Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Houdini looking dapper

Here's an unpublished Houdini photo to make one weak in the knees. It's said that off stage Houdini was a famously sloppy dresser, and there are plenty of photos that bare that out. But here he's looking downright dapper! (Although it appears he still missed a couple buttons.)


According to the auction archival website Worthpoint (where I found this image), this photo was sold by Leland Little Auction & Estates Sale Ltd. in August 2006. The auction listing says it's circa 1915, but that's way off. I'd put this as circa 1923. Hey, maybe this is how he dressed for his spiritualism lectures?

By the way, if you are the owner of this photo and you'd rather it not be spread online, just give a shout and I will zap this post. But I just couldn't resist sharing this uncharacteristically composed photo of Houdini. #notaslob

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Official Houdini Séance 2018 to be held in Baltimore

This year's Official Houdini Séance will be held at The Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore on Wednesday, October 31, 2018. The museum is currently home to the exhibition, Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, so this makes an ideal location for this year's event.


The seance will again be open to the public. Tickets and full details are not yet available, but there is a notification sign-up at the The Jewish Museum of Maryland's event page.

The Official Houdini Séance's are organized each year by Bill Radner and Tom Boldt.

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Catalina Island Museum will auction their Houdini Pinball machine

The Catalina Island Museum's Houdini Pinball machine will be offered as part of a silent auction at their 65th Anniversary Celebration on September 8, 2018. The event will also feature magic by Whit "Pop" Haydn. Below are details.

Saturday, September 8, 2018
65th Anniversary Celebration
Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building
4:00 pm - 7:00 pm
$175/person, Limited tickets are available

2018 marks the 65th anniversary of the museum's founding. To celebrate, we are planning an Anniversary Benefit featuring live music by Pop Nouveau, a live and silent auction, heavy hors d'oeuvres and a signature cocktail.

Live and Silent Auction Items include: Private air travel to Las Vegas including dinner, modern and fine art, Houdini Seance at the Magic Castle, a limited edition Houdini pinball machine, Catalina Island memorabilia, exclusive experiences and more!
Click here for more info and tickets

Also at auction is a 10-person Houdini Seance dinning experience at the Magic Castle. Remember, the traditional Houdini Seance is going away in December, so this would be the time to grab one!

Tickets to the event include access to the museum and their Houdini Terror on the Magic Isle exhibition. The exhibition is devoted to Houdini's 1920 movie Terror Island, which was filmed on Catalina, and runs through October 7.


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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Podcast: Harry Houdini and the Golden Age of Magic

Here's a podcast from The Bowery Boys discussing "Harry Houdini and the Golden Age of Magic: Spectacle, sorcery and spiritualism in New York." You can listen below or at their website.



This is the first half of their magic discussion. The second will take place live on stage at the New York Historical Society this Tuesday, August 14, from 7pm to 8:30pm. Click here for more information and the buy tickets.

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Ransom Center has three Vanishing Elephant posters

A poster for the Vanishing Elephant has long been one of the holy grails of Houdiniana. That's because, apart from a few newspaper ads, there is no known advertising or poster art for this famous feat, which Houdini performed for 19 weeks at the New York Hippodrome in 1918.

But now thanks to the Harry Ransom Center, we finally have a Vanishing Elephant poster! Or at least what's described as a watercolor prototype for a poster. Was a finished poster like this ever produced? That I don't know, but this artwork belonged to Houdini himself.

The poster image (right) comes from the Ransom Center's website. It was reproduced in black and white in the first U.S. paperback edition of The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini (curiously it's not in the hardcover or later paperbacks). The watercolor was also displayed at the Ransom Center's Houdini celebrations in October 2016 and most recently as part of their Vaudeville! exhibition.

But it gets better. That's because the Ransom Center has two more Vanishing Elephant poster images. One is a second watercolor prototype of a similar design (you can see it in their recent Facebook live talk). The other is a broadside with bold white lettering against black reading: LOOK OUT FOR THE VANISHING ELEPHANT. In many ways, this one is the most remarkable in that it's the only printed poster that I'm aware. And what a great line. But to see that one, you'll have to visit the Center itself.

The Harry Ransom Center recently completed a two year re-cataloging of their Houdini and Magic collections. Access to the collections is free to anyone with a photo ID. Details about using the collections can be found HERE.

Thanks to Eric Colleary for allowing me to share this image.

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Treasures from the Harry Ransom Center revealed

The Harry Ransom Center's Performing Arts curator Eric Colleary and archivist Amy Armstrong held a Facebook Live chat today in which they shared artifacts from their Houdini collections. Some true treasures here! If you didn't get a chance to see the live stream, you can watch the full video on the Harry Ransom Center's Facebook page.


The Harry Ransom Center has recently completed a two year re-cataloging of their Houdini and Magic collections. For more information visit their official website.

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R.D. Adams exposed

Here's a photo I recently found of the infamous "R.D. Adams" who claimed to have been Houdini's mechanic and privy to all the magician's secrets. In 1929 Adams offered up a series of wildly inaccurate "exposures" of Houdini's feats in Modern Mechanics magazine.


It interesting that this happened in the same year (1929) as the Arthur Ford seances. Houdini seems to have been a target for fraudsters this year. Adams' exposures included the Water Torture Cell, Walking Through a Brick Wall, and the Vanishing Elephant. Below is an ad for the series.


Curiously, even though today we can see that Adams' explanations are clearly bogus, both Leonard Hicks and Joseph Rinn claimed Adams did indeed reveal the correct methods. Even to this day Adams explanations still sometimes appear in print and online as legitimate.

So what is the real story of R.D. Adams? Was he simply an opportunist peddling fake secrets to a gullible publication? But if that was the case, why was he not debunked by the many vigilant Houdini friends and supporters out there, such as Dunninger, Hardeen, Bernard Ernst or even Bess herself? And why no action by the S.A.M.? Is it possible Adams was actually a front man for the Houdini estate? Could this have been a scheme to make some money for Bess in her time of need after the Ford scandal? As the methods were bogus, there was no real betrayal of Houdini's secrets, and this explains the silence and even support for Adams' explanations. Something to think about.

If one is interested in learning Houdini's real secrets (some of them, at least), two excellent books are Houdini's Fabulous Magic by Morris N. Young & Walter B. Gibson and Houdini The Key by Patrick Culliton.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Houdini [Official Video] by Gerardo Pablo

Here's a just released video and song by Mexican musician Gerardo Pablo called Houdini.



Houdini appears on the album "Circo de las Pulgas" available at iTunes and Spotify. You can also follow Gerardo Pablo on Twitter @SSecretaGP.

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Houdini essay in Spring 2018 Modern Fiction Studies

The Spring 2018 issue of MFS Modern Fiction Studies features an essay called by Iain Bernhoft called "The Politics of Escapistry: Harry Houdini, Nostalgia, and the Turn from Critique in Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay".

Bernhoft, a lecturer in literature and writing at the Rhode Island School of Design, discusses Michale Chabon's Pulitzer Prize winning 2000 book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, as well as the continued appeal of Houdini himself. In a recent interview at JHU Press, Bernhoft says:

I don’t think Houdini gets quite enough credit for how contemporary a figure he was: the way he used spectacle and irony, the way he worked with the media, and particularly the way he “developed his brand” (to use contemporary parlance)—all would play comfortably in the age of TV and Twitter. His career offers a window onto the origins and character of celebrity culture and the commodification of identity.

For more information on MFS Modern Fiction Studies visit the journal's official website.

Thanks to the S.A.M.'s Twitter @SAMMAGICIANS for the tip.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Harry Ransom Center reopens Houdini and magic collections

Over the past two years the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin has been re-cataloging their massive Houdini and magic collections. Performing arts curator Eric Colleary tells us the process is finally complete and the collections are now back open to the public.

"As you might imagine, I'm absolutely thrilled about this," says Eric. "It's taken a bit longer than we expected, but the results are meticulous and detailed and will finally make the collection more visible. They came to us in 1958 as part of the Messmore Kendall Collection - Kendall having purchased them from Bess after Harry's death. Kendall merged his collection with Houdini's and it's always been a challenge to separate the two and to arrange the papers in a way that would make sense."

The center has launched online finding aids for all three collections:

Harry Houdini Papers:
http://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/fasearch/findingAid.cfm?eadid=01275

Harry Houdini Collection:
http://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/fasearch/findingAid.cfm?eadid=01276

Magic Collection (formerly called the Magicians Collection):
http://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/fasearch/findingAid.cfm?eadid=01277

The Ransom Center also has books that belonged to Houdini's library. Those that have been identified can be found HERE. The center is also home to one of the three McManus-Young collections of historic magic books which is catalogued HERE.

I've been going through these listings and what I'm seeing has me gobsmacked! And talk about meticulous. The center has even cataloged a seed found among legal papers inside Houdini's strongbox. A magic seed perhaps?


Access to the Harry Ransom Center's collection is free to anyone with a photo ID "and a sense of curiosity." Details about using the collections can be found HERE.

If you want to learn more about the collections, Eric Colleary and archivist Amy Armstrong will be hosting a Facebook Live discussion this Thursday, August 9, at 1:30 PM CST.

Learn about the recently re-cataloged Harry Houdini Papers and magic collections in the Ransom Center’s holdings at The University of Texas at Austin. Join Ransom Center archivist Amy Armstrong and performing arts curator Eric Colleary for an engaging conversation via Facebook livestream. 
Feel free to post questions in advance on the event page here!

For more info on the above visit the Harry Ransom Center's Facebook page. For information about visiting the center itself, check out their official website.

UPDATETreasures from the Harry Ransom Center revealed.

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Monday, August 6, 2018

Houdini swings at the Sandbox Theatre

The Sandbox Theatre in Minneapolis will present an "outdoor aerial play" about Houdini, August 15-18. Below are details:

Houdini is a world premier outdoor aerial play, and the first production by Sandbox Theatre’s new aerial program, The Swingset
The greatest performance artist of his time, Harry Houdini spent his life in pursuit of escape — escape from poverty, from antisemitism, from self-applied chains, and from his greatest rival, death itself. 
Houdini explores our human desire for metamorphosis, how we seek to change ourselves, our world, and the price we pay in our pursuit. 

For more information visit the Sandbox website or Facebook page. You can also learn about the behind the scenes process of this unique production here.

Gives fresh meaning to the idea of Houdini as "Prince of the Air", doesn't it?

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The New Houdini Chronology dedicated webpage

Today I'm launching a new dedicated webpage for The New Houdini Chronology. Here I'm currently showcasing Houdini's formative years: 1874 to 1900. These years offer a fascinating look at Houdini's long hard road to success.

You can access the new page(s) by using the familiar dropdown menu above, or by CLICKING HERE. (If you have the old pages bookmarked, those links will no longer work.)

I hope you enjoy this new way to interface with The New Houdini Chronology, and stay tuned for details on how you can buy the complete chronology as a Digital PDF.

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Dick Cavett lives in former home of Leo Weiss


A profile of Dick Cavett in The New York Times reveals that the famous talk show host now lives in the former home of Houdini's brother, Leopold Weiss. The Ridgefield Connecticut estate is known as Sunset Hall and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The house, a 1912 Georgian, towers atop a leafy hilltop past an ornate iron gate. Mr. Cavett, who never knew a name not worth dropping, seems pleased at its celebrity lineage: the film and television star Robert Vaughn and Harry Houdini’s brother both lived there. Houdini, he said, “used to practice his underwater escapes in manacles and chains in the pool,” a fact that delights him, because he was an avid magician as a child.

Houdini and Leopold had a famous falling out in 1917. Leo eventually sold the house and ended his days in an apartmet in Inwood, New York.

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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Houdini Wintergarten poster for sale at Magic Live

Lupe Nielsen has posted to her Instagram this image from Magic Live in Las Vegas. Her caption speaks for itself, but as you can see, she is showing and selling Norm's ultra-rare "Harry Houdini Wintergarten" poster. I wondered what had happened to this one as it was not part of Potter & Potter's Nielsen poster auction in 2016. This is one of only two known to exist and has never been reproduced in any book. Asking price is $60,000.

Earlier today, we went to the Orleans Hotel and Casino to hang our poster display for Magic Live. We do this every year we have attended - hang the posters before they set up the sales room for the dealers. . This year, we are featuring and selling three original posters: 1) Harry Houdini - "Wintergarten" - Poster measures 35" x 47" and it is an original poster from circa 1900. It is in good (B) condition with a few tears on the paper, but nothing that cannot be expertly restored. It is amazing that this poster is over one hundred years old. This is an extremely rare posters as we only know of two in the entire world (and this is one of them. ;-) ) 2) Carter - "Gallows" - In beautiful condition with bright colors, mounted, and ready to be displayed. This is a poster from 1926, and measures 7 ft. x 9 ft. 3) The Wanda's - This is a rare poster of Suzy and Elizabeth Van Dyk. A mother and daughter magical team that were masters of sleight of hand. This poster is from circa 1912 and measures 31" x 47". . I think these posters are exceptional. What do you think? . Have a great weekend, folks! . . . . . #magicshop #magicianprops #magicsupplies #nielsenmagic #nielsenmagicproducts #normnielsen #vanishingbottles #magicposters #stonelithography #carter #carterthegreat #harryhoudini #houdini #wandas #vintageposter #magiclive2018
A post shared by Lupe Nielsen (Nielsen Magic) (@nnmagic.lupe) on

Magic Live starts tomorrow and runs through August 8.

Thanks to Mark Willoughby for the alert.

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Friday, August 3, 2018

A magical wedding in Houdiniland

On Wednesday I had the great pleasure of attending the wedding of Craig Dickens and Elizabeth Del Sol at the Houdini Estate in Laurel Canyon. Craig and Elizabeth are both magicians and Magic Castle members (Craig is also an illusion builder), and the spirit of Houdini was ever present.

The bride herself appeared via a tabletop illusion. The ceremony was officiated by magician Larry Wilson, who worked Houdini into his script. ("He was one of the great romantics of the 20th century.") I told Magic Castle librarian Lisa Cousins, who had kindly invited me to be her plus one, that it's a good thing I'm so into Houdini...because he sure seems to come up a lot!

There were no shortage of magic luminaries in attendance, including: Mike Caveney, Misty Lee, Steve Valentine, Bill Goodwin, and my table mate, George Tovar, himself a Houdini buff since childhood (his entry point: Williams & Epstein).

I could go on about how lovely the wedding was and what a beautiful couple Craig and Elizabeth make (I guess I now cry at weddings), but this is a Houdini blog, so I'll focus my attention on the Houdini Estate itself.

I've written at length about the house history, and I've experienced the dramatic revival of the property first hand. Still, it's always exciting to get back inside and see what's new. This time I was thrilled to see that owner José Luis Nazar has added yet more Houdini tributes, statues, signage, and flowers!


Three new additions, created by the groom Craig Dickens, were getting their event debut on this day. These are three magic illusion photo ops. One allows you to assume Houdini's famous 1903 photo in heavy chains (sans loincloth, although I'm sure that can be arranged!). I won't spoil the illusion by explaining how it's done, but it's pretty clever, and I heard mention that David Copperfield had commissioned one. There's also a levitation and a head on a platter photo ops. Great fun.


Under the ownership of José Luis Nazar, this one time ruin really has become a Houdiniland, and I mean that as a compliment. It's a verifiable fairy tale world of Houdiniana, whimsical and beautiful. And even if we can't (yet) put Houdini himself in the house, it has now earned the right to the name "The Houdini Estate" for its joyous celebration of Houdini and his connection, both real and mythic, to Hollywood.

Congratulations to Craig and Elizabeth, and thank you Lisa Cousins for inviting me to join the celebration. It was a truly magical event.


If you are interested in having a wedding or event at the Houdini Estate, you can find details at the official website. Also check out the magic websites of bride and groom Craig Dickens and Elizabeth Del Sol.

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