Saturday, November 28, 2020

Houdini sheet music

The talented magician Jessica Jane (who is also no stranger to a straitjacket) recently shared this rarity on her Twitter. I'm assuming the "Bowl Trick" referred to here is the Whirlwind of Colors, an effect in which Houdini produced dry silks from a bowl of water. It's rare to connect a piece of music to a Houdini effect, so this is a real treat! The Fox Trail: March by J.S. Zamennik dates to 1917.


Houdini performed the  Whirlwind of Colors at the 1918 Hippodrome revue show Everything and also in his 1925-26 full evening show. But notice that Bess's name is written (signed?) across the top of the sheet. There is a famous photo of Bess doing the Whirlwind of Colors. I'm not sure exactly when she did it, but is it possible this was the sheet music she used at that time?


Unfortunately, I could not find an audio clip of The Fox Trail: March, but the full sheet music can be found HERE. Some other known Houdini music cues are: Asleep in the Deep (Milk Can); The Diver (Water Torture Cell); the Kaiser Frederic March (intro music circa 1905); and Pomp and Circumstance (intro music circa 1925-26).

Thank you Jessica Jane for this exciting share.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Illustrated gems

Harry Houdini Master of Magic by Robert Kraske was released in 1973 by Garrard Publishing Company as part of their "Americans All" series. Aimed at young readers, it's a serviceable biography running 94 pages. When I first discovered this book in my Junior High school library, I had already read Kellock, Epstein, Gresham, and Christopher. So I knew the story. But this book still captivated me as it offered up an electric new experience. Illustrations!


Thanks to the artwork by Victor Mays, here I could finally see seminal moments of Houdini's life (and mythology) that I had only read about in other books. Here was Ehrich Prince of the Air on his backyard trapeze; the Brothers Houdini performing metamorphosis on a side show platform; young Ehrich pouring coins into his mother's lap; Houdini tied to horse; and the infamous dressing room punch, accurately depicted with Houdini laying on his cot. And that beautiful frontispiece! I was obsessed with this book, and I can't tell you how many times I checked it out, or just ducked into the library during lunch to soak in these images once again. 


The Garrard edition of Harry Houdini Master of Magic was only available to school libraries, which made it all the more precious. A paperback edition was released by Scholastic and remains in print today. But it lacks the Victor Mays illustrations! It was not until the 1990s and the coming of eBay that I was finally able to land a copy of the hardcover for myself. 

The non-illustrated paperback editions of Kraske.

Another book that gave me the same jolt as Kraske was Escape King: The Story of Harry Houdini (1975) by John Ernst with illustrations by Ray Abel. The author is the grandson of Bernard M.L. Ernst, Houdini personal lawyer, and according to the jacket blurb, he grew up "hearing many stories about the magician." So that in itself makes this is a pretty interesting piece of Houdniana!


Escape King's illustrations are pen and ink, so a very different style from the more realistic images in Kraske. But they still pack the same wallop. Here we see the vanishing elephant and the Siberian Transport Prison Van. And finally someone had to nerve to draw Houdini in the nude! Escape King was released in hardcover and paperback by Prentice-Hall.


Two more standouts from this era are The Great Houdini (1977) by Anne Edwards with illustrations by Joseph Ciardiello, and the harder to find The Great Escaper (1978) by David Warren with illustrations by Annabel Large. Large's illustration are full color beauties! Ciardiello's illustrations are pen and ink similar to Escape King. While most are taken from actual photos, the final two-page image of Houdini in all his full evening show glory is a joy.


[If you're wondering why I'm not including The Great Houdini by Williams & Epstein, it's because I consider that a text biography rather than a book driven by illustrations. Likewise with Harry Houdini Boy Magician by Borland & Speicher, which I plan to devote a standalone post.]

The 1990s and 2000s saw many new illustrated Houdini books featuring the artwork of Allan Eitzen, Anne Reas, Leonid Gore, Rick Geary, Eric Valasque, Nick Bertozzi, Matt Collins, John Mantha, Chris Lane, Pat Kinsell, Betty Raskin, Bill Farnsworth, and more. I suspect some of these books packed the same visual punch that the books of '70s did for me.


Did you have a favorite illustrated Houdini book? Let us know in the comments below.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

Other selections from the WILD ABOUT HARRY bookshelf:

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Suspicious Death Of Harry Houdini (video)

Houdini is the subject of this BuzzFeed Unsolved Network video hosted by Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej. It's fun and well done, even though they make a whopper of a mistake saying Houdini's father was named was Herman (confusing Mayer Samuel with his first son). But on the plus side, they do get the spelling of Houdini's mother Cecelia correct. So it all evens out! I even get in a quote in. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Houdini's own Mirror Challenge

Here's a terrific news item from the March 21, 1904 London Daily Mirror. This is only four days after Houdini's famous escape from the inescapable Mirror Handcuff. I love the detail that he arrived at the newspaper office with wrestler George Hackenschmidt "to protect me." The idea of these two guys palling around London together is just great. I also like the "click bait" headline. Anyway, enjoy.


A few people did take up Houdini's challenge, but as far as I know, no one succeeded in opening the Mirror Handcuff.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

WORLD'S Eclipsing Sensation (updates)

Here's a nice series of photos from article about the collection of former magician Edward J. Miller. This appeared on the front page of the June 11, 1950 Chicago Sunday Tribune. The Hardeen poster immediately caught my eye as one I've not seen before. But then I noticed something different about the familiar Houdini poster above it. Can you spot it?

Click to enlarge.

This poster is normally headed "Europe's Eclipsing Sensation". But this one reads, "World's Eclipsing Sensation".


This famous poster was among a series of posters Houdini had made for his 1905-06 U.S. return tour that promoted him as "Europe's Eclipsing Sensation". But as time went on, I suspect this billing became less relevant. We know at least one poster was re-printed with "The World Famous" replacing "Europe's Eclipsing Sensation" as early as 1908. But here it appears to have been done somewhat crudely, possibly with a paste over on the original poster. But that's what makes it so unique and special as it nicely illustrates Houdini's evolving sense of his own success.


It's worth noting that, unlike many other Golden Age magicians, Houdini did not tour the world. Apart from one shot tours of Russia in 1903 and Australia in 1910, Houdini confined himself to North America and Europe. And even his European tours were somewhat confined. He never performed in Italy or Spain, for example. He was planning a world tour for 1915 that would have finally taken him to Japan and China. But his plans never came to fruition, probably due to the outbreak of World War I. But this did not stop him from claiming in his publicity that he had toured the world; nor, as we can see, that he was the "World's Eclipsing Sensation."

Before Edward Miller's death in 1986, his collection was purchased by Jay Marshall. Was this poster still part of the collection? Does it survive today? If you've ever seen it, please let us know in the comments below.

UPDATE: Chuck Romano of My Magic Uncle directs me to the March 1951 50th Anniversary issue of The Sphinx which reproduced several posters from Miller's collection, including his Houdini poster. Ironically, I own this issue, but haven't looked at it in years. Sure enough...


Chuck also provided a clipping from the September 2000 MAGIC magazine that says Norm Nielsen purchased an "Eclipsing Sensation" poster from Jay Marshall. It omits that all important first word, but could it have been this one?

UPDATE 2: The ever vigilant Jim Klodzen sends over this image from a 1959 IBM-SAM convention souvenir flyer that suggest the poster may have lost its "Worlds" by then.

Click to enlarge.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Nothing to do with Houdini

Here's another WILD ABOUT HARRY first; a post that has nothing to do with Houdini! But Brian Young at the "History Ramblings with Lauren and Brian" Facebook Group reminded me that today is the 89th anniversary of the release of the original Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff, which is my favorite of the Universal Horror movies (yes, even more than the much praised Bride of Frankenstein).

I've always been a huge Universal Horror buff (an interest that even pre-dates Houdini), and in 2009 I wrote a guest post for Pierre Fournier's Frankensteinia. Pierre's incredible blog covers all aspects of Frankenstein and was the inspiration and model for WILD ABOUT HARRY, which I launched a year later. So if you care to take a rare non-Houdini excursion and explore another obsession, click the link below and go.


Unfortunately, Pierre no longer updates Frankensteinia. But if you are a fellow Frankenstein fan, I recommend the podcast Frankenstein Minute with Thom Lange and Bill Evenson, who dissect the Universal Frankenstein movies one minute at a time. And for current Universal Horror news, I enjoy Universal Monsters Universe.

Related:

Friday, November 20, 2020

"Houdini cares not for showy clothes"


I love stories about Houdini the sloppy dresser, and there are no shortage of them! But I tend to associate this characteristic with the older Houdini of the 1920s. But here's an item from the May 24, 1908 Philadelphia Inquirer when Houdini was only 34 years old. There's a lot to like here, so enjoy.


For more on Houdini's fashion sense, check out the links below. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Freeing Houdini

Here's a pretty cool YouTube video featuring "The INFAMOUS Water Torture Cell Puzzle." I would have never solved this.


Below are links to a few other Houdini puzzles and brain teasers.

Thanks to Man Too for the link.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

More magnificent Houdini images materialize

New images of Houdini just keep on appearing! Today David Haversat of David Haversat Magic shares news of a recently acquired unpublished photo that's pretty wild. I really don't know what the heck is going on here, but David does a nice job explaining his own thoughts below.

Click to enlarge.
Recently I discovered and purchased this unique image of Harry Houdini climbing a ladder of swords.

This effect was common in the side-show and with Fakirs. However, Houdini never performed this feat for the public.

Based on Houdini’s appearance and clothing, we could place this image around 1908, the time he was performing the Milk Can Escape. 

Perhaps this was a prop housed in the workshop of a magic builder, or backstage and Harry just needed to try it to rekindle the “old days” when he worked the sideshows.

Another item in my collection makes reference the very same effect. On October 5, 1927, Howard Thurston wrote to magic builder Rudolph Schlosser asking him to build the very same sword effect!

"Please let me know if you can make a sword ladder for me. An apparatus containing four swords that my Hindu can walk on. It is an old museum trick and let me know if you can understand "the" best construction and give me an idea how you can make and when you will have it finished and how much it will cost.... Howard Thurston" 
 
I can't find a reference of Schlosser every constructing the illusion for Thurston. However, Schlosser did build a number of effects for Houdini, including two Blooming Flower Growth effects and two sizes of Houdini's last illusion known as The Flight of Time. It's also though that Schlosser constructed Houdini's Whirlwind of Colors. 

-David Haversat 

When I first saw this photo I instantly thought of this famous shot of Houdini standing beside his Milk Can, taken in Atlantic City in 1908. He's in the same bathing suit (which is red, btw), and looks very much the same age. Could this be a playful behind-the-scenes pic from that same shoot?

But there's more! These two photos credited to the Brown Brothers in New York City sold on eBay over the weekend for $515.00 (front facing) and $433.89 (profile). They show Houdini in the backyard of 278, likely in 1925-26, demonstrating a rope tie and paper tear. I believe these images were taken for a magazine article (but I can't seem to find it at the moment). I'm especially wild about that profile shot, which I think is a beautiful study of the older Houdini.

Click to enlarge.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Houdini's Flower Table blooms at Yankee Gathering

One of the highlights of this weekend's virtual NEMCA Yankee Gathering was a video from 1985 in which Ray Goulet and Charlie Cambra discuss, disassemble, assemble, set, and perform Houdini's original Flower Table. It's a rare opportunity to get an intimate look at a piece of original Houdini magic apparatus, and it testifies to Houdini's taste in mechanically complex and extremely well-made equipment (it's really more akin to an automata).


Houdini used two of these tables in his full evening show. Both tables survive today. One is in the collection of John Gaughan, which I've had the great pleasuring of seeing in person (below). The table in this video eventually found its way into the collection of Ken Klosterman (who passed away in October).

In the video, Ray and Charlie say the table was made by Conradi in 1903. But in the October 2014 issue of Genii, John Gaughan identifies the tables as being made by R.S. "Rudy" Schlosser, circa 1925, and sold through Hommann's in New York City. According to John, Houdini had the two tables placed at each end of the stage and "because the growing took several minutes, Houdini made a gag of continually going back and forth to the tables to water the plants."


The 2020 Virtual Yankee Gathering was a big success that featured many riches for the Houdini fan. For more about the Houdini highlights, check out Joe Notaro's report at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence. Registrants can also rewatch all the presentations, including this amazing video, on the official website until November 20, 2020.

Related:

Sunday, November 15, 2020

LINK: When Houdini escaped in Cincinnati

I love it when cities drill down into their own Houdini history. I typically link to these stories, but here's one I missed from the January 2017 Cincinnati Enquirer. So let's fix that today, which just happens to be the anniversary of Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape in downtown Cincinnati on November 15, 1916.

Click the headline and read all about Houdini in "The Queen City."

Related:

Saturday, November 14, 2020

No Such Thing As A Fish hooks Houdini

Houdini is one of the topics on the popular UK podcast, No Such Thing As A Fish, hosted by Dan Schreiber, James Harkin, Andrew Hunter Murray, and Anna Ptaszynski. I was thrilled to hear WAH get a very nice shout-out, and their Houdini segment is a lot of fun. However, I have no idea where they got the information that you enter David Copperfield's Las Vegas museum through a "sex shop." You enter through a re-creation of his father's tailor shop (as we know). But maybe they fell prey to a Wikipedia prankster.

You can listen to Episode 347 "No Such Thing as a Bacon Scented Mask" at Apple Podcasts or the No Such Thing as a Fish website.

Thanks to Adam Cole for the alert.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Houdini happenings at the first virtual Yankee Gathering


This weekend sees the first virtual "Yankee Gathering" from the New England Magic Collectors Association (NEMCA). Houdini will be part of the annual conference with four Houdini-centric presentations (details below). So if you're like me and have never been able to attend one of these storied Gatherings, here's your chance to do it from home! 

Saturday 14 Nov 
10:30 AM EST / 7:30 AM PST 
Lecture #2: Houdini Deltiology 
Kevin and Susan Connolly, Houdini Collector/Historian 
Deltiology is defined as the hobby of collecting postcards, especially picture postcards Like most collectors, Kevin collects items that he enjoys. This was his initial incentive to start collecting postcards. Kevin's presentation will focus on his Houdini-related postcard collection which he has compiled over many years. He hopes that you enjoy viewing them as much as he has enjoyed collecting them. 

Saturday 14 Nov 
1:55 PM EST / 10:55 AM PST 
Lecture #6: Dazzled By Diamonds: Evanion and Houdini 
Jim Hagy, Magic Historian/Author 
Of the many legends concerning collections of conjuring material, none may be as renowned as the acquisition by Harry Houdini of playbills and ephemera from Henry Evanion. Houdini’s published recollections told only a small part of Evanion’s story as Harry unquestionably knew it. This presentation, based on the upcoming new and enlarged edition of Jim Hagy’s groundbreaking 1985 Early English Conjuring Collectors, will trace how Evanion fits into the Houdini narrative, the Evanion legend crafted by Houdini himself, and the broader reality of the life, performing career, and collecting habits of Evanion and fellow magician, collector, and friend, James Savren. 

Saturday 14 Nov 
3:20 PM  EST / 12:20 PM PST 
Gallery of Collections #2: Arthur Moses shares his Houdini Collection with a Video Tour 
Arthur Moses, Houdini Collector/Historian 
Harry Houdini became famous for his stage illusions: vanishing an elephant, walking through a brick wall, metamorphosis, escaping from a milk can, and of course the water torture cell. Can you hold your breath for four minutes; Houdini could. He was fearless to accept the unknown and belief in his own abilities to overcome: ''my brain is the key that sets me free'' was his favorite truism. A magician – an escape artist – a silent movie actor – first man to fly a plane in Australia (1910) – spiritualism debunker – basically one tough fella! Here was an amazing individual who defied all to try to bind him with ropes or chains or handcuffs or straitjackets or in wooden boxes ---he never lost a challenge to escape or to let his audiences down. 
 
Sunday 15 Nov 
3:20 PM EST / 12:20 PM PST
Special Bonus Presentation - Houdini's Blooming Rose Bush
Take a step back in time and enjoy a candid conversation between Ray Goulet and Charlie Cambra. Charlie and Ray talk about the history of the apparatus, how Charlie came into possession of it and ultimately how it was passed on to Ray’s Mini Museum of Magic in Watertown, MA. They also discuss the inner workings of piece by breaking it down and then ultimately setting it up and walking through a presentation of the piece. It is something amazing and has to been seen!!!

For more information, including the full schedule, visit the official Yankee Gathering 2020 website. All presentations will remain available for viewing until November 22, 2020. 


Thursday, November 12, 2020

S.A.M. wand breaking ceremony 2020

The Society of American Magicians held their annual wand breaking ceremony Tuesday at Houdini's grave in Queens. The members wore masks due to Covid. This year one of Barry Spector's wands made of wood lath from Houdini's 278 was used for the ceremonial breaking. The broken wand will be sent to the Houdini Museum in Scranton.


This year the assembly also paid respects at the nearby grave of Larry Weeks.


Thanks to Rene Clement for the photos.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

R.I.P. Alex Trebek

By now I'm sure everyone has heard the sad news that long-time Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek passed away at age 80. Houdini always made for a good question during Trebek's 36 years, and he did again last night. The category was MAGIC and this was for $800. Don't forget to answer in the form of a question.


To see the full board check out the J! Archive website where you can also see all mentions of Houdini on the show going back to 1986.

Thanks to Janet Davis for the alert and pic.

Related: 

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