Monday, March 31, 2014

In the workshop...

These are busy days for me out in the real world, so I'm just letting everyone know that my postings here on WILD ABOUT HARRY might be a bit lighter or more sporadic than usual. But don't worry, I won't let any major news slip past, especially as the promotion for the Houdini miniseries is imminent. Houdini doesn't take a day off. Look, there he is now!

I'm also attempting to give major stories -- those with historical content -- more "time at the top" by letting them remain the latest post for at least two days. My fear is some of these aren't getting enjoyed because they are so quickly buried by the daily updates of Houdini news. It's incredible that from the day I launched this blog, I've had a backlog of nearly 20 posts at all times. My only challenge has been rolling them out in such a way that they all get read and something important doesn't get lost. I'm always looking for feedback from readers and regular visitors about how much Harry they can handle. 

For those who only read the historical posts, know that I send links to these to my standalone Houdini Facebook page (as opposed to the Wild About Harry Facebook page where I send everything and more). Give that page a Like and you shouldn't miss a thing. (I'm told that if you like several individual stories -- show interaction with the page -- Facebook will include the page in your News Feed.)

Also feel free to give me feedback in the Comments below. Even when I'm busy with lessor matters (like earning a living), I'm always thinking about Houdini and how to build a better blog.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Houdini will meet The Shadow

Houdini will appear in a new graphic novel featuring The Shadow written by Cullen Bunn. The Shadow #0 does not yet have a release date, but here are details from the press release at CBR:

Dynamite Entertainment is proud to announce the signing of Cullen Bunn, who will pen a Shadow tale where he meets the elusive magician Houdini! And you can expect more to come from Dynamite and Cullen Bunn in the future!

"I've long been a fan of pulp heroes, and the Shadow was my introduction into that world," says writer Cullen Bunn. "In this tale, we see the Shadow infiltrating a secret society of magicians who are willing to do anything to lay claim to what might be the most forbidden of secrets. As the Shadow evades devious deathtraps, we learn that he has a connection to the greatest magician of all time."

In The Shadow #0, secrets of the Shadow's past are revealed as he meets Houdini! The Shadow infiltrates sanctum of an esoteric society of murderous magicians who are hellbent on escaping the ultimate trap--death itself! In order to thwart their plans, though, he must evade twisted traps and solve spellbinding puzzles. A good--or evil--magician never reveals his secrets... but the Shadow knows.

Of course, the real Houdini had a strong connection to The Shadow. The Shadow's creator, Walter B. Gibson, was Houdini's friend and ghostwriter, and went on to pen several books about the great escape artist.

UPDATE: I'm surprised to see The Hollywood Reporter pick up this news. But they do seem to have a thing for Houdini.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Haunting Houdini in Los Angeles

The Haunted Houdini Tour poster and booklet.

On Sunday, March 23, I had the great pleasure of taking "The Haunted Houdini Tour" of Los Angeles. This was a co-production of GOULA and LA Hauntings and was conducted by renowned ghost hunter, Richard Carradine. I was expecting to have a good time with my fellow Houdini buffs, but I frankly didn't expect to learn anything that I didn't already know about Houdini and L.A. Well, I'm happy to report that Richard knew his topic and this tour did provide me with a few revelatory moments. So let's hit the road!

I elected to take the 10:30am tour, which was the first of three tours planned for the day. Joining me were fellow Houdini nuts: Joe Fox, Joe Notaro (HHCE), Mark Willoughby, and my father, Ronald Cox (not a "nut", but integral in the formation of my Houdini mania). We gathered and met tour guide Richard Carradine in front of the historic Hollywood Heritage Museum across from the Hollywood Bowl in, you guessed it, Hollywood! This was actually our first Houdini location. The 101-year-old barn that houses Hollywood Heritage was once part of the Famous Players-Lasky Studio where Houdini made The Grim Game and Terror Island. Yes, Houdini walked through these doors.

Richard Carradine, Joe Notaro, Mark Willoughby, John Cox, and Joe Fox.

Twelve of us loaded into a black van, and the first surprise was that Richard handed out a special 30-page tour booklet he had prepared with photos and news-clippings related to Houdini and Los Angeles (collector alert!). Some of the clippings were new to me, including one with a photo of Houdini and director Cecil B. DeMille that I've never seen before. There was also a clipping that made my jaw drop as it solved a recent mystery discussed here on WILD ABOUT HARRY...but let's save that for when we get there.

We left the museum and plunged into Hollywood for our first location at the corner of Selma and Vine. This is where the Famous Players-Lasky Studio once stood. As I said, this is where Houdini made his two Hollywood features, The Grim Game and Terror Island, and where the Hollywood Heritage barn originally stood. For years it was a parking lot. On this day it was being cleared for construction. At the far corner of the studio on Sunset and Vine stands a bank which also has a Houdini connection. It was here in the basement that the S.A.M. Houdini collection was housed (trapped actually) for many years. Richard pointed out that the ghost of Fatty Arbuckle is also said to haunt this stretch of Sunset Blvd.

Famous Players-Lasky Studio in Houdini's time (Hollywood Heritage).

After pulling a Houdini escape from traffic on Sunset Blvd, we continued up into Laurel Canyon and stopped in front of the fabled Houdini Estate. Richard nicely laid out the history and mystery of the property (and its related ghost stories -- this was a "haunted" tour after all). He also offered up his own theory on why the property is confused with Houdini and suggested an alternate location for where the great magician might have stayed. I admit, I found his ideas on this pretty intriguing, and it could shake up my own thinking on this. It's a little too much to go into now, but maybe I can talk Richard into writing a guest blog for us at some point.

After the house, we set out on a long trek downtown, passing the cemetery that holds Harry Kellar on the way. Richard kept the journey lively and always interesting with a steady commentary that took us from Houdini's movie career into the realm of the spirits!

Arriving in downtown, I was very excited when we rolled up to the "First Spiritualist Church of Los Angeles." This is a famous L.A. Houdini location that I've somehow never found time to visit myself. It was in this church that Houdini, under his own test conditions, took a photo that produced a strange streak of light that he couldn't explain. It's come down as the only spirit-related phenomena that stumped Houdini.

Amazingly, the church, which was founded in 1911 and expanded in 1921, is largely unchanged, at least on the outside. Here we disembarked from our van and took some photos, and I was able to take a quick peek inside. The interior has seen renovation and there was a service being held on this Sunday morning (no, not a seance, it's now a Christian church), so there was no way to recreate the photo of Houdini at the alter (reproduced in the tour booklet). The church is not in the best of condition, so how long this important Houdini location will remain unchanged is questionable. But what a treat to see!

From the Church it was a short hop to the next location, and here's where Richard solved a Houdini mystery for us. We rolled up to the historic Los Angeles Examiner Building, where Houdini once performed a suspended straitjacket escape. I blogged about this back in November, but could not identify exactly when this escape took place. Well, the clipping in the booklet that made my jaw drop before we left Hollywood was an article from the Examiner which dates the escape as April 5, 1923. This was at the same time as the First Spiritualist Church photo and Houdini's Spiritualist lecture. A busy time for Houdini in Los Angeles!

The clipping also included a photo of Houdini being strapped into the jacket, and I was surprised to see that it was the photo used on a recent episode of Pawn Stars to authenticate a Houdini straitjacket (which sold in auction in 2011). So not only do we now know the date of this escape, but we know which straitjacket he used that day. It's wild that in just a few months we've gone from never even knowing that this escape happened, to now knowing more about this than probably any other single suspended straitjacket escape.

Another interesting detail in the clipping (which, unfortunately, does not include the full text) is that the cameraman who took the photos of the escape that day from the 3rd floor of the Los Angeles Railway Building across the street, dropped his camera to the street and almost fell himself. The camera was destroyed, but the pictures of Houdini mysteriously survived. Is that a ghost story? Maybe.

From the Examiner Building we proceeded down Broadway and turned up Hill. Here Richard pointed out the location of the long-gone Hillstreet Theater. This is where Houdini gave his first ever lecture on Spiritualism. This was a point of pride for me as this is not something covered in most books, and I suspect Richard learned about this from WILD ABOUT HARRY.

We then jumped on the freeway and headed back into Hollywood -- completing a nice circular route -- and drove past the Knickerbocker Hotel. It was here on the rooftop that Bess and Edward Saint held the Final Houdini Seance in 1936. This is probably one of then most famous Houdini Hollywood locations and, as with these other sites, is still largely unchanged (although it's now private senior housing).

We continued down Hollywood Blvd. and made a right turn at Houdini's star on the Walk of Fame. The final location Richard pointed out was, appropriately enough, The Magic Castle.

Arriving back at Hollywood Heritage, we were able to buy copies of "The Haunted Houdini Tour" poster signed by artist Jose Cabrera. Our ticket also gave us admission to the museum, which contains the original office of Cecil B. DeMille and some wonderful silent movie memorabilia and equipment. It was a little late to catch the last brunch seating at the Magic Castle, so we instead headed to Du-par's in Studio City where my father treated us all to a lunch that included even more Houdini talk. Thanks again, dad!

At the start of the tour, Richard said he and the organizers worried whether anyone would be interested in a Houdini-themed tour. Well, the three sold out tours that day certainly put that fear to rest. Here's hoping GOULA, LA Hauntings, and Richard Carradine might treat us to another ghostly Houdini event in the future.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

John Hinson shares Hidden Treasures

Our good friend and frequent contributor, John C. Hinson, the great-nephew of Harry and Bess Houdini, appeared yesterday on the WCCA TV 13 public access show Hidden Treasures hosted by Bill Safer. John brought along and shared several rare Houdini artifacts handed down from his grandparents. You can watch the full episode (#17) at the WCCA TV website. Just click the link below and enjoy:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

LINK: I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere visits Houdini's Spook House

One of my favorite non-magic destinations on the web is I Hear Of Sherlock Everywhere, a website devoted to everything happening in the world of Sherlock Holmes. Yes, they are wild about Sherlock!

Recently the site posted a review of the new novel, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House by C. Michael Forsyth, so I'm pleased to finally have a reason to link to them.

Click here or on the headline to read their review. And if you are a Sherlockian, you will definitely want to stick around and have a browse. I also highly recommend their monthly podcast.

You can buy Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House from (U.S.) and (UK).

Houdini invades Russian fiction

I wasn't able to find a relevant plot description, but according to the mighty Arthur Moses -- who specializes in tracking down Houdini foreign editions -- this new Russian novel features Houdini as a character.

Not much more I can say about this, apart from that it was released in January and can be purchased now at

Spaseeba Arthur!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Houdini haunts The Late Late Show

Houdini made The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson last night on his 140th birthday (Houdini's birthday, not Ferguson's). Not only was Houdini the topic of Craig's monologue, but later in the show guest Betty White talked about her "relationship" with the escape king. Of course, it was all in good fun and both Ferguson and White got off some pretty funny Houdini-related jokes (and one great Copperfield zinger).

For the record, this was Season 10, Episode 1898 of The Late Late Show on CBS. It first aired March 24, 2014.

Spanish 'Miracle Mongers and Their Methods'

A new Spanish language edition of Houdini's 1920 book, Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, has been published by Nórdica Libros. The book is translated by Alicia Frieyro and contains illustrations by Iban Barrenetxea.

Traficantes de milagros y sus métodos was officially released yesterday, Houdini's birthday, and is available now via (Spain), (U.S.), (UK) or The Book Depository (which offers free shipping worldwide).

Below is a nice promotional video for the book from the Nórdica Libros website. I think these illustrations by Barrenetxea makes this one a must buy.

Thanks to Arthur Moses (who else) for the alert.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Houdini turns 140

Today is Houdini's 140th birthday. The great escape artist was born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary to Mayer Samuel and Cecilia Steiner Weiss. As I do each year, below are a collection of birthday greetings from around the web and world (which I will update throughout the day, so send me your link if you have one).

Today everyone is wild about Harry!

The Birthday Boy

Birthday wishes from around the web:
A Braid of Frost and Felt: Happy 140th Birthday Harry Houdini!!!
The Magic Detective: Happy 140th Birthday Houdini
HHCE: It’s Official! Harry Houdini celebrates his 140th birthday today
iTricks: Happy 140th Harry Houdini!
The Iconic Muse: Houdini's Birthday
Marketplace: Houdini, debt, and dandelions
The Pueblo Chieftain: Monday Medley: Wild About Harry
Show & Stay Magazine: Happy birthday Houdini: A celebration of stage illusions
The New India Express: Born On March 24? You Share a B’day with Harry Houdini
Do You Remember: 5 Stunts That Should’ve Killed Houdini
The Daily Page: My love affair with Wisconsin homeboy Harry Houdini
Pete Booth, Comedy Magic: Happy Birthday Harry Houdini
Carnegie Magic - Steampunk Illusionist: Houdini & Fatty Arbuckle Share a Birthday
Provincia: Aniversario 140 del ilusionista más grande todos los tiempos, Houdini
Michigan in Pictures: Harry Houdini put the rabbit in Jack Rabbit Beans
Travalanche: Harry Houdini: Movie Star
Fox6Now: Remembering Houdini with magic from Glen Gerard
Houdini Museum: Happy Birthday Houdini!
lesser known realities: March 24 - Happy Birthday Houdini
A Hearty Handclasp: Nothing On Earth Can Hold Houdini Harry Houdini, Master of Escape, Born 140 Years Ago Today
Sinapse Blog: Happy Birthday, Houdini!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Blackstone gives Bessie a lift

Here's a remarkable period photo of Harry Blackstone Sr. levitating Bess Houdini. I picked this up on eBay where I was surprise to see it cycle unsold twice. I've never seen this image before, and it's a really great shot featuring two true legends of magic. Although I can't quite tell if this is an actual performance of levitation or a photo composite (possibly done for a convention?).

Of course, this isn't Bessie's first time being floated. While touring Canada early in their careers, the Houdinis performed a version of the Trilby levitation.

The irony of this photo is that Blackstone was a rival to Houdini. The men clashed several times. Once when Blackstone floated a large balloon advertising his show near a theater where Houdini was playing, Houdini considered shooting it down, but feared that would just draw more attention to it. He even filed a complaint with the National Variety Artists to stop Blackstone from performing his overboard box escape. In return, Blackstone frequently took swipes at Houdini's ego. In Milbourne Christopher's Panorama of Magic (1962), the author recalls:

The first time Blackstone visited my apartment he went from room to room, stopping now and again to examine a print, a painting or a book more closely. Finally, as he came to the colorful lithographs, he said: "Houdini used to have a place like this. The only difference is that all of his pictures were of Houdini."

After the deaths of Houdini and Thurston, Blackstone became the preeminent magician of his day, and really the last great stage magician of the Golden Age of Magic. He died in 1965 at age 80 in an apartment just blocks from The Magic Castle in Hollywood.

For more on the career of Harry Blackstone, check out the first part of an excellent profile by Michael Lauck over at iTricks: Blackstone: The Last Great Stage Show.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Axis Theatre Company hosts Q&A with William Kalush, March 29

If you haven't yet seen the Axis Theatre Company's production of Nothing On Earth (Can Hold Houdini), then you might want to consider buying a ticket for the March 29th performance. Following the show that night will be a Q&A with the great William Kalush, author of The Secret Life of Houdini and founder of The Conjuring Arts Research Center. Some of the cast and crew will also participate in the discussion.

William Kalush helped out on the production, which examines Houdini's crusade to expose fraudulent mediums and his crossing paths with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The play features George Demas as Houdini, Spencer Aste as Conan Doyle, David Crabb as Jim Collins, Brian Barnhart as LeRoi Crandon, Lynn Mancinelli as "Margery", and Brian Linden. (Click to read our guest review by Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz.)

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

National Archives draft Houdini into new exhibition

Houdini's World War I draft registration card, which he made out in the name of Harry Handcuff Houdini, is displayed along with the drafts cards of Babe Ruth, Al Capone, Duke Ellington, Robert Frost, Marcus Garvey, and Norman Rockwell as part of a new exhibition called "Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures" opening today at the National Archives in Washington D.C.

Houdini registered for the draft on Sept.12, 1918 and listed his profession as "Actor - Manager Film Factory" (at the time he was operating his Film Developing Corporation). At age 44, he was too old to serve, but Houdini worked tirelessly during the war performing at benefits and selling over $1 million in War Bonds. He also gave U.S. soldiers lessons in how to escape from German handcuffs, and handed out $5 gold pieces to soldiers that he produced during his Money from Nothing routine (by the war's end he had given out over $7000).

"Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures" will be on display through January 5, 2015, and is free and open to the public. The National Archives is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, except Thanksgiving and December 25.

Click here for more information.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

LINK: Close to Houdini

The David De-Val Tribute Site has reproduced a fascinating article written by De-Val in a 1985 issue of Escapism in which he reports on a visit with Kathleen Owen, the assistant to Houdini's English agent, Harry Day.

Mrs. Owen knew Houdini and relates some truly unique and personal information, including that Houdini carried with him at all times a small polished wooden box containing mementos of his mother ("he would worry if it was out of his sight"), that he "swore occasionally, but not a lot," and that Harry Day did not like Bess.

Click on over and have a read, and also have a browse of some of the other De-Val articles on this excellent tribute site.

Thanks to Andy Robertson.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I'm "On With Scott" talking Houdini

In January I was a guest on the Live Sircuit podcast On With Scott talking about, you guessed it, Houdini! Now the two shows are archived at the On With Scott page. Just click on Episode 10 and Episode 11 in the SoundCloud player and enjoy. There's also an option to download them as MP3s, so you can listen on iTunes, etc.

Click for On With Scott at Live Sircuit 
(John Cox-Houdini episodes 10 & 11)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When Louella Parsons met Houdini

Louella Parsons was America's first movie columnist. During her heyday with the Hearst press, her columns were read by 20 million people in 400 newspapers worldwide.

Parsons began writing for the Chicago Record Herald in 1914. In 1918 she moved to New York City and started working for the New York Morning Telegraph. It was here she caught the attention of William Randolph Hearst, who hired her in 1923. She went on to become a fixture of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and is famous for leading the attack (on behalf of Hearst) on Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, and her rivalry with gossip columnist Hedda Hooper. She was portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1985 TV movie, Malice in Wonderland.

In 1918, when Parsons was still working for the New York Telegraph, she interviewed Houdini backstage at the New York Hippodrome. It's a remarkable piece -- her writing is a hoot -- that really captures what it was like to meet the Master Mystifier in person. There are also some interesting comments from Houdini about The Bible and meeting evangelist Billy Sunday, and his thoughts on making movies.

I thought this was one worth reproducing in full, so enjoy.

November 10, 1918
Louella Parsons

When Houdini became a legitimate subject for a motion picture story, there seemed to me no reason why I should not pay him a visit and ask him to tell me how he managed to wriggle his way out of a straitjacket while he was suspended sixty feet in the air, where he concealed the yards and yards of gay colored silk he apparently extracted from a water-filled bowl, how he unlocked a bolted and barred box without key or chisel.

The Rolfe studio way out in Yonkers didn't help solve this problem for me because it is too far from the haunts of man to permit a busy woman to wander there while there is work to be done. But his name on the Hippodrome program as one of the integral parts of "Everything" gave me an opportunity to visit him at the theatre.

We saw his performance first from one of the loges and heard him speak in a Liberty Loan voice, now the fashion among people who have done service for Uncle Sam. Then he disappeared from view, and Mr. Conway of the Hippodrome staff came and told me Houdini would see me in his dressing room.

"Find out how he does it," shouted all four voices. "Don't come back until he tells you," instructed an enthusiastic female in our party. With all these whispered words of advice simmering in my brain I followed Mr. Conway down the devious and mysterious back-stage passageways of the labyrinth-like Hippodrope. It was dark, and I had a sort of shaky feeling akin to the sensation one gets when the lights go out and a spiritualistic seance is put on with a ghostly voice sighing its way into the party.

A cheerful voice, a bright light and an interesting personality--all belonging to Houdini--made me forget the spooky feeling of a few moments earlier.

"Won't you come in?" invited Mr. Houdini. His pet eagle echoed the invitation by flapping his wings, and so I entered the presence of the master magician with the thought uppermost in my mind, "How do you do all this magic?"

The thought is twin to the voice and in two minutes I had put into words what had been singing in my mind.

"Won't you tell me how you untied yourself?" I asked.

"If I tell you," he said, "it will be no secret."

"But if I promise never to tell?"

"Ah, many have asked the same thing, but I have promised myself to carry my secret to the grave," he said. "If you knew, you would not consider the feat marvelous or even interesting."

Houdini, and his name has been legalized, comes from a small town called Appleton, Wis. Appleton is famous also as the birthplace of Edna Ferber and Dr. John Murphy, Chicago's great surgeon.

"When I was a small boy in Appleton," said Houdini, "my mother used to bake apple pie. She would lock it in a pantry and it would disappear. I was the guilty culprit. Apple pie is probably the only thing which would drive me to such desperate deeds--and even today, for a piece of my mother's pie, I would commit a theft."

"Doesn't she bake any more pies for you; and do you really think such rich pastry is good for you?" I asked, wondering if he didn't have to diet with so much depending upon his physical perfection.

He handed me a photograph of himself and two women. Pointing to the elder of the two, he said: "My mother left us five years ago. This is my wife, and we are unfashionable enough to still like each other after twenty-four years of married life."
Then we came to the subject of pie as a diet. Houdini makes no restrictions in eating when he likes. He is extremely proud of his stomach, an endowment, he says, of an ancestral cleanliness. He is proud of his family and spoke not only in tender, proud tones of the sweet-faced little mother, but of his rabbi father, who brought him up in the strict Hebrew church. Houdini is a Jew, and proud of it.

"Once I went to a talk with Billy Sunday," he said. "He talked about the Bible to me and I went home and read it; the next day I was a better Jew than I had ever been in my life--that is what Billy Sunday did for me."

We talked about every subject in the world but moving pictures. We talked about reincarnation, transmigration of the soul, the Sir Oliver Lodge theory, and in merely a superficial discussion, just scratching the surface as it were, Houdini betrayed himself as being a rarely well-read and well-educated man. He does not talk to get an audience, but after the manner of a man who knows his subject.

Finally we came to motion pictures. Houdini is right now nursing a broken wrist and a bumped head.

"I had to go into pictures to get these," he said, pointing ruefully to his injured members. "You see, I don't have any doubles. I do all the stunts myself. Some of the business Arthur Reeve left out of the scenario, with instructions for me to get out of any predicament I was in as best I could. Well, I followed his advice and got these."

But Houdini likes making pictures. He says it is a sinfully easy way to make money. Attention here, all you hard-working stars, who sigh over the vicissitudes of the picture-making game.

"Why, the director tells you what to do, and you do it. One thing," said the master magician, "there are no fakes in the serial we are making. I have done everything called for, without calling in any help, and our fights have been real fights."

The Rolfe serial, "The Master Mystery," is the subject of great enthusiasm with Houdini. He likes it, and thinks the public will enjoy the tale of adventure it unfolds.

"You know the only thing that worried me," he said, "when I was taking the picture. I have never acted with women and I was afraid my wife would not exactly like my making love to these girls, even if it was only for the benefit of the camera."

"Did she mind," I asked, amused at this naive confession from a man who had been learnedly discussing philosophy and religion but a few seconds ago.

"Not a bit," he said. "We both like the young ladies very much. They are sweet girls. You see, I am not much of a ladies' man."

I should say Houdini is very modest. He has nice gray eyes, a singularly attractive smile and a most engaging manner. The picture taken of himself some years ago with his wife and mother shows a very handsome young man. He is older now, with hair just beginning to grow thin at the temples.

Every few seconds we came back to his art. I call it art, for, black magic though it may be, he has certainly raised it to the plane of artistic endeavor. He stands unique and alone. There is only one Houdini. There will probably never be another one, for he is determined to bury his secret with him.

"I have not betrayed my secrets on the screen, though I have had some difficulty in keeping them from the watchful eye of the camera," he said.

I had to return to my box at the Hippodrome without the secret, but Houdini, much after the manner of pleasing a child who has been grievously disappointed, showed me how he can disjoint his thumb, a trick I have never before seen done.

Just as I was leaving Houdini's dressing room he confessed to me I was entirely different from what he expected to see. "I had a mental picture in my mind," he said, "and you are just the opposite."

He didn't tell me whether I had failed to measure up to his expectation, but then, as I said--Houdini is a gentleman.

If you're curious, the trick that so amazed Louella was Houdini's thumb racket, which you can see a brief clip of HERE. For another portrayal of Louella Parsons, check out the excellent HBO movie, RKO 281.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Man From Beyond screening at Lewiston Public Library, March 24

The Lewiston Public Library near Niagara Falls, New York, will celebrate Houdini's birthday on March 24th with a screening of The Man From Beyond. The screening will take place at 7:00pm. There was mention of holding a seance as part of the evening, but I'm not sure if that's still part of the plan.

Of course, Houdini shot the climax of The Man From Beyond at Niagara Falls in May of 1921. I recently took a look back at that shoot HERE.

The Lewiston Public Library is located at 305 South 8th Street Lewiston, NY, 14092. For more information visit their website or Facebook page.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

David Byron captures Houdini on the Web

Our friend David Byron has posted an article online that he originally wrote for the The Mandala in 2012 called, Houdini Now and Then: Caught on the Web. David looks at how the web is changing the landscape for Houdini fans, and generously mentions me alongside Dean Carnegie and Kevin Connolly as being "game changers." Says David:

"I wrote this article for a trade magazine read only by magicians. Since interest in Houdini continues to swell in the media (with multiple major projects coming to fruition later this year), and since his 140th birthday is less than a fortnight away, I thought I'd recycle the article for a broader audience. Enjoy!"

David has posted the article on his own blog, Baroque Potion, and also on the popular (where it's garnered some nice comments).  So if you missed it in The Mandala, have a read online!

Thank you, David.

Sherlock Holmes and The Escape Artist ships

Even though it was scheduled for release on March 24, Sherlock Holmes and The Escape Artist by Fred Thursfield is shipping now from In fact, Amazon currently shows only 5 left in stock.

The book finds Sherlock Holmes, Mary Watson and Houdini joining forces in a spiritualist debunking adventure. This is Thursfield's fourth Holmes novel.

Sherlock Holmes and The Escape Artist is released by MX Publishing. So far it looks like the print version is only available in the UK (purchase from Amazon UK). A Kindle Edition is available in the U.S.

UPDATE: The paperback is now available on the U.S.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Houdini gets 'Drunk' again, March 17

The Houdini episode of Comedy Central's Drunk History will repeat on March 17 (St. Patricks Day). The episode is called "Detroit" and features a segment about Houdini and Spiritualism.

The series features drunk storytellers talking about history while well-known actors perform their inebriated version of events. In this episode, Houdini is played by Ken Marino and Alfred Molina plays Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Show creator Derek Waters plays J. Gordon Whitehead. The storyteller is Lucius Dillon...who's drunk!

The episode first aired on August 13, 2013. You can read my review HERE.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Trapped under the ice with Houdini

The story of Houdini trapped under the ice of a frozen river is a powerful part of Houdini lore. It was memorably dramatized in the 1953 film Houdini, and there is evidence that this year's Houdini miniseries with Adrien Brody will also feature the famous incident.

Even though Houdini himself told this story, it's now considered to be a fiction. There is no supporting evidence for it ever having happened, such as a newspaper account, and Houdini tended to change the location and details, as if to misdirect. The location most often cited is the Belle Isle Bridge in Detroit on November 27, 1906. But newspaper accounts of Houdini's bridge jump that day makes no mention of a frozen river (although it was cold enough for snow flurries). Furthermore, Houdini wore a 113 ft. safety line for that particular escape.

Recently I discovered a telling of this story in Houdini's own words in a biographical article he wrote for Hearst's in 1919 called "Nearly Dying for a Living." Here the location is Pittsburgh and, interestingly, it's not a handcuffed bridge jump, but an overboard box escape, just like in the Tony Curtis movie. It's fascinating to hear the version as told by Houdini himself:

My Battery predicament, however, wasn't quite as terrifying as a situation in which I found myself in Pittsburgh several years ago. During and engagement there it had been advertised that on a certain day I should be handcuffed and chained and placed in a box and dropped into the river from a bridge.

Nature was unkind, however, and when the day came the river had been frozen over to a depth of seven inches, which, as a matter of fact, wasn't surprising, as it was midwinter. But ice-water never has had any terrors for me, and a hole was cut in the ice just below the bridge and everybody, including a crowd of several thousand of persons, arrived on time.

With the handcuffs and chains in place, I was put into the trunk, with in turn was bound with ropes and chains. Then the trunk was dropped into the river through the hole in the ice. The handcuffs and chains about my arms and legs and the bound trunk offered no more than the usual difficulties, but when I found myself free of them all I discovered that I had drifted with the current and when I attempted to rise my head bumped against the seven inches of ice. Fully conscious of the seriousness of the situation I looked about in the hope that a greater light might come through where the hole was and give me my directions. But there was no guiding light.

Then I knew that I must breathe. I was under the water longer than the allotted time. And breathing meant that I should drown and go on drifting for weeks and months. But as I had never before given up, I didn't give up then. Instead, I found and "air pocket," a space in which the ice seemed to curve upward, leaving and inch or more of room between the surface of the water and the ice above. I lay flat on my back, tight up against the ice, and breathed. Then I found that the water came in little intermittent waves and that by keeping my face close against the ice I could move about and get and occasional breath. I still held in my hands the handcuffs that I had removed from my wrists, and with these pressed against the ice I began a circular movement. And suddenly I bobbed up through the hole, and the men reached down and lifted me out onto the ice, wrapped me up and hurried me to my hotel.

The crowd that had come to see me and my assistants believed that I had been drowned and, although I didn't hear it, they say that a mighty cheer went up when I appeared.

One point of interest is that Houdini says he couldn't hear the cheers of the crowd when he surfaced. This strikes me as a very believable detail that you wouldn't find in purely fictionalized account. No, I'm not about to argue that this really happened; but wouldn't it be nice to discover that there is some measure of truth to this story someday?

But the most revealing difference between the Houdini and Hollywood versions is how the harrowing predicament resolves. In the Curtis movie and, possibly, the Brody film, Houdini is saved from his ice-bound grave by the spirit of his dead mother. In the Curtis film her voice calls out to him and leads him to the hole. Behind the scenes photos from the Brody film show actress Eszter Ónodi suspended under the ice in her nightgown -- a ghostly vision of Mama? The movies turn this event into an affirmation of the world beyond. Divine intervention saves Houdini -- a power greater than himself.

But Houdini's version has none of this. In fact, I find it interesting that he goes out of his way to say that he searched and found no "greater" or "guiding light" to rescue him. A very deliberate choice of wording there. Because, if you think about it, a version of this story that affirms the existence of the supernatural would be an anathema to Houdini. In his version of the "true" events, Houdini saves himself.

UPDATE: I recently found what might be the genesis of this myth in a 1912 interview with Houdini. Check out: Houdini freezes the Detroit river.

Related posts:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Buried Alive! on the block March 22

An 8-sheet Otis lithograph for Houdini's "Buried Alive!" is among a collection of more that 1,200 vintage posters to be auctioned by Heritage on March 22 and 23 in Dallas. Some of the posters were recently discovered above a garage in Ohio (it's unclear if Buried Alive! was among these). The auction says the poster is in "jaw-dropping condition." Estimate is $14,000 - $28,000.

However, the Handcuff King might find himself bested by the King of Vampires and the King of the Jungle. A 7-foot tall Dracula poster is estimate at $40,000, as is a 7-foot wide French King Kong poster.

"This auction has mystery, intrigue, and hidden treasure — and we're not talking about the movies!" said Grey Smith, Director of Movie Posters at Heritage. "Many of the posters offered are appearing at auction for the first time and some were just recently discovered in an attic above a garage in Ohio."

"Buried Alive!" advertises Houdini's stage-bound Buried Alive escape, which he appears to have performed only a few times before his death in 1926. The box Houdini used in this effect was used to ship his body from Detroit back to New York.

You can get more information on the auction at Heritage Auction House. Buried Alive! is Lot 83229.

UPDATE: Looks like this sold for $8,365.00.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Guest review: Nothing on Earth (Can Hold Houdini)

Today I'm pleased to offer this terrific Guest Review by our friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton of Axis Theatre Company's new production, Nothing on Earth (Can Hold Houdini).

Nothing On Earth (Can Hold Houdini)
Review by Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz

Axis Theatre Company continues to explore magic and illusion with the premiere of Nothing on Earth. The play is directed by the author, and the Artistic Director of Axis, Ms. Randy Sharp. Randy Sharp wrote and directed the company's Drama Desk-nominated production of Last Man Club, and directed Edgar Oliver's acclaimed East 10th Street.

First let us say, we can never get enough of Houdini. If you are a fan of Houdini, and “who isn’t?”, this is a play to see. Having a show about Houdini, in New York City, one of the worlds centers for theater is a very exciting event.

Nothing on Earth mostly concerns what happens when we leave the earth. The play is based in part on facts in the life of Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Unlike many theatrical and film portraits of Houdini, it tries to be as accurate to what really happened as possible, within the confines of a play.

Nothing on Earth tells about Houdini's crusade against crooked mediums which was, for Houdini, all mediums. * It was Houdini’s wish to be considered an intellectual, an author and a leading thinker of his time, for that matter all time. such was the ego of the Great Houdini, rightly so or not. It was natural that Houdini would attach himself to the eras very famous “Sherlock Holmes” author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was at the other side of the spectrum, being a blind believer in the occult, mediums and spiritualism. Doyle's’ loss of several close members of his family, which is pointed out in the play, drove him to blindly believe that through mediums, through his mediumistic wife, and even through himself, he could contact the dead. It was inevitable that Houdini would bump heads and cross paths with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The controversy would destroy their friendship, Yet to their deaths in some way they had great respect for each other.

Two excellent scenes take place early in the play. The show opens in complete darkness. The dark void is soon filled with eerie manifestations, noises, a ball floats through the air, and a ghostly figure roams the stage. Suddenly the lights are turned on and we see Houdini (George Demas) holding a ghostly figure, who turns out to be medium Bradley Grimshaw (Brian Linden) in disguise with the various paraphernalia that he had been using to create the effects in the dark. It is a dramatic beginning and it sets up Houdini and his assistant Jim Collins (David Crabb), as the enemies of those who prey on the grief of those who’s relatives who have passed on. The foiled medium insists he is a good person helping those who are bereaved. But he is also helping them out their money and giving them false hope in the process. It would have helped to have Jim Collins in some kind of assistants costume to help define his character as the play progressed.

The play introduces us to Houdini who quickly establishes himself as a master of escape as he escapes from handcuffs and chains on stage, and then a strait jacket to a very good audience reception. The escaping from shackles, would have been slightly more elegant had he been provided with the little ghost cabinet Houdini used, especially since the theater is set in the round, rather than have him lie on the floor, but that may be a bit of nit picking on our part, since it did go over very well.

Much of the action of the show revolves around Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Spencer Aste), a blind believer in spiritualism; Houdini as spiritualism's arch enemy; Mina Crandon (Lynn Mancinelli ), comparatively most often forgotten, who was one of the most famous, beautiful, defiant and controversial mediums of the day. She was also known by the name Margery, and Dr Crandon, (Brian Barnhart) husband, enabler, promoter and puppeteer of Margery .

The two most clearly defined and exciting characters in the play are Houdini and Margery. Houdini being the toughest to play. How does one get an actor to portray Houdini, an icon among icons? Houdini, no doubt a dynamic entertainer, in peoples minds is so much bigger and grander than real life. For us the actor could have been a bit more seductive. In studying Houdini, one of his most important characteristics, along with a vibrant outgoing personality on stage, was his dynamism and sexuality as a performer. Non the less the actor did stand out in all the scenes he appeared in. It helped knowing a bit of the history of the story to follow the play. It would have helped to use just one name for each character as they were referred to as the story progressed, rather than first name, then last name, then nick name, etc.

Margery is portrayed excellently by Lynn Mancinelli as an attractive medium who’s uses her sexuality to help win over her sitters, including Doyle, though he needs no additional coaxing. Gullible bombastic Doyle accuses Houdini at one point of being a medium himself and insists that some of his escapes are done because Houdini himself was a medium with supernatural powers. Houdini insisted that his stunts were just tricks.

Midway we are introduced to an excellent recreation of the “Margery” Box. Houdini created the cabinet in real life to contain Margery to prevent her from doing any sort of manifestations in the dark. It is worth the price of admission to see the excellent recreation of this prop and its use. Margery slyly accuses Houdini, as she enters the box, of planting some items within the box to discredit her. We do get the sense that she herself wryly put the items there to embarrass and discredit Houdini. It was subtly well done.

Happily the show is not centered about Houdini’s need to contact his mother. It is not so, as many claim, that Houdini sought out mediums to contact his mother and then became disillusioned. Houdini realized as a teenager that mediums were fake. He had read “Revelations Of A Spirit Medium” and other works debunking mediums. He even early on did a fake spiritualistic act that he found to be a low point in his life, when he was struggling. Houdini’s mother died in 1913, and Houdini did not rage against spiritualism until the 1920’s, after the end of the first World War, when spiritualism hit its heights due to the many deaths of family members in the war, including in the family of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The play poses the question, which it leaves for the audience to determine, “Is Margery real?” Or, is she just using spiritualism, as many women did, to gain a voice in a time of little recognition for women. She speaks to Houdini in Hungarian! She seems to use the code Houdini had set up! (This never happened in real life.) Can she really reach the other side?

If you like Houdini, and who doesn't, this is a show not to be missed. Just seeing the long lost “Margery” box recreated is worth the price of admission for any Houdini fan.

Let us hope we see more Houdini in theater and the movies.

Nothing on Earth runs at Axis Theatre from February 27-April 5. Axis Theatre is located at One Sheridan Square in the West Village (just off 7th Avenue, accessible from the #1 train at Christopher Street and the B/D/F/M/A/C/E at West 4th Street). Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

Axis Company has worked closely with William Kalush, Executive Director of the Conjuring Arts Research Center, Houdini scholar, and author of the best selling book, The Secret Life of Houdini. The Conjuring Arts Research Center is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of magic and its allied arts, which include psychic phenomenon, hypnosis, deceptive gambling, mentalism, ventriloquism, juggling, and sleight-of-hand techniques.

Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for covering this for WILD ABOUT HARRY. All photos by Dixie Sheridan.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Kickstart the Houdini Magic Séance Poker Playing Card Deck

The talented crew at Ars Felix have partnered with the Expert Playing Card Co. and the Conjuring Arts Research Center and have relaunched their Kickstarter campaign for the Houdini Magic Séance Poker Playing Card Deck. This hand illustrated deck of Houdini themed playing cards feature important figures from Houdini's life, full color painted court cards, and special "Ouija board" pips.

The card back design features chains and padlocks, a pair of linked magic rings, the "H" crest as found on Bess Houdini's letterhead, and Houdini's favorite epigram: "My brain is the key that sets me free."

This is Ars Felix's second stab at funding their deck, so click on over to Kickstarter and help make the Houdini Magic Séance Poker Playing Card Deck a reality. The campaign ends on March 31, 2014.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Never-before-shown film of Houdini

Here's a great way to end the week. This is never-before-shown film footage of Houdini doing a suspended straitjacket escape, courtesy of our good friend Jon Oliver. I don't recall having ever seen even a small fragment of this in any documentary, etc. Best of all, it is almost completely unedited, showing the escape start to finish. So get clicking and get an eyeful of Houdini that you've never seen before.

Unfortunately, I don't know the date nor location of this particular escape. [See update.] It's also unconventional in that Houdini isn't being suspended from a building on a city street. It looks like this is taking place at a fairground or some kind of open arena like a racetrack or airfield. And are those police officers or soldiers putting Houdini into the jacket? Also interesting is the fact that, having seen dozens of different suspended jackets escapes, the jacket here slips off somewhat prematurely.

The photo below, which comes from a 20th Century Fox press-kit for The Truth About Houdini documentary, appears to be from this same escape. This is the only image I'd seen of this stunt before seeing this rare film footage.

A monumental thanks to Jon Oliver for this one.

UPDATE: This appears to be the New York Police Department's "Field Days" relief fund event at Gravesend Race Track in Brooklyn on either August 21, 1920 or September 10, 1921 (Houdini did the escape on both dates). Below is an account of the 1920 escape from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

La Fuite de Houdini

Houdini may or may not appear in this recently released French graphic novel, La Fuite de Houdini by Jorge Arnanz. I couldn't find a good plot description, but it has Houdini in the title and we see posters for him on the cover, we go.

La Fuite de Houdini is released by Les Editions du Net and appears be part of a series of adventures featuring "Laszlo and Edgar." The title translate as "Houdini Escape."

You can purchase La Fuite de Houdini at the French It's listed but currently unavalible at

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Margery Box reappears (sort of)

One of the highlights of the new play Nothing On Earth (Can Hold Houdini), now playing at the Axis Theater in New York, is a recreation of the famous Margery Box. The box was constructed by Chad Yarborough, and it looks pretty darn good!

The original Margery Box (or "Margie Box", as Houdini called it) was constructed by Houdini and Jim Collins to control Mina Crandon a.k.a. "Margery the Medium" during their seances in August 1924 when Margery was attempting to collect the Scientific American prize for genuine spirit phenomena. She didn't collect, thanks to Houdini and his box.

Controversy over the box erupted twice. First was when Margery -- or her "spirit guide" Walter -- broke open the top of the box. (Houdini reinforced it with additional padlocks). Later, a folding ruler was discovered inside which could have aided Margery in ringing her bell box. All parties denied placing the ruler in the box. (And before someone brings it up, know that I don't put much stock in the "confession" by Jim Collins that he put the ruler in the box, because the source of that curious quotation is magician Fred Keating, a Margery partisan.)

But the real mystery is what ever happened to the Margery Box? According to Ken Silverman, Houdini once again used the box during a demonstration of Margery's techniques at Boston's Symphony Hall in January 1925. Said Houdini, "This is the first time it has been seen outside of the seance room because I was bound to secrecy by the Scientific American." He later reportedly used it in his Full Evening Show. But after the magician's death, the Margery Box seems to vanish without a trace.

Back in 2012, I posed the question what happened to the Margery Box, and Anna Thurlow, the great granddaughter of Mina Crandon, volunteered the following:

"When I went to a Houdini Seance in Las Vegas (I think 1998?) I was told that someone living in Vegas had the box in a storage unit there. I tried the telephone number later but it was disconnected. Presumably it still exists and hopefully someone will bring it to light."

Here's a renewed plea to the person who may own the Margery Box. How about letting me come out to Las Vegas and photograph it for WILD ABOUT HARRY? In return, I'll promote whatever you'd like here on my blog, or you could remain completely anonymous. If this is doable, please shoot me an email. This is a hugely significant piece of magic apparatus and we could make magic history by bringing this box back into the light!

Houdini in the original Margery Box.

Nothing On Earth (Can Hold Houdini) photos by Dixie Sheridan. The play features George Demas as Houdini, Lynn Mancinelli as Margery, Spencer Aste as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and David Crabb as Jim Collins.