Tuesday, June 19, 2018

To Gladys from brothers Leopold and Nathan

Fifteen years ago Bill Bremer, a postcard collector in Texas, unearthed a cache of 36 postcards sent to Houdini's sister, Carrie Gladys Weiss. All this week I am sharing select cards from this remarkable collection. [Read the full story of Bill's find here.]

Today we have a two postcards sent to Carrie Gladys from her brothers Leopold and Nathan Weiss. The first card from Leo was sent from the White Mountains in New Hampshire and is postmarked Sept. 1, 1912. Leo addresses it to Gladys at 278, where she and Leo were living at the time. As you can see, "Doc" enjoyed his nature hikes.


This next card from Nathan is the only correspondence I've ever seen from him. It's sent from Jacksonville, Illinois, and postmarked April 8, 1914. This one is addressed to Gladys at 250 West 54th St. in New York. This appears to have been her workplace, Zieglers Magazine, a monthly periodical written in Braille for the blind. (The E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation still exists today). Not sure what the reference to Nesselrode Pudding is all about. I suspect Gladys was a fan!


Tomorrow I'll share postcards to Gladys from the "Monarch of Manacles" himself...

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Gladys Weiss postcard collection turns up in Texas

Recently Bill Bremer, a postcard collector from Texas, contacted me with a remarkable story. Years ago Bill unearthed a collection of 36 postcards sent to Houdini's sister, Carrie Gladys Weiss, from various members of the Houdini family (but none from Harry himself). This is the kind of story that makes collectors drool, so I'll let Bill tell it himself:

With time to kill and my wife Pat at work on a Saturday afternoon about 15 years ago, I drove to an antique mall outside of town to do a little shopping.
This is the card that caught my eye while wandering the aisles. What drew my attention was the Jefferson Theatre return address. For many years my grandfather managed vaudeville at the Majestic Theatre, so I naturally felt some affinity to vaudeville performers.
While thumbing through the cards I saw one with the name “Houdini” as addressee. I thought to myself, “Yeah, right. Houdini.” and skeptically tossed it aside. The cards didn’t seem especially interesting to me but I bought a few anyway. On the drive home I began to think about the “Houdini” name and decided to check on it when I got home. This was the era after the internet but before smartphones.

At home, perhaps using Goggle, but more likely Alta Vista, I quickly discovered that Weiss was Houdini’s real name and that Gladys was his sister. Soon after this discovery, Pat (who shares my love of postcards) returned home from work. Turning to her, I said, “We have to leave NOW! There is a POSTCARD EMERGENCY! We drove back to the mall, went through every card in that booth, buying all we could find from the set. The result was the 36-card set I’ve had for the past 15 years.
Before this event, I never had a particular interest in Houdini. Since then, I’ve learned much more about him and his family but remain primarily a general postcard collector, Houdini collecting being a bit beyond our budget. In spite of this, we continue to search for more random Houdini cards, but, so far, without success.

Bill has sent me a dozen postcard images with permission to share them here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. These have never been shown before, and some of the content is pretty interesting. So ALL THIS WEEK I will devote the blog to these remarkable cards. I think you will enjoy them.

Thank you Bill for the story and the cards.

UPDATE: Our great friend Tom Interval believes the sender of this card, "Beaty Moreland", is likely vaudeville actress Beatrice Moreland (1877-1958). Houdini mentions her on p. 256 of A Magician Among the Spirits. She and Houdini also played at Fairmount Park (Kansas City, Missouri) on the same day in 1899. Moreland got top billing.

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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Haldane of the Secret Service in Wilton, June 24

Houdini's Haldane of the Secret Service will screen at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, New Hampshire, next Sunday, June 24 at 4:30 p.m. The movie will include live music by Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.


Made in 1921 and released in 1923, Haldane of the Secret Service was the final movie produced for the Houdini Picture Corporation. It was unavailable to the public until a print surfaced in Los Angeles in 2007.

For more information vist the Wilton Town Hall Theatre website.

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Early Houdini playbill produces $2880 at auction

An 1896 playbill clipping for the Marco Magic Company in Halifax, Nova Scotia, sold today at Potter & Potter's The Magic Collection of David Baldwin II auction for $2880 (including 20% buyers premium).

The young Houdini and Bess were members of this ill-fated magic troupe. The program shows "Twenty Minutes with Mysterious Harry Houdini" and also lists Houdini as the Stage Director. "Mlle Marco, Psychometric Artist, Clairvoyant and Exponent of Mental Occultism", who gets second billing below Marco himself, is actually Bess.

[The full story of the Houdinis Maritime misadventure appears in the excellent 2012 book, The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, by Bruce MacNab.]

It's pretty uncommon to see original items from so early in Houdini's career at auction, and even rarer to see something from the Marco show, so this was a nice get for someone. At one point this had belonged to Bess's sister, Marie Hinson.

The auction also featured several original stills from The Man From Beyond, some stamped "H.P.C." on the back (for Houdini Picture Corporation). Each sold for between $400-$750.

I had my eye on two letters; one from Hardeen to Houdini written on Film Developing Corp. stationary, and the other written by Edward Saint on "Madame Houdini Speaks" stationary (this was the working title for Religious Racketeers). Both had magnificent content and fetched $570 and $360 respectively.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

See inside the 'Summer of Magic' exhibition in NYC

This AP video gives great look inside the New-York Historical Society's Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection exhibition. You'll see many of the Houdini rarities on display, including the Mirror Handcuffs and a one-of-a-kind Overboard Box poster, which I believe is being exhibited for the first time ever.



For more information on the exhibition and the many related special events -- including my own appearance on July 13 -- visit the New-York Historical Society's website. The exhibit runs through Sept. 16, 2018.

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New-York Historical Society's Summer of Magic begins TODAY


The New-York Historical Society's exhibition Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection begins today. Among the many magic rarities on displays are several Houdini items, including his original Milk Can, Metamorphosis trunk, straitjacket, Bess's stage coat, and the Mirror Handcuffs (the first time the cuffs have been shown publicly in some 20 years). The exhibition runs through Sept. 16, 2018.

The museum is planning a full program of magic and Houdini related events, kicking off tomorrow with a special one-on-one interview with David Copperfield. Here are the details:

An Evening with David Copperfield
Bernard and Irene Schwartz Distinguished Speakers Series
David Copperfield, Mark Pocan (moderator)
Sat, June 16th, 2018 | 7:00 pm
$38 (Members $24) 
Magic has the power to inspire, amaze, and make the impossible a reality. How did sleight of hand and grand illusion evolve into one of the most fascinating and intricate performance arts in history? In an illuminating conversation with Mark Pocan, world-renowned magician David Copperfield uncovers the history of magic from its origins, including well-known figures such as Georges Méliès and Harry Houdini. Purchase tickets here.

For more information on the exhibition and all the summer programs -- including my own appearance on July 13 -- visit the New-York Historical Society's website.


UPDATE: The David Copperfield event is now SOLD OUT.

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Houdini and the Five Cent Circus released in UK

Today sees the release of Houdini and the Five Cent Circus by Keith Gray, a fictionalized Houdini adventure aimed at young readers. The cover has a bit of a Harry Potter vibe. I'm thinking that's not a coincidence.

The year is 1885 and Erik Weisz, a penniless immigrant, has found himself in trouble again. His uncanny talent for picking locks and his gleeful showboating to match it, have earned him very few friends and a bad reputation. But this is just the beginning of his story and Erik is destined for a far more magical future. Watch as he transforms before your very eyes into the greatest showman the world has ever seen...

You can purchase Houdini and the Five Cent Circus at Amazon.co.uk.

Click here to read a special guest blog by author Keith Gray about how he became a Houdini fan.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Mystifier, Third Quarter 1993

Continuing my look back at Mystifier, the quarterly newsletter of the Houdini Historical Center that ran from 1991-2003.


The Third Quarter 1993 Mystifier opens with a letter by Randall Bassett, author of Zen Karate (the previous issue contained an excerpt from the book), offering insightful speculation about Houdini's need to remain physically fit and his training regiment. It's a good letter and his observations seem spot on. For example:

From what I can gather, strength and endurance were critical to most of his spectacular effects. Early on, Houdini grasped that what audiences wanted to see was a struggle--a severe test of sorts in which he would emerge victorious or...die. Anything that looked easy or was not dangerous seemed to lack dramatic impact. I further believe that Houdini felt the best way to convince the audience of the veracity of his struggle was to make it a real one whenever he could do this and not give away the secret of an illusion. But this required, I believe, his certainty that his body could keep up with his mind. It always did.

Next up is a real treat and what in 1993 was a true game changer. It's an interview with Dorothy Young (referred to here as Dorthy Young Kiamie) who toured with the Houdini show in 1925. The interview is by Ken Silverman, who was working on his own Houdini biography as this time. Much of what the interview contains we are now familiar with, but there's a paragraph in which Dorothy mentions Bess and her smoking that feels new:

I never thought of Mrs. H. as being older. We were just pals. I had breakfast with her and spent my days with her, laughing and kidding. We'd buy clothes together; she liked clothing and was always charmingly dressed. She made all my costumes, too, using gorgeous materials and making the costumes very sexy. I remember that she smoked a lot. (Houdini didn't at all.) The doctor told her to stop, that she would live ten years longer. She said she'd rather enjoy the ten years smoking.

The interview is accompanied by the "Radio Girl" photo, which was also new to the Houdini world at this time. I wasn't yet a subscriber, but I can only imagine how exciting it must have been to receive this one in the mail.

Members of the Houdini Historical Center staff and board members are then introduced with a short biography of each. Readers are also informed that the museum's new poster reprints, Coliseum, Houdini in Kaiser Wilhelm's Court, Houdini in Russia, and Houdini in the Water Torture Cell are "hot off the press" and ready to ship.

Sid Radner devotes a large section of his "Backstage with Sidney Radner" column to a 1930 horoscope of Houdini that appeared in the book Your Future, A Guide to Modern Astrology by Sidney K. Bennett aka "Wynn." Sid wryly points out:

Considering that Wynn did not known when or where Houdini was born, missing the date by 13 days and the location by a few thousand miles, it is quite remarkable how accurate the horoscope is. Or can we attribute Wynn's skills to the fact that he was doing the horoscope after Houdini's death?

Sid continues with the news that the daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful has a storyline in which two characters move into Houdini's house...in Beverly Hills? He notes that the new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Last Action Hero has "an important Houdini connection." He concludes with the news that the BBC is in Appleton shooting a Houdini documentary to be broadcast in England in October.

Mystifier
Volume 3, Number 3
Third Quarter, 1993
6 pages

Contents:
Master of Physical Conditioning
Recollections of Houdini
Introducing HHC Staff, Board Members
Order Houdini Posters from Museum Shop
Backstage with Sid Radner

Thanks to Jay Hunter for supplying me with a scan of this issue. If anyone is willing to part with an original, this is one of only two issues that I do not own, and I'd love to complete my set.

PREVIOUS ISSUE | INDEX | NEXT ISSUE

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Houdini-Opoly price goes up July 1st

If you haven't yet purchased the new Houdini-Opoly game, you'll want to do so before July 1st. That's when the price of the remaining games will increase to $50 plus $15 shipping. Currently the games are available for $35 plus $15 shipping from the Official Houdini-Opoly website.

Only 1000 games have been produced. Once those are gone, the collectors market takes over!

Houdini-Opoly has received uniform praise since its release last month, including the stamp of approval from the Houdini family:

WOW! What a fantastic job you did on the Houdini-Opoly game. It's gorgeous. We love it. The research and effort you put into this project is much appreciated by the entire Houdini family. Everything you included in the game is top notch and high quality. The photos are all clear, detailed and beautiful. Houdini-Opoly players will learn alot of information about Houdini's life just by playing the game. You produced a great tribute to the life of Houdini. I am sure Houdini and Bess would be pleased and proud of your efforts. Much appreciation and thanks!
Jeff & Debbie Blood
Grand Nephew of Houdini

Houdini-Opoly was created by Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA. You can find more information and buy the game at their Houdini-Opoly website.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Houdini plays the Palace...in 1983

On May 22, 1983, ABC broadcast Parade of Stars. The two-hour special benefited the Actors Fund and featured an assortment of Broadway and television stars recreating famous vaudeville acts at the Palace Theater in New York. Of course, Houdini played the Palace many times, and he was represented not only in the show, but also on the advertising key art below (top left).


Houdini was portrayed by Alan Alan, the English escape artist who died in 2014. Alan did his signature upside down chain escape from a burning rope. According to a user on IMDb, Alan's act was cut down from 13 minutes to six minutes to eliminate the comedic elements and make it a more straightforward Houdini escape.

Other celebrities who portrayed Palace stars of the past were: Debbie Allen as Josephine Baker, David Cassidy as George M. Cohan, Gregory Hines as Bill Robinson, Ann Jillian as Mae West, Rich Little as Jack Benny, Dorothy Loudon as Fanny Brice, Jeanne Moreau as Sarah Bernhardt, James Whitmore as Will Rogers, and Shelly Winters as Sophie Tucker.

You can read a New York Times review of the show HERE. You can also view a short clip on YouTube.

For fun, here's a photo of the Palace with the real Houdini headlining (also notice the real Fanny Brice on the bill).


Thanks to Mark Willoughby for sharing the art and bringing this one to my attention. 

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Monday, June 11, 2018

New evidence of Houdini's earliest film appearance UPDATE: Not Houdini after all

At the moment, the earliest surviving film footage of Houdini is his Rochester bridge jump in 1907. There is also evidence of a lost film, Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt, shown in Boston in 1906. But recently I found evidence of Houdini film footage that pre-dates both those by several years.

This clipping from The Record Argus is about a Lyman H. Howe "moving pictures" exhibition in Warren, Pennsylvania on March 13, 1900. Among the descriptions of what was shown that night is a mention of "Houdini's magic pictures."


What's intriguing is this pre-dates Houdini's trip to Europe and his break out fame, so this would be film footage of Houdini before he was widely known to the public. This precludes the possibility that "Houdini's magic" is being used here in a general sense as one might see today. This is well before the Houdini name became a magic brand. So "Houdini" here can almost only mean the real person.

Lyman H. Howe had a long career making and exhibiting early motion pictures. Unable to secure an Edison patent, he developed his own projection system, the animotiscope, which included a second take up reel that became standard on all projectors. Howe lived and worked in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, which suggests his Houdini footage could have been made while Harry and Bess were touring with the Welsh Bros. Circus. This would make the footage from 1898, which is even more mind-blowing!

So what happened to Howe's film collection? Might there be footage of a very young Houdini out there somewhere? Just another master mystery.

UPDATE: So it looks like I blew it and was taken in by a typo. Bill Mullins has uncovered a clipping from the March 3, 1900 Warren Evening Democrat that gives more details on Howe's films, and the magician being referenced here is Robert-Houdin, not Houdini, which I really should have considered. It sounds like it might even be a Georges Méliès film. Here's the full article:


Thank you Bill.

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Guest Blog: From Erik to Houdini

Today I have a very special Guest Blog from Keith Gray, author of Houdini and the Five Cent Circus due for release this Friday (June 15) from Barrington Stoke. Keith shares the story of how he became a "Houdini obsessive." Enjoy.

My older brother introduced me to Harry Houdini on a wet English summer’s day sometime in the mid-1980s. We were trapped inside while it poured down outside and I guess I was being a pain because I was bored. John felt the need to entertain me. I was 7, maybe 8, so John would have been 12ish. We didn’t play together as often as we used to and we’d drift apart even more once John became a teenager and therefore cool by default. But on this day we were having fun in each other’s company leaping around our shared bedroom, bellowing and guffawing, playing one of our brilliantly weird storytelling mash-ups of heroes and villains. At least, having fun until I got fed up with being the bad guy all the time. I wanted to be Batman for once. Why was John always King Arthur, Luke Skywalker, Spiderman, Steve Austin? To stop me moaning he said I could be Harry Houdini. And I asked: ‘Who?’ 
I was soon obsessed. 
In hindsight I think one of the things that appealed to me so much was the fact that Houdini was real. Really real. A real-life person. There were photos! Most of mine and John’s play-heroes were made-up, fictional, possibly mythical. But Houdini had been a honest-to-goodness living legend. He’s been called ‘America’s first superhero’. But he didn’t get to be super because he was accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider or was bestowed a multi-million dollar inheritance or even born of magical parents. He got his amazing powers because he strived so damn hard to achieve them. And to a working class kid from the North of England that mattered. A lot. 
And I suppose, in the beginning, I followed the usual path of most Houdini obsessives. I received rope burns, dislocated shoulders and even a cracked rib thanks to my terrible but enthusiastic imitations. Luckily card tricks are less dangerous and even now I can still fool my 6 year-old daughter with a couple of them. 
Down the years my desperation to be a magician faded but not my interest in Houdini. My desperation to write took over. But it’s been said before that novelists and conjurers share a little bit of DNA. We’re both hoping our audiences can suspend their disbelief long enough for us to entertain them. Fiction should also be an intricately constructed illusion. 
With ‘Houdini and the Five-Cent Circus’ I’m not trying to tell the true story - definitely not attempting a biography, there are plenty of them already. I’ve taken a handful of reported incidents from Houdini’s childhood, and shuffled them up, before dealing them out into what I hope is an original and entertaining narrative. I hope the truth that shines through is just how imaginative and ambitious Erik was. And how driven he needed to be before he could become Harry. Destiny didn’t happen to him. He chased it down. 
Barrington Stoke are a publisher who specialize in nurturing new and struggling readers. I’ve written this book with the intention of introducing young people to the fascinating immigrant boy Erik who refused to be restrained and grew up to conquer the world. But I’d also like to reveal the wonderful escapism of books and reading too. 
For now I’ll be sending a copy of the book to my big brother, as a thank you. And when she’s old enough, I’ll read it with my daughter. She has her own heroes she likes to play and pretend to be but there’s always room for one more hero in the world. And especially for one who’s self-made.

You can read the first chapter of Houdini and the Five Cent Circus at the Barrington Stoke website. It can be purchased at Amazon.co.uk.

Thank you Keith.

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

'Monsters Among Us' scares up Houdini

Monsters Among Us is a fair-to-middling horror documentary series from 2015 that's currently streaming free on Amazon Prime. I've been using it as a way to wind down from my day. Last night as I was falling asleep to episode 4, "The Spirit World", my eyes suddenly shot open at the mention of Houdini!


It's just a short segment that makes the usual (not technically correct) connection between Houdini's mother's death and his crusade against fraudulent spirit mediums, with actors playing Harry and Bess. According to IMDb, the episode first aired on USA on October 6, 2015.

You can stream or buy Monsters Among Us episode 4 "The Spirit World" on Amazon. The Houdini segment hits at 00:42:45.

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Friday, June 8, 2018

New 278 owners committed to preserving Houdini history

Last month came news that Houdini's New York brownstone had sold. This is the first time the house has changed hands in 27 years. Fred Thomas, the previous owner, had converted the house to apartments, adding some walls and closing off spaces. But as we discovered at last year's open house, many of the original details and woodwork survived, especially on the parlor level. It was still recognizably Houdini's 278.

Over the past year, Houdini fans everywhere held their collective breaths. Who would buy the house and what would they do with it? One fear was that it would sell to a developer who might gut it and complete its transformation into an apartment building. As the house did not have any historic protection, it could have even been leveled in favor of modern construction. This would have not only been a crime against Houdini history, but to New York history as well.

Well, the good news is the new owners (a family) are thrilled to have Houdini's house, and are committed to preserving all the history that remains. They will even restore some of what's been lost. They tell me:

"It’s very important to us historic elements are preserved and to clean throughout but update only in areas where Fred already modernized."

To achieve this, they are bringing in an architect and a contractor. Already they've uncovered some of the original flooring. They've also discovered, stored in the cellar, the original doorway into Houdini's parlor level library. That will be restored. The white paint on the tin ceilings will be removed. The modern spiral staircase in the parlor hallway will be covered over, restoring the original floor-plan. They've also found some original sinks stored in the basement that will be refurbished.

But maybe their most mysterious discovery so far is a large brass skeleton key which does not seem to fit any door. Should we try this on the Water Torture Cell or Double Fold chest? Paging David Copperfield!

The family, who are fast becoming Houdini fans themselves, are also hoping to confirm or debunk some of the myths about the house. Was there really a secret passageway to the cafe on the corner? Do the walls contain hidden spaces to conceal assistants? Does any wiring from Houdini's famous "bugging" system remain?

As for any ghosts, well, the wife is a cancer immunology researcher and she says, "The only supernatural forces I believe in is the magic of the immune system making cancer disappear."

The house will remain private so the firm Do Not Disturb policy that we all respected when Fred owned the house remains in effect. The owners say this is "simply for the safety and privacy of our family, not any disrespect for the community."

So we can all breath a sigh of relief that 278 now has caring and committed owners, and the Houdini history contained within those walls is as safe as the days when Houdini himself walked the hallways.

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Harry Houdini, Superheros de la Magie

A new book, Harry Houdini, Superheros de la Magie by Philippe Beau & Axelle Corty, has been released in France. The book runs 48 pages and is aimed at young readers. It can be purchased at Amazon.fr and Amazon.co.uk.

Below are more original French language Houdini books for young people.

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