Friday, December 28, 2012

Houdini on Magic gets a cover revamp (update)

Dover's perennial trade paperback edition of Houdini on Magic by Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young has received a minor cover art makeover. The new cover pictured on Amazon and the Dover website shows a new title font treatment, and the resolution on the photo of Houdini looks improved as well. (Yes, this is the kind of thing I get excited about.)

Houdini on Magic was first published by Dover in 1953 and has never gone out of print. Click here for a retrospective on the book and the changes in cover art over the years.

Dover's The Secrets of Houdini has also received a new title treatment on the book's spine. Watch for a retrospective on that title coming in the new year.

UPDATE: According to the publisher, "the cover is new, but the new covers will not be shipping for a few months because of our inventory of the old covers."

Monday, December 24, 2012

Have a very Harry Christmas and a Wild New Year

From The Original Houdini Scrapbook

Thanks to everyone for giving WILD ABOUT HARRY its biggest year yet! I'll be back on January 1, 2013 with another full year of the latest Houdini happenings. Because I'm still wild about Harry, and so are you.

Quotable Houdini

"It's not egotism, Hilliar; it's Houdini-ism."

-- Houdini to his friend William J. Hilliar after Hilliar "chided him about his egotism." From Billboard, November 25, 1933.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

January MAGIC reassess Houdini's movies

Here's a nice way to kick off 2013. Chris Philpott, who penned a report in the December issue of MAGIC about the recent screening of Houdini's movies in Hollywood, is back with another article in the January 2013 issue called, "Taking Another Look at Houdini’s Movies". Here's a tease:

Houdini’s movies are a fascinating but neglected part of his legacy. The conventional wisdom about these movies is that the stories were just excuses for his escapes and that he was a very weak actor. Story-wise, why is it a problem that the films are excuses for escapes? We don’t complain that action movies are just excuses for action scenes. The question is, are they a good excuse? A film like The Dark Knight is. Unfortunately, most of Houdini’s movies are not. As for Houdini’s acting, yes, it’s awful in spots, but most of it is fairly good and there are moments of emotional honesty, power, and charisma that hint that maybe, if things had gone a little differently, Houdini might have become a real movie star.

The 6-page article includes images from my collection as well as the collection of Arthur Moses. I don't have the issue in hand yet so I haven't given the article a read, but I'm pretty sure Chris Philpott is my new BFF.

This issue also includes a look at the new play, Harry the Great, an original production by the Creede Repertory Theatre in Colorado. The play features adventures at the 1893 World's Fair involving Florenz Ziegfeld Jr, Harry Robenstein, and a young "interloper" named Erik Weisz (their spelling).

The January issue of MAGIC is available now from the official MAGIC Magazine website.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Houdini nailed

This is the creation of "Veronica, the Gorgeois Pig", from the blog, Gorgeois: A Place for Nails and Things. She created this for a magic-themed nail contest last April. While she didn't win, she was one of 2 honorable mentions.

I think she should have won. She really nailed it. (Ba dom ba.)

"I chose Harry Houdini as my inspiration, and painted his portrait on my thumb with his iconic prop, a pair of handcuffs, draped over my fingers. The base is Zoya Dovima, which is a beautiful charcoal grey matte polish. I love this color." -Veronica, the Gorgeois Pig

Check out more pics and the complete "specs" at Gorgeois.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Houdini says...

Spiritualism: Its History, Phenomena and Doctrine (1919) by J. Arthur Hill, with handwritten annotations by Houdini. In the collection of The William Larsen Sr. Memorial Library at The Magic Castle.

Thanks to Lisa Cousins and Bill Goodwin.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Review: Bruce MacNab mines Houdini gold in the Maritimes

In The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, author Bruce MacNab has combined his passions for Houdini and Maritimes history to create a book that is not only a terrific day by day account of Houdini's 1896 Canadian tour, but also a vivid snapshot of everyday life at the turn of the century. It really is one of the most remarkable books ever written about Houdini, as well as being a marvelous chronicle of what it was like to be a traveling magic troop in the 1890s.

Because this period of Houdini's life has never really been put under the microscope, this book contains a wealth of previously unknown details about the great escape artist. We learn that Houdini used a trained chicken, "Banjo" (named by his mother), early in his career; discover the details of Houdini's lost Trilby levitation; meet his very first assistant, John Kenny; and learn the exact nature of Houdini's challenge rope escape in which he guaranteed to escape in less time than it took to tie him (and his failure to do so one night in Nova Scotia).

Bruce has also uncovered the location of Houdini's ill-fated horse back escape; speculates on what could be a connection between J. Gordon Whitehead and another Canadian named Whitehead who traveled with the magic troop; and has unearthed a terrific story about Baldwin - The White Mahatma, visiting the Marco troop and helping to perform a "stolen watch" trick during a hotel dinner. There is also a wealth of new details about Houdini's short-lived American Gaiety Girls burlesque show, and the Marco Magic Company's chief rival, Markos (whose assistant later married Houdini's early performing partner, Joe Hayman).

But maybe the most historically important aspect of this book is how Houdini's employer, Edward James Dooley (aka "Marco"), is fleshed out as he has never been in any book before. The perception has long been that Dooley was a bit of con man who abandoned Harry in Bess in Canada. But this is not true at all. Dooley was a sincere performer and lover of magic who's greatest flaw appears to have been his bad luck (which I can't help but think continues in 2012 with a book that immortalizes his most disastrous tour). But Houdini had great affection for Dooley, and McNab has discovered that their friendship continued long after the ill-fated tour and into the years of Houdini's great success. This is as much a book about a failed magician as it is about the early career of a superstar.

What also makes The Metamorphosis a real joy is how MacNab has fleshed out each chapter with wonderful details about the Canadian towns and cities that Houdini and the Marco Co. played. One really gets a strong sense of time, place, and local color. Even without Houdini (and Harry is sometimes absent for full chapters) this book remains fascinating as it vividly captures the pulse of life in the 1890s.

And I haven't even mentioned the generous amount of never-before-seen photographs and documents, including a mind-blowing series of four sequential shots of Harry and Bess performing Metamorphosis (with this trunk) in 1901.

While The Metamorphosis is truly wonderful reading, I realize getting a copy has been anything but a wonderful experience for eager readers. I've recently heard that Amazon has become very stingy with stocking books by smaller publishers. I'm not sure if this has anything to do with this book's sketchy availability on the site, but know that the book can be purchased direct from Goose Lane Editions or from Barnes & where it is currently available. It can also be found at The Book Depository, which offers free shipping worldwide.

The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini by Bruce MacNab is meticulously researched, beautifully written, and essential reading for anyone interested the deeper story of Harry Houdini.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

American Legends: The Life of Harry Houdini

Amazon is listing a new Kindle eBook biography, American Legends: The Life of Harry Houdini by Charles River Editors.

American Legends: The Life of Harry Houdini profiles the life, legends, stunts, and controversies of history’s most famous escape artist, with pictures of important people, places, and events. You will learn about Houdini like you never have before, in no time at all.

I wouldn't say this is a must have. The book scrambles facts and some content has been lifted from Wikipedia (as readers know, I have real problems with the Wikipedia Houdini page). The photos have all been sourced from online as well. The book was available for free, but now it shows a price of $2.99.

I would like a printed version, but it appears the "American Legends" series is only available as eBooks.

Purchase American Legends: The Life of Harry Houdini from Amazon.

Houdini has escaped!

That's the joke going around the Magic Castle in Hollywood these days. Their new Water Torture Cell aquarium -- which was installed as part of the reality show Tanked in September and contained a Houdini mannequin bound in a straitjacket inside -- is currently Houdini free!


I've heard a few different reasons for this. One is that the bubbles mechanism needed repair. The other is that the straitjacket was starting to mildew and the fish were eating away at Houdini's face. (I guess the "experts" at Tanked don't think beyond the air date, eh?)

But I'm also hearing this is only temporary. The mannequin will be repaired and put back in the tank. But I actually think the aquarium looks pretty good even without Harry at home. I think the fish might like it better as well.

Thanks to MSW.

UPDATE (2/2/13): Word is Houdini has returned.

UPDATE (6/1/13): So it looks like the Houdini mannequin has been permanently retired. Word from AMA President Neil Patrick Harris is that a new mannequin will be made for the tank by animatronics whiz, Garner L. Holt. This new Houdini will move and will be in handcuffs and a swimsuit to more historically correct.

UPDATE (6/9/15): The Magic Castle bids goodbye to the Houdini aquarium.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Penn Jillette: "Houdini was not a magician. Houdini was a superstar."

I enjoy listening to Penn Jillette talk (and talk), and when the topic turns to Houdini, well, that's as good as it gets!

And that's what happens in this terrific interview on KNPR, Nevada Public Radio. Penn is promoting his new book, Every Day Is An Atheist Holiday (which apparently includes a fair amount on Houdini). The Houdini/magic discussion starts at 29:15. Here's a taste:

"We look back on the 20th Century in 100 years, and look at entertainment, the only two people in the running for being remembered in the 20th Century are Elvis Presley and Houdini. And as time goes on, Houdini's winning."

Penn goes onto to say Houdini's fame and evolution of his art is comparable only to "maybe sorta" Bob Dylan and Picasso.

Check out the full interview at KNPR.

Penn Jillette's Every Day Is An Atheist Holiday can be purchased on Amazon. Penn also has a Podcast, Penn's Sunday School, where you can listen to an especially good interview with James Randi.

Terror Island promo card sells to help families of Sandy Hook tragedy

David Haversat of David Haversat Magic held a special sale of rare magic artifacts yesterday with 100% of the sale going to The Sandy Hook School Support Fund. David operates out of Oxford, CT, only a few minutes away from Newtown, and knew the Sandy Hook School principle.

All items sold within two hours, including this rare 4x5 Terror Island promo card for $650. David Copperfield also made a special contribution.

Those still wishing to contribute can make a direct donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund HERE.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Doctor meets Houdini (at last!)

While Houdini has been name-checked several times on the popular BBC series, Doctor Who, it's hard to believe that in 50 years of time travel adventures in books, film, radio and television, that we've never seen The Doctor encounter Houdini in person.

But that has finally changed with the release of the first official Doctor Who-Houdini mash-up adventure! "Houdini and The Space Cuckoos" is a short story by Joseph Lidster and is available online at the BBC One website.

Here's how the idea for a Who-dini story came about:

"Earlier this year we asked who you would like to see the Doctor meet in a future adventure. We were delighted by the huge number of responses and the enormous breadth of your suggestions.
The most popular ‘nominees’ ranged from Florence Nightingale to Nikola Tesla with writers, scientists and soldiers all having their champions. We were forced to discount characters who were fictional, so Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson had to be left in Baker Street and similarly, people we’ve already seen the Doctor encounter were eliminated, which meant figures like Shakespeare were barred.
In the end, Doctor Who’s Executive Producer Caro Skinner sifted through the most popular suggestions and picked the person from history whom the Time Lord would meet in our seasonal short story… It’s the master escapologist, Harry Houdini!"

You can download a PDF of "Houdini and The Space Cuckoos" from the Doctor Who Adventure Calendar 2012:

Click to download Part Two
Click to download Part Three
Click to download Part Four

A complete list of Doctor Who-Houdini references can be found at TARDIS Index File.

UPDATE: Check it out. This post made it (temporarily) onto the main page of the official Doctor Who website.

Houdini makes The Tesla Connection

Houdini and his brother Theo (Hardeen) make a cameo appearance in the new book The Tesla Connection: A Cavalier Family Adventure by Adam Cornell.

In the book the young heros, Elina and Tipp Cavalier, do a little time traveling with the help of Nikola Tesla and see "The Brothers Houdini" performing at the very start of their careers.

The Tesla Connection: A Cavalier Family Adventure by Adam Cornell is released in paperback by Hudson Jade & Steele Publishing and can be purchased on Amazon.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Don't let the December MAGIC escape

I just wanted to give a shout-out to the December issue of MAGIC as there are three Houdini-related reasons to grab this issue. First, there's a nice full page ad for the Alan J. Kanter poster auction featuring the beautiful Amsterdam jail escape poster. Then there's a very good report by Chris Philpott on the screening of The Man From Beyond and Terror Island in Hollywood in October. Finally, there's a nice report on the Official Houdini Seance in Fort Worth. Yes, I covered all three here at WAH, but here's a chance to have a hard copy record complete with some nice photos.

But you'll also want to get this issue for the first part of what will be a year long celebration of The Magic Castle's 50th Anniversary by Milt Larsen. This issue includes a terrific article about the renovation of the Lane Mansion in advance of its grand opening as "The Magic Castle" in January 1963.

You can buy the December issue of MAGIC from the official MAGIC website.

Doug Henning and Houdini's glasses

I'm all about Doug Henning this weekend. Not only was yesterday the anniversary of his 3rd NBC special, but I've also I've just finished reading John Harrison's excellent biography, Spellbinder: The Wonder-Filled Life of Doug Henning.

I really think this book is essential reading for anyone interested in magic history. In fact, I'd even go as far to say that it's as important as The Memories of Robert-Houdin in understanding how a single magician advanced the art of magic from one golden age to another. I also applaud Harrison for his amazing research and for telling the story of Henning, who I don't think always gets the credit he deserves. I put Henning right up there with Houdin, Herrmann, and Houdini as one of the seminal figures in magic history. I think that will become more apparent with time.

Anyway, Houdini is mentioned several times in the book, including this intriguing paragraph on page 147 which provides a kernel of info that I don't think has ever been published before. Houdini wore glasses?

Doug wanted to make sure [chief assistant Dale] Soules knew how much he cared for her. While appearing in The Magic Show, Doug met Houdini's niece by marriage, Ruth Kavanaugh, while doing research for a book about Houdini on which he was collaborating with Charlie Reynolds. Kavanaugh took a liking to Doug and, as a gift, presented him with an exquisite pair of Houdini's reading glasses. The sterling silver frame was attached to a little handle with a secret catch. When you pressed the catch, the glasses opened up into a full sized lorgnette. Before leaving The Magic Show, he wrapped the precious spectacles in a small box with a silk bow and gave them to Soules as a gift. She treasured the glasses, but sadly, they were stolen after a performance of her one-woman show, which featured a scene about Doug, The Magic Show, and Houdini's glasses.

The mention of a full sized lorgnette gives me pause. A lorgnette (a long vertical handle for holding the glasses to your eyes) is typically associated with women's glasses of the period. Is it possible these were actually Bess's reading glasses? Or maybe they had come from Houdini's magic collection and had belonged to someone like Adelaide Herrmann?

Nevertheless, it's interesting to think Houdini might have worn reading glasses. I'd love to see a photo of Houdini in his glasses. I'd also love to know where these long lost glasses are today.

Purchase Spellbinder: The Wonder-Filled Life of Doug Henning by John Harrison on Amazon.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Doug Henning walked through his brick wall 35 years ago today

It was 35 years today ago on December 15, 1977, that NBC aired Doug Henning's third live "World of Magic" television special. Having performed the Chinese Water Torture Cell and Vanishing Elephant on his first two specials, Henning once again built his show around a Houdini classic -- Walking Through A Brick Wall.

In the superb book, Spellbound: The Wonder-Filled Life of Doug Henning, author John Harrison says the idea for doing Houdini's Walking Through A Brick Wall came to Doug while meditating. The book also reveals Henning's method (essentially the same method Houdini used, although with added complexities), and says that a mistake happened during the live broadcast. While the half-second timing error was most likely missed by general audiences, magicians who knew where to look could catch it.

NBC originally wanted Houdini himself, Tony Curtis, to guest host the third special (Bill Cosby and Michael Landon had been the hosts of specials I and II). But Curtis' lawyer demanded four times the highest salary ever paid for a guest host. NBC offered to pay double, but when that was refused, they went with Glen Campbell as host instead.

While maybe not the "event" of the original special, Doug Henning's third special was as successful as his first two. Show-stealer's this time were Henning's opening motorcycle vanish and his "Magic of Childhood" segment with co-host Sandy Duncan.

Original TV Guide ad for Henning's 3rd live special.

December 1977 also saw the release of Doug Henning's book, Houdini His Legend and His Magic, written with Charles Reynolds (I received it for Christmas that year). The coffee table sized book is filled with rare photos, including Houdini and Bessie's entire personal photo album, which has been given to Doug by Houdini's niece, Ruth Kavanaugh. (Click here for the story of another Henning-Kavanaugh artifact).

For his fourth Live special on December 14, 1978, Henning would not do a Houdini inspired illusion. Instead he created an original escape effect from a cage of tigers. "Henning is chained. The Tigers aren't!" read the ad in TV Guide. However, the fourth special was considered creatively inferior to the others (along with suffering a major on-stage gaff and backstage misfortune when the tigers got loose), and Henning would forgo live specials in favor of taped shows from that point on.

Also enjoy:

Friday, December 14, 2012

Is Rachel a Weisz?

Yesterday it was announced that Rachel Weisz has been nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe for her performance in The Deep Blue Sea. Not only did I develop a mad crush on Rachel after The Mummy (Universal horror being a side passion of mine), not only is she married to 007/Daniel Craig himself (my other blog: The Book Bond), but there is also the Houdini thing.

Several articles across the web say that Rachel "idolizes" Houdini. There is also the possibility that they are related (the Weiss family was "Weisz" back in Hungary). I first heard this back in 2005 when Rachel was originally tapped to play Mary McGarvie in Death Defying Acts (the part ultimately went to Catherine Zeta-Jones). But now I've found what purports to be a direct quote from her thanks to Rachel Weisz Paradise:

"He could bust out of any jail, out of any lock, out of any situation. He was a very early poster boy using S&M as part of his appearance and a greased body, wearing little underwear. Also he’s Hungarian and his surname was Weiss, so my fantasy has been that he’s a long lost cousin."

Congratulations to Rachel Weisz on her Golden Globe nomination (a traditional Oscar indicator). She will next appear as Evanora in Oz: The Great and Powerful, featuring James Franco as a magician.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hugh Jackman gets star near Houdini on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Hugh Jackman, who will play Houdini in an upcoming Broadway musical, has received a star on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. Jackman's star is located in front of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, very near Houdini's own star at 7001 Hollywood Blvd.

Here are a few other Houdini-related Walk of Fame stars:

Tony Curtis, 6817 Hollywood Blvd.
Janet Leigh, 1777 Vine Street
Lila Lee, 1716 Vine Street
Nita Naldi, 6316 Hollywood Blvd.

Magic Castle co-founders Milt and Bill Larsen have a star across the street from Houdini...and now Mr. Jackman.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rare photo shows Houdini staked out

Here's a fantastic unpublished photograph from the collection of Jon Oliver -- the man who sleeps in Houdini's bed and also holds Bessie's hair -- of Houdini being tied to a stake by what appear to be two Indian braves in traditional feathered headdresses.

This is almost certainly the infamous burning stake challenge that went wrong for Houdini. The terrain and Houdini's clothes appear to match the one published photo from that event. However, accounts say that was a challenge issued by the Boy Scouts of America and nothing about the involvement of Native Americans. But photos don't lie.

This was one of the unpublished photos I shared during my presentation at the 2012 Official Houdini Seance (although this one went by a little quick). I think this is a quintessential photo of Houdini being challenged, and I'm thrilled to be able to share it here now.

Thank you, Jon.

UPDATE: This newspaper clipping from the Des Moines Register Nov. 23, 1924 shows that this migt have been an entirely different "bonfire" challenge than the Boy Scout challenge, which the caption says occurred in San Francisco.

Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Find of the century?

Okay, here's one that truly tests just how "wild" you are about Harry (and Bess). This to me is the find of the century! It comes from our friend, Jon Oliver, the man who sleeps in Houdini's bed, who sent me the following in a Halloween eve email. Here's Jon:

I had an interesting thing happen yesterday.
Years ago I picked up Bess Houdini's dressing table set. It has mirror, and brushes, perfume bottles, and a tray. My wife Melissa and I were getting some stuff together and doing a little dusting when she discovered the brush is full of white hair.
This came from Ruth Kavanaugh, and she told me after Bess died, she received it but never used it.
Thus we have a bunch of Bess Houdini's hair.

Okay, maybe you find this more freaky than the find of the century (be sure to vote in our poll). But, in all seriousness, I rank this right up there with the perspiration-stained Houdini shirt collar and the pocket from the pajamas Houdini was wearing when he died as a unique relic worthy of a special kind of worship.

But if you're still not impressed, then stand by for something else from Jon that I will share tomorrow. You're bound (clue!) to love that one...

UPDATE: Poll results.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Houdini rushes The Amazing Race

Last night's finale of The Amazing Race Season 21 featured a Houdini-themed "Roadblock". It started with teams arriving in New York where they had to find a clue hidden in a Houdini poster in Coney Island. (My favorite part here was watching tourists in the background taking pictures of the poster as the teams struggled to find it. One woman kissed it).

After finding the poster and seeing that it directed them to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, teams raced on and we learned from host Phil Keoghan what their challenge would be. Below is clip of the Roadblock set-up, complete with Houdini footage. I recorded this on my phone, so volume is a little low.

And, yes, the girl says she doesn't know who Houdini is -- my nightmare.

Top escape engineers Mark and Sheila Cannon consulted on the show and also appeared on camera helping rig each contestant. Each of the three competitors were able to escape their straitjackets and raced on.

I won’t tell you who won the $1 million (highlight spoiler: but at least they knew who Houdini was).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Two of four Houdini posters sell in NYC auction

Two of four original Houdini posters sold today well below their (wildly optimistic) estimates at Guernsey's auction of 58 magic posters from the collection of Alan J. Kanter.

Amsterdam jail break (SOLD) and "Houdini for President" (PASS).

A King of Cards poster sold for $4,250 (plus a 22% commission). The auction estimate was $10,000 - $20,000. A 1903 one-sheet advertising Houdini's jail escape in Amsterdam sold for $18,000. While far below the $60,000 - $80,000 estimate, it still tied with a Thurston Eggs Extraordinary poster as the highest seller of the auction (the Thurston sheet was estimated at $20,000 - $40,000).

A beautiful "Houdini for President" lithograph failed to receive any bids when it opened with an asking bid of $40,000 (estimate: $75,000 - $85,000). Not as surprising was a pass on a Slander in Germany poster which also opened with a $40,000 asking bid. This same poster sold for $25,000 just last year. Guernsey's estimate was $65,000 - $75,000. Both posters had reserves while the two that sold did not.

A decidedly mixed day for Houdini at auction, but certainly a reality check on auction house price estimates of these posters in the future.

You can see all the posters and prices realized here.

UPDATE: Good thread on the Genii forums about this auction, including a post by Ken Trombly (major Houdini/magic collector) about the "unrealistically high estimates" that scared off many serious collectors and led to many posters selling below what they were worth. Seems the general feeling is the auction house badly mishandled this sale.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Brother's keeper

While in Fort Worth for the Official Houdini Seance this year, I was able to examine a very interesting letter in the collection of Arthur Moses. The letter is from Houdini's lawyer, Bernard Ernst, in regards to Houdini's brother, Theo Hardeen.

On August 4, 1926, Ernst writes Houdini that:

"In accordance with your instructions I will not draw any further checks for salary to Mr. Hardeen unless you instruct me to do so."

The correspondence indicates that Houdini had written his own letter to Hardeen on August 3, presumably delivering this same information.

So what is this all about?

All I can think of is that Hardeen was still drawing a salary as an executive of Houdini's Film Developing Corporation. Houdini had convinced his brother to give up his stage career to help run the fledgling film laboratory in 1917. While this makes sense, it's surprising that the FDC is still in existence in 1926. It could be that cutting off Hardeen's salary was the very last gasp at what had been a long slow decline for the company.

It's also possible that this had nothing to do with the FDC and Houdini was simply supporting his brother as he had supported other family members during various periods of their lives. But the word "salary" leads me to believe this was somehow business related.

Interestingly, this is just a few months before Houdini's death. Hardeen would inherit the bulk of his brother's props and go back to performing the following year, openly advertising himself as Houdini's brother and successor (the fact that they were brothers was not overtly promoted during Houdini's lifetime).

But in light of this letter, I can help but wonder whether Hardeen would have dusted off his Milk Can and returned to the stage even if Houdini had lived?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Four rare Houdini posters at auction in NYC

Four original Houdini posters will be auctioned by Guernsey's auction house in Manhattan on Sunday. The posters are a part of a remarkable collection of nearly 60 magic posters from the collection of Alan J. Kanter.

The four posters are: "Houdini for President" (estimate: $75,000 - $85,000), King of Cards (estimate: $10,000 - $20,000), Slander in Germany (estimate: $65,000 - $75,000), and what might be the rarest of the batch, a 1903 one-sheet advertising Houdini's jail escape in Amsterdam. I'm not sure I've ever seen this poster at auction before. In fact, I'd never seen a color image of this poster until now. Auction estimate is $60,000 - $80,000.

The auction also includes posters for Kellar, Thurston, Dante, and Chung Ling Soo among others.

According to an article in today's New York Times, Kanter, 65, spent decades trying to develop a museum, theater and hotel with a magic theme, where he could display his collection. He considered sites in New York and Los Angeles, but could find no major backers. He's selling the posters now partly because of health problems.

The Kanter Magic Poster Collection sale is set for 10AM on Sunday, December 9, at Arader Galleries, 1016 Madison Avenue at 78th, New York, NY 10021. You can view all the lots and bid online at LIVE Auctions.

UPDATE: Two of four Houdini posters sell in NYC auction.

The Amazing Race promises Houdini-inspired finale

Just a heads-up that the special 2-hour season finale of The Amazing Race on CBS promises a Houdini-inspired stunt:

"We have a terrifying Houdini-inspired Roadblock in New York, where teams are hanging 15 stories above the Brooklyn Navy Yard."

I don't know exactly what this will be, but I do know that top escape engineers Mark and Sheila Cannon consulted on the show, so it should be good.

The Amazing Race finale airs Sunday, December 9, 2012 on CBS. Check local listings for times.

UPDATE: Houdini rushes The Amazing Race.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Houdini gets high in Vancouver

Nine O'Clock Gun, a Canadian clothing brand that celebrates Vancouver's heritage, has shared a photo of Houdini performing a suspended straitjacket escape that I've never before. The fact that it's "1929" makes it EXTRA amazing! (It's actually 1923.) Follow the link in the tweet below to view on Instagram.

Thanks to Canada's Magic for the alert (and for teaching me how to embed tweets).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Is this Houdini's most amazing trick?

Here's something really unique and wonderful from our friend Tom Interval of The video Tom made explains it better than I can, so check out "The Houdini Alphabet" below. (I wonder if this ever appeared in Red Magic?)

The man with the golden chains

Reader Barry Spector sends in this pic of his antique and gold buying shop, Past Time Treasures, in Clementon, New Jersey. Do you like the store's new advertising banner?

Barry's been a Houdini buff since he was a kid. There's even a page devoted to Houdini on the store's official website. (I really need to visit New Jersey some day. There's all kinds of Houdini gold there!)

Thanks for sharing, Barry.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Amazon shipping The Metamorphosis

I'm getting word that people are finally receiving their Amazon pre-orders of Bruce MacNab's new book, The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini. The book was officially released in late October, but Amazon delayed shipped for reasons unknown. Amazon now shows the book as "Temporarily out of stock."

I'm sorry I haven't yet offered up a full review of the book. I have one roughed out, but haven't had time to finish it. But I'm not sure I can do much better than the blurb I wrote for the reviews page in the book. Sometimes less is more. (But stand-by for the "more" as well.)

The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini can be purchased on or direct from Goose Lane Editions.

UPDATE: I've learned that Amazon is being stingy when it comes to stocking books by small publishers, so an alternative is where The Metamorphosis is readily available. The book can also be found at The Book Depository, with offers worldwide free shipping.

Magic Tree House: Hurry Up, Houdini

This one doesn't come out until July of next year, but Amazon has just posted cover art, so I thought I'd give a shout-out to Hurry Up, Houdini by Mary Pope Osborne with illustrations by Sal Murdocca.

This book is part of the popular Magic Tree House series (#50), a mix of magic, history, science, and adventure aimed at readers 7 and up. Past books have included pirates, Abraham Lincoln and the Titanic. This time the young protagonists, Jack and Annie, encounter HOUDINI! (What took them so long?)

You can pre-order Magic Tree House #50: Hurry Up, Houdini from Amazon. Release date is July 23, 2013.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The 2012 Official Houdini Seance DVD

Highlights from the 2012 Official Houdini Seance in Fort Worth are now available on an exclusive DVD released by seance organizer and super collector Arthur Moses. The nearly 29 minute DVD is shot in high def and is professionally edited. Arthur is offering it for $15 postage paid in the U.S.

You can buy the 2012 Official Houdini Seance DVD from There you can also buy mementos from the seance, such as the official program and souvenir locks and book ends. Supplies of these are limited. Arthur has also made the DVD available as a Buy It Now on eBay.

Setting for the 2012 Official Houdini Seance in Fort Worth.

Man killed in Houdini Plaza car crash

WTAQ reports that a man was killed after his car crashed into Houdini Plaza in Appleton, Wisconsin. The accident happened around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday. The driver was Ralph Bush, a 24-year-old from Appleton. A passenger remains hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries. Police are still investigating the accident.

Located in downtown Appleton (apparently on the very spot where the Weiss family lived), Houdini Plaza was dedicated in 1985. It is currently undergoing a $1.5 million renovation.

UPDATE: The Appleton Post Crescent has a full report on exactly what happened HERE.

My report on the Official Houdini Seance in Magic Castle newsletter

The December 2012 Magic Castle newsletter contains a report on the recent Official Houdini Seance in Fort Worth written by yours truly. The Castle newsletter is typically available only to AMA members, but editor Rich Cowley, who did the excellent layout on the article, has granted me special permission to share the two pages here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. Thank you, Rich!

Magic Castle Newsletter, Dec. 2012 (click to enlarge).

Speaking of reports on the seance, you'll want to grab the December 2012 issue of MAGIC which contains something about the seance as well as the Houdini double feature screening in Hollywood.

You can read my extended report on the seance and three day Texas Houdini adventure HERE.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Genii & Houdini: January 2011

In January 2011 Genii produced their last Houdini cover (so far), and it was a beauty! The irony is the portrait image of Houdini used on the poster reproduced here is the same portrait Genii used on their very first Houdini cover way back in 1936 with issue #2. Makes for a nice circular end to our series, I think.

The issue itself contains a spectacular 18-page spread on the Houdini Art and Magic traveling exhibition that toured the U.S. from 2010 to 2012. The coverage includes a wealth of rare photos of Houdini and beautiful images from the exhibition, along with articles by Ken Silverman and curator Brooke Kamin Rapaport, as well as blurbs by James Randi, David Blaine, and Genii editor Richard Kaufman.

I hope you've enjoyed WILD ABOUT HARRY's look back at the history of Genii and Houdini. Here's wishing Genii a happy 75th Anniversary. I look forward to many more years of this wonderful magic magazine and all the Houdini covers to come!