Monday, November 11, 2013

Unpublished Houdini: Bess at home

Welcome to Unpublished Houdini.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I'm giving Harry the week off and instead sharing today an unpublished photo of the other Houdini -- Bessie.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."


  1. This photo is wonderful. This is pure speculation, of course, but based on how she's dressed, it looks as if they were about to go out for a night on the town or something and decided to snap some pics since she was all dolled up. These Hinson photos are so great. Thanks again John and John.

  2. Nice photo! Do you have any idea when it was taken? I'm trying to guess how old she is here.

    (my apologies if you get this twice - having problems commenting on Google for some reason).

  3. From the style of her clothes I'd say this is 1920s. And as her hair is dark, I'm assuming this was taken when HH was still alive. She let the grey show pretty soon after he died.

    There are lots of other candid photos in the Hinson collection of Bessie with her family at Payson Ave, etc, but she's clearly older in those. Maybe I should have checked with John before I concluded that this is 278, but I WANT to believe it is, so... :)

  4. Wonderful photo John! Yeah, it definitely looks like Bess either returned from some event, or is about to go. Maybe special guests were about to arrive for dinner. I would guess this photo was taken around the late teens to early twenties. Bess looks a bit older/heavier than in her younger days. She appears to be in her forties.

    Is it possible this photo was taken when Houdini was shooting in Hollywood? Was Bess always with Harry when he was in California working on a film? If not, this could add weight to the rumors of Houdini's extramarital affairs with some of his female costars.

    1. I don't think Bess was with him when he shot Terror Island. Not sure about Grim Game.

    2. Nice Photo! BTW: Bess accompanied Houdini to Los Angeles for the making of The Grim Game.

  5. Thanks David.

    I really love this shot, even though I have better quality photos of Bess. But there something about the low quality that appeals to me. Gives it a "home movie" feel that somehow feels more intimate, know what I mean?

  6. Yeah, I know what you mean John. I remember the Polaroid cameras and those instant photos back in the 1970s. They never looked as nice 35mm film but had a certain vintage charm about them.