Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Spying on Houdini

Our friend Tom Interval (Interval Magic) sent over this terrific story from the October 1946 Linking Ring about a man who witnessed Houdini escape from a cask of beer from a secret vantage point. It's pretty amusing -- although clearly Houdini didn't find it amusing one bit! I'll let the story speak for itself.

Click to enlarge.

Houdini was challenged by the G-B-S Brewing Co. to escape cask filled with Arrow Beer at the Maryland Theater in Baltimore on April 30, 1915 and again on April 27, 1916. I'm guessing one of these was the escape witnessed by Thomas Worthington? But what I'd really like to know is the identity of the disloyal assistant.

The Baltimore Sun, April 30, 1915.

Thanks Tom!

Sunday, August 1, 2021

The ghost of Edward Saint

Over the years the Houdini Seance at the Magic Castle has had many different spooky effects that have come and gone. One effect from the 1980s was a room camera triggered to snap a photo if it sensed an ectoplasmic presence. Of course, Houdini Seances as the Magic Castle guarantee results, so that camera saw a lot of use!

I had completely forgotten about this effect until my good friend Mark Willoughby sent me this Polaroid, snapped during a seance held on my 21st birthday in 1985. Yes, looks likes the ghost of Edward Saint was in attendance!

The Magic Castle has now completely revamped the "Houdini Seance Experience." Its debut was delayed by the Castle's closure due to Covid. But it is now set to relaunch in late September. Below is the first teaser from the Magic Castle's August newsletter.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Man Vs History explores The Real Houdini, Aug. 3

The new series Man Vs History with Bil Lepp will feature Houdini as their subject this Tuesday, August 3, on HISTORY. Below are details.

You can watch a preview of the episode at the Man Vs History page at HISTORY. The series is also available on Amazon Prime Video.


Thursday, July 29, 2021

The girl who beat Houdini

Houdini was a superstar in American vaudeville and even once held the distinction of being its highest paid performer. But vaudeville had other superstars who drew crowds and salaries that sometimes matched Houdini. One of these performers was Eva Tanguay.

Today Eva Tanguay is largely forgotten. But if you were around in Houdini's time, you would have certainly known who she was. By many accounts, Tanguay could neither sing nor dance. But that didn't dampen her enormous appeal. A profile of her at the New England Historical Society (Eva Tanguay, The Lady Gaga of Vaudeville) says:

Her celebrity was no accident, but a well-planned assault on stuffy Victorian convention. She provoked reaction, singing songs with titles like Go As Far As You Like and wearing bizarre costumes like a dress made out of pennies. The tabloids ate up stories about her love life, which included a romance with the African-American vaudeville star George Walker. You couldn’t escape her from 1904 to the early 1920s.

Like Houdini, Tanguay was a headliner on the big time Keith vaudeville circuit, thus they played many of the same theaters. This invited direct comparison. Such was the case in Boston in January 1911 as you can read below:

Boston Sunday Post, Jan. 15, 1911.

Not only was Eva beating Houdini's attendance records, but she was also surpassing his salary, making as much as $3500 per week. By 1912 Houdini had to put a spin on his claims of being Vaudeville's highest paid performer. Check out the below ad from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in which he now calls himself "the highest salaried male performer in the world."

Courier Sun, Feb. 25, 1912. 

After losing her fortune in the Wall Street crash of 1929, Eva Tanguay retired in 1930 and slipped into obscurity. She died on January 11, 1947 at age 68. In another Houdini parallel, in 1953 a highly fictionalized biopic was made of Eva's life, The I Don't Care Girl, starring Mitzi Gaynor. This was the same year as the Houdini biopic with Tony Curtis.

If you'd like to learn more about Eva Tanguay check out the book Queen of Vaudeville: The Story of Eva Tanguay by Andrew L. Erdman. Below is the only known recording of Eva made in 1922.


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Grim Game is streaming free at TV Time

Houdini's best and most elusive movie The Grim Game (1919) is now streaming for free via the TV Time app/channel. I'm not sure if TV Time is exclusive to Roku devices. All I know is I found it, hit play, and it played! This is the 2015 restoration with a score by Brane Živkovic which aired only once on TCM.

This could mean the movie will arrive on other streaming platforms soon. Or this could be a fluke. (The restoration credits have been cut off, so this might be less than legit.) But it's high time The Grim Game got out there for all to enjoy. So enjoy!


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

FLASHBACK: Houdini's madcap Hollywood lunch

During my summer slowdown I thought I'd offer up some relevant "flashback" posts to scratch that Houdini history itch. Today we head to Hollywood.

On July 27, 1919, Houdini visited the set of the movie Back Stage at the Comique Studio in Edendale, CA. Relive his "madcap" encounter with some of the top movie comedians of the day in THIS POST from 2018.

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Sherman Library presents Houdini, July 28

The historic Sherman Library in Sherman, Connecticut, will present a Houdini lecture by Mallory Howard this Wednesday, July 28 at 7:00 PM Eastern Time. CLICK HERE to register for the free Zoom event at the Sherman Library website.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Salem will rename street "Houdini Way"

The City of Salem, Massachusetts, will rename Front Street to "Houdini Way" in honor of Houdini's jailbreak from the Front Street police station on April 16, 1906. Below is the motion from the Office of the City Clerk.

Houdini performed with his own vaudeville touring company in Salem from April 16-18, 1906. This was his only appearance in Salem (as far as I know). The building that stands at the site of Houdini's jail break is the original.

Thanks to Erik Bartlett at TheMagicDetective Group for the alert.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Sling shot

Here's another unpublished (reproduction) photograph I recently acquired. This one shows Houdini with co-star Ann Forrest and director Irvin Willat on the set of The Grim Game in 1919. But what makes this image special is it shows Houdini with his arm in a sling. This is only the second shot I've ever seen that captures Houdini in his sling.

Houdini had broken his wrist while making the movie in late June and wore a cast for a number of weeks. In most photos taken at that time he is careful to remove the sling and cover up his cast. But not this time. Maybe that's why he doesn't look happy. Ann Forrest, on the other hand, looks lovely.

Houdini's accident was reported in the June 27, 1919 Los Angeles Times, which somewhat downplayed the injury.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

FLASHBACK: Houdini's first stunt in Times Square

During my 
summer slowdown I'm offering up some relevant "flashback" posts. Today we head to NYC.

It was 109 yers ago today that Houdini did his first outdoor stunt in New York's Times Square and, no, it wasn't a suspended straitjacket escape. It was something that is now largely forgotten. 

But you can remember it by CLICKING HERE and revisiting my post from 2018.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

William Shatner was (almost maybe) Houdini

The mighty William Shatner has had several close encounters with Houdini. He hosted The Search for Houdini LIVE seance event in 1987. He wrote a work of Houdini fiction in 1992 called Believe. And Houdini was the subject of an episode of his latest series The UnXplained. But here's something I never knew. In 1994 Shatner agreed to play Houdini on stage. Or did he? That seems to be the issue. 

Check this clipping from the September 25, 1994 Bonham Daily Favorite.

Click to enlarge.

I've found additional information that Harry and Arthur would have featured Leonard Nimoy as Conan Doyle! Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.

Below is the front and back covers of William Shatner's 1992 Houdini novel, Believe, on which the play was said to be based.

Click to enlarge.


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

LINK: The Astonishing Adventures of Houdini’s Favorite Detective

Here's a great article from "Fishwrap" (the official blog of Newspapers.com) about Rose Mackenberg, who really seems to be capturing the popular imagination these days. Click the headline and enjoy.

Monday, July 19, 2021

LINK: Amedeo Vacca - Secret Houdini assistant and much more

Dean Carnegie has a wonderful POST at The Magic Detective about Houdini's little-known assistant and collaborator Amedeo Vacca. I especially love that Dean identified Vacca in the photo of the Shelton Pool test "uncover." Dean has also devoted an episode of his Magic Detective Podcast to Vacca.  

Saturday, July 17, 2021

FLASHBACK: Death in Asbury Park

During my summer slowdown I thought I'd offer up some relevant "flashback" posts to scratch that Houdini history itch. Today we mark a dark anniversary.

On July 17, 1913, Houdini's mother died in Asbury Park, New Jersey. CLICK HERE for a post from 2016 that deep dives into these tragic few days 108 year ago.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Houdini in Hawaii (yes, Hawaii!)

Recently I was able to acquire this unpublished (reproduction) photograph showing Houdini and Bess in "Honolulu 1910." Houdini in Hawaii!? Until I saw this, I would have told you Houdini never visited the Aloha State. But here's proof that he did! Gotta love the leis around their necks. The other two women are unidentified.

This was almost certainly taken aboard the steamship Manuka when Houdini was returning from Australia. The ship ported in Suva, Fiji on May 17, so it likely ported in Honolulu around May 25. The local paper noted Houdini's presence, and even reported there were hopes he might perform in the city.

Honolulu Advertiser, May 26, 1910

Houdini's return from Australia via the Pacific was the final link in a journey that took him around the world. This made him eligible to join the Circumnavigators Club, which he did in 1912.

So, yes, the Houdinis went Hawaiian! If only for a day. Pretty wild.