|Houdini and Terror Island co-star Lila Lee.|
Did Houdini have extramarital affairs? As biographers have dug deeper and deeper into the Houdini story, his once chaste (even prude) reputation has come into question. One thing is for sure, he doesn't appear to have struggled with impotency, as Ruth Brandon theorized in her 1993 biography, The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini. But if Houdini had affairs, who were the other women in his life?
Here are the major suspects:
|Daisy White at work|
By all accounts, Daisy was a stunner. She was memorably played by Adrienne Barbeau in the steamy TV movie, The Great Houdinis. After Houdini's death, she fell in with the Rev. Arthur Ford crowd and become a proponent of Spiritualism.
Lila Lee - According to actor Georgie Jessel, Houdini and his Terror Island co-star Lila Lee were romantically involved. (Jessel worked with Lee in Gus Edward's School Days.) Could Harry and Lila have hooked up while on location on romantic Catalina Island in 1919? Afraid we only have Jessel's word for this. But you know what they say in Hollywood -- all rumors are true.
Lee continued acting into the 1950s and died at age 72 in 1973. Shame she appears to have never been interviewed by any of the major Houdini historians or biographers of the day. Sounds like she had some stories to tell.
The affair broke off when London returned to her home in California, but she would continue to exchange passionate love letters with Houdini for years.
|Mrs. Frank Gilmore with son Gary|
Considering the vague timeline (Houdini was 16 and not yet a magician when Frank was born in 1890), the fact that Frank Gilmore was a con-man and Gary a raving psychotic, I think we'll give Harry the benefit of the doubt on this one.
But was Houdini having an affair with this mysterious redhead, or just escorting her home in a rough neighborhood as he claimed? Bess ultimately accepted his explanation. When I hear this story, I always imagine this redhead as a Gibson Girl.
But was this an affair, or just a fatal attraction situation? I tend to think it was something other than romantic. Most of Houdini's mistresses come into his life in the late teens and early 1920s, when Houdini was in prime male mid-life crisis age. I also don't think Houdini would cheat while his mother was still alive.
Sadie Glantz Weiss - Say what? Houdini certainly had major issues with his sister-in-law. In 1917, Sadie left Houdini's brother Nathan for his other brother Leo. Believing their actions somehow contributed to his mother's death four years earlier, Houdini held a vicious life-long grudge against Leo and Sadie. Thing is, the rest of the family didn't necessarily have a problem with the switch. Even Nathan appeared okay with it. So what's the problem, Harry?
It's worth speculating, as Ruth Brandon did in The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini, that Sadie's real crime was choosing Leo over Harry. She certainly played the Weiss brothers, and this did take place right during the period of Harry's other amorous experimentations. Then his fury makes a bit more sense. It was Houdini scorned.
|Harry steps out in Death Defying Acts|
But what of Bess Houdini in all this?
Not long after Harry's death, Bess discovered a cache of love letters written to her husband (some reportedly from Daisy White) in Houdini's safe. She invited all the women to tea at 278. When they left, she presented each with a parting gift -- their letters.
|Don't mess with Bess|
Lady Butler - The 2014 miniseries Houdini, starring Adrien Brody, shows Houdini having several affairs, including a kinky relationship with with British painter Elizabeth Thompson a.k.a. Lady Butler. But this is another Hollywood fiction. There's no record of Houdini and Lady Butler ever having met, let alone shackle-up together.
|Sorry, Harry. Never happened.|