Saturday, August 25, 2012

Was Houdini considering a monkey gland transplant operation?

The mighty Kevin Connolly over at Houdini Himself has dropped a bombshell! This is information that Houdini biographer Kenneth Silverman told Kevin that, should he ever reprint his book, he would add a chapter about this. It involves Houdini's singular interest in possibly having a monkey gland transplant operation in the last year of his life.

The information comes from a set of letters in Kevin's collection between Houdini and Clifford Smyth, who is credited with starting the New York Times Book Review. The 4 year long correspondence are all about one subject: monkey gland transplants into humans. Kevin has posted one of letters in which Houdini talks about witnessing an operation on an 80-year-old man and another on a woman of 32.

Was Houdini considering having the operation himself to combat years of pain due to his strenuous escapes? Kevin also speculates as to whether Houdini could have secretly had the operation in 1926. If so, could the operation have caused the infection to his appendix that lead to his death?

Anyway, this is obviously a MUST READ over at Houdini Himself. So go!

UPDATE (4/2/16): Unfortunately, Kevin has taken down his blog and this story with it. But David Saltman reproduced some of Kevin's material in a 2015 post on this subject at The Houdini File.


  1. Thanks for the kind words. I don't know about "mighty", but meek is more like it. :)

  2. This is totally amazing and like everyone else seems to be saying over there, completely believable when you think about it. It seems that lots of celebrities of the time were very interested in the procedure.

  3. John--To answer your question, Houdini could not have experimented with Dianabol because it was not developed until the early 1950s. No doubt that he would have been tempted to experiment with D-Ball if it had been available during his younger days when he accepted all manner of challenges to restrain him with ropes and chains.

    Dr. Voronoff used animal testosterone because he did know how to synthesize it. Chemists would not be able to create it in the lab until 1935. I'm sure the idea here was to graft the monkey's testicles somewhere appropriate in your body and it would continue to secrete testosterone into the blood stream.

    Anabolic steriods were intially designed to help patients with atrophied muscles. Eastern bloc countries during the Cold War realized what it could do to world class athletes.

    1. Thanks. I misunderstood your post at Kevin's site. I did a little more research on Voronoff and this procedure. Wild stuff.

  4. I meant to write that Dr. Voronoff did NOT know how to synthesize testosterone. Amazing how I thought I saw the word "not" when I wrote my reply. Magicians take advantage of this phenomenon to fool us.

  5. You know, is it possible Houdini was studying this because he was considering exposing Voronoff as a modern "miracle monger." That might account for the joking tone of the letter. I wonder if in any of the others letters Kevin has he outright says he's thinking of having the operation himself?

  6. You mean "promote" Dr. Voronoff? I doubt Houdini was interested in promoting anyone else except numero uno. The rest of those Voronoff letters might tell us more.

    1. No, I meant expose him as a faker. Sure, this would mean a certain amount of promotion for Voronoff, but that could also be said of someone like Margery.

      Hopefully Kevin will reveal more of the letters. If he has 4 years worth, it must be clear what's going on here.

  7. The idea that if Houdini had a monkey gland operation, that could have contributed to is death is tantalizing to speculate on.
    The same time Houdini that Houdini was interested in how this operation might help him, a "Dr." John R. Brinkley, was already becoming nationally known for his "goat gland transplant" operation, to restore virility in men.
    Dr. Brinkley was member#3226 of the IBM.(how involved he was in magic, no one knows) He charged $750 for the operation, (a huge amount then) and promoted his clinics with his radio stations, that also featured his mentalist friends, like Mel-Roy, Koran, and Rose Dawn. The downside of his "colorful" career is that so many of his patients died soon afterwards, it caused the AMA, FCC, and FBI to shut down his operation.
    Voronoff avoided contact with Brinkley for any number of reasons. Could a monkey gland operation could have hastened Houdini's death like the gloat gland operations did for others? All speculation.


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