Monday, May 29, 2006

Mystic Circle Murder released on DVD

Alpha Video has released the rarely seen film Mystic Circle Murder on DVD.

Made in 1938, this low-budget film features a cameo by Bess Houdini playing herself (referred to as "Madame Houdini" in the film). In an opening scene, we get to see (and hear!) Bessie as she, presumably, returns from the Final Houdini Seance to extinguish the candle she kept burning for 10 years on her famous “Houdini shrine”. So the legend goes...

Know that much of the "grieving widow's pilgrimage" was engineered by Dr. Edward Saint, Bess' boyfriend and business partner (and some say secret husband) during the 1930s in Hollywood. In fact, Ed Saint is credited on Mystic Circle Murder as the "technical advisor."

Mystic Circle Murder (also known by the title Religious Racketeers) stars Betty Compson and Robert Friske and was directed by Frank O’Conner. While the film itself is pretty tedious, it's a must-own for Houdini buffs as it offers the only sound film of Bessie in existence.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Secret Life of Houdini cover art

Cover art for The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman has appeared on

While this art appears only with the audio book, presumably it will be the same or similar to the hardcover.

The Secret Life of Houdini presents a theory that Harry Houdini acted as a spy for the U.S. and British governments. Author Kalush gave a lecture on his theory at the Magic Collectors convention in Virginia. Those in attendance said while the idea sounded far-out at first, Kalush apparently has some pretty strong evidence to support his case.

The Secret Life of Houdini is due for release on October 31, 2006, and can be pre-ordered now on

This is one I'm definitely look forward to!

UPDATE: Author Bill Kalush informs us this is NOT the final cover art for The Secret Life of Houdini. This is a temporary publisher mock-up used for promotion.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Houdini visits the Winchester Mystery House

This week while traveling through San Jose I stopped at the fascinating Winchester Mystery House. This bizarre Victorian mansion was built by the widow of the Winchester rifle fortune who was told by the spirits that if she kept adding to her house she wouldn’t die. The result is a sprawling 160 room maze-like mansion with doorways to nowhere and stairways into ceilings. Wild stuff.

But the real surprise was the discovery of a Houdini connection!

In the house’s Winchester rifle museum, there is an old yellowed newspaper article about how Houdini himself visited the mansion and cited it as an example of how spiritualism makes a person insane. Pretty good example.

Click to enlarge.

UPDATE: It appears Houdini (and Bess) visited the house in October of 1924 during his nationwide Spiritualism lecture tour that year. Click HERE for more.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Silverman on Blaine and Houdini

This New York Times article by Houdini biographer Kenneth Silverman (Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss) beautifully sums up my own feelings about David Blaine’s now infamous "Drowned Alive" stunt, as well as Blaine’s relationship to Houdini.

Meanwhile: When New York was magical
by Kenneth Silverman The New York Times
Monday, May 15, 2006

NEW YORK The magician David Blaine spent nearly 180 hours last week submerged in a water-filled acrylic capsule. Staged in the plaza of New York's Lincoln Center, his endurance test provoked much criticism and ridicule in the press. But such cultural hauteur is misguided: Magic, escapes and related feats have a long history of public performance in New York, whose residents once realized that they added something important to the city's creative mix.

Public miracles in New York were conjured most famously by Harry Houdini himself. In July 1912 he was manacled and locked in a wooden packing box. Nailed shut, roped, loaded with sash weights to make it sink, the box was dumped in the East River near Governors Island. With a small splash, Houdini bobbed up from the water about a minute later. Tugboats tooted, ferryboat passengers applauded, The New York Times ran appreciative headlines.

Blaine's critics attack not so much what he did as where he did it - his supposed desecration of highbrow Lincoln Center. Yet Houdini regarded himself as part of the legitimate theater. He opened his 1925 full-evening show at the Shubert Theater, while steps away Eva Le Gallienne was starring in Ibsen's "Master Builder." The same crowd could have been expected to see both.

And however devoted to Better Things, Lincoln Center also houses the city's Library of Performing Arts (where several David Blaine videos are available for loan) and adjoins the grounds of the Big Apple Circus.

At the end of his feat Blaine removed his breathing apparatus and held his breath underwater for an astonishing 7 minutes and 8 seconds - yet the press has criticized him for failing to break the world record. Well, his knockout climax would surely have pleased Houdini. In his brownstone on West 113th Street, he often immersed himself in a sunken tub for ever colder and longer periods. He succeeded in staying under warm water for two and a half minutes, under ice water for 38 seconds.

Houdini's strenuous breathing exercises made possible his mindbender of August 1926. Soldered into a galvanized iron coffin, he was lowered into the swimming pool of the Hotel Shelton at 49th Street and Lexington Avenue. The crowd at poolside included a physiologist from the Bureau of Mines, who hoped to learn something that might help miners trapped in collapsed shafts. Keeping still and breathing shallowly, Houdini stayed underwater in the sealed coffin for 1 hour 31 minutes.

David Blaine is no Houdini - nor is anyone else. At Lincoln Center his problem was to stay in; for Houdini the problem was almost always to get out, from every imaginable confinement: jail cells, the world's largest envelope, a giant football, the belly of a "sea-beast" that had supposedly washed up on shore near Boston.

Yet Blaine has brought into the present something that was essential to Houdini's success: a democratic style of performance. When on stage, Houdini spoke conversationally to his audience, sleeves sometime rolled up, one leg planted in front of the footlights as if ready, he said, "to spring among the people."

Blaine started as a street magician, levitating himself or doing card tricks for a sidewalk audience. When members of the audience at Lincoln Center touched his transparent bubble, he would sometimes place his own hand on the other side, striving for a connection. If nothing else, his feat of endurance brought a diverse crowd of thousands of New Yorkers together, renewing for a while the city's waning spirit of democratic community.

Toots and applause, David.

Original article in The New York Times

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Franklin Library to host Houdini event

The Friends of the Franklin Library in Franklin, MA will sponsor a program on Houdini by magician and magic historian Ed Hill on Wednesday, May 24 at 7 p.m., in the Meeting Room of the Franklin Library ("America's First Public Library").

Hill will tell the story of Houdini, his life, death and the methods he used to amaze his public. Hill is a teacher, magician, magic historian, writer and a founding member of the New England Magic Collectors Association. For more than 20 years, he has served as co-editor of the journal, The Yankee Magic Collector, to which, in addition to his editorial duties, he is a regular contributor.

The event is free and open to the public. To register, e-mail or call 508-528-7148.

Source: Milford Daily News.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Houdini (1953) publicity photo reveals cut scene

This original publicity photo from the 1953 film HOUDINI starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh recently sold on eBay for a respectable $57.00.

The photo depicts Tony Curtis as Houdini performing the famous Milk Can escape. However, what makes this photo especially interesting is the milk can escape DOES NOT appear in the final film. Yep, this is a rare shot of a cut scene from HOUDINI.

Speaking of this film, why the heck hasn’t Paramount Home Video released it yet on DVD? Come on, Paramount. We want HOUDINI...we want HOUDINI...we want HOUDINI!

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Zeta-Jones may romance Houdini

The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that Catherine Zeta-Jones is in negotiations to star in the Harry Houdini indie biopic Death Defying Acts opposite Guy Pearce.

Described as a lavish period film, Acts centers on Houdini during the height of his career in 1926, when he toured the world, amassing large crowds with his elaborate and daring escape performances. Zeta-Jones is set to play an exotic psychic with whom Houdini embarks on a passionate affair.

Helmed by Gillian Armstrong (Little Women, Oscar and Lucinda), the picture is scheduled to start filming in the U.K. later this summer. Tony Grisoni and Brian Ward penned the screenplay.

Australian Film Finance Corp., BBC Films and Myriad Pictures are financing the film.

Zephyr Films' Chris Curling and Macgowan Film Co.'s Marian Macgowan will produce the Australia/U.K. co-production, while Kirk D'Amico, Dan Lupovitz and Marcia Nasatir will exec produce.

Zeta-Jones won an Oscar for her supporting turn in the musical Chicago. She is shooting the untitled Scott Hicks film.

It was perviously reported that Rachel Weisz was attached to star in “Acts.”

UPDATE: Starpluse News Blog is reporting that Zeta-Jones has saved Death Defying Acts from being scrapped by agreeing to take a pay cut to star in it. The star, who can command fees of up to $12.5 million, agreed to a lower salary after it was revealed the project was struggling.

Death Defying Acts will be the first British film Zeta-Jones has appeared in since she became a Hollywood star.

Zephyr Films producer Chris Curling says, "It’s a great script and a very strong female part. I imagine she feels it's a challenging role - and she's from Britain so that's probably part of the attraction."

Talkbackers talk Houdini

The Catherine Zeta-Jones Death Defying Acts news has been reported on top movie internet site Aint’t it Cool News and that means one thing... Talkback!

I find the Talkbackers on AICN hysterically funny and when the topic is Houdini, well...I had to share. Of course, parental discretion IS strongly advised.

Click each block to enlarge.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Houdini obsession inspires stunt

David Blaine's latest stunt is spending a week living in an acrylic sphere filled with water at New York’s Lincoln Center.

In a week, he will remove the device and attempt to hold his breath underwater longer than the record of eight minutes, 58 seconds. He also will try to escape from 68 kilograms of chains and handcuffs during the breath-holding finale, which will air live in a two-hour ABC special, David Blaine: Drowned Alive, on May 8 (8 p.m. EDT).

"As a kid, I always was obsessed with Houdini," Blaine explained Monday. "I don't think about death, but I am prepared for it," he said, adding that his only fear is "the fear of the unknown."

I have to admit I really love these David Blaine outdoor spectacles. I do think, in this regard, he is very much the modern Houdini.

Near the end of his life Houdini was doing similar "tests" of endurance, such as living for over an hour in a air-tight coffin underwater which contained only five minutes of air.

Blaine’s last New York stunt was surviving in a block of ice for several days, a feat Houdini himself was working on at the time of his death.