Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween 1936: The Final Houdini Seance

"This is a Houdini night, with the spotlight of the public on Houdini; with the whole world paused to see or hear Houdini step on this side of the curtain." - Edward Saint
Bess Houdini at the Final Houdini Seance.

Today is the 88th anniversary of the death of Houdini. Today also marks the anniversary of The Final Houdini Seance on October 31, 1936. This was Bess Houdini's tenth and final attempt to contact her husband from beyond the grave, and it was held with great fanfare in Hollywood 78 years ago tonight. So instead of a post today about Houdini, I thought I'd look back at this first public Houdini seance and the first posthumous Houdini mega event.

Plans for The Final Houdini Seance were first revealed in April of 1936, and the original conception was quite different. Bess and Edward Saint (her business manager and partner) announced that the seance was to be held on a mountaintop -- "as near the heavens as possible" -- and the idea was to not only contact Houdini, but Howard Thurston and Charles Carter as well. (Thurston had died that month.) The widows of both famous magicians would participate.

Said Bess, "Now that Houdini, Carter and Thurston have joined forces on the other side of the grave, I am going to make, here in Hollywood, the one supreme effort to contact these great magicians and maybe together one of them may 'come through'."

Eventually the idea of a 3-ring seance was abandoned and the focus narrowed to Houdini. The location also shifted from the proposed mountaintop to the roof of the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel on Ivar Street off Hollywood Blvd. There was also talk of a national radio hookup to broadcast the seance live, but it's unclear if this happened.

Golden invitations were sent to some 300 guests and reporters, and Saint worked tirelessly to promote the seance. He even petitioned (unsuccessfully) to have the lights of New York's Broadway dimmed and one minute of silence observed on Halloween as a tribute to Houdini. A week before the seance, Ed and Bess checked into a suite at the Knickerbocker. Bess wrote to her niece Marie (Blood) that she was "all a jitter about it--and will be so glad when it is all over."

According to William Larsen Sr., who would make up part of the Inner Circle and later toured with a lecture about the seance, the night was uncommonly cold -- "most of the invited guests were as numb as though they'd been dead as long as Houdini" -- and some of the attendees "had the foresight to prepare for the occasion by stopping in at the Knickerbocker cocktail bar." There was also a private offer made to Saint by local magicians, as Larsen recalls:

Now it seems that Dr. DiGhilini, a well-known West Coast mystery worker and a few other outstanding magicians didn't really believe anything was going to happen. They feared that the invited guests and the waiting world were doomed to bitter disappointment. So, they offered their services to help better matters. It would be excellent, they told Dr. Saint, to get Houdini's handwriting on the slate and they could assure its appearance there. Or, to cause a dove to fly up from the center of the table, seemingly created out of nothing. Dr. Saint refused these generous offers. The seance was to be conducted on a strictly legitimate lines. The tricks of the conjurors were taboo.

The rooftop has been carpeted for the event and bleachers set-up for the public and reporters. The seance table was set near the edge of the roof with the HOLLYWOODLAND sign (as it read in 1936) visible behind Bess and Ed, who sat side by side in two large chairs. On the table before them were the famous Mirror Handcuffs interlocked with another pair of cuffs, a bell, and a spirit trumpet. Between them sat "The Houdini Shrine" with a light bulb that burned red above a portrait of the great magician.

Bess and Ed Saint at the Final Houdini Seance.

The Inner Circle was made up of: Judge Charles W. Fricke, President of the California Assembly of the S.A.M.; Earl Rybolt, President of Los Magicos; William Larsen Sr., Editor and Publisher of Genii; Jacob Hyman, Houdini's first performing partner and boyhood friend; Floyd G. Thayer, well-known magic dealer; Reverend Dr. Acorn, President of the local association of Spiritualist Churches; Gerald Kosky, National Vice Present of the S.A.M.; Caryl S. Fleming, President of the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians; and Dr. Vernon Herbst, Psychiatrist and student of occult sciences. Honor guards where L.O. Gunn and Harry Mendoza, members of the S.A.M. and Los Magicos.

From the start, the seance was promoted as being a "worldwide" attempt to contact Houdini, and Saint arranged for 12 other seances throughout the United States, Canada, England and Australia to begin at the exact same time. Hardeen was heading up a circle in New York City, and Houdini's longtime British agent Harry Day oversaw a circle in London.

At 8:30, the proceedings began with the playing of Pomp and Circumstance (the music which opened Houdini's full evening show). Inner Circle attendee Caryl Fleming later described the dramatic moment for Goldston's Magical Quarterly:

A majestic march emanating from the concealed speakers of a powerful public address system broke the silence--all lights on the roof were extinguished except the ruby light over the shrine--the members of the inner circle rise to their feet--the assemblage does likewise--all standing at attention while the little widow, Mrs. Beatrice Houdini was ushered to her place and seated by her manager, Edward Saint, a life-long friend, who then took his place, the music died down and all reseated themselves and then --- silence -- hushed almost oppressive hopeful silence.

Saint then begin the seance, pleading with Houdini to give a sign. During the proceedings, Saint mentioned a hidden "locked vault" that contained valuable papers and a lapel given to Houdini by Harry Kellar. The vault had not been located, and Saint asked the spirit of Houdini to reveal the secret location. (This vault remains a mystery to this day.)

Saint begged Houdini to appear for over an hour. Fleming records that, "Dr. Saint spoke, his voice rising to a mad, sobbing pitch. Sobs could be heard too from some of the friends in the audience." Bess would later say, "He invoked, and he invoked--good Lord, how that man invoked." During a lull, one paper reported that the sound of a saxophone could be heard "sobbing" from the street below.

This UPI photo shows the seance in progress.

Finally, Saint turned to Bess and delivered these famous final words.

Saint: Mrs. Houdini. The zero hour has passed. The ten years are up. Have you reached a decision?"
Bess: Yes. Houdini did not come through. My last hope is gone. I do not believe that Houdini can come back to me, or to anyone. After faithfully following through the Houdini ten year compact, after using every type of medium and seance, it is now my personal and positive belief that spirit communication in any form is impossible. I do not believe that ghosts or spirits exist. The Houdini shrine has burned for ten years. I now reverently turn out the light. It is finished. Good night, Harry.

With that Bess closed the doors on the Houdini shrine, which extinguished the red light, and she left the rooftop escorted by Saint. It was then that it began to rain from what had been a clear sky. The rain lasted just long enough to drench those left on the rooftop, and then it suddenly stopped. Larsen remembers:

To people who do not live in California, this may not seem strange. But California does not have "showers" as do the East and Mid-West. The country is rainless for months. When rain comes, it rains for days. A brief, heavy rain is an unheard-of phenomena. Was it a sign? Were the Gods displeased? Was Houdini displeased? Probably it meant nothing for the newspapers failed to mention it. Still, I often wonder.

So was the Final Houdini Seance on the level? Arnold Furst said when asked what they would have done had Houdini returned that night, Ed and Bess laughed, and Ed said: "Bess would have dirtied her pants if that had happened!"

Just like seances held today, the Final Houdini Seance was a mix of sincerity and self promotion. While Bess had spoken of their being a "compact" between her and her husband, there was never a time frame given, and the idea of a 10-year cut-off was probably invented for this seance. It also appears this was the first Houdini seance held on Halloween. Records of other seances held by Bess in New York show them taking place in the Spring.

Bess and Ed had also recently set-up a movie about Houdini at Paramount. The Final Houdini Seance might have been an attempt to show the studio that Houdini was still relevant and a part of the popular imagination. In this regard, it was a great success. The seance did make headlines across the country. (It would still take 17 years for the Houdini movie to be made.)

As might be expected, the seance drew some criticism from spiritualists. Dr. Ed James Irvine wrote in The Billboard: "It was absurd to try to communicate with the spirit of Houdini recently when there was an audience of more than 200 morbid curiosity seekers knowing little or nothing about psychism. Inasmuch as Houdini manifested himself to Mrs. Houdini through Arthur Ford, a New York medium, on a previous occasion, I do not see why it is necessary for his spirit to come back again in order to give proof of spirit return."

Hudson Records release (1959).
The Final Houdini Seance was recorded and released by Thayer Magic on an LP narrated by George Boston. It's likely what we hear on the record was actually done in the studio after the seance and not a recording from the rooftop, which would not have yielded clear audio. This might explain why Bess's closing words are sometimes quoted differently in press accounts than from what we hear on the recording. The record was re-released by Hudson Records in 1959 and again by Mark56 in 1975.

In 1986, a special 50th Anniversary reenactment of the Final Houdini Seance, organized by Manny Weltman, was held at the Variety Arts Center (a sister club to the Magic Castle), which I had the pleasure of attending. Bess was portrayed by original seance attendee Geri Larsen (Jaffe) and Edward Saint was played by Stefan Krayk. True to the script, Houdini failed to return.

Today The Knickerbocker Hotel still stands in Hollywood and looks much as it did in 1936. It is now a private retirement home and is closed to the public. (Yes, I have tried to get on the roof, and, no, it isn't happening.) For many years a photo of Houdini graced the wall of the hotel's restaurant.

The Knickerbocker today.

Ironically, what was supposed to be the "final" Houdini seance kicked off what has became a cottage industry of Halloween Houdini seances that continue to this day. This year seances will be held in Danvers, Scranton, Las Vegas, Sonoma, York, and dozens of other locations, both public and private. While some claim to be a continuation of the "official" or "original" Houdini seance, the truth is there is no true continuation. Part of the intent of the Final Houdini Seance was to put an end to such attempts and close the chapter on Houdini's own investigations into the possibility of spirit communication. As Bess said herself, "It is finished."

But the Houdini seances today are, paradoxically, more about celebrating the life of Houdini, and also about having some spooky fun on Halloween. In this way, I guess they are indeed continuations -- inspired by and modeled on Bess and Edward Saint's flamboyant and famous Final Houdini Seance of 1936.

Thanks to Mark Willoughby for the use of the remarkable unpublished photos of the Final Houdini Seance from his collection.

You can listen to the recording of the Final Houdini Seance at Tom Interval's Houdini Museum YouTube Channel.

  • Charvet, David. Beatrice Houdini, MAGIC Magazine, October 1995.
  • Fleming, Caryl S. The Tenth and Final Houdini Seance, Goldston's Magical Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 3 Winter 1936.
  • Larsen, William. The Final Houdini Seance, Genii Magazine, Vol. 21, No. 2, October 1956
  • Silverman, Kenneth. Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, Harper Collins, 1997.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Grim Game is sold and safe, says Kevin Connolly

With the death of Larry Weeks this month, there has been concern and speculation about what will become of the only known copy of The Grim Game. Larry owned a complete print, but had not made it available for public viewing since the 1980s.

Now Kevin Connolly on his blog Houdini Himself reassures us "hyperventilating" Houdini fans that this important piece of Houdini history is safe. Says Kevin:

"The copy of The Grim Game was being heavily pitched in the inner Houdini Circle over the last 2 years by an agent for Larry Weeks. I was told that it was sold when Larry was alive. Who or what bought it; I cannot say."

This is great news. Here's hopping that one day soon we will all finally be able to view what is considered Houdini's best film work.


New Houdini documentary on KRBC tonight

A new documentary, Harry Houdini: Magic Among The Spirits, will have its premiere tonight on PBS station KRBC in Northern California. This appears to be the same documentary by Tom Wyrsch that first screened in Sonoma back in 2012.

Thursday, October 30 at 8 pm. This program tells the story of how Houdini's magic led to his involvement in seances, his untimely death, and the pact he made with his wife Bess to try to reach him in the hereafter. The film details how the Houdini seances made their way to Sonoma County in 1964 and continued every Halloween night until 2002. Viewers will see the secret locations where they were held, the people who attended, and if contact was made. This 37-year annual Halloween event celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Interviews, historical film footage and photographs tell the complete story.

Great to see that this documentary has made it to television. Hopefully a DVD will be made available so we can all enjoy Harry Houdini: Magic Among The Spirits.

You can read more about the Annual Sonoma Houdini Seance at Petaluma 360.


Did Houdini just get the ultimate namecheck?

You may have seen headlines lately that read: "Pope: God isn't like Houdini." Did Pope Francis really just namecheck the King of Handcuffs?

If we move past the headline, it appears the Pope's actual quote during his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences was: "When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so. He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment."

So it looks like the newspapers changed the Pope's "magician" into the #1 magician, and that's just fine by me!

The photo above shows Pope Francis working his magic act in Rome.

LINK: Day drinking at Houdini's grave

Want to listen in on a rock band's conversation while drinking wine on Houdini's grave? Click the headline above and read this interview by Mischa Pearlman at NOISY.

"I find it fascinating," says Bradley, "that this is not his real name. It's his character name that became him. He wants to be known as Harry Houdini. He wants to be known as somebody completely different that he's created, that isn't his real name. And is that supposed to be his mother? Look it up!"

I like hearing people who might not know all that much about Houdini talk about him. What stories have broken through? We can also add Dads to the surprisingly large group of rock musicians who feel a mysterious connection to Houdini.

LINK: Halloween also marks the death of Houdini in Detroit

I did a short interview with NPR Michigan Radio in Detroit about Houdini's fame, life, and death. Give a listen by clicking the headline above.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Houdini in the New York Daily News

Yesterday the New York Daily News ran a nice article about the Houdini grave restoration project to be undertaken by the Society of American Magicians and Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton. Even though you can read the online version HERE (and also watch a video of S.A.M. President Kenrick "Ice" McDonald at the gravesite), there's still just something satisfying about seeing Houdini in newsprint.

"When I pass on, I would rather have one line in the press than a one-hundred dollar wreath."

Thanks to Dorothy and Dick at the Houdini Museum for the alert and this image.

Related posts:

LINK: Houdini's voice recorded 100 years ago today

I always try to note important Houdini centenary anniversaries here at WAH, but this is one I would have missed if not for our friend Tom Interval and his superb Houdini Museum. Click on the headline to listen to the only known recording of Houdini's voice, made 100 years ago today on October 29, 1914 in Flatbush, New York.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Edmund Wilson describes Houdini

The New Republic is celebrating its 100th Anniversary by posting memorable articles from its past, including a June 24, 1925 piece about Houdini by Edmund Wilson. Wilson was a major literary figure and was also interested in magic. (He later reviewed Houdini His Life Story.) Edmund's opening paragraph gives one of the best physical descriptions of Houdini I've ever read. I've excerpted it below:

Houdini is a short strong stocky man with small feet and a very large head. Seen from the stage, his figure, with its short legs and its pugilist's proportions, is less impressive than at close range, where the real dignity and force of his enormous head appear. Wide-browed and aquiline-nosed, with a cleanness and fitness almost military, he suggests one of those enlarged and idealized busts of Roman generals or consuls. So it is rather the man himself than the showman, the personality of the stage, who is interesting. Houdini is remarkable among magicians in having so little of the smart-aleck about him: he is a tremendous egoist, like many other very able persons, but he is not a cabotin. When he performs tricks, it is with the directness and simplicity of an expert giving a demonstration and he talks to his audience, not in his character of conjuror, but quite straightforwardly and without patter. His professional formulas—such as the "Will wonders never cease!" with which he signalizes the end of a trick—have a quaint conventional sound as if they had been deliberately acquired as a concession to the theatre. For preeminently Houdini is the honest earnest craftsman which his German accent and his plain speech suggest—enthusiastic, serious-minded, thoroughgoing and intelligent.

Thanks to Eric Fry for the link and info on Edmund Wilson.

Official Houdini Seance will remember Larry Weeks

Larry Weeks, who passed away this month at age 95, was a regular at the Official Houdini Seances. Now seance organizer William Radner sends over this photo of Larry, Dorothy Young, and Sidney Radner taken at the New York seance several years ago.

Says Bill, "The recent death of Larry Weeks along with Dorothy Young and my father in 2011 is a real loss to the world of Houdini followers. The "Official Houdini Séance" will dearly miss the last living Houdini enthusiast that actually remembered seeing him perform when he was only four years old. Over the last half century he has been a loyal Houdini Inner Circle Séance Member who has attended a good majority of the east coast events. He always added something special and was a great story teller who could captivate an audience. Tom Boldt and I, along with Fred Pittella, will most certainly give tribute to Larry in the upcoming Official Houdini Séance in Danvers MA next Friday."

The 2014 Official Houdini Seance will be held at Glen Magna Farms in Danvers, MA, the country estate owned by the Danvers Historical Society. Click here for full details.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Two new Spanish language Houdini books

Here are two recently released Spanish language books that may be of interest to Houdini buffs.

El hombre que mató a Houdini ("The Man Who Killed Houdini") by Rufino Fernández is a fictional novel about Houdini and J. Gordon Whitehead. (This shouldn't be confused with the Don Bell book of the same title which was a non-fiction exploration of Whitehead.) It can be purchased in paperback or for the Kindle on

Valle-Inclán y el insólito caso del hombre con rayos x en los ohos ("Valle-Inclán and the incredible case of the man with X-Rays in his eyes") is a non-fiction work about Joaquin Maria Argamasilla and his connection with Houdini and Spanish writer, Ramón María del Valle-Inclán. You might recall that Argamasilla's claim of having X-ray vision was exposed by Houdini in his Margery pamphlet.

You can buy Valle-Inclán y el insólito caso del hombre con rayos x en los ohos at the UK You can get more information on the book HERE.

Thanks to Javier Coronet.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Annual Houdini Seance in Las Vegas

Magician and escape artist Dixie Dooley will hold his 29th Annual Houdini Seance inside The Hall of Antiquities in Las Vegas on Halloween at 1 p.m. Dixie will have on display some original Houdini items and will also demonstrate tricks of fraudulent mediums. (If you've never heard the amazing story of how Dixie acquired his Houdini treasures from 278, check out his book Houdini-Question Reality.)

Among the attendees this year will be Charlotte Pendragon, who for many years performed one of the finest and fastest versions of Metamorphosis as part of The Pendragons.

The seance is free and open to the press and public. The Hall Of Antiquities is located in the Boulevard Mall, 3528 S Maryland Pkwy, Las Vegas, NV. For more information check out the official Facebook page.

So we have the Annual, the Official, the Original, the Final, and the World Famous. The only question now: Which seance will Houdini attend?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Metamorphosis mine

I once heard the mighty Arthur Moses give excellent advice to collectors who might not have the resources of a David Copperfield (or an Arthur Moses). Don't buy up all the latest Houdini bobble-heads, etc. Be discerning and use your money to buy just one quality Houdini item each year. After several years, you will have a respectable collection of some true value. It's advice that I've taken to heart.

This is my "Moses Buy" of 2014, and I still can't believe it is mine. This is one of the earliest professional photos of Harry and Bess Houdini in existence. It's a surprisingly large image, 6.5 x 8, and was probably taken in 1894-95. As far as I know, it has never been published. If the image looks familiar, it's because it was used to illustrate part of The Houdinis first Metamorphosis poster. A beauty!

I won this photo in last week's Profiles in History auction, and picked it up from their Calabasas headquarters yesterday. The auction included a handful of Houdini items that sold for surprisingly high prices -- a signed photo for $6000, a collection of letters for $25,000 -- yet, in my mind, this photo was somewhat of a steal at $1400, despite the poor condition (which certainly helped me get this). Not only is it unpublished, but it's extremely rare to see any original item that pre-dates Houdini's fame. By their nature, these are fantastically scarce. How many of these photos could the struggling Houdinis have afforded to make? And certainly no one was saving these as collectibles back then. I feel like there is a pre-1900 premium that goes along with items such as this.

The photo is now the oldest Houdini item in my collection and the only original artifact I have that pre-dates his fame. And it has Bessie on it. I love it.

I made a 600dpi scan that shows up some nice details. The Metamorphosis trunk looks like a simple hinged box and appears to be the same trunk from The Brothers Houdini days. It's also interesting to see that the trunk has air holes in the front. There is some curious writing on the back (not in Houdini's hand, unfortunately) which, as far as I can tell, reads: "Harry and Bessie Houdini in orig / [illegible] please return [illegible] J.C. Wollam Walters, OKL."

Below is a scan of this writing. I invite anyone to try and make out the words better than I have.

Mystery writing on back of photo (click to enlarge).

Metamorphosis poster featuring illustrated photo image.

Thank you Arthur Moses for inspiring me to go after this beauty. Time to start saving for my "Moses Buy" of 2015.

UPDATE: I can now more confidently date this photo as 1894. On page 30 of Houdini His Life and Art by James Randi there is a solo photo of Bess from this same session. On it is written: "1st Professional Picture 1894." It also appears The Houdinis made good use of this photo session by taking some non-magic shots to advertise themselves as "The Rahners, America's Greatest Comedy Act."


Houdini Museum announces Original Houdini Seance 2014

Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz have announced that their annual "Original Houdini Seance" will be held at the Houdini Museum in Scranton on Halloween at 1:26pm.

Guests this year will include Sean Von Gorman, co-creator of The Secret Adventures of Houdini graphic novel series, and psychic David Jay, a local celebrity paranormalist who presides over the year round Scranton Ghost Walk.

Admission to the séance is by invitation only by calling Penny Wilkes at 570-342-5555. There is no charge to attend.

The Original Houdini Seance (not to be confused with the Official Houdini Seance which will be held this year in Danvers, MA) traces its lineage back to Walter B. Gibson and claims to be "the oldest and only genuine Houdini séance."

The Houdini Museum is located at 1433 N. Main Ave., Scranton, PA. For more info visit the Houdini Museum website.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Houdini takes the stage for the last time

It was 88 years ago tonight on October 24, 1926 that Houdini took to the stage of the Garrick Theater in Detroit and gave what would be his last performance. Unbeknownst to the audience, the great magician was performing with a 104 degree temperature and a ruptured appendix. He would die seven days later on Halloween.

Click to enlarge.

To mark this night, above is a remarkable photo from the collection of our good friend and benefactor, John C. Hinson, the great nephew of Harry and Bess Houdini. This shows Houdini on stage in his 1925-26 full evening show ("3 Shows In One"). You can see a few famous Houdini effects here, including the Water Torture Cell, Radio 1950, Whirlwind of Colors, and Hello Summer. Houdini is center stage performing card sleights with Jim Collins who holds the Crystal Casket.

Just as he was 88 years ago tonight.

Thank you John.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Larry Weeks has died

Larry Weeks, the man who called himself "Houdini's biggest fan," passed away on October 13 at age 95. He will be buried tomorrow, October 24, at Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, not far from Houdini's grave just as he wished.

Larry Weeks was born Lester Fulton Weeks on September 24, 1919 in Salem, Massachusetts. His family moved to New York where at age 10 Larry developed a talent for juggling. He performed a popular juggling act called "Juggling For Fun" in vaudeville and nightclubs in New York, Boston, and Montreal. Larry served in World War II where he performed as part of Irving Berlin's USO show, This Is the Army, and later appeared in the film version. He appeared on the cover of Genii in September 1958.

A lifelong Houdini fan, Larry amassed one of the great Houdini collections, including most of Houdini's surviving film work. He was a regular at the Official Houdini Seances and appeared earlier this year in the ITV documentary The Magic of Houdini with Alan Davies in which he spoke about seeing Houdini as a boy.

A memorial service is being planned for next month.

Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for this sad news.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

H. Richter's Sons

Here's a photo of what was once H. Richter's Sons Neckwear factory at 502-504 Broadway. This is where young Ehrich Weiss was employed for two and a half years from 1889 to 1891 as an assistant lining cutter. Today it is the site of Bloomingdale's SoHo.

In a story that sounds a little too cute to be true, it's said that Ehrich got the job at Richter's by spotting a long line of applicants waiting behind a Help Wanted sign. He went to the head of the line, removed the sign, and said in an officious voice that the position had been filled and thanked everyone for coming. When the crowd dispersed, he went inside and landed the job for himself.

Far from being a sweatshop as it was characterized in the 1998 Houdini biopic, Richter's was a good job for a young man at the time. Ehrich was even a member of the Neckwear Makers union (he would continue to keep up his dues into adulthood). The Annual Report on Factory Inspection (Volume 14) for 1900 shows Richter's employed 25 men and 75 women (none under the age of 18); hours of labor were less than other clothing firms; and it had logged only one complaint.

Click to enlarge.

Of course, Ehrich was underage when he worked here, so conditions might have been a little rougher in the early 1890s. It's also said that his elderly father worked a bench for a time. It's interesting to note how many young women Ehrich worked in close proximity with for over 2 years, yet there is not a single recorded date or romantic exploit in his life until Bess in 1894.

But might Richter's play an even more important role in the Houdini story? Recall that it was Ehrich's friend and fellow Richter's employee Jacob Hyman who suggested that he add an "i" to the name of Robert-Houdin to become "Houdini." I've often wondered exactly where this momentous moment happened. Might it have been while working across the bench from each other in this very building?

Was "Houdini" born in Bloomingdale's?

View on Google Maps.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Connais-tu Harry Houdini?

Here's a 64-page French Canadian Houdini biography by Johanne Ménard and Denis Poulin. Connais-tu Harry Houdini (Do You Know Harry Houdini?) was released on September 22 and was discovered by our friend Arthur Moses (who else?). For those who read French, here's a description:

Connais-tu Harry Houdini... le plus célèbre magicien du début du 20e siècle? l'illusionniste acclamé par les foules pour ses évasions extraordinaires? celui qu'on surnommait le « roi des menottes » et à qui aucun cadenas ne résistait? l'inventeur de la « cellule de torture chinoise », une cage vitrée remplie d'eau dont il s'extirpait en un tour de main, même suspendu par les pieds?

Connais-tu Harry Houdini aka Harry Houdini - Nº 17 can be purchased at the Canadian

Monday, October 20, 2014

Halloween scene makes it into the 'Houdini' extended edition DVD

October 31, 2013 was not only the 87th anniversary of Houdini's death, but it was also the 14th day of production on the Houdini miniseries in Budapest. Before filming that day, the cast and crew held a minute of silence in honor of Houdini. This was proposed by technical advisor David Merlini and embraced by director Uli Edel.

The scene shot that day featured Adrien Brody's Houdini trying to escape from his first straitjacket in a London hotel room in 1905 [wildly inaccurate, I know, but we've been through all that]. The scene also features Kristen Connolly in her most authentic Bess hair and costume. Unfortunately, when the series aired in the U.S., this entire scene was relegated to just a few black and white flashbacks during Houdini's suspended jacket escape in San Francisco.

I'm happy to report that the full scene does appear in the extended edition Houdini DVD and Blu-ray released on October 7. However, the scene is now set in Houdini's home in New York. But listen closely and you'll still hear a reference to Harrods, the famous London department store (apparently Harrods sells straitjackets?).

It's great to have this Halloween Houdini tribute scene back in the film as planned. Just another reason the extended edition -- or what screenwriter Nicholas Meyer calls the "Lionsgate version" -- is the only version of Houdini to watch. In fact, I will be posting a re-review of this extended version soon.

Purchase Houdini on DVD and Blu-ray at Amazon.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Houdini-Margery letters sell for $25,000

A remarkable collection of 14 letters from Houdini detailing and discussing his investigation of "Margery" the medium sold yesterday at a Profiles in History auction for $25,000 (not including buyers premium). The letters include one in which Houdini lays out his idea for the Margery control box (or the "Margie Box" as he later called it).

Click to enlarge.
Harry Houdini amazing archive of (14) signed letters relating to the famed “Margery” psychic fraud case. Extraordinary archive of fourteen (14) signed letters by Houdini; all but two are written to Dr. Daniel F. Comstock in relation to their investigation of purported psychic Mrs. Mina Crandon, aka “Margery”, who claimed that she channeled the spirit of her dead brother Walter Stinson.

Letters date from July 26, 1924 to February 17, 1925, all with excellent content – one featuring an actual design sketch by Houdini of the restraint box used to expose Margery as a fraud. Content from Houdini includes: “I have been bitterly attacked by the National Spiritualist of America, and if Mrs. Crandon possesses psychic power, I want to announce it, and if not, I think the public should be so informed.” – “Been thinking things over and I believe the most comfortable and efficient ‘restraint’ would be to build some sort of box, or cabinet, have the medium seated therein with only her head and hands protruding, and in this way it would be impossible for her to use her head, feet, shoulders or body to ‘project’ things.” – “I immediately sent my assistant to construct a cabinet according to my size, which will be larger and more comfortable for Mrs. Crandon, as Dr. Crandon insists that I must submit to all mechanical devices.” – “You pleaded with Walter [Margery’s dead brother] to permit you to turn on the red light and he replied, as near as I can remember, ‘you can do it but you will kill the medium.’” –– “Regarding the box or cabinet I suggested, wherein only the medium’s head and arms are to protrude, if the box should be too warm, would suggest to use some strong mesh wire, so finely meshed that nothing could be pushed through, and it would not be flexible” – “The New York papers are giving a great deal of publicity to Mrs. Crandon and I think it is about time for the Committee to give the decision.” – “There will be plenty of room in it (the box). The cabinet will be locked down with hasps and staples” – “I want to give Mrs. Crandon every possible chance to make good and if she possesses any psychic power, I will be the first to assist her in proving her genuineness.” – “This investigation has cost me close to one hundred thousand dollars, which I can prove by my bookings and the time I refused to work. Therefore, any one who states that I am seeking publicity or making money out of it, they are making mis-statements.”

Lot also includes a Western Union telegraph from Houdini to Comstock as well as numerous original newspaper clippings and breathless headlines from The Boston Post following the events of Houdini and Crandon. These letters provide an amazing glimpse into Houdini’s thoughts surrounding the most important chapter of his psychic debunking career in the 1920s.

The auction also includes several other nice Houdini lots, one of which I thrilled to say I won! I'll be sharing that treasure here soon.

Congratulations to the seller and winner of these incredible letters.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

New radio adaptation of 'Imprisoned with the Pharaohs'

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre is offering an all-new radio adaptation of Houdini's Imprisoned with the Pharaohs. The "true" story was ghostwritten for Houdini by H.P. Lovecraft and features the Escape King trapped in the heart of an Egyptian pyramid.

As war brews in Europe, world-famous magician Harry Houdini and his wife Bess stop in Cairo on a world tour in the summer of 1914. There they meet with Miskatonic professor of archaeology Nate Ward, who tells them the story of Nitocris, the dreaded ghoul queen of the 4th Dynasty. After a visit to the Sphinx and a dig site led by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt, the Houdinis follow their mysterious Arab tour guide, Abdul Reis al Drogman, to the top of the Great Pyramid. Secret identities are revealed and after a desperate struggle Houdini must attempt the escape of a lifetime from under the pyramids!

In this production, Houdini is voiced by Sean Branney and Bess is voiced by Leslie Baldwin. The adaptation is by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman. Original music is by Troy Sterling Nies with "Bub-L-Pep Jingle" written by Andrew Leman and arranged and performed by Harald Lindell and Kathleen Demarest. Audio engineering is by Chris Horvath.

The CD comes in a jewel case and is packed with nice extras, including a letter on authentic Cairo Museum letterhead in which Nate Ward describes the sarcophagus and mummy of Nitocris; a Cairo postcard from Houdini to tycoon Charlie Tower; the playbill from Houdini's show at the American Cosmograph Theater in English, French, Greek and Arabic, and more.

You can buy Imprisoned with the Pharaohs on CD or as an MP3 via the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre website.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Houdini Herald

Poster collector Mark Mawston shares with us today a remarkable item from his collection. This is a copy of "The Houdini Herald" dated February 6, 1919. This appears to have been tipped inside The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly and promotes Houdini's movie serial, The Master Mystery, in the UK. While I've heard of these, I don't recall ever seeing one. Very nice!

Click to enlarge.

What makes this Herald extra special is that Mark discovered it in a house in London where Charlie Chaplin once lived with his mother. It also still has a perforated strip attached to the bottom.

So was "The Houdini Herald" a one off, or might there have been multiple editions? Let the hunt begin!

Thank you, Mark.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Last day to see the Houdini display at Hollywood Heritage

Tomorrow is the last day to see the Houdini display at the Hollywood Heritage Museum. I be there on Saturday to take it all away to make room for their next presentation on William Castle. Check it out if you can! I'm not sure when I'll have the chance to display this much of my Houdini memorabilia in one spot again.

The Hollywood Heritage Museum is located at 2100 North Highland Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90068, directly across from the Hollywood Bowl. The museum is open from Noon to 4pm. Admission is $7. Children are free. For more info visit

Join the 'World Famous Houdini Seance and Ghost Hunt' in York

Pontefract Paranormal in the UK will hold the "World Famous Houdini Seance and Ghost Hunt" at York Castle Prison in York on Halloween. Here is a description from the event page:

York Castle Prison has been a site of justice and incarceration for almost 1000 years. William the Conqueror built the first castle here in 1068 as a base to control the North of England and we know from written references that it had a prison.

One of the most famous prisoners was Dick Turpin and Harry Houdini refused to attempt to escape from his cell despite his skill in 1909 so we're going to hold a Houdini Seance using an actual pair of his handcuffs to strengthen the link. Houdini seances are world famous because Houdini died on Halloween and told his wife that if there was an afterlife he would make contact on Halloween and ever since seances have been held to attempt contact with the great man.

York is the ultimate ghost town and the prison is no exception with reports of many many spirits and ghosts it is THE place to be on Halloween. So Join Pontefract Paranormal and various experts in escapology and Dick Turpin to contact possibly the worlds most famous escapologist and join our investigation when the veil between the world is at it's thinnest.

We will provide some refreshments but it is recommended that you bring some snacks. A torch is essential. You must wear appropriate clothing for the time of year plus flat shoes. You may bring your own equipment including camcorders and cameras but we ask that you upload any pictures to our facebook site.

You can buy tickets to the event HERE. The official Facebook page reports that there are only 5 tickets left, so move fast!

This of course should not be confused with the Official Houdini Seance, which this year is being held in Danvers, MA.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Is Ryan Gosling our next Houdini?

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Ryan Gosling has been offered the lead in Summit's The Secret Life of Houdini. The showbiz paper reports:

In recent weeks, the 33-year-old actor has met with Marvel Studios to discuss starring in the title role in Doctor Strange, and he is fielding an offer to top line Summit's adaptation of The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero.

Houdini, with Dean Parisot attached to direct, was to have starred Johnny Depp but the actor will be sailing with a new installment of Pirates of the Caribbean for almost half of 2015. Summit ideally would like to get going before that.

I'm not going to get too worked up about this. The entire article stinks of being a plant by Gosling's publicist or agent. (If you are really in talks with Marvel about playing Doctor Strange, you don't blab about it.) Also, The Hollywood Reporter has had a terrible track record when it comes to Houdini-related "exclusives" lately. Remember Houdini Live?

Guess we'll see.


Houdini haunts Famous Monsters of Filmland #276

The November/December issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland (#276) contains an article by Neil McNally looking at the films made of Houdini's life. Neil covers them all -- from Curtis to Brody -- and does a really nice job. He even notes the more obscure films, such as A Night At The Magic Castle and Cremaster 2. He also kindly gives WAH a credit at the end. (Thanks, Neil.)

The issue comes in two variant covers. One features Big Trouble in Little China and the other Wolves. I grabbed a Wolves cover from the awesome Creature Features in Burbank, who also sell on eBay. You can also buy from Captain Company.

This marks Houdini's second appearance in this classic monster mag. The first was an article about the Final Houdini Seance in issue #214 back in 1996.

Monday, October 13, 2014

When Houdini returned to Hollywood

Last Wednesday, October 8, I had the great pleasure of speaking at a special "Houdini in Hollywood" event at the Hollywood Heritage Museum. I'm happy to report that the evening was a resounding success, and I think all who attended had a great time. It was a true celebration of Houdini and his film career, and the museum was a perfect venue for this.

The Hollywood Heritage Museum is housed in the historic Lasky-DeMille Barn, which sits across from the Hollywood Bowl. This was the very first movie studio in Hollywood. It was here in 1913 that Jesse Lasky and Cecil B. DeMille filmed The Squaw Man. For many years the Barn made up the cornerstone of the Famous Players-Lasky studio on Selma and Vine. This was where Houdini made two of his films, The Grim Game and Terror Island, so, yes, Houdini was here!

The museum threw open the entire front room for our use, and we turned it into a Houdini museum. Three display cases were filled with Houdini memorabilia from my own collection along with memorabilia and handcuffs from the collection of Joe Fox. (The items will remain on the display until October 18.) On the night of the big event, Mark Willoughby provided what I called "the star of the show": an original lobby painting for The Man From Beyond owned by Houdini himself. This is one of only four paintings made for the Houdini film and it has never been displayed before. A stunner!

Original The Man From Beyond lobby painting.

The event sold out at the door and we had standing room only when I took to the podium at 7:30pm. I was excited to see some major magic luminaries in attendance, such as Mike Caveney, Rob Zabrecky, Mark Cannon, Patrick Culliton, and Flim Flam playwright Gene Franklin Smith. I was also happy to see so many friends and family in attendance. (I tried not to think that if I bombed, I would be doing so in front of many people who are very important to me.)

Rob Zabrecky, Mike Caveney, and Patrick Culliton.

I am happy to say my talk went extremely well. The Keynote presentation I had been building for the past month played to perfection (the movie clips had frozen up in my last practice run, so I was biting my nails). My talk, which lasted an hour, followed Houdini's life and career with an emphasis on his involvement in cinema. Despite the fact that the air-conditioning wasn't working, I felt I had the audience with me the entire time. They applauded each film clip as if it where a Houdini performance, and they even applauded some moments in the talk itself. There were also some nice laughs, including a tremendous laugh when I shared Jesse Lasky's assessment of Houdini's acting: "He did his best acting handcuffed and locked in a trunk at the bottom of a river." I have to thank James Hamilton for providing me with this great quotation.

I made a few mistakes that I can remedy here. I said "Lilly" Lee when it should have been Lila Lee. How Green Was My Valley was made in 1941, not '59 (see, I should never go off the topic of Houdini). Also, I think I gave the impression that Nita Naldi was absent from the surviving prints of The Man From Beyond. Not so. I was making the point that any scenes she might have had with Houdini are no longer present.

I had time for a few questions before introducing Jim Steinmeyer. Jim is a living legend who has designed and built magic apparatus for every great modern magician starting with Doug Henning and David Copperfield. Jim is also a best-selling author of several excellent books on magic, including Hiding The Elephant, which I consider one of the very best books ever written on the art. Jim took the podium and spoke briefly about how Houdini tied into his books, The Glorious Deception, The Last Greatest Magician in the World and Hiding the Elephant. Jim had copies to sign and sell during intermission. I have to say, it was a real honor to be sharing the stage with a giant like Jim Steinmeyer.

With Hollywood Heritage President Bryan Cooper and Jim Steinmeyer.

We then held our raffle, which was chaotic and fun. We gave away passes to The Autry National Center; a signed copy of The Glorious Deception (the rare hardcover); a DVD of the Houdini miniseries which Lionsgate had donated for the evening (a friend won this); and a pass for 4 to the The Magic Castle with dinner included. This last prize came from Jim Steinmeyer who sits on the AMA board, and was a real treat for the happy winner.

We then had intermission in which people gathered and enjoyed our Houdini museum. Food and refreshments where provided by Grub on a table nicely themed to Halloween. Interestingly, one of the displays case lights had failed to work during our preparations, and we had given up on it. I was surprised to see that the lights were now all mysteriously blazing away. Are you here, Harry?

We then settled back in the main room for a screening of Terror Island. Hollywood Heritage had selected this particular film because of the connection to Jesse Lasky and the Barn, but I think it was the best choice regardless. Most venues screen The Man From Beyond because it is the most complete Houdini film. But I think Terror Island plays much better for a modern audience. The movie played especially well to this audience of silent movie enthusiasts, who laughed and applauded several sequences. Of course, I really wish we could have shown The Grim Game. Maybe in the future.

This was the debut of my "Houdini in Hollywood" talk and I'm really happy that it went so well. I had to cut it down to fit the full Hollywood Heritage program, but I think an audience would enjoy a slightly longer talk with more clips. I'm now looking to present an extend version of this talk, and I'm currently eyeballing locations. Stay tuned.

I want to thank all the amazing staff at Hollywood Heritage, especially Richard Adkins, Bryan Cooper, and George Kiel. This organization is devoted to the preservation of Hollywood history, from film and photos archives to historic buildings and landmarks. It's a non-profit and a true labor of love for all who work very hard.

Also thanks to Ben Roman at the Magic Castle for arranging a discount to the event for AMA members. Thanks again to Mark Willoughby and Joe Fox for making our display extra special. And a big thanks to the multi-talented Athena Stamos for being my official photographer and taking all these awesome photos you see here.

It was a glorious return to Hollywood for Harry.

Houdini was here.