Thursday, August 25, 2011

Water Torture Cell used in 'The Great Houdinis' up for auction

The Water Torture Cell used in the ABC TV movie, The Great Houdinis, is up for auction on eBay with a starting price of $6,500. The cell comes from the collection of magician and past President of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, Abb Dickson, who provided the escape apparatuses for the 1976 movie. It is also mentioned in the Doug Henning biography, Spellbound. Henning came to Atlanta to examine the cell (and its secret) when he was preparing to do the feat on his first TV special.

Looking at the seller's photos on eBay, the cell at first appears to be different than the one used in the film. However, I believe this is because the production dressed up the cell with a false metal frame on front, maybe to give it a more dramatic look or because it would photograph better.* If you look at the sides of the cell, the interior, and especially the stocks, it is clearly the same cell. It's also pretty well documented that the cell used in the film was the Abb Dickson cell, which some media even claimed to be an original Houdini cell (it isn't).

The Abb Dickson cell today (left) and as it appeared with the metal frame
dressing in The Great Houdinis (1976).

It will be exciting to see what happens with this great piece of magic and movie memorabilia. Check out the auction (#260841901287) on eBay.

Click here for a detailed look back at the Making of The Great Houdinis.

*UPDATE: Gay Blackstone, who served as Sally Struthers' stunt double and magic coach on the film, has confirmed that a false metal front was indeed added to the cell to balance the lighting during filming.


  1. So have you cleared a space for it yet? =)

  2. did you know the cell is a shower stall with a wood covering.

    Look close at the inside, and you can still see the soap

    Jon Oliver

    1. Yes, I have heard that. You can also see the drain in the bottom. Funny.

    2. It was never a shower stall with wood covering. I saw it up close and took pictures in 1982. The sheet metal liner has 3 complete sides. The things pointed to as soap holders are actually called gussets. These are added to sheet metal structures at the corners to strengthen them. They are purely functional and necessary for the thin sheet metal structure to hold its shape. No, this is definitely not Houdini's cell but it is clever in its workings. Someone took a lot of trouble to make this thing and it should actually work.....but I wouldn't try it!