Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rendezvous with Houdini in Ft. Worth

I'm off to Fort Worth, Texas, to participate in the 2012 Official Houdini Seance which will be held at The Masonic Center on Wednesday/Halloween night. The event, which this year is open to the public, is being hosted by Arthur Moses and Derek Kennedy in cooperation with Bill Radner. The seance will be conducted by Scott Wells.

Not only am I honored to be at the seance table, but I will also be giving the Houdini History Presentation at the event. Several Houdini collectors have generously allowed me to share some rare, unpublished photos, so I hope this will be an exciting presentation even for those who already know all about that man Harry.

I won't be updating this blog on this road, but I will be posting updates and photos via twitter @HoudiniWild and Facebook.

Who knows, maybe this is the one Houdini comes back for!

Tickets to the seance are still available via Hope to see you there.

UPDATE: Here's my report on the event.

New edition of The Right Way To Do Wrong

A brand new edition of Houdini's first book, The Right Way To Do Wrong, is set for release tomorrow by Melville House as part of The Neversink Library.

Yes, this book has been reprinted a zillion times, but this is not a reprint of the 1906 book. The publisher has collected "the best of the book" along with selected Houdini writings from his Conjurer' Monthly Magazine and two other Houdini books, Magical Rope Ties and Escapes and Miracle Mongers and Their Methods. There are chapters on The French Letter Cuff, The Cologne Libel Suit, as well as tips for Addressing an Audience. So this is something unique.

This new edition also includes an introduction by Teller of the great magic duo Penn & Teller.

The Right Way to Do Wrong (Neversink) is available at Amazon as a paperback and for the Kindle.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Our friend Tom Interval has shared his 2012 Houdini jack-o'-lantern on his blog at Fantastic work!

Click here to see Tom's Harry-o'-lantern from last year.

Interactive Houdini murder mystery in New Jersey, Nov. 10

The News Transcript reports that The Riddlesbrood Touring Theatre Company will present an interactive murder mystery, Houdini's Whodunit?, hosted by the Freehold Borough Freemasons at their Olive Branch Lodge in New Jersey on November 10, 2012.

"My family and I have seen many performances by the Riddlesbrood Touring Theatre Company and we are really big fans," Freemason Al Barbato said. "I could think of nothing more exciting than to bring this group to Freehold Borough so close to Halloween. The fact that Harry Houdini himself was a brother Freemason will make the show that much more fun."

Tickets for the event are $50 per person and include the theatrical performance, a full meal, and DJ karaoke. For tickets call Al Barbato at 917-578-5418 or visit For more info on the Riddlesbrood Touring Theatre Company visit

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Arthur Moses shows his Houdini Room

Here's a nice segment from the local Dallas-Fort Worth CBS news station about Arthur Moses and the upcoming Official Houdini Seance. Arthur shows off his amazing Houdini Room (a temple where I will worship on Tuesday).

Tickets to the Official Houdini Seance are still available at

LINK: That One Time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Punked Houdini With Dinosaurs

Here's a fresh article at that's worth reading for the content and comments. It tells of the time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle screened an excerpt from The Lost World at an S.A.M. banquent, "fooling" the magicians into thinking the dinosaur footage was real. (If you ask me, I think the comment by "awschucks" nails it.)

Click the headline to have a read at

Friday, October 26, 2012

'The Metamorphosis' released today

Bruce MacNab's seminal new book, The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, is released today from Goose Lane Editions. The book looks at Houdini's early years in general and his tour of Canada in 1896 specifically. Houdini's Canadian adventures are a specialty of Bruce's, and after many years of research, he has uncovered a treasure trove of fresh new information and has clarified some long held misconceptions.

I'll be posting a full review of the book soon -- but as you can already see from the cover blurb below, I like!

Purchase The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini from (U.S.) or (UK).

UPDATE: I've been getting emails from U.S. readers whose Amazon pre-orders have been pushed to December. I've sent an email to the publisher trying to get more info., but know that Goose Lane is a small Canadian publisher and this book might take longer to source.

However, it looks like you can purchase the book direct from Goose Lane via their website by clicking here. It's also available from the Canadian Amazon. You'll pay more, but you won't have to wait.

Link: On Halloween, a medium and local enthusiasts hope to chat with Houdini

Here's a terrific article in the Star-Telegram about Arthur Moses and the upcoming Official Houdini Seance in Fort Worth. Click the headline to have a read.


Tickets to the seance, where I will be presenting the Houdini History talk, are still available via

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Genii & Houdini: November 1993

Having vanished from the cover of Genii for an amazing 18 years, Houdini returned in November 1993 with a true "Houdini Special Issue". Sharing the cover with Harry was the man responsible for reuniting Genii and Houdini, the mighty Patrick Culliton.

Patrick had suggested the idea of doing a Houdini special in November instead of October, noting that the very first Houdini Memorial Issue by The Sphinx came out in November 1926. While Genii was now being co-edited by Dante and Erika Larsen (Bill Larsen, Jr. passed away in February 1993), the 12-page Houdini section was complied and edited by Patrick and T.L. Williams.

The Houdini section includes: "Houdini A Magician for the Ages" by Patrick Culliton; a handwritten "Outline for a Society Sketch" by Houdini; Houdini's short story Bahl Yahn the Strong Man; Houdini's own account of his aviation exploits, "Flight and Magic"; "Buried Alive", an article about Houdini's Shelton Pool Test by Patrick Culliton; and a terrific article by Patrick called "Where the Magic Went" tracing where many of Houdini's most famous props went after his death.

Manny Weltman
The Houdini section also includes a wonderful tribute to Manny Weltman by Patrick called "My Pal Manny". Manny was a major collector and the reigning Houdini expert at The Magic Castle. He had been the driving force behind the last Genii Houdini Special Issue in 1972. Patrick recalls today, "Manny was still alive. He was his usual grumpy self as he had told me not to write about him. He was actually very touched."

Manny Weltman passed away in May 1994.

Of non-Houdini interest in this issue are two full page advertisements touting the winner of the Dessert Magic Seminar's Teenage Magician Competition: Lance Burton.

While it was good to see Houdini back on the cover and in the pages of Genii, the 1990s would be a turbulent time for the family owned magazine. By 1998, when only three issues were published, there was a serious question as to whether Genii would even survive...

Coming next: December 1999

Houdini Haunted House in Virginia

A special Houdini-themed haunted house attraction is now playing at the Historic North Theatre Performing Arts Center in Danville, Virginia. Here's the description form the official website:

Houdini’s Haunted Basement is not your standard haunted house with just chainsaws and gore. It is a theatrical and interactive experience with Hollywood special effects and illusions. This professional haunted house is filled with horrifying live actors, spine-tingling sound and is designed to scare and amaze you.

Harry Houdini, the world’s most famous magician died on October 31, 1926, coincidentally Halloween. In his lifetime he exposed and ruined hundreds of fake spiritualists. Are their spirits returning to confront you? Do they want revenge? Legend has it that Houdini said he would return from the dead if it was possible. Will he come back?

Get ready to scream and be amazed! This ain’t your grandfather’s old spook house.


Click here to buy tickets to Houdini's Haunted Basement at the North Theatre.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Final Houdini Seance will spook SiriusXM

SiriusXM Satellite Radio will be playing the full recording of the famous 1936 Final Houdini Seance across a few of its stations during the run up to Halloween.

According to online listings, RadioClassics (SiriusXM Ch. 82) will play the recording as part of their special "The Golden Age of Halloween" programing beginning Friday, October 26. Kids Place Live (SiriusXM Ch. 78) will be playing the recording on Halloween itself.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the exact times the seance will play. Perhaps you will need to consult your spirit guide for that info.

Thanks to Jay Leslie for the tip.

Be "Hot Houdini" for Halloween

Still looking for that perfect Halloween costume? How about "Hot Houdini" (my name). This costume was actually listed among Yahoo's Worst "Sexy" Halloween Costumes. I guess it is a little impractical to wear to a Halloween party. Still...

Thanks to "Man Too" for this one.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Houdini gets the grindhouse treatment in Hollywood

Two of Houdini's silent movies screened Sunday night at the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. It was a little more of a grindhouse affair than a proper presentation of Houdini's films, but it was fun and it was great to see Houdini on the big screen.

The screening was proceeded by a presentation by magician Mark Paskell. Mark kicked off the evening by doing a giveaway drawing for a magic lesson (given by himself), Houdini playing cards from the The Magic Apple, and a framed Houdini stamp with the viewer that allows you to see the hidden chains (I wanted to win that one -- didn't). He then proceeded to give a sideshow presentation, "Houdini on the Silver Screen", gleaned largely from Wikipedia and a bit flippant for my tastes. More background on the movies we were about to see would have also been welcome -- maybe let this movie literate crowd know to watch for Nita Naldi or reassure them that the somewhat tedious The Man From Beyond pays off with a genuinely exciting climax at Niagara Falls -- but this is Mark's talk, so...

The highpoint of the presentation (and maybe the entire evening) had to have been his showing of the 3 minute clip from The Grim Game. The good sized crowd audibly gasped when the planes crashed. This was the audience's first look at Houdini on screen and it went over wonderfully well. During the plane transfer I heard one young lady exclaim, "This is SICK!" (which I believe is a good thing). I look forward to the day when we are finally able to screen the entire movie and let it be the representation of Houdini's film work.

Mark closed his talk by playing the Houdini voice clip, which also seemed to captivate the audience. There was something very exciting about hearing Houdini's voice booming out across a large theater. He then escaped from a regulation straitjacket, which was good fun.

Then it was movie time! Now, I do have to give low marks to the American Cinematheque for choosing to show the Kino transfer of The Man From Beyond. This is the worst possible version of this film available. This is especially disappointing when they could have shown the beautiful restoration by Bruce Cardozo, which is readily available on DVD. The audience really didn't need to be any more challenged in watching this very old movie, and I'm surprised more effort wasn't put into finding the best possible version.

It also didn't help that the Egyptian's projector went black during the last moments of the Niagara Falls rescue sequence. While this was certainly irritating, it was also kind of funny and received a laugh when it snapped back during the very last scene, leaving the audience no way of knowing how Houdini rescued the heroine from the falls. Again, this gave the whole evening a definite grindhouse feel.

Most the audience left after The Man From Beyond, but the hardcores remained for Terror Island. It was worth staying. This movie certainly plays faster and is much more lively than Beyond, although the stereotypical "native" sequences can cause one to squirm a bit, so maybe it was a good call to play it second.

All in all, it was a real treat to see Houdini on the big screen, but next time I hope the American Cinematheque, or whatever organization elects to do a screening of Houdini's films, puts a little more effort into presenting the movies in their best light and historical context. Although maybe a somewhat shabby grindhouse giveaway double feature actually was the most historically accurate way to enjoy these movies.

Weird Tales scares up $2,500 on ebay

A March 1924 issue of Weird Tales that contains Houdini's short story, The Spirit Fakers of Hermannstadt, has sold on eBay for a whopping $2,500. The auction received 43 bids. The story was serialized over two issues, March and April. This issue sports one of the very best Weird Tales Houdini covers.

Touted as a "true" adventure of Houdini, The Spirit Fakers of Hermannstadt finds Harry trapped in the castle of "Count D---" in Transylvania. I guess that makes this, and not 1991's Ghosts of Dracula, the first Houdini-Dracula mash-up.

Unlike Houdini's other Weird Tales story, Under the PyramidsHermannstadt was not ghostwritten by H.P. Lovecraft. Patrick Culliton suggests in his book Houdini's Strange Tales, which reprints this story, that Houdini might have received editorial assistance from his friend and Weird Tales owner, Jacob Clark Henneberger.

As you can see on the cover, this magazine originally sold for .25¢. Nice mark up!

Monday, October 22, 2012

When Edward Saint was Buried Alive

Joe Fox reminds me (just in time) that today marks the 70th Anniversary of the death of Edward Saint, companion and business manager to Bessie Houdini and the first real Houdini Archivist. To mark the occasion, Joe has sent over this interesting article from the February 1954 issue of Genii about when Saint almost died doing a Buried Alive stunt in 1927. Now, by all accounts Saint was somewhat a teller of tall tales, so who knows whether this is true. But it's certainly worth the read in memory of good old Ed.

Click to enlarge

If you recall, earlier this year we went in search of the grave of Edward Saint, which had some twists and turns. Click here to relive that adventure.

Thanks to Joe Fox.

Link: Jewish escape artist Houdini lives on each Halloween

Here's a nice article about Houdini by Robert Gluck at Jewish News - I helped with some background info and really wasn't expecting there to be some much about me in this piece, but I'm very flattered! Click the headline to have a read at

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Houdini mystery clip amid Lost Magic

Last Thursday The History Channel aired Lost Magic Decoded, a superb magic documentary/special by Steve Cohen. The show featured several mentions of Houdini along with film footage -- including this intriguing six second clip of Houdini in handcuffs. I never seen this piece of Houdini footage before.

Interestingly, I have seen a close-up of Houdini's cuffed hands from what I believe to be this same footage. It was included in the 1970 documentary, The Truth About Houdini, inserted into footage of his leap into the Seine in Paris. But the Seine jump was part of his 1909 film, Les merveilleux exploits de Houdini à Paris, so we now know that insert shot was not part of the original film as Houdini is clearly older here (not to mention in the film he's only wearing one pair of cuffs). So what is this from?

My guess is this is part of the footage Houdini shot during his 1920 European tour, some of which he later used in Haldane of the Secret Service. Is it possible Houdini restaged his Paris jump at that time? He is wearing the same pair of swimming trunks. Maybe Houdini himself inserted the close-up into the 1909 footage?

Nevertheless, it's pretty unusual to see Houdini at this age doing anything with handcuffs, and especially any kind of a bridge jump. This footage is a real mystery, but that's what we love!

If you missed Lost Magic Decoded, try to catch a repeat on The History Channel.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Houdini The Untold Story Deluxe Collector's Edition

David Haversat Magic is offering a new Deluxe Collector's Edition of Houdini The Untold Story by Milbourne Christopher. David will have copies of the book at the New England Magic Collectors Association Yankee Gathering XIV on November 8-10. He will then ship pre-orders starting November 12.

No cover image yet, but David tells me the book will have a blue cover with copper foil stamping. Here's the full description:

1969 First Edition
This is a Deluxe Collector's Edition of Milbourne Christopher's Best Selling Book - Houdini The Untold Story. Many of us began our start in collecting after reading a number of Christopher's ground-breaking history books. This new release is limited to ONLY 300 hand-numbered copies with special binding and new color section. This publication will ship to buyers on November 12th. Pre-ordering now will insure lower numbered copies. Books ordered at this time will receive a personal inscription from Maurine Christopher. This publication is made possible through the Milbourne Christopher Foundation. Price is only $65.00. + $5.95 for shipping. Order Today. Paypal -

David gave me a preview of one of the unpublished photos from his own collection that will be included in the new section, and it's a wow! (He also generously granted me permission to show it during my Houdini history presentation at the Official Houdini Seance in Fort Worth.)

With only 300 copies, I'd say this is one to pre-order ASAP. I know I did!

Houdini and The Pottawatomie Giant

The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories is a collection of short fiction by Andy Duncan that includes a story about Houdini and heavyweight champ, Jess Willard. According to The Crimson White, Duncan recently attended a book signing, saying:

"[My inspiration was] a paragraph in the biography of Harry Houdini about him being involved with the former heavyweight champion Jess Willard, who was once very famous until he was defeated by Jack Johnson, but now is only known as a footnote to two famous men. I wanted to tell his story, but since I didn’t know it, I made it up instead."

The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories came out in February, but I only now just discovered it along with this photo of the author holding the book. You can see it has a nice illustration of Houdini and Willard on the back (click to enlarge).

Photo: mcwetboy

Unfortunately, The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories is a little tricky to find (at a reasonable price). There is a listing on Amazon, but it's currently out of stock. In addition to the hardcover, there appears to have been a limited edition of 200 signed cloth bound copies.

AMA members discount to "Houdini Night" in Hollywood

Just a quick update on the upcoming Houdini double feature at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood on Sunday. Looks like the American Cinematheque is offering AMA-Magic Castle members a 30% discount on tickets. The Castle just released this via their weekly email update:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Houdini Night in Hollywood, Sunday

This is a reminder that two of Houdini's silent films, The Man From Beyond and Terror Island, will screen as part of a special "Houdini Night" at the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood this Sunday, October 21, starting at 7:30pm.

The evening will also feature a multimedia presentation on Houdini by magician Mark Paskell, who will conclude his lecture by attempting to escape from a regulation straitjacket.

The Egyptian is located at 6712 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028. For more information about the screening and to buy tickets in advance visit the American Cinematheque website.

I will be there and I'll post a full report on the evening.

UPDATE: Houdini gets the grindhouse treatment in Hollywood.

Houdini & Lovecraft in paperback

Good news for collectors. Houdini & Lovecraft: The Ghost Writer by Ron Wilkerson is now available as a paperback. The book was originally released only as an eBook.

According to the author's official website, the fictional book is a novelization of his own feature screenplay that finds Houdini and H.P. Lovecraft trapped in a mansion under attack by deadly paranormal forces.

The book is listed as "Volume 1", so hopefully this means we'll get more adventures of Houdini and Lovecraft.

Purchase the paperback edition of Houdini & Lovecraft: The Ghost Writer at (U.S.) or (UK).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lost Magic Decoded on The History Channel tonight

Whoa! I almost missed this one. Tonight on The History Channel is a 2-hour documentary, Lost Magic: Decoded with Steve Cohen  From the promo clip below, it appears Houdini (and Bill Kalush) will be part of the show.

Thanks to the awesome iTricks Magic News for the timely alert.

UPDATE: This special was superb. One the best magic documentaries I've ever seen. There were indeed several mentions of Houdini and at least two pieces of film footage that I've never seen. I was a little surprised they revealed the method of Chung Ling Soo's bullet catch, but overall this was excellent work by Steve Cohen and an impressive group of top magic historians.

Houdini wanted to jump handcuffed from the Woolworth Building

In 1914 Houdini was "seriously considering" jumping handcuffed from the Woolworth Building in New York City. At the time it was the tallest building in the world. Bill Mullins discovered the story in The New York Press, July 8, 1914. The article by Andrew Carson reads in part:

The other afternoon he was leaning against the back wall of the auditorium of Hammerstein's watching the bill. He was easy to approach and still easier to talk with. Houdini has a shrewd sense for publicity. He times his public exploits at moments when the interest is most apt to be aroused. He knows what will make news that the city editor will jump for. He has a keen sense for the spectacular. At present, for instance.

"I am trying to get a permit to jump off Woolworth Tower," said Houdini calmly. "I jump off in a parachute with my hands handcuffed together. When I reach the ground my hands are free. That makes a great story, doesn't it? Of course there's nothing especially wonderful or miraculous about it--but it's dangerous. And that looks well in print, 'Jumps Off Woolworth Building With Arms Handcuffed Together.'"
"No fear or foreboding at all?" I questioned inanely.

Houdini swept downward with his arm to emphasize his answer. He is short and stocky in build. Every muscle of his body has power and when he says a thing emphatically he says it very emphatically indeed.
"If you are afraid--you die," he said with conviction.

A handcuffed parachute escape was something Houdini mentioned at other times as well. In London he told a reporter that had wanted to leap handcuffed from a Wright Brothers plane and land in Piccadilly Circus. At another time he mentioned doing the stunt from the Eiffel Tower. But somehow he was never able to get permission, or figure out the logistics of such a stunt. Or maybe it was just a exciting idea to mention to reporters. Like Houdini says, it looks great in print.

Thanks to Bill for the find.

Houdini and Conan Doyle paperback released in UK

A paperback edition of Houdini and Conan Doyle by Christopher Sandford has been released in the UK by Duckworth. The cover art keeps the same basic design as the UK hardcover, but is a little different in the arrangement of the text.

Houdini and Conan Doyle is a superb non-fiction examination of the friendship between Houdini and the creator of Sherlock Holmes (I realize I need to point out that this is non-fiction because there are so many fictional adventures of Houdini and Doyle currently out there). The book looks at their rift over the question of spiritualism, and is one of the very best books written on Houdini and the subject of spiritualism.

You can read my full review HERE.

Purchase the Houdini and Conan Doyle UK paperback from The U.S. paperback edition will be released in February 2013.

UPDATE: The Index and Bibliography are missing from this paperback. They are listed on the table of contents, so this appears to be a printing error.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Houdini documentary to screen in Sonoma, November 3

A new documentary about the Sonoma County Houdini Seances will play at the Boulevard Cinemas in downtown Petaluma on November 3, 2012. The film is called The Annual Harry Houdini Séances by filmmaker Tom Wyrsch. A Q&A will follow the screening.

The annual Sonoma Country Houdini Seances were organized by Petaluma Argus-Courier columnist Bill Soberanes, along with local residents Fred Daniels and Nahmen Nissen, from 1964 to 2002.

"As a kid, that was something that would really fascinate me," Wyrsch recently told "I used to wait for the Halloween issues of the Argus-Courier because I knew Bill would be writing about the séance. I'd run out and grab a copy just as it was being delivered. Every Halloween, that was a big deal."

"I went to a few of them and they were always really interesting and fun,” said Wyrsch. "What struck me was that they were done honestly. It wasn't a show or something done as a joke. They were serious about what they were doing. It's been so many years since those séances and it got me thinking I should do a documentary on them."

The seances were considered "official seances" thanks to Soberanes getting local magician William Allstrand, a personal friend of the Houdinis, to participate each year. Allstrand was said to have a coded message given to him by Houdini and his wife.

"It was really neat that they had this personal connection to Houdini through Allstrand," said Wyrsch. "The séances weren't something they made up out of the blue for fun, but something that really had a connection to Houdini."

Wyrsch's documentary includes interviews with attendees, Nahmen Nissen, Tom Gaffey, Rosanne Reynolds, Jim March and Tom Wagner.

Click here to buy tickets to the November 3 screening of The Annual Harry Houdini Séances. For more on the film visit the Garfield Lane Productions website.

For more about Tom Wyrsch, read "Talking to the Dead" at

Monday, October 15, 2012

Is Houdini's "Chinese Water Torture Cell" racist?

This morning I awoke to find a message at the Genii forum from a reader who had taken offense to my article about the 100 year history of the Water Torture Cell. The reason was that in my headline and in the article I had used the full name of the escape, The Chinese Water Torture Cell.

"Let's celebrate the showmanship etc and leave off the misplaced racist stuff, please," read the message in part.

I understood the point, and even though the escape was billed as "The Chinese Water Torture Cell" for much of the 14 years Houdini performed it, it was originally just The Water Torture Cell and Houdini himself called it the Upside Down or USD. Today most people know it as The Water Torture Cell.

But this has now sparked a lively discussion at the Genii forum. Was Houdini being racist in calling his most famous escape The Chinese Water Torture Cell? Is it racist for us to still call it that today? I admit I never really thought about this until today. I'm still thinking.

If you feel like chiming in on the topic, or just read the debate so far, click on over to the Genii forum, or feel free to voice your opinion in the Comments below.

Did Houdini really give Buster Keaton his name?

The blog Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed has tackled the question of whether Houdini really gave silent star Buster Keaton his famous nickname. They are claiming the story is false, and the case they make is interesting. I'll leave it up to you to read and decide.

UPDATE: Hard to argue with hearing it from the man himself:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Houdini and Charlie clean up

An original glass negative photograph of Houdini and his dog Charlie (not Bobby as the auction states) sold in a Martinka auction today for $545. While I've seen another photo taken during this same session, this is the first time I've seen this particular shot. (You can see the positive photo on the auction page.)

As always, congratulations to the buyer.

Click here to read more about Houdini and his pets.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Genii & Houdini: The lost decade

The aim of this series has been to focus on issues of Genii that have featured Houdini on the cover. From the time Genii was founded in 1936, these have numbered at least two per decade, and many have been Special Houdini Issues. That's why it was so surprising that after November 1975, Houdini vanished from the cover of Genii for the remainder of the 1970s and never once appeared on a cover in the 1980s! That's right, the '80s are a lost decade for Genii & Houdini. Well, kinda.

Technically, Houdini did appear on the cover of Genii in the '80s many times. That's because in 1982 Genii did a cover redesign that featured a background montage of famous magicians, including a nice image of Houdini (hopefully I don't need to point him out). But apart for this, Genii showed little love for the Master Mystifier during the "Me Decade."

Dai Vernon
So why did Genii snub Houdini throughout the 1980s? It's hard to know for certain, but as I noted with the October 1972 issue, a certain hostility toward Houdini seemed to emerging as Dai Vernon became part of Genii and the West Coast magic scene. While Vernon was happy to trade on Houdini's name for his own purposes ("The Man Who Fooled Houdini"), he dismissed him as a magician and sniped at him in his Genii column. Not that Vernon actively suppressed Houdini in Genii, but the environment he fostered was that real magicians should discount Houdini as a publicity seeker and instead emulate true craftsmen like...Dai Vernon! (It's an attitude that still exists today.)

But it could also be that there were no seismic Houdini events in the 1980s as there had been in the 1970s with a wave of books and tributes commemorating the 50th Anniversary of his death. In fact, the '70s were so Houdini packed, the magic world might have been suffering a bit of a Houdini hangover in the '80s.

Genii, May 1980
Still, Houdini was missed. Many Houdini and magic fanatics--like myself--were born of the '70s boom, and Genii not producing even a single Houdini issue or cover to pull in these new, younger fans might have been a strategic mistake (even I let my subscription lapse). Newer magic publications like Hocus Pocus and Magicol happily filled the void, featuring Houdini on the covers of early issues, just as Genii had done with issue #2 when it was challenging the dominance of The Sphinx back in 1936.

However, the tradition of a Houdini Special Issue would be revived in the 1990s, and by a familiar champion.

Coming next: November 1993

Friday, October 12, 2012

LA Times says Joe Wright considering Lionsgate's Houdini

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that British director Joe Wright is in talks to direct Lionsgate's Houdini movie based on The Secret Life of Houdini, The Making of America's First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman.

There’s new momentum on one of the projects around town about the colorful escape artist. Houdini, a movie that Lionsgate is developing based on a biography called The Secret Life of Houdini, has attracted the interest of Golden Globe nominee Joe Wright. The director is in discussions with the studio about helming the movie, according to a person who’s been briefed about the project but not authorized to talk about it publicly. Lionsgate declined to comment.

The Times seems to think this is a "straight biopic", but as we know from previous reports, this is being shaped as a fictional action franchise, part Sherlock Holmes part Indiana Jones (although I'd be thrilled if they've changed their minds about this approach).

The last rumored director was Gary Ross. Later it was revealed there was never a deal in place for Ross, so this might be one to take with a grain of salt.

Houdini Broadway musical update

Looks like the Houdini Broadway musical is still powering forward. Tony award winning director Jack O’Brien recently spoke to about the new musical score by Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz.

"The two ballads Stephen has written, one that closes Act I and one that closes the show, are among the greatest things he's ever written," says O’Brien. "Hugh [Jackman] just kills with them. It's vintage Schwartz, it's gorgeous.”

According to O'Brien, the show's creative team are "working our butts off". A read-through of the first act is scheduled for January. Hugh Jackman will then take a break to film the police drama Prisoners, then reconvene on Houdini in March and April.

Meanwhile, the website Gothum has profiled Houdini producer and set designer, David Rockwell.

"It connected a few interesting dots for me," says Rockwell about the production. "As a child, I was interested in magic, and I know a lot of magicians. I didn’t see it as producing; I saw it as 'This is fun. Let’s all get together and put on a show.'"

Houdini is aiming to open on Broadway during the 2013-14 season.

David Rockwell working on a model for the Houdini set.

Tom Interval conjures Houdini's voice

Our friend Tom Interval of has created a new version of the Houdini voice recording. Tom has worked in the longer introduction that has only recently became available, and has applied audio noise reduction throughout (as well as translation). The result is definitely the best, most complete version of Houdini's voice available.

The Houdini voice recording is actually an edited combination of two different and much longer recordings of Houdini delivering his Water Torture Cell patter. While the original Edison wax cylinders containing the recordings are tucked away in the David Copperfield collection, both recordings were recently played in their entirety by Arthur Moses at the Magic Collectors Weekend in Chicago.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Houdini and Lovecraft in action

Here's the latest in the growing collection of Houdini historical mash-up fiction. Houdini & Lovecraft: The Ghost Writer by Ron Wilkerson is available as an eBook for the Kindle and PC. According to Wilkerson's official website, the book is a novelization of his own feature screenplay. Here's a description:

It’s 1924, an era of emerging technology, but also of spiritualism and magic. Harry Houdini, the great conjurer and mystifier, well known as a psychic debunker, is hired to put together a team to investigate a purportedly haunted mansion in the hill country of western Massachusetts. Meanwhile, horror writer H.P. Lovecraft is down on his luck and struggling to pay the hospital for treatment of his wife who is seriously ill. 
Houdini drafts the reluctant Lovecraft to join his team as his "Ghost Writer," to chronicle the magician's adventures in the paranormal. There is little love between the two vastly different men who come to have entirely opposing views of the happenings in the strange mansion. But their investigation triggers events that cause the team to become trapped in the mansion, and its members soon find themselves under attack by deadly invisible forces. Lovecraft's research uncovers the truth of the place, and it's no mere ghost story. But can Lovecraft, the believer, convince the skeptical Houdini of the real danger before they are all destroyed?

Purchase Houdini & Lovecraft: The Ghost Writer at (U.S.) and (UK).

UPDATE: The book is now available in paperback from (U.S.) and (UK).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How Houdini's sub trunk escaped

Following up on yesterday's post, Patrick Culliton has shared on Facebook his own photos of Houdini's original Metamorphosis trunk (taken by Rory Flynn) along with this story about how the trunk almost met its end. Saved by a power from beyond perhaps? I'll let Pat tell the story himself:

"Before I deployed to Vietnam in 1968, I moved everything I owned (Wurlitzer juke box, etc.) into my old bedroom at my parents house. Houdini's trunk wouldn't fit in the bedroom -- it blocked the dresser and my folks wanted to use the room as a guest room, so, reluctantly I moved the trunk around to a screen porch on the other side of the house. In January, 1969, I was in the Mekong Delta getting shot at, the trunk was on the screen porch, and a mudslide completely took out my old bedroom and everything in it. Had I or the trunk been in that room we wouldn't be here. That was only one of the scrapes that trunk and I got through during the 45 years."

Proof that this is Houdini's authentic sub trunk can be found in four terrific photos of Harry and Bess using this trunk in Bruce McNab's, The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, due to be released by Goose Lane Editions on October 26.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

This is Houdini's original sub trunk

On October 26, Bruce MacNab's seminal new book, The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini will be released by Goose Lane Editions. Among the many unpublished photos in the book are four fantastic shots of Houdini and Bess performing Metamorphosis on stage in 1901.

Apart from the fact that it's incredible to see new photos of Harry and Bess doing their most famous trick in their prime, what makes these photos extra exciting is the sub trunk they are using is clearly the same trunk that was owned by Patrick Culliton for 45 years. (He sold the trunk on eBay in 2006.)

While I can't show the pics from The Metamorphosis (you'll have to get the book for that), I can show you some nice pics of what we now know to be Houdini's authentic Metamorphosis trunk. I took these photos at Patrick's house before he shipped the trunk off to its new owner in 2006.

Patrick exposed the working method of this trunk (with photos taken on this very day) in his book, Houdini The Key. There is also this film footage of Hardeen using what appears to be the same trunk in the 1930s.

The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini by Bruce MacNab can be pre-ordered at

UPDATE: Patrick has posted the following to his Facebook page:

"I never really owned Houdini's trunk. I guarded it for forty-five years. During that time, I gathered some excellent documentation on it, and I proved conclusively to myself (and Joe Long) that this was Houdini's original Metamorphosis Trunk. That he had created it with his own hands with a man named Frank Allen. I had beautiful footage of Hardeen performing the substitution with it. Documentation of Hardeen introducing it as the "Original Metamorphosis Trunk which I performed with my brother." There were scoffers, Milbourne Christopher being the loudest and least sincere. I had everything but a photo of Houdini with it. Now you can see four of them."

Monday, October 8, 2012


For those who don't know, David Blaine's latest stunt "ELECTRIFIED" is happening right now. David has been standing on a post inside a cage of electrified Tesla coils for 62 hours with another 10 hours to go.

One of the reasons I so dig these David Blaine endurance stunts is they are absolutely the kind of thing Houdini would be doing if he were alive today. Houdini was firmly headed in this direction with the Shelton Pool Test and especially the Summerfield's Test in the months before his death in 1926. The idea of seeing Houdini performing endurance tests, not escapes, would have become a regular event in New York City...just as it is now with David Blaine.

UPDATE: David made it! He also announced this would be the last endurance stunt that he would ever do. (!)

Shadowplay completes The Master Mystery

The "willfully eccentric film blog" Shadowplay has concluded their 15 week long Sunday Intertitle series looking back at Houdini's The Master Mystery. This was a terrific and frequently very funny scene by scene summation of Houdini's 1918 serial by someone who really knows and loves this stuff. I couldn't have done a better job myself.

"It’s a combination of one of those Roman farces where everybody turns out to be everybody else’s lost son or daughter (which always makes me think of Beryl Reid’s reaction to such revelations in JOSEPH ANDREWS: “What Fucking Next?”) and the Reconciliation Scene from KING LEAR. In fact, with twice as many restored lunatic fathers and estranged daughters, it’s obviously twice as good as Shakespeare. And it has Houdini and a criminal robot to boot."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Guest blog: Houdini secret revealed?

Today I have a Guest Blog from magician, escape artist and magic inventor Jay Leslie. Jay was at the opening of the SAM exhibit in Whittier and shared with me an interesting theory that I encouraged him to write up for WAH. Take it away, Jay.

This last weekend I attended the re-revealing of a few collectibles from the S.A.M. Museum. Among which were handcuffs belonging to Houdini.

Looking at the display boards, it's fairly obvious the Harvard cuff does not belong there, but I suspect there was another cuff in that location originally and someone took it then realized the board had holes running through it so they threw the Harvards on there to take-up the space.

But seeing photos of the Russian Manacles and of the Mirror cuffs (both Challenge cuffs) I noticed what I thought were differences in the sizes of the bows on both cuffs.

Photo 1

In the first photo you'll notice the bows are not fully closed, Why? Possibly to show how they work but none of the other cuffs or locks are open or partially open, so why? I believe both sides are different. Look at photo 2. What I did was a quick photoshop where the left bow is flipped horizontal and rotated a bit to line-up with the approximate angle of the right bow, then that was superimposed over top.

Photo 2

Granted this was a quick job, but I think it’s easy to see both bows are different. If you are familiar with making castings then you would know there is no difficulty making two bows from the same form.

What does that mean? It would have been easier to make two exact same bows then two different bows. So, was this done as a way to show that the Manacles were made crudely so no one suspected the amount of work that went into making them? I don’t think so. I believe it was on purpose. The purpose for one bow to be larger is possibly to slip the bow or so your smaller hand can maneuver easier.

I have a similar observation (right or wrong) about the Mirror cuff. One bow is larger. Somewhere in the past I read a book that had an outline of Houdini’s hand drawn on a page. Harry was a lot shorter then I am but if that drawing is correct then my hands (at six feet tall) are the same exact size and shape as Harry's. We’re talking exact, to the length of the fingers, size of the wrist, size of the pal, width and height.

But supposing that the drawing was a slight bit larger then real life. In that case this next observation is even more interesting. I have one of the first repro Mirror cuffs that a young man named Ian made. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Here's the deal. I can slip my smaller hand out the bigger lobe of the Mirror cuffs. That means, if Harry's hands were the same size as mine or smaller it's entirely possible he could slip the one side and work the lock, turn the dial, bang the spring or whatever he did to get out.

Now would be a good time for DC to chime-in. No? OK. I’m sticking to my thoughts that Harry could slip one side of the Mirror cuff and use the extra room, on the Russian Manacle, to maneuver his smaller (probably left) hand.

Incidentally, if I really really wanted to, I could slip the Russian Manacles with one hand. I'd probably break a bone but if I was making huge money and hanging my reputation on the line, I would. In the past I've almost broke my right elbow doing a jail escape and, in the moment, I would have done so rather then not escape.

So that's it. But If it was me doing a custom challenge escape, I'd figure out how to get the cuffs made to the size that worked for me. Remember, Houdini was not a gambler, he was a showman.

-Jay Leslie