Monday, August 15, 2022

Houdini exhibition coming to Anaheim, CA

Okay, let's get back into the swing of things with some Houdini news. The Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center in Anaheim, California, will have an exhibition, "Houdini Unchained: The Legacy of Harry Houdini", October 8, 2022 to January 22, 2023. Below are details.

American illusionist Harry Houdini rose to world fame for his sensational escape acts. He first attracted notice in vaudeville in the US and then as "Harry 'Handcuff' Houdini" on a tour of Europe, where he challenged police forces to keep him locked up. Soon he extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and having to escape from and hold his breath inside a sealed milk can with water in it. This world-premiere exhibit will include first edition books, personal letters and contracts, handcuffs, stage props, locks and the famed milk can from the 1908 escape illusion.

I know nothing more about this, but as it's pretty much in my own backyard, I'm super curious what might be displayed and from which collection(s). When I know more you will too!

You can follow the Muzeo via their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Sunday, August 14, 2022

Yo ho, I'm back

I'm back home after spending an incredible week at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin, which holds the largest public collection of Harry Houdini research material in the world. Below is an actual photo of me on my final day. I forgot to eat.

When I come back to life I will start work on a several planned posts showcasing the treasures and information I minded with the help of fellow pirate, Eric Colleary, Cline Curator of the Theater Collections, whose infinite generosity and patience with my lunacy really should get him combat pay.

Talk soon, maties!


Monday, August 8, 2022

No posts this week

Just a heads up that, barring any breaking Houdini news, there will be no posts this week. But I'll be back in the cockpit soon.

Stay wild!

Saturday, August 6, 2022

A special gift for my pioneer patrons

This week I launched WILD ABOUT HARRY on Patreon and I've been thrilled with the early response. So as a special thank you to my first patrons, I'm making available a PDF of Ken Silverman's brilliant Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss for download. I know many of you already have this on your bookshelves, but it's great to have a PDF that is searchable. Just click the image below to go.

The Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss PDF will only be available for the month of August. I will make a new PDF available next month. For more information about my Patreon, check out my full pitch in this post.

Thanks to everyone for your support.

Friday, August 5, 2022

'Conjuring the Dead' by Foster the Mindreader

Paul Foster, a.k.a. Foster the Mindreader, recently presented his Houdini-themed show Conjuring the Dead at the Durham Fringe Festival. I'm sorry I didn't learn about this until it was past, but I still wanted to give it a shout-out for the record.

Step back in time and experience the dark world of the theatrical seance. This extraordinary piece of theatre explores a little-known story which took place in Harrogate in 1921 when the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and escape artist, Houdini, took part in a séance.  
During this hour-long show, renowned paranormalist, Forster, guides you on a journey through time. Part lecture, part performance; Forster shares his research, experiments, stories, objects, history, and spine-chilling demonstrations which will delight and challenge you.

Seems like Houdini plays are really making a comeback post Covid. If you have a Houdini play booked to appear, please let me know. I'm always happy to help spread the word.


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The Norfolk kerfuffle

Here's a terrific illustration of Houdini and his fellow performers at the Colonial Theater in Norfolk, Virginia, during the week of March 4, 1912. This engagement is notable in that it featured a standout challenge and a bizarrely ignominious end.

Houdini's upcoming appearance at the 1,100 seat Colonial Theater was heavily promoted. This was his first appearance in Norfolk and a rare appearance for him in Virginia (his last being Richmond in 1900). The Virginian Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark ran a full-page illustrated profile headlined, "Houdini: The Man with the Charmed Life." The manager of the Colonial, H.B. Hearns, even refused an offer of $500 from the Orpheum in Harrisburg to retain Houdini for another week.

Houdini would receive $1,200 plus a percentage of the box office. This was the second highest salary ever paid to a performer at the Colonial (the first being Gus Edwards and his The Song Revue). But Wilmer & Vincent, the company behind the theater, felt the Handcuff King was worth it:

In view of Mr. Houdini's drawing powers, and the excellent support theater-goers of Norfork and vicinity have given the Colonial this season, they are taking a chance and confidently expect this really marvelous man to break every record the house has ever had. And at regular scale of prices.

Houdini did not disappoint when he opened on March 4, playing two shows to standing room only. He featured his Double Fold Death Defying Mystery and also accepted a string of challenge escapes for the week. The Schlitz Brewing Co. challenged him to escape his Milk Can filled with beer. The Norfolk Automobile Trade Association proposed a challenge in which Houdini would be chained within two Goodyear tires and nailed to the stage. He was also challenged to escape from the Norfolk County jail. While the newspapers ran the challenge, I couldn't find any account of the escape itself. In fact, it doesn't appear he did any outdoor stunts to promote his appearance, possibly because a snow storm had arrived that week.

The most notable challenge was saved for last. It was announced from the Colonial stage following Houdini's successful escape from the Goodyear tires. The newspapers described the scene:

Perhaps the most interesting feature of his appearance here was the reading of a challenge received from the committee of the submarine station of the Navy Yard, challenging him to allow himself to be fastened in a regulation navy deep-sea diving suit, and he to escape without injuring the suit. The specifications were so severe as to cause the audience to laugh, and when Houdini excepted the challenge, setting Friday night for the test, there was prolonged cheering.

The day before the challenge Houdini travelled to the Navy station to examine the diving suit. He stated that if he could figure out a way to escape, he would give the secret to the Navy as a way to help seamen who might find themselves trapped. For this Houdini said he would ask nothing in return, "except the credit for the invention."

There was nothing inherently dangerous about the diving suit challenge. But this didn't stop Houdini from playing up the drama. A terrific account of the escape was carried in the next day's paper.

Virginian Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, March 9, 1912

However, the diving suit escape wasn't the only drama audiences witnessed that night. The seeds of what happened next are hinted at in the above which alludes to some "trouble between Houdini and the manager" that delayed the start of the escape. That trouble only escalated after his performance, as was reported by the Virginian Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark the following day:

As the last act of the bill went on the audience became conscious of a disturbance behind the scenes. Houdini was crying out that he was being cheated and wanted the balance of his salary. Just as the closing act went off and the sheet was dropped for the moving pictures, Houdini rushed out before the footlights clad in a bathrobe.

"I am Houdini–Harry Houdini!" He exclaimed. "I want my money. These people won't give me my salary." With other expressions of a like nature, he rushed about the stage, blocking the pictures. Fearing that a panic would result and that the audience would become excited, the stage manager dragged him behind the scenes by force, Houdini resisting and clinging to every possible foothold and handhold.

The police were called and Houdini was arrested. A large crowd gathered in front of the theater to see the magician taken away in a police car, but he was "quietly taken through a rear entrance and spirited away to the station house." There Houdini was charged with creating a disturbance. Edwards Stevens, a fellow performer at the Colonial (who can also be seen in the top illustration), posted his $50 bail.

On his release Houdini told reporters, "This action was taken merely because the manager of the theater and myself had a misunderstanding. I will admit that I became excited, but who wouldn't cry for $400–even make a bigger fuss than I did?"

This wasn't the first time Houdini had hijacked a stage to protest the actions of a theater manager. In 1910 Houdini took to the stage of the Holburn Empire in London when a manager asked him to not appear at a matinee. Despite the police being called, Houdini won the audience over by insisting they remain in their seats until he was allowed to perform for them as advertised.

Houdini considered staying in Norfolk to fight the case. But he decided to move on to his next engagement in Trenton, vowing in time to "get my desserts." Variety later offered some insight into what led up to the fracas:

Variety, March 16, 1912

In April Houdini filed suit to recover his $400. It's unclear if he ever got his money. But he did make good on his promise to give the secret of his diving suit escape to the U.S. Navy, and received a patent for his invention in 1921. He never returned to Norfolk.

According to the always helpful Cinema Treasures, the Colonial Theater stood at 116 W. Tazewell Street. With the decline of vaudeville in the 1930s it became a full time movie theater. By the 1960s it had fallen into disrepair and was being used to show adult films. It ceased operation sometime in the 1970s and the building was later demolished.

Below is the only image of the Colonial I could find in it's later days. Today a modern development, Harbor Heights, stands on the site of Houdini's first diving suit challenge and his Norfolk kerfuffle.

WANT MORE? You can see and download 19 newspaper clippings that I used as research for this post as a "Scholar" member of my new Patreon. Just click the image below to go:

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

HURRY HOUDINI Armed Forces Entertainment tour

Our friends at Wild Wonder Productions will be taking their interactive play, HURRY HOUDINI, which had its debut in Detroit on Saturday, on tour with Armed Forced Entertainment this month. The first shows will be August 4-11. Click the banner below to see the schedule.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Announcing WILD ABOUT HARRY on Patreon

Today I'm revealing what I think is a major complement to this blog. I've decided to launch WILD ABOUT HARRY on Patreon.

Don't worry! This blog will remain as active as ever with all the latest Houdini news and deep dives into Houdini history. Nothing will change. But for you hardcore Houdini nuts, Patreon is where you'll be able to get exclusive content that'll take you even deeper down the rabbit hole.

You see, I have a lot of material that, for one reason or another, I don't want to share on this public blog. Photos and videos that I'm not sure about copyright. Personal pics from inside private Houdini collections and archives. I also have gobs of original newspaper clippings and other source material that just end up going into a folder on my computer. But that's material I know some of you would love to have on your computer. Now you can.

It's all a bit of an experiment, but I've already posted some content and have ideas for more. Posting will be less frequent, but always something special. And as the internet grows more insane, I find having a more secure and private environment very appealing. I might even share some select Houdini secrets. (Shhh)

I'm offering three different membership tiers, which you can review on the site. You will be billed at sign-up and then on the 1st of every month. You can cancel anytime.

Joining will also make you a true patron. You'll be supporting what I do here and the creation of my ultimate Houdini book. Every cent I collect will go directly into my research budget. Because the more I can travel and research, the more Houdini gold I'll be able to share with all of you. I truly appreciate the support and thank you in advance.

Anyway, that's the pitch! If you want to give it a try, click on over to Patreon and GO WILD.

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

A new way to go Wild

Tomorrow I will announce what I believe will be a major complement to this blog. I'm pretty excited about it and think you will be too. So come back here tomorrow and get ready to go wild in a whole new way.

Clipping: The Ottawa Journal, March 7, 1919.

Friday, July 29, 2022

The secret origins of Houdini the debunker

One of the more engrained Houdini myths is that his interest in spiritualism and crusade against fakes began with his mother's death in 1913. It didn't. But I've already tackled that in a post HERE. The question I want to tackle today is what did motivate him to begin exposing spiritualistic fraud?

Turns out Houdini answered that himself in an interview with the Dayton Daily News on September 26, 1925. It's a story that opens a door to a wider speculation, which I will get into in a moment. But first, here's that interview with the key paragraph excerpted:

    Houdini, born in Appleton, Wis., has been actively experimenting with spiritualism since he was 17, soon after his father died.

    "My father left his insurance papers in an usual state," said Houdini. "Innocent then, my mother and I went to a spiritualist.

    "Three of the four mediums enabled us to talk with my father. He said he was perfectly happy. It seems strange to me that my father, knowing or pinch circumstances, would say any such thing.

    "That's what started my suspicions and caused me to expose this cruel deception to the world."

So there we go. Houdini smelled a rat as early as the 1892. But for me this explanation has embedded within it something even deeper.

What I find most interesting here is his mother's participation. It begs the question: Did Cecelia Weiss believe in spiritualism? Could she even have been an ardent believer? 

If so, this would explain the conflicting nature of Houdini's obsession with the subject. On one hand, he was committed to protect his mother by sussing out the frauds that he saw prying on grieving windows like herself. But was he also driven to redeem his mothers belief by finding the real thing. Hence, Houdini's search for a real thing was every bit as strong as his hunt for fakes.

I really think this could be a key to Houdini's psyche and I have thought this for some time. But evidence is scant. Because just as we have a Germany problem, we also have a "Mama problem." 

Houdini was buried with all his mother's letters forming a pillow under his head, so no conversation between them survives. Therefore, we really don't know all that much about the most important person and most influential relationship in Houdini's life. How many of those letters discuss spiritualism, I wonder?

Food for thought!

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Houdini's Unmasking on Pawn Stars

Houdini is back on Pawn Stars. Well, this is actually from 2014, but it was just uploaded to the Pawn Stars YouTube channel. I won't spoil the suspense, but I'm pretty sure the only thing real about this segment is the signature.

Thanks to Roberto Mansilla for the alert.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Johnathon Schaech pays tribute to his Sir Arthur

Houdini (1998) star Johnathon Schaech tweeted out this tribute to actor David Warner, who passed away Monday at age 80.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

R.I.P. David Warner and Paul Sorvino

Yesterday saw the loss of two celebrated actors who, ironically, both appeared in the 1998 TNT original movie HOUDINI.

English actor David Warner passed away at age 80. Warner portrayed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Johnathon Schaech's Houdini in the film. The biopic condensed their famous friendship and falling out into a single visit to Doyle's home, but Warner's gravitas made for a great Sir Arthur. I'm also a fan of his turn as Jack the Ripper in the excellent Time After Time.

Actor Paul Sorvino also died yesterday at age 83. Sorvino portrayed the fictional radio announcer "Blackburn" in the movie's recreation of the Final Houdini Seance.

Check out the blog Travalanche by Trav S.D. for tributes to both David Warner and Paul Sorvino.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Houdini 278 parlor photos sell on eBay

Two fantastic photos of Houdini demonstrating magic inside his New York home (278) sold on eBay yesterday for $965 and $930. These photos where taken as part of series of shots for an article in the January 1926 Popular Science Monthly, "Lessons in Magic" by Houdini. 

What I really love about these images is they give a great look at the trophy cases that lined the west wall of the 278 parlor. You can also see the large built-in mirror that is still there. I'm also pretty sure I can spot  the recently rediscovered breakfront, now housed at the Harry Ransom Center, in the background inside the passage to the library. It interesting that Houdini's famous bronze bust, which can be seen in the corner in other photos, appears to have been moved to another location by the time of this shoot.

Below you can see how one of these photos appeared in the Popular Science article. The workshop photo seen here also recently sold on eBay for $1,225.

Original archive photos such as these from Brown Brothers continue to surface and sell on eBay. The high prices are keeping me at bay, but at least we get to mine the valuable Houdini history they contain.

Congrats to the winner of these amazing images.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Houston Escape Room looking for a new Houdini

If you've always dreamed of being the next Houdini, here's your chance! The Man From Beyond Escape Room in Houston, Texas, is searching for actors to play Houdini and his mediumistic rival Madame Daphne. Details below.

HARRY HOUDINI Age 20s-50s. Must be willing and able to fit in a small space (email for details if needed). Role includes minor stage management/game mastering. Auditions on Monday, July 25 or by appointment. Click for details.

MADAME DAPHNE Age 20s-40s, any ethnicity. RP (British) accent. Role includes some stage management/game mastering. Daphne will learn to read tarot cards, according to the company’s style. Auditions on Tuesday, July 26 or by appointment. Click for details.

Good luck, thespians!