Friday, January 31, 2014

Stay happy at Houdini's all day long

Check out this new billboard advertising all-day Happy Hour at Houdini's Escape Gastropub in Appleton, Wisconsin. Interesting way to celebrate Appleton's most famous teetotaler.

Houdini's Escape Gastropub opened last year and is located at 1216 S. Oneida St. in Appleton. You can check out their menu and more at their official website and Facebook page.

And for the Houdini buffs in the crowd, the image of Harry on the billboard is from the poster for The Master Mystery, Episode 8.


Houdini mystery painting

Today sees the opening in Los Angeles of the new documentary Tim's Vermeer produced by Penn & Teller and directed by Teller. Reviews are stellar with a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. So I thought this was a good day to share my own painting mystery -- what we might call, "Stan's Houdini."

I bought this on eBay back in 2006. The auction gave no details, but I thought it was good enough that it could be unused cover art for a Houdini book, maybe early art for the "Childhood of American Heroes" series (hence the emphasis on the American flag). When I received it, I discovered writing on the back that showed it was painted by "Stan Willard" and that it had won "2nd Place, B.V. Art Fair, May 17, 1972."

So not book cover art. But in it's own way, just a special. I now think of this as a piece of Houdini-themed American folk art that wonderfully celebrates the Master Mystifier. It now lives atop my Houdini bookcases.

But the mystery remains. Who exactly was Stan Willard and is there more to the story of his Houdini painting? If anyone out there knows, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Houdini: A Life Worth Reading

Like magic, a new Houdini book has just appeared on the market. Houdini: A Life Worth Reading by "Higher Read" is released today. I just placed my order so I don't know much about this title yet, but here's what Amazon has to say:

Houdini was a man of magic and mystery. He was also a pilot, an author, an actor, and a rabid opponent of the Spiritualist movement. He was impatient of charlatans and imitators and loving to his family. He had an impressive ego. If any of these facts are new to you, then Houdini: A Life Worth Reading is the perfect primer on the man who was, by the end of his life, known only as Houdini. From his Nude Cell Escape (yes, that is exactly like it sounds) to his methodical debunking of mediums, Houdini orchestrated his talent, persona, and career with care, enthusiasm, and determination. With an easy-to-read biography, writings from Houdini himself, and quick-fact introductions to each chapter, Houdini: A Life Worth Reading will tell you what you want most to know about the King of Handcuffs, also known as Ehrich Weisz, also known as the great Houdini.

Purchase Houdini: A Life Worth Reading at Amazon.

'From Houdini to Hugo' in Wisconsin

Two magic-themed exhibitions, From Houdini to Hugo: The Art of Brian Selznick and Mystery, Magic and Mayhem: Wonders from the American Museum of Magic are on display now through April 6 at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin.

From Houdini to Hugo is comprised of more than 100 works by children's author and illustrator Brian Selznick, whose books and illustrations focus on such historical figures as Harry Houdini (The Houdini Box) and Georges Méliès (The Invention of Hugo Cabret).

"Growing up, Selznick was fascinated with filmmaking, monster movies and Houdini, so a lot of his book illustrations focus on those elements," said Amy Beck, marketing and communications manager with the Woodson Art Museum. "His illustrations have a way of bringing history to life for children and families."

Selznick's book The Houdini Box is currently being developed as a film by Chernin Entertainment and 20th Century Fox. In 2012 it was produced as a stage play by the Chicago Children's Theater.

The museum's complementary exhibition, Mystery, Magic and Mayhem, features lithographs from the late 19th century and early 20th century advertising magicians and their acts, as well as authentic props from the era. On show are posters for Blackstone, Carter, Houdini, Kellar, Chung Ling Soo and more.

"American audiences in that time were captivated by all these perplexing and over-the-top theatrical magic shows," Beck said. "By seeing the artwork used to publicize those events, you learn a lot about the era."

For more information visit the Woodson Art Museum website. You can also see photos of the displays on their Facebook page.

Source: Wausau Daily Herald.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Houdini fronts book of comedic tweets

Okay, here's one to test just how wild about Harry we really are. Did Houdini Ever Lock Himself Out of the House?: And Other Curious Musings is a collection of "riotous tweets" by comedy juggler Tyler Linkin with illustrations by Eric Olson. Even though Houdini is name-checked in the title, this is one I could normally pass up. But when Houdini is also on the cover… Hmmm.

For the record, I've never heard of Houdini locking himself out of 278. And if he did, he probably wouldn't have had much trouble picking the front door lock. Or he might have scaled the outside of the house and dropped in through the balcony, as he did on at least one occasion.

Not as funny.

Purchase Did Houdini Ever Lock Himself Out of the House? on Amazon.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Houdini, the Hillstreet, and the birth of a ghostbuster

The Hillstreet Theater in 1928/9.

In 1923 when Houdini performed for a week at the Hillstreet Theater in Los Angeles. The Hillstreet was not a first run theater. It was a "Junior Orpheum," presenting 5 act vaudeville and films throughout the day instead of just twice a day as in more prestigious theaters. It was also said to have "the world's worst orchestra." Typically when in Los Angeles, Houdini appeared at the Orpheum Theater. So why was he playing this lessor venue?

Image from Houdini's Ghost.
Because it was at the Hillstreet on Friday, April 27, that Houdini would try out a new identity very different from the escape act. He presented his anti-spiritualist lecture for the very first time. [*Or not. See UPDATE.] According to Patrick Culliton, Houdini had "four-walled" the Hillstreet for this purpose. While he had engaged in debate with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle over the issue of Spiritualism in print, this was the day he truly launched his campaign against frauds by presenting a talk that was very much a counterpoint to Doyle's evangelical lecture touring the U.S. at that very time. (Doyle had undertaken his tour in part because his new spirit guide, "Pheneas," warned that the end of the world was imminent.)

Houdini had generated additional interest in his talk by becoming involved in a local news story. A medium by the name of Mrs. Fairfield McVickers had passed away, and during her funeral at the First Spiritualist Church of Los Angeles, photos taken of her casket showed spirits hovering above. The medium had predicted this would happen. Houdini attempted to recreate the photos under test conditions, and in his experiments he produced a photo with a mysterious streak of light. This photo that "Houdini couldn't explain" would be part of the Hillstreet presentation.

The Los Angeles Express reported on Houdini's lecture that day. Under the headline HOUDINI NOT CONVINCED OF SPIRITUALISM, the paper wrote:

It was probably the most unusual audience gathered in a local vaudeville house as the "king of handcuffs" showed 30 odd slides of mediums and seances, embellishing them with the result of 25 years investigation in the spiritualistic field. Most of the lecture dealt with the work of mediums and Houdini's investigations. The latter denied his being a sceptic, but contended that his observations prevented him from being convinced regarding the supernatural character of feats performed by mediums.

Interestingly, the paper reports that Houdini urged his audience to also attend Conan Doyle's lecture, which would be coming to Los Angeles at the end of May.

Houdini would continue to refine his anti-spiritualist lecture at colleges before signing with the Coit-Alber Lyceum lecture bureau in 1924 and embarking on a full lecture tour of the U.S. His lecture now included 50 lantern slides -- a set of which is owned today by collector Arthur Moses who reproduced Houdini's lecture in his excellent book, Houdini Speaks Out.

The Hillstreet Theater was renamed the RKO-Hillstreet in 1929, and offered a mix of vaudeville and films even after the main L.A. Orpheum switched to movies only. In 1941 the Hillstreet played host to another master of his medium, Orson Welles, when it was one of only two theaters in Los Angeles to play his Citizen Kane (the film had been blackballed by the powerful Hearst press).

The RKO-Hillstreet closed in 1964 and was demolished in 1965. Today the location is a parking lot and largely forgotten, even by Houdini buffs. But that really shouldn't be. Because it was here on the morning of April 27, 1923 that Houdini launched the last act of his life and career -- Houdini the ghostbuster.

Site of the Hillstreet Theater today | Map.

Related posts:

* UPDATE: Having continued to research this, I'm afraid I have to throw out the idea that Houdini's spiritualism lectures began here in Los Angeles. I've found evidence that Houdini had given his lecture in San Fransisco the previous week. It also appears he gave talks on spiritualism as part of his The Man From Beyond roadshow in 1922. But this Los Angeles lecture appears to be the first one that was widely advertised as a standalone event.

    Monday, January 27, 2014

    Houdini and Conan Doyle rumble internationally

    A new Spanish language book has been released by La Felguera called Sherlock Holmes Contra Houdini. The author's are listed as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini with translation by Raquel Duato Pérez and Eduardo Fonseca Pérez.

    I'm not exactly sure what this is, but my guess is it's a collection of Doyle and Houdini's writings on the subject of Spiritualism. Funny how instead of Doyle's name the publisher used Sherlock Holmes. But Sherlock is hot these days.

    I don't always go after foreign language editions of Houdini books (I leave that to the king of international Houdiniana, Arthur Moses), but then I saw this awesome cover art and… Add To Cart!

    You can buy Sherlock Holmes Contra Houdini at (U.S.) or (UK).

    UPDATE: Now that I have this book in hand, I can report that this is something above and beyond (no pun intended). While I'm still not sure of what the text consists of exactly, I was pleasantly surprised at how copiously illustrated this book is. Every page has photos amid a beautiful overall layout. There are shots from the collection of Kevin Connolly and others that we don't typically see. This is one to get.

    Sunday, January 26, 2014

    Houdini was here

    How is this Los Angeles parking lot an important part of Houdini history?

    Saturday, January 25, 2014

    An alternative gateway

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

    Last weekend I took a look at The Great Houdini, Magician Extraordinary by Beryl Williams and Samuel Epstein, which I called the "gateway biography" because it hooked so many school age kids on Houdini. I was pleased that so many of you connected with this idea and shared that it was, indeed, the first Houdini book you ever read.

    I also read The Great Houdini in grade school. But for me there was another biography, not as well known, that worked not only as a gateway into Houdini, but reading itself. That book was Houdini: Master of Escape by Lace Kendall, first published by Macrae Smith Co. in 1960.

    Like The Great Houdini, this was a biography written for young readers. But unlike the Epstein book, it shamelessly embraced all the mythology of the time (acid on dress, trapped under the ice -- it's all here!). But despite the many inaccuracies, the writing makes this a very captivating and enjoyable book for a young reader. It reads like fiction. That's probably because Lace Kendall was actually the pen name of Adrien Stoutenburg, an American poet and a prolific writer of juvenile literature.

    I can vividly recall reading this book in a 7th grade classroom -- it was the chapter where "Erich" [sic] runs aways from his home in Appleton [sic!] -- and feeling as if I was right there with him:

    The road stretching before him was pale blue in the pre-dawn starlight. At the last bend of the road Erich paused and looked back. He could see his house from here. It seemed asleep, dim and still behind the oak trees. He imagined he could see the gleam of the old wire strung between two trees although he knew it was too rusty now to glitter. His throat ached. Everything was so still he could hear his heart beating like a machine. He took a last look at the house and the town, coughed against the lump in his throat, hitched his pack higher on his shoulders, and went on. Briefly he wished that he had written a note to his mother to tell her not to worry. Well, Dash would explain. Then when he was rich and famous he would come home and fill his mother's lap with gold.

    He walked faster, breathing deeply. Grazing cows mooed at him from the fields has passed. The sound of a cart rattled in the distance and he ducked into the shelter of pasture trees. If some farmer he knew saw him and urged him to turn back he was afraid he might give in. For already homesickness tugged at him.
    He went on, the miles falling away. He found a creek and shade-heavy trees and sat beneath them, eating the bread and cheese he had brought with him. In the distance a train's whistle sounded.

    I looked up from this passage and had the weird out-of-body experience of coming back to reality, back to the classroom. I had completely forgot where I was. Not only was this a great Houdini experience, but it was really the first experience I ever had of losing myself in a book. It was one of the things that made me a reader.

    Houdini: Master of Escape did not a have a long or varied publication history. As far as I know, it was only ever published in a hardcover edition with the same dust jacket artwork. The only real variations between editions are found under the dust jacket. On the first edition there's an embossed "HOUDINI" in yellow on the front boards. Later editions featured the frontispiece illustration of Houdini by Guy Fry in various colors. In my collection I have the Fry image in gold (6th edition) and in green (11th edition).

    First edition dust jacket and front broad.
    Front boards of later editions.

    One fun discovery I did make recently is that the image of Houdini dangling in chains on the dust jacket is actually from a publicity photo taken by LIFE magazine during the making of Paramount's 1953 biopic, Houdini.

    In a way this is fitting. Because like the great Tony Curtis movie, Houdini: Master of Escape does not let the facts get in the way of a good story. But it's such a great story and so beautifully told, all is forgiven.

    Also enjoy:

    Friday, January 24, 2014

    The Wild Man is loose!

    Hungarian actor Köleséri Sanyi has shared to my Houdini Miniseries Facebook page a photo of himself with actor Adrien Brody on the set of the upcoming biopic. He's captioned the pic: "Midnight teatime with Houdini." I'm guessing this is Brody in his "Wild Man" makeup. Sanyi himself appears to be in clown makeup.

    In his struggling days, Houdini doubled as "Projea, The Wild Man of Mexico" during his stint with the Welsh Bros. Circus. The Wild Man was memorably depicted in the Tony Curtis Houdini movie.

    What I love here is Brody's makeup appears to be a far more accurate depiction of Houdini's real Wild Man. Houdini's preparation was described as messing up his busy hair and drawing lines on his face with coal soot. That seems to be what we see here.

    Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. The 4-hour miniseries is directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. It will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY later this year.


    Houdini is a "Historical Heartthrob"

    It's official; Houdini is a hunk! The Handcuff King ranks No. 17 in the new book, Historical Heartthrobs: 50 Timeless Crushes-From Cleopatra to Camus by Kelly Murphy. Houdini falls between Czarina Alexandra and Mata Hari on the list. Not bad, Harry.

    The author cites Houdini's Best Feature as "His audacity"; gives him 4 out of 5 on the "Heart Rating"; and offers up this assessment of his physical appeal:

    "He was short, stocky, and bowlegged. His pointy nose and reverse widow's peak don't exactly say "come hither," but there's no denying the appeal of such a devoted risk-taker. There was pretty much nothing he wouldn't do. He was, without a doubt, a star."

    You can buy Historical Heartthrobs: 50 Timeless Crushes-From Cleopatra to Camus in hardcover or for the Kindle on

    Now here's No. 17 in action:

    Extended "smooch" footage courstey of Jon Oliver.

    Thursday, January 23, 2014

    A birthday present for Bess

    There has long been a bit a mystery about Bess Houdini's birthday. Almost all published sources say January 22, 1876. But the California death index lists it as January 23. In the past we've celebrated on both days, just to be safe. But this year all that changes.

    Bess Houdini's birthday is TODAY, January 23, and here's a wonderful piece of proof from the collection of John C. Hinson, the great nephew of Harry and Bess Houdini, and the benefactor of our Hinson Endowment. This is a copy of Houdini's 1920 book, Miracles Mongers and Their Methods, given by Houdini to his "Sweetheart Wife" on "January 23/1921 - on your birthday." This would have been Bess' 45th birthday.

    Inside is this wonderful inscription from Houdini:

    Click to enlarge.

    So there we have it. We can now confidently celebrate Bess' birthday on January 23. HAPPY BIRTHDAY BESS. 138 years young today!

    The Birthday Girl

    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

    Don't worry, we haven't forgotten Bess

    Yes, I know most sources say today, January 22, is Bess Houdini's birthday. But there's always been a question mark as to whether it's the 22nd or 23rd. In the past we've celebrated on both days, just to safe. But this year our Bessie birthday post will be tomorrow, January 23, and in that post I will share proof that Bess celebrated her birthday on the 23rd.

    It's another gem from our amazing Hinson Endowment, so come on back tomorrow for Bessie's big day.

    Tuesday, January 21, 2014

    Haversat & Ewing Galleries auction starts January 25

    The first magic auction from Haversat & Ewing Galleries -- the teaming of magic powerhouses David Haversat and Tom Ewing -- is set to go live this Saturday, January 25, and of course there are several Houdini items in the sale. Among them is this terrific candid snapshot of Houdini, Oscar Teale, and Julius Zancig.

    The auction will begin on Saturday, January 25 at 2:00 PM EST and will end on Saturday, February 1st at 5:00 PM EST. Click here to view all the auction lots.

    Thanks to David Haversat for permission to share this image here.

    Spotting Mr. Houdini

    When I'm not blogging about that man from Budapest, my day job these days is to quality control movies for the major studios. This pretty much means I sit in a screening room all day and watch movies which, yes, really is the world's greatest job for a movie nut (if you don't mind watching Brave 64 times -- my record).

    One movie I had the pleasure of working on recently was Saving Mr. Banks. I even got to QC some versions in Walt Disney's original screening room on the Disney lot (called "the Sweatbox"). Of course, I'm always excited to catch a reference to Houdini in the films I screen. In the past I've pointed out nods in OZ The Great and Powerful, John Carter, and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. But it wasn't until my umpteen viewing of Saving Mr. Banks that I noticed Houdini is in that film as well!

    So did anyone else catch "Houdini" in Saving Mr. Banks? If so, leave a comment below. And if you haven't yet seen the movie, I would highly recommend it. It's a great movie for movie lovers.

    The answer after the jump:

    Monday, January 20, 2014

    Houdini miniseries will air "around June"

    Professional photographer Colin Hutton, who worked on HISTORY's Houdini miniseries last year in Budapest, has revealed the first hint of a possible air-date for the 4-hour, two-night television event.

    According to a post on his blog, Houdini is "due to air in the U.S. around June 2014." He added that "it was a huge production with amazing production values" and "Houdini was played brilliantly by Adrien Brody with the main two other parts played equally well by Evan Jones and Kristen Connolly."

    Hutton has produced some iconic images for the popular Sherlock series in the UK. You can view examples of his work at his website, I can't wait to see his work on Houdini!

    UPDATE: Looks like the miniseries is now set to air in Fall 2014.

    The Man From Beyond now streaming on Netflix

    Houdini's 1922 silent feature film, The Man From Beyond, is now available for streaming on Netflix. While Netflix carries Houdini's other movies on DVD, this is the first title to be made available for streaming. The version offered here is from the 2008 Kino DVD box set, Houdini The Movie Star.

    The Man From Beyond has always been the technological trail blazer of Houdini's movies. It was the first Houdini movie to appear on VHS (Video Yesteryear), the first to come to DVD and Blu-Ray, and now it's the first to stream on Netflix. (Amazon made it available for streaming last year.) As I've said before, it's very satisfying to see Houdini's movies being offered via the most modern methods of film distribution.

    Ironically, The Man From Beyond was a film that never got proper studio distribution in its own day. Houdini himself distributed it via his Houdini Pictures Corporation using States Rights. This proved to be an unprofitable decision (more on this in an upcoming post), and Houdini would turn to FBO to distribute his next film, Haldane of the Secret Service.

    Today all we need to do is press PLAY. Houdini would love it.

    Thanks to Steven Max Droge and Barry Spector for the alerts.

    Sunday, January 19, 2014

    Tom Benedict Knight is Theo Hardeen

    We have our Dash! IMDb had updated the cast list for HISTORY's Houdini miniseries with English actor Tom Benedict Knight in the role of "Dash Houdini." It's strange way of crediting him, but I can confirm that Knight is playing Houdini's younger brother and fellow escape artist, Theo Hardeen.

    While maybe not the "well known actor" that was said to have auctioned for the part back in Sept., Knight is an up-and-comer with appearances in last year's Kick-Ass 2 and Underbelly. It will be interesting to see if he plays the part with his beard.

    Knight is now the fourth actor to portray Hardeen on screen. He follows Jack Carter (The Great Houdinis), Mark Ruffalo (Houdini, 1998), and Remy Auberjonois (Boardwalk Empire). The miniseries will also feature Hardeen as a young boy played by Connor Kelly.

    Dash of the past: Jack Carter, Mark Ruffalo, Remy Auberjonois.

    Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. The 4-hour miniseries is directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. It will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY later this year.

    Saturday, January 18, 2014

    The gateway biography

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

    First hardcover edition (1950).
    When discussing important Houdini biographies, it's easy to overlook The Great Houdini, Magician Extraordinary by Beryl Williams and Samuel Epstein. That's because this 1950 book was geared to young readers. But I consider it "the gateway biography" because it not only "hooked" many young people on Houdini, it also ushered in the modern era of Houdini study by being the first book written for a generation that hadn't known the magician in life. This was the book that would tell the story of the legend, the immortal Houdini, which is the man we still study today. It also includes a nice forward by Walter B. Gibson.

    While The Great Houdini did repeat some of the mythology of Kellock -- and even contributed some fresh mythology of it's own (young Ehrich learning magic from a magician named "Merlin"?) -- it also broke new ground. It was in this book that Martin Beck's contribution to Houdini's career was first recognized. And while this biography doesn't identify Bess as a fellow performer, it doesn't repeat the full acid on the dress fable from Kellock. Instead, it simply states that Houdini and Bess met and were married in Coney Island, which is true. Also absent is the infamous trapped under the ice story.

    Unlike other books in this series, I can't confidently tell the story of The Great Houdini's publication history, because there are just too many editions of this book in existence and it gets a little confusing when we get into the Scholastic paperbacks, as you will soon see. But I can share what I have in my collection and maybe others can fill in the gaps in the Comments section. So here we go.

    The Great Houdini, Magician Extraordinary was first released in hardcover by Julian Messner in March 1950. A second edition was published in July 1950. A later hardcover edition had a curious feature. While the dust jacket art matched the first edition (apart from slightly different title treatment), under the jacket on the front board was a similar illustration, but with an image of Houdini as an older man. I'm not sure if this older Houdini ever made it onto a dust jacket, but I really like the idea of two versions of Houdini on the same book.

    Presto! Remove the dust jacket and young Houdini becomes old Houdini.

    There are numerous library editions that used portions of the dust jacket artwork on their front boards. There was also a 1956 "Hall of Fame Series for Boys and Girls" which bound The Great Houdini with The Ringlings: Wizards of the Circus by Alvin F. Harlow. I have never seen one of these Hall of Fame editions with a dust jacket, so I'm assuinmg it was published without. A UK hardcover edition was published in 1971 by Bailey Bros. & Swinfen with original dust jacket artwork.

    Typical library binding (left) and the UK hardcover from Bailey (right).

    The Great Houdini was first released in paperback by Pocket Book, Jr. in February 1951 with dramatic cover art showing Houdini in chains underwater. A nicely illustrated summation of the Houdini story is on the back. The paperback dropped the subtitle Magician Extraordinary from the cover, and added illustrations by Louis Glanzman throughout.

    First paperback edition from Pocket Book Jr. (1951).

    In the 1960s the Scholastic Book Company made The Great Houdini available to schools through their unique network of mail order book clubs, and here's where things get a little confusing. As far as I can tell, the first Scholastic edition was first published as TK 76 in an edition that was somewhat taller than their later paperbacks. That edition used new cover artwork showing Houdini in chains (the famous pose).

    When the Scholastic edition shrank down into the more familiar size, it lost the letter "K" and became T-76. Or could it be that the taller TK 76 was for retail and shorter T-76 was for schools? Just to add to the mystery, in my collection TK-76 is a second edition (no date), while my T-76 is a 14th printing from January 1971. But I also have Scholastic paperbacks dated 1965 with the original Pocket Jr. artwork that I recall seeing in schools and for sale in magic stores into the early '80s. So which cover came first on the Scholastics? I really don't know.

    The two differently sized early Scholastic editions.

    T-76 was a perennial book club selection and a permanent featue in many school libraries and classrooms for decades. For many, this was their first encounter with Houdini. (Recently a friend's wife told me she vaguely remembered reading a Houdini book in grade school, and she was thrilled when I showed her a copy of T-76 -- that was it!) Scholastic's The Great Houdini T-76 finally went out of print, I believe, sometime in the 1980s. Although for all I know, there could still be old copies on grade school classroom shelves to this day. I hope so.

    The Great Houdini was last published in 1984 as a special hardcover edition limited to 80 copies by Amereon House. This edition contains all the Louis Glanzman illustrations from the paperback, the only hardcover to do so. It was a nice end and a fitting tribute to the great gateway biography.

    A later (?) Scholastic edition and the Amereon special edition hardcover.

    Also enjoy:

    Friday, January 17, 2014

    Houdini Mystery Series kicks off with The Mystic

    The Mystic by Darryl De Angelo is a new eBook featuring Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The cover art shows it's part of "A Houdini Mystery Series", so expect to see more Houdini adventures for De Angelo. Here's a description:

    Turn of the century London, a time of wonder. Man stood on the threshold of the modern era, ready for the next giant step of evolution. Or so they thought. When the first body was discovered, Scotland Yard knew it had another maniac on its hands, and this one was worse than The Ripper. A baffling murder, without a trace of evidence, and the clock is ticking for the next victim. The police turn to the one man who can help them, the great sleuth himself, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. The young doctor enlists the aid of a beautiful clairvoyant and together they follow the bloodstained trail into the mysterious world of magic. There, they close in on their quarry and chief suspect...the brilliant magician, Harry Houdini!

    You can purchase The Mystic for the Kindle on Amazon. At the moment there is no print version available.

    ALERT: Be on the lookout for this missing Houdini photo

    Our good friend Kevin Connolly has posted to his blog Houdini Himself the following regarding this rare signed Houdini photo:

    The above picture seems to have “disappeared” on its’ way to the new owner. The picture is an 8×10 and is inscribed to a Chas. Diestel. The inscription is dated Aug 19/26. If you ever see this image or are offered it for sale, please notify me or the United States Postal Service. I think I might be more understanding than the post office would be. Thanks.

    Let's help Kevin and keep a watch out for this rare piece of now missing Houdini history. Should you ever encounter this photo for sale, etc., contact Kevin Connolly immediately. Thanks.

    Thursday, January 16, 2014

    Michael Crawford EFX Houdini mask

    In 1995 Michael Crawford of Phantom of the Opera fame played Houdini in a Las Vegas show called EFX at the MGM Grand. At the time, the $41 million production (in which Crawford also played the roles of Merlin, P.T. Barnum, and H.G. Wells) was the most expensive theatrical presentation in history. EFX opened on March 23, 1995. Following Crawford's departure in 1996, the lead role was played by David Cassidy, Tommy Tune, and Rick Springfield (so add all these men to list of performers who have played Houdini). The show closed on January 1, 2003.

    Currently there is a unique artifact from this show on eBay. The seller says this is a mask of Crawford that was worn by the stuntman doubling him in the Chinese Water Torture Cell. Here's the full description:

    HEADPIECE is a Look a Like Latex Head Mask with Human Hair. This Mask was used in a Stunt during EFX Starring MICHAEL CRAWFORD, MGM HOTEL AND CASINO, LAS VEGAS 1994-95. Before entering the WATER TORTURE CHAMBER, Michael would switch places with a Stuntman who was wearing this Look a Like Headpiece. The Stuntman would dangle upside-down in Water Tank with Mask while trying to escape wearing a Straight Jacket with Locks and Chains. Headpiece could only be submerged in the Water Tank so many times. The Mask would discolor extremely and become unusable for any further use in Show and would be destroyed. This Headpiece sits on a Black Metal Head Frame that plugs in and helps dry the inside of Mask after it is used in Water Torture Tank.

    Below is an audio clip of Crawford as Houdini and Tina Walsh as Bess signing "Tonight" from EFX:

    Wednesday, January 15, 2014

    Briggs Houdini auction listings are live

    Last month I reported that a large selection of Houdini items from the private collection of former Philadelphia 76ers president Pat Croce will be auction by Briggs in Pennsylvania on February 21.

    Now the auction house has put up the listings for the auction and…wow! Along with the handcuff displays cases that were highlighted in December are many more items that were not mentioned, including rare photos of Houdini, a significant Harry Kellar letter, and a 4-sheet poster from Houdini's full evening show (above).

    By the way, I've always thought it was eerie that Houdini would use Halloween iconography on this, one of his last posters.

    Thanks to Leo Hevia for the alert.

    More Houdini miniseries cast revealed

    "Sylvia" sans beard.
    IMDb has revealed more cast and characters from HISTORY's Houdini miniseries. The site now shows Gyula Mesterházy as Kaiser Wilhelm II; Simon Nader is Tsar Nicholas Romanov II; and English actress Caroline Boulton as "Sylvia The Bearded Lady."

    While the two Royals are historical figures, Sylvia The Bearded Lady is a fictional creation (although Houdini certainly knew a bearded lady or two in his life). It's unknown how much she'll feature in the biopic, but the actress appears to have shot for a number of days in Budapest and also attended the wrap party in December.

    Caroline Boulton can currently be seen in NBCs Dracula TV series. She'll also appear in the upcoming Sky Television film about the life of James Bond creator, Ian Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond.

    Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. The 4-hour miniseries is directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. It will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY later this year.

    Tuesday, January 14, 2014

    Playing The Grim Game in Sweden

    Here's something pretty rare. This is a Swedish program for Houdini's first Hollywood feature, The Grim Game. It's 8-pages and dated 1920, and contains some nice photos from this "lost" Houdini film. It's currently listed on eBay with a $225 start price. Click here to view the auction.

    Click to enlarge.

    This is a good example of how Houdini's film career spread his name to international markets where he rarely, if ever, performed. It's said that Houdini's movie career earned him a large fan base in Japan, a country he never visited in his lifetime.


    Monday, January 13, 2014

    LINK: Houdini, Monopoly and the Third Reich has an interesting article about a World War II effort by Clayton Hutton to undermine the enemy using the game Monopoly. But what is of particular interest to us here is that the article opens with an account of a 20-year-old Hutton challenging Houdini to escape from a packing crate in 1913. It's very interesting to read about a Houdini challenge from the challengers point of view, although the idea of Houdini "wearing a fur-lined coat and gaudy carpet slippers" doesn't quite sound like our Harry.

    Click here or on the headline to read: Inside Monopoly's secret war against the Third Reich.

    Sony conjures a new screenwriter for 'Houdini'

    Looks like Sony's Houdini movie is still alive with Deadline Hollywood reporting that Chronical screenwriter Max Landis (son of director John Landis) has been hired to work on a new draft of the film being produced by Jimmy Miller.

    Deadline says the the story is being told "with an H.P. Lovecraft influence" and that "this gives new momentum to the pic." I revealed last year that the Sony project included a large element of the supernatural with Chung Ling Soo playing a pivotal role. It's unclear if Francis Lawrence is still attached to direct.

    Curiously, Deadline also says that Summit/Lionsgate is still moving forward with their own Houdini project based on the Kalush/Sloman book, The Secret Life Of Houdini, and that "there were rumors Johnny Depp was interested." But with Lionsgate co-producing this year's Houdini miniseries with A&E and HISTORY, I would be surprised to see them launch a second Houdini project that would compete with themselves (Lionsgate and Summit merged in 2012).

    Of course, the Sony/Columbia Houdini movie has been in development for many, many years (45 to be exact), so I wouldn't get excited about this just yet.

    Click here for a list of all the Houdini projects currently in development in Hollywood.


    Bessie arrives...

    Fresh from shooting HISTORY's Houdini miniseries in Budapest, here's our beautiful new Bess Houdini, Kristen Connolly, on the red carpet at last night's Golden Globes in Beverly Hills.

    While we have seen leaked photos of Adrien Brody as Houdini and Eszter Ónodi as Mama, a photo of Kristen as Bess has yet to surface. But until then, I think this photo will do just fine.

    Houdini is directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. The 4-hour miniseries will air over the course of two nights on HISTORY later this year.

    Sunday, January 12, 2014

    Margery producing ectoplasm

    After our little 3-day excursion into the world of Houdini musical theater, let's get back to reality…so to speak. Here are three original photos of Mina Crandon a.k.a. Margery the Medium taken under red light during a seance. These show Margery producing ectoplasm from under her robe. This was one of her specialities. The ectoplasm here appears to be taking the form of a human hand. Weird stuff.

    These photos come from reader Wyatt Brumfield who discovered them in a book from an estate sale in San Francisco. The book was from the A.S.P.R. (American Society for Psychic Research), and each of the photos are stamped "A11" on the back. While these photos have been published before, I've never seen them this clear and uncropped.

    Wyatt later spoke with the A.S.P.R. who said they did not normally make copies of photos for members. But if a member was doing research, they could loan them from their archives. So could these be originals from the A.S.P.R. archives gone astray?

    If you have any insight or information about these pics, you can contact Wyatt Brumfield via email.

    Thanks to Wyatt for sharing these.


    Saturday, January 11, 2014

    Tickets on sale for 'Nothing on Earth'

    Tickets are on sale now for the Axis Theatre Company's production, Nothing on Earth. Written and directed by Randall Sharp, the play "examines Houdini's driven crusade to expose fraudulent mediums and his crossing paths with the avid spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle."

    William Kalush and The Conjuring Arts Research Center worked with the production "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."

    Showtimes are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm from February 27 - March 29, 2014. There will be additional performances on Monday, March 3 and Wednesday, March 5 at 8pm. Seating is limited.

    To buy tickets visit the Axis Theatre Company's official website.

    UPDATE: This has now been extended through April 5.

    Man of Magic - Conquer the World

    Here's the grand finale of our 3-day journey into Houdini musical theater with a final selection from the 1966 London stage musical, Man of Magic. The lavish production starred Stuart Damon as Houdini, Judith Bruce as Bess, with a book and lyrics by John Morley and Aubrey Cash, and music by Wilfred Wylam. The show closed after 126 performances at London's Piccadilly Theater.

    This song closes out the first side of the LP (and presumably the first act) and features Harry and Bess vowing to "Conquer the World." In the clip below you'll see some of the props created for the show by Abbott's Magic Co., including the Water Torture Cell. The escape was performed on stage by Timothy Dill-Russell doubling Stuart Damon.

    Thanks to Ron South for digitalizing my Man of Magic LP. Check out Ron's blog devoted to the rock band Journey, Wheel In The Sky.

    Friday, January 10, 2014

    Man of Magic - The Floral Sisters

    Here's another selection of rare music from the 1966 London stage musical, Man of Magic, starring Stuart Damon as Houdini, Judith Bruce as Bess, with a book and lyrics by John Morley and Aubrey Cash, and music by Wilfred Wylam. This early song and dance number showcases the "Floral Sisters."

    In the play, the Floral Sisters are made up of Bess and Maggie (Gaye Brown) and are managed by Stubby Kaye's character, Toby Kester. It's while performing as a Floral Sister that Harry first sees Bess. Toby later manages Houdini himself.

    What I love about this is The Floral Sisters were, in fact, real. Bessie joined the troop in Coney Island and it was there she met Houdini who was performing with Theo as The Brothers Houdini in 1894. It's wild to think that this obscure sideshow act would one day be portrayed on the London stage in an lavish musical. I wonder if any of the real Floral Sisters (or their children) lived to hear this musical number or see the play?

    Anyway, enjoy the gals from the Bowery by way of Piccadilly. Ladies and gentleman, The Floral Sisters!

    Tomorrow we conclude our musical adventure as Harry and Bess Conquer the World!

    Thanks to Ron South for digitalizing my Man of Magic LP. Check out Ron's blog devoted to the rock band Journey, Wheel In The Sky.

    Thursday, January 9, 2014

    The music of Man of Magic

    Upset that we won't be getting the Houdini Broadway musical this year? Never fear! I've got your Houdini musical right here!

    Man of Magic was produced by Harold Fielding and opened at London's Piccadilly Theater on November 16, 1966. The production starred Stuart Damon as Houdini, Judith Bruce as Bess, and Stubby Kaye as Houdini's (fictional) manager, Toby Kester. The book and lyrics were by John Morley and Aubrey Cash, with music by Wilfred Wylam. The show closed after only 126 performances. Most critics felt that the production values were strong, but the music was weak.

    Now I can bring you a selection of music from this long forgotten musical and you can judge for yourself. Below is the opening musical number, Man of Magic.

    Tomorrow our Houdini musical adventure continues with a little song and dance from those gregarious gals from Coney Island -- The Floral Sisters!

    Thanks to Ron South for digitalizing my Man of Magic LP. Check out Ron's blog devoted to the rock band Journey, Wheel In The Sky.

    Wednesday, January 8, 2014

    Man of Magic takes the stage

    Here are a few terrific photos of Stuart Damon and Judith Bruce as Harry and Bess Houdini in the London stage musical, Man of Magic. The lavish production was produced by Harold Fielding and opened at London's Piccadilly Theater on November 16, 1966.

    Over the next few days I will share some of the original music from this long forgotten show exclusively here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. So check back tomorrow to enjoy The music of Man of Magic.

    Photos taken by Tom Hustler and featured in the souvenir Man of Magic Picture Book.

    Click here to read more about Harold Fielding's Man of Magic.