Saturday, December 4, 2021

All business

Here's a portrait photo of Houdini you don't see too often. There is a more famous photo taken during this same session that shows Houdini smiling. But here he is all business. This comes from the January 1927 Spanish movie magazine, Cine-Mundial.


While most associate these photos with Houdini's Hollywood days and date them as 1919, I recently found this image used in a 1918 movie magazine. So it appears these were taken in New York and mark some of the first portraits taken of Houdini with his cut and dyed hair and without his mourning suit (yes, I still believe my theory). 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Cypress Lakes High School presents The Last Illusion

The theater department of Cypress Lakes High School in Katy, Texas, is putting on the popular Houdini play, The Last Illusion. The students debuted the show last night. There are three performances left on December 3 and 4. Break a leg, kids!

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Overshadowed shines on Hardeen

Overshadowed is a comedy podcast that looks at "the siblings of people who changed the world." Guess who's the subject of Episode 5?

NYC comics Zach Russell and Charles Engle talk about Houdini's thick-dicked brother, Theo, try to start a viral conspiracy about Charles' foot, and debate whether Houdini was the Chris Angel "Mindfreak" of the 1900's. 
Click to listen on PodBean or YouTube

Below are links to a few topics the guys riff on.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Title card for Houdini's Merveilleux Exploits (1909)

Recently while scanning through some video tapes from the Manny Weltman collection, I spotted this image. The quality is poor and it only lasted a few frames, but it still knocked me out! That's because this appears to be the original title card for Houdini's 1909 film The Marvelous Exploits of Houdini in Paris. I've never seen this among any of the surviving fragments of that film. I love that it features the Statue of Liberty.


Houdini made Marvelous Exploits for Cinema Lux in Paris in 1909. This was his first foray into narrative film and it shows Houdini in his prime. With the discovery of this title card, I can now say with confidence that the complete film does exist; but in disassembled fragments of varying quality. Still, a restoration is possible.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Purchase David Muller's 'Growing Up With Houdini'

The book Growing Up With Houdini, David Muller's wonderful remembrance of his family and the creation of the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame, can now be purchased directly from the official website growingupwithhoudini.com. There you can also see some incredible pics, such as the below photo of Sidney Radner and Walter B. Gibson with a familiar Houdini prop.


Growing Up With Houdini tells the story of how the Muller family fled the Nazis and their native Slovakia to settle in Niagara Falls, Canada. There Henry Muller created the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in 1968. The book contains many rare photographs and documents that have never been shared before. David also reveals a wild early connection between the museum and Doug Henning.


Purchase Growing Up With Houdini at growingupwithhoudini.com.

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Houdini Picture Corporation's last stand

Here's an interesting trade advertisement that is as much an ad for the Houdini Picture(s) Corporation as it is for its latest (and last) production, Haldane of the Secrets Service


It fascinating to see Houdini promoting his film company at this particular time. The company had been formed in February 1921 with a $500,000 capitalization and a plan to produce four movies a year. But by November 1923, when this ad appeared in Moving Picture World, the HPC had only made two films and had vacated its offices in the Candler Building on 42nd Street and was now located inside Houdini's home.

Perhaps after making his distribution deal with Film Booking Offices of America, Houdini thought there might be life in his film business after all. This ad certainly seems to point to a new future. Notice how it says that "Houdini Productions" (plural) are distributed by FBO. Also remember this post about Houdini planning a film version of Miracle Mongers and Their Methods.

However, Haldane of the Secret Service would be the only Houdini Picture distributed by FBO (which would be folded into the new RKO in 1928), and this marked the last stand for the Houdini Picture Corporation. The HPC remained one of Houdini's several dormant companies until his death. In December 1936 the state of New York dissolved the corporation for failing to pay its franchise taxes.

Interestingly, the Houdini Picture Corporation did live again. In 1996 Geno Munari of Houdini's Magic Shop and collector Sid Radner revived the company name with plans to produced magic instructional videos. I'm not sure where the company stands today, but I love the logo!

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Magic Detective Podcast: The Houdini Wonder Show

Dean Carnegie devoted his annual Houdini-Halloween episode of The Magic Detective Podcast to The Houdini Wonder Show. Dean has done groundbreaking research on these magic units that traveled with Houdini's The Man From Beyond. If you've never heard of the Wonder Show, click below and have a listen:

Ep. 71: The Houdini Wonder Show

Related:

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Houdini by Huck

Dean Huck is an artist from Las Vegas who specializes in photorealistic artwork in colored pencil. Dean is a magic buff and has done several works featuring contemporary magicians such as Shimada and Penn & Teller. Of course, he's also essayed Houdini. Three of those works you can see below.


For more Houdini images and to see Dean's other works check out the website ArtWanted.com.

Related:

Friday, November 26, 2021

Where's Harry?

Ok, here's today's obsession. The below image is an enlarged detail from a terrific unpublished photo in the Kevin Connolly Collection. This banner at laid across a large Houdini poster. I'm pretty certain this is advertising a spiritualism lecture on March 15, 1924. But the question is where?

It appears the answer may be in the two words above the word "AUDITORIUM." Can anyone make this out? I think the second word might be "Beach"? Know that Houdini was in Atlanta on March 13 and he's in Florida on March 17. So this would fall somewhere between those geographically (and could very well be Florida).

Click to enlarge.

There is one other clue. This same photo also shows a poster for opera singer Amelita Galli-Curci appearing at this same "Auditorium" on March 19, 1924. So if we can't find Houdini on the 15th, maybe we can find Galli-Curci in the 19th? I've actually been able to locate her in Charleston on March 21. So, again, we clearly seem to be somewhere in this region.

Let's find Harry!

UPDATE: There's a fast consensus forming around this reading "Daytona Beach". And there are some facts that help support this. The original Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach was a venue used by the Lyceum circuit which booked Houdini's lecture tour. I've also confirmed that Amelita Galli-Curci appeared there in March 1926. Until we know for sure, I'm not going to close myself off to other possibilities. But this is exciting as it would be the first confirmed appearance of Houdini in Florida.

The Auditorium in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Thanks to David Charvet, Joe Fox, and Narinder Chadda.

UPDATE 2: Chris Berry over at Kevin Connolly's Conjuring History Facebook Group has confirmed Daytona Beach! He uncovered an ad for Amelita Galli-Curci's appearance in the Orlando Sentential. Thank you, Chris, for helping us find Houdini in Florida.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Houdini's last Thanksgiving

Here we are back in Providence! In November 1925 Houdini brought his "3 Shows in One" to the Providence Opera House. It was Thanksgiving week and the ad below shows that he gave a special matinee performance on Thanksgiving Day. He also performed a one hour show for inmates at the State Prison. This was Houdini's last Thanksgiving.

Providence Journal, Nov. 27, 1925

Thanks to Lanham Bundy of the Providence Public Library for uncovering the article about Houdini's prison performance. The Opera House advert is from a collection of clippings that sold on eBay back in 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

LINK: Anniversary of Houdini’s visit to Garnett noted as moment of change for famous performer

Here's a well-research article by our friend Don Creekmore about The Houdinis 1897 appearance in Garnett, Kansas. Don is writing a book about Houdini in Kansas due for release in 2023, so this offers a nice taste of what's to come. Click the headline to have a read at The Anderson County Review.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Manny and Me

In the summer of 1980 a local newspaper, The Valley News, ran a story about me headlined, "Teen Obsessed With Houdini." It was pretty exciting to see my picture in the newspaper and I enjoyed my fifteen minutes of fame at age 15. But that article did something more. It led to my meeting Manny Weltman and entering a larger world of Houdini fanatics from which I've never emerged. I've never done a post about my first Manny meeting. But I recently had an experience that brought it all back for me. So I think it's time to tell the story.

It was shortly after my newspaper article appeared that I received a message to visit the office at my Junior High School. I went thinking I was in some kind of trouble. But it turned out that a man had called the school and asked if he could get a message to me. He left his name (written down incorrectly as Wellman) and a phone number. And to prove he was legit, he said his name could be found in the acknowledgments of the recently published Doug Henning book about Houdini.

I brought the message home to my parents. My mother was always leery of strangers, especially after my newfound notoriety, but my dad was always up for an adventure, so we called this mysterious Manny Weltman.

Manny explained that he had seen the article in the newspaper and I reminded him of himself. He said he had large collection of Houdini memorabilia that he showed no one. But if we were interested, he would be willing to show me. He gave us his address in nearby Van Nuys and we made a plan to visit.

The day was June 8, 1980. My memory of that day is spotty, but what I can recall I recall vividly. It was a small house on a large plot of land -- a type of home that had been common in the San Fernando Valley, but even then were beginning to vanish into tightly packed suburbs. As we arrived I immediately noticed a car out front with a license plate that read HUDINI. Good start!


Manny invited us inside and there we met his wife Nanette. I instantly spotted an original Houdini King of Cards poster hanging on the wall of his dining room. It was my first time seeing an original and I was surprised to see the colors were not as vibrant as the Lee Jacobs reproduction handing on my bedroom wall at home. But this one was framed and it was real! My education had begun.

We sat around the dining room table and Manny, who was very friendly, again stressed that he never showed his collection to anyone. He also said the bulk of it was "in storage," but he had a lot there to show us. Even then I was pretty sure his only "storage" was the back bedroom where he would periodically disappear and come out with a fresh box filled with Houdiniana.

His collection was not organized as far as I could tell. Everything was held in cardboard boxes that we dug through. But there were treasures to be found, such as an original invitation to the Final Houdini Seance. At one point Manny gave me a reproduction photograph which I still have today. But the real show stopper was when he brought out Houdini's diary. This was the famous 1916 diary that had somehow escaped the Ernst archive and wound up with Manny. We paged through it and read several passages, including the famous passage in which Houdini reflects on the death of his father. Needless to say, this was an incredible thing to be able to see, and to this day it remains one of the most precious Houdini artifacts I've ever held in my own hands. And at age 15!

Nanette served us lunch and Manny explained that his other great passion was opera. He wrote a newsletter on the subject. He was also very excited to share that he had uncovered proof that Houdini was not the first man to fly in Australia and he would soon publish this information. I privately wondered why Manny would be excited to prove Houdini didn't do something. Ultimately he never did publish the story.

We then settled into the living room where Manny had a projector and screen setup. Manny was a go-to source for Houdini film footage at this time, and this was a big part of his collection. He began running film for us. I wish I could better recall all that I saw that day, but I know I was overwhelmed. I'm pretty sure I saw The Grim Game plane crash (likely this was the "Desperate Chances" short). But what I remember most was the sound footage of Bess Houdini from Religious Racketeers. I had no idea such a thing existed and to hear Bess speak really knocked my socks off!

Now, my dad was (and is) a shrewd businessman, and he sensed there was an ulterior motive here -- that Manny might be interested in selling us some items from his collection. So he asked Manny about this. In my Houdini-fueled brain I didn't believe a collector would ever part with anything. A collection was sacred. But to my astonishment, Manny was open to the idea. However, he said he could never sell any items piecemeal; it would need to be the entire collection as one. Manny and my dad agreed to keep talking.

So began my decades long comradeship with Manny Weltman. He became my first mentor in the Houdini world. He would frequently call to share a new Houdini find. I'll never forget the day he called excited to tell me he had just acquired a recording of Houdini's voice. He played it for me over the telephone and that was the first time I ever heard Houdini's voice. In 1986 Manny helped organize the 50th Anniversary reenactment of the Final Houdini Seance and he made sure I was invited.

As far as buying the collection.... It was an on and off negotiation for years. One problem was we never really knew all that he had. Even as a kid I wondered why I hadn't seen bookcases packed with Houdini books in their original dust jackets, etc. In fact, I never saw any books! But there was no question there was great value in some to the rarities he did have, and at one point my dad offered him $30,000. But Manny felt the collection was worth "millions." My dad confessed he suspected Manny never intended to sell. But he never gave up and Manny would frequently call and ask if there was still interest. We never made that deal. But I still got a lot from my friendship with Manny Weltman.

I lost touch with Manny in the 1990s when Houdini took a back seat to my first jobs in the entertainment industry. I was saddened to learn of his passing in May 1994. His son, actor Leo Weltman, inherited the collection, and much of it was sold at a Swann auction on Halloween 2002 (the auction catalog cover featured his King of Cards poster). The diary sold to my friend and new mentor, Dr. Bruce Averbook.

Leo Weltman passed away last year. (Please visit The Leo Weltman Project website.) And that brings me to why Manny has been much on my mind lately.

Last July I was invited back to that same Van Nuys house to help sort some remaining Houdini items that hadn't sold in the Swann auction. It was quite an experience to return after 31 years. I was amazed that the house hadn't changed. Except now it was my car in the driveway with the HOUDINI license plate.

Inside was the same dining room table where I had paged through Houdini's diary. There were also still the cardboard boxes filled with Houdiniana. For my efforts I was able to buy a few items, including Manny's mockup of the Houdini Shrine used at the 1986 seance and a small cache of photos that I have been sharing over the past few months. (Several high-end rarities discovered that day will appear in an upcoming Potter & Potter auction.)

Before I left I was able to see that phantom back bedroom. There in a box I found a lone flyer for Manny's Houdini lecture (shared at the top of this post). It struck me that this is the same type of lecture I now give. I understand now that Manny was not really a collector of Houdini memorabilia. He was a collector of Houdini information. A seeker of the truth about Houdini. So Manny was right. We really are similar. In that moment I once again felt special and selected. I'll never forget that day nor the generosity of Manny Weltman.

Monday, November 22, 2021

LINK: Ex-Library Houdini Book: Connection to the Past

With all the Halloween happenings, I somehow missed this wonderful post by Tom Interval at Interval Magic. If you did as well, click the headline and have a read. I think we can all relate to this one!

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Scandinavian tour that wasn't


Here's an interesting item from the New York Clipper that provides new insight into Houdini's ill-fated Scandinavian tour of 1913. It also challenges conventional wisdom about exactly where Houdini was when his tour came to its sudden end. But we'll get to that.

New York Clipper, July 12, 1913

Of course, most of what was announced did not happen. That's because on July 17 Houdini's mother died and he immediately returned to New York (breaking his contract which had consequences as you'll read below). The three month Scandinavian tour was canceled and so too much of the tour of France. Houdini did honor his commitment to the Moss circuit in the UK the following year. Notice the mention of an "entire two hour show." I can only assume this is his Grand Magical Revue. It's interesting to see it was planned this early.

What's strange is the mention of Houdini playing Stockholm, Sweden, on July 16-18. Biographers have all put Houdini in Copenhagen when he received the news of his mother's death on July 17. That ain't Sweden!

It's possible plans changed or the paper got it wrong. But the below article from the New York Evening World announcing Houdini return to New York also says he was "called from Sweden." By the way, the "double" who was arrested was Jim Collins.

New York Evening World, July 29, 1913

Despite this, the evidence for Copenhagen is strong. Milbourne Christopher in Houdini The Untold Story has many details that confirms the location, including the fact that Princes Aage and Axel of the Danish Royal Family attended Houdini's show.


In 1990 Danish magician and collector Johan Ahlberg visited the Royal Library archives and uncovered newspaper accounts that confirmed Houdini's 1913 appearance in Denmark. Houdini opened on July 16 at the Cirkus Building in central Copenhagen. He was scheduled to give a special matinee the following day, July 17, but moments before the show he received the news of his mother's death and collapsed.

The Cirkus Building still stands today. So it was in the building that Houdini began and ended his 1913 Scandinavian tour, and received the worst news of his life.


Related:

Friday, November 19, 2021

The Linking Ring is Wild about Tom Interval

Here's some great news from our friend Tom Interval of Interval Magic. I'll let his tweet speak for itself:


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