Sunday, July 31, 2011

Genii forum members dissect 'The problem with Bessie'

A pretty good discussion has sprung up on the Genii Forum about my blog this weekend regarding The problem with Bessie (finally one my posts gets some attention over there). Some buy it as the reason the Houdinis never had children. Some question its validity and reliability of Marie Blood. Some say X-rays and Houdini are still to blame. Others find the entire thing "distasteful" and would have preferred that I kept the information to myself.

If you care to join the discussion, just click on over to the Genii forums. There's also a thread at The Magic Cafe, but it hasn't really provoked conversation (or controversy) as it has on Genii.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The problem with Bessie

I've been sitting on this information for a long time. Sixteen years, to be precise. It's something I've shared with fellow Houdini buffs over lunches at the Magic Castle, but because of the personal nature of it, I've never felt I should "publish" it online or elsewhere. It's the answer to why Harry and Bess Houdini never had children, and it was told to me by Marie Blood, Houdini's niece on Bessie's side. As far as I know, it's never been revealed in any book or article. Until now.

Why now? Well, anyone who's followed this blog knows I celebrate Bess here and find her fascinating. But she's even more elusive than her husband. We just don't know all that much about her. What I have here is an important (maybe even critical) puzzle piece that helps further complete her portrait. It's nothing bad, and it certainly doesn't diminish the memory or legacy of this great woman. If anything, it draws her more into focus and helps us understand all the demons she was fighting.

First, the backstory.

In July 1995, I traveled to Colorado Springs to hear the late Marie Blood speak. I was excited to hear the remembrances of Houdini's last living relative. I had exchanged letters with Marie, so she knew I would be there. Her talk was delightful, filled with first-hand memories of her Uncle Houdini and Aunt Bess, and she brought along a few precious artifacts, including a children’s book given to Houdini by his half-brother, Herman.

After the talk, I introduced myself. Marie said she was impressed that I had come all this way just to hear her speak and invited me to her hotel where we could talk more in private. We settled into the hotel lobby near a large fireplace and chatted for an hour or more. Interestingly, I found myself asking more questions about Bess than Houdini. Marie's memories of Houdini are limited as he died when she was still a child. But Bessie lived on for another 17 years and even lived with Marie and her mother (Bess's sister) for a while. Marie knew Bessie very, very well.

Houdini's niece, Marie Blood
One bit of bombshell info was that "Aunt Bess" smoked. In 1995, this was completely unknown, and it blew my mind. "Bess smoked!!!" I wrote it down at the top of my notes. Marie told me more things. She said Mrs. Weiss told Bess's mother that Houdini was "born on the boat" to America. (!) She said Bess died on the train in Needles while her sister (Marie's mother) was feeding her chicken gumbo. She said the dressing room attack on Houdini was not an accident; Whitehead (she called his Whitesville) just rushed in and "bam!" She also told me Houdini loved making Chicken Paprika, which made me smile because so do I.

I had brought along my copy of The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini, then the first major biography on Houdini in 25 years, and asked Marie sign it for me, which she did. She said she wasn't really a fan of the book, particularly the author's pet theory that Houdini was impotent, which at the time was getting a lot of press (it even got a mention on Seinfeld). Marie said she knew why Harry and Bess didn't have children and would have told author Ruth Brandon had she asked. But she said Brandon simply looked over her collection and didn't show much interest in what she had to say about her uncle, so Marie kept the information to herself.

Of course, I had to ask, "So why didn't they have children?" Marie learned close, patted my leg, and said she'd tell me.

Now, throughout our conversation, Marie continually emphasized just how small and "undeveloped" Bess was. This actually delighted Marie as a child because she could wear Aunt Bessie's shoes, which were a size one! Marie said Bess was very frail and often sick, and she never weighed more than 98 pounds. But part of this "undeveloped" nature was a lifelong health problem. Aunt Bess, she said, never had her period in her life. She never menstruated. Hence, she could never have children. That's why the Houdinis remained childless.

Doing some research online, it appears what Marie was telling me is that Bess Houdini suffered from a condition called Primary Amenorrhea. According to, "Primary amenorrhea is diagnosed if you turn 16 and haven't menstruated. It's usually caused by some problem in your endocrine system, which regulates your hormones. Sometimes this results from low body weight associated with eating disorders, excessive exercise or medications. This medical condition can be caused by a number of other things, such as a problem with your ovaries or an area of your brain called the hypothalamus or genetic abnormalities. Delayed maturing of your pituitary gland is the most common reason."

Wikipedia says that "Primary amenorrhoea may be caused by developmental problems such as the congenital absence of the uterus, or failure of the ovary to receive or maintain egg cells. Also, delay in pubertal development will lead to primary amenorrhoea."

This is a pretty interesting revelation but also tragic. By all accounts, the Houdinis loved children and would have enjoyed having them. They poured their affections onto their pets and actually fantasized that they had an imaginary child (who grew up to become President of the United States). Bessie even told a reporter in 1911 that they had a daughter who was about to be married. Why they didn't adopt...well, that's a mystery I don't know the answer to.

Now, just because Bessie had a condition that made her physically frail, she was certainly not weak in mind and spirit. Bess Houdini, by all accounts, was as much a go-getter as her husband. She looked after a household filled with pets and family, kept Houdini focused onstage and off, wrangled the assistants for his full evening roadshow, and even made all the costumes. Houdini would say of his wife, "All my fights when she thinks I am right she is alongside, helping me load the machine guns."

One of my favorite quotes comes from a long-time Houdini hater, Guy Jarrett, who, after badmouthing Houdini in a letter to a friend, added, "Bessie is screwy too." Ha! Love it. They were two of a kind. The Great Houdinis.

I hope revealing this personal information isn't a terrible breach of family confidence. But if Marie was willing to tell Ruth Brandon (had she been interested), then she was presumably okay with it becoming public knowledge. Did she tell Ken Silverman or Bill Kalush? If so, they didn't include it in their biographies. But she told me, and now I've told you.

Also see:

Friday, July 29, 2011

August MAGIC believes in Rosabelle

The August 2011 issue of MAGIC Magazine contains a terrific article by Gregory Curtis about his discovery of the original Houdini Code memo written by Bess Houdini and sealed in a safe deposit box. This is the note that spelled out exactly how Houdini would communicate from beyond the grave if he could -- a note that Houdini's lawyer, B.M.L. Ernst, said "only existed in Bessie's imagination." Apparently not.

The remarkable discovery was made within a new cache of estate documents recently acquired by the Harry Ranson Center at The University of Austin, Texas.

I won't spoil all of Curtis' findings here, but two things I found revelatory was the fact that Bess says the original code was conceived in 1913 (much earlier than I would have thought), and instead of Rosabelle, they had originally used "Mike", another pet name Houdini had for Bess. Great stuff!

The August issue of MAGIC (with "The Making of A Million Dollar Magic Show" on the cover) can be purchased at magic retailers and online at the MAGIC Magazine website.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Hardeen voice recording played on CBC Radio

Richard Sherry of Sherry and Krall Magic checks in to tell me that he recently heard a "complete clear as a bell interview with Hardeen" on the CBC Radio show, Tales From The Vault.

The recording was from 1936 and was not the WNYC interview that I posted HERE. Until now, that 1939 interview was the only available recording of Hardeen's voice that I was aware, although he certainly must have done a lot of radio in his day (even Houdini was doing radio in the '20s).

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to turn up anything on the CBC Radio website. Did anyone else hear the interview? Let the hunt begin!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Houdini's pets

Houdini & Charlie
Harry and Bess Houdini had no children. Maybe because of this, they lavished paternal attention onto their pets, particularly their dogs, Charlie and Bobby. We don't know too much about these fury members of the Houdini family, but what we do know is charming.

Charlie, a small white Pomeranian, was given to the Houdinis by the Grand Duke of Russia in 1903. Charlie accompanied the Houdinis on their first European tour. At certain points, the dog needed to be smuggled across international borders, which according to Ken Silverman in Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, Houdini accomplished "using one of Ching Ling Foo's conjuring methods." Houdini would write that he was "scared to death for fear of detection."

The Houdinis had Charlie for eight years and adored the animal. The dog appears in many family portraits, and when Houdini's mother visited him on tour in Cincinnati, Houdini noted that "Charlie the dog went wild for thirty minutes with joy." When Charlie died in 1909 they were both shattered. "Charlie, our dog, dying," Houdini wrote in his dairy. "Have taken him away from Surgeon Thompson so he can die at home. Bess crying. I don't feel any too good."

Houdini & Bobby
Charlie's successor was a fox terrier named Bobby. Bess later told the story of how she discovered Bobby in a Harlem butcher shop and tried to feed him a bone. When the butcher would not let her, Bess bought the dog in order to feed it. Houdini taught his "frisky" new dog how to escape from a pair of miniature handcuffs and a straitjacket and touted him as "Bobby The Handcuff King." He also claimed Bobby was "the greatest somersault dog who ever lived." Bobby's escape act headlined at the 14th Annual Society of American Magicians dinner in 1918 when Houdini was President.

Bobby died on December 15, 1918. As with Charlie, they had the dog for eight years. Houdini wrote an affectionate eulogy for his "good faithful Bobby" that was published in MUM Magazine. (It's reprinted in Gibson's Houdini on Magic.)

According to Ken Silverman, the Houdinis at one point also had another dog named "Eric", but I could find no info on that canine member of the family.

The Houdinis appear to be dog-less by the late 1920s, but they still kept a menagerie of other pets inside 278. Marie Blood recalls a six foot square aviary filled with birds, a talking parrot named "Laura" who lived in the Houdinis bedroom, and a pet turtle named "Petie" who she would "chase around the flower beds" behind 278. I've also heard mention of a parrot named Polly, a canary named Houdini, and a large rabbit named Rudy. And while not strictly a "pet", one cannot discuss Houdini and animals without making of mention of his famous vanishing elephant Jennie, whom Houdini said was "as gentle as a kitten." There was also his patriotic appearing American eagle, "Abraham Lincoln".

One final pet tale. After Houdini's death, when Bess was living with Ed Saint in California, she boarded their 25-year-old pet parrot named "Pat Houdini." But having "learned to pick locks while watching his master during his escape acts" (so claimed Ed Saint), Pat picked the lock of his cage and disappeared into the Hollywood Hills. According to the New York Times account of the daring escape, Pat was "singing as he soared away."

This post is in preparation for a much more serious blog that I will unleash on the issue of the Houdinis childlessness. It will reveal information that I don’t think has ever been revealed before. It's personal, and it might be controversial, so I'm working to present it in the just the right way. But, for now, I hope you enjoyed this look back at the Houdinis "kids", and watch for The problem with Bessie this weekend.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The know-it-all "exposes" Houdini

Here's a screen capture of yours truly in the 1998 Houdini documentary, Houdini Exposed, which came bundled with Houdini's silent feature Terror Island (Library of Congress print) as a Houdini VHS "Double Feature". I haven't watched it in years. But having run into the director, Kent Hagen, at The Magic Castle recently, I gave it another look.

You know, it's really not a bad little doc! I'm not as awful as I remember, and I like that it spends a lot of time on Houdini's film career, which is usually overlooked and sometimes omitted from documentaries altogether. It also doesn't fall into the familiar narrative traps, such as leaping right from his mother's death to his spiritualist crusade (which were separated by 10 years). The doc also incudes an interview with Patrick Culliton, who tells some stories that have never appeared on screen or in-print before. It also features the sound footage of Bessie from Mystic Circle Murder (a.k.a. Religious Racketeers).

As far as I know, this has never made it to DVD or even onto YouTube. While the VHS can still be purchased on Amazon, my fear is it could vanish altogether one day. Maybe I should digitize my old VHS and post it here on Wild About Harry? Or maybe I can somehow lobby for this to be released on DVD.

Houdini's spiritualism lecture leaflet

There have been a lot of interesting Houdini rarites popping up on eBay lately, including this 4 page fold-out leaflet from 1924 for Houdini's lecture on "Fraudulent Spiritualist Phenomena". Can't say I've seen one of these before.

Writing on the bottom of the cover ID's and dates this lecture as, "Plaza, February 18, 1924". The seller says he thinks this may have been for an appearance by Houdini at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston.

This leaflet sold for a respectable $565.55, so it appears I wasn't the only one who hadn't seen one of these before.

UPDATE: This appears to be a lecture at the Plaza Theatre in Stroudsburg, PA.

Monday, July 25, 2011

William Kalush discusses Houdini's enduring fame at the Skirball

William Kalush, author of The Secret Life of Houdini and director of the Conjuring Arts Research Center, gave a talk on "Houdini and His Enduring Fame" at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles on Sunday. The lecture was nicely tailored to general audiences, while still containing a lot of juicy tidbits for the Houdini hardcore (and there were a number of hardcore on hand, including Pat Culliton and Mike Caveney).

Bill proposed to show how Houdini's enduring fame was created by Houdini himself through a remarkably modern understanding of performance art and popular media. The public persona Houdini crafted was so strong, it still represents all that "mysterious" today. In fact, the common use of Houdini's name as an adjective actually started early in Houdini's own career, and Bill had the newspaper clippings to prove it. (Bill rejects the notion that Houdini's fame was due solely to the efforts of Bess and Ed Saint after his death, as well as the idea that magicians like Thurston were more famous in their day.)

I really can't do justice to his thesis here, but know that it was eloquent and intelligent and held the audience captive for the full hour. Bill even got a big laugh when, after describing in detail the Mirror Challenge, he said he's seen a lot of magic shows in his day, but never one that ended with the audience rushing onstage and carrying the magician aloft on their shoulders. But such was the power of a Houdini performance!

Bill used slides of Houdini challenge broadsides to show how Houdini used specific, crafty language to create a suggestion of failure or danger, while also controlling the circumstances of these very challenges. Many of these broadsides I've never seen, and I was struck by a large number that featured a challenge for Houdini to escape from his Milk Can while it was filled with milk (I always thought that was a one-off). Also amazing (and amusing) was how many featured provocative bold-type headings like "MURDER!" just to capture the public attention. Bill also pointed out how Houdini, the "arch skeptic", was happy to associate himself with the supernatural in his publicity, reading a specific article from a Master Mystery press kit that was both revelatory and pretty funny. (Another thing that made me sit up was when Bill showed a newspaper article about a bridge jump in 1898, certainly the earliest bridge jump on record.)

But it was during the very active Q&A session that Bill related a story that maybe best illustrated Houdini's enduring fame. While writing The Secret Life of Houdini, he and co-author Larry Sloman conducted a "highly unscientific" survey by sending an assistant into a park with instructions of ask people ages 18 to 24 if they had ever heard of Houdini. Not too surprising, 100% had, and they could even correctly identify him as being a magician, etc. But then they sent out the same assistant with a selection of photographs of moderately famous individuals of the time that included a photo of Houdini (and it was not an obvious photo of him in chains, just a portrait). Once again, 100% of the people could identify Houdini's photo, which Bill, and I, found pretty amazing.

A few other bits of random info I found new and interesting: Houdini would not allow Hardeen to do challenges. Bill said he thought the reason the Houdinis never adopted was because "Bess needed to be the child" in the relationship (I'm going to have something major on this topic later this week). Houdini had a method prepared to escape from a completely un-gaffed challenge Milk Can, but it's unclear if he ever did it. The box for the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery still exists and the "craftsmanship is beautiful". Bill is skeptical of the explanation that the Houdini birth date confusion has to do with the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. Houdini's father was a lawyer who made a "terrible" rabbi (big laugh).

Afterwards, I was able to chat briefly with Bill as he signed my copy of his book: "For John, Keep up the amazing work! And thanks for coming to the lecture. Yours, Bill Kalush."

All in all, it was sensational Sunday afternoon of Houdini worship, and yet another terrific event hosted by the Skirball Cultural Center.

The Master Mystery in original dust jacket hits eBay

My normal policy here at Wild About Harry is not to report on eBay auctions until after they've ended. However, I know this seller personally, so I can vouch for this item's authenticity and the honesty of the seller, and this is something damn cool! (Trust me, if I had to money to buy this myself, it would not be on eBay today).

What we have here is the photoplay edition of Houdini's 1918 serial, The Master Mystery by Arthur B. Reeve and John W. Grey. While the book itself shows up on eBay from time to time, a copy in the original dust jacket is fantastically rare! The seller has this listed at a starting price of $450, which is more than fair as that is close to what the book sells for without the jacket.

You can view the auction and bid here.

The same seller/friend also has a copy of Houdini's Magic by Walter Gibson in the original dust jacket here. This is also a VERY hard book to find with a cover. Starting price on that is a very low $200.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

American Experience Houdini doc finally coming to DVD

According to a new listing on, it appears the PBS American Experience Houdini documentary is finally coming to DVD. While not yet available for pre-order, the listing shows a release date of October 4, 2011.

Hosted by David McCullough, the hour long documentary made by WGBH includes interviews with David Copperfield, James Randi, Ken Silverman, and others. It was first broadcast on January 24, 2000 and has thus far only been made available on VHS.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pre-order Houdini & Holmes #2

It's Comic Con weekend, so it's appropriate that we have some Houdini comic news today. The talented young artist Polly Guo tells us that she's just completed Houdini & Holmes #2, the second part of her 2 part graphic novel that teams Houdini and Sherlock Holmes.

Polly says the book is off to the printers, but cautions the turnaround time is about a month. "BUT I’m currently asking them if there’s ANYTHING I can do to help them to speed up the process," says Polly.

You can pre-order Houdini & Holmes #2 via Polly's website. It's limited to just 300 copies. Remember, the first printing of Houdini & Holmes #1 was a sell-out, so you might want to grab this now. I just did.

UPDATE: Polly tells me the publisher's turn around time is now only two weeks.

Steinmeyer's The Card Trick published in August issue of Genii

The August 2011 issue of Genii Magazine contains a real treat for all Houdini buffs. This latest issue includes a short article by Jim Steinmeyer, Houdini and Margery in the Spotlight, in which he talks about his one-act Houdini play, The Card Trick. But the real treat is that Jim and Genii have included the full text of play with photos. Great stuff!

The Card Trick starred Jim Bentley as Houdini and Jeanine Anderson as Margery the Medium. It was performed for a limited time at The Magic Castle in May 2011. Click here for my review.

Bring a guest FREE to hear Bill Kalush speak at the Skirball tomorrow

The Skirball Center is making a special offer to those who buy tickets in advance to William Kalush's Houdini lecture tomorrow (July 24) at 2pm.

If you purchase your ticket in advance on the Skirball website or by phone at (877) SCC-4TIX or (877) 722-4849, you can be a guest along for FREE (does not include General admission to the Museum). Also, walk-up visitors can get 50% off this lecture when paired with the price of General admission.

When I spoke to Bill briefly at the Houdini Art and Magic launch party in April, he said he had some fresh Houdini research to reveal, so this could be exciting. A book signing will follow.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Houdini franchise

Check out this Hardeen broadside that sold yesterday on eBay for $128.50. In it we get a good look at Hardeen's Milk Can poster which, of course, is identical to Houdini's Milk Can poster only with Hardeen's name on it (I also feel like some work has been done on the face).

What I like about this is it shows how Hardeen was really part of a Houdini franchise (without the financial component as Dash didn't pay a licence to Houdini, as far as we know). Franchising was not uncommon during the Golden Age of Magic. Harry Jansen became "Dante" when he was signed to head a Thurston franchise show. But those masters put their own names on the top of the bill -- "Thurston Presents..." Houdini kept the fact that Hardeen was a Houdini "franchise" a secret. Houdini's intent was to not spread his own name, but to control the market of imitators with his own. Indeed, Houdini and Hardeen were sometimes touted as rivals. However, this poster was a tell.

Did Houdini have other secret franchises? Dean Carnegie, on his blog Magic Detective, recently explored the story of Leonard Hicks aka The Great Leonard, a forgotten Houdini protege (franchisee?), who also performed the Milk Can.

Ken Silverman in Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss revealed that Houdini created a female escape artist named "Miss Trixy" (a name Houdini also gave to one of Hardeen's first assistants) who performed a duplicate version of his famous Water Torture Cell. Miss Trixy's real name was Wanda Timm. Houdini paid her 150 marks per month for a one-year-term, but he retained the right to cancel the contract should she be unable to perform the Torture Cell "because of loss of nerve." Again, this was a response to imitators, especially another female escape artist named Miss Undina who was doing her own, unlicensed, version of the USD.

One wonders if Miss Trixy's posters, like Hardeen's Milk Can poster, were variations on Houdini's own USD sheets. Unfortunately, no Miss Trixy posters, to my knowledge, have ever surfaced.

UPDATE: I just had a closer look at this poster and written on it is "of his famous brother Houdini." So this broadside/poster might date after Houdini's death, or the connection wasn't always so secret. (Unfortunately, there's no date on this.) One thing that's intriguing is this broadside is from the Keith's vaudeville circuit, which was the circuit Houdini played (Hardeen headlined on competitor circuits). Did Hardeen occasionally fill in for Houdini on Keith's where it was in their interest to play up the connection?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Well, I'm still hammering away at my summer job (with Technicolor Digital Cinema, in case you're curious) and making some "float money" (I learned that expression from Lady Gaga) that will actually "float" a Houdini related project that I will reveal in the next few months. The good news is my schedule has adjusted and is allowing me more time to keep up with this blog. So watch out for posts in the coming days on Houdini's Pets, The Houdini Franchise, and what may be the most revelatory and controversial thing I've ever posted on this blog (and I'm not yet 100% sure I even will post it), The Problem with Bessie.

Because I'm still Wild About Harry...and so are you.

Luminaries available in paperback

Luminaries by Timothy M. Brenner is now available as a paperback from It had previously been released only as a Kindle eBook.

Luminaries is an "an alternate history mystery-thriller set in the early 1930's" that finds Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Orson Welles tracking down a serial killer who murdered a member of the British Royal Family. The three famous protagonists are each gifted with supernatural abilities, Houdini being "a master of telekinesis".

The Amazon listing notes the book as being "Volume 1", so might there be a sequel on the way?

New Appleton curator cautions about bogus museum website

Nick Hoffman, the new curator of The History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin, is cautioning visitors about an unofficial website that contains out-of-date information about the museum and its displays, including the Houdini exhibit. Nick writes on his blog:

"Unfortunately, a server hosted in Drum, Pennsylvania, is negatively performing the art of misdirection to confuse our guests. Using information from our old website, they have created a new fake website about the museum using obsolete information and the web address from our former website. Already the website has confused many of our visitors. Among the most flagrant inaccuracies are a listing of old exhibits and inaccurate hours of operation. Please help us by spreading the word about this false website that misdirects our visitors."


Visit or for the (real) latest news and information about The History Museum at the Castle.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Collins and Mackenberg materialize on eBay

A 1944 "spirit photo" credited as being the elusive Jim Collins (Houdini's chief assistant and engineer) and Rose Mackenberg (one of Houdini's undercover spiritualist agents) has sold on eBay for an impressive $327. This is the best, most detailed photo of Collins I've ever seen, and it's the only photo of Rose that I've seen. The pic is an original Gelatin Silver print, 9 1/2 X 7 1/2 inches, and appears to have come from a newspaper file.

Thanks to Kevin Connolly at Houdini Himself for the tip.

Chicago Children's Theatre adapting The Houdini Box reports that in January 2012 the Chicago Children's Theatre will unleash The Houdini Box, a world premiere musical adventure based on the book by award-winning children's author Brian Selznick. Master puppeteer Blair Thomas will direct and create puppetry for this captivating story about a mischievous boy who receives a special box that just might contain the secrets of Harry Houdini's success.

Book and lyrics are by Hannah Kohl, with original music by Mark Messing. Chicago Children's Theatre has received two major grants from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the development of The Houdini Box. Performances are January 27 through March 4, 2012 at Chicago's Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave., followed by a suburban remount, March 14 through March 25 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd. in Skokie.

CCT's world premiere of The Houdini Box debuts just one month after the December 2011 release of Martin Scorsese's 3D feature adaptation of Brian Selznick's Caldecott-winning novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Houdini is a 2011 Goodwin Champion

Upper Deck has released a new series of "retro" trading cards, the 2011 Goodwin Champions. Among the eclectic collection of sports stars, politicians, and animals we find Houdini. The Houdini card comes as a full size trading card and in a vintage tobacco card "mini" style. Pretty cool.

The photo Upper Deck uses for their Houdini card is a colorized still from his first Hollywood feature, The Grim Game (1919).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

William Kalush at the Skirball, July 24

William Kalush, author of The Secret Life of Houdini and director of the Conjuring Arts Research Center, will give a talk on Houdini at the Skirball Cultural Center in L.A. next Sunday, July 24, at 2pm. When I spoke to Bill briefly at the Houdini Art and Magic launch party in April, he said he had some fresh Houdini research to reveal, so this could be exciting. A book signing will follow.

Tickets are $12 and can be purchased on the Skirball website or by phone at (877) SCC-4TIX or (877) 722-4849.

LINK: Houdini - the Copenhagen Affair

Here's a fantastic article on by Johan Ahlberg about Houdini's aborted tour of Copenhagen in 1913 when he learned of his mother's death, and the handcuffs that he left behind. This is the first of a series of articles that will be posted to the site and eventually collected and published in a printed volume. What better way to kick it all off than with an article on Houdini! Click the headline above and enjoy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Houdini, Carmageddon, and the Skirball this weekend

Just a warning to anyone who is considering going to the Houdini Art and Magic and Masters of Illusion exhibitions at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles this weekend... Reconsider!!!

The city will be closing the 405 Freeway in both directions between the 101 and 10 freeways to demolish a bridge. This is pretty much right at the Skirball Center. The good citizens of L.A. have already dubbed this "CARMAGEDDON" because of the traffic it could cause.

Best advice from all is to stay home this weekend. Maybe you can watch that HOUDINI Blu-ray you haven't gotten to yet.

Don't do it, Harry!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Sid told me

Sidney H. Radner, who passed away last month at the age of 91, never wrote a book about Houdini. But he was happy to share his insider knowledge with fans and fellow collectors.

In September 1998 I traveled to Appleton, Wisconsin, for a Houdini weekend event and had the great fortune to meet and chat with Sid. Afterwards, I jotted down some notes on what he told me. Not long ago I dug out those notes. While they are just random fragments, there are some intriguing fragments indeed.

What I offer here are those notes with my own comments in brackets. My hope is these precious nuggets from the late great Sid Radner will spur fresh research and lead to new discoveries.

Conversation with Sidney Radner on Sept. 5, 1998 in the lobby of the Paper Valley Hotel and Conference Center, Appleton (~10:45PM to 2:45AM). NOTES by John Cox.

Hardeen "played the ponies."

Sid has met Jim Collins and says he was interviewed. [Whoa, really!? Where is this interview, I wonder?]

Ken Silverman interviewed Smiley [witness to dressing room punch] a couple years ago. His leg was amputated.

Larry Weeks has a copy of The Grim Game, but will not let anyone view or copy it. [Unfortunately, all too true.]

Re the Water Torture Cell: It came apart for shipping. Several pieces. Fit into nice custom-made boxes lined with velvet. It had two extra plates of glass (which still survive). Stocks were VERY heavy.

Two Torture Cell cages existed, one with bars vertical, the other with bars horizontal. Henry Muller "lost" the cage. He also lost the top of a Milk Can. (Sid emphasizes, “He’s my friend.” But is clearly irritated by this.)

Hardeen was trying to build a new Water Torture Cell to teach Sid how to do it at the time of his death. [Patrick Culliton recently revealed the existence of this second cell in his book, Houdini The Key.]

Houdini had an interesting replacement ready for the USD. A box within a box within a box type of thing. Not death defying. More mysterious. Hardeen was excited to show Sid this. [This was baffling to me at the time, but I now know Sid is most likely talking about this.]

USD will be restored “better than new.” Some metal remained. A little wood (to match). [And it was.]

Sid met Bess once. She hooked up with a man after Ed Saint's death in a “story not yet told.” [Whoa!]

Impression that Bess was a bit of a wild card after HH death. Both Sid and Hardeen thought she hooked up with all kinds of con artists and weird people.

Rose Mackenberg, Houdini's spiritualist “agent”, said Houdini was a “perfect gentleman” and that she punched him as a test of his strength. [!]

Rose was an attractive 25 when Houdini hired her.

Rose told Sid that mediums would “grope” her in the dark, and some would lead her to the bedroom so her dead husband could once again show his love (though the medium, of course).

Houdini would instruct Rose to count the number of stairs leading up to the front door, the windows on the first floor, then leave a chalk mark on a stairway. When he exposed the medium from the stage, should they deny Rose’s visit, Houdini would point out these facts. This was in Chicago.

Sid likes to say, “We created Marie Blood.” [I believe he means they discovered Marie?]

HHC [Houdini Historical Center] has the complete Lib of Congress microfilm on file.

Sid was at the HHC when he learned of the fire at the Houdini museum in Canada.

Hardeen's kids were angry at Houdini because it specified that they would only receive their $500 inheritance if they were circumcised (they weren’t). Elise was not Jewish. All the brothers married outside of the faith.

George Hardeen is still alive and living in Arizona. He writes for a horse magazine.

Houdini wrote for some Jewish periodicals. [Have these writings been discovered?]

Hardeen was writing a book about Houdini when he died. He had borrowed the #1 scrapbook from Sid and had it at the time of his death (Sid was in the Army in India).

Walter Gibson found he couldn’t write a bio of Houdini – too "overwhelming." [Too bad.]

Margery’s relations (kids?) thought she was a big fake and a “jerk.”

[Ruth] Brandon came to see Sid after she completed her book [The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini] – if it didn’t jive with her info she “turned the page.”

Sid has nothing good to say about [Bernard] Meyer or his book [Houdini A Mind in Chains]. “They don’t understand show business.” Sid says the guy who painted the milk can poster could have been the one with a womb fixation. (funny)

And last but certainly not least...

When conversation turned to mother, Sid said he “saw something once…” (that would give great insight into their relationship), but then he trailed off and would not tell me, saying it was "too personal." [Damn!]

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Houdini and Charmian London battle Martians

First released in 2010, the second novel in the Wonder of the Worlds trilogy by Sesh Heri, Metamorphosis, is now available as a Kindle eBook from Amazon and as a print-on-demand from Lulu. The series finds Houdini joining forces with Nikola Tesla and other 20th Century notables in a battle against Martian agents on Earth...and on Mars!

It's over twenty years since the top secret flight to Mars and Harry Houdini is now a world-renowned escape artist recruited by the covert Majestic Seven group to pursue Martian agents on Earth. Time itself becomes the battlefield as the NYMZA, inter-dimensional masterminds using the men from the Red Planet and the astonishing mercury vortex torsion device known as The Bell for their nefarious purposes, are exposed. Houdini is joined by author Jack London and his adventurous wife Charmian, a woman ahead of her time, in the struggle to keep humanity free from eternal slavery and ultimate destruction. Nikola Tesla and young US Navy Ensign Chester Nimitz hold up their end of the fight in a classified submarine designed by the great inventor. The biggest, darkest and most revealing of the trilogy from Sesh Heri!

Houdini and Charmain London battling Martians in a 623 page novel-? Wow.

The third book, The Lost Pleiad, is also available. However, the description doesn't say anything about Houdini's involvement in the final story. Maybe the Martians (or Charmain) get the better of him in Book 2?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Copperfield plays different recording of Houdini's voice for EMC 2011

HOLY CATS! Dean Carnegie reports on his blog Magic Detective that David Copperfield played a NEW recording of Houdini's voice while giving a video tour of his collection for members of the just completed Essential Magic Conference 2011.

As Dean describes it, the recording is of Houdini giving a slightly different reading of his Water Torture Cell patter from the recording that we are all familiar with today.

Says Dean, "The speech pattern is almost identical. However, there was one giant give-away when on the Copperfield clip. Houdini is heard to say "after it has been filled to the brim with water." But on the clips you can find on youtube and other places, Houdini says "after it has been filled with water". NOT 'filled to the brim', but just 'filled with water'. There are a couple other changes in script as well, so it is a different version."

The existence of this second recording is not generally known, but not a mystery. The original L.A. Times report on the discovery of the Edison wax cylinders in 1970 mentions two recordings of the USD patter on separate cylinders. The other cylinders, six total, are said to contain recordings of Houdini's sister, Gladys, reading a poem, and Houdini re-reading it in German. Oh to hear those!

Thank you, Dean. And thank you, David Copperfield!

Wild About Harry hits 100,000 views

We've hit a new milestone here at Wild About Harry. We've just crossed 100,000 views since our debut on Nov. 10, 2010 (I know the blog shows posts going back to 2002, but those were imported from my old website). Not bad for only 8 months (to the day). Houdini lives indeed!

Our all-time most viewed story is (still) The illicit loves of Harry Houdini. Yes, sex sells. That's followed by Pawn Stars straitjacket hits eBay, and Google celebrates Houdini's birthday. The latest entry into our Top 10 is the still hot, Uncovering Houdini's THIRD air-tight container test and death casket.

The vast amount of our viewers are in the United States, followed by the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, Philippines, Chile, Japan, and Brazil. Our users connect via Windows (68%), Mac (22%), iPhone (2%), iPad (1%), iPod (1%), Linux (1%), and Android (1%).

Thanks to everyone for the hits.

Houdini's Last Escape app for iPhone

Monster Theatre has released a free game app for iPhone as part of the promotion for their touring show, Houdini's Last Escape, starring Christopher Bange and Tara Travis in a comedic take on Harry and Bess.

Monster Theatre Presents - Houdini's Last Escape! Help Houdini perform death defying escapes on stages around the world, including his famous water tank escape. And don't miss the show touring Fringe Festivals this summer!

You can download the Houdini's Last Escape game app FREE from the Apple App Store on your iPhone or at App Shopper.

Visit the Monster Theatre's official website for the full tour schedule for Houdini's Last Escape.