Sunday, March 31, 2013

Penn & Teller to get Walk of Fame star near Houdini, Friday

My favorite magicians Penn & Teller will receive a star on the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame this Friday, April 5, at 11:30am. Their star will sit at 7003 Hollywood Boulevard, just steps from Houdini's star at the corner of Hollywood and Orange. Here's part of the official press release:

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is prepping for a magical day on the Walk of Fame when magicians Penn & Teller will be honored with the 2,494th star on the famed Walk of Fame. “We selected the perfect spot for the star,” stated Ana Martinez, Walk of Fame Producer. “It will be unveiled at 7003 Hollywood Boulevard just steps away from the star of legendary Houdini and right down the street from the historic The Magic Castle!” 
The Magic Castle, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, will be honoring Penn & Teller the following day on Saturday, April 6th with the coveted "Magicians of the Year" Award.

Gubler and guest speakers David Copperfield, Trey Parker and Matt Stone will help the duo Penn & Teller unveil the 2,494th Star in the Category of Live Performance at 7003 Hollywood Boulevard down the street from the historic The Magic Castle. 
“Fans can watch the thrill LIVE on!” said Martinez.

Thanks for Joe Fox for the tip. 

Happy Easter

Happy Easter from WILD ABOUT HARRY and remember...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cardini auction includes this curious Milk Can challenge

On April 6, 2013, Potter & Potter will hold a remarkable auction of Cardini memorabilia. Apart from Houdini, I don't think I've ever seen an auction of so much material from a single magician.

In the auction are a several items of Houdiniana, but one that really stands out for me is this Challenge handbill for a Milk Can escape in Hackney, England (Lot 286). According to the auction listing, this was found among personal papers kept by Houdini and later Bess.

Not only is this a handbill I've never seen before, but the auction dates it as 1905. Now, I know that Houdini did the Milk Can as a challenge before he introduced it as his "original creation"...but 1905? That a full three years before the Milk Can was officially introduced and easily the earliest mention of this escape that I can recall.

It's possible this is simply misdated. Derek Tait, an expert on Houdini in Britain and author of Houdini The British Tours, can't place Houdini in Hackey at this time. Derek notes that May 10 fell on a Wednesday in 1905, 1911, and 1916. Derek believes this could be 1911 when Houdini was appearing at the Empire Finsbury Park close to Hackney. That would also make sense as the Milk Can was a feature of his act at this time.

However, why would this particular challenge be kept among Houdini's personal papers? It's not an especially attractive sheet, so I expect it's because it held some significance. If this is from 1905, might this be the first time Houdini performed the Milk Can? Or, even more tantalizing, could it be this was a genuine challenge to escape from an oversized Milk Can (if such a thing really existed) and it's where Houdini got the original idea for his own Milk Can escape?

The auction estimate on this is $4,000/4,500.

You can download or purchase the catalog for "Cardini - The Suave Deceiver" at the Potter & Potter website.

Thanks to Joseph Holland and Derek Tait.

UPDATE: Gabe Fajuri of Potter & Potter comments that the auction lot has been updated to show that the broadside was printed in 1911.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Catch "Houdini" in Philadelphia

A new play, The Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini, opens tonight the Plays and Players Theatre in Philadelphia. The play stars Robert DaPonte as Houdini and is part of The Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts which runs March 27 to April 7, 2013.

Photo: Joe Grasso
The world’s greatest magician is about to take his final bow.

Join us as we venture behind the curtain of Houdini’s final performance. A mysterious magician’s assistant prepares the absinthe, the shackles, and a séance. Houdini gasps for breath as his life flashes before his eyes. An invisible crowd applauds. You are the audience for this magic show of life, death, and the beyond. After a lifetime of death defying escapes, Houdini is ready for his final curtain call. You will be there to distinguish reality from fiction – if you can.

Other cast includes Lee Minora as Bess, Griffin Stanton-Ameisen as Hardeen, Maryruth Stine as Mama, and Tyler Horn as Rabbi Weiss. The play is directed by Brenna Geffers with set design by Doug Greene, costumes by Natalia de la Torre, lighting by Matt Sharp, sound by Zachary Wiseleyly, and stage managed by Wesley Reid.

Tom Interval of the website Houdini Museum points out that the Plays and Players Theatre is only a mile from the Chestnut Street Opera House where the real Houdini played a three week engagement in 1926. (I like that kind of stuff.)

Visit the EgoPo website to purchase tickets to The Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini. You can see more photos from the production at the EgoPo Facebook page. If you "Like" the EgoPo Facebook page you can use the code "magic" for $5 off any show.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Houdini #18 in list of Top 100 movies people want to see

The Sleepy Skunk, a website database of Hollywood films both real and hypothetical, now has a page devoted to a generic Houdini biopic. Amazingly, the Houdini biopic is #18 on the site's ranking of "Top 100 Movies We Want To See," topping real upcoming movies like Iron Man 3 and Avatar 2.

The goal of Sleepy Skunk is "to get audiences involved in deciding which movies should be made." It works by allowing members to post their own ideas for who they'd like to see play the lead roles, etc. On the Houdini page so far you'll find this pretty cool fan made poster and the top suggestions of Sean Penn as Houdini and Amy Adams as Bess.

Got the message, Hollywood? (Of course you haven't.)

Thanks to "Houdini FREAK" Gigi Romero (@GigiConG).

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Handcuff King's blog: Freaks of Octoberfest

When Houdini first toured Europe during his early fame as The Handcuff King, he penned a regular column for the New York Dramatic Mirror. The columns are filled with wonderful tidbits about variety performers of the day, and also contain many revealing opinions and slice-of-life gems about Houdini himself. In a way, these can be read as if they are Houdini's own personal blog -- The Handcuff King's blog.

In our last installment, Houdini expressed admiration for Bavarian beer drinkers and shock at the availability of indecent postcards; "after I had purchased all I wanted--that is."

Now we find Houdini still in the capitol city of the German state during a very festive season. It's October 6, 1902, and in an column headlined "Houdini's Entertaining Chat" he writes:

München at the present time is enjoying what is known here as the Octoberfest, and is something on the order of our American Fair Grounds Exhibits. Thousands of small theaters have been built, and also thousands of beer-drinking booths, and therefore the Münchener public is happy. Everything imaginable is on exhibition. Among the freaks I recognize many Americans. Barnum's Aztecs are here. They are now gray-haired and wear whiskers (all except the lady folks), and one of them almost has a beard. The Living Skeleton is married daily to the fat lady for the benefit of the public and incidentaily [sic] the admission fees. The strong man makes love to the tattooed beauty; the magician sells tickets at the door and manages to mix people up with his short change methods, and so it goes. It reminded me of the time when I was traveling with the Welsh Brothers' Circus through Pennsylvania and had to be a freak myself. I was put in a small den and called "Projea, the Wild Man of Mexico." I remember once when Clint Newton threw me some raw meat to eat, he hit me in the eye, and I would not look at him for three weeks, as my eyes were closed. That caused me to become tame, and some one else had to play the wild man of Mexico.

Houdini playing the "Wild Man" has become part of his lore, mainly because it was so memorably portrayed in the 1953 movie Houdini with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. In the film Harry is playing the wild man in a dime museum and this is where he first sees and courts Bess...with disastrous results. "You can have tears in your eyes for the Wild Man; but for The Great Houdini, nothing."

The wild man story was told at length in the first major Houdini biography, Houdini His Life Story by Harold Kellock, and has appeared in many subsequent Houdini biographies. But it wasn't until Ken Silverman's seminal 1996 study, Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, that the full name, "Projea, the Wild Man of Mexico," was ever revealed. Silverman doesn't give his source, but it's likely it was this very column. By the way, the meat thrower, Clint Newton, was the ringmaster of the Welsh Bros. Circus. (Read more about Houdini's tours with the circus here.)

It's fun to see the famous Houdini recalling his days as a sideshow circus freak. And remember; "it was women who made the wild man wild."

Bess meets The Wild Man in Houdini (1953).

Coming next: Breaking into Russia.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Margery "liar" book makes an honest $3,900

A copy of the 1925 book "Margery" The Medium twice signed by Houdini sold for $3,900 in a Martinka auction on Sunday. What makes this copy especially attractive is that Houdini has written across the title page, "The author of this book is a liar."

The author, J. Malcolm Bird, was the chairman of the Scientific American committee that investigated Margery. He was very close to the Crandons -- staying in their home during the investigation -- and acted as Margery informant during the seances. Committee member Dr. Walter Franklin Prince famously said of Bird, "If he wishes to achieve the authority in psychical research which I invoke for him, must hereafter avoid falling in love with the medium."

The auction noted the condition of the book as "very good with a split to the front endpaper which occurred at the annual Houdini Seance." Included was a letter explaining the chain of ownership and photos of the book being examined Anna Thurlow, the great granddaughter of Margery (who graciously gave us an interview here).

Among the other Houdini items sold in the auction were an original portrait shot of Houdini and Bess ($598), a signed photo of Houdini in hat ($1,609), and a signed portrait of Houdini smiling ($1,647).

A magic wand said to have belonged to Hardeen received 11 bids and reached $971, but did not meet the auction's reserve.

Thanks to Joseph Holland and Norman Bigelow for the tips.

Monday, March 25, 2013

LINK: That time Houdini threatened to shoot all the psychics

Skepticblog has posted an interesting and well-researched article by Daniel Loxton about Houdini and Joseph Rinn's early investigations of fraudulent mediums and a bit of "lighthearted terrorism" committed by Houdini in 1896.

Many quickly produced Houdini biographies and especially TV and Hollywood movies root Houdini's anti-spiritualist crusade with his mother's death in 1913. But stories like this show that Houdini's passions and activism pre-dated his mother's death by many years.

Click here or on the headline to have a read at Skepticblog.

Photo from 'Houdini The Key' by Patrick Culliton.

First Annual Houdini Festival coming to Danville, VA

World Champion Illusionist, Wayne Alan, has announced that the "First Annual Houdini Festival" will be held at The Historic North Theatre in Danville, Virginia, June 21-22, 2013. The Historic North Theatre is a beautifully restored 1947 Vaudeville house with a full balcony. The event is open to the general public as well as magicians.

Along with performances "by some of America's top magicians and variety artists", there will be a display of Houdini memorabilia, screenings of two of his movies (no word which movies), plus lectures and demonstrations (according to the official press release, "two are Top Secret- for magicians only"). There will also be a special Halloween attraction, Houdini's Haunted House, in the theatre's basement.

Tickets for the festival are $75.00 for magicians and $55.00 for the general public. Tickets for individual events may also be purchased. Students and children are half price for the Saturday night gala stage show.

Tickets can be reserved by calling 434-793-SHOW (7469) or online at

Thanks to Dean Carnegie at The Magic Detective.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Today is the birthday of Harry Houdini, born 139 years ago on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary to Mayer Samuel and Cecilia Steiner Weiss. Today everyone is wild about Harry!

The Birthday Boy

Birthday wishes from the blogosphere:
Houdini Museum: Happy Birthday, Harry!
The Magic Detective: Happy Birthday Houdini
Houdini Himself: I Still Say April 6th Is My Birthday
Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence: Happy Birthday!
Friends of Justice: Happy Birthday, Harry Houdini
AnneographiesMarch 24 Birthday: Harry Houdini
Tiny Bird Press: Houdini Birthday Tribute Print
HuffPost Live: Happy Birthday Harry Houdini
The Union News: On This Day
The Daily Star: Did you know?
The Buzz About Books: Five Books to Celebrate Harry Houdini Inventors: Happy Birthday Houdini
PDX Retro: Escape Artist Born on This Day in 1874

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Houdini's Charing Cross then and now

Andrew Beer, our man in London, who in the past has provided us with wonderful "Then and Now" photos of the Hippodrome, 20 Hanover Sq, and 12 Methley Street, is back today with this fantastic shot of Charing Cross station in London. I love this kind of stuff!

Houdini at Charing Cross in 1909...
...and the same spot today (2013).

Houdini had strong feelings about train travel in England and tips for how to do so economically. Watch for that in an upcoming installment of "The Handcuff King's Blog." Also, that white round container with HOUDINI written on it contains his Milk Can (as we explored here). By the way, the photo of Houdini was taken on Halloween 1909.

Thank you Andrew!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Houdini tribute print by Rob Schwager

Artist Rob Schwager has created this gorgeous 18″ x 24″ poster print of Houdini in celebration of the Master Mystifier's 139th birthday on Sunday. Rob tells the story of how he became fascinated with Houdini on his website, Tiny Bird Press:

I first learned about Harry Houdini when I was a little kid, one lazy Sunday afternoon while watching the 1953 film starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, on TV.
In that movie, there’s mention of a great magician, named Von Schwager.
Naturally, I had to find out more about this magician who shared a similar surname with me.
I poured over whatever Houdini books that I could get at the library to find out about this mysterious “Von Schwager” person. Turns out, he was just a character made up for the movie. However, in doing all this reading, I came to learn a great deal about the incredible man known as Houdini. I became obsessed. I learned of his meager upbringing. His drive to excel at whatever he did. His incredible work ethic. How reading a book about magician Robert-Houdin, at an early age changed his life and set him on the path that would eventually make “Houdini” a household name. He was the catalyst for my life-long love of the art of magic.
In celebration of Harry Houdini’s 139th birthday, (March 24th) I’m releasing this print, as a small tribute to him. The man who had made a giant impact on my life and inspired my imagination.

Rob's beautiful Houdini Tribute print can be purchased for $40 at the Tiny Bird Press webstore.

UPDATE: I've received my print from Rob and I can assure you it's spectacular! It's printed like a lithograph on very heavy high quality paper. It will frame up beautifully.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Alpha releases Haldane of the Secret Service on DVD

Alpha Video has released Houdini's 1923 silent feature Haldane of the Secret Service on DVD. This marks the first time Haldane has ever been released as a stand-alone DVD.

This was the last film Houdini ever made, and the second for his own Houdini Pictures Corporation. After long being considered a lost film, a fresh print was discovered (here?) and released on the Houdini The Movie Star DVD box set in 2008.

Alpha has also released The Man From Beyond, Terror Island, and Mystic Circle Murder as stand alone DVDs. While these tend to be nothing special as far as the print is concerned, Alpha goes the extra mile with cover art and menus. Cover art for Haldane is a combination of a poster for The Grim Game and typeface from Houdini's Europe's Eclipsing Sensation poster.

You can purchase Alpha Video's new Haldane of the Secret Service DVD from or

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Handcuff King's blog: Art and beer in Bavaria

When Houdini first toured Europe during his early fame as The Handcuff King, he penned a regular column for the entertainment section of the New York Dramatic Mirror back in the USA. The columns are filled with wonderful, bizarre, and sometimes very funny bits of information about variety performers of the day, and give a vivid snapshot of the world of show business during Houdini's emerging super stardom.

There are also many revealing opinions and slice-of-life gems about Houdini himself that have never found their way into any books. In a way, these regular columns can be read as if they are Harry Houdini's very own personal "blog."

Thanks to the great Patrick Culliton, I now have a large collection of these blogs...I mean columns. I've been working my way through them with yellow highlighter and today I'd like to launch a new series, The Handcuff King's blog, in which I'll share some of my discoveries.

Let's start with an entry from September 14, 1902, headlined "Houdini in Bavaria". Houdini was writing from München (Munich) and opened his report by sharing a few observations about the capital city of the German state of Bavaria. The first thing that impressed the famous teetotaler was, surprisingly, the beer:

Well, here I am in the famous city of München, and have admired it until there is nothing else for me to admire. This is the city of "Art and Beer." The beer ought to come first, and just so, as in München it is always beer first and last. They certainly have made it an art, the brewing and drinking of beer. The first thing they do in the morning, after opening their eyes, is to ask "how is the beer to-day?"
I have lived for years in Milwaukee, where every other house seems to be a brewery, and have always had a grand opinion of the beer drinkers there, but they would "away to the rail timbers" if they could could see the amount the average person here can put away.

While Houdini was impressed with the beer drinking, he was shocked (maybe) by another discovery in a München store:

I must make an apology to Paris for what I have said regarding her sale of indecent postcards. The cards sold here openly would make Anthony Comstock blush. I entered a store to purchase a few pictorial cards to send home. The very saintly looking lady behind the counter showed me some cards hanging on the wall, and I turned all colors and hurriedly went away, after I had purchased all I wanted--that is. I did not want them, but simply bought them to show how wicked are the pictorial cards in München. In Paris, London, Belgium and Germany they sell cards secretly, but in Bavaria they are actually sold the same as gum drops. No wonder this city is known for its "Art."

So all Houdini collectors are on notice. Should you find a collection of naughty Bavarian postcards among Houdini's private papers, know they were just purchased so he could show how "wicked" they were. Indeed.

Ironically, it was during this same first tour of Germany that Houdini posed for a famous series of photos in loincloth and shackles, some of which were later used on postcards. Nothing sexy about those.

Coming next: Freaks of Octoberfest.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Houdini's lockpick

Here's a photo of a genuine Houdini lockpick from his 1909 book, Handcuff Secrets. It's popular to think that Houdini wrote Handcuff Secrets as a backdoor exposé of his competitors; but this photo shows that he really did offer up some of his own methods and secrets in the book.

Many of Houdini's lock-picking tools survive today in private collections. Maybe even this one.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Buster Keaton and Houdini art print

Artist Kit Seaton is offering this art print that illustrates the popular story of how Houdini gave silent movie star Buster Keaton his famous nickname. "Buster Keaton and Harry Houdini" can be purchased in different sizes at

Recently the blog Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed tackled the question of whether this story is fact or fiction.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Guest Blog: The Replica Mirror Cuffs

Today I'm honored to present a Guest Blog by Master Locksmith and Mirror Handcuff expert Mick Hanzlik.

Mick Hanzlik Mirror Handcuff replica with keys

Recently on WILD ABOUT HARRY there has been quite a bit of interest in Houdini’s Mirror Handcuff Challenge in 1904, and the question I’d like to answer here, is “How many replica Mirror Cuffs have been made?”

Well, the best known replica is made of solid silver and is in the David Copperfield collection, along with the originals, in his private museum in Las Vegas. This replica was made by British silversmiths Hamilton & Co, and was presented to Houdini after he beat the challenge set by the Daily Illustrated Mirror newspaper.

There have been 3 people that I know of, who have built replica Mirror Cuffs, Ian McColl in Australia, Chris Gower from the UK, and also from the UK, myself, Master Locksmith Mick Hanzlik.

Chris built 2 versions of his cuff. One was cast from aluminium and used a small cabinet type key, and the other was made from heavier cast bronze, and used a Yale type key and locking mechanism. Sizing the cuffs has always been difficult, and the 3 of us have approached this in different ways. Chris used a picture made by a friend of his who drew around the original cuffs when he had the opportunity to examine them.

I’ll mention the other 2 methods later.

Chris Gower replicas with cylinder key (left) and cabinet key (right).

Ian made 3 variants of his cuff, all made of nickel plated brass. One used a long thin key to reach the locking mechanism at the end of the barrel. His second version was similar, but used a long Bramah (UK) key to operate a Bramah mechanism also at the end of the barrel. His third version used a shorter key, very similar in looks to the original keys, with a custom built locking mechanism at the keyhole end of the barrel. Ian sized his cuff by enlarging a picture of the cuffs from one of his Houdini books, and estimating the size of the opening for the wrists.

Ian McColl's new replica (top left), non-Bramah replica (top right),
and Bramah lock replica (bottom).

Now on to my replicas. I originally made the key, using the few photographs that exist. Recognising the end of the key in the photographs was identical to a Bramah key, and as the cuffs were made in the UK, it was a pretty sure bet that part of a Bramah lock was modified to fit inside the barrel, I was able to determine that the tip of the key would have had the same diameter as the Bramah one – 6.5mm. I then enlarged the photograph of the key so that the tip measured 6.5mm. I then had a photo of an actual size key, that I then made in brass and steel, and then had nickel plated.

Mick Hanzlik's replica under construction.

Having made the key, I decided to try to build a set of cuffs to match. I found a photograph on the Internet, which showed a perfect side-on view of the Mirror Cuffs. I enlarged the picture using the key that I made, and ended up with what I think is an actual size set of Mirror Cuffs.

It is uncertain to know exactly if I have the size correct, as I have been unable to get any information from David Copperfield’s museum.

I then designed the individual parts and got the flat pieces laser cut and then I riveted them together. The barrel was welded to the rest of the cuffs and the long process of smoothing the surfaces began. The cuffs were then sent to Ian McColl in Australia, who built the locking bolt which operated with my replica key, using a lock mechanism given to me by Jeremy Bramah. Eventually I built the secondary locking system, which can be seen when looking into the keyhole.

Mick Hanzlik's cuff lock mechanism.

The whole thing was then nickel plated.

So there exists 6 different replica Mirror Cuffs at this moment.

If anyone has any further information, please share it.

The completed Mick Hanzlik Mirror Handcuff replica.

Thank you Mick.

UPDATE: Here is a terrific video of Mick Hanzlik's replica Houdini Mirror Handcuffs in action.

Innocence is your Houdini Girl

Spanish pop star Geraldine Larrosa, known as "Innocence," has released a single from her new album called, Houdini Girl.

Innocence is Lady Gaga meets techno pop by way of Madonna, and it's all on show in the Houdini Girl music video. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I can't embed it here on the site, so you'll have to watch it on YouTube.

According to her official bio, Larrosa's father was the magician, Carlos Corda.

Houdini Girl appears on the album, This Is Love, from Warner Music.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Houdini materializes in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Another week, another major Hollywood movie about a magician. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which opens today, contains fewer nods to Houdini than did last week's OZ The Great and Powerful, but the Master Mystifier still puts in an appearance.

While Houdini doesn't get a proper name-check in this film, you can spot his famous "Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery" poster on the wall of the apartment belonging to assistant and aspiring magician, Jane, played by Olivia Wilde. In fact, it looks like Houdini might be the only male magician to make it onto Jane's wall of fame. My kind of gal.

But the real Houdini connection might lie deeper within this film. Actor Jim Carrey, who steals the movie as Steve Gray, "Brain Rapist", is a self-confessed Houdini admirer. In a May 1998 Q&A with Movieline magazine Carrey was asked if he could dine with any group of people from history, who would they be?

Carrey answered: "Harry Houdini. Benjamin Franklin. Gandhi, I suppose. Jesus."

I was able to catch an advance screening of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone for Magic Castle members last week in Hollywood. I enjoyed it!

Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery poster image from Carnegie: Magic Detective.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Master of Magic variant?

Here's one for the collectors. I recently nabbed this copy of Harry Houdini Master of Magic by Robert Kraske on eBay. I've never seen this book with a green(ish) cover before. This is an ex-library copy so this might just be a library binding and not a true "variant." But it's still a nifty addition to my shelf of Houdini Kid Lit.

Harry Houdini Master of Magic was first published by Garrard Publishing Company in 1973 as part of their "Americans All" series of biographies. The original hardcover editions contained beautiful illustrations by Victor Mays.

Here are a few other versions of the Kraske book in hardcover and later as a Scholastic paperback. The paperbacks do not include the Mays illustrations. Scholastic's latest edition (the USD cover) was also released in a hardcover library binding.

Victor Mays illustrates the dressing room punch.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Original pen and ink USD illustration

David Haversat is selling the original pen and ink illustration of Houdini's Water Torture Cell and East Indian Needle Trick. According to David, this was commissioned by Houdini and was discovered and acquired from the portfolio of artist, Elclock. A photocell of this was offered at the Manny Weltman auction in October of 2002. However, this is the actual signed drawing. It's dated 1913 and measures 10.5" x 14.5".

Houdini used this illustration in advertisements, pitchbooks, and in newspapers across the country. It has been reproduced in many subsequent Houdini books, but this is the first time I've ever seen the now 100-year-old original. Very cool.

David is offering this at a "firm" $5,695. You can contact him via his website, David Haversat Magic. I'd also recommend signing up for David's email list because this is where he makes magic rarities, such as this drawing, available.

UPDATE: This has now sold.

What WOULD Houdini do?

Looks like Houdini is becoming a fashion statement. First there was the Houdini Hoodie from Whoodie (best headline ever), now we have a wave of Houdini-inspired t-shirts.

First up is Ann Arbor T-shirt Company who are offering "What would Houdini do?" t-shirts on Amazon. They come in styles for men, women, and kids. Should you get one? Well, what would Houdini do?

But if these shirts don't do it for you, how about a "Houdini Keg Stand" t-shirt from Headline Shirts. Not completely sure what to make of these, but do you notice anything odd about the image of Houdini suspended in a straitjacket? I'll update with the answer if someone doesn't guess it in the Comments.

Thanks to Adrian Bianco for the tip.

UPDATE: So the curious thing about this image is that it's actually a photo of Tony Curtis in Houdini (1953) with Houdini's head from his Europe's Eclipsing Sensation poster tacked on.

In the workshop...

These are busy days for me out in the real world, so I'm just letting everyone know that my postings here on WILD ABOUT HARRY might be a bit lighter than usual. But don't worry, I won't let any major news slip past. I'm also working on a new series that I think everyone will enjoy tentatively titled: "Notes from a Handcuff King."

Because we all know Houdini doesn't take a day off. Look, there he is now!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Fantastic Four

Continuing my examination of books about Houdini using images and insights from my own collection.

I thought it right to do these books as a set. I call these the Fantastic Four. That's because these four picture-packed Houdini "coffee table" books were all released in 1976-77. What makes this more remarkable is there has never been a Houdini coffee table book before or since. Maybe it was the 50th Anniversary of Houdini's death that inspired publishers to step up and release these books, or maybe it was the new wave of interest in magic brought on by Doug Henning's first television special. But I can't complain, especially as these books all rolled out during the very first year of my interest in Houdini. I got the message, Universe.

The first of the Fantastic Four was The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Walter B. Gibson. This was actually the first new (adult) Houdini book published since Milbourne Christopher's Houdini The Untold Story in 1969. Like Gibson's other work, the book is largely a compilation of already published material. Gems include Houdini's entire Magic Made Easy catalog/pitchbook and some rare letters and documents, including two famously revealing letters Houdini wrote to Hardeen after the death of their mother. Gibson also provides a wonderful introduction in which he recalls meeting Houdini for the first time at 278.

The Original Houdini Scrapbook was first published in paperback in 1976 by Corwin Sterling. A hardcover was released the following year. The cover features the tagline, "when Ragtime was magic," no doubt playing on the success of E.L. Doctrow's bestseller, Ragtime.

The next book to appear was Houdini His Life And Art by Bert Randolph Sugar and James "The Amazing" Randi. This is an under appreciated book, in my opinion. While the pictures are spectacular, the text is equally strong. One doesn't think of James Randi as ever having penned a Houdini biography; but he did and it's here and it's darn good. Houdini His Life and Art was published first in paperback in 1976 by Grosset & Dunlap and a year later as a hardcover.

Houdini A Pictorial Life by Milbourne Christopher appeared in hardcover in 1976 from Thomas Y. Crowell Co. This was Christopher's final Houdini book. It contains a wonderful collection of unpublished photos and a few color pages as well.

Unlike the other Fantastic Four, Houdini A Pictorial Life was never released in paperback. However, it is the only one that was later reprinted. The first was by Gramercy Books in 1998. The Gramcery edition sports nice new dust-jacket artwork, but the photo quality is very dark. It also omits the color pages. In 2010 a "Collector's Edition" was released by 1878 Press. This edition improves on the photo quality and restores the color pages. There's also a new section of material from the Christopher Collection along with a new introduction by David Haversat.

Last (but certainly not least) of the Fantastic Four was Houdini His Legend and His Magic by Doug Henning and Charles Reynolds. The popularity of Doug Henning is clear from the cover, which features a photo of Henning instead of Houdini.

Houdini His Legend and His Magic might be the overall best of the Fantastic Four. It's certainly one of the best Houdini books for photos ever published. Henning had received a wealth of rare material from Houdini's niece, Ruth Kavanaugh, which he generously shares in this book. Whole pages from Houdini's first diary, early scrapbooks, and Bess's personal photo album are all reproduced here. To this day I still marvel at how much this book offers the Houdini enthusiast. When I received this as a gift for Christmas 1977, I was so excited I threw up.

Houdini His Legend and His Magic was released first as a hardcover by Time Books in 1977 and then in paperback by Warner Books in October 1978.

The Houdinis personal photo album in Houdini His Legend and His Magic.

I think we're about due for a new Houdini coffee table book, don't you think? Heck, why not make it four!

Also enjoy:

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mirror, Mirror...

Escape artist Michael Griffin shares this photo he took of the Mirror Handcuff and solid silver replica at the old Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Canada. What makes this photo especially interesting is it shows the keys in the case. Keys -- as in two of them. It's not generally known that the Mirror Handcuff had a duplicate key.

The keys were later removed. They certainly weren't there when I photographed this same display case in 1990 (below). Could it be that we're not supposed to know there were two keys? Paging Mr. Hanzlik.

Thank you, Michael. Perhaps this will unlock a can of worms.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bruce MacNab and David Saltman to speak at D.C. Magic Symposium

Bruce MacNab and David Saltman have been added to growing roster of speakers at The Washington Symposium on Magic History set for April 25-27, 2013 at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center in Bethesda.

Bruce MacNab will be giving a special talk about his highly acclaimed new book, Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini. David Saltman, who runs the blog The Houdini File, will give a talk on inventor/magician Jerry Andrus. He will also share details about his recently completed historical novel that focuses on Houdini's time in Russia.

Another featured speaker will be William Kalush, co-author of The Secret Life of Houdini. There will also be a private showing of rare artifacts from The Library of Congress' Houdini and McManus Young Collections. The event is being hosted by Kenneth Trombly.

For more information and registration details visit the The Washington Symposium on Magic History at

Houdini nods in Disney's new OZ

Houdini gets a few nice nods in the new movie, OZ The Great and Powerful, which is released today by Disney. The movie is a prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz and tells the origin story of the Wizard as well as the Wicked Witch. Lance Burton is credited as the film's magic consultant.

In the early part of the film (which is in black and white and a 1:33 aspect ratio) there are two Houdini playbills on the wall of the traveling circus wagon belonging to magician Oscar Diggs a.k.a. "Oz" played by James Franco. If you have an eagle eye, you can identify the first as an advert for Houdini's short-lived Grand Magical Revue of 1914. The other playbill is actually a Hardeen advert with Hardeen's name masked off. However, Princess Yvonne's name is still visible and gives it away.

Houdini/Hardeen playbills spotted in OZ.

During these same opening scenes, Oscar/Franco gives Houdini himself a nice name-check when he says, "I want to be Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison all rolled into one."

Of course, Franco could have said he wants to be a combination of Harry Keller and Thomas Edison. It's said that Oz author L. Frank Baum modeled his wizard on Kellar, who was then the leading American magician of the day. But I won't deny Houdini the honor. By the way, Baum wrote his OZ novels in a house he called Ozcot, which sat very close to what is today The Magic Castle.

Houdini with OZ inspiration Harry Kellar (NYPL)

While maybe not a deliberate nod to Houdini, it's also worth noting that James Franco's costume bears a striking resemblance to a famous photo of Houdini. If you think I'm looking too hard, know that this same Houdini photo was used as the bases for the costume worn by Harvey Keitel in FairyTale: A True Story, so we know it's a reference photo Hollywood costumer designers have used to in the past. Just saying...

OZ The Great and Powerful co-stars Rachel Weisz as Evanora, and we all know about Rachel's Houdini connection. The magnificent score was composed by Danny Elfman who was originally hired to write the music for the upcoming Houdini Broadway musical. Finally, Mila Kunis, who plays Theodora, once starred in a movie written by a familiar Houdini enthusiast...

For the record, I really enjoyed OZ The Great and Powerful, even beyond the nods to our Harry. I hope we get more OZ adventures from the Mouse House.