Saturday, August 31, 2013

AUDIO: Marie Hinson remembers her sister Bess Houdini

Bess and her sister Marie in 1909. (Photo courtesy John C. Hinson.)

Probably the most incredible experience any Houdini buff can have is talking to someone who actually knew Harry and Bess Houdini. But with the passing of Dorothy Young in 2010, the last living connection to Houdini appears to be gone. To my knowledge there is no one left who knew, or even saw, Houdini in life. The ability to have that most incredible experience is now lost forever.

That's why what I have to share today is, I believe, the most extraordinary thing I've ever posted on this blog. Because today I can offer everyone that very experience!

A few months back Jon Oliver -- the man who sleeps in Houdini's bed -- provided me with audio of Bess Houdini's sister, Marie Hinson (Rahner), being interviewed by Stanley Palm around 1980. The Houdinis were very close with Marie and her husband John aka "Pop." In fact, Houdini paid for their wedding in 1911. In this amazing interview we hear Marie (who passed away in 1982 at age 95) talking in great detail about her sister and brother-in-law. This is as close as one can get to the real Harry and Bess Houdini!

Jon has given me free rein to present this as I like. I considered transcripts, but there's something about hearing Marie's actual voice that teleports the listener back in time. To hear her talk so matter-of-factly about how Houdini "came to the house"... Wow. So I've decided instead to post three unedited audio excerpts, which I will roll out over the three days of this Labor Day weekend.

Why only excerpts? While the full 42 minute recording is amazing, this was a casual interview and at times Marie expressed non-Houdini related thoughts that seemed too private to post online. Also at times the conversation drifted and stories never quite connected or completed. But I've excerpted three strong sections, each longer than the last, and what I will conclude with on Monday (Labor Day) is the most intimate recollection of Bess Houdini ever to be made public.

Okay, this is it. Thanks to Jon Oliver, Stanley Palm, and with the blessings of John C. Hinson and the Hinson family, the readers of WILD ABOUT HARRY can have the most incredible experience that any Houdini buff can have. Click below and meet a women who knew the real Harry and Bess Houdini and has stories that, as Stanley says in this first installment, "Aren't in any of the books." Enjoy.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Hardeen's unpublished Houdini book

When Theo. Hardeen passed away suddenly on June 12, 1945, he was working on a biography of his famous brother Houdini. It's unclear if the book was ever finished, but it was certainly never published.

Details on this book have been scant, but in the May 1943 issue of The Linking Ring, Hardeen himself discussed the book and even revealed the title! He writes:

Just now I'm writing "The Truth About Houdini", which will tell how he put color and showmanship into the art of the magician. Houdini learned early the box-office value of 'impossible' darning escapes, and no one knows the intimate facts about his life better than I do. We spent years together perfecting the details of our secret routines.

Coincidentally, Hardeen's title was later used for the first major Houdini documentary made by the BBC and Patria Pictures in 1970.

I believe Hardeen's manuscript is now housed in a private collection. It would be great to one day see it published or even excerpted in a magic magazine. Hardeen seemed much less prone to myth-making than the rest of the Houdini organization, so this book might indeed tell The Truth About Houdini.

UPDATE: Did Hardeen reveal Houdini's most secret secret?

Jackman's 'Houdini' might open first in Chicago

The Associated Press has an update on the Broadway Houdini musical starring Hugh Jackman. There's nothing all that new in the report -- which focuses on the work being done by composer Stephen Schwartz -- apart from the suggestion that the play might open in Chicago before heading to Broadway. Here's the article in full:

Associated Press
August 29, 2013

CHICAGO — Acclaimed Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz says he’s hard at work on a full draft of his next endeavor, the musical “Houdini” that has actor Hugh Jackman playing the legendary illusionist.

“I’m specifically writing for Hugh in terms of what I think will sound good in his voice and what sorts of things will really help him to do the things that he does,” Schwartz said in a recent interview with The Associated Press during the Dramatist Guild of America’s conference in Chicago. He is the group’s president.

The Academy Award- and Grammy Award-winner — famous for “Wicked,” ‘’Godspell” and “Pippin” — said a reading of the new full show is scheduled for December and he’s been “writing away on it” with a collaborator. So far, he said, they have a full first act of “Houdini.”

“As soon as we finished it, of course, we immediately said, ‘We have to rewrite this entire thing,’” Schwartz said. “But nevertheless we’re moving on to try to get a complete draft of the show.”

“Houdini” is scheduled to reach Broadway during the 2013-2014 season. Schwartz said he hopes the show will make an out-of-town debut in Chicago before it premieres on Broadway.

So far, the fun, he said, has been writing music and lyrics with Jackman in mind. Schwartz said he’s considering “Where does he want to stretch himself? Where does he want to do something that he feels he has and we feel he has that he hasn’t really shown before?”

In April, admirers of the composer packed Carnegie Hall in New York for a tribute marking both Schwartz’s 65th birthday and the 10th anniversary of “Wicked,” which is still a tough ticket. But that show’s success doesn’t amount to pressure, he said.

“It sort of makes you feel, ‘I have this big hit running, well if this doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz’s work on “Houdini” could serve to counteract what he calls a recent “artistic slump” in commercial musical theater with shows that he says are safe and formulaic.

“I’ve found the last couple of Broadway seasons pretty disappointing from the point of view of musicals,” Schwartz said. “Though from the point of view of plays it’s been pretty exciting.”

Besides “Houdini,” Schwartz has been focusing on his role as president of the dramatist guild, which represents more than 6,000 playwrights, composers, lyricists and librettists. Besides Schwartz its board of directors includes Stephen Sondheim, Edward Albee, Terrence McNally and Tony Kushner.

Schwartz cited censorship at schools and theaters as one threat that is proving stifling and discouraging for playwrights. He said his own 1971 work, “Godspell,” has become more controversial recently.

“It’s very discouraging if you write something and then you can’t get it on unless it’s approved by the establishment that happens to be in power,” Schwartz said, adding that he would remind theater groups and producers, “Why they went into this business in the first place? Why did they want to be a theater?”

The guild hopes to prevent that discouragement, he said.

“The whole reason that all of us became writers is that we have things we want to say and issues we want to deal with and I believe very strongly in the right to self-expression,” Schwartz said.

The guild has the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund that can help writers with censorship, copyright and other issues, he said.

“Really that’s what theaters should be doing, is causing audiences and people to think about things and look at things in a different way,” Schwartz said. “Not flag-waving for whatever the prevailing point of view is at that point.”

Thanks to Adam Steinfeld.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


It's been a big summer here at WILD ABOUT HARRY. We've enjoyed a local Houdini play, discovered a lost Houdini scrapbook, and crossed over 1 million pageviews. So I've decided to end the summer with what I think is the most incredible thing I've ever posted on this blog.

Truth be told, I've been sitting on this for months. I've not posted it because to do it justice I needed to master some new technology. I haven't entirely mastered the technology so my presentation might not be all that it could be -- but the content will blow you away!

It will take three days to roll this out in the right way, so I've chosen to do so over the upcoming 3-day Labor Day weekend when you can sit back and soak in what I have to share. Trust me, it's WILD!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Arthur Moses helps kick off Extreme Collectors

The Houdini collection of our friend Arthur Moses will be featured on the debut episode of the new series, Extreme Collectors. The show airs in Canada on Slice TV this Monday, September 2, 2013.

Extreme Collectors is a show based upon a very simple truth – the world is full of collectors. The series follows host Andrew Zegers as he travels in search of truly incredible and unique collections.

In this episode Andrew is in Dallas, Texas, where everything is bigger… starting with a house full of thousands of action figures. He also discovers an unbelievable clock shrine, a Coca-Cola paradise, and ends up in straitjacket when he checks out an incredible Houdini collection.

It appears that Slice TV is only available in Canada. However, the Slice website features video, so hopefully this episode will be posted there.

Houdini cameo in Buster biography

Here's one that slipped past when it was first released in 2008. The children's biography Keep Your Eye On The Kid: The Early Years of Buster Keaton by Catherine Brighton immortalizes the moment when baby Buster falls down the stairs and Houdini gives him his famous nickname.

Of course, Keaton historians dispute the veracity of this. Apparently Joe Keaton assigned the honor of his son's naming to various famous personalities in his lifetime. But Houdini is the one that history decided to keep. Of course!

Keep Your Eye On The Kid: The Early Years of Buster Keaton is available on

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rare Russian Houdini book from 1927

Here's something that should send collectors scrambling. This is a book about Houdini by Eugene Tolkachev published in Russia in 1927. The title, Гарри Гудини - разоблачитель спиритов, translates as "Harry Houdini - The debunker of spiritualists".

This gem was uncovered by our friend Alexey Kozlov, a blogger and Houdini buff from Belarus (who last gave us a look at his Russian Gresham). Alexey has provided a description of the book with translation:

Я помню гастроли Гарри Гудини в Москве в 1903-1904 гг. В те годы я, восторженный несмышленыш, разинув рот, глядел, как худенького дядю в трико обвертывали корабельными целями, заковывали в старинные, архивные наручники и закрывали ширмой. Лязг железа и через минуту дядя бывал свободен. Толпа недоверчиво косилась, и желающие из публики самолично пыхтели, связывая худенького человека. Приносили с собой хитроумные замки (тогда были еще старинные амбарные замки бочонками, открывавшиеся не ключей, а винтом), и все же Гудини через две-три минуты появлялся без оков. 
(Translation by Google)
I remember Harry Houdini's tour in Moscow in 1903-1904. In those years I, enthusiastic silly, mouth agape, looking like a skinny Uncle in tights enveloping naval targets, shackled to old, archival cuffs and closed the screen. The clanking of iron and a minute's uncle visited free. The crowd in disbelief askance, and volunteers from the public puffing himself by tying a skinny person. Brought with them sophisticated locks (then still have old granary barrels locks, keys do not open, and turning), and yet Houdini after two or three minutes, appeared without shackles.

What I find intriguing about this book is that it pre-dates Kellock by a year, so it looks like this might be the first book ever published about Houdini outside his own pitchbooks and promotional material. Interesting that it would be about his Spiritualist debunking and not his magic or escapes. And how awesome is it that the book contains the author's own childhood recollections of seeing Houdini during his Russian tour in 1903?

Happy hunting, Comrades.

For Houdini's own account of his adventures in Russia, revisit: The Handcuff King's blog: Breaking into Russia.

UPDATE: The amazing Conjuring Arts Research Center is offering a PDF of this book for only $4.99. Click here to buy.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Meanie Houdini

This is pretty interesting. Can't say I've ever heard anything about Houdini being banned from a city or harassing a medium to death (literally), but according to the bright young Megan here, it's "99% absolutely positively true." So over to Megan:

UPDATE: It appears Megan has moved on and delated her YouTube channel. It's too bad. This was charming and also intriguing.

Houdini Club of Wisconsin holds 75th convention this weekend

The Houdini Club of Wisconsin will hold its 75th annual convention this Labor Day weekend at the Middleton Marriot Hotel in Middleton, WI. The convention features world class magic shows, contests, dealers, merchandise, lectures and educational programs, and an award banquet. Evening shows are open to the public.

The Houdini Club of Wisconsin was founded in 1938 by three corresponding magical devotees, who wanted to have a state-wide magic club with the potential for an occasional get-together. The club would be linked by means of a newsletter-The Houdini Gram, with periodical distributions and by a yearly get-together. This new club was built on the existing membership of another organization called, The Houdini Club, which was founded in 1915.

Of all the magicians, why name a club after Houdini? It seemed logical to the founders that such a great organization should be named after one of the greatest magicians of all time, Harry Houdini. Harry lived for a time in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The Houdini Club has grown and it includes 130 members, mostly throughout Wisconsin as well as fifteen other states and Canada!

For more information on the Houdini Club of Wisconsin 75th convention visit the official website. Also look for a full page ad for WILD ABOUT HARRY in the official convention program.

Click here for some rare photos of Bess Houdini presenting an award at the 1941 convention.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

New Italian Houdini DVD è bello!

A new Italian DVD of the 1953 Paramount classic Houdini (Il Mago Houdini) has been released by Cineteca. This is worth getting just for the beautiful cover art! This artwork actually comes from a French poster of the period.

This DVD has the English soundtrack with Italian subtitles, as well as an Italian dub track in stereo and Dolby 5.1.

Il Mago Houdini can be purchased direct from the Italian, or from the U.S. via third party. But know that this is a Region 2 DVD that will not play on most U.S. players.

Click here to read more about Paramount's classic Houdini.

Jamie Nichols assumes the pose

Okay, maybe not exactly the pose, but he's getting close!

Jamie Nichols plays Houdini in a new UK stage production, Houdini, also starring Stuart Brennan as Theo and Evanna Lynch as Bess. I had the great pleasure of talking with Jamie yesterday via Skype, and he tells me he and his fellow cast members occasionally cruise this blog for research -- which is a real honor. From what he shared, it sounds like this production is going to be excellent!

Houdini is set to open at the Stoke-on-Trent Rep Theatre on September 9, 2013. Visit for tour details and to book tickets.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The first time Adrien Brody played "Harry Houdini"

The big news this week was the greenlight given to History's upcoming 4-hour Houdini miniseries with Adrien Brody playing the master magician. But did you know Brody played Houdini once before? In the 1999 film, Oxygen, Brody played a kidnapper and killer who goes by the name of "Harry Houdini" and leaves clues to his crimes on Houdini's grave.

The movie didn't actually film at Houdini's real gravesite at Machpelah Cemetery. Instead it used much more modest mock-up of Houdini's grave, photos of which still get mixed into Google image searches for Houdini's real final resting place.

Oxygen is available on DVD. With Brody now set to play the real thing, this one might be worth adding to the collection.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Here are the missing headstones for Gladys and Leopold Weiss

Yesterday I posted a 1996 article from the New York Times about the troubled upkeep of Houdini's grave. The article mentioned the headstones belonging to Houdini's siblings Leopold and Gladys which have not been seen since they were damaged by vandalism in 1993. The Times article stated that "some members of the Society [of American Magicians] say they believe that Mr. Jacobson has hidden them, or worse, sold them off to collectors."

Well, that's not true, and here's the proof. Here are the headstones as photographed by our friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton. David Jacobson, the manager of Machpelah Cemetery (which went bankrupt in 1987 and is now state owned), has kept them safe in storage until funds can be raised to have them replaced.

The obvious question is why the stones weren't replaced during the 1995 restoration with the $25,000 raised by the S.A.M. with the help of David Copperfield and James Randi? Unfortunately, I don't have the answer to that, and the S.A.M. no longer provides money for the upkeep of Houdini's grave. There has also been some recent friction among the parties who have in the past looked after the plot, so at the moment there are no plans to restore these markers.

Hopefully a way to raise the necessary funds will be found and Gladys and Leopold will get their headstones back in place. It's really a shame that these graves have remained unmarked for 20 years. In fact, we are in danger of a generation not even knowing that Gladys and Leo are buried with their family and big brother Houdini.

Grave timeline:
  • 1916: Houdini erects plot and exedra in memory of his parents.
  • November 4, 1926: Houdini is buried in plot.
  • 1927: S.A.M. holds memorial service and unveils Houdini bust by John Cassidy (and exedra S.A.M. emblem?).
  • April 1975: Original Houdini bust is smashed by vandals.
  • Spring 1976: S.A.M. replaces Houdini bust with replica.
  • August 1983: Second Houdini bust is stolen. Replaced by S.A.M. with replica.
  • 1987: Machpelah Cemetery goes into bankruptcy. State takes ownership.
  • November 1990: Third Houdini bust is stolen. (Replaced?)
  • 1994: Benches smashed and Gladys/Leopold headstones damaged on May 25.
  • 1996: Grave is restored with funds raised by the S.A.M. with help from David Copperfield and James Randi. Houdini bust and Gladys/Leopold headstones are not replaced.
  • March 2002: Police recover bust stolen in 1983 (returned to S.A.M. in 2011).
  • 2007: S.A.M. stops paying for the upkeep of the plot.
  • September 2011: Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz replace Houdini bust with replica.
  • January 2013: Anonymous owner shares photos of original smashed bust on WILD ABOUT HARRY.
  • UPDATE: December, 2013: S.A.M. announces it will resume paying for the upkeep of the Houdini gravesite.

Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton for allowing me to share these photos.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

1996: Houdini's grave plot thickens

The following article dated November 24, 1996 comes from the archives of The New York Times. I thought I'd archive it here as well. What I find interesting is the mention of the grave markers belonging to the last surviving Weiss siblings, Gladys and Leopold. To this day they are still missing from the plot. Were they indeed "sold off to collectors" as the article says some S.A.M. members suspect?

Check out WILD ABOUT HARRY tomorrow when I will provide the answer.

Houdinis' Plot Is Cleared Up, and Then Thickens
Published: November 24, 1996
Correction Appended

It's a mystery, with a little touch of sleight-of-hand.

After years of neglect and mindless vandalism, the final resting spot of the world's greatest escape artist, Harry Houdini, is finally getting a face lifting.

Two granite benches that were smashed to pieces in 1993 have been replaced this year. The enormous family monument has been cleaned and patched up, the granite crypt covers restored and the tomb foundations rebuilt.

The question is, whodunit?

Credit for the restoration of the 24-person family plot in Machpelah Cemetery in Ridgewood is a bone of contention between the Society of American Magicians and the operator of the cemetery, David Jacobson. The two parties have been bickering since Mr. Jacobson barred the society three years ago from performing a "broken wand" ritual on Oct. 31, the anniversary of Houdini's death. In the ritual, a "magic wand" is broken to symbolize the end of the magician's power.

The society claims to have raised $25,000 for the reconstruction of the crypt, most of it donated by David Copperfield, the illusionist.

"We did it to honor Houdini, who did the same for other magicians," said John Bohannon, president of the Parent Chapter of the Society of American Magicians in New York.

Houdini, a founding member of the society and president of the New York chapter, was known to visit the grave sites of magicians and often paid for their upkeep.

"Houdini made sure that other magicians' graves were respected and repaired," Mr. Bohannon said. "It's ironic this happened to him."

The cemetery's operator scoffed at the suggestion that the society paid for anything more than the reconstruction of the foundation pads, at a cost of $749, and the new granite benches.

"The Society of American Magicians never paid the cemetery for any restoration of the Houdini family plot in my tenure since 1988," Mr. Jacobson said.

The money came from the dwindling funds of the Machpelah Cemetery, he said.

The site is the final resting place of Houdini -- he was born Erich Weiss and grew up in Harlem -- along with his wife, his mother and 21 other relatives. Houdini is entombed in a bronze coffin, the same one he used for an escape stunt on his final tour. The granite monuments of Houdini's sister, Gladys, and brother, Leopold, are missing. Some members of the society say they believe that Mr. Jacobson has hidden them, or worse, sold them off to collectors.

"I have them," Mr. Jacobson replied. "They are broken and I'm looking for someone to restore them."

Houdini did not return calls.

Correction: December 15, 1996, Sunday An article in the Neighborhood Report on Nov. 24 about the tomb of the magician Harry Houdini, in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, misstated the number of people buried in the Houdini family plot. There are 10, not 24. The article also misstated the burial place of Houdini's wife. It is Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., not Machpelah. The article also misidentified the Manhattan neighborhood where Houdini lived as a teen-ager. It was Yorkville, not Harlem. And the article included an outdated reference to John Bohannon, a member of the Society of American Magicians, which maintains the Houdini grave site. He is a former president of the society's New York chapter, not the current president.

You can read more about the controversy involving the upkeep, or the lack thereof, of Houdini's family plot HERE.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Society of American Magicians to resume upkeep of Houdini's grave

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Houdini's sister Gladys Weiss in 1957

Here is a photo of Houdini's sister, Carrie Gladys Weiss, in 1957 at age 75. She's pictured here with Gerri Larsen, mother of Magic Castle co-founders Bill and Milt Larsen, and Art Baker. This photo was taken by James Randi at a party held at the home of Meyer Silberstein on Sept 8, 1957. It appeared in the November 1957 issue of The Linking Ring. Gladys passed away in January 1959.

You can read more about the somewhat elusive Carrie Gladys Weiss HERE. And make sure to come back at the end of this week when I'll offer up a Gladys artifact unseen for 20 years.

The 39 Clues Houdini Escape available in printed edition

This one slipped past me when it was released back in April, but it appears you can now get a printed version of Clifford Riley's The Houdini Escape in this collected volume, The 39 Clues: The Cahill Files: Spymasters. Riley's short Houdini adventure was released last year only as an eBook. Here's the description on Amazon:

Three amazing adventure stories from the Cahill vault! Read at your own risk.

In 1814, redcoats burned the White House to the ground. In 1889, Harry Houdini discovered a trick that would save his life. In 1955, the U.S. launched the world's first nuclear submarine. And one family pulled the strings behind the scenes at each of these events: the Cahills--the most powerful family the world has ever known.

Now the Cahills have opened their vault and dangerous secrets are pouring out. This volume contains three stories previously-published as ebook adventures, THE REDCOAT CHASE, THE SUBMARINE JOB, and THE HOUDINI ESCAPE, three stories that will change history as we know it forever. Flee alongside a young Cahill as Washington burns, unlock Houdini's magic, and stow away with young Fiske Cahill on a desperate mission that could cost him his life.

Venture into the vault if you dare. But don't say we didn't warn you.

Purchase The 39 Clues: The Cahill Files: Spymasters on Amazon.

UPDATE: Now that I have this in hand, I can add that it has a nice photo of Houdini on the front and back endpapers.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


WILD ABOUT HARRY has just crossed over one million pageviews since it first went live on November 10, 2010.


Thanks to everyone for visiting and supporting this blog and for keeping Houdini's legacy alive and thriving online.

Monday, August 19, 2013

IT'S ON! History greenlights Houdini miniseries

Just few days after I posted my rundown of the various Houdini movies in development in Hollywood and asked the question which one, if any, will break free of Development Hell first -- we have our answer!

History announced today that they has given the greenlight to their four-hour Houdini miniseries. Adrien Brody will play Houdini with Kristen Connolly (House of Cards) as Bess. Oscar nominee Uli Edel will direct the project, which is a Lionsgate/A&E Studios co-production. The executive producer is Gerald W. Abrams.

History has also confirmed my own sneaky little scoop that Houdini is written by Nicholas Meyer (whose father wrote the 1976 book, Houdini: A Mind in Chains).

Other crew include Patrizia von Brandenstein (Amadeus) as production designer and Karl Walter Lindenlaub as the cinematographer. Dirk Hoogstra and Julian P. Hobbs will oversee for History.

Production is set to begin in the fall.

Houdini follows the man behind the magic as he finds fame, engages in espionage, battles spiritualists and encounters the greatest names of the era, from U.S. presidents to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Grigori Rasputin. The drama will chronicle the life of a man who can defy death through his stunts, his visions and his mastery of illusion.

"It's not magic that History has established a strong track record with its high-quality historical dramas from quality auspices. We’re excited to build on that tremendous momentum with Houdini," said Dirk Hoogstra at History. "The Great Harry Houdini is a fascinating man in history and I have no doubt that Adrien Brody will bring the magician’s riveting story to life for our audience."

Kristen Connolly as Bess.
"Since my childhood, when I dreamed of being a great magician, Harry Houdini has been one of my heroes," Brody said. "His bravery and obsessive determination still fascinate me. Houdini mastered the art of escape -- not only from physical chains, but from poverty and the social constraints of a humble immigrant origin. His life story appeals to the universal longing for acceptance with which we all can identify. To portray him is beyond an honor."

Added Lionsgate Television Group president Kevin Beggs: "It's exciting to be working with History, Adrien and our extraordinary creative and producing partners on Houdini. We're also delighted to be expanding Lionsgate's overall relationship with A+E Networks."

The inclusion of Lionsgate as a co-producer is a surprising bit of news. Lionsgate had been developing their own Houdini project based on the book The Secret Life of Houdini. So what might this mean for that project?

This is awesome news. This marks their first new Houdini film production in five years and, yay, it's a biopic!

I'm going to need a bigger blog.

Uncovering Houdini's "extra special" performance in Leeds

The Yorkshire Evening Post has an article about the recent restoration of the historic City Varieties music hall in Leeds, and the discovery of some interesting artifacts concealed beneath the floorboards. The article by Chris Bond kicks off with a nice mention of Houdini in a recently uncovered ledger:

When Harry Houdini appeared at Leeds City Varieties way back in 1904, he was arguably one of the most famous people in the world.

Getting the great “Handcuff King” to perform at the venue was a major coup and they paid the legendary escape artist £130, 18 shillings and six pence (roughly £7,500 in today’s money) - the most anyone had ever been paid to appear at the theatre.

Houdini’s performance was described by the theatre’s manager as “extra special” which he’d written in big, bold letters in the records book kept at the time.

It’s a fleeting glimpse into the rich heritage of the City Varieties and just one of the fascinating snippets of information that have been unearthed as part of an ongoing project following the theatre’s £9.9 million renovation which was completed two years ago.

You can read the full article at The Yorkshire Evening Post.

Genii and The Magic Castle reunite in new deal

Some big news today from Richard Kaufman, editor and publisher of Genii Magazine, and the Academy of Magical Arts. Here's the full press release:

August 19, 2013


Genii, The Conjurer’s Magazine, and The Academy of Magical Arts are proud to announce a new association, and special feature for magician members of Academy of Magical Arts.

Beginning with the October issue, magician members will receive paid electronic monthly subscriptions to Genii as part of their membership.

“Thanks to the Board of the Academy, all magician members will now be paid subscribers to Genii,” according to Richard Kaufman, editor and publisher of Genii. “In addition, this is the beginning of an important and wonderful association between the magazine and the club. Genii will be featuring a new section of the magazine devoted to the Academy within its pages, and Genii subscribers will be able to make arrangements to visit their world famous clubhouse, The Magic Castle.” The Academy of Magical Arts is a private club, and visits are usually limited to members and their friends.

“I was proud to be able to put this deal together,” Neil Patrick Harris, president of the Board of Directors of the Academy of Magical Arts, explains. “The Magic Castle is a one-of-a-kind place. It’s not only a popular club and entertainment venue, but it’s an inspiration in our world of magic. This means that our membership will benefit from the latest thinking, the latest news in the world of magic. It’s a great gift to our magicians. I’ve always been a big fan of Genii.”

Genii and the Academy of Magical Arts have had a long, proud association over the years. The magazine is now the oldest continuously published independent magic magazine, and also the largest—both in terms of pages, as well as number of subscribers. It was originally founded in 1936 by editor William Larsen, Sr., of Los Angeles.

“He was the father of Bill, Jr. and Milt,” Kaufman explains. “Gerrie Larsen and her son Bill went on to edit Genii after his father’s death, and in 1962 Bill and Milt founded the Academy of Magical Arts, and in 1963, open the clubhouse The Magic Castle, the most prestigious magic club in the world.”

For many years, when it was edited by the Larsen family, Genii magazine regularly featured news and features from The Magic Castle. “After Bill’s death, the magazine was edited by his wife Irene, his son Dante, and then his daughter Erika,” according to Kaufman. “Genii and The Magic Castle were tied together tightly, in the affections of magicians around the world.” In 1998, Genii was sold to magic publisher Kaufman in order to continue its long run. “It was a selfless act on the part of Irene and her children,” Kaufman says. “They had a number of options, but they wisely chose to keep the magazine running.”

Erika Larsen, who edited the magazine before Kaufman, is now the Vice-President of the Board of Directors of The Academy of Magical Arts. “For the last year, we’ve been exploring ways of reuniting Genii with the Academy,” Erika Larsen says. “Richard had some very good ideas, and we were enthused about finding a way to offer subscriptions to Genii to our magician members, because it’s always been a valuable and important publication on the art of magic.”

The Board of Directors negotiated this arrangement: Genii subscribers will be allowed an annual reservation and visit to the club, and the Academy of Magical Arts will pay for magician members to receive electronic subscriptions. A feature of Genii subscriptions is access to the prestigious archives of all 75 years of the magazine; now Magic Castle magician members will be able to read the latest Genii news, and also access all of the important articles from 1936.

“In the spirit of Bill Larsen, Genii will remain an independent magazine,” Kaufman says, “but we’ll benefit from the energy of the Academy.” Genii will not serve as the newsletter of the club; the club newsletter will continue to be published for members by the Academy of Magical Arts.

“We’ve always been proud of Genii,” Erika Larsen says. “It’s a part of the Larsen family tradition, and we’re proud that it’s part of the Academy’s tradition again.”

“It really is a historic event in the world of magic, and I couldn’t be more pleased to partner with the Academy of Magical Arts,” according to Richard Kaufman. “The magicians who are members of the club will officially be part of our Genii family. That’s the way that it’s supposed to be. We know that they’ll enjoy the magazine, which I feel is at the top of its game, with great columnists, great features, and innovative magic. I am extremely proud of our new association.”

Details will be provided to members of the Academy of Magical Arts within the coming weeks so they can activate their digital subscriptions to Genii, The Conjurors' Magazine.

Of course, Genii and Houdini have also had a long association. The original editor, William Larsen, was Bess Houdini's lawyer, and Bess was a big supporter of the magazine during its formative years. Last year I ran a series looking back at all the Houdini-Genii issues which you can revisit HERE.

Congratulating Genii and The Magic Castle on this exciting new deal. It's great to see these two gems of the magic world reunited.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Haldane slide spies $494 on eBay

A glass advertising slide for Houdini's 1923 silent feature, Haldane of the Secret Service, sold on eBay today for $494.88. I expected this one to fetch a nice price and I wasn't wrong (it received 19 bids). These types of glass slides were projected on movie screens in-between shows and were one of the earliest forms of in-theater advertising.

The image on this slide intrigues me as it's unlike any other Haldane adverting I've ever seen. It's certainly not a scene from the film, so it was probably not made specifically for this ad. As some Haldane advertising mixed images from past Houdini promotional material (example here), might this be an image from a long lost Houdini poster? That would be cool. But the artwork looks a little more like a magazine illustration than anything ever used on a Houdini poster. Still, it's a beauty, and I expect someone is a happy collector today.

Speaking of Haldane of the Secret Service advertising, our friend Kevin Connolly recently teased on his blog Houdini Himself that he has a Haldane of the Secret Service pressbook. Kevin will be sharing select pages from that pressbook in the coming days.

When Blackstone, Houdini, and Thurston shared a stage

This Blackstone playbill was recently snatched up on eBay for a Buy It Now of $69.99. Notice the reference to a seance in which Blackstone would attempt to contact Houdini and Thurston. As this was a proper midnight Spook Show, I'm sure manifestations occurred, and I would love to know how Blackstone interacted with his two "Dead Friends" in magic.

You can read about the history of Spook Shows at Doctor Screams Spook Show Revival. There is also a book about the phenomena called Ghostmasters by Mark Walker.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Hollywood's Houdini development slate (UPDATED)

Hollywood is hot to make a movie about Houdini. But what kind of movie is something the dream factory can't seem to figure out. Here's a rundown of all the Houdini projects currently in development to my knowledge. Which one of these, if any, will break free from Development Hell? That's the real mystery.

Houdini Miniseries - HISTORY
The most recently announced Houdini project is a two-night television miniseries with Adrien Brody attached to star (working title: Houdini). Reports say the miniseries "traces the arc of the turn-of-the-20th-century master magician's life from desperate poverty to worldwide fame." Veteran TV producer Gerald W. Abrams (J.J. Abrams father) is attached as executive producer.

In May of this year Brody said they were still in the "beginning stages," but my spirit guide tells me the network has a finished screenplay by writer-director Nicholas Meyer (whose father, Bernard C. Meyer, wrote Houdini A Mind in Chains). See: History has a script for their Houdini miniseries.

Are we Wild about History's Houdini? Yes! Even though I'm still warming to the idea of Adrien Brody as Houdini, this is the project I'd most like to see made as it's the only one that appears to be approaching Houdini's story as a traditional biography. And History did a great job promoting their recent miniseries The Bible and The Hatfields and The McCoys, so this could be a real event.

UPDATE (8/19/14): IT'S ON! History greenlights Houdini miniseries.

The Secret Life of Houdini - Lionsgate
Intrigued by the idea that Houdini might have once worked as a spy, in 2009 Summit Entertainment (which later merged with Lionsgate) picked up the feature-film rights to The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. The studio announced plans to launch a fictional action adventure franchise "featuring a character who is part Indiana Jones and part Sherlock Holmes."

The project has since gone through a turbulent development. Jeff Nathanson was originally attached to write and direct, but that didn't seem to work out. Gary Ross and Joe Wright have both come and gone as potential directors. Now the project has a new screenplay by Noah Oppenheim and the most recent news is that Dean Parisot (Reds 2) is in talks to direct.

Are we Wild? I'm conflicted about this movie, just as I'm conflicted about the Secret Life book itself. Lionsgate certainly knows how to make, shape, and sell a movie for today's audience (The Hunger Games anyone?), but I'm not crazy about having something that further perpetuates the idea that Houdini was a secret agent. Despite my respect for the authors of the book, it's a theory I just can't get behind. And wasn't this movie already made in 1923 as Haldane of the Secret Service?

Houdini - Sony/Columbia
Can you believe this project has been in development for 40+ years? This isn't Development Hell, it's Development Purgatory. But at least they are still trying, and now the project has a screenplay by Scott Frank (Minority Report) and a director in Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants). But the real mystery of this latest incarnation is the plot.

News reports in 2011 said the movie would be about Houdini falling in love with a beautiful spiritualist, which sounded a lot like Death Defying Acts. But my own Top Secret sources tell me the real plot is about Houdini and Chung Ling Soo working together to break a man out of prison. In fact, Chung Ling Soo plays as big a roll in the movie as Houdini. The script is also said to include a large element of the supernatural.

Are we Wild? Even though it's fiction, yes, I'm excited about this project. This feels more like an "untold" episode of Houdini's life, so it doesn't have that same stigma of rewriting history that the Lionsgate project has. But this company seems chronically incapable of getting Houdini on the screen, and I'm spooked that we haven't heard anything about this project in a few years.

Among The Spirits - NBC
In February 2011 Syfy announced plans to make Among the Spirits, a dramatic "steampunk" television series featuring Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle solving mysteries in the 1920s. The series would be written and produced by Steve Valentine and Paul Chart, and is reportedly based on a graphic novel of the same name (although I've never been able to track down a copy).

The announcement received a lot of press in 2011, but then nothing. Now word is the series has moved to NBC, but NBC has said nothing about it officially.

Are we Wild? Yeah, a little. I'm not turning cartwheels over the concept, but I think it has potential and I'd love a weekly Houdini TV series to blog about. And if they really drilled down and studied Houdini's spirit investigations, they could come up with some great episodes. Margery as the season finale? Could be fun.

Voices from the Dead - DreamWorks
In 2011 DreamWorks purchased the original screenplay Voices from the Dead from screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski. The script finds Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle teaming up with a psychic to solve a set of murders in 1920's New York. Yes, it's pretty much the same idea as the Syfy/NBC series, and maybe it's not a coincidence that it was purchased in the same month. It's also the same idea of a half-dozen books and graphic novels, yet it reportedly sold because of the "originality" of the idea. Amazing. Since the purchase, there has been no news.

Are we Wild? While I want a Houdini feature film, a Houdini-Doyle mash-up feels done to death. And, again, do we really want to see Houdini as a detective?

The Houdini Inheritance - Walden Media
Back in July 2012 The Hollywood Reporter broke the "exclusive" news that Chuck co-creator Chris Fedak had been hired to write an untitled Houdini project for Walden Media. According to the report, the story centers on "an unsuspecting high schooler who finds himself in grave danger when he discovers a family secret leading back to the legendary illusionist." Mark Waters is attached to produce and direct through his Watermark Pictures.

Walden's Houdini project has actually been in development since 2006, with Brett Merryman writing the initial screenplay. But it sounds like it received new life with Fedak, although there hasn't been any fresh news on the project in over a year.

Are we Wild? Ambivalent. It's a movie for kids, and from the description, it sounds like it's set in contemporary times. So it's not really a movie about Houdini himself. Maybe Hollywood should realize how much kids love the Tony Curtis Houdini biopic.

UPDATE (5/19/14): Houdini escapes Walden Media.

The Houdini Box - 20th Century Fox
In 2012, 20th Century Fox-based Chernin Entertainment purchased the film rights to Brian Selznick's illustrated children's book The Houdini Box. The book tells the story of a young boy who receives a box from Houdini just before the magician's death. Adventure ensues.

In 2013 Chernin announced that Irish filmmaker Kealan O'Rourke would write and direct the project. O'Rourke is a veteran of short films and animation, The Houdini Box would mark his feature film debut.

Are we Wild? I have the same feelings about this as I have about the Walden project, although at least this one is set in Houdini's day and will have at least one scene with the magician. Also, with O'Rourke's background, I wonder if they are considering making this an animated feature? I always though Disney missed the boat by not making an animated Houdini musical in the 1990s.

Carter Beats the Devil - Warner Bros
Based on the superb 2001 novel, Carter Beats The Devil by Glen David Gold -- which features Houdini in a small but significant role -- this project has long been in development. Paramount originally optioned the book in 2002 for Tom Cruise to star and produce. Once that deal lapsed, AMC took a stab at turning it into a TV series. That also didn't work out.

Then in 2010 the project got back on track when Michael Gilio was tapped to write the screenplay with Jon Shestack producing for Warner Bros. Last year it was reported that 21 Jump Street directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were in talks to direct.

Are we Wild? Sure, it's a great book. Not really a Houdini movie... Still, I'll take it.

The Arcanum - Gold Circle
Based on Thomas Wheeler's fantasy-adventure novel, The Arcanum finds Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (look DreamWorks -- so original!), H.P. Lovecraft and Marie Laveau teaming up to fight demons in 1919 New York. Wheeler penned the screenplay which was first purchased by Miramax in 1999. Gold Circle acquired the property in 2004. In 2007 it was reported that writer/director Randall Wallace (The Man in the Iron Mask) had signed aboard to direct. No word since then.

Are we Wild? Meh. Sounds like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and these multi-historical character action mash-ups never seem to work. But I'd see it!

Boilerplate - Paramount
In January 2010 Paramount has picked up rights to Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel, a graphic novel-picture book hybrid by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett. The book tells the story of the world's first robot, "Boilerplate", who has a Forrest Gump-like series of adventures. These apparently include working alongside Houdini in silent films. J.J. Abrams Bad Robot is attached to produce.

Are we Wild? I actually like the sound of this movie, and having a scene or two with Houdini certainly doesn't hurt. But I think J.J. is a little busy these days.

UPDATE (9/26/13):
"Modern-Day Houdini" - ABC
ABC has now thrown their hat into the Houdini development ring and is working on a "Modern-Day Houdini" TV series. David Hoberman's ABC-based production company, Mandeville, is developing the project with writers Jeff Addis and Will Matthews. It's said to follow "legendary illusionist Harry Houdini" who "partners with an unusually gifted female detective to solve the cases that baffle the LAPD."

I've since learned that it's actually Houdini's spirit returned from the beyond to help fight modern day crime. Okay...

Are we Wild? As silly as this concept sounds, I like the idea of a weekly Houdini TV series enough that I could live with this for a season or two. Bring on Ghost Harry!

Houdini-Hollywood sign images by the multi-talented Tom Interval of Houdini Museum.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Houdini goes Looney Tunes

In the fertile world of Houdini fiction, the Handcuff King has been teamed with the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Dracula, and even Batman. But I believe this is the first time he's ever met a member of the Looney Tunes. Here's the description of the just released LOONEY TUNES #214 from DC Comics:

In "The Great Houducky," a high-stakes tale of escape and adventure, Daffy crosses paths with legendary Harry Houdini and transforms himself into the Great Houducky! Taking the stage in chains and weights and locking himself in a towering box, it’s up to the Great Houducky to escape with all his feathers intact. Or will it be up to trusty sidekick Porky Pig to break him out in time?

Next, in "Liquid Dumber," Porky Pig has a clogged drain and it’s up to ACME products to unclog it! Daffy soon shows up to help, bringing more than drain cleaner to clean the pipes.

Finally, in "Montezuma’s Revenge," Speedy Gonzalez and the Tasmanian Devil team up to cook a hot sauce that sets Daffy and Porky on a jungle adventure for lost treasure.

From Scott Gross, Frank Strom, Mike DeCarlo, Walter Carzon, and Ruben Torreiro, LOONEY TUNES #214 arrives on stands today (8/7/13).

You can buy LOONEY TUNES #214 featuring "The Great Houducky" from Midtown Comics.

That's all folks.

LINK: Criss Angel and Houdini walk into a bakery

Click the headline to check out the joke of the day at Jokes Blogger. Not bad.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A sober recap of Drunk History's Houdini episode

Last night Drunk History aired a segment about Houdini in an episode titled, "Detroit." For those who aren't familiar with the Comedy Central series, Drunk History features soused storytellers talking about real history while well-known actors perform their inebriated version of events. It's pretty funny stuff.

In last night's episode, Ken Marino and Alfred Molina played Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle respectively. The storyteller was Lucius Dillon, who was very, very drunk. The Houdini segment was the last, longest, and drunkest of the show. It was broken up by a commercial break.

For all the frivolity of their approach, Drunk History actually did a good job with their Houdini history -- far more responsible and accurate than some of the recent offerings from the cable networks (yes, Brad Meltzer's Decoded, I'm still talking about you). While there were no egregious inaccuracies, I can offer up a few picky points of clarification. So let's do this thing.


Houdini and Bess (played by Maria Blasucci) did indeed work briefly as spirit mediums early in their careers. However, they did a stage act, not private consultation as depicted in the reenactment. Also, I don't know where that bit about Bess posing as a "Bible salesman" to glean personal information came from. That must have been the booze talking.

Atlantic City 1922 is the correct date and location of the Houdini-Doyle seance. However, the show depicted Houdini as performing there with Doyle visiting him backstage. In reality the Houdinis were vacationing with the Doyles when the big seance went down.

The seance with Lady Doyle (played by Sarah Burns) was depicted as being spoken communication, whereas in reality it was all done via "Automatic Writing." In fairness, Dillon did say the communication would be done with "handwriting", but it was much funnier having the Burns/Dillon wildly articulate the ghostly words from Houdini's mother. Houdini did indeed ask if his mother's ghost could read his mind, and Lady Doyle did make the sign of the cross on the top of her notepad. The show depicted Houdini as blowing his top at the seance, but in reality he kept his feelings to himself at that sitting.

Houdini did wear disguises to seances (here's one) and aggressively exposed mediums on the spot. Whether or not he flipped them a double bird on his way out the door...only the spirits know.


The dressing room assault by J. Gordon Whitehead (here played by show creator Derek Waters) was not quite as abrupt as depicted in the reenactment. Houdini was also reclining on a couch at the time of the blows. The reenactment suggested a stricken Houdini went right from his dressing room to his final performance, but in reality the assault happened while Houdini was in Montreal. He traveled to Detroit to give his last performance two days later.

Houdini did indeed perform his final show at the Garrick Theater with a 104 degree temperature and a burst appendix (which probably ruptured on the overnight train ride to Detroit), although his appendicitis would not be discovered until he was operated on the next day. Houdini final performance was not as sloppy as shown in the reenactment, although the interior agony of it might have been very accurate for what Houdini himself was experiencing. There was indeed a man in the audience who had seen Houdini before (not sure about "8 times") who sensed that something was wrong. Others who had not seen Houdini thought the show was pretty good.

Houdini did die in Grace Hospital in Detroit on Halloween, although the Doyles were not by his bedside. Houdini died with his brother Hardeen by his side. His doctors at the time were noncommittal about whether the blows caused the fatal infection. That would be fought about between his lawyer, Bernard Ernst, and the New York Life Insurance Co. for the next year. Ernst ultimately succeeded in pinning the cause of Houdini's final illness on the blows, which enabled Bess to collect double indemnity for accidental death. The debate as to whether Houdini was suffering from appendicitis before the blows continues to this day.

The "10 year compact" is something that might need to be tackled in a fresh post at some point, because exactly what Harry and Bess arranged is not so straight forward as that. But for now, yes, Houdini and his wife arranged a codeword that would identify him should he come back. Bess did give up on seances after 10 years and she did say, "Ten years is long enough to wait for any man." And, yes, Bess's hair was white by then.

So there's your sober recap of Drunk History. Kudos to the show for treating our man right and doing a good job with the history while still having a lot of fun.


Houdini and the Doyles in Atlantic City at the time of the seance.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Seeing double on The Grim Game set

Recently our friend Joe Notaro discovered several rare behind the scenes shots from The Grim Game in the book, Aviators in Early Hollywood by Shawna Kelly. Joe teased a shot of Houdini's stunt dummy on his blog, Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence. Now thanks to Marc Wanamaker of the Bison Archives, I can share with you the full original photo.

Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archives. (Click to enlarge)

This shot shows Houdini and co-star Ann Forrest posing with stunt dummies used during production. They are standing in front of one of the bi-planes used in the famous aerial sequence. The Kelly book identifies the other man as Robert F. Kennedy, the stunt man who doubled Houdini in the aviation action (but I'm not sure about that). He is posing with a dummy used to double actor Clifton Allison who played the pilot, Augustus Phillips. All three dummies were used in the shot of the plane as it comes crashing down into a town square following the (real) mid-air collision.

One thing that's interesting is you can clearly see the cast on Houdini's broken left wrist. Houdini had originally sustained the injury during the making of The Master Mystery. The wrist was broken in three places, and after being set, it developed adhesions on the joints and needed to be re-broken by a physician. Even after six months he had not regained full flexibility. He then re-fractured the same wrist when he took a fall from a platform while filming the jail escape sequence in The Grim Game. The injury delayed completion of filming by two weeks, and it's said this was the reason Houdini did not do the famous mid-air plane to plane transfer himself (a blessing in disguise).

Houdini's left wrist continued to give him problems his entire life. Even as late as 1926 the wrist was reported to be at only 50% strength and in traction.

Thanks to Joe Notaro for helping me I.D. the third dummy, and to Marc Wanamaker of the amazing Bison Archives for allowing me to share this terrific image from the set of The Grim Game.

Aviators in Early Hollywood by Shawna Kelly can be purchased on Amazon.