Houdini The Untold Story was first published in hardcover by Thomas Y. Crowell Co. on March 21, 1969. The book received rave reviews in the magic journals of the day. Part of this was because Christopher was a member of the magic fraternity. But the book was also deserving of the praise. Genii called it "undoubtedly one of the best books of the year." The Linking Ring enthused, "With the writing of this book [Christopher] now becomes one of the outstanding biographers."
But it's Bayard Grimshaw's review in his "About Magicians" column in the UK that really nails the book's core strength (while foretelling some of the sins that will plague later Houdini biographies). Says Grimshaw:
It is a straightforward factual narrative devoid of padding: no "secrets", no unconvincing imaginary conversations, no scene-painting. But packed with solid authentic detail as the book is, Mr. Christopher with his delightfully lucid and objective style of writing contrives to to make it compelling and enthralling reading none the less.
It's amusing to note that even these positive reviews start off by asking the question, "Do we really need another book about Houdini?" Yes, yes we do.
|Original advertisements from Genii and The Linking Ring.|
Houdini The Untold Story has enjoyed a long life in print, which makes it a fun book to collect. But there are some challenges. Notably, when seeking out the U.S. hardcovers from Crowell, you'll encounter two different states of the dustjackets. The difference is on the spines, with some having the name HOUDINI running down the spine in bold letters and others have the name running across the spine in compressed lettering. Both first editions in my collection have the lettering running down the spine. The compressed lettering appears on a second edition. But then, oddly, the bold text returns on a third edition. Was the compressed text unique to the second edition? What I have seems to bare that out, but it's also possible that both states were used on all editions and I just happened to draw two firsts with the name running down the spine.
Okay, if you're still with me after that, then you are clearly as into this as I am. So let's continue.
Crowell later released a hardcover that was more compact in size. The compact edition I own is a 7th and carries the ISBN 069040431X. What year Crowell started doing these compact editions is not clear. In fact, none of the dates of any of these hardcovers is clear as the publisher only lists the original 1969 copyright on all editions.
|Spine variations of the U.S. hardcovers and the first UK edition from Cassell.|
Houdini The Untold Story was released as a hardcover in the UK by Cassell & Company in October 1969. A second impression was published in February 1970. As far as I know, these were the only UK releases. There was no UK paperback (but I would love to be proven wrong on that).
The first U.S. paperback edition was released by Pocket Books in June 1970. The paperback retained all the photos of the hardcover edition. Curiously, the more impressive cover artwork (uncredited) was reserved for the back of book.
|Pocket Books first paperback edition, front and back (1970).|
In 1975 Pocket reprinted Houdini The Untold Story with beautiful new artwork of Houdini walking through a brick wall (still one of my favorite covers). In October 1976, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Houdini's death, Pocket released a new paperback edition with additional material advertised on the cover as being: "Candid revelations from Houdini's unpublished private papers and letters." The additional content is excellent and makes this last Pocket paperback worth seeking out.
|The 1975 and 1976 Pocket paperbacks.|
|The 1988 and 1996 Aeonian Press limited editions.|
After remaining out of print for a decade (three if we discount the unauthorized editions), Houdini The Untold Story returned in a major way in 2012 when David Haversat's 1878 Press, in cooperation with the Milbourne Christopher Foundation, released a special "Deluxe Edition" limited to 300 hand-numbered copies. The book included a new 8-page section of rare color photos from David's private collection and beautiful binding. Those who bought the book direct from 1878 Press had it personally inscribed by Christopher's wife, Maurine (who passed away earlier this year).
This Deluxe Edition was a fine way to honor the Houdini scholarship of Milbourne Christopher and his "Textbook."
|2012 Deluxe Edition from 1878 Press.|
Thanks to Arthur Moses for images and information on the 1988 Aeonian edition.