Friday, December 29, 2006

Walden Media preps Houdini project

By Nicole Sperling
The Hollywood Reporter

Mark Waters
Walden Media and director Mark Waters are getting into the magic game. The Phil Anschutz-owned production company has attached Waters to develop an adventure film about a 14-year-old who discovers that he is a descendant of the great illusionist Harry Houdini.

Jessica Tuchinsky, Waters' producing partner at Watermark Pictures, will produce along with her husband, Jason Hoffs (The Terminal).

An original idea developed at Walden Media, the project centers on a young boy, who upon hearing the news of his lineage, embarks on a journey to unravel the secrets of Houdini's past, uncovering a legacy the famed magician was trying to protect.

"Houdini has exerted a fascination on people for the last hundred years," said Hoffs, who will be producing with his wife for the first time. "The movie takes place in the present, but our lead character and the audience will learn some of the secrets of what Houdini was really up to."

The production is looking for a screenwriter.

Waters (Freaky Friday, Mean Girls) is shooting The Spiderwick Chronicles for Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures in Montreal. He is attached to direct two projects for Walt Disney Pictures, Bob the Musical and the recently announced Me2 from screenwriter Larry Doyle (HR 10/19).

Tuchinsky and Waters' Watermark Pictures is based at Paramount. Hoffs has a first-look producing deal at DreamWorks.

Waters is represented by CAA.

Executive vp production Alex Schwartz and creative executive Bonnie Solomon will oversee the project for Walden Media. Senior vp business and legal affairs Frank Smith negotiated the deal for Walden. The company's next film, Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' Charlotte's Web, will bow Dec. 20.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

William Kalush interviewed on NPR

NPR (National Public Radio) has a terrific audio interview with William Kalush, co-author of the new book, The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero.

Kalush talks about Harry’s possible spying career, how he believed Houdini escaped from the Siberian Transport Cell, and his discovery of unknown information about Margery the Medium and her possible involvement in Houdini’s death.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Italy, Germany get HOUDINI on DVD

For whatever reason, Paramount Home Entertainment has yet to release a DVD of the 1953 Tony Curtis classic HOUDINI in any country that speaks English. For years fans have had to track down an asian import edition on eBay.

Now we have a “Paramount Collection” edition coming Germany and Italy.

Come on Paramount, where’s the U.S. version?

Oh well, gaze above at the German cover art and dream of what could be.

Thanks to John Dziadecki.

Monday, December 4, 2006

New book: Houdini’s Tour of Australia

I love specialized Houdini studies, and this new book, Houdini’s Tour of Australia by Leann Richards, certainly fits that bill.

This well-researched 60 page paperback chronicles Houdini’s highly eventful tour of Australia in 1910. It was during this tour that Houdini became the first man ever to fly a plane in Australia; a feat which he believed he would be remembered long after his magic career had been forgotten.

Houdini’s Tour of Australia can be purchased now at Ginninderra Press

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Afterlife Adventures of Harry Houdini

A new Houdini graphic novel, Abra Cadaver: The Afterlife Adventures of Harry Houdini, is coming soon from Dead Dog Entertainment. The story finds Houdini plunged into the pits of hell where he must battle the devil to escape.

Abra Cadaver: The Afterlife Adventures of Harry Houdini is written by Dwight L. MacPherson with art by Drew Rausch. The book was originally planned as a four part mini-series, but now all four parts will be consolidated in a magazine format and published together as a "Cryptic Magazine Presents" available at all major bookstores and comic shops.

A preview of the comic can be found at For more information, visit the Abra Cadaver official myspace page.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Review: The Secret Life of Houdini

The “Houdini was a spy” aspect of the new biography, The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman – which has been so hyped in the media and debated by magic historians – is a distraction from what should be seen, first and foremost, as a major new Houdini biography loaded with fascinating new facts about the great magician’s life and career.

But what of this “spy” thing? Okay. Very quickly – in 1900 and 1902 Houdini sent two “reports” from Germany to Superintendent Melville of Scotland Yard (who was then head of what could be considered British Intelligence). Does this mean Houdini was a spy, or just a letter writer who felt compelled to report what he was seeing to his friend in London? Authors Bill Kalush and Larry Sloman do make some interesting connections back to America and the shenanigans with Houdini’s passport application...but it’s all very speculative. For me, this “spy revelation” is just one of many, many new nuggets of information to be found within these fascinating 560 pages...and it’s not even the most interesting nugget at that.

I was much more taken with the revelation of Bess Houdini’s suicide attempt; a potential third Houdini mistress (Milla Barry); the attack on Houdini’s brother in his Harlem home; the Russian Royal family's Rasputian-like fascination with the magician; Montraville M. Wood’s involvement in the development of the Milk Can; Lord Northcliff’s role in Houdini’s aviation career; Houdini’s private secret service formed to expose spiritualists (Houdini actually bought a barbershop and trained an agent as a barber so they could communicate incognito); and the very troubling revelation that Margery and Dr. Crandon may have had a hand in the disappearance of several young English boys (freaky stuff this).

I was also thrilled to see Kalush and Sloman incorporate breakthrough information containing in such recent studies as The Man Who Killed Houdini by Don Bell (which rewrites magic history by revealing Houdini suffered not one but TWO stomach punch attacks in his final weeks). And, last but not least, the wealth of never before seen photos contained here are wonderful!

I was surprised to see the inclusion of some stories I’ve always considered to be apocryphal -- the tale in which Harry, as a boy, frees a convict from a pair of handcuffs is one. But the authors promise that a complete set of source reference notes are forthcoming in a separate volume.*

The last major Houdini biography was Ken Silverman’s 1996 Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (now out of print). I still consider the Silverman book the most authoritative Houdini biography, as well as the one that seems to best nail his complex character. But Secret Life uncovers many new facts not found in Silverman, and for the layperson it may be the more entertaining and provocative read.

It’s been 10 years since Silverman and it was time someone tackled the subject of Houdini again. My congratulations to William Kalush and Larry Sloman for doing so…and succeeding so spectacularly!

*UPDATE: Having now read the source book, my opinion of this book has revised somewhat. Please read: Unmasking The Secret Life of Houdini.

Friday, November 24, 2006

David Blaine performs escape in Times Square

Magician David Blaine took just 15 minutes to escape from his shackles four stories high over New York's Times Square Thursday after two days in a spinning gyroscope.

The 33-year-old was strapped into the contraption and hoisted by crane above the streets on Tuesday.

He spent 48 hours spinning while exposed to wintry weather conditions but still managed to thrill crowds on Thanksgiving with a dramatic exit.

Blaine plunged through a plywood stage below him and, despite the heavy fall giving him a limp, he briefly greeted fans before being whisked away in a taxi.

The stunt's success means 100 children selected by The Salvation Army will be treated to a Christmas shopping expedition. Each child will receive a $500 gift certificate from retailer Target.


Did Bess Houdini smoke pot?

While most are debating the question of whether or not Houdini worked as a spy for the U.S. and UK governments -- a theory proposed in the new biography, The Secret Life of Houdini -- another revelation in this same book is receiving some attention from magic buffs. The revelation that Houdini’s wife Bess smoked marijuana.

Bessie’s alcohol problem is well known, but this is the first documented use of drugs -- although, ironically, back then marijuana was legal while alcohol was illegal.

The smoking gun evidence (no pun intended) appears to be an October 19, 1927 diary entry in which Bess says she dined out and was home early with “no drink or weed.”

But did “weed” mean the same thing in 1927 as it does today?

I was told by Bess’s niece, Marie Blood, that Bess smoked cigarettes. She chain-smoked, in fact. This is not widely known. So could the “weed” Bessie is talking about here be tobacco?

I threw this question out to the magic historians on the Genii forums and got some answers. Turns out, “weed” was indeed a commonly used word to describe tobacco. James in Toronto says, “Pot was called a number of other things at the time, including gage, tea, muggles, and reefers. (See Really The Blues by Mezz Mezzrow for a memoir of that era.) But everyone called tobacco ‘the weed’.”

Bill Mullins adds that The Oxford English Dictionary's first print citation for "weed" meaning "marijuana" is 1929. However, he also found references to marijuana as “weed” in online newspaper archives going as far back as 1910.

So Bessie could have been talking about tobacco...or marijuana.

Either way, party on Bessie!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Houdini on Family Guy

Harry and Bess Houdini appeared on last Sunday’s episode of Family Guy in one of the show’s trademark “cutaways.”

I can’t seem to find the name of the episode, but it was about Lois taking over the High School sex education class which results in an outbreak of ear sex.

It was a very funny episode, even by Family Guy standards.

UPDATE: Here's the clip.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Houdini posters fetch big buck$ at auction

Two original Houdini posters fetched $65,000 a piece at a Swann Gallery auction of magic memorabilia held last month in New York City.

The first was a full color poster depicting Houdini’s escape from an Amsterdam jail in 1902. Anonymous bidder #419 (who reportedly took home nearly every high-end item) got the poster for $65,000.

Next came the more familiar, but equally stunning, Europe’s Eclipsing Sensation poster. This poster also featured on the auction cover catalog. Bidder #419 battled it out with a phone bidder, but in the end claimed it for another $65,000.

So who was the mysterious bidder #419? Speculation at the auction was that it was David Copperfield. However, it turns out #419 was a private company located in India.

All I can say is, "Wow!" It seems every time a Houdini poster comes up for auction a new record is set.

You can read a terrific first-hand account of the auction at

Thanks to Joseph Holland for the tip.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Weinstein Co. acquires Death Defying Acts

The Weinstein Co. has picked up U.S. distribution rights to the new Houdini film, Death Defying Acts, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Guy Pearce as Harry Houdini.

TWC's Harvey Weinstein bought the film off a promo reel made available for the first time at the American Film Market (AFM).

Though produced for less than $20 million, sources claim that The Weinstein Co will pay somewhere near $5.5 million for the distribution rights. This amount doesn't include the territories Weinstein has rights to outside the U.S. such as Argentina, Hong Kong and China.

Myriad Pictures has already sold distribution rights for Death Defying Acts in various territories, including U.K. rights to Lionsgate.

The film is a “supernatural romantic thriller” which tells the fictional story of Houdini’s relationship with a Scottish psychic played by Zeta Jones.

Death Defying Acts will be released in 2007.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Escape artist charged in Halloween hoax

KEY WEST, Florida (Reuters) - Police arrested an escape artist on Wednesday after he led them on a fruitless underwater search for his body when he jumped into the Gulf of Mexico, clad in a straitjacket, on Halloween -- the 80th anniversary of magician Harry Houdini's death.

Coast Guard, wildlife agents, police, fire rescuers and street performers took up the hunt for Michael Anthony Patrick on Tuesday night after he jumped backward into Key West Harbor, having jokingly asked his audience if he should do a triple back-flip off the pier.

Patrick, 55, however, somehow managed to elude his rescuers and checked into a guest house. He did not reveal how he wriggled out of his straitjacket, nor how he avoided detection until Wednesday.

Police in Key West said they planned to seek monetary restitution for the search operation, estimated to have cost more than $25,000. They charged Patrick with culpable negligence, and freed him on a $50,000 bond.

"In addition, we are recommending that Michael Patrick be banned from future entertainment activities at Mallory Square," said Bill Mauldin, Key West police chief, in a news release.

Key West's Mallory Square is known for its nightly sunset celebrations with jugglers, clowns, psychics, musicians and artists.

Houdini died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix at age 55 on Halloween 1926. The escape artist was renowned for freeing himself from handcuffs, chains, rope and straitjackets while suspended in water or hanging from a rope.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Houdini makes cover of M-U-M

Houdini is on the cover of the November 2006 issue of M-U-M, the official magazine of The Society of American Magicians (for which Houdini was President from 1917 to 1926).

The inside article by John Moehring asks "Was Houdini a Secret Agent?", the provocative theory put fourth in the new book The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. 

Moehring doesn't draw a conclusion himself, but simply lays the surprisingly slight evidence that Kalush and Sloman use to build their spy narrative (namely a few diary entires by Superintendent Melville of Scotland Yard referencing someone with the initials HH).

The issue also contains excerpts from the new book, including the chapter that deals with his Film Developing Corporation and brief movie career.

Houdini Lives! in new novel

Here’s another new Houdini book released in time for the 80th anniversary of his death. Houdini Lives! by Al Blanchard and Adam Steinfeld is a fictional novel that finds Houdini alive and well and living in Miami Beach in 1966. Here’s a description from the book jacket:

Is it True? Can it Be? Alive and well in 1966. Only 40 years ago! 
FT. LAUDERDALE, FL – OCTOBER 31, 2006 --- It's 1966, and world famous magician, escape artist, Harry Houdini, did not die 40 years ago as people thought. He's has been in hiding from his political enemies and is planning a dramatic comeback. Who are these enemies from the 1920's, and why are they still trying to kill him? Can Stanford, the young, hip, up-and-coming magician, and his sultry assistant, Solea, save his life? A magician creates a world of wonder and asks people to believe in that world. It is the highest form of entertainment. What is Houdini's secret identity? Will this be his final illusion? Ladies and Gentlemen, prepare for a tall tale of murder, mystery, romance, and political drama. Houdini lives or dies is only a matter of time.

Houdini Lives! can be purchased an eBook ($5.27) or as a printed novel ($12.95) from

Houdini is a no show at official seance

The Official Houdini Seance was held last night at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan. Here's a full account of the seance from The New York Times:

Houdini Declines Comment, but Not for Want of Trying
Published: November 1, 2006 
Harry Houdini is still dead and still not talking. Efforts to reach him yesterday failed.

The expectations were not terribly high at an annual séance held on Halloween, the day on which Houdini died in 1926. Teller, the quieter half of Penn and Teller, showed up, saying, “I’d be stunned if Houdini showed up, and so would he.”

So the question was whether Houdini — the master escape artist, the man who could slip out of handcuffs and arise from tomblike burials — would escape the afterlife.

There was an empty chair waiting for him on the stage in the auditorium at the Center for Jewish History, on West 16th Street in Manhattan. The chair was a hard wooden one provided by Anna Crankshaw, the great-granddaughter of the Boston medium known as Margery. Houdini had tangled with Margery. Maybe he would prefer one of the more comfortable padded seats in the audience.

But why would someone who was as famous as a movie star sit there? And what’s with that “famous as a” line? He was a movie star. And he appealed to women, no matter how carefully his earliest biographers airbrushed the record.

“He was always portrayed as faithful to his wife,” said William Kalush, an author of a brand-new biography, “The Secret Life of Houdini.”

Larry Sloman, who wrote the book with him, added, “The first biography was authorized by his wife, so she put out the stories she wanted.” (Their book makes the case that Houdini was a spy who tackled special projects for British intelligence and the United States Secret Service, but that is another story.)

Up on the stage, with the empty chair, were 13 magicians and Houdini experts. One of them was Dorothy Young, 99 years old, who was in the cast of Houdini’s touring show in 1925.

She said she was “the radio girl,” which meant that she never ate until after a performance. Why not? As the radio girl, she explained, “I had to fit in the radio.”

And she had talked with Houdini about this returning-from-the-dead thing. While he was still alive, of course.

“He told me, ‘It’s humanly impossible, but I’ll be there in spirit.’ That’s firsthand.”

Next to her was Thomas J. Boldt, who was identified in the program as a “Houdinite.” As the lights went down, he stood and introduced the séance director, Sidney H. Radner, who instructed the audience to turn off all cellphones. Mr. Radner did not want anyone’s concentration broken by a jazzy ring tone, and besides, he did not expect any missed calls to be from Houdini.

“I don’t think Houdini is going to come back by cellphone,” he said.

So much for the preliminaries. He introduced Jon Stetson, whom the program identified as a “renowned New England psychic medium.” His Web site,, describes him as an “internationally acclaimed mind reading comedian” and a “corporate entertainer like no other.”

But Mr. Stetson sounded serious. He told the audience, “Success rests on your willingness to push aside logic.”

He told the people on the stage to join hands. The lights dimmed further. Mr. Stetson implored Houdini to make an appearance.

He tried flattery, telling Houdini that he was “a crusader, a genius.”

Mr. Stetson said there was energy in the room. But his patience began to wane. “We’re waiting for a sign, Harry,” he said. “It’s been 80 years, Harry.”

After about 20 minutes, he called a halt to the séance. “I do not feel contact was made,” he announced.

No, he said a moment later, he did not consider his efforts to have been pointless. “Personally, I don’t think the day is right.” Too much skepticism, too many people out there doing séances using fraudulent methods Houdini would have exposed.

And, he said, he wasn’t expecting to see a “bolt of lightning” because “the true manifestations are in us.”

“It all happens in our head,” he said.

But there were those who were not sure that nothing had happened.

“This was the closest yet,” Mr. Sloman said. “I felt something in the room. Maybe it was Harry sleeping here. Maybe it was having my hand interlocked with Kalush, who I’ve never done that with in three years of working on a book.”

Then a couple of people told Cathy Krugman, the director of development for the American Jewish Historical Society, that three of the tall, silvery letters that spell “Center for Jewish History” at the back of the stage — specifically, the I, the S and the H — did not go dark when the lights went down. And then they flickered.

In the end, Ms. Krugman said, “I don’t know if that was Giovanni.”

Giovanni Massa, she explained, was the technician running the lights.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Don’t forget The Houdini Principle

With all the excitement and press surrounding the release of The Secret Life of Houdini, some may have overlooked the release this Halloween of another Houdini related book, The Houdini Principle by Tim Kenning.

The Houdini Principle looks at the exploits and escapes of Harry Houdini as a catalyst for modern day creative thinking and problem solving.

A similar book, The Houdini Solution, was released earlier this year, but The Houdini Principle is, to my eye, the superior book. It’s certainly the book that will interest Houdini fans more as it deals specially with events (escape and otherwise) in Houdini’s life, and is illustrated with some nice pics. It also offers an appendix of Houdini resources; books, documentaries, museums and websites (including my own Houdini Lives!).

The Houdini Principle can be purchased from (U.S.) and (UK). For more information on The Houdini Principle website.

The Secret Life of Houdini in stores today!

The eagerly anticipated The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman is released today.

This new biography puts forth a controversial theory that during his career Houdini worked as a spy for both the U.S. and British governments. The book also suggests that the great magician was murdered by spiritualists angered at his campaign against spiritualist fakes.

This is the first new major Houdini biography since Ken Silverman’s acclaimed HOUDINI!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss was released in 1996.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Secret Life of Houdini official poster and website

As we count down the days to the release of The Secret Life of Houdini, The Making of America’s First Superhero, author Bill Kalush gives us a first look at a slick new promotional poster for the book.

The highly anticipated book also now has an official website,, where you can pre-order a signed copy. Sales benefit the Conjuring Arts Research Center.

The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero is due for release on October 31 (of course!).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Death Defying Acts filming in Edinburgh

The new Houdini movie, Death Defying Acts, starring Catherine Zeta Jones and Guy Pearce, is shooting in Edinburgh this week.

The film is a “supernatural romantic thriller” which tells the fictional story of Houdini’s relationship with a Scottish psychic, Mary McGregor, played by Zeta Jones.

Death Defying Acts was due to film in Edinburgh during summer, but was moved to London at the eleventh hour because Edinburgh was too busy with Festival crowds. However, the film crew are now filming a number of exterior shots around Edinburgh.

Floodlights at the landmark Edinburgh Castle were switched off last night so film crews could recreate the city in 1926. Other sights used to set the scene will be the capital from Salisbury Crags digitally re-mastered to remove modern landmarks such as the Scottish Parliament.

In the movie, Zeta Jones lives in the slums of Edinburgh with her young daughter and stars in a burlesque act which, though partly a confidence trick, delves into the occult. She comes to hear of Houdini's $10,000 reward for any psychic who can contact his beloved mother from beyond the grave, and makes contact with him. However as the pair spend more time together they begin to fall in love.

The film will be released in 2007.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

MAGIC goes in search of the Houdini movie

The October issue of MAGIC magazine (with Robert-Houdin on the cover) features an article written by yours truly about the many aborted attempts to make a new big-budget Houdini movie. Here’s a preview from the MAGIC website:

It's been over 50 years since Hollywood produced a feature film about Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist and daredevil who ever lived. On the surface, this seems remarkable. Houdini's life story is rife with theatrical drama: from his death-defying escapes, to his battle with spirit mediums, to his deathbed promise to return from the grave. So where is the big-budget Harry Houdini feature film?

Visit to subscribe or buy this individual issue.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

New Houdini fiction: Danger in The Dark

Danger in the Dark: A Houdini and Nate Mystery by Tom Lalicki is released today by by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The fictional book is the first in what promises to be a series.

Harry Houdini – the world’s greatest escape artist – is in need of a new hat. That is what brings him to Bennett & Son, Gentlemen’s Hatters of Fifth Avenue, where young Nathaniel G. Makeworthy Fuller is working for the summer. A surprising friendship develops between the world-famous daredevil and the boy clerk, and it comes in the nick of time. A suspicious stranger has recently wheedled his way into the confidences of Nate’s wealthy great-aunt, with whom the boy and his widowed mother live. Now their house is filled with spooky late-night gatherings, the purpose of which is kept secret from Nate. Houdini is just the man to tackle this tangled mystery – and help Nate and his family escape the grasp of an interloper more cunning and dangerous than Nate could have imagined.

A truly captivating historical adventure, Danger in the Dark launches the Houdini & Nate Mystery series with fast-paced plotting and a colorful blend of fact and fiction.

Tom Lalicki is also the author of Spellbinder: The Life of Harry Houdini, a nicely illustrated Houdini biography for children released in 2000.

Danger in the Dark: A Houdini and Nate Mystery can be purchased at

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