Tuesday, July 31, 2012

House of treasure

One of the best parts of The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin is when Houdini tells the story of how he acquired many of his rarest magic treasures from magician and collector Henry Evans Evanion. It's a story that certainly should stir any collector as I expect we have all had our own "Evanion experience."

Learning of Houdini's interest in collecting from a newspaper interview, Evanion came to see the magician at his hotel during his tour of the UK in 1904. Houdini was ill at the time, and because Evanion's appearance was so shabby, hotel staff would not allow him up to Houdini's room. Eventually Houdini came downstairs and discovered the elderly man waiting in the lobby. Evanion then showed him a small portfolio of items he had brought. Said Houdini:

"I remember only raising my hands before my eyes, as if I had been dazzled by a sudden shower of diamonds. In his trembling hands lay priceless treasures for which I had sought in vain -- original programs and bills of Robert-Houdin, Phillippe, Anderson, Breslaw, Pinetti, Katterfelto, Boaz, in fact all the conjuring celebrities of the eighteenth century, together with lithographs long considered unobtainable, and newspapers to be found only in the files of national libraries. I felt as if the King of England stood before me and must do him homage."

Against doctor's orders, Houdini traveled the next day to Evanion's home, "a musty room in the basement of No. 12 Methley Street, Kennington Park Road, S.E." There Houdini continues:

"In the presence of his collection I lost all track of time. Occasionally we paused in our work to drink tea which he made for us on his pathetically small stove. The drops of the first tea which we drank together can yet be found on certain papers in my collection. His wife, a most sympathetic soul, did not offer to disturb us, and it was 3:30 the next morning, or very nearly twenty-four hours after my arrival at his home, when my brother, Theodore Weiss (Hardeen), and a thoroughly disgusted physician appeared on the scene and dragged me, an unwilling victim, back to my hotel and medical care."

Houdini and Evanion remained in contact and Houdini purchased his collection "bit by bit" as he toured Europe. The last item Houdini purchased was a "superb book of Robert-Houdin's programmes, his one legacy, which is now the central jewel in my collection."

Evanion died just ten days later on June 17, 1905.

So what could make this story even better? How about a visual? The amazing Andrew Beer, our man in London, has tracked down No. 12 Methley Street and photographed the house...inside and out!

A very big thank you to Andrew and the owners of No. 12 Methley for allowing us to see inside what for Houdini was truly a house of treasure.

Also enjoy:

Monday, July 30, 2012

Petition to rename 113th Street "Harry Houdini Way"

Here's something fun. Daniel Modell of New York has started a petition on change.org to rename the 200 block of West 113th Street in Harlem to "Harry Houdini Way".

This, of course, is to honor the site of Houdini's house at 278 West 113th Street. The petition is addressed to W. Franc Perry of the District 10 Community Board and the New York City Council.

So far the petition has 18 signatures. It appears this is a repeated attempt. I'm not sure I really need to see the street renamed. I'm happy enough that the house now has a historic plaque at the door. But what the heck. I signed it anyway. Harry would love it!

You can sign the petition and/or watch its progress at change.org.

Thanks to Michael Cartellone for the heads-up.

Houdini plays the Palace

Seems like every week something especially noteworthy sells on eBay. This week that honor goes to this undated playbill/program for Houdini at the Palace Theater, which sold yesterday for $228. This is a nice piece of ephemera. Can't say I've ever seen Houdini billed as "The Man Who Will Not Stay Put" before.* I also like that this carries a quote from Teddy Roosevelt.

As always, congrats to the buyer.

* UPDATE: Ironically, right around the time this sold yesterday, I received an email with some clips of Houdini footage, and one of the clips showed an ad that said, "The Man Who Will Not Stay Put." So I went from never seeing this billing to seeing two examples on the same day. Weird.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Our man in London, Andrew Beer, has once again made a fantastic Houdini find. This one is pretty obscure, but it should be familiar to hardcore Houdinites, and will certainly be of interest to all. So check out WILD ABOUT HARRY this week for a look inside the house of treasure.

Also on tap for this week: La Maitre du Mystere, The McGill explanation, and What if Houdini didn't die in 1926?

Friday, July 27, 2012


Let's end the week with this photo of the great Doug Henning posing in front of the "Houdini for President" poster. It's a terrific image that captures two masters of magic, both of whom pioneered their own unique approach to the art, both of whom represented the pinnacle of magic in their day, and both of whom died at age 52.

This shot was taken to promote Henning's first NBC television special in which he famously performed Houdini's Water Torture Cell. A similar photo was used in TV Guide and was actually the first image I ever saw of the real Houdini.

Just thought this was one to show and share. Have a great weekend!

John Gaughan on Psycho and the Crystal Casket

Reader Leonard Hevia alerts me to two Houdini-related items that recently appeared in Genii magazine.

In the June and July issues, John Gaughan in his "Chamber of Secrets" column discusses the history of Kellar's Psycho and Robert-Houdin's Crystal Casket. Keller gave Houdini his famous Psycho automaton (now in the John Gaughan collection), and Houdini performed a version of the Crystal Casket in his full evening roadshow.

Thank you, Leo, for the heads-up. When Gaughan talks we listen!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Teller on Houdini: "He's one of the few magicians who mattered."

The Montreal Gazette has a nice interview with Teller (of Penn & Teller), which includes these thoughts about Houdini:

Teller called promptly at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, from the comfortable confines of a “little corner I call the Houdini alcove,” in his home in Las Vegas.
“It’s full of Houdini rarities,” he boasted. Asked whence his love for the famed escape artist, he continued: “He’s one of the few magicians who mattered. He dealt with topics that were not just mere amusements, in the Vaudevillian sense, but that came close to people’s lives.
“He was one of the major spirit debunkers of all time. In his day, spiritualism was very popular as a way of communicating with the dead. He did serious investigation into how it all worked, and that became part of his show.”

Read the entire article, Fantasia: Teller finds the terror in truth, at The Montreal Gazette.

Guest Blog: Houdini's encounter with the German police in 1902

Once again, Johan Ahlberg from Sweden shares with us some fresh research via translations of foreign newspapers. This time Johan digs into German papers to uncover some unknown facts about Houdini's lawsuit with the German police in Cologne. The translations from the original German are a little challenging to read, but Johan has unearthed some gold here. Enjoy.

The story when Houdini sued the German police for slander has been told many times and how he got an honorary apology by command of Kaiser Wilhelm II emperor of Germany. The stern policemen with moustaches and spiked helmets, armed with swords, looking down on Houdini standing manacled before the court like a dangerous prisoner makes a superb poster.

Different versions have been told about what really happened. After extensive research in the German newspapers, I found some interesting articles. The following is a translation from four different articles in The Rheinische zeitung and reports from the court proceedings. The originals are printed in old style German and hard to read. I had help from a German scholar to translate.

Court proceedings 26 February 1902

The artist Harry Houdini, who has performed as an escape artist, have given in a personal sue for slander against policeman Graf and editor Merfeld on the Rheinische zeitung. Houdini accuses Graf for have fettered him with a so called dead lock (tricked lock) that can’t opened after it’s locked. Therefore he had to blow the lock.

According to this there was an article in R.Z no.170 that the escape king Houdini in circus Corty Althoff was exposed by police officer Graf that could tell that Houdini had contacted him and that both of them could earn a lot of money on that Graf fettered him in such a way that he couldn’t get free. The private (this is a kind of private employed in the police force common used to transport prisoners) Lott should have received 20 Marks for lending Houdini  an extra transport chain Houdini showed the audience after he had saw through the (first) transport chain. The accused Merfeld (editor) explained that he got the material for the article by a trustworthy journalist.

The accused Graf claims that he told the story as it was told in several newspapers. Graf claims that it not was a dead lock but the lock he had put before the court. Houdini couldn’t open the lock since it has a concealed opening that Houdini didn’t know about. The witness Lott was in the audience at the circus with Houdini and Graf he was changing his story and admitted that he didn’t tell the truth. Houdini had asked him against 10 Mark to lock him so he couldn’t get free. Graf had another extra transport chain he had given to Houdini. Houdini was fettered and went into his cabinet and came out free from the transport chain. He said (Houdini) it was impossible to get free from the chain so he was forced to saw of the transport chain.

Houdini had offered before the court to make an escape from the transport chain. Graf fettered him with the transport chain around Houdini's wrists, as the police commonly do. Houdini went behind a table in the court room and freed himself immediately from the transport chain under the courts supervision.

Houdini's wife Bess statement tells that she noticed how Graf had removed the dead lock from his west pocket and fettered her husband with this lock. She tried to stop this but was forced back. The witness mechanic Krogh swore that the lock put before the court are the same as Graff fettered Houdini with and after the circus show he had altered the lock (?)

The hearing is closed. The plaintiffs lawyer (Houdini) claimed that the accused should be sentenced for slander and public offence.
The accused lawyer claims his client should be free.

The court ruling was given today: Graf was sentenced to pay 200 mark and Merfeld to 50 Mark. 

  1. Gerich Zeithung (report from the court):

    The ruling in the court case Houdini against Graf is fine to pay 200 Mark and 20 days in jail, Merfeld are fined to pay 50 Mark. Of the hearing the judging court finds the witness Lott to be totally untrastable. The sentenced are going to take the case to a higher court.
  1. The escape artist, plaintiff Harry Houdini, in the third court (strafkammer) Cologne, the case are in session on Saturday regarding the complaint by Houdini against police officer Graf. The case against Merfelt was drawn back. The court session took a long time and was not finished before late evening. On Houdini's side was witnesses from London, Breemerhafen, Wilna, Dortmund and Essen.  Graf had one whiteness a police inspector, two captains (commissaries high rank police officer) and around 20 policemen, some private persons. In the court nothing new was presented, it got interesting when a discussion aroused between Grafs defense lawyer and Houdini when Houdini should open a manipulated lock that Graff brought with him to test Houdini's skills. Houdini looked for a short time on the lock and asked for a room where he in privacy could work on the lock. After two minutes had passed by Houdini arrived in the court with the lock opened. Graf was very surprised that Houdini managed to open the lock.
Graf was sentenced for slander and to fine 30 Mark and pay al costs. The costs are high since all witnesses should be compensated and the lost income. Houdini is on Grafs expense publishes the court ruling in al Cologne newspapers.

  1. Plaintiff, the escape king Houdini. In the earlier message that Graf and Merfeldt was convicted for slander, can we report that the court has gone on Grafs line and convicted Houdini for public insult and Houdini should fine 3 Mark. In the court rulings against Graf and Merfeldt it’s heard that they should answer for slander. The newspaper article is impressing slander of the plaintiff as person and artist. The truth in the article can’t be strengthening. Regarding the conversation in the police station , where the plaintiff (Houdini) promised the police officer Graff 20Mark, are Graf accused and his statement cant be trustworthy, furthermore Krog and Bekelz says the lock had been changed (altered) after the circus performance. Krog only said that the lock had been opened. By the statement from Houdini is it clear that Graf in the circus performance changed the lock in the last moment. The other information in the newspaper article in circus is the whiteness Lott responsibility for.

    The court doesn’t think he is trustworthy and that he had given different statements regarding the 20 Marks. Under the cross examination had Lott said that the plaintiff had cut or blown the chain. It could be added by the captain that Lott are totally untrustworthy. Regarding the bribes to the lower ranks with 100 Marks is the captain’s statement right with the whiteness Joseph that didn’t tell this. There are no mistakes that the newspaper article was written to lower the plaintiff’s skills. It must be stressed that the plaintiff did escape within minutes from the police fetters that Lott had put on him.

    It’s possible that Graf not had acted against his conscious like editor Merfeld. In circus Lott had told Graff that he had received 20 Mark. The punishment against Graff have been set so high with thought on the disadvantage for the plaintiff.


I think it’s clear that Houdini had approached the police to fetter him. In other cases it was claimed that Houdini paid challengers to bring their irons to test him. Its not certain that Houdini had paid to get an extra transport chain. There was two padlocks one regular and one special padlock fabricated so it couldn’t be opened once locked. What was told in court it had a hatch covering the keyhole to deadlock, this was fabricated by Krogh master mechanic and Houdini was fettered with it when performing. Bess immediately saw how the padlock was switched and gave Houdini the signal. The only reason was to snare Houdini so he couldn’t free himself even if Houdini had the key for the padlock. Houdini had to cut the chain and it was fair since he had been tricked.

In his book Handcuff Secrets, Houdini states that he picked the padlock with the picks marked X . To pick a three lever padlock with hands chained is not at all easy and if it can be done it will take time. When Houdini explains the method for escaping from a transport chain he either tells a story where he was friend with a locksmith Mr.Mueller, who had a shop in Mittle strasse Berlin. Working for free he repaired locks for Mueller and had him order several gross of locks “with a peculiar shape with 3 or 4 levers” he practiced for hours to pick the padlocks. In another explanation he claimed to have slipped the chain by use of a strong hook, painful at first, or using his teeth’s and by bringing the arms parallel he could slip the chain. Possible if you have small hands but not a method you can depend on if you are fettered by the German police.

It's an excellent example where Houdini the master showman turned the court to his favor by doing an escape from a chain and opening the dead lock. Other escape artists would have failed, or lost their nerves, but this must have confused the judge. Nothing is mentioned if Houdini was locked up in a safe or the special Berliner handcuffs he claimed to have been manacled with. It seems like the story of a public apologies in all German paper is not true it was in the Cologne newspaper Graf had to pay for advertisement.

The story is intriguing and facts points at methods used by Houdini. Houdini got a lot of publicity from this court case. On the other hand had he failed it could have been the ruin of his career at least in Germany. The ruse to trick Houdini by changing the lock or handcuffs was tried in the challenge with Mr. Wilson in Blackburn, England in 1903. Bess did immediately spot the switch and signaled Houdini. Brian Lead and Roger Woods wrote an excellent book on that matter.

Even if the newspaper reporters on the Rheinische zeitung was not accurate, it is as close we ever will come to Houdini's secrets.

Johan Ahlberg ©

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Magic Castle installs a Water Torture Cell aquarium

The Magic Castle in Hollywood continues to make post-fire improvements and Houdini-themed additions. This week they've installed a custom fish tank in the Inner Circle made to resemble Houdini's Water Torture Cell.

Unfortunately, one isn't allowed to take pictures inside the Castle, so I don't have any photos of it to show. But I have heard chatter that a reality show about custom aquariums (Tanked?) did a segment on the Castle tank, so keep a watch out for that.

It's worth noting that the earliest version of Houdini's Water Torture Cell presented the apparatus as, yes, an aquarium! On April 29, 1911 Houdini performed the escape as part of a one-act play in London called Challenged or Houdini Upside Down. The purpose of the playlet, which was performed only once, was to copyright the new effect. In it a "multimillionaire sportsman" named Tim Connor eyeballs his clubhouse aquarium and concocts the idea of locking Houdini inside it.

Connor: Well, my idea is to put this Houdini fellow into that aquarium head first, understand me, head first, with his feet in the air, then put a lid or cover on, fasten his feet to this cover and lock him in. This is my challenge, in the rough of course.

It's kind of fun that after 100 years the Water Torture Cell has returned to its original purpose as a private clubhouse aquarium.

UPDATE: Houdini aquarium revealed on Tanked.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fractured Mystery

Here's something that has been hiding in plain sight for almost 50 years. Until now, I believed that the first time any footage from Houdini's silent films appeared on American television was in the documentary The Truth About Houdini in 1976. However, it turns out nearly 3 minutes from The Master Mystery first aired on American television in 1963 as a "fractured flicker."

Fractured Flickers was a syndicated half-hour comedy show produced by Rocky and Bullwinkle creators Jay Ward and Bill Scott and hosted by Hans Conried. The show was made up of clips from silent movies dubbed over with comedic dialogue. Even though it's a little depressing to see classics like Blood and Sand and The Hunchback of Notre Dame reduced to this use, the show had some funny and subversive moments, and back in the day this was pretty much the ONLY way you could see actual footage from classic silent movies on TV.

And it turns out that footage included Houdini! In the third episode of the first season, Houdini's 1918 serial, The Master Mystery, was given the full fractured flicker treatment. This footage is nice and clear, but as the show does not credit their sources, it's unclear if this footage came from the Rohauer archival print or another source.

The segment, which you can watch below, juxtaposes three different sequences from The Master Mystery and jokes it up as the adventures of "The Clover Boys at Camp." (The aerial footage is from a different film.) It's not especially funny, but many of these moments, including shots of the Automaton in action, would not be seen until The Master Mystery was finally released on VHS in 1998.

Fractured Flickers - The Complete Collection was released on DVD in 2004. It's possible there are more bits of Houdini's silents buried among these 26 episodes. Over the next few weeks I'm going to look them over and see if I can discover what else might be hidden among the Fractured Flickers.

UPDATE: Having now scanned through all 26 episodes, I can report that the show continued to use random clips from The Master Mystery, including more footage of the Automaton, Jack Burns, Ruth Stonehouse, and Houdini in the electric chair. However, nothing that is considered lost.

UPDATE 2: Bill Mullins has provided a list of even earlier Houdini appearances on TV: Houdini on early television

Monday, July 23, 2012

Houdini on the backlot

Another week, another fantastic unpublished photo of Houdini sells on eBay. This one shows Houdini standing on what is almost certainly a movie studio backlot, possibly the Famous Players-Lasky studio which sat on the corner of Vine Street and Selma Ave. in Hollywood.

As Houdini in Hollywood is my specialty, I badly wanted this one, but was outbid in the end. So a grudging congrats to the buyer of this beauty.

UPDATE (6/9/19): This photo once again cycled through eBay and this time sold for $511.99.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A mystery madam and her Milk Can

Donald Schmidt of the Houdini Club of Wisconsin (of which I'm now a proud member) alerts me to this photo of an unidentified woman and what appears to be a version of Houdini's Milk Can escape.

At first I thought this was Minerva, who performed a version of the escape that drew Houdini's ire and fire in 1908. But Minerva expert Gary Hunt assures me it is not. In fact, this photo was featured on the cover of the January 1992 issue of The Collectors Forum which offered a prize for the reader who could identify this performer. As far as I know, the mystery remains unsolved.

So does anyone have any idea who is this person is? Donald also wonders if this photo pre-dates 1908? If so, that could open a whole milk can of worms.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Harry Houdini, crime buster!

Occasionally I'll score something on eBay that is simple, inexpensive, but still a gem that reveals a lot. This terrific newspaper advert for Houdini's final motion picture, Haldane of the Secret Service, is one of those items. There's a lot to like about this ad, which appeared in The Anaconda Standard on January 13, 1924.

First off, you don't see many newspaper ads for Haldane, so this is pretty unique. I love the illustration of Houdini's face (which I believe I've seen used elsewhere?), and also how the ad sells him as a "super-detective", snagging his man as almost a supernatural presence. I like that Gladys Leslie gets a mention, I love the plot blurb, and the mention of a Harold Lloyd movie sharing the bill at the Bluebird Theater is a bonus.

But there's also something about this ad that perfectly captures what was wrong with Houdini short-lived movie career. This is the hard sell -- see Houdini bust the bad guys! But is this really how we want to see Houdini? The idea of Houdini as a fictional G-man seems a little cheap, and the mention of "the Handcuff King" only helps to remind us of better days.

But this idea of Houdini as a crime buster -- a role he enjoyed playing even early in his career with the publication of The Right Way To Do Wrong -- would find better expression in his spiritualist exposés, which were sort of fusion between crime and ghost busting. So one can look at his movie career, and this ad in particular, as a step in that direction. Just replace the thuggish gangster with a panic-stricken fake medium and you've got something. Houdini sees all, and he's going to get you!

Ironically, removing Houdini from his identity as a magician and escape artist and instead offering him up as some kind of a super detective (or super spy) is exactly what Hollywood seems hell bent on doing in so many of the current Houdini movies and television projects currently in development. If any of these projects come to fruition, I expect they might learn the hard lesson of Haldane.

No posts this weekend (unless something major breaks), so enjoy this Haldane ad for a few days. I know I will!


Thursday, July 19, 2012

'The Great Houdinis' title mystery is solved

Title card on the '77 repeat and current versions of The Great Houdinis.

Was the 1976 ABC TV movie called The Great Houdini (singular) or The Great Houdinis (plural)? This has been a surprisingly tricky question to answer. While the original publicity material shows the film as being called The Great Houdinis, the title card on the surviving film shows it as The Great Houdini. Because of this, most sources now call the movie The Great Houdini, including IMDb.

However, I've always believed that the title card was changed to the singular for the 1977 repeat. I think I've even stated it as fact. But I've never actually been able to prove it.

Now thanks to our friend MSW, who has an original work print in his collection, and the Magic Castle library, who have what appears to be a recording of the original '76 broadcast, I was finally able to confirm that the title on the original film was The Great Houdinis (plural). The title card was indeed changed for the repeat broadcast on April 6, 1977, and this modified version is what found its way onto home video in Europe and is the only version available today.

But when the title rolled on October 8, 1976, it was...

Original title card on the 1976 work print.

And just to make matters a little more complicated, there is also a difference between the 1976 work print and the broadcast version. The work print shows the title against a black background like the '77 version. But the Castle's broadcast version shows it superimposed over an image of Houdini. Either way, the title is plural.

1976 broadcast with superimposed title card.

By the way, I did not have time to examine the work print in its entirety, but I have long heard talk -- from no less of a source than Adrienne Barbeau herself -- of a more risque "semi-nude" version of the Daisy White seduction scene.

Stay tuned!

Click here for the 'Making of The Great Houdinis'

UPDATE: I've now watched the complete work print, and besides the main title, there is no difference between this, the '77 repeat, and the UK home video version.

UPDATE 2: I recently had a look at a print in the UCLA Film & Television Archive and it also had the superimposed plural title card as seen on the Magic Castle's broadcast tape.


The Magic Castle in Hollywood has unveiled their new meun. Gaze below at their Herb-Rubbed Slow-Roasted Prime Rib and note the names of each cut. But what's this? The smaller cut is named Houdini while Thurston gets the larger cut? Outrage!

Oh well, I'm just happy to see Houdini's name back on the menu. I recall the days of the "Houdini Linguini". But it's going to pain me to say, "No, Houdini is too puny. Give me a Thurston."

You win this round, Steinmeyer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Seance in Hanover Square

Eva C. producing ectoplasm
In June 1920 Houdini attended a series of eight seances with the famous French medium Martha Beraud a.k.a. "Eva C." Eva's specialty was producing ectoplasm, a gooey or gauze-like substance excreted by a medium from various body orifices during a trance. The seances were held at 20 Hanover Square in central London, rented for the occasion by the Society for Psychical Research.

The first seance, held June 18, produced nothing. But during the subsequent seances, Eva C. produced ectoplasm from her mouth. It later vanished in her hands.

Houdini told Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was a great supporter of Eva C., that he found the sittings "highly interesting." However, in his diary, Houdini wrote that Eva C. had clearly "sleight-of-handed" the substance into her mouth. Later he elaborated in his book, A Magician Among the Spirits, that Eva employed the same technique that he used during his own East Indian Needles Trick. "I know positively that the move she made is almost identical with the manner in which I manipulate my experiment."

20 Hanover Square still exists today, and last month reader Andrew Beer, our man in London, took these photos outside the house. No ectoplasm in sight.

Thank you Andrew. We love this stuff!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Genii & Houdini: October 1955

William Larsen Sr., who founded Genii magazine in 1936, passed away on July 5, 1953. His son, Bill Larsen, Jr., who would later co-found the Magic Castle with his brother Milt, became the new editor-in-chief of Genii and in 1955 revived the tradition of dedicating the October issue to Houdini. Says Larsen, "We dedicate this issue to the man who, in death, has done more to popularize magic than any living magician."

The issue features a charcoal illustration of Houdini by Phil Bauer on the cover. But the real highlight inside is the full transcript of the Final Houdini Seance, taken from a recording that was released as a record. The article also includes is a nice photo of Ed Saint and Bess holding the Mirror Handcuff. Says Larsen, "I'm sure you will find it interesting, and I feel that this is one issue you will want to file away for future reference." (Done!)

The issue also has an article about "Houdini and Alexander Heimburger" by Fred Rickard and Phil Bauer. The article, (largely an excerpt from The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin) includes a second charcoal drawing of Houdini and Heimburger by Bauer. According to the Bauer, the drawing was made from a collection of "50 stereoptican slides" given to him by Claude Leaf, who had acquired them from Bess. Sounds like this was Houdini's spiritualist lecture, which is now in the collection of Arthur Moses and was reproduced in his excellent book, Houdini Speaks Out.

The magazine also features an article by Charles Ruben called "Escape Ideas", in which he notes:

It is claimed on good authority that Houdini was once unable to get into his own apartment in London, late at night, as he lost the key to same.

Poor Houdini is always getting busted for these embarrassing moments, even after death. This is one I've never heard before, but what I like here is it's a rare mention of his little-known London apartment.

Other items of note include an obituary for John J. McManus who died September 7, 1955. The McManus/Young collection, which include Houdini's famous runaway postcard, is now housed in the Library of Congress. There is also an interview with Billy McComb, one of the great men of the Magic Castle, who also had a cameo in Young Harry Houdini.

By the way, editor Bill Larsen Jr. appeared (uncredited) in the 1953 movie HOUDINI as the magician who performs the Guillotine at the S.A.M. convention.

Coming next: October 1956

Link: The trick that fooled "Henry Houdini"

Yeah, I saw this CBS clip yesterday and cringed. But I didn't want to give this book any more publicity, so I let it go. But the very fine magic news site iTricks.com has it up, so you can check it out there and cringe for yourself.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chris Fedak to write Houdini project for Walden Media

The Hollywood Reporter has landed the "exclusive" news that Chuck co-creator Chris Fedak has been hired to write an untitled Houdini project for Walden Media.

According to the report, the story centers on an unsuspecting high schooler who finds himself in grave danger when he discovers a family secret leading back to the legendary illusionist. Using clues left through the centuries, he must race to uncover the greatest magical secret known to man.

The project has been in development since 2006, with Brett Merryman writing the initial screenplay. Josh Klausner also worked on it over the years. Mark Waters is attached to direct.

Waters and his Watermark Pictures partner Jessica Tuchinsky are producing along with Jason Hoffs. Walden's Evan Turner and Michael Bostick are overseeing.

The Hippodrome rises

The famous London Hippodrome Theater has undergone a massive restoration and has now re-opened as a casino, dining, and entertainment venue. Of course, Houdini performed at the Hippodrome many times during his career, including his most famous appearance in 1904 when he escaped from the Mirror Handcuffs on the Hippodrome stage.

Click to visit the official Hippodrome website, which mentions Houdini in their History section and also in this promotional video.

Thank you to Andrew Beer, our man in London, for the news and pic.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Houdini pitchbook with Weed Chain cover nabs $1,230

A rare copy of Houdini's Life and Adventures pitchbook sold in a Martinka auction today for $1,230.00 (plus 15% commission). What makes this copy especially desirable is it features a fantastic image of Houdini in the Weed Chain tire grips challenge on the cover. Martinka also notes the condition as "the finest example we have encountered".

I'm not the expert on pitchbooks (John Bushey is), but I expect this might be the rarest cover of this particular book. In fact, I don't recall seeing one in auction before. According to the mighty Bushey, there are two variants of the Weed Chain edition -- a "one signature" and a "two signature."

Houdini nicely cross-promoted himself with the Weed Chain Tire Grip Company in 1908. Not only did he feature an ad for Weed Chain on the back of his pitchbooks, but the Weed Chain Company themselves featured an account of the challenge, complete with this same photo, in their own company pitchbook (click here to see that).

Why I should win JREF's one million dollar prize

Okay, bear with me because this is going to be a strange one. Or better yet, bail out now, because I'm about to prove just what a Houdini obsessed freakshow I really am...on possibly a cosmic level!

Still with me? Okay, here's the story.

When I was a kid and the Houdini fervor hit hard in 1975, I did what many kids do; I drew pictures of my new hero (I was a big drawer in this days, but not a very good one). The first picture I drew was of Houdini inside his Water Torture Cell. This was because I had just seen the Tony Curtis film and my drawing was very much inspired by the Curtis version of the escape. I didn't know any better. Still, I considered it my "best" drawing. (You can see my masterpiece here.)

Two years, several books, and many drawings later, I decided to redraw my "classic" USD picture, but this time I would draw what the cell really looked like. By now I had seen photos of the real cell in books and had even seen photos of the surviving cell on display at the Houdini Hall of Fame. I can remember going into this "project" with the controlling thought -- draw the real thing. What I drew was this:

Okay, here's the thing. I got much of it right, based on what photos were available to me at the time. But as I neared the end of the drawing, I suddenly decided to drawn two horizontal bars across the face of the cell. Now, I knew this wasn't correct. All the photos showed the front of the cell was a clear plate of glass. Still, I wanted to draw those bands, even though it invalidated the entire point of my "realistic" drawing, because that is how I saw it.

The picture went away and life went on.

Flash-forward 35 years later to earlier this year when a remarkable new discovery was made; a photo of Houdini performing the Water Torture Cell in Scotland in 1922. This is the first and ONLY photo of Houdini actually performing the escape on stage. One of the major revelations of this new photo is that there are two bands wrapped around the cell. These were probably necessary as a precaution to keep the cell from breaking apart when filled with water. Two bands.

Look at this photo and look at my picture from 1977. Two bands across the front! And look at the spacing. I didn't draw my bands evenly down the face of the cell, which would have looked better. I have the top band up high for some reason. Look the pic. The top band is in almost exactly the same place.

So what in 1977 I thought violated the accuracy of the pic -- but I somehow felt compelled to include -- is in reality exactly what the cell looked like when viewed on stage by the audience (those bands probably looked like a part of the structure itself). It's also worth noting the tarp below the cell and what looks like a hose on stage, both of which mysteriously appear in my drawing.

So what do we think? Was I channeling a vision of the real cell on stage from a past life? Does this somehow prove a cosmic connection to Houdini (of course, a 35 year obsession certainly indicates something). Should I apply for JREF's $1 million prize for proof of genuine "paranormal activity"? Perhaps a nationwide lecture tour explaining my amazing psychic gift!

Or who will give me a buck for the drawing?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Meet the "Guests & Ghosts of 278" at the Magic Castle, Wednesday

This Wednesday, July 18, I will be presenting my "Guests & Ghosts of 278" talk at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. This is an abbreviated version of the talk I gave at the Magic Collectors Weekend in Chicago. It will be part of the Castle's regular Magician Member Meet-Up, this month hosted by Jon Armstrong.

The organizers of the MCW gave me special permission to share this talk/item with Castle members as thanks for the help the AMA gave me in my research. But this will be the last time I will be giving it, so this is your last chance to get a peek inside this remarkable Houdini family artifact.

So if you are a magician member of The Magic Castle, join us on Wednesday at 8PM in the Inner Circle for one last visit with the Guests & Ghosts of 278.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Houdini in 2079

It's the year 2079 and the United States has been divided by a new Civil War. It's in this setting that escape artist Alphonse Sterling, aka "Houdini redivivus", plans to perform his greatest feat during a 4th of July celebration -- walking through a mass of molten silver.

First released in 1978, I Am Not The Other Houdini was the first novel by science fiction writer Mike Conner. I don't recall if the book was any good, but I've always loved the cover art for the 1979 paperback.

Below is a look at the cover of the 1978 hardcover edition by Harper and Row, and a 1989 paperback reissued under the new title, The Houdini Directive.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guest Blog: Discovery in Montréal

Today I offer up a very special Guest Blog by a very special contributor. Michael Cartellone is not only the drummer for the legendary rock back, Lynyrd Skynyrd, but he is also a major Houdini buff! That's right, he's "one of us." Michael recently shared with me photos of a remarkable discovery he made while touring. I'll let Michael take it from here...

Montréal, Canada: July 6, 2012

One of the great things about my job is getting to travel and see the world. The reality though, is with all that travel, sometimes you lose track of where you are! As an example, the other day was typical of life on tour: travel at night, wake up at a hotel, work out, have lunch and then decide to go for a walk in the afternoon. I went out the front door- looked left- looked right- decided left looked more interesting, so I turned and started walking that direction.

Two blocks later, I came upon this...

It took a moment... McGill... hmm... McGill University?... that's right! I'm in Montréal... Montréal!

So, into the University Library I ran- and using one of their computer's, looked up the location of the Princess Theatré. It turned out, I was only a 10 minute walk from where it was originally located. As I was walking, I was a bit in shock, thinking how lucky I was to stumble onto McGill and now be heading toward the Princess- at the same time shaking my head in disbelief, realizing how easily it could have slipped by!

Anyway, I recognized the Princess right away- as it looked much like the photos I had seen online (after it had been gutted/remodeled into Le Parisien Cinema). It's a shame the original, beautiful marquee is gone, replaced with grey cement blocks, but it's a miracle that anything is left of the Princess, at all.

If you take another look at the above photo, you'll see what I saw as I was about to leave. Could it be? Is that old brick, from the original building above and at the back? As I work often in a Theatré, I recognized that as the tall/top of a stage (where the catwalk and lighting trusses would be). So, much like our friend John Cox would do with his camera, I walked around the back of the building.

Lo and Behold... there it was... the original backstage door and loading dock of the Princess Theatré!

Apparently, when they gutted the Princess, they left the outer backstage walls intact! I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Then, it really struck me... this is the backstage door Houdini would have used to leave the building... after the punch.

Best Wishes,
Michael Cartellone

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Check out WILD ABOUT HARRY tomorrow for a very exciting guest blog by a very special guest blogger who will share with us a wonderful discovery.


Alterna Comics picks up The Secret Adventures of Houdini

Alterna Comics has picked up Todd Hunt and Sean Von Gorman's indie comic The Secret Adventures of Houdini and will be releasing an expanded and revised edition of Book 1 on November 21, 2012. According to Sean, the scope of the story has been substantially broadened, including a visit to Houdini on the day his mother dies, and introduces Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into the storyline. This new edition will also feature beautiful new cover art by Michael Jared DiMotta (below).

The Secret Adventures of Houdini was first released by AHF Media and GH Comics in December 2011. This new edition will appear in Previews in September.

Monday, July 9, 2012

"You get this huge burst of change in magic with Houdini..."

I really enjoy Penn Jillette as a performer and as a thinker, so hearing him talk about magic history and what magic will be like in the future is a wonderful thing. And it helps that Houdini gets a nice mention. Enjoy.

Houdini press photos sell big on eBay

A collection of six terrific original Houdini press photos from various Chicago newspaper and sports archives sold yesterday on eBay for a collective $1,225. I knew these were going to draw attention, and I wasn't wrong.

Among the photos are three shots (below) that I've never seen. One is a nice portrait (sold for $152.49), the other a shot of Houdini demonstrating spirit trumpet trickery ($256.99), and the last one is a remarkable shot of Houdini with assistants Julie Karcher and Julia Sawyer ($222.50). This is a fantastic image of Houdini as a magician that has never been published, and what I especially love is that Houdini is dressed in shirtsleeves, suggesting this was maybe taken during rehearsals.

Another thing I find intriguing about some of these shots is the stamp on the back from Houdini's roadshow (below). This tells me that these pictures might have been sent to the papers by Houdini himself.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Homeless Houdini

Once again Houdini has appeared on a Top 10 list, but this time this list is somewhat unusual. Houdini comes in at #7 on Prafulla.net's list of 10 Celebrities Who Were Once Homeless. Others on the list include Daniel Craig, Halle Berry, Sylvester Stallone and Jim Carrey (who once named Houdini as one of the historical figures he'd most like to meet).

Of course, the website is talking about Houdini's days as a runaway. At age 12 Houdini ran away from his Milwaukee home and is said to have lived by his wits for an amazing two years. The website states that, "during his two year journey, he had to live in streets, had to camp outside in the open or sometimes stay in shelters."

The truth is, precious little is known about Houdini's years as a runaway, in which he apparently went by the name of Harry White. You would think Houdini would have later spun some fanciful mythology around his exploits on the road, much as Disney did in their film, Young Harry Houdini. But Houdini remained conspicuously quite about this period of his life. It's hard to fathom why a boy so devoted to his mother and family would run away in the first place.

The only incident Houdini would later relate was how he was discovered sleeping on the streets by a kindly couple, the Flitcrofts, who took him into their their Delavan, Wisconsin home. Years later the adult and now famous Houdini would return to the Flitcrofts with a mink coat as thanks. (You can see a photo of Houdini and Mrs. Flitcroft wearing her mink in Kellock, page 37).

There is also the postcard that young Ehrich Weiss sent home to his mother and later annotated on the back (below). This famous memento of his runaway days recently toured with the Houdini Art and Magic exhibition. It is now back in the collection of the Library of Congress.

I've always thought the reason we know so little about this time might be because Houdini was somewhat ashamed of these days, especially as he appears to have failed in his purpose to "earn some money." It also might have proven to be a harrowing and humbling experience for him that was best forgotten. But as with others on this list, it probably helped give him the drive to never experience such hardship again.