Thursday, May 31, 2012

Houdini's stunt dummy and the eBay mystery papers

A collection of nine typewritten and edited pages "for a book about Houdini Movies" sold on eBay today for $22. The auction received five bids. The seller states that "I am not sure what this is from, I received these with some other papers, so I have no more info."

The pages appear to have been written around 1994-95, and mystery author writes that "his dear friend" Manny Weltman said to him "We are probably the last people doing any serious research on Houdini."

The writer also states that he has in his "private collection" photos of Houdini with a "life like dummy" that he used during the filming of The Man From Beyond and Haldane of the Secret Service. The dummy was used during the frozen in ice, paddle wheel, and Niagara Falls sequences (along with another dummy of Jane Connelly). The use of a stunt dummy was, of course, never revealed publicly.

So we have three mysteries here. Who wrote these pages? Who has these Houdini-dummy photos? And does the Houdini stunt dummy still exist today?

The Houdini dummy in action?

UPDATE: What happened to the dummy is revealed HERE.

Genii & Houdini: October 1941

Continuing our look back at the history of Houdini on the cover of Genii, The Conjurors Magazine -- which is celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year -- here we have Vol. 6, No. 2 from October 1941.

Cover art this time is the well-known King of Cards poster. However, when it appeared on this cover, it was a rediscovery, as editor William Larsen notes: "The poster which is reproduced on the cover was found in the Houdini files by Edward Saint, Houdini Archivist, and especially rephotogrpahed, on his instructions, for our use."

With their direct link to Edward Saint and Bess, these early Genii's are filled with gems such as the King of Cards poster (which you'll note has the Welsh Bros circus header). One can imagine Ed Saint pushing for a Houdini cover every October by offering Larsen some irresistible rarity. As with the October 1940 issue, this issue contains another unpublished Houdini article called "Keynote To Success". Larsen notes in the introduction:

A typed note accompanied this article, reading as follows: "Please edit. Dictated at mid-night in a hurried manner. Mr. Houdini has not yet seen typed copy. E.F. Sanford, Secretary." Dated October 20, 1926, eleven days before Houdini's death, we, and Dr. Saint, Houdini Archivist, believe it the last article even written by the Great Showman.

The brief article is accompanied by a photo captioned as the last portrait Houdini ever had taken. It's worth noting that in his article Houdini singles out Lafayette as "the greatest producer of mysteries that has ever lived, according to my opinion."

Once again the issue features a memorial page from Bess, and also the story of how Houdini asked, and received, a $1000 fee for performing at a private party. "Nice pay if you can get it", notes Larsen.

Coming next: October 1942

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

LINK: Who was Houdini's father? The duel

Author and historian David Saltman has published another installment in his series, "Who was Houdini's father?" on his blog The Houdini File. This time David tackles the mystery of "The Duel."

Legend has it that Houdini's father, Mayer Samuel, killed a Prince in a duel, and it was for this reason the Weiss family had to flee to America. Furthermore, it's said that Houdini was actually named after the slain prince, Prince Ehrich. It's wild stuff, and despite corroboration from both Bess and Hardeen, most recent biographers have dismissed this as Houdini folklore.

But now David is uncovering information that shows the story is not as outrageous as it sounds, and that the Weiss family may have indeed had encounters with royalty while living in Budapest. It's a must read along with David's other posts on the Weiss family before America.

Under the Pyramids mini book

Houdini's 1924 short story, Imprisoned with the Pharaohs, has been published as a 44-page hardcover mini book by Creepycult under Lovecraft's original title, Under the Pyramids. This unique book is currently for sale only on eBay (as far as I can find). I'll let the seller's description speak for itself.

Welcome! This is a brand new "little" treat for you, hand made by me! I have a week break in the finishing of another project while I waiting for a machine part, so I have decided to finish this piece. I have been slowly working on for quite a while. This was intended to be a holiday present to all the folks who helped me get the Fantasy Fan book off the ground, well it turned out so cool I decided to do an edition of 200 for anyone who might want to have something a little fun 
First off, the book is a 60 page hardcover book, containing the story "Under the Pyramids" also titled "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" originally published in the world famous WEIRD TALES magazine circa 1924. Ghost written by the legendary HP Lovecraft for the equally legendary Houdini! 
What makes this book so special is that it comes in a custom miniature US Postal mail bag, and PADLOCKED CLOSED. (The key is on the INSIDE). So, you have to mimic Houdini, and pick the lock to get to the book. Once inside you will find a beautiful little book, sizing up at 4" x 5", containing 4 original illustrations by the weird and wonderful Nick Gucker. Each book is hand numbered and there is a RANDOM signed letterpress print in only 50 copies.

My copy has just landed at my door, and I can confirm that it is very nicely done (and the lock wasn't too hard to pick). Also happy to report that my copy (#2) contained the Nick Gucker print, which I'm sharing below.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Houdini Club of Wisconsin celebrates 74 years

The Houdini Club of Wisconsin must rank right up there with the S.A.M. and IBM as one the oldest fraternal magic organizations. The club's roots go back to 1915, but the club as it still exists today was founded on May 28, 1938. Yes, today marks its 74th Anniversary!

The stated purpose of the Houdini Club of Wisconsin "is to promote magic and it's kindred arts to the highest degree and to perpetuate the name of Harry Houdini." My kind of club.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting Julie Sobanski, president of the Houdini Club of Wisconsin, at the Magic Collectors Weekend in Chicago. Julie shared with me the story of the club's own "Houdini Award."

Designed by Edward Saint, the Houdini Award is a hand-tooled, engraved leather bound book containing pictures of Houdini and a letter to the club from Bess. It was first presented by Bessie herself to Ben Bergor for his "Original Combination Trunk and Straitjacket Escape and Substitution" during the club's third convention in 1940. After winning the award at two more consecutive conventions, the award became Bergor's to keep. After his death in 1981 the award was donated by his family to the Wisconsin Historical Society where it resides today (it can be viewed by special request).

Julie wrote a nice article about the club and the Houdini Award in the August 2011 issue or MUM. Now she has generously allowed me to share these wonderful rare photos of Bessie presenting the Houdini Award to Ben Bergor at the 1941 convention (I've added copyright on their behalf).

The Houdini Club of Wisconsin will hold its annual convention on Aug 31 to Sept 2, 2012 in Oconomowoc, WI. For more information, or to join the club and receive their newsletter, the Houdini Gram, visit the Houdini Club of Wisconsin website.

Thanks again to Julie Sobanski for sharing these pics. And a very happy 74th Anniversary to the Houdini Club of Wisconsin! Bessie would be proud to know that it's still going strong.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Grim Game named best poster of 1919

Paste, a website devoted to "Signs of Life in Music, Film, & Culture", has taken a look at 100 years of movie posters and have selected a Best Poster for each year. Impressively, The Grim Game was named the best poster of 1919. The website writes:

1919: The Grim Game - Here’s Houdini doing what he does best: escaping. It sells the plot of the movie and sells the image of the escape artist as well.

While The Grim Game had several different posters showing Houdini in escape action, the website features the above poster as representative of their "Best." Hey, you'll get no argument from me. It's a beautiful sheet.

It's not generally known that the image on this poster is actually taken from an equally dramatic still photo. I got a look at this still when I examined The Grim Game file at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick Library last year. As far as I know, the photo has never been reproduced in any book. (I can only offer a tease here as I don't have reproduction rights.)

Thanks to Joe Notaro over at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence who alerted me to this one. Joe's website is devoted exclusively to all things Grim Game related, and Joe has been turning up some wonderful discoveries from what is considered to be Houdini's best movie.

Friday, May 25, 2012

LINK: The Devil's Manor looks at The Man From Beyond

The Devil's Manor -- a blog devoted to Classic Horror and Fantasy Film by "Bob the Caretaker" -- has updated with a very well-researched article about Houdini's 1922 film, The Man From Beyond.

The article observes correctly that, "Though it never takes sides on the issue, it is the only one of Houdini's several film projects that even attempts to tackle an explicitly metaphysical theme alongside his more familiar acts of derring-do."

It's nice to see Houdini's films celebrated, or at least recognized, as contributions within their own film genres and not just as magic history curiosities.

Click on the headline or here to visit The Devil's Manor.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Genii & Houdini: October 1940

Continuing our look back at issues of Genii, The Conjurors Magazine which have featured Houdini on the cover, here we have Vol 5, No. 2, from October 1940. This time the cover features an older poster for The Houdinis. This might have even been the first time this poster had ever been reproduced in print.

Apart from the usual memorial page and editorial by William Larsen (once again singling out and praising Bessie for her role in "The Houdinis"), this issue contains an article by Houdini written in 1925 called "Psychology of Prestidigitation". In it Houdini refutes claims made by Alfred Binet in an 1894 article for Revue des Deux Mondes. It's somewhat heady stuff (a little hard to follow, frankly) with paragraphs such as:

Binet, referring to the apparent passing of a ball from one hand to another, says, "We would not say , while looking on at the performance, 'I see the ball passing from one hand to the other', we would say, 'I see it; I am positive that it passed' -- An illusion of memory rather than of the senses." The fact that under such circumstances, it is merely a delusion, rather than an illusion.

However, Larsen notes that neither he nor Edward Saint could find evidence that the article had ever been published before. "The rapidly increasing field of lecturer-magician will find, in its contents, much practical material for platform work," says Larsen.

But I think my favorite thing in this issue is a blurb by "C.T." in his column that: "DANTE'S show has really gone Hollywood. It's stupendous, colossal, dynamic, and I might even say swell."

Coming next: October 1941

Monday, May 21, 2012

Houdini joins the circus

This photo above recently sold in auction as part of a lot of 26 reprint photos used in the production of Doug Henning's Houdini His Legend and His Magic. It shows Houdini (#6) standing amid the troopers of the Welsh Bros. Circus. It's an uncommon shot, and certainly one of the earliest photos of the professional Houdini. But where is Bess in this photo? I've always wondered if maybe she is the short clown standing out front with her hand on her hip.

In the Henning book the writing at the bottom is cropped off, so it's nice to get confirmation that this photo is from 1895, which makes this from Houdini's first tour with the Welsh Bros. Circus. Harry and Bess traveled with the circus troop twice; first in 1895 and again in 1898. Of this first engagement, Houdini later wrote:

In 1895, I was engaged by the Welsh Brothers' Circus which traveled almost exclusively through the State of Pennsylvania, and for the services of Mrs. Houdini and myself I received the sum of $20 weekly, railroad fares and board. 
The amount was small, but I still look back with pleasure upon the season's work as being one in which we had an abundance of clothes to wear and good food to eat, for the Welsh Brothers certainly fed their artists extra well.

This photo pre-dates the more wildly reproduced troop photo that can be seen below. Houdini himself dates this photo as 1896, but I've always suspected it's actually from his second 1898 tour as the troop is much larger and Houdini looks older and closer to his "Handcuff King" image. Here Bessie is curiously costumed in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit.

Source: NYPL

Last year an original poster for The Houdinis - Metamorphosis with a Welsh Bros circus header surfaced in France. King of Cards posters can also be found with the circus troop header. All wonderful and rare mementos of the time Houdini (and Bess) joined the circus.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

LINK: Who was Houdini's father? New insights

Author and historian David Saltman is investigating the mystery and history of Houdini's father, Mayer Samuel Weiss. David has uncovered some excellent info that he's presenting in a series of weekly posts on his blog The Houdini File.

Click the headline to read the latest, in which David takes a look at what Mayer Samuel did for a living in Budapest. "Rabbi" Weiss? Not exactly...

David also promises to investigate the strange story of the duel with the prince that, apparently, necessitated the Weiss family's move to America.

UPDATE: Who was Houdini's father? The duel

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Houdini's own Houdin

David Copperfield has sharded this image on Instagram captioned: "Memoirs of Robert Houdin - from Houdini's book collection." Are one of these books the copy Ehrich Weiss read at 17 and that set him on his career and gave him his new name? Cool to think so.

Friday, May 18, 2012

REPORT: Houdini haunts The 43rd Magic Collectors Weekend

Click here to see cover #2
Last week I had the extreme pleasure of attending Magicana's 43rd Magic Collectors Weekend in Chicago, which this year offered an embarrassment of riches for the Houdini buff.

I knew this was going to be my kind of event when I saw that the official program featured Houdini on the cover. Actually, there were two programs printed with two variant Houdini covers. As you only got one in your convention pack, a weekend challenge was tracking down that second variant! Inside the program is the recently discovered Water Torture Cell photo from Scotland. This program marks the first in-print publication of this incredible photo.

I flew in late on Thursday afternoon, so I unfortunately missed the dealer show hosted by Tom Ewing. This is too bad, because from the photos I've seen, the show appeared to be filled with fun and magic. But I was there for the lively interview with the weekend's Guests of Honor, Richard Kaufman (editor of Genii and publisher of many books) and James Hagy.

A nice cocktail reception followed where I was able to meet and greet my fellow collectors. Some, like the legendary Mario Carrandi Jr., I was meeting in person for the first time after having corresponded with them for years. Speaking of Mario, at his dealer table he had Houdini's walking stick. The stick is inscribed to Houdini as a gift from Will Goldston. Price: a cool $25,000. Well, at least I got to touch it!


Arthur Moses with Houdini's
walking stick
Friday morning kicked off with James Hamilton giving a talk on the Herrmann dynasty. James is THE man when it comes to all things Herrmann. He even sports Herrmannesque facial hair. James spoke about Houdini's connection to the Herrmann family (via Blanche Corelli), and said that he thought it odd that Houdini never played up his relation to this famous magic family in his own publicity. (I agree. It is odd.) After the talk, James gave me his booklet about Herrmann and Jesse L. Lasky. Lasky produced Houdini's two Hollywood features, so it's interesting to learn about a Lasky-Herrmann connection. Following James was Will Houstoun, editor of The Magic Circular, who gave a very well researched and informative talk on the influence of magic playlets, including Prof. Hoffmann's King Koko.

After a short break, it was my turn! Now I can finally reveal the nature of my talk. A few months ago I was contacted by MCW organizer David Ben and the tireless Julie Eng who asked if I would like to give the attendees a look at a remarkable Houdini artifact they had unique access to. This was the actual guestbook which sat inside Houdini's home at 278 W. 113th St, and later Bessie's residence at 67 Payson Avenue, from 1919 to 1975. Inside are an amazing collection of some of magic’s most famous names; Thurston, Dunninger, Powell, Horace Goldin and many, many more. There are also some intriguing historical gems, like Houdini's sister Gladys signing her name as "Gladys Houdini" and the revelation of a hitherto unknown séance! (I'm going to blog more about this mysterious séance at some point).

Armed with a copy of this amazing guestbook, I worked up a presentation called "Guests & Ghosts of 278." To introduce the book, I first showed photos of Houdini's New York home, including photos of the inside of 278 today (the story of how I got these and why I can't post them here on my blog got a nice laugh). I then paged through the book via a big screen Keynote presentation, showing some of the famous names and offering some background and speculations, etc.

I've gotta say, I've never done anything like this before. Two months ago I had no idea how to use Keynote. I didn't know if it would work, if I would freeze and forget everything, or even how much time I was allotted or I would take. But I think it went wonderfully well, and I was moved that so many of my fellow attendees went out of their way to tell me how much they enjoyed it afterwards. Whew! I really appreciate David and Julie giving me the chance to do this talk. This is something I'd love to do again, as I tweeted immediately after the presentation:

After lunch we returned for a terrific lecture by David Charvet on "Emil Jarrow: The Humorist Trickster". One of the reasons I love attending events like the MCW is that I get to learn about magicians other than Houdini. I admit I had never heard of Jarrow until this weekend. Again, terrific stuff!

David Ben than gave a fascinating talk on Max Malini, "Uncited Sources - The Rise & Fall of Max Malini". Now, I had heard of Malini, but I really didn't know much about his life and work, which turned out to be very interesting indeed. This was followed by a special screening of a filmed panel discussion about Charlie Miller "by those who knew him best". Unfortunately, this was the only event that I missed as I was crashing after all the pent up energy I had for my own talk, and I had to sneak back to my room for a quick nap before dinner. Besides, I wanted to be fresh for the BIG night.

That BIG Friday night kicked off after a dinner break with the great William Pack giving a taste of his acclaimed Houdini lecture, complete with props. Bill puts on these talks in libraries and schools across the country. His presentation is very entertaining and dramatic, and I was grateful for all the advice Bill gave me on doing Houdini lectures (as I now have the bug). Bill has also published a 130-page book that he sells at his talks, The Essential Houdini, which of course I had to snap up!

Following Bill's talk was a screening of a remarkable archival copy of Houdini! - Witness to Yesterday. Witness to Yesterday was a half-hour Canadian series featuring Patrick Watson interviewing famous people from history. In this episode he interviews "Houdini" portrayed by Teller of Penn & Teller. It was really very well written (by Thomas Baxter) and performed, and I've yet to talk to one person -- including "Handsome Jack" Lovick who is THE Penn & Teller expert -- who even knows about the existence of this program. I respected the convention rules and did not snap any photos of the screen -- but I'll tell you that Teller looked pretty good in his Houdini wig. I really hope this sees the light of day at some point as it was a real treat.

Then came the highlight of the evening (and maybe the weekend itself). Arthur Moses took the stage and offered up his "game changer." In a talk called "Have You Heard It All?", Arthur played the complete Houdini voice tapes. I've already blogged about this here, but I'll just say again that hearing the full voice recordings was incredible! In essence, what we heard was over five minutes of Houdini's voice that is not available to the public and has only ever been heard by a handful of people.

A private listen
Afterwards I got a more intimate listen as I helped Arthur and his crew double check the transcriptions. I was struck by how Houdini's voice was even more heavily accented and his English even more broken than what we hear in the familiar 1:20 version (which is an edited combination of both recordings, as Arthur was able to demonstrate). The major difference between the two versions seemed to be that in one Houdini issues his $1000 challenge "to anyone who can prove it is possible to obtain air inside of the Torture Cell" and in the other he didn't; although there were changes in phrasing throughout. In the non-challenge version (I think) he signs off by saying, "This record spoken by Harry Houdini."

Unfortunately, I don't think Arthur will be able to release these recordings in any major public way. The same goes for the 278 guestbook and the Teller film. But that's why there are events like the MCW. Some things can only be shared in this way.


Saturday kicked off early with an open forum discussion moderated by David Ben. Here the future of the MCW was discussed, including the possibility of it becoming a bi-annual event and moving to different cities. After this, Loren Pankratz gave a very interesting talk on Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft, which is the first English language book to describe the methods of magic.

"Magicienne" Dell O'Dell
Next up was magician (or "Magicienne") Julie Sobanski with her well-crafted talk on "Women in Magic". Julie is currently writing a book on her topic, and I really enjoyed her presentation, especially as I had just been to the Magic Castle's own celebration of Women in Magic Week. Why aren't there more female magicians? Julie got the biggest laugh of the convention when she proposed one theory: "Early maturity steers most girls away from magic."

Julie, by the way, is president of the Houdini Club of Wisconsin and an escape artist in her own right. She even performs a straitjacket escape in rollar skates!

After Julie came my friend and fellow Angelino, Diego Domingo, who gave a wholly unique talk called, "The Prophet, the Assassination, the Cult of Doom, and Top Hat Magic" (featuring Arthur Moses doing his best "hick" voice). It was a terrific talk that had the room laughing and gasping at the artifacts Diego has collected during his on-going quest to expose religious hucksters -- some of whom use store bought magic tricks to prove their divinity. Fantastic stuff!

After a short break, the mighty Max Maven presented his talk on "Magical Jews - By One of Them." This was the same talk Max gave at the Skirball Cultural Center last year during the Houdini Art and Magic and Masters of Magic: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age exhibitions. As I missed that, I was thrilled to catch it here. Needless to say, it was excellent, even though Max warned us up front that he wouldn't be talking much about Houdini as "he has his own press."

After a lunch break came Trevor Dawson from the UK who gave a very well researched and informative lecture on "Charles Dickens: Conjurer, Mesmerist, and Showman". This was followed by Bill Spooner's "Remembering Rex Slocombe" which included his own personal recollections at just how talented and funny Slocombe was. And speaking of voice tapes, Bill played the only known recording of Slocombe doing his famous comedy magic act.

Next came a special drawing for five copies of "The Shroud of Vernon." These are numbered pieces of cloth "Cut from the Shroud of Vernon" containing the phantom image of Dai Vernon's favorite card, the Ace of Clubs. I never win things like this, so it was a great surprise when I won! I think Houdini was looking after me this weekend.

The Shroud of Vernon

Then came a screening of a documentary about Mark Wilson's groundbreaking The Magic Land of Alakazam, followed by a Q&A with Mark and Darnell Wilson themselves. It was a real thrill to see and hear one of the great magicians of my childhood, and a true pioneer of magic on television.

After a dinner break, it was back to "The McVicker's Theater, circa 1912" for "An Evening of Mystery: Magical Varieties". Here David Charvet MC'd the evening as Jarrow, and also performed an amazing spirit painting effect; David Ben did a terrific magic performance with cards; Mark Wilson surprised the attendees with a performance; and Max Maven closed the show doing card and mind reading that absolutely blew my mind!

A final dessert reception was held after the big show. And with that the 43rd Magic Collectors Weekend came to a close. What a magical time it was!

*MCW photos by Wayne Wissner. Magicana © 2012 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Houdini's pocket watch at auction

A 18K gold pocket watch given to Houdini by his English agent, Harry Day, will be auctioned by Bonhams on June 12, 2012. This watch is described as a "hunter cased minute repeating chronograph with calendar and moon phases" and carries an inscription showing it was given to Houdini by Day in May 1914.

This was right at the time Houdini was performing his "Grand Magical Revue" in England. In fact, it was in May 1914 that he purchased his famous Walking Through A Brick Wall illusion. It was also Houdini's last tour of the UK before the outbreak of World War I. In June he would sail home on the Imperator and not return until December 1919, so it's possible this was a farewell gift from Day (who would soon become Colonel Harry Day).

According to the auction, after Houdini's death the watch was given to his nephew, Harry White. I'm not sure who Harry White was.

The auction estimate is $10,000 - $15,000. The auction lot is #43 in the Fine Watches and Wristwatches Auction 20003.

Click here to view the auction page at Bonhams.

Thanks to Kevin Connolly and Dick Brookz for the alert.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

LINK: Houdini in Santa Paula

Our friend Joe Notaro of Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence made an interesting discovery on Mother's Day. While visiting The Glen Tavern Inn in Santa Paula, CA, Joe and his mom found that the hotel has a Houdini connection. This is the kind of thing that happens to us "Houdini guys." Click on the headline to have a read at Joe's blog. The video below also mention's the Inn's Houdini history.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Houdini the Elk

Houdini's life membership card to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (B.P.O.E.) has sold in auction for $1,800. The twice-signed card reveals that Houdini became an Elk on February 18, 1912. He belonged to New York Lodge #1.

The card was Lot #1447 in the Spring 2012 Robert Edward Auctions.

Master Mystery lobby card nabs $815

An original lobby card from Houdini's 1919 serial The Master Mystery sold on eBay today for an impressive $815, even though the condition is quite poor. The card features a terrific shot of Houdini/Quentin Locke after escaping from an electric chair. It comes from Episode Seven: "Barbed Wire".

Last year I featured three original tinted Master Mystery lobby cards from the collection of our great patron, MSW. Click to retake The Master Mystery Tour.

Report on the 43rd MCW coming...

I'm back in the saddle after a sensational time at the 43rd Magic Collectors Weekend in Chicago. Those who were following my tweets know that the event was jam-packed with Houdini goodness, including my own lecture and the playing of the full Houdini voice tapes.

But there were also fascinating lectures on other great figures in magic such as Jarrow, Herrmann, Max Malini and much more.

I'm working away on my full report and hope to have it up this week. In the meantime, enjoy the program cover (right), which was one of two different Houdini-themed covers. I'll show you the other in my report.

UPDATE: REPORT: Houdini haunts The 43rd Magic Collectors Weekend.

Friday, May 11, 2012


The voice of Harry Houdini boomed out over the assembled guests at The Magic Collectors Weekend in Chicago tonight. But this was not the 1:20 clip we are all familiar with.

Mega collector Arthur Moses has miraculously unearthed the two complete 3:30+ minute recordings of Houdini doing his Water Torture Cell patter, and played them in their entirety, along with on-screen text transcriptions, for the stunned convention attendees. In essence, what we heard tonight was good five and half minutes of Houdini's voice that has NEVER been heard or broadcast publicly.

I almost fainted.

What's revelatory, and what makes this a true "game changer," is that Arthur was able to demonstrate how the familiar 1:20 minute speech is actually an edited and highly abbreviated amalgamation of both these recordings. So it is not Houdini's authentic USD patter. In the authentic recording heard tonight Houdini describes the USD "apparatus" in detail, including the inner cage and the steel bands that encircle the cell, and very craftily teases out the danger of the effect. We also hear his invitation for a committee of "10 to 15 gentleman" to join him on stage. In one of the recordings he signs off by saying: "This record spoken by Harry Houdini."

I'll have more on this and the entire Magic Collector Weekend when I return. Keep following me on Twitter @HoudiniWild for the latest.

Arthur and his crew study the Houdini voice recordings transcriptions.

UPDATE: REPORT: Houdini haunts The 43rd Magic Collectors Weekend.

UPDATE 2: Arthur Moses posts transcripts of the full Houdini voice recordings.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Off to the Magic Collectors Weekend...

Tomorrow I'm off to the 43rd Magic Collectors Weekend in Chicago hosted by the Magic Collectors Association. I'm very excited! This is my first MCW and word is this is going to be a particularly good one for those of us afflicted with Houdini madness.

First off, I will be giving a short presentation on Friday morning called Guests and Ghosts of 278. This is part of a celebration of the "Three Hs" -- Herrmann, Hoffman, and Houdini. I'll post more about my talk, and the amazing collectible the MCA has invited me to unveil, on my return.

I'm also especially excited about Friday night's special line-up of Houdini presentations. The night will feature a rare short film starring Teller as Houdini; a talk by Houdini lecturer extraordinaire William Pack; and then the presentation of a MAJOR "game changer" discovery by mega collector, Arthur Moses. I know what this is and, trust me, it's going to rock the Houdini and magic world!

I'm not sure I will have time to update this blog, but I will be tweeting my adventures @HoudiniWild, including the first word of the big Friday night revelation. So follow me on Twitter or watch my tweets above (I've temporarily moved my Twitter feed up to the top of the blog).

I'll be back next week with a full report.

Houdini Il Mago Della Fuga

This new 76-page Italian Houdini book has just landed on my doorstep. Houdini Il Mago Della Fuga was released in March 2012. It's written by Pierfrancesco Poggi with illustrations by Umberto Mischi.

The book is in Italian so I can't really give it a review, but it appears to tell a parallel story about a young modern day escape artist, Roy, and the story of Houdini himself. The illustrations are terrific and the story takes us all the way up to the Houdini Art and Magic exhibition of 2010-12. There also appears to be a Harry Potter link at the end.

You can buy Houdini Il Mago Della from and You can also download a PDF of the first chapter from the publisher, Biancoenero.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

...also Houdini

What's this? Scandal baby Evelyn Nesbit receives top billing over Houdini who is relegated to a mere footnote; "also Houdini." Can it be? The mighty Harry Houdini playing second fiddle to the Kim Kardashian of her day!?

Okay, while this is a real newspaper advert from 1919 (which I recently nabbed on eBay), it is not advertising Nesbit and Houdini in person. These are their respective movies sharing the bill at the Empire Theater.

Nesbit's Woman, Woman was released on January 19, 1919, and this could be an ad for opening day. The reference to "Houdini" is actually The Master Mystery, his 15 part serial which was rolling out chapter by chapter at the Empire and, of course, would play second fiddle to a feature. Here's another Empire ad that makes this a little clearer.

Still, you have to think this kind of supporting player billing would rankle Houdini. It's probably why he went on to make feature films himself after entering the business with Mystery.

But this also makes for an interesting double bill. Although Evelyn Nesbit played fictional characters in her films (she's Alice Lindsay in Woman, Woman), her movies were really about showcasing her in films and situations that echoed her real-life infamy as temptress/victim/fallen woman. This is very similar to how Houdini's movies were really about selling the great escape artist in a fictional context. It's also worth pointing out that real movie fame eluded them both.

Houdini and Evelyn would travel side by side through the 20th Century as representatives of the Gilded Age. Both burst onto the scene in 1900; both had biopics made about their lives the 1950s -- Houdini with Tony Curtis in 1953 and The Girl In The Red Velvet Swing with Joan Collins in 1955 -- and both appeared as characters in the book, play, and film versions of E. L. Doctrow's Ragtime. However, Nesbit's name and fame is fading while Houdini has become a household word.

But lets give this one to Evelyn. At one point she was as famous a Houdini, and I've always had a bit of a thing for her...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Isla Fisher gets her Houdini on

The Hollywood News has posted this image of Isla Fisher under the headline, "Isla Fisher Is The New Houdini In Now You See Me".

Directed by Louis Leterrier and due for release in January 2013, Now You See Me focus on a band of illusionists who become the target of the FBI after it's discovered that they rob banks while performing their acts. The film stars Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo (who played Hardeen in 1998's Houdini), Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine, and Isla as, presumably, the escapist of the team.

Last week to catch 'Houdini Art and Magic'

Just a heads-up that you only have one week left to see the traveling exhibition Houdini Art and Magic at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in Madison, Wisconsin. The show closes this Sunday, May 13, 2012.

This is the final stop in a tour which has included New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The excellent Houdini Art and Magic exhibition book by curator Brooke Kamin Rapaport is still available from

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Online Houdini slot machine

Our friend Mick Hanzlik (author of Houdini’s Mirror Handcuff Challenge, Getting Closer to the Truth and Looking into the Mirror) has sent over a link he discoverd to an online Houdini slot machine. This UK based game has a Demo mode so you can play (for a while) without having to spend real money. It's addictive! I played for an hour just so I could see all the different bonus page images, some of which I'm sharing below. But I'm not sure I saw them all, so...

CLICK HERE for a look at another Houdini slot machine I discovered in Las Vegas in 2008.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Watch the creation of a Houdini tattoo

Check out this time-lapse video of the creation of a Houdini tattoo by artist Shane O'Neill. O'Neill recently won Spike TV's InkMaster competition, and I can see why. This is pretty impressive.

Thanks to Thomas Churchwell for this one.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Genii & (Mrs.) Houdini: October 1939

Continuing our look back at issues of Genii, The Conjurors Magazine that have featured Houdini on the cover, here we have Vol 4, No. 2, October 1939, which this time gives the cover over to that other Houdini -- Bess.

Genii was originally conceived as a magic magazine devoted to West Coast magic news, and Bess Houdini was a huge part of the West Coast magic scene and a source of great pride for the magic community. (Interestingly, there is a hint of jealously in a mention that "a handful of people in New York" are spreading rumors that Bess doesn't have to pay for her Genii ads). Bess was very close with editor and publisher William Larsen Sr. and his wife, Gerri. In fact, much of the memorabilia that now fills the Houdini Seance Room at The Magic Castle comes from this time and association. The mutual affection is in full bloom here as William Larsen writes:

In all the world there is no more staunch supporter of magic than is Mrs. Harry Houdini, widow of then late great magician and escape artist. [...] Mrs. Houdini has lived in New York, Florida and California. She is now a frequent visitor to the first mentioned states. But we claim her, here, as our own. Her home, beautifully situated on one of the finest, widest streets in Los Angeles, is a mecca for local magicians; for out of town conjurers when they visit Southern California. It is there that Beatrice Houdini presides as the fist lady of Magicdom. Is is there that conjuring men can go and talk, and live over again the grand, mighty days of the glorious past. [...] Houdini made his name mighty and powerful. Mrs. Houdini has made it lovable and charming. [...] Hail the Queen of Mystery -- Mrs. Harry Houdini!

Later in the issue it's reported by Geri Larsen that the Magigals (an organization for female magicians and wives of magicians) held "one of our very best" meetings in Bess' Hollywood home. "The best trick of all being the production of a marvelous repast from behind a gorgeous teakwood screen." The issue closes with two tribute pages to Houdini -- one from Bess and the other from Hardeen. The issue also reports on the death of Horace Goldin.

You know, reading these old issues, I'm starting think this series might turn out to be more interesting than I first thought. It clear that Genii and Houdini had a real love affair in the early years, but I'm not sure that remained the case. Will looking at these issues one by one reveal when the relationship went sour and why?

Stay tuned.

Coming next: October 1940

Secret Adventures of Houdini signing in Manhattan tomorrow

The Secret Adventures of Houdini guys are at it again! I'll let the ad below (which I snatched from The Secret Life of Houdini Facebook page) speak for itself. Good times!

Click to enlarge

Pop quiz, hot-shot. Which Houdini comic book was given out free as part of "Free Comic Book Day" in 2008? Answer.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

LINK: A new photo of Cecelia Weiss?

Dean Carnegie has posted to his blog Carnegie: Magic Detective what he believes could be a new photo of Houdini's mother, Cecelia Weiss. Or it could be Cecelia's mother, Hannah Steiner, who is buried in the family plot in Queens. Dean is looking for feedback, so click on the headline to have a look at the pic and let him know what you think.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hunger Games director considering The Secret Life of Houdini

The Hollywood Reporter reports that Hunger Games director Gary Ross is in talks to direct The Secret Life of Houdini for Lionsgate.

Lionsgate's Houdini project, one of several in development around Hollywood, is loosely based on The Secret Life of Houdini, The Making of America's First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. Summit Entertainment (which was acquired by Lionsgate in January) picked up feature-film rights to the book in March 2009 with a eye towards launching a fictional action adventure franchise "featuring a character who is part Indiana Jones and part Sherlock Holmes." The most current screenplay is by Noah Oppenheim.

Ross directed 2003's Seabiscuit before helming the mega-hit Hunger Games. He recently bowed out of directing the Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire.

Ironically, Catching Fire will now be directed by Francis Lawrence, who is attached to direct his own "action adventure" Houdini project at Columbia/Sony. That project is being written by Scott Frank.

Might we see a battle of the Houdini movies next year?

Let the games begin!

An evening of Houdini inspired poetry at the MMoCA

As part of the special programing for Houdini Art and Magic, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in Madison, Wisconsin will host an evening of poetry this Friday, May 4, 2012. Here's the description from the MMoCA website:

Magic and Metamorphosis: An Evening of Poetry - Members of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets will read original works that delve into themes expressed in Houdini: Art and Magic. The evening will include a performance by Karl Elder of his major work The Houdini Monologues.

Houdini Art and Magic will be on show at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art through May 13, 2012. This is exhibition's final stop in a tour which has included New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.