Thursday, November 14, 2019

Mysterious Houdini footage now mysteriously gone

At the beginning of this year, thirty remarkable minutes of largely unseen Houdini footage appeared on a YouTube channel run by someone called "Sleight of Direction". The clip was titled "Various TV Magic Clips from the US - 1970s to before." The video description didn't even mention Houdini, and when I asked about this, I received an odd reply to my comment:

"Yeah, I noticed that when the video was first uploaded. But the majority of my viewers are exclusive fans of sawings/slicings/zig zags/twister/compressors/selbits illusions, so didn't think it'll be of any interest. However, it's good to know fans of other illusions exist."

It now appears this channel and video are gone. I can't say I'm surprised. There was something strange about this user, and I'm wondering if any of this footage was ever theirs to share. (I continue to think these clips may have somehow come from the late Bill McIlhany's collection.)

While the quality was poor, the footage was amazing! (I've detailed it in the original post.) I did save the footage and can upload it to my own YouTube channel and re-link it. But I don't want to step on any toes. So I'm not sure what to do at the moment.

If anyone knows the story behind this, please email me. Thanks.


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Once Upon A Time in Laurel Canyon

I really enjoyed the new Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. Not only because I'm a Tarantino fan, but it depicts a bygone Hollywood that I clearly remember. And now friends have alerted me to a Houdini connection to the film. If you buy the exclusive LP soundtrack, it includes a map of 1969 Hollywood. And if you look closely on that map, you'll see the "Houdini Mansion" among the historic Manson-era haunts.

This is a reference to what is today the restored and privately owned Houdini Estate, a popular site for weddings and film shoots. But back in the 1960s and '70s it was a burnt-out abandoned ruin that everyone called the "Houdini Mansion". This was a haven for hippies and all kinds of characters to flop, including one man who called himself Robin Hood and would shoot arrows at people. And, of course, it was said to be haunted!

The remains of the house and gardens with overgrown stairways and stone arches where open and visible to motorists driving through Laurel Canyon, so the "Houdini Mansion" was a well-known and somewhat mysterious Los Angeles landmark. No surprise to see it on this map as part of the Hollywood Tarantino so lovingly recreated in his movie. [For the truth of Houdini's connection to the property check out my related links.]

No, this photo isn't from the movie, and that's not Brad Pitt! This is me in 1977 at the "Houdini Mansion" showing off a freshly pilfered brick. And look at that cool Magic Castle t-shirt.

The Once Upon A Time in Hollywood exclusive soundtrack LP is available in independent record stores and in a limited quality on

Thanks to fellow Tarantino fans Matt Bradford and Michael Curran for this one.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

LINK: Harry Houdini made history right here in Kansas City

The Martin City Telegraph has a very well researched article by Diane Euston about Houdini's history in Kansas City. KC was important stop on Houdini's tour, and has the distinction of being the first city to witnesses his suspended straitjacket escape on September 8, 1915. The article includes what's credited as a photo of that very escape (right). Diane also recounts a 1907 underwater escape at the Kansas City Athletic Club that's entirely new to me!

So click the headline and have a read at the Martin City Telegraph.


Monday, November 11, 2019

In 1919 Houdini was tied to a cannon for veterans (twice)

In England in 1911 Houdini accepted a challenge in which he was tied to the mouth of a cannon with a lit fuse. While no photos of this escape have ever surfaced, the cannon challenge is iconic enough to have been depicted in two Houdini biopics. Most biographies record this as being the only time Houdini ever did this stunt. But I recently discovered that he repeated the cannon challenge in Los Angeles in 1919...twice!

The first occurred on April 26, 1919, just a few days after Houdini arrived in the city to begin work on The Grim Game. Houdini was part of a troupe of Famous Players-Lasky artists who gave a charity performance at the "Victory ship" in downtown's Pershing Square. This was part of a nationwide effort to raise funds for The Victory Liberty Loan, a drive to help returning soldiers from World War I. Below is an ad for the campaign.

This ad is pretty wild and emblematic of the drive. The Liberty Loan was an aggressive campaign that was not above shaming people into donating. Newspapers actually printed the names of wealthy or prominent citizens who had not contributed as "Liberty Loan Slackers" (a "slacker" was a draft dodger). But this particular ad is notable on that it mentions the Lasky Stars and advertises Houdini's escape:

Below are details of the upcoming escape as reported in the Los Angeles Herald on April 25, 1919:

What exactly was the Victory ship? Try as I might, I could not find any photos of it. But from a later newspaper account about its dismantling, I'm assuming it was a temporary stage set up in Pershing Square made to resemble a battleship perhaps?

A few weeks later, the Lasky stars were back at the Victory ship, including Houdini's future Terror Island co-star Lila Lee. Houdini repeated his cannon challenge, as reported in the May 10, 1919 Los Angeles Herald:

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any photos or news accounts of how either challenge played out. Presumably he made it! But many stars performed at the Victory ship, including Charlie Chaplin, and I could find no account of what they did either. I believe it would have been considered bad form to use a charity event to promote oneself. This was about veterans, and even Houdini was restrained. But that leaves us to only guess what this escape looked like.

At the top of this post is an illustration of Houdini tied to a cannon which is the only depiction of the challenge I've ever seen. (This comes from The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Walter B. Gibson.) The illustration appears to be based on the 1911 escape, which is well described. But this could also have been how he was restrained in 1919. Unless...

Below is a photo of Houdini tied to the wheel of a cannon. Could this have been taken at the Victory ship? This is Houdini in 1919, and the cannon he is roped to is clearly a piece of World War I ordinance. While this isn't how the challenge was advertised, the cannon may have been too large for him to be tied to the mouth, so maybe this is how he actually did the escape? Or this photo was taken after the fact. The edifice behind him does appear to be some sort of temporary structure which could be the Victory ship.

When I first uncovered these two challenges, I had hoped to do what I did for his 1915 suspended straitjacket and his 1923 Ambassador Pool escape. But I came up short in my research. So I'm offering up what I have in the hopes it will unlock more info. But at least we now know that it happened. Houdini was tied to a cannon in Los Angeles' Pershing Square in 1919...twice!

Site of Houdini's escape today.

Honoring all who have served on this Veterans Day.

UPDATE: Turns out an account of this escape (one of them, at least) appears in The Grim Game pressbook:

Thanks to Joe Notaro.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Mystifier, First Quarter 2000

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

The Mystifier enters the 21st century with an excellent article by curator Kimberly Louagie highlighting items from the Tom Boldt collection. Specifically featured are reports written by Rose Mackenberg for Houdini about her visits to bogus mediums. One such report is reproduced in full. Unlike Louagie's previous Mystifier efforts which seemed aimed at the layperson, there's a lot here for the hardcore Houdini buff.

The newsletter continues with news of new posters at the museum shop created by BVK/MacDonald. Among the listing of new members is Jim Bentley. We then get a real treat; a reproduction of an article by Tom Richard's about Dong Henning's visit to Appleton in 1986. Doug and Debby Henning performed Metamorphosis in Houdini Plaza.

In "Backstage" Sid Radner reports on the success of the HHC website, which clocked 18,165 visitors in the first three months of the new year. He shares news of recent interviews held at the HHC for the History Channel and Discovery. He then reports on the upcoming Houdini Museum adjacent to Houdini's Magic Shop at at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. "Plan are running a little behind schedule, but I am hoping for a May opening," says Sid.

Sid then continues the saga of Donald Fergason, who despite a court order continued to represent himself as Houdini family member and again found himself before a judge. "All very interesting and I will keep you posted with any further developments on the case," says Sid. [I believe I encountered this character still working his con at the Houdini Walk of Fame Star ceremony in 2008.]

The newsletter closes with a photo of curator Kimberly Louagie standing with Houdini's full body punishment suit, a gift to the HHC from Sid Radner.

Volume 10, Number 1
First Quarter, 2000
6 pages

The Boldt Collection
New Members
Museum Shop News
Doug Henning's Appleton Visit
Backstage with Sid Radner



Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Phantom Files: Houdini's Curse

Buried in all the Halloween action this year was the release of this bit of Houdini fiction, The Phantom Files: Houdini's Curse by William B. Wolfe.

The Greatest Escape Artist of All Time is Trapped. 
And he thinks I have the key... 
After our adventure with Mark Twain, I'd hoped Bones and I were out of the ghost hunting business for good. 
But a crafty magician has other plans. Houdini himself is stuck between worlds, and Bones can't wait to help him. 
When the mysterious Reaper666 is added to our crew and we come up against a powerful vengeful spirit, it's not just Houdini's afterlife on the line. 
We better have some fantastic tricks up our sleeves, or we're going to all end up imprisoned with Houdini. 
Or worse.

Purchase The Phantom Files: Houdini's Curse at and [Amazon links earn a commission and support Wild About Harry.]


Friday, November 8, 2019

The Fens - Xmas in November (Official Video)

Here's a video for "Xmas in November" by The Fens. What does this have to do with Houdini? Plenty, and it's pretty historic. But why don't you watch the video and see if you can figure it out for yourself. I will be back tomorrow to share the answer.

Formed in 2004 in Boston, The Fens is songwriting duo Roman Williams & Matt Nakoa with heavy-hitting rhythm section Jesse Magnuson (drums) & Jamila Weaver (bass). You can buy "Xmas in November" as a single on

UPDATE: As promised, here's the answer. This was shot inside Houdini's home in New York City (278). This is the first thing to ever be shot commercially inside the house to my knowledge. In the video you catch glimpses of the front parlor, back library (fireplace), and the foyer. In the image below pianist Matt Nakoa is sitting precisely where Houdini's took his famous ectoplasm photo. This also affords us our first real look at the beautiful restoration. Look at that floor!

By the way, yesterday after I put up this post, I clicked over to the video on YouTube to see if there had been a bump in views. Check out the number that greeted me:


Thursday, November 7, 2019

Houdini's Magicians Club portrait to be auctioned

An interesting piece of Houdini history is set to be sold in Haversat & Ewing Galleries latest magic auction November 8-9. I'll let the auction description speak for itself.

This fabulous framed portrait was given to Will Goldston by Harry Houdini for the London Magician's Club. The Magicians' Club of London was formed in 1911 by Harry Houdini, Will Goldston, Servais Le Roy along with other notable names in magic. 
On March 19, 1913 the gathering place for the organization was officially recognized with a large crowd and much pomp and circumstance. With the press at hand, the organization's president Harry Houdini formally declared the club as being officially open! The Clubroom is where the Houdini portrait was hung in 1913 and where it would remain for decades. The early photo of the room (below) clearly identifies the Houdini framed image on the right hand side of the wall. 
The Davenport Family acquired the famous portrait when they purchased Will Goldston's estate in 1949 and it has since been hanging at Davenport's Magic Shop. In original frame, does not contain glass. Portrait itself measures 26" x 19.5" - with frame 28.5" x22". This is a genuine and important piece of magic history, not to be missed. Est. $10,000-12,000

The auction includes several other nice Houdini lots from the Davenport Family/Will Goldston estate that can be viewed HERE.

UPDATE: Bidding topped out at $6,125.00, but the Reserve Price was not met.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Houdini's Day of the Dead on Catalina Island

We've had our share of Houdini seances, but a Houdini Day of the Dead alter? That's exactly what our friends at the Catalina Island Museum created to remember Houdini's visit to the island exactly 100 years ago this month to film Terror Island.

A proper Day of the Dead alter, known as altares de muertos or ofrenda, includes items to show the souls the way to their home. As you can see, the Houdini ofrenda includes photos from Terror Island, a bowl of Farmer's Chop Suey, a rock from "Houdini Point", and a piece of wood from his home in New York.

Maybe Houdini skipped the seances this year because he was in Catalina? He always meant to return...

Houdini, wizard of the stage and screen, was reported to have declared that Santa Catalina Island was the most ideal spot that he had ever come across, and that when he had finished his work before the footlights that he intended to come back to the island and build a magnificent home.
The Catalina Islander, 1936

The Catalina Island Museum now features a Houdini display as part of their permanent exhibition on Catalina history. Over the past few years they've also hosted several Houdini events and screenings. Seems to me the Catalina Island Museum has become the designated Houdini museum of the West Coast!

Thanks to Gail Fornasiere for these great photos.


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Bess appears on Halloween

Harry was once again a no show this Halloween. But it turns out Bess was the Houdini who made a reappearance! This photo of Bess ran as part of a Halloween article in The Telegraph ("No escape: Why people still try to contact Houdini from beyond the grave"). I've never seen this shot and it's a beauty. Look at that hat! And notice she's wearing her Royal Crown Brooch.

Another Halloween post at Forbes ("The Strange Connection Among Houdini, Halloween, And Women’s Liberation") included the below photo. While this is a familiar shot of Bess and Edward Saint at the 1936 Final Houdini Seance atop the Knickerbocker Hotel, I've never seen this pic un-cropped. Who knew William Larsen Sr. was lurking just outside of the frame (far right). And that may be Gerri Larsen beside him, I'm not quite sure. Also notice the "Houdini Shrine" on the left with doors closed.

If you don't know who William Larsen Sr. was, he was Bess's lawyer, the founder and editor of Genii magazine, and the father of Bill and Milt Larsen who founded The Magic Castle.


Monday, November 4, 2019

Harry Houdini's War is at peace with the facts

Big Finish has released their Doctor Who audio drama Harry Houdini's War on CD in the UK. This is the conclusion of a trilogy of adventures with the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and features Houdini played by John Schwab.

I thoroughly enjoyed this audio play, and while I don't think I'm versed enough in Doctor Who to compare it to other Who adventures, I can review its use of Houdini.

It's clear writer Steve Lyons and all involved have done their homework. Peppered throughout the production are snippets of authentic Houdini history, kicking off with the first lines of dialogue which are a recreation of Houdini's Water Torture Cell patter taken from his only known voice recording. John Schwab nicely imitates Houdini's super syllabic enunciation ("Lay-dees and gen-tell-men"). Thankfully, he doesn't keep this up or we would never get through this! Schwab's Houdini does feel deliberately contemporary (reminiscent of Michael Weston in Houdini & Doyle), but that works for the story and nicely highlights Harry as a man ahead of his time and a good fit with the Doctor.

The story opens with Houdini performing in New York City in September 1917, which is accurate (although he was only doing War benefits at this time). Houdini teaching doughboys how to escape German restraints gets a nod. His history and skills as an aviator comes into play in a major way. We also hear mention of his movie work, his handcuff escapes in Germany "a decade before", and after a Tardis time warping makes him a day older (or is he younger?), Houdini quips, "I'll have to change my birthday...again." Hey, we get that!

Also mentioned is Houdini being turned down as too old to enlist, although John Schwab sounds younger than Houdini's 43 years at this time. The Water Torture Cell gets a lot of attention. We even get to hear "Asleep in the Deep" during the performance. Okay, Houdini used "The Diver" for the Water Torture Cell and "Asleep in the Deep" for the Milk Can, but it's creative license and "Asleep in the Deep" works better. The fact that they used any authentic Houdini music gets a big thumbs up from me.

The CD also includes 10 minutes of interviews in which Houdini is discussed by the producer, director, and stars Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, and John Schwab.

I'm not generally a fan of Houdini fiction, but this is a case where it is all done right. They frame their fiction with facts instead of bending Houdini history to fit their story. It's a class act by Big Finish.

Alt cover with Colin Baker era DOCTOR WHO logo.

You can purchase Doctor Who: Harry Houdini's War audio CD at In the U.S. you can buy direct from Big Finish.

Thanks to Athena Stamos.


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Photos from The Official Houdini Seance 2019

The 2019 Official Houdini Seance was held at the Rapids Theater in Niagara Falls, New York. While Houdini was once again a no-show, it looked like another fine event in a great Houdini location. Below are some photos thanks to attendee Sean Doran.

The Official Houdini Seance is organized each year by Bill Radner and Tom Boldt.

Thank you Sean!

Official Houdini Seances past:

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Hidden Houdini in the "Cursed Temple"

Every year during Halloween week the Academy of Magical Arts decorates the Magic Castle with a special horror theme. (Some will remember that it was, eerily, "Inferno Week" when the famous fire occurred.) This year they turned the Castle into the "Cursed Temple". But leave it to the AMA to work a bit of magic into this. Can you find the hidden Houdini in the official poster art below?

I bet you found him. But if not, CLICK HERE.

This is actually not the first Houdini Indiana Jones connection. Would you believe Houdini taught Indy to fly? It's true.

Thanks to Mark Willoughby for the alert.


Friday, November 1, 2019

October 2019 in review

Here's a rundown of posts by category that appeared on WILD ABOUT HARRY in October.

Most Viewed Post
REVIEW: A Houdini book for everyone

Houdini History
Sir Arthur say what?
Theater owners review The Grim Game
A Grim Game super rarity drops from the clouds
Conan Doyle did not believe a punch killed Houdini
All this week: GHOST POSTS
The Ghost of Harry Houdini
The ghost Houdini couldn't explain
Was there a ghostly occurrence during the live 1987 Houdini seance?
Did Houdini see his mother's ghost?

French edition of Magical Rope Ties and Escapes
You can still get Houdini The Key by Patrick Culliton

The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini
Joe Posnanski's "Did I Mention" Houdini book tour
Joe Posnanski's new Houdini book is in THE house
WIN an early copy of The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini
And the WINNER is...
The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini Los Angeles launch events
Photos from The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini launch event
Houdini lives in Pasadena
Joe Posnanski and Joshua Jay in New York, Oct. 29

Lee Terbosic in The Life and Death of Harry Houdini
Houdini and Doyle return to the '20s
Jewish Museum Milwaukee screening The Master Mystery
Bill Martin brings Houdini to Roswell
Official Houdini Seance to be held in Niagara Falls
Have an ENCOUNTER with Houdini in Chattanooga
Halloween happenings at the Houdini Museum in Scranton

HOUDINI by Tom Frueh at Theatre Row, Oct. 28
The Last Act of Harry Houdini

The House of Houdini welcomes special visitors
Interview at Brookledge
The category is Magic & Illusion
Houdini portrait signed in German fetches $7,200

Mystifier File
Mystifier, Fourth Quarter 1999

LINK: When Houdini Came To Williamsport
LINK: Houdini on the Meaning of Flying Saucers

    Thursday, October 31, 2019

    Did Houdini see his mother's ghost?

    Here's a new story to conclude our special Halloween week of GHOST POSTS. I don't believe this is mentioned in any biography, and it's pretty wild. Did Houdini see his mother's ghost at the time of her death?

    The following comes from the 1932 book Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of a Strange Friendship by Bernard M.L. Ernst and Hereward Carrington.

    It is true that certain odd incidents occurred in his life, but these he was always inclined to "explain away" by that blessed word—coincidence! Thus, he narrated to the editors of this book how he saw a vivid apparition of his mother, the very night she died—he being in Germany at the time, and she in New York. (He was quite unaware of her illness.) This he acknowledged as really happening, but he put it down to coincidence—quite ignoring the fact that "coincidences" of the type had long since been mathematically proved far too numerous to account for in this manner.

    Bernard Ernst was Houdini lawyer and close confidant and can be considered a trusted source. (Carrington less so.) So if Ernst says Houdini said this, then Houdini said this! What I wouldn't give to learn more details.

    Hope you enjoyed my week of GHOST POSTS. Yes, this was a gimmick, but as you can see below, Houdini himself understood that the power of the word "Ghosts" to get ones attention. Especially on Halloween.

    on the
    October 31, 1926


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