this. 10 Cloverfield Lane was one of my favorite movies of the year, so I'm all for this choice.

Related:

Monday, November 28, 2016

When did Houdini become "King of Handcuffs"?


My recent post about How "The Houdinis" became "Houdini" has raised the question of exactly when Houdini adopted his famous "King of Handcuffs" moniker. Some say it was Martin Beck who came up with the name when he signed Houdini to his Oprheum circut in 1899. Bill Kalush in The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare states that Houdini first used the billing in Joplin, Missouri in May 1898 (actually, the book contains a typo, 1889, which is impossible as Houdini was still Ehrich Weiss in 1889).

But now Joe Notaro has found an even earlier mention in The Columbus Daily Advocate for Tuesday, December 28, 1897. This was when Harry and Bess were traveling with the California Concert Co., a medicine show headed by "Dr." Thomas Hill that played the midwest.

Columbus Daily Advocate, December 28, 1897.

So is this the earliest use of "King of Handcuffs"? It certainly is a strong candidate. Bruce MacNab, an authority on Houdini's early career and the author of The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, says that he has not come across anything earlier.

The "King of Handcuffs" billing shows up again in May 1898 when the Houdinis are performing with the Welsh Bros. Circus. After Houdini signs with Martin Beck in March 1899, it becomes almost standard.

In October 1899, The Marion County Herald shortened it to "The Handcuff King" in a headline. As far as I can find, this is the first appearance of that famous variation. One wonders if this is where Houdini got the idea? (There was also a racehorse called "Handcuff King" active at this time.)

Interestingly, the same article says Houdini is also known as "the Needle King," in reference to his East Indian Needle trick. That one didn't stick.

So for the moment, it appears December 28, 1897 is indeed the earliest mention of Houdini as the "King of Handcuffs." It also proves that it was Houdini who came up with the name before Martin Beck came along and helped make it world famous.

Thanks to Joe Notaro and Bruce MacNab.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

FLASHBACK: The birthday magician

Magicians who endure the trials and tribulations of performing at children's birthday parties can take comfort in knowing that they are following in the footsteps of The Great Houdini himself! Yes, at the height of his career, Houdini performed as "birthday magician," and his audience was every bit as unruly as any group of children hopped on sugar. The only difference is these children were all named Roosevelt.

Click below for this "flashback" post from September 9, 2013 and learn all about...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

"A Houdini for the Millennium"

Having scored success using Houdini as a character in its popular Spawn series [see Houdini's SPAWN], in 1998 Image Comics launched a 4-issue mini-series featuring Houdini himself. In Daring Escapes, Houdini is a trans-dimensional time-traveller battling the forces of evil. Escape artist Jim Steranko, who penned an essay for issue #1, called it "a Houdini for the Millennium."

Daring Escapes was written by Andy Grossberg and Tom Orzechowski with art by Alan Weiss, Arthur Nichols and Jim Fern. Each issue containing a unique magic dedication. Below is are the covers and a description of each installment.


ISSUE ONE: Heart of the Matter
"Dedicated forever to Harry Houdini, the man who could not be held!"
Houdini, residing in an afterlife called the "Overlap," is assigned the task of retrieving a statuette made of dangerous Hellite (conjured in Spawn 19-20). The action plays out in 1492 Rome and sees Houdini escaping from the Vatican dungeon. This issue also contains the essay "Houdini Reincarnated!" by Jim Steranko. Released in September 1998 in two variant covers (above).

ISSUE TWO: Matters of the Heart
"Dedicated to James Randi, Esq. for his amazing book on conjuring."
Houdini travels with "Balsamo's Circus of Delights" through Central Italy in 1503 in pursuit of an artifact stolen by a dimension hopping Pope who may be immortal. Meanwhile, evil grows more powerful in modern day New York. With issue #2, Jim Fern replaced artist Arthur Nichols. The issue includes an essay by writer Andy Grossberg. Houdini's aviation career and Bess get brief mentions. There's even a nod to Star Wars. Released in October 1998.

ISSUE THREE: Mind Over Matter
"Dedicated to Kenneth Silverman. 'Houdini!!! The Career of 
Ehrich Weiss' is a must read!"
Houdini teams up with a young angel named Kimiel in pursuit of the Hellite statue in a modern day Manhattan awash in evil. This issue includes a flashback to a 1913 performance of Houdini's Water Torture Cell. It also includes letters to the editors. Released in November 1998. 

ISSUE FOUR: Heart and Soul
"Dedicated to all magicians everywhere, stage or otherwise!"
Houdini and Kimiel battle Pope Borgia and his cultists in a Manhattan church and uncover the true mastermind behind the plot, Judas Iscariot! A grand finale packed with a campy mix of religion and action. Writer Tom Orzechowski provides a final essay about the creation of the Houdini character in both Spawn and Daring Escapes. Released in March 1999.

Despite hopes, Daring Escapes was never collected and released in a combined edition (as far as I know).

Below are links to more adventures of Houdini in the comic realm.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

See Ragtime in London through December 10

If you live in the UK and have never seen Ragtime, know there is a production playing at the Charing Cross Theatre in London through December 10th. The play features Christopher Dickins as Houdini. I've not been able to find a photo of him in character, but I'm guessing that's Harry to the right of the woman with the violin in the cast photo below (click to enlarge).


For show dates and ticket information, visit the Charing Cross Theatre website.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Houdini lived again on Thanksgiving 1947

Here's a clipping from the Bridgeport Post, November 21, 1947 touting "Houdini Lives Again," a traveling magic show headed by Hardeen Jr. (Douglas Geoffrey) and Sherms (Robert Sherman). But it's pretty assistant Sally Shulman who gets most of the attention here.


Despite what the story says, Hardeen Jr. was not Theo Hardeen's brother. He was Hardeen's assistant, Douglas Geoffrey, whom Dash named as his successor shortly before his death.


For the full story of Hardeen Jr. as his long career as "successor to Houdini and Hardeen," check out: The untold story of Hardeen Jr.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Houdini confederate confesses in 1975

Here's an interesting article from the April 22, 1975 Progress Bulletin about a man named Earle Codding who says he and a fellow solider were invited by "Houdini's manager" to offer up a pair of gaffed handcuffs during a performance in 1917. I especially like that Houdini "acted horrified about the military cuffs he was given." Way to make the most of the situation.


While it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Houdini planted handcuffs in his audience from time to time (you couldn't count on people showing up with handcuffs at every performance), there are aspects to this recollection that are problematic.

The first is that Houdini was nowhere near San Diego in 1917. As far as I know, he only performed in that city once in 1907. It's also unlikely that Houdini would be doing challenge handcuff escapes this late in his career. He had abandon the handcuff act nearly a decade earlier and was now featuring the Water Torture Cell and challenge escapes. While it's not impossible that he would occasionally include a handcuff escape in the act, a poster advertising people to bring their own cuffs does not sound like Houdini at this time.

All this makes me wonder if these soldiers might have seen another escape artist. Vaudeville was rife with Houdini imitators and "Handcuff Kings," and some purposely blurred the lines in their advertising.

Interestingly, Hardeen was in San Fransisco and Los Angeles performing on the Pantages circuit in 1917. Did he go to San Diego as well? Note that the soldier says he's not sure whether he was outside the Pantages or Orpheum at the time.

Just another Houdini mystery.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Houdini miniseries will NOT air November 27

It looks like HISTORY has dropped the Houdini miniseries from their schedule for November 27, so the 2014 miniseries will NOT be airing as planned.

Brodini isn't taking this well.


But cheer up! Know you can watch Houdini on Netflix and Amazon Video, or watch the full unedited international version on DVD and Blu-ray.

Related:

The Houdini Museum of New York adds to collection

The Houdini Museum of New York at Fantasma Magic has added to their collection a display case featured in the classic Tony Curtis Houdini movie. Inside are handcuffs from the Joseph Dunninger collection. Dunninger was the technical advisor on the film.

Dunninger shows star Tony Curtis the Houdini handcuff case.

The museum also recently added an original set of slides from Houdini's anti-spiritulism lecture. This is one of only a few known sets.


The Houdini Museum of New York contains one of the largest public displays of authentic Houdini memorabilia in the world. The museum is located at 421 7th Avenue, 3rd Floor, New York, NY and is open to the public.

Check out the links below for a two-part interview with owner Roger Dreyer.

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