Friday, November 30, 2012

Magicana launches website redesign and guest blogs WAH

Magicana, the powers behind Magicol magazine and the Magic Collectors Weekends, have redesigned their official website and are now sharing select posts from WILD ABOUT HARRY on their Mystery & History blog.

Recently they posted a link to my "Making of The Great Houdinis" story. Today they've linked to my post about the Bess Houdini's movie, Religious Racketeers.

Click on over to and have a browse of their new site, and maybe throw in a comment on my latest guest blog showing your support for Houdini history and WAH on Magicana.

Houdini vs. Hodgson in Weird Fiction Review #3

Sam Gafford, who runs a blog devoted to William Hope Hodgson, has published an article called "Hodgson v. Houdini: The Blackburn Challenge" in Weird Fiction Review #3. Says Sam:

"My article is my attempt to provide the final word on the infamous encounter between Houdini and Hodgson which occurred at the Palace Theatre in Blackburn, England, in 1902. The confrontation would leave Houdini permanently scarred (physically and emotionally) and is mentioned in virtually every Houdini biography."

Weird Fiction Review #3 is edited by S.T. Joshi and is limited to 500 copies. It's available for $20 via Centipede Press.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Undina affair

In 1912 a female escape artist calling herself "Miss Undina" started performing an imitation of Houdini's Water Torture Cell in Germany. The USD was only a few months old at the time, and Houdini took legal action to stop her. He announced his injunction with a full page ad in the German showbiz journal, Das Programm (No. 557).

Now mega collector Arthur Moses provides us with a look at that very ad. As you can see, Houdini published the statement in English, French, German and Russian. It's interesting that Houdini seems more roiled about Miss Undina's advertising (which appeared in Das Programm No. 551) than the act itself. It's also interesting that Houdini characterizes the USD as an "escape from a foot pillory under water".

Click to enlarge

Ironically, Miss Undina's advertising, which Houdini took such pains to surpress, survives to this day. As you can see, it does indeed borrow from Houdini's own USD posters of the time.

Thank you Arthur. Undina poster image from Houdini's Fabulous Magic by Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young.

UPDATE: Miss Undina in color.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Link: The Man Who Hated Houdini

No, this isn't about Dai Vernon. This is a terrific post by David Saltman at The Houdini File about William Hamlin Childs -- political power broker for President Theodore Roosevelt -- and a controversy regarding the famous photo of Houdini and "The Colonel" taken aboard the Imperator in 1914 (left). Really nice detective work by David on this one.

Click here or on the headline to have a read at The Houdini File.

The Great Houdini 2013 calendar

Houdini's Magic Shop has revealed their 2013 Great Houdini calendar. This 16 month "mini calendar" commemorates the 100th anniversary of Houdini's famous Chinese Water Torture Cell (which I also celebrated here).

You can buy the 2013 Great Houdini calendar for only $5.99 from your local Houdini's Magic Shop or via their website.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The family language

Here's one that's been hiding in plain sight. We know that Houdini's mother did not speak English. So what language(s) did the Weiss family speak? The quick and correct answer is German. That was the primary language of the Weiss household and language Houdini himself spoke and wrote with his mother.

But there is also a general assumption that Mrs. Weiss spoke Yiddish. Her husband was a rabbi after all. This information appears again and again in articles (including this 2010 piece on Houdini and assimilation), and in the 1998 TNT biopic, Houdini, Mama (played by Grace Zabriskie) is shown speaking Yiddish to her Ehrich.

But in a lengthy and revealing letter Bess Houdini wrote to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle after Houdini's death (reproduced in full in Houdini His Legend and His Magic by Doug Henning), she adds a P.S. that corrects this very assumption and reveals exactly what languages Mrs. Weiss spoke:

P.S. One exception to your article enclosed. Houdini's mother never spoke Yiddish, not even Hebrew,--German, French, Italian, Spanish and her own Hungarian only.

Bessie's own family were also German speakers. I've often thought one of the things Bess and Harry instantly had in common was that they both came from large immigrant families whose first language was German. This must have certainly made Bessie's assimilation into the Weiss family easier.

Recordings of Houdini speaking German with his sister, Gladys, exist on the famous Houdini voice cylinders in the collection of David Copperfield. Unfortunately, these recordings have not been made public.

So it looks like the old-world Yiddish speaking Mama is another Houdini myth. In fact, Cecelia Weiss seems quite cosmopolitan with her mastery of five languages. It's surprising that she never learned English.

Grace Zabriskie as the old-world Mrs. Weiss in Houdini (1998).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Houdini is still a Bonds salesman

Because Houdini was too old to serve during World War I (he did try to enlist), he instead took up the challenge of selling "Liberty Bonds". During one fund raiser at the New York Hippodrome, a man in the audience offered to buy $1000 worth of Bonds if Houdini could get out of his shirt in 30 seconds. Houdini tore off his shirt in six. The man then offered another $1000 for the torn shirt. By the end of the war, Houdini is said to have sold $2 million worth of Bonds.

Amazingly, Houdini is still at it today! Our friend Joe Hanosek sent over this advertisement for investment firm AllianceBernstein featuring our favorite Bonds salesman. This ad appears in the November 2012 Investment Advisor.

Click to enlarge

Thank you Joe.

War Bond shirt story from The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Houdini & Holmes special expanded digital edition

The talented Polly Guo ( has released a special digital edition of her two Houdini & Holmes graphic novels. This new version has extensive edits and revisions to the script and artwork, plus 22 pages of extra content, including concept art, historical notes, and a fun extra story called Quite a Pair.

Polly's story finds Houdini, Conan Doyle, Holmes and Watson embroiled in the murder of a spiritualist (Houdini, of course, is a chief suspect). One bit of fun is Polly illustrates the real-life moment when Houdini did his thumb racket for Doyle, amazing the author with his "powers". Bess is also part of the action as her husband's wily helpmate in various sticky situations. Again Polly shows she did her research with Houdini at times calling Bess "sweetie wife mine".

Buy the Houdini & Holmes Special Digital Edition HERE. You can also buy digital editions of Issue #1 and Issue #2 separately.

Bruce MacNab talks Houdini in the Maritimes

Author Bruce MacNab talks with CBC Radio about Houdini's performances in the Canadian Maritimes and his new book The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

1934 Houdini Magic kit sells on eBay

A 1934 magic kit officially licensed by Beatrice Houdini and Bernard Ernst has sold on eBay for $204. These kits are a nice early example of Houdini tie-in magic merchandise. I was fortunate to examine a few of these in the Arthur Moses collection during my recent Texas adventure. This particular kit was noted as being an "estate find."

Thanks to Kevin Connolly at Houdini Himself for the tip.

David Rockwell talks HOUDINI

ARTINFO's Patrick Pacheco and NY1 theater reporter Frank DiLella talk to Broadway architect and producer David Rockwell about his most recent set designs, including the upcoming Houdini with Hugh Jackman (the Houdini talk starts around 4:00).

Fire claims "Harry Houdini"

The Mail Online reports that a painting by Stone Roses guitarist John Squire called "Harry Houdini" was one of the works of art destroyed in fire that burned the artist's studio to the ground on Wednesday. The painting was part of a popular series of abstract representations of famous celebrities. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the blaze.

Harry Houdini by John Squire

For more on John's work visit

Friday, November 23, 2012

Houdini's lost levitation

There's a moment in Paramount's 1953 Houdini biopic when we see Harry (Tony Curtis) doing a classic levitation with Bess (Janet Leigh). The levitation is one of the most iconic tricks in all of magic, so of course the filmmakers wanted to include a shot of Houdini performing the effect. The image even made the poster. Trouble is, there is no record (that I can find) of Houdini ever doing a levitation, so I've always chocked this up to just another fictional embellishment of the film.

But now it looks like the Curtis movie had it right (without knowing it). Turns out Houdini did indeed perform a traditional levitation with Bess early in his career. This fresh revelation comes from the new book, The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini by Bruce MacNab (see, I told you this book rewrites Houdini history).

Here's the story...

When Harry and Bess set out as part of the Marco Magic Company's tour of the Canadian Maritimes in 1896 (the subject of Bruce's book), one of the headline effects of the show was a levitation. At the time, it was fashionable to tie-in the levitation with the popular novel Trilby by George du Maurier (as Alexander Herrmann had done). Onstage "Marco", aka Edward James Dooley, played the part of Svengali with Bess as his hypnotic subject, Trilby. Bess/Trilby would be laid on a plank across two chairs. On Marco/Svengali's command, the chairs would be removed and Bess with remain suspended in mid air. It's possible Houdini, who doubled as an assistant in the troop, might have operated the complex levitation apparatus behind the scenes.

But when the Marco show failed and folded and Dooley went home to the U.S., Harry and Bess continued the tour with their own act. Many of Marco's props had been confiscated for non-payment of bills, but somehow Houdini was able to salvage a few pieces of equipment, including his own Metamorphosis trunk and the Trilby levitation.

So when The Houdinis performed their act in several Maritime cities, along with handcuff escapes and Metamorphosis, audiences saw "Mysterious Harry" and "Le Petite Bessie" doing a classic Trilby levitation as part of their show. In fact, a review of The Houdinis act at the Moncton Opera House singled out the effect for praise:

"Trilby, or the mystery of Mahomet, in which a human being actually floats in space without any visible means of support, was one of the startling features of last night's evening's performance."

But it looks like the levitation would be unique to Harry and Bessie's Canadian adventure. When they booked passage home abroad the steamship S.S. Yarmouth, they couldn't even afford the price of a ticket for themselves, let alone heavy cargo. The Metamorphosis trunk made the trip, but it appears the Trilby levitation remained behind in Nova Scotia.

(Interestingly, Howard Thurston patented a "Trilby" levitation in 1927, although I expect Thurston was using a completely new and much more complex method.)

So there we have it. Harry Houdini did indeed perform a traditional levitation with Bess, if only for a short time. So now the question remains -- what ever happened to Houdini's levitation apparatus? Also, how awesome would it be if we could find a photo of the young Harry and Bess performing the effect...just like Tony and Janet 57 years later.

Bruce MacNab's The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini can be purchased on or direct from Goose Lane Editions. For more about the history of the levitation illusion, enjoy this episode of the BBC documentary, History of Magic.

UPDATE: Houdini's Trilby levitation is mentioned on page 1 of Houdini The Key by Patrick Culliton. So it's Patrick -- who also wrote the forward to Bruce's book -- who deserves the credit for first bringing this information to light.

UPDATE 2: Eric Fry reminds me that Houdini put the secret of the Trilby levitation up for sale in his 1898 magic catalog, Magic Made Easy. Price: $1.00

The Original Houdini Scrapbook

UPDATE 3: Want to see a photo of Houdini doing a levitation? Here you go.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fiction or fact?

Latest updates in the mystery of Franz Kukol

Back in December 2009 Houdini expert Patrick Culliton put forth the intriguing theory that Franz Kukol, Houdini's first chief assistant, did not leave Houdini's employment in 1914 as history has recorded and Houdini himself claimed. According to Patrick (who played Kukol in the ABC TV movie The Great Houdinis), Houdini transformed Franz into "Frank" and he continued to work with Houdini right up to the end of the magician's life.

Part of the evidence Patrick cited was a privately held letter written by Houdini in 1924 to The Roosevelt Memorial Association stating that "Frank Kukol" will come and swear that he took the famous photo(s) of Houdini and the former President aboard the Imperator in 1914.

Now David Saltman has published that very letter on his website, The Houdini File. It's a remarkable artifact that does indeed prove that Kukol was working with Houdini during the 1920s.

Also on the Franz front, recently a gentleman named Rolf R. Safferthal, a retired German electronics engineer, has come forward with the claim that Franz Kukol was his maternal grandfather. Rolf has joined the discussion on this very topic at the Genii Forums and has even posted rare unseen photos of Kukol.

Click here to read the Houdini/Frank Kukol letter at The Houdini File.

Click here to read the posts by Rolf R. Safferthal at the Genii Forums.

Houdini The Untold Story Deluxe Edition now available

A new Deluxe Collector's Edition of Milbourne Christopher's classic 1969 biography, Houdini The Untold Story, is available now from David Haversat Magic.

This new release is limited to only 300 hand-numbered copies with special binding and a new 8-page section of rare color photos from David's collection (including the wonderful photo of Houdini and Bess I shared during my presentation at the Houdini Seance in Fort Worth).

This publication is made possible through the Milbourne Christopher Foundation. Price is $65.00. + $5.95 for shipping. Order via Paypal -

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sean Von Gorman's cagey publicity stunt tomorrow in NYC

Alterna Comics updated edition of The Secret Adventures of Houdini by Todd Hunt and Sean Von Gorman is officially released tomorrow, and once again artist Sean Von Gorman has come up with a clever publicity to stunt to help promote the book. Tomorrow, November 21, Sean will be locked in a cage at Forbidden Planet in New York and will remain inside the cage until every issue is sold. The event will be live-streamed on Forbidden Planet's YouTube channel.

The Secret Adventures of Houdini was first released as an indie comic in December 2011 (you'll recall that Sean locked himself to a light post to promote that edition). This new edition of Book One adds new material that broadens the scope of the story and introduces Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into the series. It also features beautiful new cover art by Michael Jared DiMotta.

The Secret Adventures of Houdini is in stock now at For more information on the series visit the official Secret Adventures of Houdini website.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Genii & Houdini: December 2006

With Genii back to full health and going strong in the 21st century, Houdini would again appear on the cover of the December 2006 issue...kinda. That's because during this time Genii was doing a double cover -- one cover image and then a loose wrap that created a second cover image. "100 Years of S.S. Adams" graced the "real" cover of this issue with Houdini being the wrap. But it was still, technically, a Houdini cover. Certainly I'm counting it in our series. And because the wrap is only loosely attached, this could prove over time to be the hardest Genii-Houdini cover to find.

This issue includes a nine page excerpt from the new book The Secret Life of Houdini by Bill Kalush. Titled "The Death of Houdini" the excerpt covers, you guessed it, the death of Houdini! It's illustrated with some terrific photos from the book from the collections of Dr. Bruce Averbrook, Ken Trombly, and Roger Dryer. It also includes a photo of Houdini emerging from a safe that is credited to me (hey, I made Genii!). However, this is a mistake that was corrected in the paperback edition of the book. The photo should be credited to Joseph Holland.

The photoshopped cover image, in which Houdini appears to be holding a copy of Secret Life, was created by Elizabeth Kaufman, art director and wife of editor Richard Kaufman. Having made Genii his own (and a beautiful magazine at that), Richard continues Genii's love-hate relationship with Houdini, writing in his Genii Speaks column:

"Perhaps we should rename Houdini "The Man Who Will Never Die," because the bastard just won't allow himself to be forgotten even 80 years after his death on Halloween, 1926, at age 52."

Indeed, there's no escaping Houdini. And there was still one last spectacular Genii-Houdini cover to come.

Coming next: January 2011

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kon Kan's Harry Houdini

I've had this record in my Houdini collection for years, but I've never actually heard the song. Now thanks to a tip from Perry in New Jersey, below is the video for Kon Kan's Harry Houdini.

Kon Kan was a Canadian synthpop band made up of Barry Harris and Kevin Wynne. Harry Houdini was the second single from their 1989 debut album, Move to Move. It made the Top 40 in Canada and climbed to #14 in New Zealand.

It's not a bad song. Enjoy your '80s flashback.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bill Kalush doesn't holdout

The mighty William Kalush, author of The Secret Life of Houdini and founder of the Conjuring Arts Research Center in New York, has posted to Instagram this dynamite photo of Houdini demonstrating a Keplinger Holdout. Can't say I've ever seen this particular shot before. Very nice.

To learn more about the Keplinger Holdout and to see another rare shot of Houdini using this same apparatus concealed beneath his coat click here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Special Houdini dinner menu sells on eBay

A unique menu for a special dinner honoring Houdini in 1907 has sold on eBay for $527.86. I've never seen one of these, and with 22 bids, it looks like this was new to collectors as well.

The diner was given by B.F. Keith at the Boston Athletic Association on Sunday, February 10, 1907. Houdini was a superstar on the Keith vaudeville circuit at the time.

The menu features a beautiful cut out portrait of Houdini on the cover. The meal itself consisted of: Bluepoints (oysters), Clear Turtle (soup?), Fillet of Halibut Marguery, Saddle of Mutton with Current Jelly, Hot House Chicken, and a choice of desserts.

A yummy collectible to be certain.

Obama replaced Houdini with Gordon

In 2008 part of President Obama's victory was credited to "Houdini", a special get-out-the-vote software that the Obama campaign developed to track Election Day returns electronically. But now The Atlantic reports that Houdini didn't really work as well as expected in '08, so this time the Obama team developed a new, more powerful software with an interesting new name:

"The name of the Obama program that replaced Houdini was Gordon, after J. Gordon Whitehead, the college student who allegedly caused the death of Harry Houdini by repeatedly punching him in the stomach. [...] Gordon did what it was supposed to: It bested Houdini."

Mitt Romney's own "killer" election day software, ORCA, did not work at all.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Houdini was clearly not a car guy

Joe Fox found this tidbit in the November 1941 issue of Genii. It appeared in "Odd Magical Facts" by Frank Fewins. It's a great slice of life anecdote and yet another example of Houdini's discomfort with automobiles.

This was told to me by Hy Meyer who was there:  One evening during a severe rain storm a group of vaudeville celebrities of the good old days were fining at Reisenwewer's in New York City. [...] All were invited by Al Jolson to attend his opening at the Winter Garden that evening. 
A quarter of an hour before show time, with the rain still coming down in torrents, the show folks in the restaurant decided to make the trip to the Winter Garden by taxi, a distance of about eight blocks. As they began pilling [sic] into the cabs, Houdini, who had managed to borrow an umbrella, started to make the trip afoot.  One of the group yelled, "Hey, Harry, aren't you going to ride with us?" 
Houdini, with a gesture of his hand replied "I should say not, I'm not going to risk my life in one of those things, not in this weather," and started off with his raised umbrella, arriving at the Winter Garden fairly drenched. 
Hy says this incident caused much comment from the group.  It amazed them to think that Houdini, the Ace Dare Devil of them all, feared riding in a taxi on a rainy night.

Perhaps this story is yet another example that helps support the provocative theory that Houdini suffered from latent claustrophobia? Or maybe he just understood danger better than most.

Thanks to Joe Fox.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Help kickstart Edge of the Unknown II

A preview of Jon Vinson and Marco Roblin's follow-up to their excellent Houdini and Conan Doyle graphic novel, Edge of the Unknown, is currently on Kickstarter. The creators are soliciting pledges that will help complete the second book for release next year.

"Edge of the Unknown 2 is quite a bit different, in tone and texture, from the previous volume," says writer Jon Vinson. "The story takes place in a small, Southern town where tensions and divisions run high. It features a whole cast of "Circus Freaks" and even a guest appearance by Thomas Edison!"

Check out the first page of Edge of the Unknown II on Kickstarter. You can read my review of the first book here.

The Houdini Museum is on the air (update)

The tireless Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton now have a radio talk show.

The Sensational Stories of Dorothy & Dick airs on Community Radio station WFTE on Tuesdays at 11:30am and Saturdays at 9:00am. You can listen at 90.3 or 105.7 in the greater Scranton area, or via live stream at the WFTE website (click the green android). It will also be archived.

Dorothy and Dick's first Sensational show is about the Houdini seance and spiritualists. I expect Houdini will be a regular topic of discussion.

UPDATE: The Sensational Stories of Dorothy & Dick now has a website, where you can download and listen to all the episodes, including four episodes devoted entirely to Houdini.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Doug Henning's Water Torture Cell is ready for a new home

The second most famous Water Torture Cell has to be the cell Doug Henning used during his live NBC The World of Magic television special in 1975. History has proven that broadcast to have been a defining moment in magic history -- you could even say it ushered in a second Golden Age of Magic that we are enjoying today.

Henning's cell was specially built for the illusionist by Owens Magic. Henning only performed the escape a few times. Escape Artist Dean Gunnarson came into possession of the cell early in his career and continued to perform it as part of his show. Now Dean has decided it's time to pass this important piece of magic history to new hands. Says Dean:

"The time has come for me to find a better home for this important piece of modern magic history. I would love the WTC to have a new guardian and it go someplace where people could see and really appreciate Doug and his contribution to the magic world. 
It is also still in good preforming shape so if you wanted to present it each night to an audience you could. It is a beautiful quality piece of magic history. 
I have chosen to try this route first of finding it a home rather than a general auction because I really fell it is an important part of magic History. I would like it to go to someone who loves it as much as I have and not just as an investment that will continue to rise in value. With the tragic loss of Houdini’s WTC Henning’s would historically be the most important WTC in magic today."

You can contact Dean with any serious inquires, questions, or offers via the contact page at his website

Dean performing the Henning WTC, and with Tony Curtis in Japan.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Genii & Houdini: December 1999

In the late 1990s, Genii was in serious trouble. With only three issues produced in 1998, it looked like the famed magazine might cease to exist altogether. But in October 1998, the Larsen family sold Genii to magic publisher, Richard Kaufman, who revived the magazine starting in January 1999. At the end of that turnaround year, the new Genii would feature a beautiful Houdini cover on their December issue. Genii and Houdini were back!

This issue featured an excerpt from Daniel Stashower's The Dime Museum Murders, the first of his three "Harry Houdini Mysteries". The excerpt stretches for an impressive 10 full pages, illustrated with rare photos from the collection of Mario Carrandi Jr. There's also a Houdini Christmas card reproduced from a 1925 issues of The Sphinx and a full page ad for The Dime Museum Murders.

The magazine also has a terrific article about Thurston's "Iasia" illusion by Michael Edwards, and records one of the first mentions of Neil Patrick Harris' interest in magic.

Finally, in his "Genii Speaks" column, new editor Richard Kaufman writes:

And so ends the final Genii Speaks of volume 62, the first year of Genii not produced by a member of the Larsen family. [...] We began this year by putting Bill Larsen Jr., on the cover--my way of dedicating the continuing success of Genii to his memory and also, of course, to Irene, who continues to be our biggest cheerleader.
It's quite clear to me exactly what I'm going to be doing for the next 20 years--I hope you'll make the voyage with me.

And so we shall.

Coming next: December 2006

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Quotable Houdini

"I'm not an advertiser, I'm news."

-- Houdini addressing the Advertising Club of Boston, September 21, 1926. From The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Houdini bumped for Nascar's Fastest Monkey?

The just released book, History's Greatest Automotive Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed by Matt Stone and Preston Lerner, had promised a section on Houdini. The book mentioned "Houdini's Last Ride" on the cover, and Amazon still features this blurb in the book description:

Did you know Harry Houdini learned to drive late in life only because he needed to get to an airport for a stunt, and it was the only drive that he ever made?

However, it appears Houdini might have been cut from the book. I don't have the book in hand, but a scan of the index at Google books shows nothing on Houdini. Even the cover art has been be revised. Now in place of "Houdini's Last Ride"is "Nascar's Fastest Monkey"(!).

Original Houdini blurb cover (left). Revised cover (right).

I'm wondering if I had anything to do with this. When I first caught wind of this title back in March, I pointed that the information regarding "Houdini's Last Ride" wasn't exactly correct. I suspected the authors were referring to Houdini's trip to Australia in 1910 when he used an automobile to get to the field at Diggers Rest where he made his historic first flight. It has been said that this is when he first learned to drive.

However, we now know that Houdini purchased a Humber automobile in England in 1904 (I posted a story on that here and followed up with the exact specs of this car). There's even a reference to Houdini competing in an auto race at the time.

I really hope I wasn't the cause of Houdini being cut from the book. Sure, the info wasn't exactly correct, but when has that ever stopped anyone? And this certainly isn't one of the more egregious Houdini myths. Heck, it's possible the Australian car was indeed the last car Houdini drove himself, so "Houdini's Last Ride" could still apply.

Or maybe the publishers just figured a Nascar Monkey would move more books than Harry. *sigh*

With or without Houdini, you can still buy History's Greatest Automotive Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed on

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Paul Michael Glaser is alive and well

Paul Michael Glaser, who starred as Houdini the 1976 TV movie The Great Houdinis, is alive and well. Apparently he was the subject of an Internet death hoax today. Paul updated his Facebook with the following:

So . . . .this is what death is like? Interesting. pmg

Tom Interval talks Houdin on Radio New Zealand

Magician and historian Tom Interval of Houdini was interviewed live on Radio New Zealand's "Afternoons" with Jim Mora about his discovery of Harry Houdin ("The Great Polynational Mimic"). Tom has written e-book about Houdin that he is offering free at Smashwords.

The interview is excellent, but Tom has posted one point of clarification on his Interval Magic Facebook page:

"During the interview, Jim asked me if it was possible that Houdini had heard of Houdin. My tongue-tied response was that "Houdini was about 12 years old at the time," but obviously Houdini was 12 in 1886. I meant to say that Houdini was born about 12 years after Houdin was getting press between 1860 and 1863 and that Houdini borrowed the second part of Robert-Houdin's last name around 1890. So it was entirely possible that Houdini heard of Harry Houdin but unlikely since the press Houdin got was probably not picked up outside of New Zealand."

You can listen to the interview at Radio New Zealand or just click below.

Houdini documents sell in auction

An impressive collection of unpublished documents relating to Houdini anti-spiritualist crusade in Chicago have sold in a Potter & Potter auction for $11,000 (plus a 20% buyer's premium). The full auction description is below.

Lot 299
Important archive of unpublished Houdini documents 
Houdini, Harry. Important archive of unpublished Houdini anti-spiritualist documents. A cache of documents, including TLSs and legal documents from Houdini and his closest confidants in the war against fraudulent mediums in the city of Chicago.

Among the documents are affidavits signed by Rose Mackenberg, Houdini’s lead investigator; James Collins and James Vickery, Houdini’s two closest assistants both on-stage and backstage; his secretary William J. Hoyer; and numerous other members of Houdini’s company, including his manager, Al Smith, all of them witnesses to Houdini’s crusades in Chicago.

These documents include verbatim reproductions of Houdini’s stage “patter” regarding fraudulent mediums, and detailed descriptions of séances conducted in Chicago (including blindfold message reading, etc.), and are all related to a supposed medium and promoter of séances, Arthur MacNally or one Dr. C.A. Burgess, or other mediums from Chicago. Many of the affidavits and reports by Mackenberg give illuminating and penetrating detail with regards to the séances she attended.

The archive also includes several documents with Houdini’s holographic notes (among them Photostats of lists of mediums, and the book "At the Feet of the Master"); a complaint against Houdini for trespass by MacNally; a summons for Houdini alleging him liable for $100,000 in damages to MacNally; along with two photographs of Houdini (one chipped), and a program for Houdini’s appearance at the Princess Theater of Chicago, for the time he appeared there which coincided with these legal proceedings. Nearly 100 pages in total.

All material dates from the spring of 1926, just seven months before Houdini’s death. Condition of most documents is very good, though a few show age and edge wear, including chipping at original folds. A unique and important archive of never before published Houdiniana, and of historic significance.

Sounds like a nice collection of documents. The trespass complaint by MacNally intrigues me (perhaps have to do with Houdini gaining access to a seance room via disguise?).

Congrats to the new owner.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

LINK: Harry Houdini May Have Been the Real James Bond

I'm not a supporter of the whole "Houdini was a spy" whatnot, but I am a big fan of James Bond (in fact, I have another blog devoted to The Book Bond) and I'm excited about the release of Skyfall on Friday. So I can't resist linking to this story at about how "Houdini may have been the real James Bond." The picture alone makes it worth the click.

But if you want to discuss a real parallel between Houdini and 007, what I would point out is how Houdini's 1923 film Haldane of the Secret Service seemed to anticipate the James Bond movie formula of a globetrotting secret agent and a series of spectacular capture and escape set pieces shot on location. Just saying.

Deals From The Dark Side debuts with Houdini Handcuffs episode

The Canadian reality show Deals From The Dark Side hosted by escape artist and "relic collector" Steve Santini makes its U.S. debute tonight on The Syfy Channel with an episode featuring a pair of Houdini Handcuffs.

"Houdini Handcuffs"
Wednesday, November 7 at 10:30 PM ET/PT 
Steve Santini gets the rare chance to purchase Victorian handcuffs said to have been used by his idol, Harry Houdini. Santini’s efforts to authenticate the cuffs include a visit to Scranton, PA to hook up with some quirky Houdini experts and a pit stop at Houdini’s grave in Queens, New York.

The handcuffs featured in this episode actually sold on eBay in April for $3,800.

Thanks to the gang at the Houdini Museum (who are featured in this episode) for the tip.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sandy snuffs S.A.M. wand breaking ceremony for 2012

Wand breaking ceremony in 2010 (Tablet)

The Society of American Magicians have cancelled their annual wand breaking ceremony at Houdini's grave this year because of complications following Hurricane Sandy. The ceremony had been scheduled for November 8.

A helpful reader from Queens tells me Machpelah Cemetery is actually closed at the moment due to downed trees.

The S.A.M. have honored Houdini with a formal wand breaking ceremony every year since 1969. The S.A.M. used to hold the ceremony on Halloween, but it drew too much attention. Now the organization selects a secret date in November to pay respects to their "Most Illustrious" president.

Thanks to Colleen.

Houdini's voting problem

It's election day here in the USA, and for the occasion I thought I'd share this curious passage from an article in The New York Press, July 8, 1914, regarding Houdini's apparent inability to vote in the Presidential elections.

"He's a very shrewd man--Roosevelt," said Houdini, in recalling the incident [aboard the Imperator]. "He was much shrewder than I suspected he would be. He examined the slates very carefully before he permitted them to be bound together. I wish I had a vote in this country. I admire Roosevelt tremendously. He is so representative an American citizen."
Houdini was born in this country in 1874 in Appleton, Wisconsin. But he travels so much that he loses his voting privilege.

Of course, what this reporter didn't know was that Houdini wasn't born in the United States. He was born in Hungary and had naturalized himself via a passport application during his first tour of Europe. So perhaps this was the real reason Houdini couldn't or didn't want to risk voting. Certainly I've never heard of extended travel taking away one's voting privilege. But I don't know how things worked back then. Recall that women couldn't even vote when this was written.

But Houdini appears to have sorted out his voting issues by 1920 when he did cast a vote for Warren G. Harding for President.

Of course, Houdini himself ran for President in 2008 (evidence below)! As far I know, he's not on the ballot this year. Wish he was.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Secret Adventures of Houdini now shipping

Even though the official release date is still November 21, Alterna Comics updated edition of The Secret Adventures of Houdini by Todd Hunt and Sean Von Gorman is in stock now at

The Secret Adventures of Houdini was first released as an indie comic in December 2011. This new edition of Book One adds new material that broadens the scope of the story and introduces Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into the series. It also features beautiful new cover art by Michael Jared DiMotta.

For more information on the series visit the official Secret Adventures of Houdini website. To read a review of the book by Dan Robinson head on over to The Magic Detective.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Report: The Official Houdini Séance 2012

Last Wednesday I had the extreme honor of attending and participating in the 2012 Official Houdini Séance in Fort Worth, Texas. The event was held at The Masonic Center on Halloween and was organized by mega collector Arthur Moses and Derek Kennedy in cooperation with William Radner. For me it was a non-stop two day mind-blowing journey into the world of Houdiniana like I've never experienced. I will try to sum it all up here with the help of some terrific images provided by some new friends I made on this trip.

Day 1

I flew into Fort Worth a day early and had the great pleasure of staying in the home of Arthur and Linda Moses. Having acclimated myself to living a shoe-box size apartment across from a bustling movie studio, staying in a big, beautiful, quiet suburban house was an unexpectedly wonderful experience in itself. Oh, it was also nice to step out my bedroom door and be greeted with a gigantic 8-sheet Houdini Buried Alive poster!

But nothing prepared me for Arthur's magnificent "Houdini Room." I had seen videos and photos of the room, but I was still knocked back on my heels when I stepped through the door. Below is a stitched together photo courtesy of Scott Wells of The Magic Word. And this is just the first floor!

The Houdini Room. Photo by Scott Wells.

Overwhelmed? I was too. In fact, after spending an hour going through the bookshelves and artifacts on the first floor (and recording this podcast with Arthur and Scott for Magic Word), I found I couldn't muster the psychic energy to tackle the second story where two more full rooms of treasures reside. But this was also because the evening guests had begun to arrive, and it was time to meet some legends.

Arthur had invited all the VIP ticket holders to come over and enjoy some genuine Texas BBQ and to see his collection. Among the VIP attendees was Tom Boldt of Appleton, Wisconsin, who has been integral in arranging the Official Houdini Séances along with Sidney Radner for many years. He is also a very nice guy. Also on hand was Robert Somerdin from Florida, a top collector of Houdiniana (and pin ball machines) who had me gaping at his descriptions of what is in his collection. I was also thrilled to meet William Radner, son of Sidney Radner, who had brought along many clippings and photos from his father's collection. After we had finished our BBQ, Bill brought out the legendary "Séance Cuffs". For those following me online (via Wild About Harry on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram), you saw this pic of the magic moment.

"Bill Radner, the Séance Cuffs, and Texas BBQ! It's on."

One disappointment for all of us was that Official Séance regulars Fred Pittella and Larry Weeks were unable to travel due to Hurricane Sandy and would not be able to take their traditional places at the séance table. I've never met these men and I was sorry I wouldn't get the chance on this trip. Hopefully I'll get another chance in the future.

Houdini's pajama pocket.
After we finished our delicious dinner, the group enjoyed Arthur's Houdini Room. Fortified by food, I was now able to take on the second story. Here I saw Houdini's pajama pocket -- which he was wearing when he died -- his wallet, a case full of pitchbooks, countless photos, original posters, and a solid wall of periodicals neatly filed and classified (remember Arthur is the author of the definitive Houdini Periodical Bibliography). Part of the fun of experiencing something like this collection is how you can be knocked out by not just the major stuff -- like the Houdini straitjacket or the Houdini sidewalk stand -- but little things as well. For example, Arthur has on his wall a photo of Houdini in shackles dressed in what appear to be circus tights. While I've seen photos of Houdini imitators in this kind of garb, I've never seen a photo of Houdini dressed this way. It really blew my mind.

In that same mind-blowing category was a menu and an actual boutonniere from Harry and Bessie's Silver Wedding Anniversary dinner at The Alexandria Hotel in Los Angeles. There was also a fascinating letter from Bernard Ernst to Houdini regarding Hardeen's "salary" that I will do a full blog post about in the future.

We all lingered late into the night, talking Houdini and enjoying the collection and company. Arthur also presented us with our special gift bags that included a very cool heavy duty antique-looking padlock with the 2012 Official Houdini Séance logo. Inner Circle members also got some beautiful padlock bookends. I finally fell into bed around 2AM, looking forward to THE big day.

Day 2 - Halloween

I rose around 8:30am and joined Arthur, Linda, and Scott Wells (who was also staying at Arthur's house) at the breakfast table in time to see Arthur's interview air on ABC's Good Morning Texas. It was a very good segment that showed off the Houdini Room and also promoted the seance event. I was thrilled to learn that there would be close to 200 people attending.

Arthur Moses and Scott Wells watch the Good Morning Texas report.

It was then time for me to earn my keep as I scooted around Fort Worth with Arthur, helping make final arrangements and set up the séance room at the stunning Masonic Center. Not only was this a visually exciting setting for a séance, but also appropriate in that Houdini himself was a Freemason. I also had the terrifying pleasure of helping Arthur load the priceless Houdini sidewalk stand into his van (it would be displayed, along with the Houdini straitjacket, at the event). I couldn't help but think of how Jim Collins and James Vickery might have carried the sign in exactly this same way to set up in front of a theatre. We're all still working for Mr. H!

The day seemed to fly by and before we knew it the event was suddenly upon us! Guests, dressed formally, began to arrive around 7pm. The VIP ticket holders gathered in the lower ballroom for cocktails and appetizers. I was scrambling to get all my equipment set-up and in working order in the main room, but I was still able to slip downstairs and enjoy the company and food. I knew my presentation was going up first, so I was pumped to finally see "my" audience.

The Masonic Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

The séance room (chamber?) was beyond amazing when it was all finished. The photo below, courtesy of Bill Radner, captures it somewhat; but factor in the eerie organ music by Michael Reed playing from the balcony, the flickering candles, the chairs draped in black, and the armed security guard standing by the sidewalk stand and straitjacket. (The huge Houdini straitjacket poster is actually a backdrop from the stageplay Ragtime and belongs to Ash Adams, who was the MC for the evening.) The atmosphere was incredible -- almost funeral-like -- and the nearly 200 assembled guests all seemed to be speaking in whispered tones. A perfect setting for a séance on Halloween!

The Official 2012 Houdini Seance. Photo by William Radner.

With everyone settled into their seats, the evening began with Master of Ceremonies, Ash Adams -- an award winning magician with over 20 years experience -- welcoming everyone and giving a brief history of the Masonic Temple and also about Houdini's two visits to Fort Worth in 1916 and 1923. Ash set a spooky Halloween mood and challenged Houdini, just as he had been challenged by the people of Fort Worth during his visits, to again make an escape tonight.

Ash then introduced me, and I presented what I called a Houdini History Presentation, but the official program carried the much more impressive title, "Understanding Houdini in the 21st Century." I was really eager to give a good, entertaining talk that would appeal to both the hardcore Houdini experts in the room as well as the general audience members who might not know a thing about Houdini. I think my presentation went over very well; aided greatly by a Keynote slide show where I was able to share several rare images, including a beautiful unpublished photo of Houdini and Bess provided by David Haversat and a terrific photo of Houdini being tied to a stake by two Native Americans provided by Jon Oliver (I also snuck in one of the unpublished bear trap photos from the Motion Picture Academy Library's Grim Game file).

Much to my relief, the length of my talk seemed to be exactly right (I feared I would go on forever -- I had 90 slides!). I then showed two pieces of film footage -- the 1907 Rochester bridge jump and the 5 minute clip from The Grim Game. The Grim Game footage was a last minute addition when I saw how well it went over at the Hollywood Egyptian screening last week. Including it was a good call. Once again, the audience gasped when the planes crashed.

MC Ash Adams on stage. Photo by William Radner.

Having accomplished my mission of filling everyone's head with as much Houdini history as I thought they could stand, I was happy to sit back and enjoy the rest of the program. Bill Radner took the stage next and spoke about his father and the importance of the séances throughout the years. He then showed a video clip of Sidney talking about the Bean Giants, the Séance Cuffs, and a special key Houdini used to unlock any handcuff. The audience seemed to really enjoy this, and it was a wonderful to have the great Sidney Radner there in the room with us.

Jamie Salinas. Photo by William Radner.
Following Bill came magician Jamie Salinas, a skilled sleight of hand artist and a regular performer at The Magic Castle, who did magic tricks and also escaped from a straitjacket, which received a terrific reception. Then came magician and sideshow entertainer Shel Higgens, who did a spectacular sword swallowing act balanced atop a free standing ladder. It was a unique performance that worked wonderfully well in the big hall and provided a real unexpected treat for the audience (and for me as I had no idea of what he was going to do).

Closing out the first half of the evening was the recording of Houdini's Voice, generously provided by Tom Interval of It was a perfect way to bring the theme of the evening back to the spirit of Houdini. Frankly, I think Houdini was watching over us all. I was amazed at just how our completely unrehearsed "show" came off without a single hitch and how each presenter seemed to compliment and blend into the next. It was a darn good show!

Then followed a 15 minute intermission in which the guests -- a little less intimidated by the room now -- took photos of themselves standing beside Arthur's Houdini memorabilia and the séance table. But now came the big event of the evening...

The Séance

Following intermission the guest all retook their seats. Ash Adams again set the mood, explaining in a very serious tone the "rules" of the séance. Each of the "Inner Circle" attendees, including myself, were introduced one by one. Filling in for Larry Weeks and Fred Pittella was our MC, Ash Adams, and Kathy Tayefeh of Magic Etc. who also runs a local Fort Worth Spook Show attraction and is highly sensitive to ghostly phenomena. We all remained standing behind our chairs as medium Scott Wells was introduced. He entered dramatically from the parted curtains onstage. Scott then took over, instructing us to take our seats. Under a single spotlight, Scott explained a little Houdini history and what we would be attempting to do tonight.

The Inner Circle participants.

The séance commenced and Scott attempted to contact the spirit of Houdini in a way that would have made Edward Saint proud. He also encouraged everyone at the table to speak up if they experienced anything unusual. During his pre-talk he also told the assembled crowd to share anything that happened to them after the seance.

Now, believe it or not, the séance was not without a few odd occurrences. A program on the table appeared to move, as did a chair up on stage. However, from where I was sitting, I didn't see either happen, so I can't speak to these. Kathy Tayefeh did see what she described as some kind of a red cloud or energy in an upper balcony. After the séance some audience members claimed they had also seen this. Directed to the spot, I said I could see the vague figure of a man perched at the rail peering down at the table. I thought this was pretty strange, until it was pointed out that there were people watching the séance from up there. Doh! (But, you know, when the lights came on, the people up on the balcony were NOT what I had seen during the séance. Not even close. Just saying...)

However, I think all the odd "phenomena" might have been evidence of the true power of suggestion and the intense and spooky atmosphere that had been so successfully conjured by Scott and everything about that room.

After a final appeal, Scott then closed the séance and the guests went downstairs to enjoy a final reception back in the ballroom. There Bill Radner told me he already had an idea about where to hold the séance next year and that I would definitely be invited to participate. (Yes!)

All in all, it was a spectacular evening and a very successful Official Houdini Seance, even if once again Houdini didn't join the show.

As the night drew to a close, I helped break down and transport some of the artifacts back to Arthur's house. I once again had the pleasurable terror of moving the Houdini sidewalk stand back into the Houdini Room.

I then settled back with a beer and enjoyed a post séance wrap-up conversation with Arthur, Scott, and Jamie Salinas (our newest house guest), until I literally couldn't keep my eyes open any longer.

Day 3

My last day would only be a half day, but it was still great fun. Joe Notaro, who runs Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence and had come out from Los Angeles for the event, joined us at Arthur's house for breakfast and Scott Wells conducted a wrap-up podcast with the group. We then went into the Houdini Room, where I got to enjoy seeing Joe have the same near heart-attack reaction to the room that I had had. With time running out, I poured through a few final binders of amazing Houdini artifacts, but I never really scratched the surface of Arthur's amazing collection. In fact, I never even touched the full wall of Houdini periodicals. Maybe next time.

We then had some fun putting on Jamie's straitjacket and posing in front of the Houdini sidewalk stand.

The Great Houdinis: Moses, Notaro, Wells and Cox.

It was agony when noon arrived and we had to leave for the airport. As we were both heading back to LA, Joe and I traveled together in my little (Toyota Yaris) rocket of a rental car. But it was on this 40 minute drive to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport that the strangest -- even spooky -- phenomena of the entire trip occurred...

We didn't talk about Houdini once.

Here are some more images from The Official Houdini Seance, 2012:

John Cox and Tom Boldt. Photo by William Radner.
Arthur Moses and Robert Somerdin. Photo by William Radner
Ash Adams, Scott Wells and a hobo. Photo by William Radner
Derek Kennedy and Bill Radner. Photo by William Radner
Scott Wells does a pre-seance interview. Photo by William Radner