Sunday, August 20, 2017

Jerry Lewis visits the Houdinis

Sad news today that the legendary Jerry Lewis has died at age 91. While I couldn't find any real connection between Jerry and Houdini (apart from the fact that he was born in 1926), I did find this image of Lewis visiting the set of the 1953 biopic Houdini with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Jerry was one of Paramount's biggest stars at this time.

Jerry Lewis would go to make movies with each the Houdini stars Living It Up (1954) with Janet Leigh and Boeing Boeing (1965) with Tony Curtis (one of my top guilty pleasure films). He played a magician himself in the 1958 film The Geisha Boy. In 1962 Random House published The Jerry Lewis Book of Tricks and Magic.

You can read his full obituary at The New York Times.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Hardeen biography coming in Fall

Big news! A new book about Houdini's brother, Hardeen: Monarch of Manacles by William V. Rauscher, will be published by David Haversat's 1878 Press in the Fall. Afraid I don't have any more details, but this is exciting as there has never been a book written about Hardeen. Long overdue.

Author William V. Rauscher was close friends with Hardeen's successor Douglas Geoffrey ("Hardeen Jr."), and carried on performing some of the Hardeen/Houdini effects he inherited from Geoffrey. In 1973 he co-authored the book Arthur Ford: The Man Who Talked With the Dead (he knew Ford well). He also penned the book The Houdini Code Mystery in 2000. In 2015 Bill provided us with an excellent guest blog about the Hippodrome Theater.

I don't yet have information on how to purchase or pre-order Hardeen: Monarch of Manacles, but I'll update as soon as I do. This is going to be a must buy!

Thanks to David Haversat.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Film fragments show a Houdini pier jump

Recently I've been rewatching the many Houdini documentaries produced in the 1990s and early 2000s. In some of these you'll find bits of stock film footage not widely seen. One of those fragments is below. This comes from 1995's Houdini Unlocking His Secrets and shows Houdini leaping head first from a pier.

I don't know when or where this film was captured. It's only the third piece of film I've ever seen of Houdini doing a bridge jump, and the only one showing him diving in head first. In fact, and his landing doesn't look entirely successful.

Below is another fragment from what appears to be this same jump. This comes from the licensing website Historic Films and shows Houdini being manacled while laying face down. Flanking him are Jim CollinsJames Vickery, and an unidentified assistant, all in their stage uniforms. This amazing footage is followed by a quick shot of the same location above (pre jump).

If anyone has any ideas where this stunt might have taken place, please share in the Comments below.

Below are links to a few famous Houdini bridge jumps.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

'Letters To West 113th' at the Edmonton Fringe

Mentalist Jeff Newman will bring his Houdini-themed one-man show Letters To West 113th to the Edmonton Fringe Festival for performances starting this Friday, August 18. Newman was recently interviewed at After the House Lights and had this to say about the play:

"I use my skills of trickery and deception to tell an incredible tale. Near the end of his career, Harry Houdini spent countless hours investigating (and debunking) psychics, mediums, and spiritualists who claimed incredible supernatural abilities. Letters To West 113th recreates Houdini’s confrontation at the final performance of Thomas Whitford, a magician known for re-emerging into the spotlight after the death of his wife Tessa with an act that stirred rumours of incredible supernatural talent from the audiences that saw the show."

Showtimes and tickets to Letters to West 113th can be found at the official Edmonton Fringe Festival website. The show last played the festival in 2015.

Speaking of plays, I recently launched a new reference page devoted to Houdini theater. Check it out under "Media" in the top menu or click HERE.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Photo shows three lost Houdini lobby stand displays

While visiting the spectacular Houdini Museum of New York at Fantasma Magic, I spent some time looking closely at this photo of the Princess Theater in Chicago in 1926. What I love is that it shows us three now lost (as far as I know) Houdini lobby stand displays.

Below is an enlargement that gives a better look at each stand. The first one you can see sitting off to the far left inside a doorway. That stand -- which also appears on page 288 of The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare -- has a letter drop box where the public could insert questions for Houdini. In the center is another display with the iconic hand to face image (here it appears to include his second hand). This is only image of that particular stand that I'm aware.

But the one that really excites me is on the far right. This is of a female and in the past my eye has gone right past this because I assumed it to be another performer. But that's Bess! (You can see her in this costume in Silverman).

Knowing that there was a lobby stand devoted to Bess is pretty cool. And why not? She was part of the 3 Shows in One, and the idea of having a poster devoted to a magician's spouse was not unheard of. The upcoming Potter & Potter auction has a lithograph of "Mrs. Keller" (lot 490). What ever happened to this Bessie stand I wonder?

I'm currently aware of four surviving Houdini lobby stands from his 3 Shows in One (pictured below). The portrait stand on the far left belongs to David Copperfield. Chip Romaro owns the $10,000 Challenge. The portrait stand on the far right belongs to Arthur Moses. The "Jail for Medium" stand sold last year for $7000 at Potter and Potter's auction of Houdiniana.

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

Stay tuned for another Houdini Museum of New York artifact that I think will give us a lot to talk about.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Houdini's 278 is off the market (UPDATED)

Houdini's former home at 278 W 113th Street in New York is now off the market. The house was listed for sale by Douglas Elliman Real Estate for $4.6 million in June. Did the house sell? Did the owner pull it? Afraid I don't have any answers at the moment, but know the doors of 278 are once again closed.

Click the top link below for what might have been a very rare look inside 278 during its one and only open house in June.

UPDATE: Word from the realtor is that the house is only temporarily off the market as the owner is traveling. It will be re-listed in September.


Escape your troubles with a cold Houdini

If you listened to my recent Magic Word podcast, at 00:45:00 host Scott Wells talks about a short-lived beer that bore Houdini's name. This wasn't something I was entirely familiar with. Now, by shear coincidence, I have a six-pack! This was given to me by my friend and magic historian Diego Domingo who's trying to cut down. His collection, that is.

The Houdini Draft Lager was brewed by Todd Hanson and the Fox Classic Brewing Co. in Houdini's own Appleton, Wisconsin. I'm not sure how long the beer remained in production. My case was bottled April 9, 1992.

So who's up for a cold one? Or should I say old one?

Thanks Diego.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Rare Russian Houdini advert sells on eBay

A rare advert for Houdini in Moscow during his 1903 tour of Russia sold on eBay today for $560. Artifacts from Houdini's one and only tour of Russia are exceedingly rare. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing anything on eBay before this.

While the final price was certainly respectable, I did expect it to go for more. Last year some early German adverts each broke $1000. Not as much love for Russia these days, I guess.

Congrats to the winner of this rarity. And thanks to Kevin Connolly at Conjuring History for the alert.


The Secret Life of Mrs. London to be revealed in 2018

Looks like 2018 is going to kick off with a provocative piece of Houdini fiction based on fact. Here's the description and cover art for The Secret Life of Mrs. London by Rebecca Rosenberg.

San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape. 
As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of Houdini and London's alleged affair, which was first uncovered by Ken Silverman in his 1996 book Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss.

You can pre-order The Secret Life of Mrs. London at (U.S.) and (UK). Release date is January 30, 2018.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Unlocking Houdini's secrets in 1995

On May 24, 1995, NBC aired the one-hour special Houdini: Unlocking His Secrets hosted by Robert Urich. The show featured modern magicians performing Houdini's feats, intercut with biographical information. It's a well-done special with excellent performances and some nice Houdini photos and film footage. And despite the title, no secrets are revealed.

The stage performances were filmed at Ceasers Palace Circus Maximus on April 30, 1995 (tickets were given out free). Host Robert Urich narrates from the "Magic and Movie Hall of Fame" at O'Sheas Casino in Las Vegas. Here one gets a good look at items from the Dixie Dooley collection. Behind Urich for much of time is the Houdini packing case that Dixie famously retrieved from the basement of 278 in 1985.

The broadcast kicks off with Charlotte Pendragon leaping chained from a riverboat on Lake Mead. It's a well-staged stunt with some nice tension. This is followed by Lance Burton performing a stage-bound suspended straitjacket escape. Again, a well-staged stunt, and it's great to see Burton in his absolute prime. Also in his prime is Mac King who does a comedic thumb tie with Melinda Saxe. The Pendragons do their well-honed Metamorphosis. David Williamson does a very funny take on Houdini's Needles.

It what should be a show highlight, Brett Daniels does Houdini's Water Torture Cell. However, the escape is robbed of tension by over production, with backlighting and smoke and various curtains sweeping up and down over the cell. For me, the best presentations of the USD -- Houdini, Henning, Steve Baker -- keep it a serious "test," too dangerous to load up with smoke machines. Raw tension is all the stagecraft required. Likewise, Jonathan Pendragon's "Exploding Coffin of Death" grand finale seems a little overwrought, but it's in line with the "extreme" escapes of the 90s. Apparently cut from the broadcast was Max Maven who demonstrated the tricks of fraudulent mediums. A shame this wasn't included in the home video release.

Apart from stating that J. Gordon Whitehead was a "college boxing star" and Houdini's final performance took place in "London, Ontario," the biographical segments are good. There are also a few bits of Houdini film that I don't believe I've seen since.

The film footage is credited as coming from the collection of Manny Weltman "by agreement with Nanette Weltman" (Manny died that year). Another notable name in the credits is Executive Producer Gerald W. Abrams, who would go on to make the Houdini Miniseries with Adrian Brody in 2014. Maybe this is where he first discovered the power of selling Houdini?

Houdini: Unlocking His Secrets was released on VHS by Goodtimes Video in 1996. Without commercials, the show comes in at only 30 minutes. It can can still be purchased at Amazon.

Unfortunately, the show never made it to DVD. The only clip available on YouTube is Charlotte Pendragon's opening underwater escape (below).

Below are links to a few other Houdini television specials from the recent past.


I recently launched a new standalone page devoted to Houdini documentaries and appearances on investigative and reality TV. Check it out under "Media" in the top menu bar or click HERE.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Magic Word is Wild About Harry

Today I'm thrilled to link to my appearance on Scott Wells' terrific The Magic Word Podcast. Scott came over the day after I returned from New York after touring Houdini's house, and we spent a full hour discussing that experience and all things Harry. Scott even got me to talk about a few non-Houdini matters -- imagine that!

It was great fun and real honor to appear on such a prestigious magic podcast. Click the link above to go to The Magic Word website where you'll see a variety of options on how to listen.

Thanks again Scott.


LINK: The Grim Game's Disappearing Act

The Paris Review has a well-researched article by Will Stephenson about the reappearance in 2014 of Houdini's lost silent film The Grim Game. Nothing all that new for those of us who followed the blow by blow that year (some links below), but it's a good overview of the story with fresh quotes from Dick Brookz, Rick Schmidlin, and Jon Oliver. (Click the headline above to read.)

One thing this piece does not observe is that The Grim Game has not been shown on TCM since its one airing in 2015, nor has it been released on DVD or streaming. In some ways, The Grim Game is once again Houdini's lost film.


    Wednesday, August 9, 2017

    Charlotte Montague Houdini biography now shipping

    Even though the publisher shows a September 26 release date, Houdini: The Life and Times of the World's Greatest Magician by Charlotte Montague is now shipping from Amazon in the U.S. (mine arrives tomorrow). Aimed at general readers, the book runs 208 pages and is relased by Chartwell Books.

    Based on contemporary reports and diaries and supported with historic photographs and period posters, Houdini is an intriguing biography of the world’s greatest magician and escape artist. Ninety years after his death, this brings both the man and his magic back to life again for one last performance.

    This biography is an authoritative view from accomplished biographer Charlotte Montague, and belongs on the shelf of any lover of magic, escape artistry, and enigmatic figures.

    Charlotte Montague has penned biographies of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft also released by Chartwell.

    Purchase Houdini: The Life and Times of the World's Greatest Magician from (U.S.) and pre-order from (UK - Sept 28).

    UPDATE: I've just received my copy and flipped through it. The book is beautifully laid out and comprehensive. Almost an encyclopedia in how it sections off people and events. Lots of photos, all familiar. Nice to see that it tracks Houdini beyond death -- into books, movies and television, right up to last year's Houdini & Doyle and this year's Timeless. I've not gotten into the text itself, but it appears to be a nice summation of known facts. I've already spotted some mythology (Bells of the Kremlin) and inaccuracies (Buried Alive), but there's no section on his "spy work", so it appears we're in the hands of a responsible biographer. Oh, and it's a much larger book than I thought it would be. Almost brings me back to the glory days of Houdini coffee table books. I admit I'm a little hurt to not see my site listed in Further Reading (it appears to have been sourced for the later sections at least), but this is one I'm happy to add to my shelf.


    Tuesday, August 8, 2017

    Houdini shows you how to Escape Everything!

    Escape Everything! by Robert Wringham uses Houdini to teach one how to "cut loose the shackles" of modern living. This was actually released last year, but it escaped me!

    We will each spend an average of 87,000 hours at work before we die. We will spend another 5,000 hours getting to and from work and countless more preparing for work. Worrying about work. Recovering from work. The majority of us hate our jobs. But without work, we can't buy all the things we've been told we should want and need, so around we go. Through the pages of New Escapologist magazine, Robert Wringham has been studiously examining the traps of modern life, questioning where our commitment to them stems from and why we are so unable to break free. Taking inspiration from the great Escapologist Harry Houdini—who escaped from jail cells, straitjackets, and even the innards of a dead whale—Wringham applies Houdini's feats as a metaphor for real life, proposing the principle of Escapology as a way to cut loose our shackles. Become a modern-day Escapologist and freedom and happiness might be possible after all.

    You can purchase Escape Everything! at (U.S.) and (UK).

    This is not Houdini's first foray into the motivational arena. Below are links to a few other examples of Harry Self-Help.


    Monday, August 7, 2017

    When 'Dead Famous' went in search of Houdini

    In 2005 Living TV in the UK aired Dead Famous: Houdini, in which skeptic Gail Porter and "sensitive" Chris Fleming went in search of Houdini's ghost. This British series was part of the explosion of dubious "reality" television and part of a sub genre of ghost-hunter shows that aped the style of The Blair Witch Project. Here's a description of the Houdini episode:

    Searching for the ghost of Harry Houdini our duo visit the Eastern State Penitentiary, the blueprint for modern escape-proof prisons, where the man known as The Jailbreak King might still be tampering with the locks, and the Palace Theatre on Broadway where Houdini performed in the vaudeville era. But could the man no jail could hold be captured by the cameras?

    The investigative segments of the episode are tedious and the research embarrassingly bad. Chris Fleming actually calls out to Houdini as "Harold", and Gail Porter states that Houdini "most famously survived going over Niagara Falls in a barrel." And while it's cool to see the inside of Palace Theater, they then go to Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary for no reason other than "it would have appealed to Houdini." (I suspect this segment was actually filmed independently of the Houdini episode and added to help pad out the hour.)

    However, the show redeems itself in the end when the team attends the 2004 Houdini Seance with Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz at the Houdini Museum in Scranton. You get a great look at the museum, and it's an excellent documentation of that year's "Original" seance (not to be confused with the "Official" seance). Jeff Blood, the grand nephew of Harry and Bess, is in attendance and has a moment on camera. Bess's voice from the Final Houdini Seance also gets some nice air play (more than we typically hear).

    So despite being the sort of hokum that Houdini himself would have condemned, the show is still worth checking out. Below is the full episode on YouTube.

    Dead Famous: Houdini originally aired January 18, 2005. Two seasons were released on DVD in the UK.


    Sunday, August 6, 2017

    Remembering Celeste Evans

    Last month pioneering magician and escape artist Celeste Evans died at age 85. Born on New Year's Eve 1931, Evans toured extensively in the Far East as a State Department entertainer. After a 1957 of Africa, she settled in Chicago and toured the Playboy Club circuit. Celeste was possibly the first female magician to perform dove magic, made more difficult by the fact that she only wore gowns, leotards, and jumpsuits in her act. She retired from magic in 2003 to run her husband's management business. She passed away on July 25, 2017.

    Below is Celeste's appearance on the classic CBS game show To Tell The Truth on May 21, 1957. Houdini is mentioned several times. In fact, the answer to a Houdini question is the deciding factor for one of the judges.

    Celeste Evan's obituary appears in the August 2017 Academy of Magical Arts/Magic Castle newsletter.

    Thanks to Dustin Stinett.


    Friday, August 4, 2017

    Houdini's 1983 turn as a serial killer

    In 1983 a play called The Lives and Deaths of the Great Harry Houdini was featured at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts from July 6-14. Steve Skibell played Houdini and Stephanie Shine played Bess. In digging around for information online, I found the following surprising description:

    "The Lives and Deaths of the Great Harry Houdini presents the great escape artist as a serial killer."

    The Lives and Deaths of the Great Harry Houdini was written by David Ives who would later become involved in the aborted Houdini Broadway musical with Hugh Jackman. He also adapted David Copperfield's Broadway show, Dreams and Nightmares, in 1996.

    While this is the first time I've heard of Houdini himself being protrayed as a serial killer (man, nothing surprises me anymore), in the 1999 film, Oxygen, Adrian Brody played a serial killer who goes by the name "Harry Houdini" and leaves clues to his crimes on Houdini's grave

    Photo of Steve Skibell and Stephanie Shine as Harry and Bess from the Williamstown Theater Festival archives.


    Thursday, August 3, 2017

    Houdini and Chaplin share the page

    A new children's biography covering the lives of Houdini and Charlie Chaplin has been published in Indonesian. Charlie Chaplin & Harry Houdini by Sahanjaya Dwi Suputra is available in print and eBook from the website Scoop. Sometimes books like this will have an English language equivalent, but it appears this one is original to the territory.

    Houdini and Charlie Chaplin met in Los Angeles while Houdini was on his 1915 U.S. vaudeville tour. You can see the photo they took that day via the first link below.


    Wednesday, August 2, 2017

    David Saltman's HOUDINI UNBOUND coming in November

    Some great news today. David Saltman's eagerly awaited historical novel HOUDINI UNBOUND will be published in November by Hudson River Books. David has spent 11 years working on the book, which is set during Houdini's tour of Russia in 1903 and finds the magician engaging in espionage on behalf of President Theodore Roosevelt. Other historical characters include Chekhov, Gorky, Diaghilev, Durov the Clown, and Rasputin.

    David has sent over the mock-up cover art (right), and also shares the incredible news that the book has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction!

    David has authored several non-fiction works, including Gilda, the acclaimed biography of comedienne Gilda Radner. He also runs the the great blog The Houdini File. HOUDINI UNBOUND is his first novel.

    You may recall the book had previously been scheduled for release in 2014 by Maiden Lane Press under the title The Escape Artist: Harry Houdini in Russia, but the publisher went out of business.

    You can read more about HOUDINI UNBOUND on David's official website. There is yet no listing on Amazon, but I will update as soon as it appears.


    Tuesday, August 1, 2017

    Houdini in 1902

    The year 1902 can be characterized as one of the most combative of Houdini's career. Having  proclaimed himself the "Undisputed King of Handcuffs and World's Champion Jail Breaker," the year would find him defending his title in a variety of arenas. Even in court.

    Houdini vs Madame Robert-Houdin

    Houdini started the new year with Bess and Dash in Paris, where his engagement at the Olympia was extended by two months. It was in Paris that Houdini visited the Théâtre Robert-Houdin, then owned by magician and pioneer filmmaker Geroge Méliès (exciting to think of these two men meeting and Houdini watching Méliès's "magical" movies). There Houdini learned that Robert-Houdin's daughter-in-law (widow of his son Emile) was still living in Blois. Houdini sent her a letter by messenger, asking permission to place a wreath on the grave of Robert-Houdin and thank her in person (the full letter can be read on page 57 of Houdini The Untold Story). Ill and not wishing to be disturbed, she turned the messenger away with no reply.

    Undeterred, Houdini traveled to Blois on January 28. There he met with Robert-Houdin's son-in-law, Henri Lemaitre-Robert-Houdin, who welcomed him into his home and showed him several clocks made by the great magician. Henri also told him there was nothing to stop him from paying his respects at the grave.

    So Houdini traveled to the cemetery with a large floral wreath reading "Honor and Respect to Robert-Houdin from the Magicians of America." He stood before the grave for a half hour "with all the reverence and homage with which I respect his memory." Typically photographed standing beside the graves of famous magicians, the only known photo from that day is one Houdini took of the grave alone (right).

    In the 1959 biography, Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls, author William Lindsey Gresham paints a very different picture of these events. He portrays Houdini returning to his hotel and exploding in a rage about being slighted by Madame Robert-Houdin, and vowing then and there to write a book exposing his boyhood idol. But there is no evidence to support Gresham's colorful account, which is loaded with factual errors. In fact, all evidence suggests Houdini was deeply moved by his experience that day. He even mailed himself a postcard from Blois to remember the date.

    However, Houdini's rebellion was being seeded as he visited many of Robert-Houdin's contemporaries, and from them learned that the great man's inventions might not have all been his own. But in January 1902, Houdini's journey to discover the true "father" of modern magic was only just beginning.

    Houdini vs Werner Graff

    After closing at the Olympia, Houdini traveled to Cologne, Germany for the start of his libel trial against the police officer Werner Graff. Houdini had brought the legal action against Graff a year before for an article he wrote saying Houdini's claim that he could escape from any restraint constituted fraud, and that the American had attempted to bribe him. (In his publicity, Houdini never mentioned the bribery charge, and it remained a generally unknown aspect of the Graff trial until 1996.) This first trial started on February 19 and extended over two days. Over 25 witnesses were called, including Bess. During the trial Houdini escaped from a German Transport Chain in full view of the judge and jury. The verdict was announced on February 29. Graff was ordered to pay a fine and print a retraction, while Houdini was fined for insulting a police officer. But Graff decided to appeal the case to a higher court. The next trial was set for July.

    After playing a month at Ronacher’s Theater in Vienna (an engagement postponed in 1901), Houdini returned home to the United States for the first time in two years. It would be a whirlwind trip. "I was home 10 days and slept one night," said Houdini, "the rest of the time I was out, and slept in my motor car, while my brothers drove me about." Aboard a train he met with his former manager Martin Beck to explore the idea of returning to the U.S. and tourimg Beck's growing Keith-Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Beck advised him to remain in Europe and reap the rewards of his popularity and ever increasing salary. America could wait a few more years for the Handcuff King.

    In May, Houdini once again joined the Circus Corty-Althoff, this time in Holland. Inspired by the windmills in the countryside, he arrange to be lashed to a windmill blade and make his escape while it turned. But his weight caused the blade to snap off and crash to the ground. Houdini was unhurt and reaped a windfall of publicity.

    Houdini vs Kleppini

    Engelberto Kleppini
    While traveling with the Circus Corty-Althoff, Houdini learned that an escape artist with the Circus Sidoli named Engelberto Kleppini was advertising that he had beaten Houdini in a handcuff escape contest. Demanding four days off to deal with the interloper, Houdini traveled to Dortmund, Germany and attended Kleppini's performance in disguise. When the escapist made his boast, Houdini "took a flying leap" into the circus ring and dramatically revealed himself. Houdini offered Kleppini 5000 marks if he could escape from his own handcuffs. A contest was arranged for the following day.

    That night, Kleppini's manager visited Houdini at his hotel. Houdini showed him an assortment of freshly oiled handcuffs that he proposed to use in the challenge, including a pair of exotic French Letter Cuffs. Houdini made the manager promise not to reveal to Kleppini that they opened with the letter combination: CLEFS (the French word for keys).

    The day of the challenge, Kleppini unsurprisingly selected the French Letter cuff as the shackles he would beat. He then said his wife would do the same. The cuffed and confident Kleppini disappeared into his cabinet. He never reappeared. Eventually, the cabinet was moved off the stage so the circus could continue.

    After the show, Houdini found the dejected Kleppini in his manager's office, still cuffed with the combination dialed uselessly to CLEFS. Houdini explained that he had changed the combination. He turned the dials and the cuffs snapped open on the word: FRAUD.

    "The German performers are, without a doubt, the greatest brain thieves that ever existed," Houdini complained. It may have been around this same time that Houdini took on another pretender: Hilmar the Uncuffable. This time Houdini was not so playful in his exposé, dragging the cuffed man to the footlights and leaving him sobbing "like a spanked babe" until the audience begged Houdini to free him.

    In July, Houdini returned to the Colosseum Theater in Essen Ruhr, site of his great victory over the Krupps handcuff the year before. This time he was roped by a challenger named Kinsky in a manner that the newspapers described as "simply inhuman -- [he] tied the American as you would tie a piece of cattle." Houdini's escape after seventeen minutes brought "ongoing, never-ending applause and calls of Bravo" which did not cease until Houdini made six curtain calls.

    It was also at the Colosseum on July 31 that Houdini introduced a new type of escape which would become a signature for the remainder of his career: the packing crate challenge.

    Houdini vs Werner Graff (II)

    In July, Houdini was back in court once again facing off with Werner Graff. This time the police officer came better prepared. Not only did he bring new witnesses, but he also came with a lock created by a master mechanic named Kroch, which once locked could never be opened. Houdini opened the lock in four minutes.

    The court upheld the previous verdict, but Graff was still not satisfied and again appealed to a higher court. It's not clear if Houdini was even at the third hearing on September 26. However, he later claimed to have again proven his skill by opening the judge's private safe (which the judge had forgotten to lock).

    After spending August and September with the Circus Carre, Houdini returned to England, where he had not appeared for 21 months. There he signed a contract with the Moss Empire chain to play 20 weeks at £100 a week (that's £11,579 or $15,070 today). Some managers baulked at his weekly salary. For those, Houdini agreed to a percentage of the house receipts. It was a shrewd move. His performances proved so popular that in some theaters his percentage earned him twice his salary.

    Houdini opened at the Palace Theater in Halifax during the week of October 13. Any concern that the English public had either forgotten or grown cold to his act was quickly dispelled as Houdini smashed all house records. Interestingly, during this run one of the challenge cuffs he faced was the Kleppini-beater French Letter cuffs.

    After Halifax, Houdini moved on to the Palace Theater in Blackburn. There he would face the most difficult and torturous challenge of his entire career.

    Houdini vs Hodgson

    On the night of October 24, Houdini was manacled by fitness expert William Hope Hodgson. Hodgson's "scientific" application of his manacles (which Houdini complained had been tampered with) bent Houdini into a painful pretzel. Houdini struggled in his cabinet for over an hour with no progress. A doctor was called on stage to examine him and noted that his arms had turned blue. But Hodgson refused to temporarily loosen the shackles unless Houdini admitted defeat. Worse, the rowdy audience seemed to side with the local boy Hodgson.

    When Houdini finally bounded free after two and a half hours, bloodied and exhausted, Hodgson claimed the shackles had been sawed off. (It's been suggested Hardeen, who was there that night, might have snuck into the cabinet and freed his brother.) But Houdini's struggle had won over the audience, and the newspapers reported that Hodgson had to flee to a police station for protection.

    For the rest of his life Houdini referred to the "dreadful night in Blackburn" and never enjoyed returning to the city. William Hope Hodgson went on to be a popular writer of fantasy literature before his death in the first World War.

    Ironically, the same day as the brutal Hodgson challenge, the German high court finally ruled in favor of Houdini in his ongoing battle with Werner Graff. Houdini was elated and sent word of his victory out on postcard press releases. He also created a colorful lithograph depicting himself shackled in the German courtroom under the headline: "Apology in the Name of The Kaiser!"

    L'Illusionniste, Nov. 1902.
    Houdini finished October at the Palace Theater in Bradford, where he beat the house record for paid admissions which he himself had set the year before. He then moved on to Halifax where the manager had to engage the larger Victoria Hall to accommodate the matinee crowds. At the Pavilion Theater in Leicester he opened a lock that was 500 years old and broke all existing house records. While his pitchbook characterized his Leicester engagement as "a great big feather in Houdini's hat", of his next stop in Manchester it records: "Did nothing extraordinary here."

    It was then back to Blackburn where Houdini drew such large crowds that ten policemen had to be called in after the theater sold out. "Thousands were turned away," Houdini marveled, "Not hundreds, but thousands."

    In December, Houdini appeared at City of Varieties in Leeds where on December 4 he escaped nude from the Armley Prison cell which had held the notorious cat burglar Charles Peace while he awaited execution. On December 9, Houdini freed himself from a Burnley jail, opening six cells in less than five minutes. A local paper observed, "his performances are enough to give Sherlock Holmes nervous prostration."

    Houdini then returned to Leeds where he broke all house records and played "extra special" matinees at the larger Coliseum theater. Here he escaped from a straitjacket (still using a cabinet) and a packing case. Leeds was one of the cities where he had arranged a percentage deal. Houdini came away with over £250 (£28,950) for his week's work. An advertisement for his final week noted that it would be his last appearance in the UK before he departed for a whole new country to conquer: Russia.

    Houdini in 1903 (coming)


    Explore more years in the life of Houdini:

      Monday, July 31, 2017

      WAH in MUM

      Click to enlarge.
      WILD ABOUT HARRY gets a nice mention in the new August 2017 issue of MUM, the official magazine of The Society of American Magicians. It appears in Bruce Kalver's "Tech Tricks" column. Thanks for the kind words, Bruce!

      For those who've come here looking to read the post mentioned by Bruce, below are all three posts related to my recent visit to New York and Houdini's house.

      And as far as Houdini and food is concerned, here's 23 posts. 😛

      Thanks to Joe Fox for the photo.


      Sunday, July 30, 2017

      'The Great Houdini: His British Tours' released in UK

      Today sees the release in the UK of Derek Tait's highly anticipated The Great Houdini: His British Tours. This is a fully updated 304 page hardcover edition of the book Derek first self-published in 2011. This one is published by Pen & Sword and promises to be the must buy Houdini book of the year. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy!

      The Daily Mail recently profiled the book and the author. The story includes a collection of preview images from the book, including a photo of Houdini in shackles that I've not seen before.

      While today is the official release date, online retailers do not yet appear to have the book in stock. But Derek tells me the publisher assured him copies are on the way, so hopefully any shipping delays will be temporary.

      The Great Houdini: His British Tours will not be released in the U.S. until November 2, 2017.

      Purchase The Great Houdini: His British Tours at (UK) and pre-order at (U.S.).


      Saturday, July 29, 2017

      When I thought Charles Nelson Reilly was Houdini

      I typically track my interest in Houdini back to my first viewing of the classic Tony Curtis Houdini biopic on November 16, 1975. But the truth is my first encounter with Houdini came much earlier. So this is my strange confession.

      I have no idea what age I was, but when I was very young, we had a turtle that we kept in a shallow fishbowl on a kitchen counter top. Somehow the turtle was able to escape his bowl, get down from the counter, and get inside a closet. The turtle did this three times, at which point my parents named it "Houdini."

      It was then my father explained to me who "Houdini" was. I can vividly remember this moment. He told to me Houdini was a man who lived long ago and who could escape from anything and never failed. This information blew my mind, especially as I was raised with no religion whatsoever. This was really the moment that I learned of the miraculous; that a seemingly supernatural man once walked the earth and proved his powers to all who challenged him. Damn!

      Flash forward to 1971 when, like so many of my generation, I watched some pretty trippy children's television. One of those shows was Lidsville, produced by Sid & Marty Krofft. What I really liked about the show was the opening song which told the story of Mark (Butch Patrick of Munsters fame) who dared to sneak into a magician's dressing room to discover the secret of his magic hat. This sends Mark into a psychedelic land of "hat people" ruled over by an evil magician named The Great Horatio J. Hoo-Doo, played by Charles Nelson Reilly. Check out the full opening below.

      Now, in my 7-year-old mind, I thought Hoo-Doo was Houdini. Not that it was an actor playing the part, I really thought he WAS Houdini. He fit the bill as the all-powerful wizard of lore, the very source of magic, who was somehow both menace and friend to young Mark. And he had the name. In fact, in Episode 15, Houdini gets a name check in one of Hoo-Doo's songs:

      Who makes women's hearts go twitter?
      Who makes husbands all turn bitter?
      Who makes magic like Houdini
      Only wish he could?
      Cuz he does it twice as good
      Hoo-Doo! Hoo-Doo!
      Hoo-Doo, that's who!

      I don't know how long this idea remained in my head, because beyond the credits, I lost interest in Lidsville, which only lasted 17 episodes. But the idea of Houdini was planted deep within me, and I was starting to pick up on pop cultural references, such as the name Hoo-Doo. So, yes, my earliest conception of Houdini was some kind of a cross between Jesus Christ and Charles Nelson Reilly. And when Tony Curtis arrived on the scene, complete with his martyrs death and a promise of resurrection, I finally decided, "Okay, its time to find out the truth about this guy."

      I'm still trying to do that.

      For the full story of Lidsville, check out this terrific post at Cult Oddities. Below are links to some more, less psychedelic appearances of Houdini on children's TV.


      Friday, July 28, 2017

      La disparition d'Harry Houdini

      The short story La disparition d'Harry Houdini (The Disappearance of Harry Houdini) is now available as a standalone eBook. The story first appeared the November 2014 issue of French kids magazine, Moijelis.

      The story involves the disappearance of Houdini during an overboard box escape. It's up to his young assistant Arthur and pet Python Maharadjah to find the missing magician.

      The eBook is avalible from (France) and (UK). You can buy the 2014 magazine at the Moijelis website.


      Lee Terbosic "Houdini 100" limited prints

      Last year magician Lee Terbosic successfully recreated Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape in Pittsburgh on the 100th anniversary of the stunt (November 6, 1916). One of the things that inspired Lee was a famous photograph taken that day by Pittsburgh Sun Staff Photographer N.M. Jeannero of the massive crowd watching Houdini accomplish his escape.

      So Lee called upon his friend and acclaimed photographer Jared Wickerham (Getty Images, Nike, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated) with the challenge of capturing the exact same shot from 1916. The result, as Lee puts it, "was pure magic."

      Lee is now making 100 prints available of his recreation photo. Each is individually signed and dated by Jared Wickerham in the exact same way N.M. Jeannero signed his own image in 1916. The image is printed on quality Hahnemuhle Rag Satin archival photo paper and includes a certificate of authenticity.

      You can purchase Lee Terbosic's "Houdini 100" print while supplies last via his official website.


      Thursday, July 27, 2017

      Remember to answer in the form of a question

      This appeared on Wednesday's Jeopardy under the category Britannica Bylines. This was worth $400. No one got it. Don't think that will happen here.

      Thanks to Christopher Baker of the still going strong HOUDOYLE fansite. To see the full board, check out J! Archive, where you can also see all mentions of Houdini.


      Talking Houdini with Dash Finley and Dark Times

      Recently I was interviewed by Dash Finley for Dark Times: Unsolved Horrors and Mysteries. The interview was held in the Houdini Seance Room of the Magic Castle and aired yesterday on Facebook's Super News Live. Dash had excellent questions and the interview was a lot of fun. Click below to watch. (It takes about 30 seconds to start.) Please give it a Like if you like!

      Thanks to Dash Finley and Amanda Urrego. Also thanks to Ben Roman at the Magic Castle.


      Wednesday, July 26, 2017

      Hear a snippet of unreleased Houdini voice recording

      Homer Liwag recently toured David Copperfield's amazing magic collection in Las Vegas for Alumni Spotlight. This video is worth watching no matter what, but what makes it extra special is we get to hear snippets of Houdini's voice NOT heard in the available recording.

      As Arthur Moses first revealed in 2012, the Houdini voice recording that is publicly available is actually an edited combination of two different recordings Houdini made introducing his Water Torture Cell in 1914. For those who have the recording burned into your brains, have a listen starting around 4:08 and you'll hear the differences.

      For those who don't know the recordings as well, highlighted below are the differences:

      "Ladies and gentlemen, I take great pleasure in introducing my latest invention: The Water Torture Cell. Although there is nothing supernatural about it, I claim that it is absolutely impossible..."

      I should point out that Tom Interval used the first sentence in his excellent clean-up and restoration of the original recording (which can be heard here), so that may sound familiar. But the last line -- "I claim that it is absolutely impossible" -- has largely gone unheard.

      I've had the pleasure of hearing both the full recordings on a few occasions. Click on over to Arthur Moses official website to read transcripts of those two unedited recordings.


      Tuesday, July 25, 2017

      Real Science Adventures collected edition released

      A collected edition of Brian Clevinger's Real Science Adventures: Billion Dollar Plot, a graphic novel that features Houdini in action beside Nikola Tesla, Charles Fort, Annie Oakley and others, is released today by Atomic Robo.

      A cabal of industrialists are conspiring to overthrow Washington D.C. in the wake of the Financial Panic of 1893. Only the Centurions of Science stand in their way! But can they stop the Black Coat Army and save New York City from sinking into the Atlantic first? Starring: Nikola Tesla: The Mastermind; George Westinghouse: The Industrialist; Winfield Scott Lovecraft: The Secret Agent; Charles Fort: The Investigator; Ehrie "Houdini" Weiss: The Escapist; Annie Oakley: The Sharpshooter; and Wong Kei-ying: The Martial Artist.

      You can buy Real Science Adventures: Billion Dollar Plot on (U.S.) and (UK).


      Monday, July 24, 2017

      Museum will search for Nicola's vanishing elephant

      Next month The Warren County History Museum in Monmouth, Illinois will us high-tech radar equipment to search for the remains of "Nizzie," the vanishing elephant used by The Great Nicola in the 1930s. The search for Nizzie is part of an early promotion for next year's "The Great Nicola Magic Festival", an event hoping to rekindle interest in the magician and Monmouth resident.

      "He was on par with Houdini," says Kellen Henrichsen, executive director of the history museum. "He’s still a big name in the magic community."

      During his career, Nicola imitated many of Houdini's signature feats, including the Handcuff Act, Metamorphosis, the Milk Can and, yes, the Vanishing Elephant.

      You can read the full article at The Journal Star. It's loaded with annoying pop-ups, but if you can navigate through those, it's a good article with some nice Nicola images.

      More information of The Great Nicola Magic Festival can be found HERE.


      Sunday, July 23, 2017

      Comic Con: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini

      Here's some Houdini news from the San Diego Comic Con. Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime have announced the new graphic novel Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini by Cynthia Von Buhler. The first issue will be released November 8, 2017. Cover and description below.

      Created by acclaimed artist, author, director, and playwright Cynthia Von Buhler, Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini has already garnered praise from legendary author Neil Gaiman who said: "I was seduced by Cynthia Von Buhler's artwork. She is a wonder."

      Unappreciated at her father's detective agency, the fabulous rabbit-loving Minky Woodcock straps on her gumshoes in order to uncover a magical mystery involving the world-famous escape artist, Harry Houdini!

      Featuring covers by artist Robert McGinnis - the famous creator of movie posters for classic films such as James Bond and Breakfast at Tiffany's and acclaimed comics legend David Mack, the first issue arrives in stores November 8, 2017.

      Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini #1 will be solicited in the upcoming September PREVIEWS catalog. Creator Cynthia von Buhler gave a preview her artwork for the book in March.

      Thanks to Bleeding Cool.


      Friday, July 21, 2017

      BUYER BEWARE: USD presentation piece on eBay (UPDATE: Fraud confirmed)

      A rare brass presentation piece commemorating the first public performance of Houdini's Water Torture Cell is currently being auctioned on eBay. It's now up to $3,500 with 64 bids. However, something fishy is going on here.

      There are three known USD presentation pieces, and Dr. Bruce Averbook owns all three. He believes the one pictured on eBay is his, and the photos used in the auction are the same photos that were used back when he purchased it in 2007. He posted the original photos to Kevin Connolly's CONJURING HISTORY Facebook group, and the similarities are unmistakable. "Natalie Antiques" appears to have been cropped out of all the current auction images.

      Current auction photo (left) and 2007 photo (right).

      Bruce has reported the issue to eBay, but with only 17 hours remaining on the auction, there may not be time for the website to investigate, so...BUYER BEWARE!

      UPDATE: Well, this sold for $6,500.99. Here's hoping it works out.

      UPDATE 2: The seller antiques_arts has vanished and the bad feedback is starting. Looks like he took a several people to the cleaners on several high priced items.


      Criss Angel joins Houdini on the Walk of Fame

      Magician Criss Angel received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame yesterday. I admit I'm not a follower of Angel's work, but I do like that he's an open admirer of Houdini and repeatedly pays tribute to the escape king, whether it be a Houdini motorcycle in his Las Vegas showroom or naming his show "Believe" after the famous codeword.

      In fact, Criss kicked off his speech at yesterday's dedication ceremony by telling the story of how inspired he was when he first came to Hollywood in the 1990s and saw Houdini's star. "It's unbelievable," said Angel. "Houdini died in 1926 and this star will remain here for as long as this planet is here."

      Other magicians in attendance yesterday were Lance Burton (who spoke) and The Amazing Jonathan. Actor Gary Oldman and UFC fighter Randy Couture also spoke.

      Angel's star sits across the street from Houdini's star at Hollywood and Orange. Also in the vicinity are Penn & Teller, David Copperfield, and Bill and Milt Larsen.

      Other Houdini-related stars to seek out on the boulevard are actresses Mae Busch (The Grim Game), Lila Lee (Terror Island), and Nita Naldi (The Man From Beyond). Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh are also honored.

      You can see photos from the event at the Daily Mail.


      Houdini at Comic Con (in 2005)

      This weekend is the annual pop culture juggernaut San Diego Comic Con. I used to attend the convention each year, and in 2005 I was thrilled to stumble on this large advertisement for what turned out to be the 2007 book Houdini The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi.

      I've often wondered what ever became of this poster. Be a nice collectible to have today.

      For those of you attending Comic Con, enjoy! And if you spot anything Houdini related, let us know in the comments below.


      Thursday, July 20, 2017

      LINK: Houdini's circus wagons in Budapest

      Philip Treece at recently ran across two Houdini circus wagons in Budapest, one sporting the Welsh Bros name. Where did these come from? Click the headline to find out.



      Receive updates via email