Monday, February 28, 2011

Boardwalk Empire Season One coming to DVD/Blu-ray

Photo: Genii

Amazon is now listing Season One of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire for pre-order on DVD and Blu-ray. Of course, this season featured an appearance by Houdini's brother, Theo. Hardeen, played by Remy Auberjonois in the episode "Paris Green" (check out some reviews here).

Amazon does not show a release date, but other sites list it as Sept. 19, 2011. Still a ways off, but the DVD set is currently 35% off, so I thought this was worth bringing to everyone's attention now in case that nice discount magic!

And, remember, buying anything on Amazon via my links gives me a small referral and helps keep Wild About Harry wild.

UPDATE: I see that people are landing here in search of the Boardwalk Empire Season One release date. While some sites said Sept. 19, this doesn't appear to be the case. I now can't find any official release date info. Sorry.

UPDATE 2: Release date is January 10, 2012.

LINK: Houdini vs. the Success

Richard Norgard has launched a blog devoted to the life and legend of the sailing ship Success. He promises to share his "extensive research, travels, and discoveries, the fruits of his 40-year search for the true history" of the famous convict ship.

One of his first blog entries looks at Houdini's escape from one of the ship's prison cells on June 4, 1913. The photo right, used with Richard's kind permission, appears to be one of the cells in that very block.

Click the headline above to read about this little known challenge escape at The Sailing Ship Success.

Thanks to Kevin Connolly for the tip.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cannon's Great Escapes closing doors June 30

Some disappointing news for the magic community. Mark and Sheila Cannon of Cannon's Great Escapes, one the foremost suppliers of escapology equipment (and all around good people), are closing up shop on June 30, 2011. The following message appears on their website:

"After 11 years of service to the escape artist community, we have decided to close our shop, as of June 30, 2011. We have enjoyed getting to know hundreds of escape artists and handcuff collectors over the years and are honored to count many of them as friends.

We will be continuing to perform our escapes and provide consultation on a limited basis. Sheila is now a vacation specialist and will be focusing on providing exceptional service to her clients, based on first hand knowledge.

In almost all cases, when we sell the last of an item, we will not be making or replacing our stock. If there is something that you’ve been thinking about buying, we encourage you to do so now, before that item is no longer available.

Thank you very much for your business and your friendship over the last 11 years. We have been blessed."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Terror Island reaches Norway...maybe

This week has been dominated by movie or poster news, so let's end it with a beautiful fusion of both. This Norwegian poster from the great Arthur Moses Collection appears to be for Houdini's second Paramount feature, Terror Island. Online translators don't seem to like the title -- best I can determine is it translates to "Untouchable."


It's a wonderful poster, however, Arthur admits he isn't certain this is from Houdini's day. He thinks this might have been done by a Norwegian artist for a library or National exhibit in the 1970s or '80s, but he isn't sure. "Hopefully someone will post a reply," says Arthur.

So does anyone have insight into this poster they'd like to share? Feel free to post in the Comments or shoot me an email and I will forward it to Arthur.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pierre Collings and Houdini The Great

The stellar blog HOLLYWOODLAND has a profile of screenwriter Pierre Collings, best known for the Oscar winning The Story of Louis Pasture. But inside the article is this intriguing nugget:

"Soon after, Collings health improved enough for him to accept an assignment to write the screenplay for a projected Warner Bros. film, Houdini the Great which was scheduled to star George Raft. For whatever reason, the project never materialized."

George Raft as Houdini is something I've never heard. Also, I thought Houdini the Great was in development at Paramount, not Warner Bros. Looks like this is something to investigate.

Click to read The tragic story of Pierre Collings at HOLLYWOODLAND.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

'Houdini Triumphant' poster at auction

A 1902 stone lithograph depicting Houdini's victory in the German courts will be auctioned on March 26, 2011, as part of Potter & Potter's Rare Posters sale. The color one-sheet by J. Zier, which the auction house calls "Houdini Triumphant", measures 43 x 31 1/2 and is one of only five known copies. It is the star attraction of an auction that includes many beautiful magic posters from the early 20th century. The estimate is $15,000/20,000.

There is actually a second, less common example of this famous poster that features a different and, IMO, superior image of Houdini shackled before the judge. You can see it on page 8 of the Dover paperback edition of Gibson's Houdini on Magic (although it's possible this alternate version is just a piece of a larger poster montage.)

The auction also features a Houdini Challenge broadside from 1915 ("A Peculiar Challenge") estimated at $1,500/2000. There is also a beautiful 1920 poster for Nicola, the largest poster in the auction, featuring terrific Houdini-like escape imagery. Estimate $2,500/3,500.

Visit the official Potter & Potter website to order or download the Rare Posters catalog (which features "Houdini Triumphant" on the cover), and for details on how to bid. Also check out this report on the auction from ABC News.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

60 Great Magic Posters book and DVD

Dover Publications has released a book and DVD combo, 60 Great Magic Posters, containing vintage poster art from the great age of stage magicians, including Houdini.

Full-color illustrations depict conjurers performing acts of hypnotism, levitation, and other mystifying feats. Posters can be used in arts and crafts projects, printed at poster size, and played as a slide show on a computer or DVD player.

The Houdini posters include the classic Milk Can poster, King of Cards, Europe's Eclipsing Sensation, The Master Mystery episode eight, a British Water Torture Cell poster, and the uncommon 1914 Buried Alive poster (which raised interesting questions investigated here).

Thanks to MSW for the tip.

Harry Kellar visits The Grim Game set

Here is another sensational photo from the mighty Arthur Moses Collection. This time we get a behind-the-scenes look at Houdini on the set of his first Hollywood feature, The Grim Game, with director Irvin Willat and special visitor, Harry Kellar - Dean of American Magicians.

This was most likely taken on a soundstage at the Famous Players-Lasky Studios located Selma and Vine in Hollywood, not far from where Harry Kellar lived at the time. Having recently read the screenplay, I'd say this is the apartment belonging to Houdini's character, Harvey Hanford, "star reporter on the morning Call."

Kellar visited the set of The Grim Game on more than this one occasion. The photo below, from the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of the NYPL, shows Kellar with Houdini on an exterior location, possibly while shooting the stationary airplane action atop Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon.

Houdini and Kellar on location

As always, thank you Arthur!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I've seen The Grim Game

This dramatic poster image was created
from an equally dramatic still photo
Okay, I haven't really "seen" The Grim Game. But last week I had the pleasure of examining the original Paramount files on Houdini's first Hollywood feature in the Special Collections of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick Library. I was able to delve into some 40 original stills (most I've never seen) and read the original typescript story by Arthur B. Reeve and Charles W. Grey, as well as the full screenplay (or "scenario" as it was called) by Walter Woods. I spent 5 hours immersed in The Grim Game and came away truly feeling like I've finally seen this, ahem, "lost" Houdini film.

This is all going toward a book project, but here are a few interesting nuggets that I'll share now.

Houdini's character name in the original story treatment was Sterling Steel and the paper he works for was called The Star. Come screenplay time, the paper is now The Daily Call and, interestingly, Houdini is just called Harry Houdini throughout the script in both description and dialogue. The name Harvey Hanford doesn't appear until the title card continuity script created after the movie was shot.

Reeve and Grey titled the film The Grim Game from the start, but at one point the alternate title, Circumstantial Evidence, was suggested. Subsequent paperwork scratches out "the", indicating Grim Game was the preferred title. In the original treatment, the villain makes reference to his "grim game" and Mary's career-making newspaper story is titled "Life's Grim Joke." In the script, the villain's grim game line is gone and Mary's story is now called "Tales of the Sunny South."

Houdini style escapes abound in The Grim Game. Houdini escapes handcuffs affixed to his wrists while he sleeps by playful fellow reporters in the Call office; he picks several door locks in the course of the film, and frees himself from heavy shackles and a prison cell. Following the jail escape, he works his way down the side of a tall building using an ever shortening length of flag pole rope. The sequence in which he frees himself from a straitjacket while dangling from a building is absolutely spectacular in its description! I can only imagine what it must be like on film.

Houdini also frees himself from an elaborate bear trap, a sequence that is giving much play in both the treatment and script, yet has been largely forgotten. Maybe that's because the dramatic stills that depict the escape (there are several in the files) have rarely, if ever, been published.

The Daily Call logo can be spotted
in a single behind the scenes still
The mid-air plane transfer is not in the original Reeve/Grey treatment (which has a very different ending), but it is in the screenplay. It's noted that The Daily Call is the only paper to use "aerial delivery," hence Houdini uses the newspaper's plane more than once in the story. In fact, in one of the behind-the-scenes stills, you can see The Daily Call logo on the side of the plane, something I've never spotted in any other still or even the available plane footage.

Curiously, the screenplay contains the famous mid-air plane crash written exactly as it occurred by accident in real life. Maybe this is fresh fodder for conspiracy theorists as Scene 418 clearly specifies "miniature planes falling to earth." Hmmm...

From what I experienced reading the script, I'll join the consensus in saying this is Houdini's best film. It's very lively and modern and is not weighed down with the sometimes creaky melodrama of his other films. The premise is pretty outrageous -- ace reporter Houdini frames himself for murder to score a scoop and prove a point about the dangerous of circumstantial evidence and capital punishment (modern indeed). Of course, the "victim" (Mary's rich father) turns up dead and Houdini finds himself facing an ironclad case against him -- created by himself! From the moment he pitches his plan, it's pretty obvious this is going to happen, but waiting for that shoe to drop is part of the fun, and you are entirely sympathetic to Harry's plight. The film is downright Hitchcockian in this regard.

I was also able to examine the equally voluminous file on Houdini's second Paramount feature, Terror Island, but I'll save that for another time.

My thanks to the staff of Motion Picture Academy's Margaret Herrick Library for allowing me the opportunity to finally "see" The Grim Game.

Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape is a true highlight of The Grim Game

COMING TOMORROW! A terrific behind-the-scenes photo from The Grim Game from the Arthur Moses Collection.

UPDATE: I've now really seen The Grim Game. Read: Houdini conquers Hollywood (at last) in The Grim Game.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Potter & Potter magic posters auction catalog now available

On March 26, 2011, Potter & Potter will auction a "recently-discovered treasure trove of rare and collectible stone lithographs, including examples advertising Houdini, Thurston, Kellar, Chung Ling Soo, Rameses, Jansen, Nicola, and many more."

The catalog, which features Houdini's "Slander in Germany" poster on the cover, is now available for purchase from the Potter & Potter website for $35. A digital download will be available on or before March 1st.

Bess, Rasputin, and the Czar's brooch

The following is from the The Magic Castle Friday Lunch newsletter for February 11, 2011, written by Milt Larsen himself. This is pure gold. With all the reading and research I do, this is the kind of thing you only hear at The Castle. And, yes, there is a photo of the young Milt with Bess in the Seance Room (I always show it to my guests), and I have seen the broach on Arlene. Magic indeed. Enjoy.

On this date in magical history
Sorry to report the passing of Harry Houdini’s wife, Beatrice Houdini. She died on the train to New York at the age of sixty-six. The year was 1943. I had the pleasure of knowing Mrs. Houdini since she was a great friend of my parents. Dad was an attorney and handled all her legal affairs pro bono. She helped them start Genii Magazine in 1936 and joined my mother in founding Magigals, the first club for lady magicians. There is a nice photo of a little kid doing a coin trick for Mrs. Houdini mounted on the wall in the Houdini Seance Room. I think I was about eight at the time. I remember her as a very nice lady.
Mrs. Houdini gave my mother a broach made from a pin the Czar of Russia gave to Houdini. Houdini historian Pat Culliton lunches with us almost every Friday so he can tell you the story of Houdini’s fascinating relationship with the Czar. Houdini was offered the job of spiritual advisor to the family which he turned down. They job went to a fake spiritualist named Rasputin. Later the Czar wanted to hire Houdini to expose Rasputin. Pat probably has the facts but according to my mother the Czar gave Houdini the emerald and ruby encrusted pin at a dinner party honoring the Houdinis. The Czar felt Houdini insulted him when Harry refused to toast the occasion. He refused to drink wine. Hey, Patrick. That’s what mom said and if you can’t trust your mother who can you trust.
What happened to that broach? Mother gave it to my wife Arlene and she wears it on very special occasions.

UPDATEBess Houdini's Royal Crown Brooch headed to auction.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot

Okay, this has nothing to do with Houdini, but it has everything to do with Steven Bingen, the Warner Bros. archivist and Houdini buff who has helped me time and time again in my research, and was the man who discovered the long lost file on RKO 589.

Steve has just released his new book, MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot, a comprehensive look at the legendary and now long gone Culver City backlots that belonged to MGM during the Golden Age. This is a must buy for anyone with an interest in Hollywood history or the inner workings of movies studios. Congrats, Steve!

UPDATE: Check out the official book website here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The forgotten films of Theo Hardeen

Houdini made movies. We know that. Less well-known is the fact that Bess also made a movie (Religious Racketeer). But what about the third member of the performing family, Houdini's younger brother, Theo. Hardeen? It would appear he shied away from the silver screen. But it turns out that isn't the case at all. In fact, it's possible Hardeen may have made more movies than Houdini himself. But these films have been almost totally forgotten -- until now.

Evidence of Hardeen's movie career can be found scattered among the pages of magic magazines from the 1930s. As I recently revealed here at Wild About Harry, Hardeen pitched a remake of The Master Mystery to Paramount in 1934 with, presumably, himself in the role of Quentin Locke. But when he did this he was no cinema novice. According to the same article, Hardeen had "just finished the second series of six shorts at the Astoria studios." This is an astounding revelation. If his first "series" were the same number of films, this means Hardeen had made twelve short films by 1934!

Astoria Studios in 1928

Astoria Studios, located in Queens, New York, was built by Famous Players-Lasky in 1920 and operated as Paramount's East Coast Studio. Many features and short subjects were filmed there between 1920 and 1933, with two most famous being the Marx Bros. first features, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. The studio was also home to the Paramount Newsreels and prolific short film divisions. When Paramount moved all production to California, Astoria was turned over to independent producers whose films were released through Paramount. It was during the start of this independent era that Hardeen made his shorts.

It's likely Hardeen made these shorts for Paramount's short film division. He was performing on the Paramount theater circuit at this time, and that fact that he's pitching a remake of The Master Mystery to Paramount shows he's acquainted with the motion picture division. But the year opens up the possibility that the shorts were made independently and just used Astoria as a facility, which makes tracking down information on them, not to mention prints, much harder. At the moment, I can find nothing more about these Astoria shorts, except that they exist (or existed). But that's more than we knew before.

Hardeen touts his film work in this ad
However, there is one Hardeen movie that we do know something about. Medium Well Done was a one reel short Hardeen made for Warner Bros. in 1936. In it, Hardeen played a "hardboiled detective" on the case of a bogus medium. It was clearly made as a starring vehicle for the magician. Surviving production records spell out the title as, "Theodore Hardeen in Medium Well Done."

Medium Well Done was a Vitaphone Short Subject, production #1958, directed by Lloyd French, who directed many of the early Laurel and Hardy shorts. It was shot at the Flatbush Vitaphone Studios in January 1936, but wasn't released until March 1937. The film featured the Leo Forbstein songs "Racing Luck" and "Alibi Ike" as background instrumental music. David Mendoza was the Musical Director. An exhibitor story synopsis reads:

MEDIUM WELL DONE. Vitaphone–Novelty. 10m. Hardeen, the magician, exposes trickery in the seance racket. Posing as a friend of a couple being duped, he accepts a medium's challenge to duplicate her tricks. It is all very interesting. GOOD.

Medium Well Done was said to have been one of four Vitaphone shorts Hardeen made for Warner Bros. However, I could find no record of the other films, leading me to suspect they were never made. Maybe that's because Medium Well Done didn't turn out...all that well done, at least according to Robert Nelson in The Linking Ring who wrote:

"I recently witnessed the Vitaphone short, Medium Well Done, featuring that stellar star, Theodore Hardeen. I don't propose to be much of movie critic, but the picture certainly was 'medium well done.' What ever might have been its purpose, I am sure it failed. As a comedy, it did not even rate (should be classed as such). Oh hum, give me Mickey Mouse next time!"

Currently, there don't appear to be any surviving prints of Medium Well Done. But this could be because no one has even known to look for it. The word is out and the search is on for Hardeen's lost Vitaphone short. Stay tuned.

One film Hardeen surprisingly didn't appear in was the movie version of Olsen and Johnson's Hellzapoppin' (1941), the popular Broadway show that Hardeen had successfully played in for four years. But the movie was only a very loose adaptation of the stage show. Still, this feature has survived, so it would have been our best way today to see Hardeen on film.

Perhaps the info in this post will opens a few vault doors, and maybe one day soon we will see one, if not all, of the forgotten films of Theo. Hardeen.

My thanks to the staff of the USC Warner Bros. Archives and Ron Hutchinson of The Vitaphone Project for their assistance in uncovering information on Medium Well Done. Also thanks to Bill Mullins.

UPDATE: According to Ron Hutchinson of The Vitaphone Project, a 35mm print of Medium Well Done exists in the Library of Congress. This is great news and it gives me hope that one day we might see it released via the Warner Archive Collection. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Secret Life of Houdini movie makes a timely reappearance

The Hollywood Reporter reports that Summit Entertainment has hired Noah Oppenheim to write The Secret Life of Houdini, the first film in what they hope will be an "action franchise" featuring Houdini’s fictional exploits as a spy for the British and U.S. governments.

Summit picked up the rights to the biography by William Kalush and Larry Sloman amid great fanfare in March 2009. It was then quickly announced that Jeff Nathanson had signed on to write and direct. That was the last word on the project. THR says Nathanson is no longer involved.

Perhaps the news last week that DreamWorks and SyFy were developing their own Houdini projects helped give the long stalled project a kick in the straitjacket.

Oppenheim previously worked on the script for the teen adventure adaptation Maze Runners. Summit's Erik Feig, Geoff Shaevitz, and Ashley Schlaifer, who originally brought the book to the Summit, will oversee the project for the studio.

Harry Houdini, card cheat

Here's an end of the week magic treat from the mighty Arthur Moses Collection. This beautiful cabinet photo shows Houdini playing poker with an unidentified man. But look closely and you can see Houdini is using a Keplinger Holdout to feed himself the Ace of Spades.

You can see another photo of Houdini in his Holdout (with jacket off showing the full rig) in Patrick Culliton's Houdini The Key.

Thank you, Arthur!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Arthur Moses offering reproductions of rare Hungarian Houdini pitchbook

Arthur Moses checks in today with a terrific offer for all Houdini collectors. Recently he discovered this extraordinarily rare Hungarian pitchbook from 1922 that promotes The Mastery Mystery. Arthur has now made reproductions of this rarity for sale.

"I have made some reproductions to sell...each is 5x8 inches - perfect bound (stapled) on antique looking high bond paper. 3 images appear (although very poor quality as in the original). Extremely rare! This unique item is scarcer than the Russian pitchbook."

You can buy one of Arthur's reproductions of this rare Houdini pitchbook for $25.00 within the USA and $28 outside the USA. Send payment via PayPal to He has also listed several copies with a Buy It Now price on eBay.

Water Torture Cell to be displayed at Skirball Center in Los Angeles

UPDATE: I just spoke to John Gaughan and this is NOT the original restored cell. This is a working replica he created from the original. Sorry about that. But this will still be cool to see as it is said to be identical to the real cell.

Breaking news! Joan Lawton announced last night at The Magic Castle that the original-restored Houdini Water Torture Cell will be displayed at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles when the Houdini Art and Magic exhibition arrives there on April 28, 2011.

The cell is being supplied by John Gaughan who performed the restoration on the historic prop after it was destroyed by fire in 1995. The original cell will ONLY be displayed at this L.A. stop.

The Skirball Center will also feature a retrospective of Jewish magicians called Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age, featuring items from the collections of Mike Caveney and others. Dozens of photos, posters, and an original copy of The Discoverie of Witchcraft will be part of that display.

Houdini Art and Magic is currently on show at The Jewish Museum in New York. It will open at the Skirball Center on April 28 and run through September 4, 2011, before moving on to San Francisco and Wisconsin.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

J. Gordon Whitehead takes the Stage

Here is one of the more unusual pieces of Houdini tie-in fiction to ever come along.

The Stages of J. Gordon Whitehead by Steven Heighton invents a history for the infamous McGill University student who delivered the "fatal" blows to Houdini in Montreal.

"Heighton's Whitehead might be thought of as a refugee from irony; ever since his fateful blow to Houdini's stomach, irony stalks him, from the streets of Montreal to the mountains of the American south. The story is not judgemental and even allows for the doomed Whitehead, in his own way, to be redeemed."

You can purchase The Stages of J. Gordon Whitehead at Frog Hollow Press for $25 (incl. s/h). The paperback printing is limited to 75 copies. A special Deluxe Edition limited to 20 copies is sold out.

For information on the real J. Gordon Whitehead, read Don Bell's compelling The Man Who Killed Houdini.

Steve 'Mr. Escape' Baker launches blog

Legendary escape artist Steve Baker aka "Mr. Escape" has launched a new blog at You can read Steve's special welcome message ("Still Alive") here.

This is exciting. Steve Baker was one of my boyhood heros and a key influence as I was becoming interested in Houdini and magic. He was certainly one of the most prominent escape artists of his era.

I'll never forgot when I got to meet Steve and his lovely wife/assistant Julie at The Magic Emporium in Tarzana, CA (my signed photo from that occasion is above). I'll also never forgot Steve's performance of the Water Torture Cell on Dick Clark's LIVE Wednesday. It is still the most harrowing version of the escape I've ever witnessed, and to this day I wonder if Julie was really as frightened as she appeared or just a very good actress.

Anyway, it's a thrill to have "Mr. Escape" just one click away. I look forward to reading his blog posts and reliving fond memories and daring escapes.

Sherry and Krall reveal working Water Torture Cell replica

Richard Sherry and Dayle Krall of The Magic of Sherry and Krall have created an authentic working replica of Houdini's Chinese Water Torture Cell, which Dayle Krall (pictured) plans to perform in celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the creation of this, Houdini's most famous escape.

Building this cell was a painstaking two year process. Richard Sherry generously shares with us the secrets of how he was able to create such an authentic reproduction.

"I was able to examine the original Cell. When I was a kid I lived in Toronto which was 70 minutes away from Niagara Falls. Between 1973 and 1980 I had visited the museum multiple times and taken dozens and dozens of pictures of the Cell. So I had a very good reference from my experience. However when I was starting to build the Torture Cell with my pictures being over 30 years old, they weren’t very clear anymore. So I also relied on pictures of John Gaughan’s rebuilt Torture Cell from the internet as further reference.

This, however, proved to be problematic because I started to notice that Gaughan’s rebuilt cell was missing some of the finer details that were in the original. The biggest difference was that the screws that were on the wood portions of the original Cell were missing on the rebuilt version. I went back to photos of the original that I was able to find on the internet and I used those, along with my own reference material to create this replica. Even the lifting frame was incorrect in some of the photos of the original Cell because in the museum it was put on upside down.

For materials, my research indicated that it was built from Honduran mahogany. This wood was very difficult to source and when I did find it, it was only 3/4” thick. Houdini’s Cell had wood that was 1” thick so it cost thousands of dollars to obtain the proper amount of wood that I needed for the project.

All the screws used on Houdini’s Cell were slotted which were incredibly difficult to find in Canada. There are hundreds of screws used in this recreation as Houdini had in his.

The building was meticulous. There were things that Houdini did in his Water Torture Cell that didn’t make sense to me in the beginning but they all made sense to me in the end. When building, there were certain parts where I wondered why Houdini did this or that but it really came together in the end and made me appreciate Houdini’s genius even more.

All metal was formed and shaped in my shop. I created the drain plugs, which were no where to be found, on my metal lathe.

It was an excruciating 2 years to create this virtually exact replica of Houdini’s Chinese Water Torture Cell but absolutely fulfilling.

We are currently in negotiations to perform this at a magic convention. We want to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the creation of the Chinese Water Torture Cell with a tribute to Harry Houdini in our performance."

Thank you, Richard, and good luck Dayle!

The original cell and the impressive Sherry and Krall reproduction.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Latest on the "lost" posters of Houdini

My story on The lost posters of Harry Houdini and its follow-up, Lost Houdini poster FOUND!, have certainly proven to be popular. Guess this shouldn't be too surprising as magic posters are a sweet spot for collectors. What has been especially gratifying is how these stories have yielded some terrific new information (at least information that's new to me). Here's an update on the latest.

Gale Molovinsky and his
rare Houdini poster
First up, Collector and magic consultant Gale Molovinsky informs me that he owns an "America's Sensation" poster, purchased from Mario Carrandi in 1980 (maybe acquired in this auction?). According to Gale, Houdini commissioned this poster from the St. Paul printing company in London right after he arrived there in 1900. Says Gale, "If you look carefully you will really see the face of the young Ehrich Weiss staring back at you in his American flag colors swimsuit....this is before he became 'The Great Houdini'." Nicely said.

This means along with King of Cards and the two posters for The Houdinis, this is one of Houdini's earliest posters, and possibly the first showing him as an escape artist. That makes it even more special. A clue to its early age is that it's the same size as those other early sheets. Of course, once Houdini hit it big, so did his posters. But we'll get to that a little later.

While we're on the subject of the America's Sensation poster, conservationist Renée Wolcott tells me she has now finished the restoration on the copy recently discovered inside a decaying SAM scrapbook in the Billy Rose Theatre Division of the NYPL Library for the Performing Arts. Congratulations Renée!

On another front, in the original article I featured a photo of a theater display in Salem Massachusetts and speculated that the poster on the far right could be an alternate version of the more well-known Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery poster. Turns out that's exactly what it is. Confirmation was hiding in plain sight on page 24 of Houdini Art and Magic. There you can see a larger picture of the display and can clearly read on the poster: "The World's Handcuff King in the Prison and Barrel Transportation."

Dean Carnegie (Magic Detective) also alerts me to Houdini's use of enormous 24-sheet posters, none of which apparently survive today. But you can see one of Houdini's large street posters (though smaller than a 24-sheet) in Christopher's Houdini A Pictorial Life on page 22. You can also spot the still mysterious "peering through the jail cell bars" poster on the far left this shot.

An example of one of Houdini's larger posters - also note jail cell poster on left

A portion of this large poster appears in Ken Silverman's Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss. However, the missing section seen here appears to depict a bridge jump. As with the lost and found Overboard Box poster, we again see a poster showing an outside stunt. Makes one hopeful that there could be one for the suspended straitjacket escape. The mind boggles at what kind of image Houdini's talented poster artists would have created for that.

Finally, here is another drool-worthy Hardeen poster, found on the back of his pitchbook, The Life and History of Hardeen (from my own collection). Oh to see this one in color.

Hardeen poster impressive even in black and white

Thanks to all the generous collectors and friends who have come forward to share their images and information.

UPDATE: NYPL shows us "America's Sensation" in color.

LINK: Kellar & Houdini

There's another must read over at Dean Carnegie's Magic Detective today. This time Dean takes a look at the long friendship between Houdini and Harry Kellar, "Dean of American Magicians." This is great stuff, so click on the headline to go.

Kellar and Houdini in Atlantic City in 1908.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Jim Steinmeyer unspools The Spider

I just received the latest copy of Gibecière (Vol. 6, No. 1), the impressive publication of the Conjuring Arts Research Center, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it contains an article by Jim Steinmeyer examining Fulton Oursler's play, The Spider, a murder mystery with a magician as the main character.

Of course, Oursler was also the subject of my own investigation into his "Houdini" film project at RKO, Now You See It. You can read about that in the current issue of MAGIC Magazine. Great minds think alike? ;)

On a related note, Houdini expert Patrick Culliton says Oursler also wrote an unproduced play called, The Fox, which had a main character based on Houdini. Sounds like a follow-up to The Spider and, Patrick suspects, possibly a stage version of Now You See It.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Houdini in H O L L Y W O O D

Click to enlarge

Here is a fantastic unpublished photo of Houdini on the Famous Players Lasky backlot shaking hands with actor Clarence Geldart while director Donald Crisp looks on. This image is from Arthur Moses, who generously sent this over for me to share and for all to enjoy.

Clarence Geldart appeared in 127 films between 1915 and 1936. Donald Crisp was a writer and director during the silent era. He would go on to become a well-known character actor and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1942 for his performance in How Green Was My Valley.

This photo was most likely taken during the filming of Fires of Faith (1919), the story of the Salvation Army during World War I. The movie was directed by Crisp and featured Geldart as "Railton."

But why is Houdini in a bathing suit and what appears to be movie make-up (at least his hair is dyed)? There is a pool back there -- could Houdini be shooting some underwater escape action that has been lost to time? Or maybe he is just taking publicity shots in preparation for his first Hollywood feature, The Grim Game.

A very big thank you to Arthur Moses for letting me share this image, and to Marc Wanamaker of the Bison Archives for helping me identify the players.