Thursday, February 28, 2013

The omen

I love it when I find a new nugget of Houdini info where I don't expect it. Here's an example from the book A Million and One Nights: A History of The Motion Picture Through 1925 by Terry Ramsaye. This is a remarkable 868 page history of the movies published in two volumes in 1926 (yes, there really was that much movie history by then).

On page 730 we find this:

In 1919 a quartet of brave conspirators met to form the Supreme Pictures Corporation to rehabilitate the status of the serial with a master effort in mystery and detective story thrills. It was to be a million dollar corporation, etc. In electing officers they decided to leave the presidency to the toss of a coin.
Louis Grossman, the business man of the party, flipped a quarter in the air. It struck the desk and rolled off on the floor.
Then the august directors of that million dollar corporation spent a half hour on hands and knees searching for the missing twenty-five cents.
The baffled searching party included John W. Grey, mystery scenario writer, Arthur B. Reeve, author of complex detective tales, and--Harry Houdini.
The corporation has faded and the quarter is still missing.

What Ramsaye calls the Supreme Pictures Corporation was eventually christened Octagon Films, and I can't help but see this comedic incident as a serious omen. Houdini not only had to sue the company for his share of the profits from their one serial, The Master Mystery, he ended up losing a great deal of his personal fortune in various motion picture ventures.

The coin was trying to tell you something, Harry.

UPDATE: It turns out Supreme Pictures was not the same company as Octagon Films. Houdini's involvement with this company might be a untold story.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What if Houdini didn't die in 1926?

Houdini in his last new suit suggests how he
might have looked in the 1930s.
Here's the scenario: J. Gordon Whitehead is on his way to the Princess Theater when an attractive young lady on the streets of Montreal turns his head. Whitehead decides to forgo his plans to return a borrowed book to Houdini (and ask those burning questions about the Bible and whether he can take a punch to the gut), and instead has coffee with the young lady. Houdini can wait.

A few days later it's reported that Houdini, having cancelled his engagement in Detroit because of abdominal pain, has checked himself into the hospital to have his inflamed appendix removed before it could rupture.

"Houdini Escapes Death Once Again" is the headline on October 31, 1926.

Okay, now what? What if Houdini didn't die in 1926? What would his life and career have looked like into the 1930s and '40s or even longer? It's pure speculation, but one can play this game with some informed speculation. Here's what I think would have been Houdini's path had he survived beyond Halloween 1926.

Houdini was already stepping into the next phase of his life and career, so it's not hard to invision what his future performance life would have been like. He had successfully transitioned out of vaudeville and into a full evening roadshow, much like his contemporaries Thurston and Blackstone. His roadshow would have continued as the "3 Shows in One" and continued to be successful for many years. Walter Gibson says Houdini intended to play his roadshow for 10 seasons. He would modified the show from time to time, ultimately replacing the Water Torture Cell with the Buried Alive or the curious shelf of boxes escape.

It's said that Houdini was looking to wind down his spiritualist exposures and replace it with exposes of the techniques used by gamblers and other cheats. This changeover would prove to be very timely and successful in the 1930s when Houdini might have made headlines exposing the "smuggling methods of bootleggers" etc. All his career he enjoyed working with law enforcement, and I think he would relish this transition from "Ghost Buster" to "Crime Buster." Eventually this would be the new third act of his show. It's also possible that he would so cultivate this new identity as a "criminal expert" that he would be called in to consult on real-life high profile crimes, such as the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.

I think one of the things that would be most surprising about the post-1926 Houdini is that he would be less and less associated with daring escapes. His publicity stunts would become endurance tests, not unlike what David Blaine does today. This evolution was already happening in 1926 with his buried alive tests and notably his Summerfield's department store test. Seeing Houdini displayed in his "air-tight casket" would become the new suspended straitjacket escape. He probably would have also perfected and performed his frozen in ice test. It's even possible Houdini might have cut escapology from his repertoire entirely by the mid 1930s and would firmly cement a reputation as THE master magician of the age.

Houdini would take his roadshow to Europe and once again claim the title of "Europe's Eclipsing Sensation." I also believe he would have toured the Far East for the first time in his career to tremendous success, possibly the greatest success of his career. He might even have spent a year or more touring Asia, and would incorporate more "mysteries from the Far East" into his act on his return to the U.S.

Houdini would continue to write and publish books at an accelerated rate. The Cancer of Superstition would be one. He was also committed to a revised edition of A Magician Among The Spirits. At the time of his death, Houdini was gathering material for a series of books, including a book about the lives of famous magicians and an encyclopedia of magic. He was also working on his autobiography. The book we now know as Walter Gibson's Houdini's Escapes and Magic would have appeared under Houdini's name. It's speculative, but I think he might have also penned a book about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle after the author's death in 1930.

As he was never into the Stock Market, Houdini would have avoided ruin in the 1929 crash, although I think the depression would scuttle his plans to open a "College of Magic." But "Houdini" as a brand name -- connected with ever increasing books on magic and magic tricks -- would have kept him flush during the depression. Eventually he would have followed through with his plans to create a special theater of magic, as Hardeen later did with the Houdini Temple of Mystery in Atlantic City.

Houdini definitely would have become more involved in radio, possibly as the host of a "Houdini Mystery Hour," and he would have dabbled in early television. At some point he would again appear in movies, although not as a producer or star; he would likely cameo as himself as Bess did in Religious Racketeers. One thing is for sure, we would have lots of sound footage of Houdini, maybe even a series of short films in which he demonstrates various techniques employed by fraudulent spiritualists or criminals. Even though he once said he would retire to California, I think he would have remained in New York. It was the hub of his universe. But he would have spent more and more time on the West Coast and might have even bought a vacation home in Hollywood at some point.

Even though Thurston was celebrated as one of the greats of the era, I think Houdini's true rival at this time would have been Harry Blackstone Sr. Blackstone developed a Houdiniesq sense of self-promotion in the '30s and '40s, using new media like radio and comic books to brand his name as synonymous with magic, just as Houdini had done at the turn of the century. Houdini would have felt compelled to counter this. There would have been a Houdini version of Blackstone's "Super Magician" comic book, and Houdini would delight in boasting how it outsold Blackstone's comic book. Houdini vs. Blackstone would have been a real highlight of this era. They might even have engaged in a "battle of magic," which became popular in the '30s as seen with Hardeen Jr. vs. The Great Dagmar.

Houdini certainly would have continued his association with magic organizations like the Society of American Magicians and The Magicians Club in London. He would eventually become THE grand old man of magic as Kellar was in his day, and would have certainly been named Dean of the SAM -- Dean Harry Houdini. But he probably would have at least one serious falling out with one or both organizations at some point. That was just his combative nature, which would have mellowed but not abated with age.

Houdini would have become more philanthropic as he aged, and depending on his wealth, he would have dedicated some kind of library or building on a college campus named after himself or his father. He would have deemed this dedication as "the proudest moment of my life." During World War II he would have thrown himself into the war effort, selling Bonds and performing for the troops, as he did during the first World War. He might have even appeared with Hardeen in USO shows. How wonderful to see The Brothers Houdini reunited in 1941!

It's interesting to think of the men Houdini might have associated with in the '30s and '40s. I believe one of those men might have been Orson Welles. One can easily imagine Welles traveling the few blocks from his Harlem based Federal Theater to 278 to meet with the great wizard of his boyhood. Welles might have even interviewed Houdini at length about his career in a mirror of Welles' own master-student friendship with Peter Bocdovich in the 1970s.

I don't think Houdini would have ever stopped performing, although I think he would eventually franchise out his show (as Kellar had done with Thurston), and possibly would have selected a "successor". Who that successor would have been is anyone's guess, but I think Houdini would have plucked him (or her?) from relative obscurity. Without incident or accident, I think Houdini would have lived into the 1940s, mirroring the lifespans of Bess and Hardeen. But as one Weiss brother (Leo) lived until 1964 (and then died from suicide, not illness), Houdini might have had the genetic makeup to last even longer.

Houdini himself had a vision of a long life. In 1926 he told his friend William J. Hilliar:

"I am going to live as long as I want to and on my 100th birthday I am going to do my upside-down strait-jacket escape hanging from the tallest building in New York City."

It's intriguing to imagine this scene; a 100-year-old Houdini doing his famous suspended straitjacket escape at a time when Doug Henning was appearing on Broadway in The Magic Show. It's even more intriguing when you remember that the tallest building in New York on Houdini's 100th birthday was the World Trade Center.

So that's my take. How about you? What do you think Houdini's life would have looked like if he didn't die on Halloween 1926? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments below.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Inquisitor's Apprentice released in paperback

Houdini is featured in new young adult novel, The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty, which is released today in paperback. The illustrated book is the first in a series of adventures starring 13-year-old Sacha Kessler and the NYPD in an alternate New York universe. While the book is primarily about Sacha and Thomas Edison, Houdini plays a role in the story. According to the author:

"Harry Houdini is just about my favorite historic character in the whole book. I have long been fascinated by Houdini, an intensely private man who somehow managed to be a buttoned-down and scholarly rabbi’s son in his private life while doing more than anyone in his day to create the modern American cult of celebrity.When I first started writing the NYPD Inquisitor books, I only planned to have Houdini appear in book one. But to be honest, I’ve enjoyed writing about him so much that I’m having a hard time saying good bye to him. So no promises, but I think he might be back sometime."

The Inquisitor's Apprentice paperback is available for purchase on Amazon. More information on the series can be found at the official Inquisitor's Apprentice website.

Monday, February 25, 2013

"Houdini, we started it, you finish it."

Library of Congress

On July 5, 1910, Houdini paid a visit to Ira Davenport at his home in the small community of Mayville, New York.

Ira, along with his brother, William, created the famous Spirit Cabinet act that helped popularize and propagate Spiritualism in the United States and Europe in the late 19th Century. The Davenport Brothers were the first famous stage mediums. The brothers could also be considered among the very first escape artists as their methods for conjuring the spirits employed special rope ties for quick release -- methods Houdini would study and use himself.

During Houdini's visit, Ira is reported to have said, "Houdini, we started it, you finish it."

Ira died the following year and Houdini did indeed set out to "finish" fraudulent spiritualistic practices in the 1920s.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Harry and Bess present at the Oscars

It's OSCAR day here in Hollywood, and here we have Harry and Bess Houdini themselves presenting at the 1959 Academy Awards. Of course, this is Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh who starred together in the classic Houdini (1953), but they'll always be Harry and Bess to me. And the Oscar goes to...

Thanks to Hidden Los Angeles for this one.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Houdini by Hurst

An original painting of Houdini by renowned sports artist Robert Hurst is currently listed for sale on eBay. The seller purchased the painting directly from the artist in the late 1990's. He writes:

"We used to set up at the National Sports Collectors Convention, where we met Robert - he was also set up displaying his work. I commissioned Robert to paint a Babe Ruth piece for me. Impressed by his work -- and being a life long magician and magic collector -- I asked him to paint a HARRY HOUDINI piece for me. This is what he came up with, and it looks incredible!! The canvas painting measures 24" x 36" inches."

We've had it safely stored away since we got it (probably 15 years). Never had it framed or put on display. This Harry Houdini painting deserves to be displayed and not hidden away!!

The seller has a buy-it-now price of $3,895, but has also activated the "Best Offer" option. The sale runs until March 24 (nice touch). You can check out the auction page here.

Robert Hurst is considered to be one of the top sports artist in the country. He's the Official Artist of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the College Baseball Hall of Fame. More of his work can be seen at

Houdini captured

Nothing special about this except that I really like this captured moment of Houdini being prepared for a suspended straitjacket escape. Note how he's giving instructions to Jim Collins as he ties his ankles; the "To Let" sign behind him; and the sharp focus on the kids looking up at him, lucky enough to get this close to the action. And how about that guy on the far right in a full fur coat? Great stuff.

Here's a question; where and when did Houdini first perform the suspended straitjacket escape? Houdini's Magic Shop posted this as a trivia question on their Facebook page today and I admit I'm stumped (without getting up and going to the bookcase). First one to answer the question correctly in our Comments gets bragging rights!

UPDATE: Turns out this wasn't such and easy question. But you can find the answer HERE.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lawsons Houdini lots blow past auction estimates

As expected, a treasure trove of Houdiniana from the collection of the late E. A. Dearn, recently discovered in a garage in Australia, blew past their modest auction estimates when they were sold today at Lawsons in New South Wales.

A signed photo and handwritten letter by Bess, in which she talks about the dressing room punch and her final moments with Harry, was estimated at $200-$400. It sold for $4,500 (including buyers premium). A cache of letters from Houdini and Bess to Dearn, estimated at $2000-$3000, fetched $17,000.

A collection of material assembled by Houdini on The Davenport Brothers sold for $13,000 (estimate $1,500-$2000). A large lot of magicians photos and ephemera, including unpublished shots of Houdini and Bess, beat the $2,500-$3,500 estimate and sold for $13,000. An original King of Cards poster grabbed a respectable $7000 (estimate $800-$1,200).

A good day for magic collectors!

UPDATE: The great David Ben has posted a blog at Magicana about how there was and still is no mention of this major auction on magic forums and collectors communities. Of course, this auction was no secret to readers of this magic blog. Still, as Ben writes, it is A Curious Lot.

UPDATE 2: Lawsons sale makes news in Australia

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Link: Carrie Gladys Weiss died in mid January 1959

Tom Interval of Houdini Museum has solved the mystery of when Houdini's sister, Carrie Gladys Weiss, passed away. Looks like Bernard Meyer had it right in Houdini A Mind in Chains; Gladys died in January 1959. She was cremated and buried in Machpelah Cemetery, although her headstone, which was damaged by vandals, is not currently there.

For all the details click the headline and have a read at Houdini Museum.

ONE WEEK LEFT to win a free copy of 'Masters of Mystery'

There's just one week left to enter to win a FREE copy of the U.S. paperback edition of Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini by Christopher Sandford courtesy of publisher Palgrave Macmillan.

To win you need to reside in the U.S. or Canada and know a little about Houdini and Conan Doyle. Just answer the questions below:

  1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. Name the title of at least one book that teamed-up Houdini and Holmes in a fictional adventure.
  2. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was played by which famous actor in the 1976 television movie, The Great Houdinis?
  3. Name at least one mistake Lady Doyle made when she supposedly contacted Houdini's mother during their Atlantic City seance?

[the competition is now closed] to email me your answers along with your name and address by next Thursday, February 28, 2013. My spirit guide will randomly select five winners who will be announced here on WILD ABOUT HARRY on March 1st.

Good luck!

Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini can be purchased at You can read my review HERE.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No sale for Spirits typescript (update)

Houdini's original revised manuscript for his final book, A Magician Among the Spirits, failed to sell at PBA Galleries auction of Rare Books & Manuscripts held on Monday.

Can't say I'm surprised. The auction estimate was a wildly high $70,000 to $100,000 and PBA policy is to not sell items for less than half the low estimate. (I would have estimated it at $20,000 to $35,000).

Unless a private sale was arranged after the auction, something tells me we'll be seeing this one again.

Click here to read the original listing details.

UPDATE (7/18/13): It appears this manuscript sold in an RR Auction for $40,000. However, details of the auction has been removed from the website.

Who coined the word "Escapologist"?

Who coined the word "escapologist"? Most will tell you it was Murray, an Australian escape artist who gained fame in the 1930s with some spectacular escapes, including a handcuffed parachute escape that Houdini once proposed but never performed. That's because Murray himself always claimed the word originated with him. Indeed, posters from the time bill him as "Murray the Escapologist." It's even on his tombstone.

However, in a discussion on this very topic at The Magic Cafe forums, user "Moxahalla" uncovered a quote by Houdini in the Australian newspaper The Argus dated Feb. 18, 1910. The opening paragraph of the article reads:

"If I might be allowed to coin a word, I would call myself an escapologist", said Houdini, the handcuff king, who arrived in Melbourne yesterday, to appear at the Opera-House to night.

In 1910 when this was written, Murray was only 8 years old.

So it was Houdini, not Murray, who actually coined the word escapologist. But it could be argued that Murray is the one responsible for making it part of the magic lexicon as Houdini never used it, to my knowledge, in any advertising of his own. So maybe they can share the honor. After all, Houdini has a lot of trophies on his mantel, and I've always liked Murray.

In 1974 Val Andrews penned a delightful "autobiography" of Murray (cover posted above). It says Murray because interested in magic at age 5. Unfortunately, the book does not record whether the young Murray remembers Houdini's visit to his home town in 1910. But this certainly could have left an impression on the 8-year-old budding magician. Perhaps enough for him to became an "escapologist" himself one day.

Murray the "Escapologist" in life and death.

UPDATE: Here are a couple clippings from a March 1915 Indianapolis Star that show Houdini not only used the word "escapologist," but also used it in his advertising. Sorry Murray!

Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Le Grand Gervais Water Torture Cell

French Canadian escape artist Le Grand Gervais, who made a name for himself in the late 80s performing Houdini's Overboard Box escape and Water Torture Cell, is still going strong. He recently revived the Water Torture Cell to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the famous escape. You can check out photos, film, and posters of Gervais' USD at

Monday, February 18, 2013

Watch Houdini Never Died

Here is the entire 1979 documentary Houdini Never Died. This was produced by John Watson and Pen Densham who later wrote and directed TNTs Houdini. It intercuts Houdini's story with footage of contemporary magicians including Doug Henning. It also has nice footage of James Randi performing a suspended straitjacket escape over Niagara Falls, and the 50th Anniversary Official Houdini seance held at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame. Definitely a product of its time, but that's what makes this great.

Houdini Never Dies was released on VHS by Brighton Video in 1987 (it can still be found on Amazon). I suspect this is the source of the YouTube video. I have no idea if the YouTube user has the copyright, so you might want to watch this one before it disappears.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Treasure trove of Houdiniana at auction Feb 22

A treasure trove of recently discovered magic memorabilia from the collection of the late Edwin A. Dearn will be auctioned by Lawsons in New South Wales on Friday, February 22, 2013. The auction includes many Houdini letters and photographs, some never before published, such as these beautiful portraits of Houdini and Bess below.

According to a story in The Daily Telegraph, Dearn's daughter-in-law discovered these forgotten gems in a wooden chest while she was cleaning out her garage in Sydney. Items include books, signed photos, several letters between Houdini and Dearn, and a remarkable letter from Bess written two months after Houdini's death detailing the dressing room punch and her final moments with her husband (Tom Interval highlights this letter on his blog, Houdini Museum).

Lawsons auction house managing director Martin Farrah said, "Not in your wildest dreams would you expect a collection like this to pop up in Australia."

The auction is called Houdini Magic & Einstein Memorabilia and the estimates are remarkably low. Several of the Houdini photos are in Lot 1813 along with a wealth of other rare photos of famous magicians and magic ephemera.

This is going to be a blood bath.

Thanks to Tom Interval at Houdini Museum and Robert Teicher from Sydney for the alerts.

UPDATE: Lawsons Houdini lots blow past auction estimates.

Escape to Houdini's Gastropub

Houdini's hometown of Appleton Wisconsin will soon have "Houdini's Escape Gastropub." According to the Post Crescent, the eatery is in the works at 1216 S. Oneida St. The building was most recently the Recovery Room bar near St. Elizabeth Hospital.

Owners Fortino Solano and Josh Woltman initially thought they could renovate quickly, but have since stepped back to take more time to renovate the old building. "We’re not sure on an exact opening date yet," says Woltman. "We have been involved in many design choices and are paying attention to every detail."

Above is a photo of what the finished building will look like. I'll take a Hardeen Burger with a side of Mama's Fries.

UPDATE: Fortino Solano is not longer involved in the project. Josh Woltman and Sous Chef Shaylen Hietpas are now solely responsible for the upcoming Gastropub.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini

Houdini might be struggling to find his way onto Broadway, but he's having no trouble appearing in local theater. The Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini will be presented as part of The Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, Mar 27 - Apr 7, 2013.

EgoPo invites you behind the curtain of America’s most beloved magician. A mysterious magician’s assistant brings you the life and death of Harry Houdini through a series of his most famous magic acts. Embark on a journey where séances, absinth, love, shackles, faith, and a singular punch to the stomach weave a tapestry of America’s complex relationship with the need to believe and the desire to prove. This world premiere, told through many of Houdini’s own lectures, is a magic show of life, death, and beyond.

The Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini is sponsored by The Jacob Burns Foundation. Visit the EgoPo website for show dates and to purchase tickets.

Thanks to Richard Kaufman at the Genii forums.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Saving Harry Blackstone

Here's a terrific three-part video about the restoration of a rare Harry Blackstone Sr. poster by the talented crew at Poster Mountain. It includes an interview with magic historian, author and collector Mike Caveney, and gives a nice look at his collection. Mike even tells the story of a classic Houdini put-down by Blackstone. Enjoy.

In 2011 Poster Mountain restored a dust jacket for Houdini's A Magician Among The Spirits. You can read the article and see photos of the entire process at the Poster Mountain blog.

Houdini lives in a 1926 magic shop

One of my favorite web destinations, Decaying Hollywood Mansions, "a fan site dedicated to the decaying, decrepit, crepuscular ruins of Gothic Hollywood & the wild & woolly history of cinema", has posted this terrific photo of what they say is a magic store on Hollywood Blvd in 1926, the year Houdini died. I can't confirm the date and I'm not sure what store this is, but I love this shot for obvious reasons.

CLICK HERE for the source of this photo and pics of Bert Wheeler's famous Hollywood's Magic Shop in the 1940s.

UPDATE: Our friend Chuck Romano has identified this as Thayer Studio of Magic and the man behind the counter as Floyd G. Thayer himself. Thank you Chuck!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Meet the Rahners

Here's a sensational never-before-published photo of Bess Houdini with her mother, five sisters, and brother John. I've never seen a group shot of the Rahners before. Bess (on far right) looks downright fetching, doesn't she?

Click to enlarge.

This photo is another gem from the collection of Jon Oliver who generously allowed me to share it here. Thank you, Jon!

UPDATE: Jon Oliver identifies the people in this photo for us. From left to right: John Rahner, Marie Rahner (Hinson), Anna Rahner (Rathgen), Louise Rahner, Rose Rahner (Krauss), Sophia Rahner (Krause), Wilhelmina Rahner (Houdini). Bess's mother, Balbina Rahner, is seated.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Houdini's head

Tom Interval's terrific new Facebook page devoted to the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame has stirred up a lot of nostalgia among Houdini buffs for the old museum (which burned in 1995). So I thought it was time to share this little item from my own collection. Some can say they have Houdini's bust. But I have his head!

This is one of the original mannequin heads from the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame. Other mannequins from the museum were made of hard plaster, but this one is made of painted foam rubber which gives it a realistic feel. It has a brown wig, blue plastic eyes and is mounted on a short broomstick handle.

This Houdini head appears to have served multiple roles during its time at the museum. I know that it was once part of a full Houdini mannequin used in a seance room display (below). However, that display was later replaced and where the head went from there I don't know. But it's possible it was last used as the "talking" head in front of the museum that welcomed visitors. I say this because part of the wig has been stripped away, possibly to work better with the projection illusion. If anyone has any memories or theories of where they might have seen this head in the museum, I'd love to hear them.

The Houdini head survived the fire in 1995 which destroyed the Water Torture Cell and closed the museum for good. Only a bit of soot on his lips (which I've never rubbed off) shows evidence of the blaze.

I acquired the head at an auction of artifacts from the museum held at Butterfield & Butterfield in Los Angeles on November 15, 1999. It was Lot 449. I paid $150, well below the auction estimate of $300-$500. The head was the first thing I had ever bid on in a live auction, and when I landed it my fellow Houdini collectors gave me a hand (they had teased me about how much I wanted it).

I love this head because not only is it a genuine part of the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame story, it's also a relic of the museum's hokey style. I sometimes think of the Hall of Fame as Houdini's last Dime Museum.

"The Head" has sat atop my Houdini bookcases for many years and has drawn some attention. One close friend claims that the expression changes and that the head moves position from time to time. One night she swears it spoke to her!


UPDATE: Tom Interval has posted a photo to the Houdini Magicial Hall of Fame Facebook page which appears to be the head. This photo is from Houdini: A Mind in Chains by Bernard C. Meyer and was possibly taken at the original Centre Street location. Thank you Tom!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Arthur Moses posts transcripts of his full Houdini voice recordings

Arthur Moses has posted on his website the full unedited transcripts of both Houdini voice recordings in his collection.

As Arthur demonstrated when he played the recordings at last year's Magic Collectors Weekend, the one minute and twenty second version we are all familiar with is actually an edited and greatly shortened combination of both recordings.

While Arthur hasn't posted the audio itself, you can at least read what is a transcript of Houdini's complete and authentic Water Torture Cell patter. You can also see for yourself how the edited version was created.


Magicol hosts Guests & Ghosts of 278

Magicana has announced that Magicol No. 184 will be shipping next week, and I'm honored to see that the article I wrote about the Houdini family guestbook has made the cover! Here's a description from the Magicana blog:

Drawing from his presentation in May 2012 from the 43 MCW, John Cox, of Wild About Harry, presents an overview of one of magic’s seldom-seen treasures, Houdini’s Guest Book from 278 W. 113th Street. Filled with signatures from 1919 to well beyond Houdini’s death to1952, the book shares its own tale travelling from home to home and owner to owner. John does a beautiful job highlighting some of the more famous and arcane visitors.

Magicol No. 184 also includes articles on Rex Slocombe, Tenichi, Mademoiselle Catherine, Charles Dickens and a review of Robert-Houdin's autobiography by Ian Keable.

You can subscribe to Magicol at

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Double Fold Death Defying Mystery poster on show in Sheffield

A rarely seen original poster for Houdini's "Double Fold Death-Defying Water Mystery" is currently on display as part of an exhibition at the University of Sheffield's Western Bank Library in the UK.

"Sheffield Entertained" covers 200 years of variety entertainment in the city, including the growth of music halls, the world of magic, early cinematograph shows and travelling funfairs. The exhibition is curated by Professor Vanessa Toulmin and Amanda Bernstein, with audio visual materials curated by Andrew Moore.

Houdini appeared in Sheffield on seven separate occasions (according to exhibition materials). Houdini's final visit to the city was in 1920. This poster is dated to a 1911 appearance and belongs to the Museums Sheffield who lent it to the exhibition.

The Double Fold Death Defying Mystery was an enhanced version of Houdini's Milk Can escape. After being locked in the water-filled can, the can would then be locked inside a large wooden chest. According to Bill Kalush, the chest still exists and "the craftsmanship is beautiful." A photo of Hardeen performing the escape can be seen in Christopher's Houdini A Pictorial Life (page 54).

"Sheffield Entertained" runs through May 6, 2013. Click here for the exhibition location and hours. For more information visit the news and events page at Sheffield University's National Fairground Archive.

Exhibition flyer (click to enlarge).

Friday, February 8, 2013

The secret of Sony's Houdini movie

After a flurry of reports in 2011 about the hiring of screenwriter Scott Frank and director Francis Lawrence, news on Sony Pictures' Houdini movie has all but dried up. This certainly wouldn't be the first time a Houdini project has become trapped in Development Hell, especially at this studio. I suspect this movie isn't going to get made.

So today I'm going to spill a little tidbit about the project that didn't find its way into any of the news reports. In fact, there seemed to be an effort by the studio to misdirect people in regards to the plot, which was reported to be about Houdini falling in love with a beautiful spiritualist (shades of Death Defying Acts). Not true.

The real plot is about Houdini and Chung Ling Soo working together to break a man out of prison. According to my secret sources, Chung Ling Soo plays as big a roll in the movie as Houdini. The script also includes a large element of the supernatural.

Chung Ling Soo was actually William Ellsworth Robinson, a skilled American magician who gained fame posing as a Chinese conjurer. Amazingly, the public never knew his true identity or nationality. Houdini and Robinson were good friends. In fact, they shared the bill at the Alhambra Theatre in July 1900 and both catapulted to fame at the very same time. Chung Ling Soo was later killed onstage performing the bullet catch.

I like the idea of a movie featuring a newly famous Houdini (a Hungarian posing as an American) and Robinson (an American posing as Chinese) becoming involved in some sort of adventure in the early 1900s. Of course, I would rather see it played straight. But you know Hollywood; if it isn't an action movie they don't understand it.

Other Houdini projects languishing in the pits of Development Hell: The Secret Life of Houdini (Lionsgate); The Houdini Box (20th Century Fox); Voices from the Dead (DreamWorks); Among The Spirits (NBC); The Arcanum (Gold Circle); and Carter Beats the Devil (Warner Bros). There are also untitled Houdini projects being developed at Walden Media and Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Houdini - Hollywood ghost

This is a segment about Houdini from the 1986 documentary Hollywood Ghost Stories. It contains nice footage of Houdini performing card flourishes in a 1926 Pathe short and sound footage of Bess Houdini from Religious Racketeers (a.k.a. Mystic Circle Murder). We also get to see the Laurel Canyon estate at its most overgrown.

But the segment also contains a whopper when Psychic Researcher Gordon Rattray claims Bess, a "devout Christian", was pressured by her church to retract the Arthur Ford Houdini message. Of course, Bess was Catholic, and how devout she was at the time of the Ford seances is debatable. And I've never heard of any church involvement in the matter.

Audio is low so you'll want to boost it all the way up. Enjoy the spooky.

Hollywood Ghost Stores is hosted by John Carradine and is definitely a product of its time. The DVD can still be found on It can also be rented on Netflix.

You can see more videos like this at the WILD ABOUT HARRY YouTube Channel.

Constance Phillips resurrects Harry

Next month sees the release of a new Houdini-themed paranormal romance, Resurrecting Harry by Constance Phillips. The author tells me, "As someone who loves and writes romance, I wanted to tackle what is (in my mind) one of the 'Great Romances' of our time." Here's a description of the book.

Devastated by Harry Houdini’s unexpected death, his widow, Bess, clings to his promise to deliver a coded message from beyond the grave. She’s determined to provide the bridge for him to cross, just like she assisted him on the stage, even if that means befriending her husband’s sworn enemy.
In order to save the only woman he’s ever loved from self-destruction, Harry puts his afterlife on the line by entering a wager with purgatory’s keeper, who gives Harry a younger face and body, and a new name: Erich Welch. Even with Harry’s soul and memories, Erich feels out-of-place and disconnected from everything he once called his own.
Will Erich be able to help Bess recover from her loss and will any good come from resurrecting Harry?

To celebrate the release of Resurrecting Harry, Constance Phillips will begin a series of blog posts at her official website,, "about the common misconceptions and little known facts about Harry Houdini."

I've given Constance a few suggestions for topics, so this could be fun. I'll repost each of her installments at the WILD ABOUT HARRY Facebook page, or you can follow Constance herself on Facebook at Constance Phillips, Romance Author.

Resurrecting Harry will be available in print and eBook versions via and other online retailers on March 1, 2013. (No pre-order links just yet.)

UPDATE: Constance has posted her first blog entry, How did Houdini die? Meanwhile, her Facebook page has achieved an interesting number of "Likes" today.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Return to the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame

Tom Interval of is back with another terrific exclusive. Tom has posted a 40+ minute video of the inside of the infamous Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada. The video was shot on August 23, 1994, only eight months before the museum was destroyed by fire. You can watch the video HERE.

Tom has also launched a new Facebook page devoted entirely to the museum with terrific old photos and rare paraphernalia from its 27 year history. Give that a look and a "Like" HERE.

Visit on Facebook

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

WIN a free copy of Masters of Mystery

Today sees the U.S. paperback release of Christopher Sandford's excellent book, Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, and publisher Palgrave Macmillan is offering five FREE copies to the readers of WILD ABOUT HARRY.

To win you need to reside in the U.S. or Canada and know a little about Houdini and Conan Doyle. Just answer the questions below:

  1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. Name the title of at least one book that teamed-up Houdini and Holmes in a fictional adventure.
  2. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was played by which famous actor in the 1976 television movie, The Great Houdinis?
  3. Name at least one mistake Lady Doyle made when she supposedly contacted Houdini's mother during their Atlantic City seance?

Email your answers along with your name and address to [the competition is now closed] by February 28, 2013. My spirit guide will randomly select five winners who will be announced on March 1st. Your book will then be sent direct from the publisher.

Good luck!

Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini can be purchased at You can read my review HERE.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Rare German Water Torture Cell poster uncovered

David Haversat, a dealer of vintage and antique magic, has uncovered an extremely rare German one-sheet for Houdini's Water Torture Cell. The poster has never been mounted and the colors are still bright. The paper is brittle, but entirely intact. The poster will undergo necessary restoration and be properly mounted on acid free paper and canvas.

David says, "As a dealer you often have to make the decision of what to keep and what to sell. I tend to keep what appeals to me and the pieces I realize may never pass through my hands again, so in this case this is a keeper for sure!"

There are now three known examples of this poster. One is said to be in the Library of Congress, the other is part of Roger Dreyer's Houdini Museum of New York, and the third now in the Haversat Collection.

Nearly two years ago a Houdini Metamorphosis lithograph was located in an attic in France. "You never know what you may find in a basement or barn," says David. "I've located some of my best and unique finds in an attic in Maine and a basement in Massachusetts. Ironically the one owned by Dreyer was originally found folded in a book from a second-hand store near Cambridge Massachusetts. Who knows, there may just be another waiting to be discovered."

Congrats David!

Quest for the "Pagoda Torture Cell"

Our friend Joe Notaro of Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence is branching out from his singular focus on The Grim Game and is investigating the classic 1953 HOUDINI via production files in the Margaret Herrick Academy Library.

In Part 1 Joe discovered details about cut scenes. Now in Part 2 Joe has uncovered correspondence related to the Water Torture Cell, or what the script called the "Pagoda Torture Cell." These reveal that the production was considering using Houdini's real cell in the film, but with modifications "so that our actor in the back doesn’t drown."

"Wait. Drown?"

This is, once again, some fine detective work by Joe, so click here to have a read at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Houdini the golfer

I figured I'd go with a sports-themed post on this Super Bowl Sunday. Here is a never before published photo of Houdini on a golf course with his manager, Martin Beck, and two unidentified men. This comes from Jon Oliver who is generously sharing with us rare images from his remarkable collection.

Click to enlarge.

Jon also shares an amusing story about this photo and Houdini expert Milbourne Christopher. Says Jon:

"Christopher was not always as smart as he claimed. I asked him about Houdini's golf game, and he told me Houdini never played golf never even stepped on a course in his life. I showed him a photo of Houdini and Martin Beck playing golf and he shot back that the photo was staged!"

By the way, in March a book will be released called Houdini Shots: The Ultimate Short Game Survival Guide by Martin Hall and Dave Allen. No doubt a collection of techniques employed by Houdini on this very day! But you'll need to wear a three piece suit to pull them off.

If we could now just find a photo of Houdini playing football. Happy Super Bowl Sunday, sports fans!

Thanks again to Jon Oliver.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Discussing HOUDINI (1953) with the sensational Dorothy & Dick

"You can have tears in your eyes for the Wild
Man; but for The Great Houdini, nothing."
In December I recorded two episodes of The Sensational Stories of Dorothy & Dick with Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton. We spent a very fun hour discussing the 1953 biopic, HOUDINI.

Part 1 first aired on WFTE FM 90.3 and 105.7 in Scranton on December 23, 2012. It repeated along with Part 2 on January 6, 2013.

For those who missed it, know that Part 1 is now available at and the WFTE FM Archive. Look for "Show14-John Cox interview Pt 1."

The Sensational Stories of Dorothy & Dick airs on Community Radio station WFTE on Tuesdays at 11:30am and Saturdays at 9:00am. It also streams live at the WFTE website.

UPDATE: Part two is now available at and the WFTE FM.

Original typescript for A Magician Among the Spirits at auction Feb 18

Houdini's original revised typescript for his final book, A Magician Among the Spirits, is going on the auction block February 18, 2013 as part of PBA Galleries online auction of Rare Books & Manuscripts. The estimate is $70,000 to $100,000 (!). Here is the full auction description:

Sale Number 500. Lot 109.
Original typescript, 408 leaves on quarto sheets, numbered 1-398 + 11 pages numbered 299b-299k . 28.5x21.5 cm (11x8½"). In period ring binder, covered in green

The original typescript for a new edition of Houdini's exposé of the fraud and deception endemic amongst the spiritualists, psychics and other paranormal practitioners. When first published in 1922 by Harper's, Houdini's manuscript was dramatically cut from 175,000 words down to 75,000 words. Displeased with the published work, Houdini was preparing this typescript for a second edition at the time of his unfortunate, and untimely, death. The typescript contains several holographic notations in Houdini's hand as well as other revisions in the hand of his assistant Oscar Teale. Provenance: The Collection of Milbourne Christoper, sold at Swann Galleries, October, 1997 (lot 191); a private collection since. Bookplate from the Christopher Collection inside the rear cover. Apart from a facsimile of this typescript printed while part of the Christopher collection, this revision has never been published.

Click here to view the auction page and bid at PBA Galleries.

Thanks to Greg Jung of PBA Galleries for permission to use this photo.

UPDATE: No sale for Spirits typescript.