Tuesday, May 22, 2018

HOUDINI-OPOLY has arrived!

Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton are now shipping their eagerly anticipated HOUDINI-OPOLY board game. A lot of hard work and care went into the creation of this game, and it's spectacular! Only a limited amount have been produced. The game is available exclusively from the Official Houdini-Opoly Site, where you can also purchase additional pawn pieces.


Thanks and congratulations to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for giving the magic world such a treat!

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Catalina 'Terror Island' screening a magical event


On Saturday, May 19, Houdini's Terror Island screened with live musical accompaniment inside the historic Art Deco Casino Theater on Catalina Island, where the movie was filmed 98 years ago. The event was a triumph! The movie played beautifully before a large crowd who gave the musicians a standing ovation (or was that for Harry?). The event was put on by the Catalina Island Museum in conjunction with Catalina's 31st Annual Silent Film Benefit, which ranks as one of the longest running celebrations of silent film in the world.

The day kicked off inside the historic 1929 Catalina Island Casino with a special brunch for members of the Patrons Society. As a lender and advisor to the museum's current Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle exhibition, I was invited along with fellow lenders Joe Notaro, Mark Willoughby, and friends Joe Fox and Lisa Cousins (Houdini nuts all!). As I didn't have to do any speaking at this event, I was able to enjoy a few mimosas! A great way to start what would be a full day.

After brunch we settled into the stunning 1,184 seat auditorium to enjoy a special magic pre-show by Jim Bentley. Jim, as we all know, has a long career playing Houdini in stage and television. I was disappointed that he did not perform in character, which I believe was the expectation and certainly would have fit the event. But he did do a straitjacket escape on stage, which was a treat to see in the time capsule that is the Avalon Casino.


The doors were then opened to the public and a large crowd filled the auditorium. This happened to also be the weekend of the Art Deco Society's Annual Ball, so some people came dressed in period clothes. One gentleman wore a pith helmet! Houdini nut Stacey Zimmerman, who had traveled from Florida for the event, arrived in a vintage Harry Harper-like mohair sweater, which everyone instantly recognized and was the hit of the day!

Julie Perlin Lee, Executive Director of the Catalina Island Museum, opened with a speech, thanking all the attendees and contributors and provided some nice background on the movie. She then introduced award-winning composer and sound designer, Michael Mortilla, who in-turn introduced his accompanists: Nicloe Garcia, Frank Macchina, and John Krovoza. These are highly accomplished musicians who would perform some real magic on the movie. You can read more about them in the below pages from the very nice 36-page event program.

Click to enlarge.

I had been sitting near the front for Jim's show, but I decided to relocate to the back of the auditorium for the movie. I like to watch the audience watching a Houdini movie. The lights went down with a star-field effect arching over the huge domed ceiling (very art deco!), and from the darkness Houdini returned to Catalina Island.

Now, I've seen Terror Island with audiences both large and small on several occasions, and it plays...okay. It's not a sure fire winner like The Grim Game, but it's also not a slog like The Man From Beyond. But with the beautifully performed and perfectly timed live score, Terror Island came to life as I've never experienced before. The audience seemed entirely involved; they laughed and gasped in all the right places, and when the movie ended, they gave the musicians a standing ovation. I couldn't help but think this was the celebratory premiere event that the movie never had in 1920. It was truly magical. Congratulations to everyone who made the event such a success.

But that wasn't the end of our day's adventure. After the screening, we went to see the nearby ruins of the Hotel St. Catherine, where Houdini stayed when he filmed Terror Island in November 1919. We also took photos overlooking the rocky shoreline where Houdini famously was "buffeted about like a cork" in the high surf as he tried to rescue a crippled camera boat. The dramatic episode is well chronicled in the museum's Terror Island exhibition, which is where we all headed next.

Stacey Zimmerman...or Harry Harper?

After we spent a good hour in the exhibit (which I covered here), and another hour sitting talking Houdini in the open air patio, Julie Perlin Lee brought us into the museum's work rooms to share with us two new Houdini discoveries, both having to do with Houdini's above mentioned rescue incident.

First up, assistant curator Jessica Zumberge played us an audio excerpt from a 1976 interview with Stephen "Squirrel" D'Arcy, who manned the rescue boat that succeeded where Houdini had failed. D'Arcy remembered Houdini, director James Cruze, assistant director Vernon Keys, and the making of the movie on the island. But neither he nor the interviewer (Chuck Liddell) could recall the name of the film! It's a remarkable piece of recorded Catalina-Houdini history.

Julie then showed a recently discovered scrapbook belonging to the other rescuer, Tinch Moricich. Inside was a newspaper clipping from the Los Angeles Examiner, which up until now only existed as a poor quality xerox in Pat Culliton's The Tao of Houdini. But here at last was the original with a very clear photo of Houdini in the rocks. I believe an effort is going to be made to add both these finds to the exhibition.


Another surprise is that the museum now has on-site the new Houdini pinball machine. It's currently set up in the lobby and is very popular! There were a pack of kids playing it the entire time we were there. But as it was now after hours, Julie removed the glass so we could hand trigger the movie modes with hopes seeing the Terror Island features. This proved to not be so easy! But eventually we were able to view the movie clips (and more) and we all enjoyed taking turns playing the game itself. It's a blast!

Somehow the entire day had escaped without time to visit the sites of the Terror Island crew hotels and the Strand Theater, so that will have to wait for the next trip. As the sun set and people in period dress made their way to the Art Deco Ball, we boarded the boat back to Long Beach with the memory and music of Terror Island playing in our heads. It was another magical day on the Magic Isle.


Check out the Catalina Island Museum website or Facebook for details about the ongoing Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle exhibition and their upcoming magic-related events, such as a screening of Houdini (1953) on June 1st and Death Defying Acts later this summer.

Thanks to Stacey Zimmerman for the use of two of his photos. Also check out Joe Notaro's report on the event at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

LINK: An invitation to meet Houdini

This excellent article by Marco Pusterla at The Ephemeral Collector is about the formation and inaugural meeting of The Magicians' Club in London in 1911.

Houdini's presidency and involvement with that early magic fraternity (which pre-dates his presidency of the S.A.M.) doesn't get much attention in biographies, so this is interesting stuff. Click the headline to have a read.

Thanks to Joe Fox for the alert.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Were Bess and Ed Saint secretly married?


There has long been a rumor that Bess Houdini and Edward Saint were secretly married. Magician Arnold Furst, who knew the couple well, believed they were. But no evidence, such as a marriage certificate, has ever surfaced. Of course, no marriage certificate for Harry and Bess has ever surfaced either!

Recently while fleshing out the A.D. page of my New Houdini Chronology, I found this curious item in Ed Sullivan's 1938 Hollywood gossip column:


So is this where the marriage rumor got started? Possibly. But it makes no mention of Saint. Should we accept Bess's word that it isn't true? Or does this item present evidence it might have been true. At least this shows us the idea of a secret marriage was in the air ever at that time.

The date, April 19, 1938, might be suggestive. This is right around the time Bess and Ed began to have some middling success in the movies. Bess had just shot Religious Racketeers, and they had recently set-up a Houdini biopic at Paramount. So maybe they married in anticipation of a expected windfall of cash? Possibly it was more about consolidated assets than romance.

Anyway, just more to fuel the speculation!

Arnold Furst's recollections of Bess and Ed can be read in David Charvet's excellent cover profile of Bess Houdini in the October 1995 issue of MAGIC.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Duffy Hudson brings 'Houdini' to L.A., June 1-3

Duffy Hudson is bringing his acclaimed Houdini one-man show to the Generation DCD Studio in Burbank, CA for three nights starting Friday, June 1, 2018.

Join Force of Nature for a night of magic and wonderment with one of the most iconic legends of all time: Harry Houdini!
Dare to escape reality and hear from the man who mesmerized and inspired millions, even long after his death! You will believe! 
Featuring Duffy Hudson as Harry Houdini.

The Generation DCD Studio is located at 1001 W Olive Ave, Burbank, CA 91506. CLICK HERE to purchase tickets.

I'll be there with a pack of "Houdini Nuts" on June 2. Hope to see you there!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Houdini's Mirror Handcuffs to be displayed in New York


The legendary Mirror Handcuffs will be part of a display of original Houdini artifacts at the New-York Historical Society's Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection exhibition, June 15 to Sept 16, 2018. This is the first time the Mirror cuffs have been made available to view by the public in some 20 years!

The exhibition will feature a rich assortment of rarities from the Copperfield Collection. Below is a description from the museum's website.

Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection features highlights from the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, the incomparable trove of magical historical artifacts from the Emmy Award-winning illusionist David Copperfield. Evoking the New York magic shops that sparked Copperfield’s imagination, displays explore the careers and achievements of legendary magicians from the Golden Age of Magic (1889s–1930s) and showcase iconic objects used by Harry Houdini in his famous escape stunts, culminating with the Death Saw—one of Copperfield’s groundbreaking illusions. Curated by Cristian Petru Panaite, assistant curator of exhibitions.

Iconic objects on view include the Metamorphosis Trunk, used by Harry and Bess Houdini, that allowed the couple to magically trade places; handcuffs from the 1904 London Daily Mirror challenge, from which Houdini struggled to escape for more than 70 minutes; and Houdini’s Milk Can, an act that premiered in 1908 in which he attempted to escape from this colossal, locked can filled to the brim with water. Also on display are a dress believed to be worn by Adelaide Herrmann (1853–1932), the “Queen of Magic,” who started out as her husband’s assistant and carried on the show after his death, performing her dangerous death-defying bullet catch act; Harry Kellar’s Nested Boxes, an illusion performed for President Roosevelt’s family; and an Inexhaustible Barrel from Dante the Magician’s Broadway show Sim Sala Bim.

A recreation of a magic shop evokes the legendary New York City stores like Macy’s Magic Counter and Tannen’s Magic Shop that inspired and nurtured many magicians. On display are A. C. Gilbert Mysto Magic sets and props from Tannen’s grand catalog—decks of cards, linking rings, a disappearing bird cage, and wands.

The museum is planning a full program of magic and Houdini related events, including a special "Houdini Weekend" on July 13-15. I will be appearing on Friday, July 13, to give a short presentation on "Houdini in New York" before a screening of the acclaimed 2000 PBS documentary, Houdini. The event is free but you'll need to reserve tickets online or by calling (212) 485-9268.

For more information on the exhibition and all the programs, visit the New-York Historical Society's website. I will also keep you updated on all the Houdini-related talks and events.


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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The real story of Houdini at Scotland Yard?


The following article ran in several American newspapers in 1901-02. It describes Houdini's visit to Scotland Yard on June 14, 1900, shortly after his arrival in the UK. This is the first recorded version of the events that day, and it's not quite the same story that has become legend. Check it out.


It should be noted that this story was almost certainly supplied by Houdini himself. Houdini frequently sent back to the U.S. stories of his European adventures and victories. However, when Houdini returned to the U.S. in 1905, he began to tell the story of his Scotland Yard visit as a legit challenge, the very thing this article says he was denied. He even claimed he escaped from a jail cell!

The 1928 Harold Kellock biography, Houdini His Life Story, took it to the next level with the full blown story of the all-or-nothing bet between Houdini and Alhambra manager C. Dundas Slater, with Houdini's arms handcuffed around a pillar by no less than the head of Scotland Yard, Sir William Melville That's the story that is repeated in subsequent biographies (except Silverman), right up to 2006's The Secret Life of Houdini which added even more colorful embellishments.

I challenged this "classic" version events in my 2013 post Houdini vs Scotland Yard; but did it really happen?, and what I speculated really happened that day is very much what we read in the above. So do we have here the real story of Houdini at Scotland Yard?

I think we do.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

'The Great Houdinis' on Talking Pictures TV tonight

The rarely seen 1976 TV biopic The Great Houdinis will air tonight at 9 PM on Talking Pictures TV in the UK. The network is advertising this as a "premiere," so hopefully that means it will screen regularly. The Great Houdinis was never released on any home format (not in the U.S. at least), and this is first airing of the movie on television that I can recall in decades. So this is exciting!


I'm a big fan of this biopic, despite the liberties it takes. The Great Houdinis first aired on October 8, 1976 on ABC.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Here's to the moms

Here's a great image of Bess Houdini with her mother, Balbina Rahner, and mother-in-law, Cecelia Weiss, in 1909. The Houdinis took their mothers to Europe that year. By all accounts the two moms, who were both German-speaking widows with seven children, got along extremely well.

Happy Mother's Day.

Photo from Houdini His Legend and His Magic by Doug Henning.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

See 'Terror Island' on Terror Island next Saturday


Next Saturday, May 19, you'll have the unique opportunity to see Houdini's 1920 movie Terror Island on Terror Island itself (aka Catalina Island).

The Catalina Island Museum in conjunction with the 31st Annual Silent Film Benefit will screen Terror Island in Avalon's historic Art Deco Casino with live orchestral accompaniment by award-winning composer and sound designer, Michael Mortilla & The Accompanists. The screening is at 1:00 pm and tickets can be purchased HERE.

There will also be special pre-screening Magic Show with magician and noted Houdini impersonator Jim Bentley. Jim will be doing several signature Houdini feats, including a straitjacket escape. The pre-show is for museum members only, but memberships will be available at the door.

As a bonus, the Art Deco Society will be holding their annual ball that night, so expect to see the island swarming with people in period dress -- just like the days when Houdini was there! And, of course, Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, the first ever exhibition devoted entirely to a Houdini movie, is currently on show at the Catalina Island Museum and is a must see.

Catalina Island can be reached using the Catalina Express, which runs boats to and from the island all day long. I'll be attending the May 19 events along with a pack of fellow Houdini nuts. Hope to see you there!


UPDATE: This won't be the first time Terror Island has screened on Catalina. As you will learn in the museum's exhibition, Terror Island played at Catalina's Strand Theater during its initial release in 1920. Last weekend Joe Notaro found the location of The Strand. Check out Joe's report HERE.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Is David Blaine reviving a Houdini myth?


I really admire and enjoy David Blaine. In many ways, I do believe he is the modern Houdini. And those who have seen his live show say it's phenomenal. However, a recent article at Houston Culture Map suggests David might be trading on the old myth that Houdini died in his Water Torture Cell. Here's the surprising paragraphs:

Fans who know Blaine only from TV will see a different side of his work at the Smart Financial Centre — up close, front, back, and side. For his finale, he allows audience members to come onstage and examine a large, clear tomb of water before Blaine is lowered in and holds his breath for minutes that seem like hours. It’s the closer for Blaine’s show. It was his hero Houdini’s final act, too.

“Insurance companies won’t cover that part of the show. I push myself as far as I can, right to the breaking point, and that’s the end. Houdini died after doing this. He collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.”

So that's a bit of shocker to read. Certainly David Blaine knows the truth of Houdini's death. David is a great admirer of Houdini and credits the image of Houdini on a book cover as igniting his passion for magic. I'm also sure he knows Houdini didn't even do his Water Torture Cell during his final performance in Detroit, so there's no way to parse this into any kind of truth.

But David Blaine wouldn't be the only performer who couldn't resist the publicity appeal of this myth. In the 1970s, escape artists such as Steve Baker and Charlie Myrick openly advertised the Water Torture Cell as "the trick that killed Houdini." I believe even Doug Henning said this at some point. But this was back when the influence of the Tony Curtis movie--which created this myth--reached was far and wide, and people didn't have the immediate means to know any better. But nowadays a simple Google search will reveal the truth.

So even though you won't witness "the trick that killed Houdini", David Blaine Live is clearly a must see. Check out his official website for tour dates.

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

"The Great Handcuff Contest"

David Copperfield is sharing select treasures from his collection on his Instagram, and yesterday he shared this incredible poster for the Mirror Handcuff Challenge. Of course, that's what we call it today. In 1904, as you can see here, it was "The Great Handcuff Contest." (This can also be seen on a playbill that recently sold in auction.)


Anything related to the Mirror Challenge is always of interest, and this is especially exciting to see because there is no illustrated standalone poster that we know of. (The closest thing we have is an image on this lost poster.) Of course, David also owns the Mirror handcuffs themselves.

Earlier this year I had the extreme honor of visiting David Copperfield's amazing collection in Las Vegas. Click the related link below to relive that adventure. Also stay tuned for some exciting Copperfield Collection news...

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The haunting of Houdini's 278


In 1927, Bess Houdini sold the house at 278 West 113 Street to her neighbors, John and Filippina Bonanno. The Bonanno family owned 278 for the next 53 years, with their daughter, Rose, occupying the house until her death in 1979.

Recently I found this incredible article about how the Bonanno family believed the house was haunted. This appeared in several newspapers in late October 1949. The following clipping is from the Hartford Courant:

Click to enlarge.

That year Joseph Dunninger held his annual Houdini seance inside 278 (it was Dunninger who started the annual seance tradition in 1947). During the midnight proceedings there was a curious incident, as reported the next day by The Evening Sun:

Click to enlarge.

The Bonannos weren't the only ones who claimed contact with Houdini inside 278. Mr. Wilkes, who lived in the house alone during the 1980s, said the spirit of Houdini was a regular visitor. This is according to Dixie Dooley who spent a stormy evening inside 278 with Mr. Wilkes in 1985. Wilkes told Dixie: "He'll educate you too, he's educated me!"

Fred Thomas, as far as I know, made it through his 26 years in the house spirit free.

Last week came the news that 278 now has new owners. Might they find themselves dreaming of Houdini? Or maybe a plaster dog with one ear?

Believe.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Houdini inspired original music by Casey Winn

Houdini: The Curious and Amazing Illusions of Harry Houdini is a selection of original music by Casey Winn inspired by Houdini's life. Among the 15 tracks are: Houdini Overture, The Manacled Diver, The Death and Resurrection Show, Film Star, and Magician Among the Spirits.

This was released in 2013. Individual tracks or the full MP3 Album can be purchased at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. There you can also sample each track.

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