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?


  1. Hardeen gave up his stage career to help out with Houdini's FDC, so Houdini may have felt guilty about sidetracking his brother and kept him on the payroll for some time after the demise of the company. By August of 1926, Houdini probably felt it was time his brother got a job.

    If Houdini had lived, he might have sent Hardeen out to other parts of the world to perform a similar version of Houdini's 3 act show. In much the same way that Thurston had franchised his show by sending Dante and others to clone his show in Europe and elsewhere.

    1. Yep, that very much sounds like it could be the senario here. Intriguing to think that HH could have sent Dash out with his own version of the full evening show.

  2. I'd like to read that letter John. Maybe Arthur Moses could allow you to post it here sometime in the future? Unless that little snippet was the entire letter?

    It is an intriguing thought to speculate that Houdini might have sent Dash out with a copy of his show for a percentage. He did teach his brother the handcuff escape act and sent him out as a sort of rival. Hardeen probably would not have been given the USD to perform for the escape portion of the show. He would have done the Milk Can or a packing box escape.

  3. Hardeen told Houdini that he was tired of traveling, and wanted to stay at home
    and raise his family. This is one of the reasons Houdini purchased the film company.
    It was an investment in the future of show biz, but also a chance for his brother
    to make a living.
    Hardeen was a horrible manager and ran the business into the ground.
    This is where Houdini lost his money. Not on his movies, but in FDC.
    This was told to me by Hardeens son.

    Jon Oliver