Saturday, November 30, 2013

Original 'Grim Game' poster at auction

An original one-sheet poster for Houdini's 1919 silent feature, The Grim Game, is currently up for auction via Bruce Hershenson's This poster was first sold by Christie's in 1995 for $19,550. It's now been reconsigned to Bruce and is currently at $26,050. The auction ends on Tuesday (which just happens to be my birthday, in case anyone is looking for a gift idea).

Here's some history and a description of the poster from the auction site:

This poster came from the legendary collection of Charles A. Dyas, who was a theater owner who collected posters from movies he showed from between 1919 and the early 1940s. He left his collection to his children, and in 1990 and 1991, the best of the collection was auctioned by Bruce Hershenson at Christie's Auction House in New York City, EXCEPT for a handful of the very best posters, which the children wanted to keep (including this one). In 1995, they decided to auction those remaining posters, and Bruce Hershenson again auctioned them at Christie's, and this poster sold in that auction for $19,550! The poster offered here is that very same poster that was auctioned 18 years ago! Finally, note that this poster measures 28 1/4" x 41" [72 x 104 cm].

Overall Condition and Pre-Restoration Defects with Quality of Restoration: very good to fine. The poster had small paper loss at the top and bottom crossfold, with tiny paper loss at the middle crossfold. It had minor wear on the foldlines. It had a few small tears in the right and bottom borders, with a 1/4" x 1 1/2" area of vertical paper loss near the bottom of the right blank border. Otherwise, the poster was in really nice condition prior to linenbacking (it had been in the position of Mr. Dyas from 1919, when he first showed it at his theater until 1995, when his son consigned it to Bruce Hershenson). The poster was nicely backed by Igor Edelman, and displays fantastically!

Might this set a new record? We will find out on Tuesday.

UPDATE: It's funny that I would speculate about this setting a new record, because that's exactly what it did!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Houdini and the Hippodrome

Here's a beautiful old postcard image of the famous New York Hippodrome theater. Houdini had the longest continuous engagement in one theater of his career here -- 19 weeks -- when he starred in the review Cheer Up! in 1918. The theater closed in 1939. A modern office building now occupies the site at 1120 Avenue of the Americas, but still carries the name The Hippodrome.

So what gigantic trick did Houdini perform in this gigantic space?

Speaking of the Hippodrome, not long ago I discovered a spotlight from this theater in an antique store in Hollywood. Cool to think that this spot could have once illuminated The Great Houdini.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Family gathering

Here are all five Weiss brothers gathered for…Thanksgiving maybe? Left to right is: Leopold, William, Theodore, Ehrich, and Nathan. All that's missing is the turkey.

Click to enlarge.

This (unpublished?) shot comes from the Rahner side of the family via the great nephew of Bess and Harry Houdini, John C. Hinson.

Enjoy your own day with the family.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

LINK: Wild About Harry since 1975

The multi-talented Tom Interval has done me a great honor by writing a profile about me and WILD ABOUT HARRY on his own terrific Houdini website, Houdini Museum. Click on the headline and have a read about one strange Houdini-obsessed chap.


Thank you Tom.

Amy Schreibman Walter considers 'Houdini's Women'

The Good Men Project has posted a new poem by Amy Schreibman Walter called Houdini's Women. The poem celebrates Bess Houdini and Dorothy Young, Houdini's assistant who died in 2011. Amy had previously written a poem about Young called, Radio Girl.

Houdini's Women will be included in a new collection of Amy Schreibman Walter's poetry due out in 2014.

You can read Houdini's Women at The Good Men Project. Amy has also shared some thoughts about the poem on her blog, Amy Schreibman Walter.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Unpublished Houdini: Tourists

Welcome to Unpublished Houdini. In this series I share a new never-before-published photo of Houdini every Monday from our generous Hinson Endowment.

For this Thanksgiving week, I couldn't resist this unpublished shot of Harry and Bess Houdini with two Native Americans. Judging by their curious mix of contemporary and traditional clothing, these men appear to be genuine Native Americans and not costumed performers as seen in shots like this. This could have even been taken on an actual Indian Reservation during the Houdinis travels through the American Southwest in December 1915.

In a later installment of UH, I'll share more from this unrecorded trip, but for now enjoy this holiday shot of Harry and Bessie as tourists (click to enlarge).

I couldn't find an applicable Houdini quote to pair with this photo, so on behalf of Harry and Bess allow me to say…

"Happy Thanksgiving."

Next week we'll head back into the portrait studio for a shot of Houdini "with his baby."

UPDATE: I believe I've now identified the location of this photo, and it's not what we thought! Check out: The Houdinis at Inceville.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Daniel Llewelyn-Williams is A Regular Little Houdini

Welsh actor Daniel Llewelyn-Williams will première his one-man show, A Regular Little Houdini, at the Clwyd Theatr Cymru in Wales on November 26 and 27. The play is set in the Newport docks between 1905 and 1913; the two occasions that Houdini visited the city.

The play is told through the eyes of a young boy who is obsessed with magic. His story tracks the massive industrial growth of south Wales, the building of the transporter bridge and the Newport dock disaster of 1909. There are magic tricks and fantastical stories of monsters and Cyclopes and even an appearance by Houdini himself.

Daniel, who plays eight parts in the play, tells The South Wales Argus: "I blended these two stories of Houdini with stories of my own family and this young boy. The whole thing is about the perceived loss of childhood imagination. It’s a story of hope and tragedy."

A Regular Little Houdini is directed by Joshua Richards. Music is by Meg Cox. Tickets for the première dates can be purchased at the Clwyd Theatr Cymru website. It will also play at the Newport Riverfront on January 23, 24, 25, and the Swansea Grand on April 16, 2014.

Below is an interview with Daniel about the play and Houdini's visits to Newport.

Getting punchy

Last month I did a post about whether it was medically possible that the punches to Houdini's stomach delivered by J. Gordon Whitehead really did cause his fatal appendicitis (result: it's possible). That post kicked off a firestorm of discussion -- over 100 comments and counting -- about Whitehead and his motives in throwing those punches. The comments have proven to be more interesting and informative than the post itself!

Front and center in the action is Houdini author and expert, Patrick Culliton. To aid in some of his points, Patrick has now posted to his website Houdini's Ghost the sworn affidavit of J. Gordon Whitehead. It's a remarkable read that contradicts the established account of what happened, right down to saying that it took place on October 21, not October 22.

Whitehead goes on to say that Houdini not only encouraged the initial punch, but egged him on to punch him repeatedly, and that the other students in the room, Sam Smiley and Jack Price, didn't voice any objections. This wildly different from what Smiley and Price themselves reported in their own sworn statements. Whitehead also says he visited Houdini on two more occasions after the dressing room incident, and confirms that he was at Houdini's lecture at McGill.

Most biographers discount the Whitehead affidavit when reconstructing the dressing room incident and instead rely on the statements by Smiley and Price. Therefore, this isn't a version that is generally known. It's fascinating stuff, so use the link below and have read at Houdini's Ghost:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Terror Island terrorizes the Academy

Houdini lived in Beverly Hills on Wednesday night when a clip from Terror Island was screened as part of Ricky Jay's "Like Magic" presentation at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The talk covered magic in the movies from early cinema pioneers like Georges Méliès to modern special effects masters. Houdini's involvement in cinema was noted with the Terror Island clip (the gallows scene) along with still images from The Master Mystery and The Grim Game.

Ricky also mentioned that it had recently come to light that Houdini performed as part of a "traveling cinema show" in the late 1890s. I admit this was the first I'd heard of this and would certainly be interested in hearing more.

Ricky Jay was joined onstage by illusion engineer Michael Weber and special effects artist Shane Mahan, who discussed some of the practical special effects magic he's created for films like Terminator 2 and Iron Man. The evening also included clips from The Escape Artist, The Illusionist, and some wonderful early cinema showcasing sleight of hand. The evening concluded with Ricky Jay performing Robert-Houdin's classic orange tree automaton illusion (from the collection of John Gaughan).

It's worth noting that Ricky Jay and Michael Weber are magic consultants on the Broadway Houdini musical starring Hugh Jackman, the fate of which is to be decided next month.

Speaking of Ricky Jay, the 2012 documentary, Deceptive Practices: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, has recently been released on DVD and is a MUST watch. You can check out the trailer on YouTube.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Houdini key on Beverly Hills Pawn

A Houdini key made an appearance on Beverly Hills Pawn last night. The key was brought into the high end “pawn shop” by mentalist Wayne Hoffman with a Certificate of Authenticity showing that it came from the Sidney Radner Collection. After some back and forth (and a trick by Wayne), the store bought the key for $1000.

Not a bad looking…key.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Suspended straitjacket escape in 1913, but it's not Houdini

It's been said that Houdini got the idea for his famous suspended straitjacket escape from a super fan, Randolph Douglas (a.k.a. Randini), during a visit to the Douglas home in England in June 1914. The most recent biography, The Secret Life of Houdini (2006), even goes as far to state that Randini "changed the course of magic history" that day. Houdini would first perform the suspend straitjacket in Kansas City on September 8, 1915. It would become his signature outdoor escape.

But now reader Bill Mullins sends in a clipping that throws us a curve in regards to where Houdini might have gotten the idea for the escape and how original it was to the escape king.

Here we have a magician named "Mysterio" performing a suspended straitjacket escape in 1913, a full year before the Douglas demonstration and two years before Houdini first did the escape himself. Furthermore, it appears that Mysterio did this escape a number of times. Digging a little deeper (via Ask Alexander) reveals that Mysterio is actually "The Great Alvin." Alvin would come into conflict with a magician named L.L. Gaffney who performed magic and handcuff escapes as "Mysterio" in Europe and the U.S. and objected to the use of his name.

Here's the full clipping from the Buffalo Evening News which ran 100 years ago today on November 21, 1913.

So did Houdini know about Mysterio and his suspended straitjacket escape? It seems unlikely that he wouldn't. Mysterio's escapes were well reported in the pages of The Sphinx. It appears he last did the escape in 1914, so perhaps by 1915 Houdini felt enough time had passed that he could do the escape himself. Funny to think that Houdini would imitate an imitator who was himself impersonating an imitator. (Did you get all that?)

To be fair, I don't believe Houdini ever claimed the suspended straitjacket escape to be an "original invention" the way he advertised the Milk Can and Water Torture Cell as such. Of course, he also never said it wasn't. But Houdini had the foresight and courage to be raised over 100 feet, which truly made this a spectacular escape. When it comes to suspended straitjackets, height does matter.

The loser here may be Randolph Douglas and the notion that he introduced Houdini to the idea of the suspended straitjacket escape. Magic history was not changed that day. But it could be that Houdini let the young man believe that he had indeed showed him something new. Heck, it took us 100 years to discover otherwise.

Thanks to Bill Mullins for this revelatory discovery.

UPDATE: Only after I finished this post did I learn that Joe Notaro revealed this news on his blog Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence in October. Joe also discovered that Mysterio/Alivn's real name was Al Pitroff. Good work, Joe!

UPDATE 2: It appears Pitroff is still doing the suspended straitjacket escape in 1915, as can been seen in the below ad from the Perth Amboy Evening News, February 12, 1915.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Where did he get the idea?

Here is an unpublished photo of Houdini preparing for a suspended straitjacket escape. Houdini first performed his signature outdoor escape on September 8, 1915. But was the suspended straitjacket original to Houdini? If not, where did he get the idea?

This is a teaser for a post tomorrow that will showcase a 100-year-old discovery that might just rewrite recent Houdini history.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Speaking of Rasputin...

The IMDb page for HISTORY's Houdini miniseries has added to the cast Hungarian actor Iván Kamarás as…ready for it…Rasputin! I've also discovered this photo posted to the actor's Facebook page on Oct 24 which is almost certainly Kamarás in character.

Coincidentally, just last week our friend David Saltman posted on his blog The Houdini File an investigation into whether Houdini was involved in some kind of a plot to undermine Rasputin during an unknown return to Russia in 1913. Will the miniseries dramatize this? Or will the infamous mystic put in some kind of an appearance during Houdini's 1903 Russian tour? Whichever the case, this miniseries certainly seems to be covering a lot of ground!

The 40-year-old Kamarás is best known for his role as Agent Steel in the 2008 superhero fantasy thriller Hellboy II: The Golden Army. He also appeared in the most recent Die Hard movie and in the new Dracula TV series.

Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. The 4-hour miniseries is being directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. Houdini is an A&E Studios Lionsgate co-production. It will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY in 2014.

Related posts:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Unpublished Houdini: Harry at work

Welcome to Unpublished Houdini. In this series I share a new never-before-published photo of Houdini every Monday from our generous Hinson Endowment.

Here is an unpublished shot of Houdini hard at work in Hollywood on his first feature length film, The Grim Game. I'm not sure if this is a scene from the actual film. There is another photo of Houdini on this same wall hanging upside down holding actress Ann Forrest in his arms (which can been seen in Gibson's Original Houdini Scrapbook page 148). That shot was almost certainly taken for publicity, so maybe this one was as well? What I'd really like to know is whether this wall still exists somewhere in Los Angeles. [UPDATE: Now I know.]

"The present generation can see me in person, but I want my most thrilling feats perpetuated on the screen, so people in later years can assure themselves that I actually did them. That's why I have saved the most sensational stunts I have ever done for this picture and have worked my head off to make them as successful as possible."

The irony of Houdini's quote above (from The Grim Game pressbook) is that The Grim Game is the one Houdini movie that isn't available to the very audience that Houdini says he is making the film for. Hopefully at some point a print will free up and we will finally be able to enjoy the result of Houdini's hard work.

Oh, what the heck, here's a bonus photo. This shot shows Houdini and Ann Forrest in some Grim Game cliffhanger action. The man works hard, people!

Click to enlarge.

More Unpublished Houdini:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Peril Press revives Houdini inspired Bazarada

Here's a unique Houdini-related eBook publication from Peril Press. The Adventures of Bazarada - All 6 Houdini Inspired Tales! is a collection of six short stories by Sax Rohmer featuring a magician named, Bazarada.

According to the description on Amazon, "Sax Rohmer made friends with escape artist Harry Houdini, who wrote to him in praise of Rohmer's The Romance of Sorcery. Rohmer based his mystery-solving magician character Bazarada on Houdini."

The Bazarada stories appeared in Collier's magazine between September 1937 and August 1938. This ebook collects all six Bazarada stories: The Jade Serpent, Red Doctor, Tunnel of the Apes, The Mummy That Walked, Black Magic, and Death in the King's Room.

This edition also includes all 11 Ronald McLeod illustrations to the stories as well as a gallery of 11 cartoons from Collier's.

It appears this is currently only available as an eBook. It would be great if Peril Press could also release this in a printed edition.

Purchase The Adventures of Bazarada - All 6 Houdini Inspired Tales! (eBook) on

UPDATE: David Saltman has a few terrific posts about the Bazarada stories and their connections to Houdini at his blog The Houdini File HERE and HERE.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Photo of Houdini's Voisin reveals new detail

This photograph of Houdini's Voisin bi-plane doesn't qualify for our Unpublished Houdini series because it appears on page 169 of The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Walter B. Gibson. However, I still wanted to share it because the much better resolution of this photo direct from the John C. Hinson collection reveals a detail on Houdini's plane that I don't think has ever been spotted before.

You'll note in the enlargement below that there is writing on the tail of the plane above Houdini's name identifying the maker -- "Aeroplanes Voisin" -- and what looks like might be some additional technical specs or registration information (if they even did that back then). Pretty cool.

I've heard talk that the Houdini miniseries will feature Houdini aviation exploits. Maybe it's not too late for the production designer to add this detail to their prop plane?

In other Voisin news, the search for Houdini's plane is the subject of an article by Rebecca Maksel in the November 2013 issue of Air and Space Magazine. The article includes the possibly that the plane ended up in the possession of Chung Ling Soo, which is an idea that we first tackled back in 2010 during the centenary celebrations of Houdini historic first flight in Australia (see links below).

You can read the online version of the Air and Space article HERE.

Related posts:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Did Houdini return to Russia in 1913?

Author and Houdini aficionado David Saltman has a very interesting post on his blog The Houdini File about the possibility that Houdini could have returned to Russia in 1913, and may have even been involved in an effort to "undermine Rasputin." David has uncovered a Russian theater ticket from 1913 with Houdini's name on it, as well as a letter from Houdini to the U.S. Ambassador to Russia suggesting that they meet up in "Petersburg."

This is pretty wild stuff. Is it possible Houdini went back to Russia in the middle of his career without it ever being chronicled? I hate to say it, but it makes me wonder if there's something to the whole "Houdini was a spy" thing after all. I'm not ready to completely climb aboard that theory just yet, but I would recommend reading what David has uncovered below:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Houdini's Walking Through A Brick Wall in color

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.

As reported on Monday, the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin has made their Harry Houdini Scrapbook Collection available online for free. I've been flipping through these incredible scrapbooks and deep inside one titled "Scrapbook about snake charmers and other conjurers" I found this full page article from the August 2, 1914 New York World Magazine about Houdini's Walking Through A Brick Wall illusion...with COLOR photos! (Well, colorized.)

These are the only known photos of this famous illusion, which Houdini performed only a handful of times at Hammerstien's Roof Garden in 1914. As far as I know, the second photo of the screened wall has only ever appeared in Patrick Cullition's Houdini The Key, and there only in black and white.

Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.

Below is the full page article which the Harry Ransom Center has graciously given me permission to post (click to enlarge). You can see the original in the Harry Houdini Scrapbook Collection HERE; view by "Content" and go to: "Loose material (The World Magazine) - view 19".

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. (Click to enlarge.)

The World Magazine also did an article about Houdini's Vanishing Elephant in a 1918 issue. That article is said to show six (color?) photos of the illusion, including photos of the elusive cabinet. Unfortunately, the Ransom scrapbooks do not contain that article. In fact, The World's vanishing elephant article has vanished as thoroughly as Jennie herself.

Thanks again to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin for allowing me to share this Houdini treasure.

Related posts:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Well known actor playing Hardeen in Houdini miniseries?

Who is playing (the adult) Theo Hardeen in History's Houdini miniseries? According to Roger Dreyer at the Houdini Museum of New York, a "well known actor" auditioned for the part back in September, and even consulted with the museum about what Hardeen's voice sounded like. (Roger's answer: "a very tough guy. Thick Brooklyn accent." Correct.)

Roger isn't saying who that actor might be, but it is exciting to know they are looking to cast a familiar name against Adrien Brody's Houdini. The role of Houdini's younger brother has become increasingly important in Houdini biopics over the years. While Hardeen did not appear in the 1953 Tony Curtis classic Houdini, he did show up in The Great Houdinis (1976) played by Jack Carter. When it came time for TNTs Houdini in 1998, Hardeen was featured in a co-starring role played by Mark Ruffalo. It now looks like History's Houdini is following suit and will give us a healthy helping of the Monarch of Manacles.

So did this "well known actor" get the part? Hopefully we won't have to wait long to unlock the answer.

Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. The 4-hour miniseries is being directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. Houdini is an A&E Studios Lionsgate co-production. It will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY in 2014.

Past Dashes: Jack Carter, Mark Ruffalo, Remy Auberjonois (Boardwalk Empire).

UPDATE: Tom Benedict Knight is Theo Hardeen.

    SCAD performs ‘Houdini: the Musical’ in Savannah, Nov. 13

    SCAD - The University for Creative Careers, will perform Houdini: the Musical by Michael Martin at the Mondanaro Theatre in Savannah, Georgia, on November 13, 2013 at 8pm. Here's a description:

    Join SCAD’s performance ensemble for an evening of magic and song in the group’s first production of the year.

    A widely praised show based on the life of iconic magician Harry Houdini, “Houdini: the Musical” is the romantic love story of the man and his wife Bess, set against a backdrop of magic and spiritualism.

    The show is presented as part of PE SCORES!, a reading series under the direction of SCAD music director Kevin Wallace. Each reading is produced using minimal costumes and set, with actors holding their scores and scripts, focusing on the words and music.

    The series was conceived to present shows that are rarely seen or heard while giving SCAD students broader experience in musical theater literature and period performance styles.

    The event is free and open to the public.

    November 13th, 8:00 p.m.
    Mondanaro Theater, Crites Hall
    217 MLK BLVD, Savannah, GA 31401

    For more information on SCAD visit To keep with the latest from SCAD Performance Ensemble check out their page on Facebook.

    Monday, November 11, 2013

    Ransom Center shares Harry Houdini Scrapbook Collection online

    The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has made their Harry Houdini Scrapbook Collection available online for free. The collection contains ten scrapbooks owned by Houdini with material dating from 1850 to the 1920s. Among them is a spiritualism scrapbook with a clipping from the April 8, 1923 New York Times about Houdini's fire escape challenge with a dramatic photo that I've never seen before.

    Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.

    The University has also made available their Magic Posters and Playbills Collection. This collection contains several Houdini playbills, including a rare 1890s advert for Harry and Bess giving a full-on "Spiritualistic Entertainment" (busted).

    Both these collections were previously only available online for a fee (free for students). The University of Texas acquired their vast collection of Houdini memorabilia and magic material in 1958.

    Our friend Tom Interval at Houdini Museum has done a great job breaking down the collection and providing links and descriptions of all the scrapbooks and individual posters. Click on over to Tom's site or the Ransom Center to have a browse of these Houdini treasures.

    Thanks to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin for permission to use the above image.

    Unpublished Houdini: Bess at home

    Welcome to Unpublished Houdini. In this series I share a new never-before-published photo of Houdini every Monday from our generous Hinson Endowment.

    I'm giving Harry the week off and instead sharing today an unpublished photo of the other Houdini -- Bessie. What I love about this shot is it appears to be Bess in the backyard of 278. That makes this, incredibly, the only photo of Bess at the Houdinis Harlem home that I've ever seen. Of course, photos of Houdini at 278 are also pretty uncommon.

    "Seated in a large arm chair in library and hearing Mrs. Houdini call up: 'Young man your lunch is ready.'"
    - From an interview with HOUDINI 
    when asked for his idea of comfort.

    Speaking of Bess at home, recently I was able to nail down all four homes that Bess and Ed Saint occupied in Los Angeles during the 1930s, a few of which still stand. Watch for a post about that soon.

    Next week we'll visit "Harry at work."

    Sunday, November 10, 2013

    S.A.M. wand breaking ceremony in 1976

    Every year since 1969 The Society of American Magicians have held a wand breaking ceremony at the grave of their "Most Illustrious" president, Harry Houdini (last year was canceled because of Hurricane Sandy). In an effort to keep the event private and avoid bringing unwanted attention to the gravesite, several years ago the SAM stopped holding the ceremony on Halloween and instead now select a secret date in November.

    I don't know when the ceremony will take place this year (or if it has already), but to give a taste of the event, here are photos and memories of the SAM wand breaking ceremony on the 50th Anniversary of Houdini's death in 1976. These come from our friend and long-time Houdini buff, Jeff Abraham, who was lucky enough to attend when he was only 14. Jeff remembers:

    "At the time, I was card carrying member of both IBM and SAM, and probably read about the ceremony in M.U.M.

    The one thing I truly remember about that day - it was very overcast with a little rain in the air, but at 1:26pm, the sun burst out from the clouds as if the man himself gave his blessing to the ceremony.

    I remember Larry Weeks being there, a legendary name in the magic circles at the time. I do recall him having tears in his eyes.

    I don't think I needed to show proof of membership to attend, but I did wear a jacket that had a SAM patch of it, so I wasn't taking chances."

    Some very nice Houdini-SAM history captured here.

    Thank you, Jeff.

    UPDATE: I've been told there was a wand breaking ceremony this year "handled by the local NYC assembly."

    Friday, November 8, 2013

    Discovering Houdini's Los Angeles Orpheum

    Here's another one for those in town this week for the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. If you are Houdini location hunting downtown, you might be excited to discover the Orpheum Theater on Broadway with full marquee and towering sign still atop the building. Of course, it was at the Los Angeles Orpheum where Houdini had his famous verbal joust with Jess Willard in 1915. But keep those cameras holstered, because you're in the wrong place!

    The Orpheum Theater at 842 South Broadway was actually built in 1926. The historic Orpheum from Houdini's era is located a few blocks away at 630 South Broadway and is now called the Palace Theater. This was the site of Houdini's encounter with the heavyweight boxing champ.

    Houdini actually performed in three different L.A. Orpheum theaters during his career. In 1899 he performed at the Grand Opera House at 110 S. Main St., which was the theater the Orpheum circuit used at the time. In 1903, Orpheum built their own theater at 227 S. Spring St. It was here that Houdini performed in 1907. That theater become Fischer's Lyceum in 1911 when Orpheum moved into their spectacular new theater at 630 South Broadway.

    This was Orpheum's home during the Golden Age of Vaudeville. It not only saw performances by Houdini (in 1915 and 1923) but also Al Jolson, Sarah Bernhardt, the Marx Brothers, W.C Fields and Will Rogers. It was renamed The Palace in 1926 when the fourth and final Orpheum was built down the street. Today it is the oldest of the remaining Orpheum theaters in the United States.

    While the first two Orpheum theaters are long gone, the Palace/Orpheum still stands. You can even still see read the Orpheum name on the facade. Today it is a rental space for film shoots and live venues.

    Below are photos I took on November 3, 2013. The lobby was gated off on this day, but the good news is the theater occasionally allows tours. I will be watching for the next tour and hopefully bring you photos of the stage where Houdini bested the Champ.

    Thanks to Patrick Culliton for guiding me via cellphone down Broadway to Houdini's correct Orpheum. For more on the Palace Theater visit the official website.

    Thursday, November 7, 2013

    Houdini and Margery face off in Mental Floss

    The November 2013 issue of Mental Floss magazine contains an article about Houdini and Margery by Robert Love. The piece is called "Houdini's Greatest Trick: Debunking Medium Mina Crandon" and features a nice illustration of Houdini and Margery by Wesley Allsbrooke (above).

    You can buy the November issue (Vol 12, issue 7) from the Mental Floss online store. You can also read the online version of the article HERE.

    Thanks to Gordon Gluff for the tip.

    Scranton honors Dorothy Dietrich and Houdini Museum

    Mayor Christopher Doherty proclaimed November 1, 2013 as "Dorothy Dietrich Day" in the city of Scranton, PA. The honor was bestowed on Dorothy for all the business and tourism her Houdini Museum has brought to the city, as well as the publicity generated when she and Dick Brookz replaced Houdini's bust on his grave in Queens during a "commando" raid in 2011. The proclamation read in part:

    I, Christopher A. Doherty, Mayor of the City of Scranton, do hereby proclaim Friday, November 1, 2013, as “Dorothy Dietrich Day” and ask all citizens to join me in applauding her and her outstanding commitment to honor the legendary magician of all time, Harry Houdini, and bring honor to him and to the City of Scranton as well.

    Dorothy attended a special signing at the Poli Theater in Scranton where Houdini himself performed. She performed a straitjacket escape and also signed photos. The weekend celebrations also saw the official unveiling of the new marquee for the Houdini Museum (below). Electric City, the area entertainment guide, devoted a terrific cover story to Dorothy, which you can read online HERE.

    Congratulations Dorothy!

    Wednesday, November 6, 2013

    'Chicago Magic' stirs up Windy City Houdini history

    UPDATE: You will want to read this review of the book before considering a purchase. Turns out it contains numerous errors, including, incredibly, that Houdini was born April 6th. How is it even possible to make that mistake in 2013!?

    Houdini's performances in Chicago, along with those of other masters of magic, are chronicled in David Witter's just released book, Chicago Magic: A History of Stagecraft and Spectacle. Here's the description on Amazon:

    By the end of America’s "Golden Age of Magic," Chicago had taken center stage in front of an American audience drawn to the craft by the likes of Harry Houdini and Howard Thurston. Cashing in on a craze that rivaled big-band mania, magic shops and clubs sprang up everywhere across the Windy City, packed in customers and put down roots. Over the last century, for example, Magic, Inc. has outfitted magicians from Harry Blackstone Sr. to Penn and Teller to David Copperfield. Magic was an integral part of Chicago’s culture, from its earliest venture into live television to the card sharps and hucksters lurking in its amusement parks and pool halls. David Witter keeps track of the shell game of Chicago’s fascinating magic history from its vaudeville circuit to its contemporary resurgence.

    Purchase Chicago Magic: A History of Stagecraft and Spectacle on

    Connor Kelly is the young Hardeen

    The Scunthorpe Telegraph reports that 15-year-old Connor Kelly has landed the role of Houdini's brother "Dash" in the childhood sequences of Houdini the miniseries. The young actor recently spent six days in Hungary to prepare for filming.

    "Connor had a fantastic time in Hungary, he loved the experience," said his mother, Amanda. "Adrien Brody and Kristen Connolly were both very nice people and said they were excited about working with Connor."

    Kelly is already a veteran of the English stage, having spent three years in London's West End in Billy Elliot.

    In other Houdini miniseries news, Kecskemét TV reports that the production will be closing streets for shooting in Kecskemét (the Katona József area) November 7 through 9.

    Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. The 4-hour miniseries is being directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. Houdini is an A&E Studios Lionsgate co-production. It will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY in 2014.

    Tuesday, November 5, 2013


    Houdini street art. Courtesy of All About

    Axis announces Houdini play for 2014

    The Axis Theatre Company in New York will stage a new Houdini play in February 2014. Written by artistic director Randall Sharp, Nothing on Earth focus on Houdini's anti-spiritualism crusade and will feature Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Margery. William Kalush and The Conjuring Arts Research Center are consulting on the production, which promises to recreate some of Houdini's effects. Here's a plot summary from the Axis Company website:

    Axis Company will present Randall Sharp's new play Nothing on Earth in February. The play examines Houdini's driven crusade to expose fraudulent mediums and his crossing paths with the avid spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Both men are catapulted to the center of The Scientific American Magazine contest to find the first-ever provable clairvoyant. This battle destroyed their friendship and left Houdini to continue his search for a true psychic to contact his mother. He was not successful. Conjuring Arts Research Center is consulting with Axis Company to re-create some of Houdini's most famous illusions and bring the audience on a journey to the strangest part of his life story.

    Since 1999 Axis Company has produced an eclectic series of original and published plays at their home in the West Village. The Axis Theatre was the location of William Kalush's Houdini seance this past Halloween. That seance got a nice write up in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

    For more information on Axis Company visit their official website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter @AxisCoNYC.

    Monday, November 4, 2013

    Unpublished Houdini: In Los Angeles

    Welcome to Unpublished Houdini. In this series I share a new never-before-published photo of Houdini every Monday from our generous Hinson Endowment.

    I'm changing up my choice of photo today for those arriving in L.A. this week for the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. This is a magnificent unpublished shot of Houdini doing a suspended straitjacket escape from the historic Examiner building in downtown Los Angeles. (If you can't see Harry, click here.)

    "I shall never forget that crowd as I hung suspended. It looked to me as if I was struggling over a bubbling sea."
    -HOUDINI, 1917

    As you can see, the beautiful Examiner building is as much the subject of this photo as Houdini. Publisher William Randolph Hearst commissioned Julia Morgan and Los Angeles architects Henke and Dodd to design the building in the popular Mission Revival style. Hearst was so pleased with the results that he later commissioned Morgan to design his massive San Simeon Castle. The Examiner building (later the Herald-Examiner) opened for business on January 1, 1915 and remained the newspaper's headquarters until the paper folded in 1989.

    Happily, the Examiner building has survived at 1111 S. Broadway and still looks much as it did the day Houdini made his escape. The building is still owned by the Hearst Corporation and is now rented out for film shoots (including The Prestige). Below are photos I took of the building yesterday.

    Harry hung here  | Map.

    So when you've had your fill of Erdnase at the Conference, sneak on out and see some still living magic history downtown. Later this week I'll share more Houdini-Los Angeles history as well as some additional "then and now" shots from my Houdini photo safari in downtown yesterday.

    UPDATE: The date of this escape was Wednesday, April 4, 1923. Also, the straitjacket Houdini used on this day was the same one that appeared on a 2011 episode of Pawn Stars.

    UPDATEHistoric site of Houdini escape will be preserved.