Friday, March 31, 2017

Houdini (1953) will air three times in April

The 1953 classic Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh will air three times in April on MOVIES. Times are Friday, April 7 at 12:00 PM; Wednesday, April 12 at 1:30 AM; and Saturday, April 22 at 10:30 PM.


MOVIES airs Houdini complete and uncut. Sure, the film is available on a whole host of other formats, including a brand new Blu-ray release, but there's still something satisfying about watching this first great Houdini biopic on broadcast TV, like the old days.

Related posts:

Houdini eBay fraud alert

This 1st edition of Houdini's A Magician Among The Spirits is currently on eBay for just .79¢. Too good to be true? Indeed. This is a scam. Front sellers from what appears to be China keep generating multiple listings using these same photos. Don't bite!


Thanks to Kevin Connolly.

Related:

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Houdini meets Benny Hill

Reader William Uchtman, who runs The Benny Hill Show Wiki, points out an amusing Houdini reference in a 1981 episode of the show. This is a new one to me, so I'll let William explain:

On the February 11, 1981 episode of "The Benny Hill Show," Benny has a sketch called "The Poster Girl." In it, he tries to woo the very lovely Allison Bell, who was one of his "Hill's Angels," and at one point heads to the cemetery to get some flowers for her. Benny just happens to pluck them from Houdini's grave whose tombstone has several dates on it, a reference to Houdini as a great escapologist. I've included images from the sketch.

Thank you William. We salute you!


Related:

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A taste of Houdini horror from Italy

Lisa Mannetti's 2015 novella The Box Jumper will be released next month in Italy as Houdini Passione Oscura ("Houdini Dark Passion"). The publisher is Astro Edizioni. Below is the rather intense cover art and a description (translated via Google) from the website Horror Magazine.

 
A disturbing tale of madness and mystery. Lisa Mannetti leads the reader into a maze and illusion scandal surrounding Harry Houdini, world famous magician. Elusive like a magic trick, the story unfolds through the memories of one of his former assistants, Leona suffering from various mental disorders. The words of the novel entice the reader to explore an obscene liars and lust world. As soon as the layers of intrigue unfold, the reader is forced to keep reading...

I can find no links to purchase this Italian edition, but the English edition of The Box Jumper is available on Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK). For more on Lisa Mannetti visit her official website.

Related:

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

LINK: Antiques Roadshow Houdini letter

The PBS show Antiques Roadshow recently featured a Houdini letter from a collection in Palm Springs, California. The letter has some pretty interesting content. It's dated July 21, 1910, shortly after Houdini's return from Australia, and in it he talks about using his "bi-plane" to fly from city to city during his upcoming British tour. He also mentions having a car in New York, which nicely debunks the oft-repeated notion that Houdini never drove after Australia.


Click the headline to check out the full story and letter at Antiques Roadshow. There you can also watch the segment from the show and join in on the discussion of exactly who Houdini is writing to here.

Related:

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Houdini birthday present from Kevin Connolly

Friday might have been Houdini's birthday, but it was Houdini fans who received the gift. That's because mega collector Kevin Connolly shared on his Facebook group CONJURING HISTORY - BUY, SELL AND TALK this remarkable press photo of Houdini from his collection. I've never seen this shot before and it's a stunner!


This photo probably gives us our best, most detailed look at a Houdini straitjacket. To my eye, this appears to be the same straitjacket that surfaced on Pawn Stars in 2011. It later sold at auction for $46,980. There is a very distinctive V-like dip in the leather across Harry's upper chest that occurs on both jackets (you can also spot this in some film footage). So it looks this pic is also a gift to whoever now owns this jacket!


Thanks to Kevin for letting me share his share here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. Below are a few other gems from the Connolly Collection.

Related:

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Houdini Torture Cell photo escapes with $889

A terrific original photo of Houdini inside his Water Torture Cell sold for $889.20 (including 17% buyer's premium) at Haversat & Ewing's "Houdini's Birthday Auction" today. The photo shows the cell on stage flanked by assistants Franz Kukol, Jim Collins and James Vickery. (The fourth assistant is unknown to me.)


What makes this shot extra special is we see Houdini inside the inner cage, or what he called "the steel grill." This appears to have been later removed from the escape. I believe this photo has only ever appeared in Milbourne Christopher's' Houdini A Pictorial Life, and that image does not have the clarity seen here.

This latest Haversat & Ewing auction contained several other nice Houdini lots. A two-page letter on rare stationary with excellent content ("Do you know in my hardship days I NEVER borrowed a single dollar!!!!!!!!!") went for $6,142. A pair of vanishing umbrellas owned by Houdini took $1,099. Even I was able to land a 1925 "Beware" pitchbook (I've been after one of these).

Related:

Houdini finds 'Guilty Pleasures' in Columbus

A Houdini skit is part of the new sketch comedy show Guilty Pleasures now playing at Shadowbox Live in Columbus, OH. A review in The Columbus Dispatch calls it "a tightly structured tale of what happens when Houdini (Jimmy Mak) comes home to his impatient wife (Leah Haviland) after yet another near-death experience."


Guilty Pleasures plays on Fridays and Saturdays through June 3. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

Thanks to @ShadowboxLive for the image.

Related:

American Pinball unveils 'Houdini' in Texas

American Pinball unveiled their new "Houdini Master of Mystery" pinball machine at the Texas Pinball Festival yesterday (Houdini's birthday). This is an all-new design from what was shown in Las Vegas last year. Below are photos from @TOpinhead on Twitter.


You can learn more about "Houdini Master of Mystery" at the American Pinball website and Facebook page.

Related:

Friday, March 24, 2017

Happy Birthday Houdini!

Today is Harry Houdini's 143rd birthday. He was born Ehrich Weiss on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary to Mayer Samuel and Cecilia Steiner Weiss. As I do each year, I will gather a collection of birthday greetings from around the web and link below. (Send me your own link.) Also check out Twitter #Houdini, #HarryHoudini and #HappyBirthdayHarryHoudini.

"Is this any way to treat a guy on his birthday?"

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Houdini direct from Hollywood

This autograph album page sold at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury‏ today for £1,612 ($2,018). I love the inscription. Houdini had just completed Terror Island and was embarking on his first tour of the UK in six years. Bradford was his first stop. During this tour he took pride in presenting himself as a freshly minted movie star -- "direct from Hollywood."


This image was shared on Twitter @DreweattsBlooms.

Related:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ed Saint considered holding a Houdini seance at the Winchester Mystery House in 1938


Recently collector and magic dealer Jim Rawlins showed me a fascinating letter from Arthur Hinson, Vice President of the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians, to Edward Saint. The letter is dated May 24, 1938, and in it Hinson mentions that Saint and P.C.A.M. president Caryl Fleming recently discussed the possibility of holding a Houdini seance at the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. He writes:

I think the idea as far as publicity for the P.C.A.M., Mrs. Houdini and the Winchester House, would be very fine and all probabilities handled right, might hit the press syndicate. Will you please advise me as to your idea on this matter? Also the time and date of such proposed seance.

This is interesting for a few reasons. First, it's yet another connection between Houdini and this famous landmark of spiritualistic folly (which Houdini himself visited in the 1920s). But it also shows that Ed and Bess might not have been all that committed to the idea that the Final Houdini Seance, held in Hollywood in 1936, was all that final. We know Saint was tempted on more than one occasion to revive the Houdini seances, legit and otherwise.

But considering this seance never happened, it's possible Bess and Ed decided it wasn't right to do another seance after the expiration of the 10 year compact.

The Winchester Mystery House eventually did host a Houdini seance when the Society of American Magicians Assembly No. 94 held what they called a "50th anniversary" seance in 1977. As far as I know, Harry stayed away.

Thanks to Jim Rawlins. Be sure and check out Jim's recently redesigned Magic Collectibles website.

Related:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

'Mrs. Houdini' arrives in paperback

The paperback edition of Mrs. Houdini by Victoria Kelly is released today in the U.S. by Washington Square Press.

Before escape artist Harry Houdini died, he vowed he would find a way to speak to his beloved wife, Bess, from beyond the grave using a coded message known only to the two of them. But when a widowed Bess begins seeing this code in seemingly impossible places, it becomes clear that Harry has an urgent message to convey. Unlocking the puzzle will set Bess on a course back through the pair’s extraordinary romance, which swept the illusionist and his bride from the beaches of Coney Island, to the palaces of Budapest, to the back lots of Hollywood. When the mystery finally leads Bess to the doorstep of a mysterious young photographer, she realizes that her husband’s magic may have been more than just illusion.

Released in hardcover in March of last year, Mrs. Houdini was named one of "The 12 Best New Books of 2016" by Entertainment Weekly. It is Victoria Kelly's first novel.

You can purchase Mrs. Houdini in paperback at Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK release date April 20). For more about the author visit www.victoriakellybooks.com.

Related:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ragtime at Ford's Theatre through May 20

Ragtime the Musical is now playing through May 20 at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. In this production Houdini is played by Christopher Mueller.


Ford's Theater is, of course, the site of the Abraham Lincoln assassination. As Houdini was a great admirer of the 16th president, this seems like an especially appropriate place to see this production.

For show dates and ticket information visit the Ford's Theatre website.

Related:

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Houdini's plan to fight a shark


In the summer of 1916, Houdini announced a publicity stunt like no other; he would fight a man eating shark!

The story starts on July 14, 1916, when the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that the remains of a young boy, Lester Stillwell, had washed up in Matawan, N.J. Witnesses reported seeing a shark in the vicinity. One fisherman even took at shot at it. In a scene right out of Jaws, the news caused fear among beachgoers and a frenzy of shark hunting and false reports of the shark's capture. 

In the midst of all this, the following item appeared in Variety:


United Booking Offices was the all-powerful booking agency wing of the Keith-Albee-Orpheum vaudeville circuit, on which Houdini was a headliner. Houdini was appearing at the Brighton Theater in Brighton Beach during the week of July 24. He then moved to Keith's in Atlantic City for the week of July 31. Houdini was 42 in 1916, not an ideal age for shark fighting. Nevertheless, on August 4th, Billboard reported that Houdini had found his man-eater:


Houdini's shark stunt never happened. Maybe he could not come terms with the shark salesman. It's also possible the entire thing was cooked up for publicity. But shark fighting was still on Houdini's mind in November when he explained his shark killing technique, learned from South Sea Islanders, to the Cincinnati Star:

"The secret is this: When you dive for the shark, you hold in your left hand a stick of wood with a [sharped] point at each end and a piece of cloth tied to each to attract the shark. The big fish turns on his back to attack you and you point the stick at him. He opens his jaws to bite off your arm and you thrust the two pointed stick into his mouth. He closes his jaws and they are caught tight on the points. Then you use your right hand to rip open his body. Quite easy when you know how."

Interestingly, news of this same type of stunt appears to have again surfaced during Houdini's silent movie days. In my own collection I have a letter Houdini wrote to a Col. Flinn dated August 8, 1919, in which he states:

The shark stunt is on the square, so don't let that worry you, even if all the papers copied the advert.

Digging a little deeper, it's possible Houdini's shark fighting idea was originally sparked by the Williamson Bros Submarine Film Co., who had planned to make a film with Houdini. One of their films featured a "Death battle between a man and a man-eating shark." Coincidentally, an ad for that film appeared right beside Houdini own advertisement in the April 4, 1915 Cincinnati Enquirer Sun (below).

Click to enlarge.

Real or not, I'm happy this stunt never materialized. It seems fool-hearted and cruel and I don't think it would be a feat we'd celebrate Houdini for today. Give me vanishing elephants instead.

Below are links to a few more aborted Houdini stunts.

Related:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

LINK: The Magic of Houdini

National Public Radio WFUV has a nice show today about Houdini with a visit to the Houdini Museum of New York and interviews with Roger Dreyer and George Hardeen (nice to hear him shoot down the silly poisoning theory).

Click the headline to have a listen at WFUV.

Related:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

'Our Magic' and the music of Houdini (update)

Recently I watched the 2014 documentary Our Magic. It's a pretty good doc that I'd recommend, and the credits offer up a Houdini surprise. As you can see below, the documentary used several "original songs from the musical The Great Houdini: Don't Break The Spell."


I've never heard of this musical and a Google search turns up nothing. Does anyone out there have any info on The Great Houdini: Don't Break The Spell?

Our Magic can be streamed at Amazon Video.

UPDATE: The following comes from Howard Berman:

The original music used in the documentary was written by Jonathan Astor and myself.

Jonathan adapted/re-scored instrumental parts of songs, composed for a musical, for which we also wrote the lyrics.

The musical is still being developed. As you know, there have been so many aborted or failed Houdini musical projects over the years...we're trying everything in our power to get this right!

Thank you, Howard.

Related:

Monday, March 13, 2017

Potter & Potter photo reveals Mama (still) in Europe

The catalog for Potter & Potter's Spring Magic Auction is now available as a free PDF or printed copy for purchase from their website.

As promised, the auction contains a fair amount of Houdini material, including this original unpublished photo of Houdini, Mama and Bess taken in "Berlin Germany June 1901." This image challenges the long accepted belief that Cecilia Weiss's first trip to Europe was from April to May 1901. Either Houdini has this wrong or we do!

One of the reasons this matters is that biographers struggle to pinpoint the date of the famous "queen for a day" reception at the Royal Hotel in Budapest, which reportedly took place during Mama's first visit. Most have relied on the not very reliable Kellock biography and wedge it between Houdini's closing in Hamburg (end of April) and his opening in Essen Ruhr (beginning of May). But if this photo is accurate and Mama was still around after Houdini's Essen Ruhr engagement, it opens up new possibilties for the Budapest trip. Unfortunelty, the Royal Hotel, which still exists today, has no record of Houdini's visit.

Potter's & Potter's Spring Magic Auction takes place at 10:00 am on Saturday, April 8th at their Chicago gallery and online via LiveAuctioneers. As previously reported, the auction will also include Bess Houdini's famous "Royal Crown Brooch" (link below).

Related:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Secret Life of Houdini screenplay reviewed

Here's one that's a spoiler if Lionsgate's The Secret Life of Houdini movie ever gets made. If not, then we have a record of what might have been. Either way, if you're curious to know what the Hollywood brain trust has cooked this time (at least as far as a draft dated May 13, 2011), here's a taste from the website Scriptshadow:

Houdini starts out like you think any biopic would start out. We get one of those oft-used cross-cuts between the present (Houdini trying to salvage a buried-alive trick gone wrong) and the past (Houdini as a child stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family). I figured I was in for one long biopic retread. 
But then things get weird. President Woodrow Wilson calls Houdini and tells him that his 28 year-old daughter, Margaret, has been kidnapped by someone in France. Wilson believes Houdini’s unique talents make him the perfect agent to go and retrieve his daughter. 
Looking for a new challenge, Houdini teams up with Wilson’s stuffy lackey, Andrew Day, and the two seahorse their way to La Francoise. Once there, Houdini calls upon old friend (and rival) Chung Ling Soo, a famous magician who’s been known to publicly roast Houdini. But no worries, it’s all for show, as is Chung himself, who’s actually, under all the make-up, a white American!

If you want to read on, then check out the full review at Scriptshadow HERE. The site also has a review of a 2003 script called The Book of Magic that teams Houdini and H.P. Lovecraft.

Related:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Peepolykus blend Houdini and Dracula on the BBC

The UK comedy troupe Peepolykus have created a radio play that mixes Houdini and the story of Dracula. This is part of their ongoing "A Trespasser's Guide to the Classics" and can be heard at BBC Radio 4 for the next 28 days.

In 19th-century Whitby, a magician prepares to compete with Harry Houdini at a major international Magic Convention. When a ship carrying a cargo of fifty coffins runs aground on the town's beach, he suspects Houdini of pulling a huge publicity stunt. 
In this second series, the comedy troupe Peepolykus assume the roles of minor characters in great works of fiction and derail the plot of the book through their hapless buffoonery.

A Trespasser's Guide to the Classics, Series 2, The Neck is written by John Nicholson and Richard Katz and directed by Sasha Yevtushenko.

Related:

Friday, March 10, 2017

Tony Curtis channels the young Houdini

From the collection of the mighty Arthur Moses comes this rarely seen publicity photo of Tony Curtis in Houdini (1953). As you can see, they've taken pains to recreate the famous photo of the young Houdini with his magic props.


I've always thought the opening scene in Houdini, in which Harry meets Bess (Janet Leigh) at a Dime Museum, was an homage to this early image. Now we have proof that this photo -- sometimes mistakenly credited as Houdini's first professional photo -- was part of the filmmakers reference materials.


Thanks Arthur.

Related:

    Thursday, March 9, 2017

    American Pinball will premiere 'Houdini' in Texas

    American Pinball will premiere their new "Houdini Master of Mystery" pinball machine at the Texas Pinball Festival, March 24-26. This is a completely new design from what was shown in Las Vegas and Chicago last year.

    You can learn more about American Pinball at their Facebook and official website. "Houdini Master of Mystery" is their first game.

    Related:

    "The lean make me feel like Houdini"

    Along with politicians, rappers seem irresistibly drawn to Houdini's name and imagery. The latest is this "collab" by rappers Lil Purpp and Madeintyo.

    Produced by Gnealz & Bighead, “Houdini” is a heavy drug-referenced record that finds the two rapping about their love for the lean, “the lean make me feel like Houdini,” the chorus repeats.

    I had to look up with "Lean" was here. Sounds idiotic. But the song is decent. You can listen to it at hnhh.

    Related:

    Wednesday, March 8, 2017

    LINK: Thoughts and Feelings of a Head Cut Off


    Joe Notaro has uncovered evidence of an unpublished work of Houdini fiction called "Thoughts and Feelings of a Head Cut Off." The existence of the story is recalled by Muriel Eddy, the wife of C.M. Eddy, who collaborated with both Houdini and H.P. Lovecraft. The story involves the notion that the brain remains active for several moments after decapitation.

    Decapitation appears to have fascinated Houdini. In a scrapbook he kept a photograph of beheaded Chinese pirates given to him in Australia (it can be seen in Houdini: A Mind in Chains). As a boy, his first encounter with magic was reportedly seeing Dr. Lynn dismember (and restore) a volunteer from the audience. Houdini later purchased Lynn's equipment and performed the effect, called Palingenesia, in his full evening show (above).

    Click the headline to have a read at Joe Notaro's Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence.

    Related:

    Tuesday, March 7, 2017

    Cynthia von Buhler bonds with Houdini

    Artist Cynthia von Buhler is working on a Houdini-themed graphic novel with a slightly risqué take for Hard Case Crime. Cynthia shared sample pages on her Twitter @CynthVonBuhler (click the images to see full size).


    You can see more of Cynthia's work at her official website.

    Related:

    The Illusionist's Apprentice

    The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron is a new novel with a clever Houdini twist. The book is released today by Thomas Nelson.

    Harry Houdini’s one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own. 
    Boston, 1926. Jenny “Wren” Lockhart is a bold eccentric—even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman’s dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions. 
    In the months following Houdini’s death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini’s ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he’s known as one of her teacher’s greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton’s defender. 
    Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren’s carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her. Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age’s bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist’s Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life’s stage.

    Purchase The Illusionist's Apprentice from Amazon.com. It will be released in the UK on April 6 (nice choice) and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.co.uk.

    Monday, March 6, 2017

    Henry Muller dies at 86

    Tom Interval at Houdini Museum reports that Henry Muller, who co-founded the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada, died on February 28 in Hamilton, Ontario. He was 86 years old. The Funeral was held on March 2 at the Adas Israel Synagogue in Hamilton.

    Henry was a regular at the Official Houdini Seances and appeared in several Houdini documentaries. He was good friends with the late Sidney Radner whose Houdini collection, including the original Water Torture Cell, was housed at the museum.

    Henry ran the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame from 1968 to 1995 when the museum was destroyed in a fire. Despite initial reports of a total loss, many of the items survived and were sold to private collectors. According to the family, Henry held onto "a number of items of Houdiniana" that were recently discovered in a closet.

    You can read Henry's obituary at Tom Interval's Houdini Museum.

    Related:

    Sunday, March 5, 2017

    Houdini arrives in Providence

    Here's a nice ad from the Providence Journal dated March 4, 1917, announcing Houdini's appearance 100 years ago this week. This was shared on Twitter by @ThisDayInWWI.


    While in Providence, Houdini did a suspended straitjacket escape from the Brownell Building at Exchange Place, a stunt that appears to be referenced here in the illustration.

    Related:

    Friday, March 3, 2017

    Houdini in 1901


    When England's Queen Victoria died on January 22, 1901, the 26-year-old Houdini was performing his second record breaking engagement at the Alhambra Theater in London. The Queen's death brought an end to the 64 year "Victorian Era" that had transformed England into a great empire. If Houdini had any reaction to this historic moment, it has gone unrecorded by biographers. But he did buy a dress said to have been designed for the Queen before her death. He thought it would look good on his mother.

    Houdini enjoyed England. He told a reporter, "If I had my choice, I should prefer to be native of this country. The people here are very kind to me." Typically he and Bess stayed at a boarding house on 10 Kepple Street, a hub for magicians such as Howard Thurston, T. Nelson Downs and William Robinson (aka Chung Ling Soo). But at some point they moved into a flat at 84 Bedford Court in fashionable Bloomsbury. Houdini was also establishing important relationships in the UK, such as with magic publisher Will Goldston. (Whether or not he was also learning spy craft from Superintendent Melville of Scotland Yard is open for debate.)

    After his Alhambra engagement, Houdini played one week at the "People's Palace" in Bradford. In general, Houdini disliked playing the English provinces because he found the trains difficult and unreliable. But he made an exception for Bradford which would be a regular part of his UK tours. So popular were Houdini's performances that standing room sold for 10 shillings and seats were sold on the stage. Even then, Houdini noted, "hundreds were turned away."

    Growing annoyed by the increasing amount of imitators, Houdini now threw down a $5000 Challenge ($175,000 today) to anyone who could duplicate his escapes "under test conditions." Considering one of those conditions was be to have ones mouth "sewed shut," it may not come as a surprise that his challenge had no takers.

    In February Houdini traveled back to Germany where he had been a sensation the summer before. He opened at the Crystal Palast in Leipzig before moving on to the Apollo Theater in Dusseldorf. As with England, Houdini spoke highly of Germany, calling it "the greatest country in the world for performers" and the cooking "second to none." However, he disliked their policy of mandatory military conscription. "I would never live in a country where your right is not your own," said the man who on many levels embodied the idea of freedom.

    While playing the Frankfurt Orpheum on Main, Houdini received word from his mother in New York. With money he had sent, she had booked passage for Hamburg. Cecilia Weiss arrived in April while Houdini was appearing at the Hansa Theater. The theater was sold out on her first night in town, so Houdini arranged to have an extra seat installed for her in a box. (Kellock says Houdini refused to take the stage until a seat could be arranged.)

    After completing his month long engagement at the Hansa, Houdini and his mother traveled to Budapest. Here Houdini threw a lavish reception with relatives at the Palm Garden salon of the Royal Hotel with his mother dressed in the gown that had been made for Queen Victoria. For Houdini it was the culmination of the deathbed promise made to his father to always look after his mother. After "two ecstatically happy days", they had to rush back to Germany so Cecilia could catch her ship back to New York and Houdini could open at the Colosseum in Essen Ruhr.

    It was in Essen Ruhr that Krupp Steel Works, Germany's leading munitions manufacture, challenged Houdini to escape from a special handcuff made by their machinists (he had declined their original challenge to solder him inside a cannon). The firm bought out the entire Colosseum for their employees on the night of the challenge, causing the public outside to "riot for tickets." The special cuff took 20 minutes to lock, and the bolt was screwed down so securely onto Houdini's wrists that it caused him excruciating pain. He freed himself in 30 minutes. He then repeated the feat the next day for the general public. But he wrote to a friend, "The Krupp man has maimed my right hand so that I am unable to work, and it will be a week or so before I can have a cuff locked on me."

    So popular was Houdini at the Colosseum that the front doors had to be removed and a side wall pulled down to accommodate the crowds. At the conclusion of his engagement, managers Schultz and Wolf presented him with a solid silver trophy bowl (below).


    In June Houdini was approached by the manager of the Corty-Althoff circus. The circus had lost its prize horses to disease and was facing bankruptcy. In a bid to save his business, the manager offered Houdini far more money than he would make performing in any theater. So for the first time since the Welsh Bros in 1898, Harry and Bess found themselves part of a traveling circus troop (but no doubling as the Wild Man this time). The tour lasted four weeks with shows in Dortmund, Bochum, Osnabruck, and Cologne. A highlight was when Houdini escaped from irons that had been worn by "the murderer Glowisky" while he was beheaded. The circus cleared more than 100,000 marks profit and was saved. The experience seemed to have been a positive one, for Houdini would make appearing with the Corty-Althoff a regular part of all his German tours.

    At this time, Houdini was still under contract to Martin Beck in America, although he had been acting as his own manager for more than a year and had no immediate plans to return to the U.S. In July he wrote to Beck and asked what it would cost to get out of his contract. The men agreed on the price of $500 ($13,447 today), which Houdini paid over several months. The break was amicable, and Beck would remain an important business associate and friend for the rest of Houdini's life.

    On July 25, 1901, an article by a German police officer name Werner Graff appeared in the Rheinische Zeitung. Graff claimed Houdini was a fraud and that the Handcuff King had attempted to bribe him. Houdini demanded a retraction. Graff refused and his article was picked up by more papers. Houdini had faced exposure articles before. He even created some himself for publicity (remember Professor Benzon?). But this one he found a serious threat to his reputation. He engaged a lawyer, Herr Rechtsantwalt Dr. Schreiber, and filed a libel suit against Graff. A court date was set for February the following year.

    Houdini appears to have taken a much needed break in August (at least his travels are unrecorded), but in September he reappears at Tichys in Prague, his only performance in that city, possibly because he admittedly "broke no records." He then played the Mellini Theater in Hanover, where on September 17 a challenge straitjacket escape took him over an hour and a half. In his pitchbook, Houdini credited the photo on the right as being the jacket that gave him so much trouble.

    October found Houdini at the Scala Theater in Copenhagen and the Saalbau Theater in Mannheim. In November he appeared at the Circus Carre in Bremen were he drew crowds so large that the police stepped in and stopped the sale of tickets.

    Paris

    Houdini would end his busy year performing for the first time in Paris, France. But all did not go smoothly. Originally booked to open at the Folies Bergère, on his arrival he learned that the owner had been "taken to the insane asylum" and the theater sold to the proprietors of the Olympia who offered him less money. Houdini held out and the managers eventually relented. So it was at the Olympia that Houdini opened on November 29 (with his named misspelled in the program). Legend has it that during their opening night performance, Bess forget her French during Metamorphosis. This was amusingly dramatized in The Great Houdinis (below).



    Another hitch was that French police refused to cooperate with any jail breaks (Houdini had wanted to break out of Devils Island). So instead Houdini arranged a different kind of outdoor stunt. He hired seven bald men sit along a crowded Parisian boulevard, occasionally doffing their hats and bowing their heads to reveal H-O-U-D-I-N-I painted on their scalps.

    Few challengers came forward at the Olympia, mainly because Parisians were still largely unfamiliar with handcuffs. At this time, the police still used chains to secure prisoners. Ironically, it was Houdini's card magic that wowed French audiences and even French magicians. In Paris, the King of Cards trumped the King of Handcuffs.

    Houdini's brother Theo, who had been performing successfully as "Hardeen" after Houdini set him up in business in November of the previous year, joined the Houdinis in Paris for the holidays. Dressed in their finery, the former "Brothers Houdini" posed for photographs at J Lavier studio at 19 Rue Drout on December 15.


    Renting a flat at 32 Rue Bellefond -- "a little home of our own" -- Harry, Bess and Dash rang in the New Year in Paris. It had been a year filled with triumph and success with Houdini firmly establishing himself as a European superstar. Little did he know that the year to come would be one of the most combative of his career.


    Special thanks to Ken Trombly for the use of his beautiful original cabinet photo of Harry and Bess from 1901.

    Related:

      Thursday, March 2, 2017

      Houdini found at the Winchester Mystery House

      Reader Gary Frank sends in this photo he recently took at the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. As you can see, they have hanging on the wall what appears to be an original Houdini lithograph, sometimes called the "Houdini for President" poster.

      According to Gary, this poster was originally on display in their wax museum back in the 1950's - 1960's. It was recently discovered in storage and now hangs in the gift shop area that leads to the cafeteria. Last year one of these posters sold in auction for $12,000.

      Gary Frank finds Harry in San Jose.

      The Winchester Mystery House is one of the best examples of Spiritualism run amok. The owner, Sarah Winchester, heiress of the Winchester rifle fortune, was told by her spirit guides that if she kept adding to her house she wouldn't die. The result is a sprawling 160 room maze-like mansion with stairways that lead into ceilings and doorways that go nowhere.

      Houdini visited the house after Sarah's death in 1922 (looks like the spirits gave her bad advice). An original newspaper article in which Houdini mentions his visit is on display in the museum. While the article is from 1924, it's likely Houdini visited in 1923 when he was on tour in the bay area.

      I've always thought the Winchester Mystery House would be an ideal spot for an Official Houdini Seance. And with Harry now there to watch over the proceedings, even more so!

      Thank you Gary. Check out his work at Propelled Pasteboards.

      Related:

      Wednesday, March 1, 2017

      Houdini hangs in Vancouver

      While our friends at the blog Canada's Magic continue their week long look back at Houdini in Vancouver (today's Part 5 is a must read), the Twitter for the Vancouver Archives has also gotten into the act. I don't believe I've ever seen this image, so I thought it worth the share. You can click the link for the full version.


      UPDATE: Today's post at Canada's Magic contains more coverage and photos from this escape, including a pic of what the location looks like today. Have a read HERE.

      Related:

      Translate

      Receive updates via email