Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Report says Catherine Zeta-Jones injured on Houdini movie set

Okay, this is a trash story, I know, and as with most stories that come from UK tabloids, there’s probably only a fraction of truth to it. But at least it confirms Death Defying Acts is finally in production!

Los Angeles, CA (BANG) - Catherine Zeta-Jones was said to have been in extreme agony after having a toenail ripped off on her new movie set. The Welsh actress was filming a scene for "Death Defying Acts," a biopic about legendary escapologist Harry Houdini, at London's Savoy hotel, when a strong, heavy-built member of the crew accidentally stepped on her foot.

A source told Britain's The Sun newspaper, "It virtually took the toenail clean off. The nurse was called in. She was in pain but didn't have a tantrum."

Executive producer Dan Lupovitz played down the incident, saying the brunette beauty-who stars alongside Guy Pearce in the movie-quickly recovered from the toe mishap.

"It was as minor incident which hardly disrupted filming. She's fine," he said.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Las Vegas Houdini museum closed

Despite still being featured on many tourist websites, the Houdini Museum adjacent to Houdini’s Magic Shop in The Venetian Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas is no more.

The contents of the Museum were auctioned off at The Great Houdini Auction held in 2004. Houdini’s Magic Shop (below) remains in business.

Experts weigh-in on 'Secret Life' spy revelation

The New York Sun has published an article in which several big names in the Houdini world have commented on the claim from the new book, The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman, that Houdini was a spy.

"Some of it may be true," an author and collector of Houdini material, Arthur Moses, said, "but it's hard to believe it's all true." He did say what he has read of the book is meticulously researched and well written.

"I'll believe anything that there's evidence for," a Houdini biographer who is reserving judgment until he has read the book, Kenneth Silverman, said. But he bristled at the suggestion that Houdini's quick rise to fame was partly assisted by police. The new book apparently claims that there was a quid pro quo whereby detectives in Chicago would promote Houdini if he taught them lock escapes and other skills. To the contrary, Mr. Silverman maintained, "He owed his huge reputation to the work he did on stage."

The publisher of Genii magazine, Richard Kaufman, said Mr. Kalush had viewed documents that appear to support the claim that Houdini, if not actually a spy, helped the embryonic British intelligence service gather information.

However, a historian at the Washington-based International Spy Museum, Thomas Boghardt, who has not yet read the book, said British espionage did not start in earnest until 1909. He also said William Melville, the head of Scotland Yard, was principally involved in counterespionage in England rather than spying abroad.

To call Houdini a secret agent "in the James Bond sense" might be taking it a little far, a historian of magic, Richard Kohn, said. "He may well have been an observer who passed along observations." But he also said Houdini was very impressed with himself.

The magician and paranormal debunker James Randi cautioned, "If Houdini had been a spy, that would have gotten out. He never would have been able to sit on it." Mr. Randi said the story of Jasper Maskelyne (1902-1973) — a magician whose skills at deception helped the British defeat the Germans in North Africa during World War II — got out quickly.

Daniel Stashower thinks Houdini makes a good private eye – but in fiction. He has written three mystery novels featuring Houdini as a detective. "The same skills that make him a good magician and escape artist," he said, "also made him an interesting person to cast as a detective because he was naturally good at solving problems and figuring out puzzles."

This book is certainly going to be controversial when it hits bookstores on Halloween.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Man From Beyond DVD released today

The Man From Beyond DVD is now shipping from and other online retailers.

Released in 1922, The Man From Beyond was Houdini’s fourth film, and the first made under his own Houdini Picture Corporation banner. Directed by Burton King, the silent film features Houdini as a man resurrected after being frozen in ice for 100 years.

Alpha Video also recently released the Bessie Houdini movie, Mystic Circle Murder.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Houdini’s Spirit Chair & Slates on eBay

A seller on eBay has put up for auction Houdini’s Spirit Chair, magic slates, and travel crate, along with a letter of provenance from Houdini’s brother, Hardeen. Here is is the full description from the seller:

Houdini's Brother's
Heartfelt Gift To My Dad

This one-of-a-kind collectible is a treasure from my magician father's collection of magic memorabilia. (Herman L. Weber, 1900-1953, a.k.a. "Namreh, and "Weber The Wizard.") My Dad had a large room all decorated with magician’s window cards and posters and full of magic memorabilia. It was a gathering place for all of the magicians and magic buffs who played or visited Allentown or Philadelphia and stayed at our house through the years. My brother and I are now getting a little long in the tooth and we are letting go of most of our Dad's collection of magic memorabilia.

Houdini's brother, Hardeen, graciously gave Houdini’s spirit slate and chair and crate to my father. The chair is purple-black while its crate is reddish in color. This is what Hardeen wrote my Dad on March 8, 1935:

My dear Herman:
Since my talk with you at the S.A.M. meeting, the thought came to me that you would be about the most logical person to receive my brother Houdini’s Spirit Slate and Chair, which he used in his big Evening Show. As you and Houdini were such good friends, I think he would approve of my decision, if He in the other world would know of it. So I am shipping the whole outfit to you today in the same crate that it always traveled with when Houdini used it. I may add that it has not been out of the crate since my brother passed on. I guess you know by this time that I shall be in Allentown for the big show on the 30th, day of March. Will close now, sending you my best wishes for your continued success in the mystery business. I am, Sincerely yours Hardeen

While providing the provenance for the Houdini items, the Hardeen letter and envelope are themselves collectibles. To preserve the Hardeen letter and envelope, I have sandwiched both between two thick sheets of plexiglas. The letter and envelope can very easily be removed and beautifully matted and framed.

My brother and I were not even born when Houdini died; therefore, I am somewhat vague regarding how Houdini used this setup in his show. Our father never explained it to us. The fact that the spirit chair traveled in its very own crate indicates that the chair was a significant part of the program. Because Houdini debunked spiritualists and mediums, I assume that he used this part of his show to expose "spirit messages." Perhaps someone who is truly familiar with Houdini's performance will be kind enough to email me and allow the explanation to be credited and inserted here.

Magician friends and antiques dealers have advised me not to alter the condition of the Houdini spirit chair and crate. How the chair got into its present condition in the crate in over 80 years is a puzzle to me. Perhaps as a result of moths or rodents. Nonetheless, considering that it is a Houdini original, the spirit chair is still a "beauty!" It is up to buyer whether to restore the chair, which I am told would not be difficult. The shipping crate obviously traveled--and its condition is part of the crate's charm.

Bidding starts at $24,500.00. The 10 day auction ends on August 28 and can be viewed HERE.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Final cover art for The Secret Life of Houdini

From author Bill Kalush comes the final cover art for what promises to be the most intriguing Houdini book of the year, The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero.

In The Secret Life of Houdini, Bill Kalush and Larry Sloman present their theory that Harry Houdini worked as a spy for both the U.S. and British governments. Bill gave a lecture on his theory at the Magic Collectors convention in Virginia this year. Those who attended said while the idea sounded far-out at first, the author apparently has some pretty strong evidence to support his case.

The Secret Life of Houdini will be approximately 600 pages with over 140 illustrations. The book will also be released as a Simon & Schuster audiobook.

I have to confess, this is the most excited I’ve been about a Houdini book since the Silverman biography came out in 1996.

The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero is due for release on October 31 (when else?) and can be pre-ordered now.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hear 'Houdini’s Strange Tales' on CD

Bond collector and expert Patrick Culliton is offering up a CD version of his rare 1992 book, Houdini’s Strange Tales.

This CD contains four radio shows adapted by Patrick from short stories written by Houdini. It stars the voices of Robert Hays (Airplane, Starman), David Carradine (Kung Fu, Kill Bill), Cherie Currie (the Runaways, Foxes), Michael Cavanaugh (Dark Shadows), Nicholas Kepros (Amadeus), and Allan Jones (the Donkey Serenade).

Also featured are John Barrymore III, and T. A. Waters (Mind, Myth, and Mentalism) and the Magical Arts Players with music by Patrick Gogerty and Prof. David E. Bourne's Dawn of the Century Ragtime Orchestra. It is a limited edition.

Patrick is currently only selling the CD on eBay.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Sid Fleischman’s ESCAPE! released today

Sid Fleischman’s ESCAPE! The Story of the Great Houdini is released today. Aimed at readers 9-12, the biography can be purchased now on

Who was this man who could walk through brick walls and, with a snap of his fingers, vanish elephants? In these pages you will meet the astonishing Houdini-magician, ghost chaser, daredevil, pioneer aviator, and king of escape artists. No jail cell or straitjacket could hold him! He shucked off handcuffs as easily as gloves. 
In this fresh, witty biography of the most famous bamboozler since Merlin, Sid Fleischman, a former professional magician, enriches his warm homage with insider information and unmaskings. Did Houdini really pick the jailhouse lock to let a fellow circus performer escape? Were his secrets really buried with him? Was he a bum magician, as some rivals claimed? How did he manage to be born in two cities, in two countries, on two continents at the same instant? 
Here are the stories of how a knockabout kid named Ehrich Weiss, the son of an impoverished rabbi, presto-changoed himself into the legendary Harry Houdini. Here, too, are rare photographs never before seen by the general reader! 
About the Author
The cheapest crystal ball could have predicted that Sid Fleischman, the Newbery Award-winning author of The Whipping Boy, would someday write a biography of the hero of his youth-the immortal magician Harry Houdini. 
As a teenage prestidigitator, Fleischman came to know the widowed Bess Houdini, who had retired to Southern California. In his autobiography, The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life, he describes her as "a kind of den mother to us young West Coast magicians." She gave him photographs that now appear in these pages. 
Among Sid Fleischman's celebrated comic novels, published in nineteen countries, are The Giant Rat of Sumatra, Bandit's Moon, Disappearing Act, Bo & Mzzz Mad, and The 13th Floor: A Ghost Story. The father of three children (one of whom is Newbery Medalist Paul Fleischman), he lives in Santa Monica, California.

Purchase ESCAPE! The Story of the Great Houdini on