Friday, October 19, 2018

Bess never looked up

Here's a terrific article from the April 27, 1916 Baltimore Evening Sun. This ran the day after Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape from the Sun building before a crowd of 50,000. I'm always excited to find something like this that not only gives us fresh insight into Bess, but also provides untypical details about an outdoor stunt. And an awesome new photo!

While I'm sure Bess was able to act the part of the "worried wife/assistant" when called upon, there are details here, such as being concerned about his internal organs, that makes me think her anxiety about this particular stunt was genuine. And recall the postcard I recently shared written on the day of his suspended straitjacket escape in Kansas City in which Bess wished she was home in Brooklyn "where I belong."

Speaking of Baltimore, I will be appearing at The Jewish Museum of Maryland on November 4th with a talk about Houdini in Hollywood and screening of The Grim Game. If I have time, I will seek out the location of this escape. And I will look up!


Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Last Houdini Seance comedy show, Oct. 22

The Big Party Show is putting on a Houdini-themed Halloween comedy show this Monday, October 22, at The Three Clubs in Hollywood. Below are details.

A Halloween Comedy Show
October 22, 2018
Doors: 7:30pm Show: 8pm 
The Three Clubs
1123 Vine St., Hollywood, CA

Just in time for Halloween, Big Party is putting on its spOOooOOkiest FREE COMEDY show yet!

It's Halloween. 1936.

Tinsel Town elite, paranormal experts, and revelers of the macabre have all descended on the Knickerbocker Hotel with the same goal. To try to contact the spirit of Harry Houdini one last time.

Oooooh I'm getting chills already!

**This is a comedy show. Not a real seance. You might not think this disclaimer is necessary but hey, it's Hollywood. You never know."

The event is $1 at the door or free online. You can reserve a ticket via Eventbright. For more information check out the Facebook event page.

I'll be there!


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Mystifier, Second Quarter 1995

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

The Second Quarter 1995 Mystifier opens with the news that a collection of photographs, clippings, and letters related to Houdini's first performing partner Jacob Hyman was donated to the HHC by Joy U. Reynolds, Hyman's great-niece. (As this was not part of the Radner collection, presumably the material is still held in Appleton.) That's the good news.

The bad news is a report on the catastrophic fire at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls on May 1, 1995. The newsletter gives a good accounting (better than press reports at the time) of what was destroyed:

According to fire inspectors' reports, the blaze began when rubbish containing cigarette butts smoldered and eventually caught fire. As of this printing, the damages have not been fully assessed. According to Hall of Fame owner and HHC Board Member Henry Muller, "It's hard to estimate the total losses. About two-thirds of the museum is still standing, but it's a question of relative value, since the Chinese Water Torture Cell and the secret message burned." [...] Another irreplaceable item lost was a one-of-kind leather straitjacket, which was made especially for Houdini and used in Scotland. Fortunately, many items such as picks, keys, handcuffs, packing cases, and several Blackstone and Thurston illusions survived the fire unscathed.

Dr. Morris N. Young then writes about meeting Dorothy Young, and how, on his suggestion, she painted a portrait of Houdini "as she has seen him in 1926." Dr. Young says the painting was donated to the HHC for display. I don't believe I've ever seen this, but would love to!

The newsletter also includes a report on rising attendance, and that David Copperfield has joined the HHC Board. Among the "New Members" listed is one John Cox. (What took me so long?)

Sid Radner devotes the first part of his "Backstage" column to the Hall of Fame fire. He says that a planned auction of several of the illusions housed at the museum will no longer go forward. He also writes that "the loss of the Water Torture Cell could present a fresh opportunity to lobby for  Houdini postage stamp featuring the cell."

Sid then notes that James Bond author John Gardner is a member of the HHC. He reports that the HHC was recently mentioned on Jeopardy!, and that Houdini's connection to Appleton was included in the April 4, 1995 New York Times crossword. He also announces the upcoming publication of "a very important limited edition book explaining how Houdini came to America", and that there will be a new restaurant chain similar to the Hard Rock Cafe with a Houdini/magic theme.

The book, Houdini Comes To America by Ronald J. Hilgert, appeared the following year. The restaurant never materialized.

Volume 5, Number 2
Second Quarter, 1995
6 pages

Recent HHC Donations
Fire: Loss of Magic History
Center Attendance Up
Museum Shop
Copperfield on HHC Board
Backstage with Sid Radner



Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rough Riders Vol. 3 released today

Today sees the release of the collected edition of Adam Glass's Rough Riders: Ride or Die. This is the third and final (?) installment of the popular series that features Houdini joining forces with the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and Annie Oakley.

It’s 1906 and Theodore Roosevelt is the sitting president when a familiar face from his past asks him once again to call upon the Rough Riders to save the world. But this time it’s not anarchists or aliens―no, it’s something from the great beyond. Something so ancient and inherently evil that the Rough Riders will need to add to their ranks in hopes of defeating it. Will HP Lovecraft be the newest historical figure to have the honor to call themselves a Rough Rider? Or will he be the one who finally brings death to the history's greatest team?

The collected Rough Riders Vol. 3: Ride or Die can be purchased at (U.S.) and (UK).


Monday, October 15, 2018

“Harry Houdini Halloween Happening!” in Arlington

The Regent Theater in Arlington, Massachusetts, will host a “Harry Houdini Halloween Happening!” on October 26 with a screening of Terror Island and more. Below are details.

Escape to the Regent for a special tribute to HOUDINI, on both stage and screen, on October 26, 2018. Jeff Rapsis opens the film vault to present Houdini’s long-lost silent movie, Terror Island, complete with live musical accompaniment. Professional magicians David Garrity and Matt Roberts will leave you astonished with their jaw-dropping illusions, interactive feats of escapology and even a spooky demonstration of the spiritualism that Houdini crusaded against, just in time for Halloween (the night the legendary magician died in 1926).

For more information and to buy tickets visit the Regent website.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Unpublished Houdini photo finds $565.99 on eBay

This fabulous photo of Houdini sold on eBay tonight for $565.99. I've never seen this image.

The auction dates this as 1920, but I would put it later (1924-6). It appears this might have been taken at the same time as this photo of Houdini with a pocket watch and this shot of Houdini's hands.

Congrats to the winner.

Thanks to Kevin Connolly at his CONJURING HISTORY Facebook group for the alert.


Ken Trombly will capture Houdini at The Jewish Museum of Maryland, Oct. 21

Noted Houdini collector and all around good guy Kenneth Trombly will give a talk called "Capturing Houdini" at The Jewish Museum of Maryland next Sunday, October 21 at 1pm. Below are details.

Capturing Houdini
Sunday, October 21st, 2018 at 1 pm
Speaker: Ken Trombly

Ken Trombly is a passionate collector of memorabilia about the life of the most famous magician of all time, Harry Houdini. He will share some of his unique collection with us and tell fascinating stories about the “handcuff king and jailbreaker.“

Supplemented with an array of vintage material that he has assembled over the past 35 years, Ken will enchant us with tales about Ehrich Weiss, a humble rabbi’s son from Hungary who would reinvent himself to become one of the greatest superstars of all time.
The talk is free but a seat reservation is required. Click for info.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland's exhibition Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini runs through January 21, 2019. For more information and a full list of events (including my own talk on Nov. 4), visit their website.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Randy Pitchford now owns Bess Houdini's brooch

There appears to be a new twist in the saga of Bess Houdini's famous Royal Crown Brooch. The following excerpt is from a profile of video game developer (and Cardini relation) Randy Pitchford at the website VG 24/7 [Clowns, Houdini, and a vanishing teenager – the Borderlands developer isn’t your regular video game studio]:

Pitchford’s great uncle is Richard Valentine Pitchford, a prominent magician in the early 1900s who went by the stage name Cardini. Cardini was so influential that there is an exhibit dedicated to him at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. “All the props on display in the exhibit are artifacts that my wife and I left to the Academy of Magical Arts for the museum display,” Pitchford tells me. Pitchford himself is also a prominent member of the organization. 
Recently, Pitchford and his wife, Kristy, were at a pyjama party with the Magic Castle’s founder, Milt Larsen, in Santa Barbara. Milt Larsen’s wife, Arlene, decides she wants to turn Kristy Pitchford into a queen, so she pops a bejewelled tiara on her head and drapes a brooch around her neck. “After all this goes down, Arlene explains that, ‘that broach that I put around your neck, it once belonged to Bess Houdini’,” Pitchford remembers. 
“The story is, that brooch was given to the Houdinis by the Tsar of Russia, Nicholas the II, when he invited them to Moscow in the hopes to recruit Harry Houdini to be his mystical advisor. Harry Houdini didn’t take the job, the job was taken by Rasputin, and we know how that turns out.” 
A while after the party, the Larsens put the brooch up for auction to raise money for a Magic Castle cabaret in Santa Barbara, but Pitchford can’t make it to the auction. The piece is estimated to reach $30,000, so he puts in a proxy bid for $55,000. The brooch goes for $60,000. The buyer? David Copperfield. 
“So David calls me a few months later, because a magician had posted a story on the Academy of Magical Arts Facebook page linking to an article about Bess Houdini,” Pitchford explains. “In the article she talked about her visit to Moscow, but the dates she mentioned were discrepant with what historians know. So, what if the whole Nicholas the II story, and the Tsar of Russia, was bullshit? These are the Houdinis, great self promoters. What if this was a story invented?” 
Pitchford didn’t care if the story was fabricated, though. He cared that it belonged to the Houdinis and made his wife happy. Copperfield said he could have it for his buying price: $72,000, with fees. “He’s like, can you bring cash?,” Pitchford laughs. “I’m about to get on a flight to Vegas because I’m working with Penn and Teller on a VR project – Penn and Teller’s VR: Frankly Unfair Unkind, Underhanded and Unnecessary. it’s effectively a collection of VR magic tricks. 
“It’s February 11, I’ll pick up the brooch and give it to my wife on Valentine’s Day. I have a briefcase loaded with $72,000, and because of the timing of the day, I don’t have time to drop it off at a safe. I’m going to the P&T theatre, and the security guy needs to see inside the case. Incidentally, there was another magician with me, whose stage name is actually Handsome Jack. His name predates Handsome Jack the video game character. He’s just laughing his arse off because he knows what’s in the briefcase. So I open the case and the security guard reacts like Marcellus Wallace opening his briefcase in Pulp Fiction.”

As the above suggests, the story of the brooch coming from Tsar Nicholas II is questionable (I suspect the Facebook link it talks about was this one). It's much more likely that it came from Grand Duke Sergei Alexsandrovich, whom the Houdinis performed for in Moscow in 1903 and who gave them gifts. Even Gerrie Larsen said as much in 1952. But over time and retellings, the Grand Duke became the Tsar. But who can keep Russian royalty straight anyway?

But it's great to know that the brooch has now landed with the Pitchfords and continues to live among magic royalty.


Friday, October 12, 2018

Original Houdini Seance at Sojourn in New York

The Houdini Museum in Scranton will once again hold their "Original Houdini Seance" at Sojourn Restaurant in New York City on October 31. Special guest of honor this year will be mentalist, television personality, and author Alain Nu. The seance begins at 11:30 AM and is open to the public.

Sojourn is located at 244 East 79 St. in a building that was once Mrs. Loeffler's Boarding House. It was here that young Ehrich Weiss and his family lived when they moved to New York in 1887.

The Original Houdini Seance (not to be confused with the Official Houdini Seance which this year is being held in Baltimore) traces back to Walter B. Gibson, who suggested to Dorothy Dietrich that she carry on the annual seance tradition.

This is the third Original Seance to be held at Sojourn. Will the third time be the charm?


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Original Houdinis anniversary photo for sale

Recently Tom Morello shared with me with a remarkable treasure that he has owned for over 40 years. It's the famous group photo of the Houdinis Silver Wedding Anniversary held at the Los Angeles Alexandria Hotel on June 22, 1919. According to Tom, this is the framed photo that hung in the Houdinis home in New York.

Click to enlarge.

Tom acquired the photo in 1977 from Kevin St. Onge, who had purchased it from Terry Roses. Terry had acquired it from Joe Berg, who received it from Bess Houdini herself. Tom has never taken it outside of the frame, but be believes there is some writing on the back. As you can see from the image above, the photo is complete, unlike the one seen in Houdini His Legend and His Magic and at the Library of Congress.

Tom is now looking to sell this long held treasure. If you are interested, contact him VIA EMAIL HERE. I've not see the photo in person, so if you have questions, please direct them to Tom.

Thanks for the share, Tom!


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Haunting the "Tickets to the Twenties" festival

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of speaking at the Workman & Temple Family Homestead Museum's "Ticket to the Twenties" festival in City of Industry. It was a great turn out, and I especially enjoyed the Q&A sessions. We seemed to cover it all; from Hardeen to biopics to Houdini's middle name. Thanks to everyone who came.

The festival itself was a blast, with people dressed in period clothes and '20s Jazz bands playing amid vintage cars. I was happy to see Joe Notaro (HHCE), as well as some blog readers and fellow Magic Castle members.

As the festival stage was outside, I didn't do my normal audio/visual presentation. But the very helpful museum staff offered to create some visual aids for me. One of the four images I sent them was the famous photo of Houdini inside 278 producing ectoplasm ("Houdini materializing Houdini"). To get a good enlargement, I purchased a high resolution image from the McCord Museum in Montreal, who hold an original. In doing so, I discovered something in this photo that I had never seen before!

Now, I had always assumed this photo was accomplished with some measure of trick photography, just like the other spirit photographs taken inside 278. But on receiving the high res version, I could plainly see that is not the case. Everything in this photo is actually present and practical. Houdini's ectoplasmic projection is a face-mask or mannequin head, possibly one he used for his silent movies?

But what I found especially exciting--and what I shared in my talks--is that through the ectoplasmic gauze one can see the fingers of a woman's hand gripping the base of the head. So there is a concealed assistant (maybe Bess?) hiding behind Houdini's chair making the head appear to float, which certainly must have been a creepy effect.

I do not have a license from the McCord to publish the photo online, but the Homestead museum staff was kind enough to let me have this particular blowup, so I will share it when and where I can. I'm also hoping to return to the Homestead Museum for more talks and events in the future.

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

Thanks Gennie Truelock, Misty Lee, and Joe Notaro.

UPDATE: Joe has posted his own account of the festival here: Ticket to the Twenties – Houdini Among the Spirits plus.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

'After Houdini' released today

Today sees the release of After Houdini, a new graphic novel by Jeremy Holt with art by John Lucas. Below is the terrific cover art and plot synopsis.

Harry Houdini, master magician and covert spy for the United States, has been kidnapped. The only man who can save him is his estranged son Josef, who, like his father, knows the power of magic—and how it can be more than just an illusion.

Josef Houdini takes after his father: A gifted escape artist, there’s not a jam he can’t get himself out of. Then again, when your father is one of the greatest illusionists of all time, that comes as no surprise. What does come as a surprise is the fact that Harry Houdini is not only the world’s greatest magician, but also a top-secret operative for the US government during World War I. In rare form he finds himself trapped—stuck on a mission he is unable to escape from. That’s why the government needs his son to fill his shoes and complete the mission—but does Josef have the wherewithal to do it? Or is the possibility of success just an illusion?

Packed with intrigue, suspense, and fantasy, After Houdini is a revisionist look at one of history’s most mysterious figures that is sure to take readers on a journey they’ll never forget.

Purchase After Houdini at (U.S.) and (UK). Next year will see a follow-up volume, Before Houdini.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Cottingley Fairies photos sell for $26,674 at auction

CNN reports that two photographs which famously fooled Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into believing in fairies sold at a UK auction for £20,400 ($26,674), more than ten times their estimate.

The images of the "Cottingley Fairies" were taken by 16-year-old Elsie Wright and her nine-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths. The girls used hat pins and paper cutouts to stage the scenes near a stream in Elsie's garden. The photos caused a sensation in 1919 when their mother presented them to the Theosophical Society in Bradford as genuine.

A photo that shows Frances surrounded by four fairies sold for £15,000 ($19,620). The other showing Iris with a Gnome fetched £5,400 ($7,062).

Chris Albury, senior auctioneer and valuer for Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Cirencester, England, said the photographs "are surprisingly rare and much sought after." He added: "These two photographs are from 1917, but were likely printed for sale in 1920, to be sold at theosophical lectures advocating a belief in spiritualism."

In 1983 the elderly Elsie and Frances confessed that the photographs had been faked.

The 1997 film FairyTale: A True Story portrayed Houdini (Harvey Keitel) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Peter O'Toole) investigating the Cottingley Fairy phenomena. But in real life, Houdini was never involved in the investigation.

Fairy Photo: Dominic Winter Auctioneers.


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Magic Detective Podcast promises lots of Houdini

Our good friend Dean Carnegie of The Magic Detective Blog has now launched The Magic Detective Podcast. The first episode is available now. Says Dean:

Episode 1 is an Intro podcast. I give you a little taste of what to expect. The first segment of The Magic History Minute is on there, as is the Feature segment, which deals with Houdini in Germany. I've decided to refer to all the future Houdini sessions as HOUDINI RADIO. There are a couple plugs and even a mention of two of my favorite websites that are NOT mine.

Visit the official website and/or subscribe via your favorite podcatcher.


SNL conjures "Houdini's Mistress"

Last night's Saturday Night Live featured a game show sketch called "So You're Willing to Date a Magician". It was pretty funny and the YouTube is making the rounds of the magic groups on Facebook today.

Of course, I loved the reference to the book Houdini's Mistress that "Marconius Wilde" (Kenan Thompson) produces from the pocket of Leslie Jones. But despite a peek at the cover art (above), know this isn't a real book. Although The Secret Life of Mrs. London by Rebecca Rosenberg comes close!

This isn't Houdini's first name check on the long running show. That happened in 1976 with a Halloween sketch featuring the great Garrett Morris at Houdini's (real) grave in Queens.

Thanks to Mark Willoughby for the alert.



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