Saturday, November 26, 2011

What happens in Vegas...

Actually, I don't know if this is Las Vegas. In fact, I don't really know anything about this photo of Bessie Houdini in a casino that I found among The Culliton Papers. Who are these men that are either rewarding Bess or taking her money? One thing I do like is in this pic is you can really see just how small Bessie was, even in heels!

Click to enlarge

But there's something more here. This photo actually debunks a major myth. Check out Edward Saint at the slot machine in the background. Not only is it cool to see him holding a cigarette, but look at that big smile on his face. Well, that shouldn't be!

According to The Secret Life of Houdini (page 555), Ed Saint suffered from "nerve paralysis of certain facial muscles" making it "impossible for him to smile." Saint actually took advantage of this condition and performed during his carney days as "The International Smileless Man", in which he would offer audience members $1000 if they could get him to crack a smile.

Well, either that isn't Saint back there (and it sure looks like him to me), or he's put one over on us all. But now he's busted.

By the way, Patrick Culliton can't recall where he got this photocopy, and several other candid shots of Bess and Saint around town (a second shows Saint smiling), so he warned me that it might not be okay to post this. If you are the owner of the original and want me to take this down, just shoot me an email and it will vanish like magic.

Or, better yet, let us know where this was taken and who these men might be. It's a pretty cool, revealing shot, and I think a great way to conclude The Culliton Papers.

UPDATE: Mystery solved. This photo is part of the Richards Studio Collection in the Tacoma Public Library and the caption reads in part: "Beatrice Houdini, widow of the famous magician Harry Houdini, tries her luck with the slot machines while attending a party at Ray Gamble's 'Elephant House' during a visit to Tacoma in July, 1941."

Also enjoy:


  1. The guy on the far right looks like Nicola.

  2. Wow, this is really something. So you have a second photo of him smiling? He really did pull one over on everyone then (not to mention having a very good poker face).

  3. I'd never heard this about Saint until I read it in Secret Life, and it's stated there as fact, not as "Saint claimed." Their source is an article by Robert Lund called "Uncanonized Saint" in a 1988 Magicol. I've not read that article.

  4. John - Just saw this picture and can shed a little light on it. The PCAM convention was held in Seattle in 1941. Ray Gamble, a wealthy lumberman from Tacoma held a party at his home during that time (I believe it was after the convention, hosted by he and his wife, "Tot".) Their home was filled with a collection of elephant statues (everything from 1/2 inch tall to a near life-size statue in the back yard) and also the basement party room filled with slot machines. Since it was illegal to own a working slot machine in those days, Gamble had tokens stamped which said "Gamble With Gamble" and those were used in the machines. He paid out winners with various gifts. Gamble died around 1975. I never met him, but growing up in Seattle as I did, I knew many of his old friends.