Thursday, September 20, 2012

Genii & Houdini: October 1972

In October 1972, Genii The Conjurors' Magazine produced a beautiful "Special Houdini Issue." It started with a cover that featured a terrific unpublished photo of Houdini in handcuffs. However, a certain poison was starting to course through the Genii editorial offices regarding Houdini, and that can also be sensed in this issue.

The force behind this issue was Houdini collector, Manny Weltman, who provides photos and articles from his formidable collection. The magazine also reprints Weltman's article from the February 1971 issue of Westways, "Houdini The Man From Beyond...or waiting for Harry".

The issue also reprints Houdini's article about his straitjacket escape from a 1908 Conjurers Monthly Magazine (also reprinted in The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Gibson in 1976), and an autobiographical article written by Houdini reprinted from The Magician Annual 1909-10. An article by William Larsen, Sr. on "The Great Handcuff Escape Act" is also included with photos from the Weltman collection, including the famous nude photo of Houdini emerging from a jail cell.

The first hint of trouble appears in Bill Larsen's The Genii Speaks column. Larsen writes:

The fact that HOUDINI is a household word today speaks well of the man no matter what people say about him. By this I mean I've heard so many stories about Houdini over the years that one really doesn't know what to believe. Undoubtedly he was a great showman and fine performer. He died two years before I was born and therefore I cannot talk about the man.

This is certainly a tonal change from past Houdini issues in which Larsen paid great homage to Houdini as the man who "has done more to popularize magic than any living magician." So what's going on?

Well, by this time Dai Vernon was deeply involved in the West Coast magic scene. Known as The Professor, he was a fixture at The Magic Castle and contributed a regular column to Genii called "The Vernon Touch." He was also a well-known and very vocal Houdini hater. Vernon doesn't conceal his feelings even in this Special Houdini Issue. He opens his column with:

Although Houdini was, without doubt, the world's greatest handcuff king and also a great showman, he was not one of the "greats" that I admired by any stretch of the imagination. He was a supreme egotist, true, but we must be honest and say that it was this egotism that made Houdini the famous person he was and still is today!

Vernon goes on to talk about Hardeen, whom he enjoyed as being more "down to earth" than his brother, and also notes that Bess Houdini was godmother to his eldest son, Edward.

I suspect it's the influence and reverence for Dai Vernon that is responsible for Genii becoming a little gun shy in regards to Houdini from this point on. In fact, there would not be another issue devoted to him for over 20 years.

Coming next: November 1975


  1. The "real" Harry continues to elude.... I'm about to publish, at, a completely different take, from a man who knew Harry well and was the beneficiary of his altruism. In this man's opinion, Houdini's altruism was at least as strong as his egoism.

  2. Most of the Houdini "haters" are people who did not do well as entertainers in the real show business. Got press for themselves going against the grain. Happens to this day. Many of whom have never even seen the man perform. JEALOUSY!

    It is clear if you do the research he was a great performer, and magician as well. How many of the magicians that like to knock him can do the split fans as seen on film. He was also known to have done flourishes not done by others or at least very few. Metamorphosis was not an escape but a magic illusion as was the needle trick with which he was able to hold huge crowds doing this tiny magic trick. Other of his "escapes" were not escapes but magical illusions presented and sold to audiences as escapes.

    Do the real research.

    Dick Brookz & Dorothy Dietrich
    Houdini Museum

  3. I would say that Houdinis personality did not match well with elegant magic performances ala Thurston and Keller. Certainly his skill set and forceful personality fit perfectly for what he did best...a man who could escape from anything as if by magic. One thing that also is overlooked is how incredibly handsome Houdini was in his younger years. His great looks and the mysterious aura he projected did much to propel him as a top performer.

  4. Happy to see this series getting some comments. I thought things might heat up when we got into the years of Veron's influence. It continues to be pretty interesting after this.

  5. All magicians are jealous of Houdini. Why would Copperfield just recently as an example state that Houdini had only 2 hours of material in his entire career? The only explanation is that no matter what he or anyone else does Houdini, dead for nearly 90 years, is still more famous. Not only more famous but in fact a legend....a true legend. Houdini by many is thought of as a mythical figure.

    1. Oh, I didn't think that was any kind of dig at Houdini when DC said that. I think he was just pointing out the fact that for the majority of Houdini's career his act was a 20 min Vaudeville turn that didn't change all the much. It might indeed only add up to 2 hours of material.

      Of course he wasn't factoring in Houdini's later 2 1/2 hour full evening show.

  6. It was a dig. Why even say it especially if it really is not true? Every challenge escape was something different from the audiences perspective. It really bothers guys like Copperfield with all his millions, private islands, that he is still can't compete with a magician 90 years gone.

    1. If Copperfield apparently dislikes Houdini as much as you say, why has he got an entire museum of Houdini artifacts?

  7. As I was reading your article and the point you mentioned a 'certain poison that was coursing through' my first thought was VERNON! Then you said exactly that, lol.

    I guess we should be thankful that Dante wasn't the editor or involved with the magazine as he really hated Houdini!

    1. By the way, I also don't think it's Vernon-bashing to say he disliked Houdini. I think Vernon was awesome in his own right, but he sure did not like Houdini.