Saturday, September 21, 2019

Houdini no Junior

Here's an interesting news item from the Los Angeles Times dated March 11, 1922. Houdini's upset here might be two-fold, as I will explain below.

Obviously Houdini was right in pointing out this mistake. But there might have been a bit more to it. Junior Orpheum's were a step down from the circuit's main vaudeville theaters. They played three shows a day and a movie. When Houdini played the Orpheum circuit, he played the main houses that presented two shows and kept movies in check. So it's likely Houdini's real sensitivity here was that this made it look like he was slipping down the vaudeville food chain.

Ironically, the following year, Houdini would play at least two engagements at Junior Orpheum Theaters. The first was the Golden Gate Theater in San Fransisco (still standing), and the second the Hillstreet Theater in Los Angeles (advert right). Both these engagements came a week after his run at the main Orpheum houses in each city. But with his movie businesses draining his funds, Houdini admitted his 1923 vaudeville tour was done because he needed the money.

It should be noted that during both these engagements Houdini was able to present his spiritualism lecture during special matinees. So maybe that was worked into his contact to sweetened the deal and convince Houdini to go Junior after all.


Friday, September 20, 2019

Houdini and I return to "Ticket to the Twenties"

I'm very excited to once again be speaking at the Homestead Museum's Ticket to the Twenties festival in City of Industry. Last year I gave talks on Houdini and Spiritualism in the 1920s. This year I will be talking about the strange friendship of Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. My talks are at 2:30pm and 4:30pm on Saturday, October 5 (same talk twice). The outdoor festival is free and a lot of fun. Hope to see you there!

The Workman & Temple Family Homestead Museum is located at 15415 East Don Julian Road in City of Industry, CA. For full details visit the official website or Facebook.


Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles 3: Metamorphosis

The third and concluding book in Marty Chan's The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles, Metamorphosis, has been released by Fitzhenry and Whiteside. Here's a description:

The conclusion to the Ehrich Weisz Chronicles trilogy! 
In this third and final book of the Ehrich Weisz Chronicles, Ehrich must make good on his promise to his brother Dash that they will return to their home dimension from their current location in the alternate New York, where immigrants are not just from different lands -- but from different dimensions. When an attack by the Dimensionals kills passengers and crew of the airship Oriental Clipper, Demon Watch Commissioner Thomas Edison promises to electrocute 54 Dimensionals unless Ehrich and his friends can stop him, while thwarting warlord Ba Tian's planned invasion of New York.

Purchase The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Metamorphosis at There you can also buy the first two books, Demon Gate and Infinity Coil.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Katie Bender's "Instructions for a Seance" in Austin

Theater artist and playwright Katie Bender will present a Houdini-inspired one-woman show, Instructions for a Seance, at the Museum of Human Achievement in Austin, Texas, September 19-29.

The show is described as: "Part DIY seance, part historical drag, Instructions for a Seance is one woman’s attempt to contact Houdini from beyond the grave."

In an interview at Sightlines, Bender says she was inspired by the Houdini material she discovered at the Harry Ransom Center while a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin.

"When I discovered the Houdini archives I was juggling graduate school and parenting, the expectation of familial stability and my desire to live a sort of wayward art monster existence. I’d have these long fantasies about running away to Mexico. So in the dumbest, most obvious of ways, the images of Houdini struggling against a straight jacket strung up above a crowd resonated. I was drawn to the metaphor of escape he embodied."

For tickets and more information visit CTX Live Theater.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Aberdeen is wild about Harry

Aberdeen, Scotland, appears to have gone wild for Houdini and his 1909 performance in the city. The latest is this segment on STV News at Six. What I especially like is they visit the grave of John Anderson, "the Wizard of the North", still very recognizable from the famous image of Houdini at the grave in 1909.

Thanks to Ben Philip for the alert. Check out Ben's article: How the great Harry Houdini escaped death in Aberdeen.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Houdini joins the 'Boston Metaphysical Society'

Houdini appears as a character in the second issue of Boston Metaphysical Society by Madeleine Holly-Rosing with art by Emily Hu. The book was released on August 28.

This second issue in the 6-issue mini-series continues the story of Samuel Hunter, Caitlin, O'Sullivan and Granville Woods as they battle supernatural forces in late 1800s Boston. Harry Houdini brings Hunter to a secret group of some of the greatest minds of the century, where they are studying the supernatural entity known as "The Shifter". But elsewhere, something is murdering people in the streets! Can the Boston Metaphysical Society stop the slaughter?

Thanks to Arthur Moses for the alert.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

LINK: The complete account of Houdini's visit to Salem, Massachusetts

The website for Black Cat Tours in Salem, Massachusetts, has a very well researched post by co-owner Lara Fury about Houdini's appearance in that city in 1906. Lara has uncovered details about his escape from the Front Street jail (right), as well as an untold story about his visit to the "Peabody Academy of Science" (a precursor to the Peabody Essex Museum) and a controversy over a pair of mislabeled handcuffs.

This is great stuff, so click the headline and have a read at Black Cat Tours.


Friday, September 13, 2019

What do Houdini, surfing, and Robert Kennedy have in common?

The above photo of Houdini has appeared in many books, but the details of this escape have for years been a mystery. The photo has been alternately misdated as 1922 and misidentified as San Fransisco. While I was able to identify the location a few years ago, I've now finally nailed down the exact date and full details behind this famous image. So here we go!

This is Houdini on Saturday, April 28, 1923, at the swimming pool at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Houdini was taking part in a special event marking the opening of the pool (or "plunge", as pools where often called then) for the summer season. Houdini had performed at the hotel as part of an "impromptu three-ring circus" Fundraiser for the National Vaudeville Association the previous Tuesday (April 24). Perhaps that's when the idea for Houdini to take part in this event was born? For further context, this took place the day after he gave his lecture on spiritualism--one of his very first--at the Hillstreet Theater.

On the program with Houdini were an assortment of swimmers and divers, as well as "comedy diving" by actor and comedian Sammy Cohen. Another celebrity of note was Duke Kahanamoku, a famous Hawaiian swimming champion who today is celebrated as the man who introduced surfing to the U.S. and especially Southern California (there's a well known restaurant in Malibu called Dukes). Who knew we'd find a connection to Houdini and surfing?

Below are two articles from the Los Angeles Examiner and Evening Express. One announces Houdini's involvement and the other the participation of Duke. Each provides nice details of the day's planned events. Curiously, the Duke article omits Houdini from the program, which is a shame as it would have shown us exactly when he did his escape.

Click to enlarge.

The event came off as planned, as reported later that same day in the Express.

Below is an original photo I purchased on eBay a few years ago that was taken at this April 28th event. Unfortunately, it does not include Houdini (Kevin Connolly got that one), but I think I see Jim Collins back there.

Several press photos of Houdini where taken that day and syndicated via World Wide Photo. One is the famous shot of him at the top of this post. Another showed him going head first into the pool (below). There's also a rarely seen shot of Houdini surfacing holding the ball and chain (see Patrick Culliton's Houdini The Key page 135). It's worth noting that this was probably the last outdoor stunt Houdini ever performed in Los Angeles. It's also the last public outdoor underwater escape that I'm aware of.

The location of this escape is a famous one. The Ambassador Hotel open January 1, 1921, and was located at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard. The hotel was the sight of six Academy Award ceremonies and also housed the famous Coconut Grove nightclub, which was the hot spot during the Golden Age of Hollywood. The Ambassador was also where on June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated after winning the California presidential primary and giving a speech in the ballroom.

Below is a postcard from 1956 showing the pool and diving board, which appears to be much the same as it was in Houdini's day.

With the decline of the hotel and surrounding area, the Ambassador was closed in 1986. It stood empty for many years as the city, preservationists, and private developers fought over the property. At one time Donald Trump wanted to build the worlds tallest building on the site. Eventually the city won out and the hotel was demolished in 2006. Today the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools stands on the location of Houdini's 1923 pool escape.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

LINK: Houdini solves a Charlie Chaplin mystery!

John Bengtson of the fantastic Silent Locations blog (and books) has a great post today about how my recent post about Houdini's 1915 straitjacket escape from the Los Angeles Express building helped him solve a Charlie Chaplin location mystery. As always, his research is meticulous and a joy to read, so I encourage you to click the headline link and go!

Below are links to John's amazing work uncovering several locations from The Grim Game. And speaking of Houdini in Los Angeles, tomorrow I'm planning to share another recent discovery from the microfilm archives of the Los Angeles Public Library.


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Staged reading of Houdini The Musical in Orlando

A staged reading of a new Houdini musical will be held at The Abbey (aka The MEZZ) in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday, September 17 at 8pm. Admission is free.

As part pf the New Musical Discovery Series, Florida Theatrical Association presents HOUDINI: THE MUSICAL, a musical storytelling of the life and career rise of the famed magician Harry Houdini. 
Music & Lyrics by Michael Martin
Book by Brian Bazala and Karen Shriner 

This is not to be confused with the recently announced Houdini musical The Impossible Man, nor Tom Frueh's musical to be performed in New York next month. Harry's gotta sing!

For more details visit The Abbey.


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Doctor Who: Harry Houdini's War

Houdini and The Doctor are once again in action in a new audio drama by Big Finish Productions, Harry Houdini's War. This is the conclusion of a trilogy of adventures featuring the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker). Harry Houdini's War is written by Steve Lyons and features John Schwab as Houdini.

The world is at war, and Harry Houdini wants to fight for his adoptive country. He might get the chance, when an old friend crashes his New York show. 
The Doctor is on the trail of a Central Powers spy ring, which has somehow acquired unearthly technology. But he is also keeping a dangerous secret… 
Finding himself on the run behind enemy lines, the world’s greatest escape artist has to work out who he can trust – and fast.

Doctor Who: Harry Houdini's War will be released this month and can be purchased at Big Finish.


Monday, September 9, 2019

Mystifier, Second Quarter 1999

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

A tonal change came with the Second Quarter 1999 Mystifier, evidenced in the main article, "Houdini Accepts the Challenge," by new curator Kimberly Louagie. For those accustomed to their quarterly Mystifier delivering a deep dive into Houdini history or illuminating some new bit of Houdini minutia, it was a bit startling to read:

Harry Houdini challenged the world to produce a pair of handcuffs that could hold him prisoner. He later extended that challenge to all types of restraints.

The article continues in this very general vein for four of the newsletter's six pages. While it's well-written and researched, it's clear Louagie is writing for a reader without pre-knowledge of Houdini. Maybe this was because Louagie herself was new to the subject. Or maybe it was a deliberate attempt to reach out beyond the base to a more general audience. But I can remember being a bit perplexed by this piece.

Louagie's article is followed by a list of thanks to those who donated in a recent HHC fund raising campaign (talk about the base). There's a photo of the famous 1911 head and shoulders lithograph, part of the Boldt collection, being newly hung in the HHC stairwell. Among the New Members is Dr. Bruce Averbook.

In "Backstage with Sid Radner", Sid again talks about seeing the Houdini musical at the Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire, Illinois. He compliments actor Bernie Yvon who played Houdini in the production. Sid then gives a shout out to Dr. Morris Young's new book, Radio Music Live, 1920-1950. While having nothing to do with Houdini, Young was a well known Houdini aficionado and a member of the HHC board.

Sid then announces that the Official Houdini Seance that year will be held in London, traveling outside of the U.S. for the first time. He also reports that Butterfield and Butterfield in Los Angeles will be holding a major auction "featuring a large number of Houdini items." These turned out to be items from the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame that had survived the fire in 1995.

Volume 9, Number 2
Second Quarter, 1999
6 pages

Houdini Accepts the Challenge
New Members
New Poster Hung at HHC
Summer Magic Series
Backstage with Sid Radner



Sunday, September 8, 2019

Hardeen meets Copperfield

A historic meeting took place on Thursday as George Hardeen, grandson of Theo, met David Copperfield and toured his remarkable International Museum of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas. George shared a few images on his Instagram.

Also in the party was George's daughter Shonie, Allan and Becki Taylor, daughter of escapist David De-Val, and Lee Terbosic, who is prepping a special Houdini-themed show for his Pittsburgh magic theater. More on that soon.


Friday, September 6, 2019

Houdini's Salt Lake City sequel

After Houdini's eventful engagement in Los Angeles in 1915, he traveled to Salt Lake City where he opened on December 20 at the Orpheum Theater as their "Christmas Week" attraction. As had been the case in L.A. (and Oakland before that), Hardeen played the competing Pantages Theater.

In Los Angeles, Houdini performed a spectacular suspended straitjacket escape from the offices of the Express-Tribune. The escape was filmed -- likely the first time a suspended jacket escape of his had ever been recorded. That footage would be part of his Salt Lake engagement, as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune on December 19, 1915:

Houdini had featured film of his outdoor escapes as a warm-up for his act since 1907 (beginning with his Rochester bridge jump). During this 1915 tour he was also showing his 1909 short, The Marvelous Adventures of Houdini in Paris, which must have seen a bit dated in a year that saw the release of A Birth of a Nation. But the film of his Los Angeles escape proved to be a hit, and it wasn't long before the citizens of Salt Lake demanded their own test of Houdini's hang time. Houdini accepted the challenge, as reported by the Salt Lake Telegram on December 21:

Houdini, the man of mystery now playing the Orpheum, has accepted a challenge made by the Salt Lake people and will attempt to repeat the feat which he performed in Los Angeles last week that of freeing himself from a straitjacket while suspended by his ankles in midair. The Walker Bank building has been selected as the place for the performance, and he will be assisted in arranging his tackle for the work by a picked squad of the Salt Lake fire department, under the direction if Chief W.H. Bywater.

I like to think of this Salt Lake City escape as a "sequel" to his Los Angeles stunt. Like most sequels, it couldn't claim the same originality, but it did have its precursor beat in one important regard; the choice of location.

Opened in 1912, the Walker Bank building at 175 South Main Street stood 16 stories and was as the tallest building between Chicago and San Francisco at the time. So this was not going to be missed by any citizen of Salt Lake. And just to ensure this would be an attention getter, Houdini once again enlisted the local Fire Department to be on the scene with their hook and ladder truck.

The escape took place on Wednesday, December 22, 1915. On hand was "a solid mass of humanity" that stretched for a more that a half block north and south of the building. Before the stunt, two firemen, Robert Larson and Frank Spanton, repelled down the rope that dangled from the top of the building. Houdini was then strapped into his straitjacket by detectives Bert Seager and Harlow Lyon. He was then hoisted to the fourth floor. As he was being raised Houdini is reported to have said, "Goodbye inspector. My conscience is clear. Don't tell them anything." (I admit I don't get it.)

It took Houdini three minutes to escape. He was then lowered into a fireman's safety net that had been spread out below him. The next day The Herald-Republican ran a nice photo of the stunt.

Houdini finished out his engagement with a challenge from the Local 184 Carpenters and Joiners Union to escape from packing case built on stage. His next stop was Denver where, yes, he once again did a suspended straitjacket escape.

Happily, the site of Houdini's Salt Lake City escape survives. Today it is know as the Walker Center. The ground floor exterior has been modified, so the features one sees in the newspaper photos are no longer there. But comparing it to the postcards of the period, it's clear Houdini did his escape above the front of the entrance on Main Street (Google Mapped below). I don't know if the current management (VGM) are aware of their building's role in Houdini history, but maybe they are now!


Thursday, September 5, 2019

Get your Houdini erotica here

It was just a matter of time until we got some Houdini erotica, and it looks like that time is today! Time Travellers Erotica: Harry Houdini by Laney Samson is available for Kindle and runs 11 steamy pages. No, I've not read it, but Amazon offers up a taste:

It is a personal policy of mine that I do not sleep with anyone that much younger than me. It’s a weird loophole when you start time travelling to have sex with a famous magician before he’s famous. Am I nine years older than this man? He dies at the age of fifty-two almost a century ago. (My time.)  
I think it’s fine.  
That’s how I ended up here, in the back seat of this ‘car’, with nineteen year old Harry Houdini’s hands up my shirt. I was a little afraid that vaudeville would include more make up. I draw the line at f***ing a clown in a car. Or actually… I don’t know. That sounds sort of fun. Maybe I shouldn’t draw so many lines.

You can purchase Time Travellers Erotica: Harry Houdini on Enjoy the trip.



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