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!]


  1. Hi, I just read the comment by Sid about Margery's relations and just wanted to say that I am not sure what he was talking about. There are only two relations left living, of which I am one, and his statement is simply not true. I knew Sid and liked him well; we met in 1997 and he often invited me to participate in the annual Houdini seance. I think perhaps he was being a bit theatrical in this statement.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Anna. Yes, perhaps he was just being colorful. :)

  2. This story is suddenly getting a ton of new views. Can someone tell me where they are linking from? Just curious.

  3. Still trying to figure out why this old post is getting over 100 hits a day. Can anyone tell me where they are linking from? Just very curious.

  4. Marie Hinson had a full Water Cell in the basement on Payson ave in New York. The Hinsons also had all 5 movies
    and many other films that on Saturdays, they would hang a
    sheet in the garage, and invite the local kids over to have Houdini nights.
    The fire marshall heard about this, and stopped by.
    Seeing that the film was nitrate, and highly flamable ordered the Hinsons to get rid of the film.
    He also saw all kinds of stuff in the basement, and had themclean it out, including the cell.

    Jay Marshall told me more then once the story how Jay and
    several other magician went to see Hardeens show.
    Afterwards, Hardeen went to talk to them, and durning the evening, asked if anyone had aany cuffs for sale.
    He needed something to sell the KID in Holyoak.

    Ruth Beandon is a Spiritulist and wrote the as an attack on
    The Meyer book claims Houdini believed Houdini believed his
    own publicty, when in fact he (Meyers) did, and his approach to science is very much in question.
    In fact I have 2 differant reviews of MIND in Chains by shrinks. Both belittle Meyers.

    I have a copy of a letter sent to Hardeens son Harry H Hardeen.
    It was sent by Ernst in responce to H Hardeen inquiring about Houdinis will. Ernst claims there was nothing left.
    However Bess did take in a lot from insurance companies,.
    and had the trust paying monthly checks.
    Collin received his $500.00.

    Walter Gibson told me in a taped interview that Gibson was
    asked to ghost write the Hardeen bio on his brother.
    Unfortunelatly Hardeen died before the project went very

    Sid and Marie both lived under a cloud of being found out.
    When Marie Blood first came on the sceane, she told stories
    about her relationship with Houdini, that was not very factual.
    Her presence was so strong nobodied cared. I did several
    shows with her and she had a wonderful auro about her.
    Sid was kind of the same about his relationship with Hardeen, and Sid loved the lens. Thus he said a lot of stuff that he was taken out on. When many passed that could
    dispute his stories I saw a more relaxed person
    Years ago I also performed with him, and I even did a nude
    jail break from the Holyoak police department where Houdini
    recevied his first coverage for being locked up and getting
    out of the police irons.
    Both Marie and Sid were people who needed attention.
    I am not putting either of these people down for I was close to them both and spent time in both their homes,and
    they in mine.
    Jon Oliver

  5. ps.

    In the Milkcan poster Harry Hardeen told in responce to a question about Houdini and Leopolds fight.
    It was about Sadie. Not because of him taking
    Nathans wife, but because she was a gold digger.
    He (Houdini) warned the marriage between the 2
    of them would not last.
    Houdini was right, and they went their own ways.
    The fight according to H Hardeen was almost over, and if Houdini was so mad, was was Leopold the middle man in the poster.

    Is Sadie buried there as well?
    Making her Jewish.
    Jon Oliver

    1. Great stuff. Thanks, Jon. I've always thought the middle man in the poster looks like Leo. In fact, the man on the left looks like Nathan. Could Bill by the man on the right? Think we might have an idea for a new post here.

      I'm pretty sure Sadie is not in the plot. Weren't they long divorced by the time of Leo's death? She might have even remarried.

  6. So this post is still getting a crazy amont of traffic. It's the top viewed story everyday. This is baffling me. All I can think is this is plugged into an automatic hit generator, if such a thing exists. I may actually take this story offline for a bit. I don't mind the hits to the site, but I feel like something manipulative is going on here.