Saturday, July 30, 2016

Grim Game pressbook sells in auction

An original pressbook for Houdini's The Grim Game sold for $526 in an eMoviePosters auction last week. I've never seen a Grim Game pressbook come up for auction, so I feel like this might have been a steal at this price. But it also might have been because the pressbook was missing four pages and the condition was described as only "Fair."

This came from a bound volume of 21 Paramount pressbooks, all from 1919. The auction site unbound them and auctioned each individually. The Grim Game was the highest seller by far. In second place was Lon Chaney's Miracle Man at $98.

Related:

Now you see him...

This animation created by Christopher Baker was posed to the Houdini & Doyle Facebook Fan Group today. I thought it was worth a share here as well. Pretty cool.


Houdini & Doyle is currently streaming on FOX NOW (until Aug. 9), Hulu (until Aug. 8), Amazon and iTunes. You can find links to my reviews of each episode HERE.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Houdini & Doyle ratings, renewal hope

Here is a ratings chart for all 10 episodes Houdini & Doyle. The series aired in the U.S. on FOX from May 2 to July 4, 2016. The charts shows the series hit its highest viewership of 2.615 million with episode 4, Spring Heel'd Jack, on May 23. The lowest viewership came with episode 7, Bedlam, on June 13. Is it a coincidence that "Bedlam" was the episode that focused on Doyle over Houdini? Just saying.

Click to enlarge.

This chart comes from the website TV Series Finale which reports ratings and tracks news of series renewals. For Houdini & Doyle the site reports:

The ratings are typically the best indication of a show’s likelihood of staying on the air. The higher the ratings (particularly the 18-49 demo), the better the chances for survival. Though FOX is airing this show in the United States, it originates in the UK so it’s unclear what impact American ratings will have on Houdini & Doyle’s chances for a second season. Will it be cancelled or renewed for season two? Stay tuned.

Creator David Shore told the Television Critics Association that the plan for Houdini & Doyle "is to do many, many more." Actor Stephen Mangan, who plays Doyle, says if there's going to be a second season, they would start filming in October. That seems to suggest that a renewal decision would need to come sooner than later as scripts would need to be written in just a few months.

Of course, Houdini & Doyle was produced independently, so it isn't really locked into any network schedule. It could adopt a more cable-like model with extended periods of time between seasons, or even change networks if FOX didn't want to renew. I'm also wondering how all-important ratings still are in this world of increased streaming and changing television watching habits.

Josh Brandon, who wrote episode 5 and has been very active on Twitter @THEJoshBrandon, speculates that a renewal decision would need to come before the actors contracts expire, "whenever that is." Hopeful fans on Twitter and Facebook have kept up a steady renewal campaign #RenewHoudiniAndDoyle.


Houdini & Doyle is currently streaming on FOX NOW, Hulu, Amazon and iTunes. It leaves Hulu on August 8 and FOX NOW on August 9. While it has been released on DVD in the UK, there's still no news of U.S. DVD release.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

McCord shares Houdini collection online

The McCord Museum in Montreal, Canada has put a number of Houdini items from their collection online. Among the 669 artifacts are letters, programs, and several unpublished photographs.

Last year the MCord received a large bequest of magic memorabilia, including many items related to Houdini. "It’s the second-largest collection of Houdini material held in a public institution," said David Ben, artistic director of Magicana, who served as an adviser to the museum.

The McCord Museum is housed in the former McGill University Student Union building where Houdini lectured during his ill-fated visit to Montreal in October 1926.

CLICK TO VIEW THE McCORD COLLECTION

Next year Magicana's Magic Collectors Weekend (MCW) will be held at the McCord Museum, May 25-27. You can find more information on that HERE.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How Houdini planned to (not) go over Niagara Falls

For some reason, many people think Houdini went over Niagara Falls in a barrel. I continually see people landing on my blog via a Google search looking for info on this. Of course, this was one daredevil stunt that Houdini did not perform. The closet he came was swimming the rapids of the Niagara River for the climax of his film The Man From Beyond [read: Houdini's rough ride at Niagara Falls].

But this doesn't mean he didn't consider the idea. In the book Houdini's Escapes, Walter B. Gibson reveals that Houdini made notes on a "Niagara Falls Escape" that would see him going over the falls in a packaging box. Gibson says Houdini's notes were "merely suggestions that had not reached the point of practical solution" and that it would have been a "trick test."

Here are the notes as Houdini recorded them:

The idea is to be nailed in a packing case, thrown over Niagara Falls, and eventually make an escape!
So that the crowd can see that I am being nailed into the packing case, the nailing is done on a platform, into which I can slide after the box is nailed up.

The best way would be to have the platform on a large wagon, which is drawn down to the landing place, where I get into the water according to opportunity.

Or else get back into the box when placed on wagon, and be found there, having failed to escape (being "knocked out" coming over the falls).

This can be worked into an extra good idea and needs doing some time.

It's not surprising that Houdini would not plan to actually go over the Falls. That would be suicide. But it is a little surprising that he would entertain the idea of an outdoor stunt that would be a fake -- more magic trick than escape. It's also interesting to see that he that considered a "failure" would be just as effective an outcome. No doubt he saw the enormous publicly value of such an exploit.

But it's possible the reason he never brought the idea to fruition is that a "trick test" just didn't seem like a very Houdini thing to do.


Despite never doing his stunt, Houdini's connection to Niagara Falls remains strong. Not only did he shoot The Man From Beyond on the rapids, but for years Clifton Hill on the Canadian side was home to the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame. Ironically, the museum housed Houdini's overboard packing box, which may have been the very box Houdini would have used for his Niagara Falls Escape.

Related:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

'After Houdini' coming in 2017

Amazon has a pre-order listing for After Houdini: Volume 1, a new graphic novel by Jeremy Holt with art by Kevin Zeigler. This was first announced back in 2013. Great to know it's finally on the way, even though we have to wait until April 2017. Here's a plot synopsis:

Harry Houdini, master magician and covert spy for the United States, has been kidnapped. The only man who can save him is his estranged son Josef, who, like his father, knows the power of magic—and how it can be more than just an illusion.

Josef Houdini takes after his father: A gifted escape artist, there’s not a jam he can’t get himself out of. Then again, when your father is one of the greatest illusionists of all time, that comes as no surprise. What does come as a surprise is the fact that Harry Houdini is not only the world’s greatest magician, but also a top-secret operative for the US government during World War I. In rare form he finds himself trapped—stuck on a mission he is unable to escape from. That’s why the government needs his son to fill his shoes and complete the mission—but does Josef have the wherewithal to do it? Or is the possibility of success just an illusion?

Packed with intrigue, suspense, and fantasy, After Houdini is a revisionist look at one of history’s most mysterious figures that is sure to take readers on a journey they’ll never forget.

You can pre-order After Houdini: Volume 1 at Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK).

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

A day at the pool (UPDATE)

After last week's experience with the questionable Houdini tintype, I think it's time we all took a Houdini eye test. Luckily, the American Museum of Magic Research Center in Marshall, Michigan provides an unpublished photo that suits our needs perfectly.

This photo is credited as being the pool at Hotel Shelton in New York, but it doesn't match other images of the Shelton pool, so I believe this is another location. Nevertheless, on this day there appears to be some kind of water-spot activity with Houdini in attendance. Can you find Harry?

Click to enlarge.

Thanks to Alex and Keli Hindenach of the American Museum of Magic. Click the links below for other rare unpublished images from their collection.

UPDATE: Our good friend Perry from NJ has discovered the location of this photo. It's not the Shelton, but it is a location with a strong Houdini connection. This is the "Roman Bath and Swimming Pool" aboard the S.S. Imperator, the ocean liner on which Houdini performed for Teddy Roosevelt in June 1914. Below is a photo from the website GG Archives.


Thanks Perry!

Related:

Saturday, July 23, 2016

'Holmes and Houdini' limited edition

Ron Fortier's Airship 27, who last year published a collection of pulp stories called The Amazing Harry Houdini, are offering a limited collector's edition of their new book, Holmes and Houdini, during this weekend's Pulp Fest 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. The following is from the Airship 27 website:

Greetings Loyal Airmen, as you are reading these words, the Air Chief and Art Director Rob Davis are in Columbus, Ohio about to kick off this year’s wonderful Pulp Fest convention. We’ve been coming to this show ever since it started and always have a great time there. This is year is going to be special as we are going to have 15 copies of our limited collector’s edition of our new novel, “Holmes & Houdini” as written by I.A. Watson. The original plan for this book, back when it first went into operation was to have DC graphic artist Chad Hardin do the cover for us, with Rob doing the interior illustration. Well circumstances beyond our control made it impossible for Chad to get his cover done in time for the con and so Rob hit upon the idea of doing a special cover (that he would do) and printing up a limited number of copies to specifically have for Pulp Fest.

And here is that Rob Davis cover. We had 15 copies printed up. Once we’ve sold these, we will not be printed any others. So those people fortunate enough to snag one of these at the show will have a true collector’s item as promised. Rob will personally sign and number each (ala #1 of 15 etc.etc.). Later down the road, when Chad does turn in his official cover, we will release the book. If you’d like to actually hear the story behind this special event, take a listen to our recent Episode # 17 of our Airship 27 Podcast found here on You Tube.

I really like this cover. It's a good Houdini likeness, and Holmes appears to be based on my favorite Sherlock, Jeremy Brett. I also like that it exploits the difference in their height.

For more information on Pulp Fest 2016 visit www.pulpfest.com.

Thanks to Tim King @Burbankspeaking.

Related:

Friday, July 22, 2016

Houdini & Doyle leaving Hulu Aug. 8

Our friends at HouDoyle report that Houdini & Doyle will be leaving Hulu on August 8th. So if Hulu is your preferred way to watch TV and you haven't yet streamed the series, get to it!

You can also watch Houdini & Doyle for free at FOX NOW. Amazon has episode for $2.99 or the whole season for $19.99. It's also available on iTunes. The series has been released on DVD in the UK, but no news yet on a U.S. DVD release.

Also no word yet on a second season.

Related:

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Houdini's New York

Here's a remarkable and well-made compilation of the oldest film footage of New York City. This is Houdini's New York, and in it you'll see several locations that played important roles in his life, including the massive Hippodrome Theatre, the Battery, Coney Island and Times Sq. Enjoy.

Houdini back at the Edinburgh Fringe

Houdini will once again be well represented at this years's Edinburgh Festival Fringe (August 5-29) with two Houdini-themed shows.


Mr. Swallow - Houdini features comedian Nick Mohammed as his alter ego "Mr. Swallow" in what the festival describes as "a magical, musical biopic of Houdini that he's definitely rehearsed this time."

Also at the Fringe will be Daniel Llewelyn-Willams acclaimed one-man show A Regular Little Houdini. I had the pleasure of seeing this in Hollywood during Daniel's current tour of the U.S. I reviewed it HERE.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world's largest arts festival. It takes place every August for three weeks in Scotland’s capital city. For more information and the book tickets visit the official festival website.

Last year's Edinburgh festival featured four Houdini-themed productions.

Related:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Abb Dickson, R.I.P.

The S.A.M. reports that comedic magician, producer, and "force of nature," Abb Dickson, has passed away after a long illness.

Among his many contributions to the magic world, Abb will be familiar to Houdini buffs as the man who provided magic props, including the Milk Can and Water Torture Cell, to the 1976 TV biopic The Great Houdinis starring Paul Michael Glaser. In recent years we've had some adventures tracking down those original props, which have become iconic in their own right.

Abb was elected president of the I.B.M. in 1997. He was also close friends with Orson Welles and appeared in several of Welles' films.

You can read Abb Dickson's full obituary at The Magic Compass. A crowdfunding effort has been launched HERE to cover his funeral expenses.

Photo courtesy Joe Fox.

Related:

Is this really Houdini?

Christiana Auction Gallery is currently listing this "Vintage Harry Houdini Tintype" for sale on July 21. But is this really Houdini? While the subject does bare a strong resemblance, this photo appears to be from an earlier time period, the clothes don't look right, nor does the pose. And if this is a young Houdini, his hair doesn't look quite right. I also just don't feel him here. If I had to take a stand, I'd say this isn't Harry. But what do you think?

Click to enlarge.

Below is a tintype of Houdini from 1891 which gives an idea of what to expect from an early Houdini portrait. This comes from Doug Henning's Houdini His Legend and His Magic. Even though he looks less like the familiar image of Houdini than the above, there's no mistaking him here.


CAG's "Houdini tintype" currently has 3 bids. The auction house is also offering the "Sweetheart Mine" love letter that I posted about in 2015 and recently sold on eBay for $1,875. That listing can be viewed HERE.

Thanks to Harry Houdini (real name) for the alert.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Grim Game screening in Sheffield

Houdini's The Grim Game will screen this Wednesday, July 20 at 5:30 PM at the Show Room Cinema in Sheffield as part of the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival. The screening will have live musical accompaniment by Jonathan Best. Tickets can be purchased HERE.

Considered lost for decades, The Grim Game was restored by TCM in 2015. There is no news yet on a DVD release, so theatrical screenings are currently the only way to see Houdini's best film.

You can follow the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival on Facebook and Twitter.

Related:

Drink in Houdini and Jewish history

Here's a unique one. Entertainment Earth is offering a set of four "Famous Jews Pint Glasses" featuring images of Jewish notables, including Houdini. Here's the description:

A set of four 12-ounce glasses, each featuring a different category of famous Jews: writers, artists, entertainers, and thinkers. Now every meh meal with the mishpocheh can be a meeting of the minds! The Thinkers include Moses Maimonides, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Marx, Hannah Arendt, and Baruch Spinoza. The artists are Lee Krasner, Amedo Modigliani, Marc Chagall, Man Ray, and Camille Pissarro. The writers include Isaac Bashevis Singer, Susan Sontag, Franz Kafka, Allen Ginsberg, and Gertrude Stein. The featured Jewish entertainers are Benny Goodman, Leonard Bernstein, Fanny Brice, Al Jolson, and Harry Houdini. Ages 18 and up!

Purchase at Entertainment Earth.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Houdini vs. the Siberian Transport Cell Part II: How did he do it?

Houdini's escape from the Siberian Transport Cell or "Carette" in Russia on May 10, 1903 is one of his most famous and celebrated feats. But like the Mirror Handcuff challenge, the carette escape is steeped in mythology. In PART I we looked at the escape itself. Today, we tackle the question of how Houdini did it.


So how did Houdini escape from Chief Lebedeff's dreaded Siberian Transport Cell at Butyrskaya Prison? Interestingly, this is one escape that Houdini didn't feel the need to keep secret. In an article he wrote in March 1904 titled "Russia" (reproduced in Pat Culliton's Houdini The Key), Houdini freely admits that he picked the lock through the window, although the task was not an easy one:

The lock was on the outside of the door, about 30 inches below the window in the door, the former being about 6 inches square, and divided into four by iron bars. Through this small aperture I had to do my work. For half and hour I struggled with the lock for all I knew, during which I could hear the police laughing and chuckling. However, I persevered, and at the end of 45 minutes I had the satisfaction of seeing the door swing open. But I was very exhausted and was pouring down with perspiration, cold as it was.

How exactly Houdini smuggled in his lock picking tools is one secret he did not reveal.

Now, one would think this would be the final word on how Houdini escaped from the carette, especially as this was also the explanation given in the first Houdini biography, Houdini His Life Story. But in 1931, the book The Secrets of Houdini by J.C. Cannell offered up a radically different method that would up-end the story of the carette escape for the next 70 years.

In Cannell's version, the police insisted that the carette door be reinforced with additional locks and bolts that could not be reached from the inside. At first Houdini objected to this new condition, but eventually conceded. But according to Cannell, Houdini's objections were just clever misdirection, as he never intended to exit via the door:

It was upon the floor of the van that Houdini concentrated in carrying out his escape, in which there was a good deal of hard work and skill. He had in his possession a small cutter with which to cut through the zinc floor in such a way as afterwards to be able to smooth over the joint so that it would not be noticeable. [...] When he had neatly pierced the zinc, he pushed the edges back and reached the wooden floor of the van. The next part of his task was to remove enough of the planking to enable him to squeeze through the floor, while he performed the task of readjusting the zinc so as to leave no trace of the fine, straight cut he had made at the point where the sides of the floor and van met. [...] The replacement of the floor planks was the simplest part of this remarkable escape.

How Houdini acquired his escape tools is, once again, not part of the explanation.

It should be noted that Will Goldston published The Secrets of Houdini and was probably responsible for much of the content. Goldston, who knew Houdini, is also responsible for the story of how Bess managed to get the Mirror handcuff key and pass it to Houdini in a glass of water. Today many feel that's an elaborate fiction created Goldston's book, Sensational Tales of Mystery Men. So was he doing the same thing here?

The idea of Houdini sawing through the carette floor proved irresistible to William Lindsey Gresham. Gresham embraced the story and embellished it, first in an article for the July 1958 issue of Saga magazine ("True Adventures for Men"), and a year later in his own biography, Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls. Gresham also provided an explanation for how Houdini acquired his tools.

In Gresham's account, Lebedeff orders the carette wrapped in chains only after Houdini has been locked inside. Having not agreed to this, Houdini complains loudly from inside, but the police ignore him. Bess is present during the escape, and she rushes to the door and delivers a lingering kiss before being pulled away by the police. During the kiss, she passes Harry the necessary tools for his escape, including a saw capable of piercing the zinc floor. Despite the improbability of this, and that fact that no previous account has Bess present, Gresham went all in on the floor sawing theory.

Ten years later, Milbourne Christopher threw cold water on the theory in his own biography, Houdini The Untold Story. Christopher rejected the floor sawing story along with the veracity of the original source, the Cannel book, writing: "This "explanation," which has been accepted an expanded by other writers, is as fanciful as many of Cannell's other "revelations.""

Christopher says he believes Houdini reached through the window and picked the lock. For him, the tell is in the lithograph Houdini created in Leipzig showing the escape. That illustration shows the carette window smaller and located higher up on the door than it was in reality. "A showman would not give a clue to his method in his advertising," Christopher argued. It is true that Houdini did modify his apparatus on posters to conceal the methods of escape.

Kenneth Silverman in Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (1996), which offered a much needed house cleaning of Houdini history, makes no mention of the floor sawing theory. Instead, Silverman goes with lock picking, saying that Houdini probably used an extension tool of some kind to reach the lock. Silverman admits he doesn't know how Houdini smuggled the necessary tools into the van, but he does note that "the Russian police were famously bribable."

Just when it looked like the floor sawing theory was consigned to popular Houdini mythology, the story made a roaring comeback in the 2006 biography, The Secret Life of Houdini, The Making of America's First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. This account includes all the dramatic embellishments as well as verbatim dialogue between Lebedeff and Houdini. It's also said that Houdini concealed his saw tool in a false finger. (Bess is not a participant in this version.)

But the source book, The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare, reveals no new evidence for the old theory. Instead, the author's cite Gresham's colorful Saga article and biography. The notion that Houdini used a false finger (which I think has some merit) is revealed to be speculation based on the image of Houdini's false finger in his book Handcuffs Secrets. On the plus side, the book does offer a nice photo of a Transport Cell that might be very close in appearance to the one that Houdini escaped.

Finally, Patrick Culliton in his 2010 book Houdini The Key again rejects the floor sawing theory and returns to lock picking. Like Silverman, Patrick believes an extension tool was necessary. As to how he acquired the tool (which today is owned by Joe Holland), Pat suggests a bold new theory. In the Leipzig lithograph we see Houdini shackled with restraints that have large lunch box size weights below each wrist (right). Patrick believes Houdini's tools were concealed inside these weights, planted by a confederate.

The time it took for Houdini to escape the carette has also undergone revision over the years. Houdini originally said it took him 45 minutes. By the time of the Leipzig lithograph, that had been reduced to 28 minutes. Later it became as little as 11 minutes. But all accounts agree on the most important point. Houdini escaped!

In 2013, David Saltman of The Houdini File opened a fresh new inquiry into the carette escape. In all accounts, Houdini's nemesis is said to have been Chief of Secret Police Lebedeff. But David could find no police officer by that name in Russia at this time. Interestingly, the notary who signed Houdini's Russian contract was Mihail Lebedeff. Coincidence? Confusion? Or did Houdini for some reason co-opt the name of his notary for his nemesis? The mysteries continue.

Legacy

It's safe to assume the Transport Cell Houdini escaped from that day, with or without a hole in the floor, is long gone. In the 1950s, Stalin erected factories around Butyrskaya Prison to obscure it from view. For years it was unmarked on Russian maps.

Then on October 30, 1989, Russian magician and S.A.M. member Alexander "Sasha" Vorobiev received special permission to visit the prison museum. There he discovered on display the original manacles said to have held Houdini that day. The museum also had a police uniform from 1903, the year of Houdini's escape.

Alexander Vorobiev with the Houdini manacles. Police uniform from 1903.

Despite being put up for sale in 2006, Butyrskaya still stands today. It's still a prison and still has its museum. While Houdini's escape was considered a source of embarrassment in 1903, today it's a source of pride. The official website even gives a brief description of the feat (here translated via Google):

In May 1908 [sic] in Moscow there was the famous American magician Harry Houdini. For marketing purposes, he made a bet that he could escape from any prison in Moscow. The Butyrskaya prison experiment was conducted: thoroughly searched, Houdini put in chains and locked in a special Bound, an iron box. After 28 minutes, covered with sweat, Houdini appeared in front of the audience goggles.

So maybe Houdini's greatest accomplishment that day in May was to perform a feat that would outlast both Imperial and Communist governments, and today stand as a proud part of Russian history.

Illustration of Bess at the carette door by Annabel Large from The Great Escaper (1979) by David Warren. Photograph of Alexander Vorobiev with Houdini's shackles from Conjuring (1992) by James Randi. Additional thanks to Arthur Moses.

Related:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Houdini vs. the Siberian Transport Cell Part I: The escape


Houdini's escape from the Siberian Transport Cell or "Carette" in Russia on May 10, 1903 is one of his most famous and celebrated feats. No account of his life goes without a mention of it. But like the Mirror Handcuff challenge, the carette is an escape steeped in mythology and controversy over how Houdini managed to escape. So today we head to Moscow to unlock the mysteries of this famous challenge.

Houdini traveled to Russia in May of 1903. [For an account of his adventurous entry, read Breaking into Russia.] Houdini opened at the Yar, a popular Moscow dinner theater frequented by high society (where a drunken Rasputin once exposed himself). Houdini was an instant hit with his handcuff act, but he still wanted to perform an attention getting outdoor escape. He found his opportunity at Moscow's centrally located Butyrskaya Prison.

Butyrskaya prison in Moscow, site of Houdini's 1903 escape.

There's an amusing story of how Houdini was arrested while practicing his stage patter in an open Moscow park (some accounts say it was a deserted racetrack). As he recited in Russian how he "defied the police of the world to hold him," he suddenly found himself surrounded by police who feared he was a madman.

At police headquarters, the Yar theater manager explained things as Houdini endeared himself to the police by performing cards tricks. He then asked the Chief of Police, identified as "Lebedeff," if he could attempt to free himself from one of their prison cells. Lebedeff felt the locks on the Butyrskaya cells, which dated back to 1771, would be too easy for the jail breaker, and instead suggested their Siberian Transport Cell, a rolling "safe on wheels" used to send prisoners to Siberia. Lebedeff insisted it be a private test. Houdini agreed under the condition that Lebedeff provide an affidavit should he be successful.

Houdini arrived at Butyrskaya on May 10 with his newly hired assistant, Franz Kuklol. The police were ready for him. After having him remove all his clothes, they conducted the most thorough search of his career, as Houdini recalled:

All my clothes were taken from me and I was thoroughly searched, but, perhaps the word "searched" is too mild to describe what chief Lebedeff's spies did to me. I was laid on a table and one man started from my head and searched down to my feet, while another man started at my feet and worked up to my head. I was then turned round and about, being rather roughly handled. No doubt the spies wanted to impress their superiors, but they found nothing.

In a private letter to a friend (Don Turley) he added...

Talk about getting the finger, well I received it three times, but Mr. Russian spy found nothing.

Houdini was then led nude across the cold prison courtyard, manacled in heavy irons, and locked inside the transport cell after it had been thoroughly searched. Lebedeff then told Houdini that if he failed to escape, he would have to travel 21 days to Sackolin near Siberia where the only key that unlocked the door was kept. Houdini requested that the van be backed up against the prison courtyard wall so he could work out of sight of the police. This was agreed to. However, Lebedeff ordered two men with binoculars to spy on the escapist at work.

Artist rendering of the Carette escape (Ray Abel).

Within an hour, Houdini walked into Lebedeff's office free. He was drenched in sweat, despite the cold. The police rushed to the carette and found it still locked with the shackles inside. Lebedeff's spies had, apparently, witnessed nothing.

But instead of applause, Houdini was seized and again searched. When nothing was discovered, the police turned on Franz Kukol and subjected him to the same vigorous search. Finding Kukol's house key, they tried it on the carette door lock, much to Houdini's amusement. "They have a swell lock on the cell and the house key is a cheap lodging house lock, so you can imagine how little it fitted," he said. The police then photographed Houdini, "In case I turn out crooked."

Despite his promise, Lebedeff refused to provide an affidavit, and no Russian newspaper reported the escape. Nevertheless, word of the feat spread among the populace, and Houdini's Russian tour was extended. He even performed for the Grand Duke Sergei Aeksandrovich and the grand duchess at Palace Kleinmichel. (The duke was later killed when a revolutionary threw a bomb into his carriage.)

Houdini left Russia never to return. He recorded in his diary that he felt the country itself was "some sort of mild prison" from which he had "managed to escape." While he had no news clippings or affidavit for his successful carette escape, he later had a lithograph printed in Leipzig showing the dramatic scene that had played out in the courtyard of Butyrskaya prison.

Houdini's 1903 lithograph.

A similar view today.

So how did Houdini escape from the Siberian Transport Cell? We will tackle that in PART II.


Top illustration by Peter Burchard from Saga, July 1958, courtesy of Arthur Moses. Houdini in van sketch by Ray Abel from Escape King: The Story of Harry Houdini (1975) by John Ernst. "Houdini in Russia" lithograph from the Nielsen Collection, MUM Nov. 2006.

Related:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

ROUGH RIDERS #4

Tomorrow sees the release of Aftershock Comics ROUGH RIDERS #4 by Adam Glass. The series teams Houdini with famous notables such as Teddy Roosevelt, Annie Oakley, and Thomas Edison, who is featured on the cover of this latest issue.

Annie Oakley has been SHOT, Jack Johnson and Houdini taken HOSTAGE by none other than the mysterious Russian named Rasputin. Teddy Roosevelt is left with only Thomas Edison by his side, whom he can neither trust nor depend on. Secrets are revealed, alliances created and bonds are broken, as Roosevelt must decide if rescuing his friends is worth losing the WAR over.

ROUGH RIDERS #4 can be found in stores and at ComiXology.

Related:

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mannix at the Houdini estate in 1968

A reader who shares my fascination with the "Houdini Estate" in Laurel Canyon recently alerted me to the fact that the second season of the TV series Mannix with Mike Conners shot two scenes at the abandoned estate in 1968. This was after the 1959 fire that condemned the property, but before the house was torn down in 1970. The episode "Fear I To Fall" aired on December 21, 1968 and gives us a rare look at the original Walker mansion both inside and out.

The below screen captures show us the house grounds, including original gated entrance off Willow Glen Rd., the familiar walkways (still there today), and the exterior of the original house.


The follow screen captures show the inside of the original mansion, and are the only images I've ever seen of house interior. I doubt any set dressing was required. The house had been condemned for ten years and probably looked exactly like the abandoned ruin it was portraying.


Today the beautifully restored estate is privately owned and closed to the public, but it does have an official website and Twitter. For a full history of what we know about Houdini's actual connection to the property, check out my post from 2012: Inside the Laurel Canyon Houdini Estate.

You can buy Mannix Season Two, which includes "Fear I To Fall," at Amazon.

Thanks to DM for the tip and the screen caps.

Related:

Sunday, July 10, 2016

"Talk about getting the finger, well I received it three times."

This week I'll tackle the history, mystery, and controversy behind one of Houdini's most famous escapes.

Houdini v. the Siberian Transport Cell 

LINK: Who was Miksa Dick?

UPDATE: Looks like this story is gone, so the link is no longer active.

David Merlini's newly opened House of Houdini museum in Budapest, Hungary has launched a research blog on their official website. Their research is primarily focused on Houdini and his home town, including a recent post by Krisztina Olah about Miksa Dick who appears as "godfather" to Erik Weisz on his birth certificate. Krisztina tracked down Miksa and also uncovered information about Houdini's father, including a hitherto unknown signature.

CLICK HERE or on the headline to read the full post at The House of Houdini's "Research News." You can also read posts on Houdini's birth certificate and passport applications. I've added the blog feed to mu sidebar.

The House of Houdini is located at at 11 Dísz Square, within the walls of the Buda Castle. The museum is open Monday to Sunday from 9:30am to 7pm.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Hardeen among the celluloid spirits

This photo from the private collection of Tom Ewing has me doing cartwheels for a few reasons. First, this is the only image I've ever seen of Hardeen doing any sort of spiritualist debunking. While we know Hardeen carried on his brother's escapes and magic, what's less known is that he also carried on Houdini's spirit exposures, or at least he claimed he did (watch for a post on this soon).


But there's another reason I'm flipping out over this image. This, to my knowledge, is the only known photo from Hardeen's 1936 film, Medium Well Done. The photo shows Hardeen with co-stars Gertrude Mudge, Margaret Breen and Paul E. Burns.

Medium Well Done was a one-reel Vitaphone short (Prod. #1958) directed by Lloyd French. It was shot at the Flatbush Vitaphone Studios in January of 1936 and released in April of that same year. In it, Hardeen played a "hardboiled detective" on the case of a bogus medium. A story synopsis from a Vitaphone catalogue reads:

Hardeen, brother of Harry Houdini, carries on his brother's work by exposing fake mediums.

Medium Well Done is considered a lost film. But it's possible that's just because no one has made a good search for it. Many of the early Vitaphone shorts survive, and there is an ongoing effort by The Vitaphone Project to find and restore the films. Several DVD completions of early Vitaphone shorts are now available via the Warner Archives.

Here's hoping one day someone might uncover this important piece of magic and movie history.

A big thanks to Tom Ewing for letting me share this treasure here. Also thanks to Kevin Connolly and his terrific Facebook group, CONJURING HISTORY - BUY, SELL AND TALK.

Related:

LINK: Houdini & Doyle renewal campaign

There is no news yet on whether there will be a second season of Houdini & Doyle, so tireless fansite HOUDOYLE has launched a campaign to help persuade the powers that be to give us more!

Click the headline for all the information on who to contact and how to join in on the renewal campaign.

You can watch Houdini & Doyle Season One at FOX NOW and Hulu.

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Williamsport honors their "Wild Man" with historical marker

A new historical marker commemorating Houdini's two appearances in Williamsport, Pennsylvania was dedicated last Friday at the corner of Pine and North Streets. The plaque stands not far from the original site of the Pine Street United Methodist Church where Houdini once gave his anti-spiritualism lecture.

Dorothy Dietrich (picture right) and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in nearby Scranton played a key role in uncovering Williamsport's Houdini history. They performed magic and escapes during the dedication ceremony.

Coincidentally, Friday marked 126 years to the day that Houdini first appeared in Williamsport's as part of the Welsh Bros. Circus. You'll recall that it was during this first tour with the circus that Houdini doubled as "Projea the Wild Man of Mexico" in the sideshow. It's very likely he appeared as the Wild Man while in Williamsport. Quite a journey to go from circus freak to historical honoree.

The Williamsport Sun-Gazette, who covered Friday's event (which you can see at their Facebook page), also covered Houdini's first appearance on July 1, 1895.


Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz.

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