Friday, September 30, 2011

The mystery of Carrie Gladys Weiss

We know she was almost totally blind from a childhood accident. We know she lived with the Houdinis at 278 for many years. We know that her voice is contained on one of the unreleased Houdini wax cylinder recordings. But aside from this, we know almost nothing about Carrie Gladys Weiss, Houdini's sister and the youngest Weiss sibling. We don't even know exactly when she died.

Now, professional writer and historian, Ann Etheridge, has sent me an email with what could be a major discovery. Did Houdini's sister live to age 100 and die in 1982?

Ann uncovered evidence of Gladys' long life on (here's the link for those who are members). The listing shows her as being born in Wisconsin in 1882 (check), living in New York City in 1900 at age 18 (check), residing in "Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York" in 1910 at age 28 (?), and dying at age 100 in 1982. There is no citation for her death, but Ann has sent an email to the person who provided the Ancestry entry asking about the date and the proof.

If this is accurate, it would be remarkable, but also perplexing. If Gladys Weiss was alive into the 1980s, how is it the major Houdini historians of the day, such as Sidney Radner, Milbourne Christopher, or Manny Weltman never tracked her down and interviewed her?

Dean Carnegie of Carnegie: Magic Detective also did a little digging on Ancestry and says he's turned up several profiles listing Carrie Gladys Weiss; two show her dying in 1982 and one in 1943 (same year as Bessie's death). None have documentation for the death date. In his self published book Benjilini on Houdini (1994), author The Great Benjilini, who takes a keen interest in Houdini's family and Jewish heritage, says Gladys died in 1958, but gives no source for the information and notes it with a question mark.

The real answer may lie in Bernard C. Meyer's Houdini A Mind in Chains (1976), a controversial book with provocative theories, but one that I find a remarkable source of information. On page 5 Meyer says Gladys suffered her "final illness" in January 1959. He cites hospital records in which Gladys, via dictation, says she was born in France (!) and that her profession was "ghost-writer". Meyer says the truth was Gladys had been supported by her brother Leopold for many years.

I'm prone to believe this 1959 date, not only because I respect Meyer's research, but also due to the fact that Gladys is buried in the family plot at Machpelah Cemetery. (Her undated headstone, along with Leopold's, were removed after they were damaged by vandalism and have yet to be restored.) While Gladys herself could have remained hidden from Houdini buffs for all these years, I don't think anyone would have missed a fresh interment at the Machpelah plot in 1982! Also, Gladys' headstone is very much in the same style as Leopold's, who took his own life on October 6, 1962.

Still, the idea of Gladys living undiscovered until in 1982...pretty cool.

Gladys photo from 'Houdini His Legend and His Magic' (1977) by Doug Henning and Charles Reynolds.

UPDATE: Patrick Culliton in Houdini The Key lists Gladys' death as October 1972. He got his info from the New York State death index. This should have been included in the above and was a huge omission on my part. Sorry, Patrick.

UPDATE 2: Our friend Tom Interval has solved the mystery of Gladys' death date. Looks like Meyer had it right. She died in mid January 1959. Check out Houdini Museum for the details. Thanks Tom!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Houdini bust magically reappears at his grave site

PRESS RELEASE: For the last 36 years the Houdini bust at Houdini's grave site at the Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York has been missing. It was destroyed by vandals in 1975. A temporary plastic bust has been used from time to time, for special events, but gets hidden in storage, misplaced, lost, stolen, etc. In the 1970's a bust was on display for many years at at the Magic Towne House on Third Avenue, in New York City. This bust was on loan from The Society of American Magicians. In 1979 it was returned to the Society of American Magicians who used it at the grave once a year for a special event on Halloween, the day Houdini died. With all the publicity, it became such a media circus that it brought more destruction tot the grave site. Because of this, the cemetery now closes on Halloween.

Before the bust was returned a mold was made by owners of The Magic Towne House, Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, for sake of posterity. We felt we might never see it again. The mold was put in storage in case anything happened to the rare copy of the bust. Though parts of the mold rotted, it has been restored it at a cost of thousands of dollars. Five polyurethane and plaster casts were made, along with the help of craftsman and former escape artist Steve Moore, each time making improvements, then making new molds until it was right.

Three statuary cement busts were then made, much like the original bust that was destroyed. The best one was to be the one used at Houdini's grave. This has all been kept secret for all these many years. Houdini's bust has now been replaced at the grave site the way Houdini and the family wanted it. The three magicians, Dorothy Dietrich, Dick Brookz and Steve Moore, from The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA., have been sanctioned of the Houdini family to make repairs at the site. An email and a letter from Houdini family was signed and sent to the Houdini Museum to that effect. The Houdini Museum is under the close guidance of Houdini's family. We also have the approval of the management of the cemetery as well. This has all cost well over $10,000. The Houdini Museum put up the money. In this economy, times are tough for the non profit museum, and funds are low, but this is a project that their board of directors felt was long over due. They are hoping an Houdini benefactor turns up to cover some of the costs.

When asked why now? Dorothy Dietrich said, "Houdini was known to take care of grave sites of many others while he was alive. It's only proper that he should have someone return the gesture. Magicians and Houdini fans from all over the world visit us here at The Houdini Museum who say they are also going to visit Houdini's grave. It will feel so nice to visit the site and see it the way Houdini planned it." "We are also putting together a committee of volunteers who will periodically take care of the grave site, cut the grass, etc."

The Houdini Museum...
The Houdini Museum has been visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists for the last 22 years it has been in Scranton. It is the only building in the world entirely dedicated to Houdini. Recently, The Houdini Museum has been awarded a $30,000 matching grant from the OECD of the City of Scranton for the facade of the museum. A fund raising drive is being put together to match this grant.

For more information and hi-res pictures, go to

Houdini Museum, Tour and Magic Show
(570) 342-5555, (570) 383-1821
Houdini Museum
1433 N. Main Ave.
Scranton, PA 18508

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

CJM will screen Haldane of the Secret Service and...The Grim Game (?)

The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco have announced a special screening of Houdini's silent features, Haldane of the Secret Service and The Grim Game, on January 3, 2012. This is part of the CJM's special programing for Houdini Art and Magic, which opens this Sunday, October 2.

Now, I can only assume that what they mean is they will screen Haldane of the Secret Service in full and the five minute fragment of The Grim Game as seen on the Houdini Movie Star DVD collection. The hour and a half runtime of the combined screening seems to bear this out. As we all know, the only surviving print of The Grim Game is currently available to the public.

Of course, wouldn't it be a wonderful gift to the museum and the magic world to allow a screening of what is said to be Houdini's best film?

For more information on Houdini Art and Magic visit the CJM's official website. For more on Houdini's lost film, check out my post from last February: I've seen The Grim Game.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Magic Apple conjures a Houdini card deck

The Magic Apple in Studio City, CA -- which bills itself as the "earth's largest magic shop" and just happens to be right down the street from me -- have teamed with the United States Playing Card Company to create an all new deck of cards they've christened the Houdini Deck.

The card backs features original Houdini art by graphic designer Steve Mitchell and images of Houdini on the two jokers. The deck is nicely textured, making the handling excellent.

Also included are instructions on how to perform Dai Vernon's famous "Card Trick that Fooled Houdini." Richard Kaufman and Stephen Minch consulted on the instructions which are printed on their own card. The idea for the Houdini Deck came from Anthony Gift.

The Houdini Deck is a Magic Apple exclusive and is available at the Magic Apple store, via their website, and on eBay. Tell them you heard about it on WILD ABOUT HARRY.

Thanks to Joe Fox for the tip.

LINK: Who Haunts the Houdini Mansion?

Nice article by Richard Carradine on the blog Creepy Los Angeles about the fabled "Houdini Mansion" in Laurel Canyon.

Friday, September 23, 2011

CJM announces free screenings of Houdini and The Great Houdinis

The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco will screen Houdini (1953) and The Great Houdinis (1976) as part of their special programing for Houdini Art and Magic. The traveling exhibition will open at the CJM on October 2.

Houdini will screen on Tuesday, November 1, from 1 – 2:45 PM. The Great Houdinis will screen on Tuesday, December 6, from 1 – 3 PM. Both screenings are free with museum admission.

For more information on Houdini Art and Magic visit the CJM's official website.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Houdini Specter reprint in June 2012

2001 edition
Daniel Stashower's final "Harry Houdini Mystery", The Houdini Specter, will be reprinted on June 12, 2012 by Titan Books. This follows the news that Titan will reprint Stashower's first two books in the series, The Dime Museum Murders and The Floating Lady Murder, on February 7, 2012.

First published in 2001, The Houdini Specter finds Harry and Dash (Hardeen) investigating a murder with a spiritualist twist in 1898 New York. It was the last book in Daniel Stashower's "A Harry Houdini Mystery" series and the only one to be published in hardcover as well as paperback.

Titan is rebranding these as "The Harry Houdini Mysteries" with nifty new cover art which can be seen HERE. There's no cover art available yet for The Houdini Specter.

Pre-order The Houdini Specter from

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Signed copies of Houdini: The British Tours available now

Great news. Author Derek Tait tells us he will have the first copies of his new book, Houdini: The British Tours, in hand next week, and he has set up a page on his official website where you can purchase a signed copy direct from him via PayPal.

Featuring newspaper reports of the day, eyewitness accounts together with many photos, posters and illustrations, this 188 page book provides a compelling account of Houdini's many visits to Great Britain.

Houdini: The British Tours will be available from online retailers such as at the end of the month.

Purchase signed copies of Houdini: The British Tours from

UPDATE: Houdini The British Tours is also now available for the Kindle via and

Link: Houdini's Prestige Inescapable for Duluth Magician

Check out this terrific article and video on KQDS FOX 21 highlighting the handcuff and Houdini collection of our buddy, John Bushey. (You may recall that John is currently working on a Houdini pitchbook project.)

Click on the headline above to have a look at John's truly spectacular collection.

Scranton Houdini Museum announces the Original Houdini Seance, 2011

October is just around the corner and you know what that means -- seance season! First out of the gate is The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA, who have announced their "Original Houdini Seance" to begin at 12:30PM this Halloween.

Walter B. Gibson
The seance will be attended by Jeff Blood and members of the (Marie) Blood family, and will also feature a special lecture by one of magic's greatest inventors and minds, Devin Knight (the seance is free but there is a charge for the lecture).

The Houdini Museum in Scranton traces the linage of their seance back to Walter B. Gibson, who handed off the tradition to magician and museum curator Dorothy Dietrich before his death. Gibson, who was Houdini's friend and ghost writer (and creator of The Shadow), was reportedly asked to carry on the annual seances by Bess Houdini, so this indeed can be considered the "Original Houdini Seance."

Click here all the details at the Scranton Houdini Museum website.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tom Interval finds Houdini's Unknown World

Magician and Houdini aficionado Tom Interval -- who runs the excellent website Houdini in the New York Times -- recently posted this terrific photo on Facebook. This is Tom in the Library of Congress Houdini collection holding a volume titled The Unknown World that should be very familiar to Houdini buffs (the shot of Houdini in his study holding this same book can be found in Houdini His Legend and His Magic by Doug Henning). What a find!

Now Tom checks in with some specific information for us about the very book in Houdini (and his) hands. Says Tom:

"The Unknown World was not a book but a magazine about the occult (see full tagline below). I assume the green clothbound book in the Houdini collection at the Library of Congress (and seen in that cool pic of Houdini) was a bound volume of some unknown number of issues. I can kick myself for not getting better pictures of it (and of everything else) that day (around 1990).

An interesting fact is that the editor of the publication was the same guy who conceived arguably the most popular tarot deck ever: Rider brand."
Title: The Unknown World
Tagline: "A monthly magazine devoted to occult sciences, magic, mystical philosophy, alchemy, hermetic archaeology, and the hidden problems of science, literature, speculation, and history"
Editor: Arthur Edward Waite (aka: A.E. Waite) (1857-1942)
Publisher: James Elliott and Co., Temple Chambers, Falcon Court, Fleet Street, E.C., London
Publication: Aug. 15, 1894 to June 15, 1895
A couple of good quotes from Vol. 1, No. 1, Aug. 15, 1894
"It should therefore be understood that this magazine is established chiefly to represent and increase the interest attaching to the investigation of those mysteries which are called transcendental, occult, and mystic. They will not be its sole subject, but it will treat in the main of these, and will avowedly make use of all means at its disposal to spread the knowledge of Mysticism and to multiply the acceptors of its instruction. . .The Unknown World has been founded to represent, as we believe, for the first time in periodical literature, the whole circle of the Occult Sciences. It will deal with their methods, history, and literature in such a manner that they will become intelligible to an unversed reader, while at the same time there will be matters of special interest and value to the well-equipped and earnest mind.
"The departments of Occult Science and history particularly embraced by the present editorial scheme are:—White and Black Magic, Necromancy, Divination, Astrology, Alchemy, Witchcraft, Crystallomancy, Elementals and Elementaries, the Rosicrucians, the Illuminati, Esoteric Freemasonry, the Mysteries, the Mystics, Hermetic Philosophy, the Archaeology of the Secret Sciences. . .In a word, The Unknown World will be devoted to the 'superstitions' of the past, or, more correctly, to the science of the future."

Thank you, Tom! I love this kind of thing.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Houdini's wristwatch

In my recent post about Houdini's third buried alive test, an eagle-eyed reader spotted what appears to be a watch on Houdini's wrist and posted in the Comments section:

"The first pic of Houdini standing by the pool I see he is wearing a wristwatch and this is the only pic I have ever seen of Houdini wearing a watch that I can remember. Does anyone know what brand of watch Houdini wore? (watch enthusiast here)!"

At the time I didn't have any information for him, and I even doubted whether it was a wristwatch. We all know of Houdini's pocket watch (a present from Bessie that famously contains his actual birthdate), so I wasn't convinced Houdini ever wore a wristwatch. I thought maybe this was a band to monitor his pulse during the Shelton buried alive test.

But now, thanks to The Culliton Papers, we have information on, yes, Houdini's wristwatch!

According to an article that appeared in The New York World under the terrific headline: "Dainty Darby Grips Iron Wrist Of Houdini In Resistless Clutch," Houdini was given a wristwatch by The World editors during a luncheon at Moneta's restaurant at 32 Mulberry Street in New York City in commemoration of his first year "as a newspaperman."

The reference here is to Houdini's weekly Red Magic insert, a collection of puzzles, brain teasers, and magic tricks "Edited by the World Famous Houdini" that ran in The New York World and syndication from November 16, 1924 to February 22, 1931 (328 issues).

The article notes that this is the first wristwatch Houdini "has ever had on -- his wrists are more familiar with the grip of the handcuffs from which he so easily escapes than the gentler grasp of a leather strap." It goes on to quote Houdini as saying it is "one fetter from which he will never be freed by any action of his own."

The clipping is without a date, but as Red Magic started in 1924, we can assume it's from that year. This makes it very likely to be the watch we see in the Shelton photo, which was taken in August 1926. Unfortunately, the article gives no indication of what kind of wristwatch was presented to Houdini that day, but our eagle-eyed reader offers up one suggestion:

"I actually have a watch that looks similar to the one Houdini appears to be wearing. Its a 1925 Waltham in a tonneau style case. I cant say its THE watch but sure does look similar."

Of course, this raises the inevitable question. Where is this wristwatch today?

By the way, Moneta's remained in business until the 1940s, and the original Moneta's name could still be seen on the building at 32 Mulberry Street until at least 2010 when it was converted into a Parisian nightclub called La Baron.

Publication dates for Red Magic came from the invaluable Houdini Periodical Bibliography by Arthur Moses.

Also enjoy:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Signed Houdini calling card sells for $5,120 at Tony Curtis estate sale

A signed Houdini calling card that mentions Harry Cohn and belonged to actor Tony Curtis sold today for $5,120 (including commission) as part of the Tony Curtis estate sale at Julien's Auctions in Beverly Hills. The Houdini calling card was lot #403 and blew away the auction estimate of $600 - $800.

The calling card is dated April 19, 1919, when Houdini was making movies for Paramount-Lasky and Cohn was just starting out in the business. Cohn would later become one of Hollywood's biggest moguls as President and founder of Columbia Pictures.

Ironically, Cohn would reject doing a Houdini biopic at his studio, complaining that it was "lacking in romance and needed a better ending than a punch in the solar plexus." Paramount would be the studio to finally tackle Houdini's story in a 1953 movie which starred, of course, Tony Curtis.

Visit the Julien's Auctions website for the complete Tony Curtis Estate Sale catalog.


I'm looking to get the next installment The Culliton Papers up tomorrow. Just a small morsel of Houdini trivia this time, but it's something I never knew, and it answers a question a reader posted in a story a while back. I'll get it up tomorrow when I have the time (that's a hint).

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The Houdini Murders

The French bestseller The Fourth Door aka The Houdini Murders is now available in English via CreateSpace. Written by French mystery novelist Paul Halter -- "master of the locked room genre" -- the book tells the story of a mysterious murder at the "Darnley House" where the detective in charge suspects he is dealing with the re-incarnation of Houdini. It won the coveted Prix du Roman Policier in 1987.

Purchase from Amazon.

LINK: The seance that split Houdini and Conan Doyle

Looks like the promotional machinery for Christopher Sandford's new book, Houdini and Conan Doyle, is starting to kick in with this article today in the UK's Express. Click the headline to have a read.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Houdini letter on Auction Kings

Check out this clip from the Discovery Channel show, Auction Kings. This letter sounds pretty interesting, and our friend Aron Houdini does a nice job of authenticating the signature. The show airs Tuesday, September 20 at 9:00pm.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Abrams 'Harry Houdini' released today

Harry Houdini: The Legend of the World's Greatest Escape Artist by Janice Weaver and Chris Lane is now shipping from Released by Abrams Books for Young Readers, the 48 page hardcover is aimed at readers ages 9-12 and "combines original artwork and archival artifacts—including photographs, playbills and posters, letters, and even some of Houdini’s own stage props—to bring the story of the world’s greatest escape artist to life."

I don't have my copy in hand yet, but I will provide a little update/review here when I do.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Video of Houdini's thumb racket

Recently one of my readers alerted me to a section of Getty Images where you can purchase stock footage. Not sure how long this has been available, but they have a very nice collection of Houdini clips, including this rarely seen two-second clip of Houdini performing his "Thumb Racket".

This was the "trick" that caused Lady Doyle to nearly faint and further convinced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that Houdini must be supernatural. What other explanation could there be!? Marcet Halderman-Julius in the magic journal Halderman-Julius Monthly recalls, "I could almost have sworn I heard a brittle sounding snap as he broke it off and certainly should have been justified in swearing in any court that I saw that the first joint of Houdini's thumb entirely severed from the second."

This cops behind Harry seem to be accepting the trick for what it is; a bit of hokey fun.

Patrick Culliton in Houdini The Key devotes a chapter to the Thumb Racket, and notes that there was another more complicated effect utilizing a false thumb that Houdini could have used. Or maybe he was just damn good!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dorothy Dietrich discusses Houdini's Mirror handcuff escape, Oct 18

The legendary Dorothy Dietrich will discuss the mystery behind Houdini's famous Mirror handcuff escape on the Travel Channel's Mysteries At The Museum on October 18, 2011 at 9pm.

The interview will showcase a display of Mirror style cuffs -- the only display of Mirror style cuffs in the world that is open the public -- at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA, which is run by Dorothy and Dick Brookz. This is just the start of a Fall "TV blitz" for the museum, so watch for more programing announcements soon.

Thanks to Dorothy and Dick for the early "exclusive" on this Travel Channel appearance. For more on the show, head on over to this page at

Jane's Addiction photo shoot at the "Houdini House"

Alternative rock band Jane's Addiction recently did a photo shoot on the grounds of the "Houdini House" in Laurel Canyon, California. Check out the video from the shoot above. And for the real facts about the house, click here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Aron Houdini performs straitjacket escape on Houdini's star

Professional magician, escape artist, and ghost-hunter, Aron Houdini (who really is related to Houdini) is on vacation in Los Angeles where yesterday he performed a straitjacket escape on Houdini's Walk of Fame star on Hollywood Blvd. Aron announced the impromptu stunt via his Facebook page and appears to have pulled it off successfully.

Way to go, Aron!

First dedicated in 1975, Houdini's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame commemorates his work in Motion Pictures. The star is located on the corner of Orange and Hollywood within view of The Magic Castle. It was restored and rededicated in 2008.

The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini

Cover art for a new book, The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini by Paul Johnson, has just appeared on The hardcover is due to be released by HarperCollins on January 24, 2012.

Neither Amazon nor the HarperCollins website provide any plot details, but I expect Houdini is just receiving a name-check here. Still, this cover art is slick enough that I think I'll need to add this to my shelf of Houdini Kid Lit.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Houdini in New York

I wanted to find something appropriate to post on this tenth anniversary of 9/11, and I think I've found exactly that here. This is a terrific photo of Houdini performing his suspended straitjacket escape in Time Square on November 5, 1917. Houdini is actually using a crane that is in the process of constructing the New York subway.

But there is more to the history of this stunt. Houdini had tried and failed several times to get permission to do a suspended jacket escape in New York City. He frequently clashed with police when he performed his overboard box escape in the harbor, once having to hire a tugboat on the spot to take him and reporters out beyond the city limit. But permission was finally giving for this stunt as it was "for the purpose of advertising a patriotic performance" the following Sunday at the Hippodrome.

That performance was a benefit for the families of the "Antilles disaster", the torpedoing of an Army transport by the Germans on October 22, 1917. One paper called the 67 killed that day "the first American victims of war."

Remembering all those brave men and women who lost their lives on 9/11.

LINK: SAM oil painting back on display at the Scranton Houdini Museum

After many of years of being unavailable to the public, an oil painting of Houdini that belongs to the Parent Assembly of the Society of American Magicians is back on display at the Scranton Houdini Museum, Tour and Magic Show. Just click the headline to have a look.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Win a free copy of the new Houdini novella, Coffeyville

C.E.L. Welsh checks in today to let us know his new Houdini novella, Coffeyville, is out now as an eBook. I've read it and it's excellent! A very clever fusion of fact and fiction. Chris is also offering readers of WILD ABOUT HARRY a chance to win five free copies. Read on...

Coffeyville, Kansas, is known as the “Town that stopped the Dalton Gang.” Many shots were fired in the early days of Coffeyville…but there was one lone bullet, fired some years after the Daltons were laid low, that passed unnoticed by most. One man, however, would never forget; a young Harry Houdini, still some years before fame would find him. The events of Coffeyville would ricochet down through the years, giving Houdini the ammunition he would need to pull off the greatest illusion of his epic career. Can you keep up with Houdini’s misdirection?

Follow Houdini’s assistant, Franz Kukol, as he discovers the secret behind Coffeyville - Available to read in your favorite ebook format: Kindle, Nook, and PDF, HTML, etc: via Smashwords.

Just for readers of WILD ABOUT HARRY: Five free ebooks of Coffeyville! Take the following five-question quiz, and email your answers to The first five received with all correct answers will get a free copy of Coffeyville!

HINT: All the answers can be found here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. Good luck!

-C.E.L. Welsh

Houdini Quiz

One: Houdini's imposing home (which makes an appearance in Coffeyville!) in Harlem, NYC, was located at 278 West 113th Street. Inside visitors could expect to find plenty to amaze and awe, but the fun started at the front door. What was special about the door to Houdini's house?

Two: Around the time Harry was pushing his film career he was accused of having more than one affair. All of the following women were romantically linked, in one way or another, with the master showman. Are the rumors true? Did Harry cheat on Bess? At least one of the stories seems to be accurate, as the woman in question documented the affair in her diary. There is one we can safely say did not happen, however, as the woman in question only exists in a movie! Which of the following names is that movie character?
  • Lila Lee - Terror Island co-star
  • Daisy White - Magician's assistant
  • Milla Barry - Singer and actress
  • Sadie Glantz Weiss - Houdini's sister-in-law.
  • Mary McGarvie - Scottish psychic
  • Charmian London - Widow of famous author Jack London
  • Fay La Foe - Vaudeville performer

Three: In my story Coffeyville I explore the question “If Houdini had performed the Bullet Catch, how would he do it?” As with everything Houdini, what we think we know can often prove to be...misdirected. There is some evidence that Houdini DID perform the Bullet Catch illusion in the 1890s, and he had a very unique way of demonstrating the danger of the event. What was the choice he gave the firing committee?

Four: Advised against performing the Bullet Catch, there was no one standing in Harry's way when he planned to be buried alive. He saw Buried Alive as a real show-stopper, a headlining act that would propel him further into the history books. While he never worked out the kinks to the point he could perform Buried Alive onstage, he did run several tests in preparation for it. Famously, his first attempt made a serious impression on Harry as to the danger involved. In his own words, what did Houdini say by way of describing the effect of being Buried Alive?

Five: The Houdinis loved animals and had a number of pets over the years, all considered close members of the family. Charlie, a white Pomeranian given to the Houdinis by the Grand Duke of Russia in 1903, shows up in Coffeyville. Name a dog, a canary, a parrot, a turtle and a rabbit that all shared the Houdini home at one point or another.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Miracle Mongers the Movie

On March 4, 1921, Variety reported the formation of the Houdini Picture Corporation. With $500,000 in capitalization, the trade paper announced that Houdini planned to make four films a year. Of course, only two films were ever made, The Man From Beyond and Haldane of the Secret Service. But what other films did Houdini plan?

There do exist several unmade Houdini film treatments with titles such as The Vulture, Floating Through Space, and The Great Tontine. Probably the best known of these is Yar, The Primeval Man, a lively caveman story that has Houdini rescuing a "Sun Girl" from a rival tribe and bringing her home to his mother (who's name is, incredibly, War).

But now thanks to a clipping in The Culliton Papers, we have evidence of exactly what would have been Houdini's next film, and it wasn't one of the familiar treatments. On October 13, 1923 (the day before the release of Haldane) Houdini laid out his future plans for stage and screen for the L.A. Times:

"I have signed to deliver twenty-four lectures on 'The Negative Side of Spiritualism' after closing my Orpheum tour. I am also planning to make a picture from my book, Miracle Mongers, which will be an out-and-out stunt picture."

Published in 1921, Miracle Mongers and their Methods details the history and techniques of a wide variety of sideshow acts such as fire-eaters, snake-handlers, frog-swallowers, and strong men. Much of Houdini's experience with these performers came first-hand from his early days in show business. It's all terrific fodder for the screen, actually. But what did Houdini have in mind here? Would he play a man among the miracle mongers -- an agent infiltrating the bizarre world to solve a crime maybe? Calling it an "out-and-out stunt picture" is also intriguing.

Now, one could argue that Houdini is just saying this here to promote his book. However, Miracle Mongers had already been in stores for three years at this point, and Houdini had a much newer book to promote, Houdini's Paper Magic. I think there might be something to this Miracle Mongers movie, if for no other reason that it sounds like good idea and is a pretty crafty bit of cross-promotion. One can easily imagine a new edition of the book with movie poster cover art.

Unfortunately, Haldane of the Secret Service was a flop with the critics and public, and this coupled with financial problems with his Film Developing Corp (not to mention a burgeoning new career and anti-spiritualist crusader) led to Houdini giving up movies altogether.

You can read Houdini's film treatments in Houdini's Strange Tales.

Also enjoy:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

C.E.L. Welsh reveals 'Coffeyville'

C.E.L. Welsh, the talented writer of the Houdini Graphic Novel by Campfire (easily one of the best Houdini comics) has just revealed on his blog cover art for a new Houdini novella called Coffeyville. Chris offers no plot details, but the name and cover art should give those who know their Houdini lore some clues. This is definitely one to watch for!

UPDATE: Win a free copy of Coffeyville.

The Great Houdinis Water Torture Cell relisted on eBay

Having failed to sell on the first round, the Water Torture Cell used in The Great Houdinis has been relisted on eBay with a Buy It Now price of $5,500 (reduced by $1000). The working cell comes from the collection of Abb Dickson who provided the escape apparatuses for the 1976 TV movie. It is also mentioned in the Doug Henning biography, Spellbound.

Because the production dressed up the cell with a false metal frame on front, it appears a bit different in the photos on eBay. But this is, indeed, the cell that was used in the film. However, it isn't a real Houdini Water Torture Cell as some in the media claimed at the time.

Check out the auction (#260850471380) on eBay.

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

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Houdini's movies on Facebook

I recently launched Facebook fan page devoted to Houdini Movies. It's a good way to keep up with movie-specific news and new research here on WILD ABOUT HARRY, or to just show your love for Houdini the Actor. So give a "Like".

Speaking of Houdini's movies -- what would have been Houdini's next film if he had continued his Houdini Picture Corporation after Haldane of the Secret Service? The surprising answer will be revealed in the next installment of The Culliton Papers. Coming soon!

Houdini inspires 'Misdirection'

Check out the trailer for this Houdini-inspired short film, Misdirection, by CSUN student (and Houdini fan), Doron Kipper. Looks pretty good! For more information and dates of upcoming screenings, visit:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Magic Castle will celebrate its 50th on Houdini's birthday, 2013

In the latest Magic Castle newsletter, co-founder Milt Larsen has announced "exciting plans for celebrating the Magic Castle's fiftieth golden anniversary." Even though the Castle opened on January 2, 1963, Milt has suggested March 24, 2013, Houdini's birthday, to celebrate the milestone, which promises to be a weekend long event.

Sounds good to me!

The Castle is currently looking to "assemble a list of professional members and companies to volunteer to participate on the project." If you are interested, contact Milt via the Magic Castle website.

Italian Houdini documentary on DVD

Having just discovered a series of five French Young Houdini adventure books, I decided I better do a thorough search of the international Amazon sites for more gems I may have missed. While I haven't turned up any more books, I did come upon this Italian documentary that was released on DVD in October 24, 2007.

Can't say I've ever seen an non-English language Houdini doc., and certainly not one that was released on DVD. But is this indeed an Italian-made documentary, or could it be one one of the familiar English language docs dubbed into Italian? The Amazon description says the doc uses "unpublished diaries, original films, documentaries of the time, archival footage, and interviews with employees and family members."

Does anyone know anything about this particular documentary and DVD? If someone wants to roll the dice, it can be purchased at

UPDATE: Amazon now shows one of the producers as Pen Densham, so I'm betting this is 1979s Houdini Never Died.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Houdini is headed north

Houdini Art and Magic has left the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and is headed north to San Francisco where it's due to open at the Contemporary Jewish Museum on October 2, 2011. The exhibition will be on view there until January 16, 2012.

Already the CJM has announced a special Members Only Opening Celebration and Preview event on October 1st ("Straitjackets not required"). The museum will also host a Magic and Mystery Family Gala on December 3. That event is open to the public.

For more details vist the Contemporary Jewish Museum's official Houdini Art and Magic page. I'll also keep up with with all the special events and offers that might be coming our way during Houdini's stay in the City by the Bay.

Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

Matt Fraction, superheros, and the Houdini theory

Bookslut has an interesting interview with comic book author Matt Fraction, who writes several Marvel Universe titles including Iron Man, Uncanny X-Men, and their current "event" book Fear Itself. Matt has a theory about how superheros in comics can die and "reset", and it involves Houdini:

"Fear Itself is kind of all I have to say about the illusion of death in comics. It’s my Houdini theory: that nobody went to see Houdini because they wanted to see Houdini die. People went to see Houdini because they wanted to see Houdini almost die. But they wanted to see him get out of it; they wanted to see the escape. Comics are escape fiction -- not escapist fiction, but escape fiction. We want to see how our ideal selves get out of messes that we find ourselves in, literally or metaphorically. It’s never about the death. The death is never real in comics. It’s always about the return, the escape. That’s why we read them. And that it’s been turned into a marketing ploy is a gag! Houdini always has the key under his tongue. That’s the joke."

You can read the full interview at

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Johnathon Schaech tells his Houdini ghost story

Check out this segment of Celebrity Ghost Stories featuring Johnathon Schaech -- who starred in the 1998 TNT film, HOUDINI -- telling of his ghostly encounter with Houdini during the film's premiere at the Majestic Theater in Austin, Texas. It's actually a pretty good story, and one that I've never heard him tell. But is it true?

The episode (Season 2, Ep. #16) originally aired on Dec. 18, 2010. Schaech's segment starts around 29:45 into the clip below.


Thanks to Joe Fox for the alert and April for the link.

The Chronicles of Young Houdini

People sometimes tell me they are amazed at how I manage to keep on top of all the latest Houdini news and new book releases. Well, I'm amazed at what I manage to miss! First and foremost is my discovery, just today, of this series of five French books (five!) called, Les Chroniques du Jeune Houdini (The Chronicles of Young Houdini). The books are written by Denis Ramsay and have been rolling out since March 2009, with the latest (last?) book having arrived in January 2010.

Here's a rundown of all the books with translations of their titles and plots. I've attempted to clean up these auto translations from Amazon, but they still might read a little odd.

The Chronicles of Young Houdini 1: The Street Magician (2009)

In the streets of New York in 1888, life is tough. Children grow quickly and the life lessons are sometimes difficult. There is little difference between the bandits, traders and even the police. Gangs rule the streets and corrupt law enforcement can be purchased easily, giving free rein in the illicit activities of all kinds. In this context, a young magician of the most gifted, attracted more by the magic of organized crime, is revealed as the "Harry Houdini". Accompanied by his friends Ed and Lucy, Harry is proving to be an extraordinary talent, amazing New Yorkers of all classes with his fantastic illusions. Even Bull, the leader of the city's most powerful gang, is greatly impressed. Can the gangs find peace through the intervention of this street magician who is anything but ordinary.

The Chronicles of Young Houdini 2: Circus Dement (2009)

At 14, Harry Houdini is engaged in a traveling circus where he meets Rizzo, a fallen magician who now plays a clown, and plots to bring about the collapse of anyone more successful than he. The troupe of colorful, if not downright strange, characters, travel from city and city and struggle to solve the mysteries that threaten the their "greatest show on earth". Never far from his friends Ed and Lucy, who also work in the circus, Harry develops more and more as an extraordinary magician and he and his friends attempt to uncover the real culprit of the vile attacks and sabotage that plague the circus. But the evil clown does not intend to be overcome so easily ...

The Chronicles of Young Houdini 3: Aboard Noctambuie (2009)

Harry Houdini embarks with his friend Ed for Africa as part of the crew of an old dilapidated steamship, the Noctambule. Not wishing to be alone in America, Lucy also joins his two companions, but has to travel incognito, hidden in a trunk. The aim of the young magician is great ... and large: to capture an elephant and make it disappear in the greatest magic show ever. But the crossing is not easy as a group of pirates approach the Noctambule. Do they have powers of magic like Harry, or are they dealing with a horrible curse? Will Harry and his friends ever return safe and sound America with their coveted prize?

The Chronicles of Young Houdini 4: The Sioux Shaman (2009)

After several weeks at sea, Harry Houdini is back in America where he decides to find his family with his two inseparable friends. Once back in Appleton, Wisconsin, the young magician sees one of his brothers fall seriously ill, and learns that only a famous Wild West Sioux shaman would know the remedy for his ills. Without hesitation, Harry, Ed and Lucy join a caravan that will lead them to this enigmatic Indian sorcerer. But the journey is not easy: famine, storms and disturbing creatures are waiting for them, not to mention Redskins and members of the Ku Klux Klan. Will Harry's magic help ease the rifts between the men who cross his path?

The Chronicles of Young Houdini 5: In the Land of Leprechauns (2010)

Just as he learns to read, Ed Ryan, the best friend of the young Harry Houdini, sees in a newspaper a photo of his father with with a disturbing description: "Irish Revolutionary arrested." Ed decides to come to the aid of his father, who is imprisoned in the Tower of London, relaying on the help of his beloved Lucy and his young sidekick known as being "the master of evasion." But once in the Old World, all attention turns to a serial killer dubbed "Jack the Ripper" that plagues the streets of London, and soon the trio are apprehended by strange elves in the land of leprechauns. What fate do the elves have for their detention, and what surprises does the Ripper have ready for Harry and his friends?

The Chronicles of Young Houdini can be purchased at Amazon's French, Canadian, UK, and U.S. websites. (I had my best results at the Canadian site.)

Of course, I would really love to see these books translated into English. I wonder if there's any publisher out there willing to bring the adventures of Young Houdini to America?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Houdini's Water Torture Cell in 1990

As Houdini Art and Magic prepares to leave the Skirball on Sunday, and the beautiful John Gaughan reproduction of Houdini's Water Torture Cell goes back into his private collection, I thought this might be a good time to pull out these photos of the original Water Torture Cell in 1990; showing it as it looked a year before its first restoration and, of course, before its destruction by fire in 1995.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

I took these photos in the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada, on August 11, 1990. As I said, this is the original pre-restoration cell in all its glory (or ignominy), showing the full ravages of age and neglect from its time in the "museum" (which appears to be doing everything it can to cover up the cell and its damage at this point). Still, what a treat it was to stand before the original cell.

Now, call me crazy, but I still feel like the USD I saw that August day was smaller than the reproductions we have today. I remember being shocked by how small it was, and thinking it looked more like a steamer trunk with a glass front -- more like this photo of the cell when it was given to Sid Radner by Hardeen in the 1943. Also, look at those brass handles on the stocks and tell me they don't look much closer together than what we see on the reproduction? But it's all probably just a trick of memory.

You can see even better pics of the original cell in 1981 and 1985 on a special page at Tom Interval's superb site, Houdini in The New York Times.

Herrmann, Harry, and Blanche...

John Cox Collection
Dean Carnegie has done it again! This time Dean has uncovered some very interesting details about Houdini's relationship to the Herrmann family (the first great magic dynasty), and, in particular, to Compars Herrmann's daughter, Blanche Corelli.

This is especially interesting to me as I happen to own a copy of A Magician Among the Spirits that Houdini has inscribed to Blanche Corelli in 1924 (right). She then gave the book to Dante in 1939 with a long inscription in which she mentions the Herrmann connection. (Dante than annotates and signs a specific paragraph in the book.)

Click here to read all about Herrmann, Harry and Blanche at Carnegie: Magic Detective.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Magic Detective is hot on the trail of Houdini's lost funeral films

Dean Carnegie of the blog Carnegie: Magic Detective is doing some very fine investigative work into the lost funeral films of Harry Kellar and The Great Lafayette, film which were commissioned by Houdini. Check out Dean's original post (which includes a very interesting comment by Gregory Edmonds) and his just posted follow-up.

Dean is also mounting an effort to clean up the grave of Robert Heller (something Houdini did in his own lifetime) on October 8, 2011. Click here to find out how you can participate in The October 8th Heller Project.