Saturday, December 13, 2014

Film of Bess Houdini in 1938

One of the gifts I received at my 50th birthday Houdini Seance last week was the Miracle Factory's compilation DVD, Vintage Magic Films. This remarkable DVD had over 3 hours of ultra-rare footage of famous magicians from the 1920s, '30s and '40s. I was most excited that this DVDs contains the nearly complete footage of Houdini doing card flourishes, which we've now come to know as Velvet Fingers. This footage is, unsurprisingly, the first selection on the disc.

But it was something buried in the section labeled simply "Japanese magicians" that made my jaw hit the floor. Here is footage shot during a gathering of the "Southern California Japanese Amateur Magicians Society" in Los Angeles in 1938, and among the attendees is Edward Saint and Bess Houdini! Bess is sitting in the front row and at one point she's showered with applause and gifts. Someone even hands her an orange. (Hmmm.) Bess is smiling and seems to having a great time. There's even a moment when we see her cough. (Bessie coughing!) Apart from her appearance in Religious Racketeers, I don't recall seeing film of Bess in her later years, and I always enjoy seeing candid footage like this.

The DVD also includes other hidden gems such as Blackstone doing a packing crate escape with a committee that includes Thurston and T. Nelson Downs, and footage of Nicola doing a suspended straitjacket and underwater handcuff escapes. 

Vintage Magic Films is available from Amazon or the Miracle Factory.

Thanks to my good friends Ron and Asbed for this Bessie surprise!



  1. John;

    Thanks for this.

    She looks so happy and great laughing in that third picture.

    Was there any more footage that we have not seen in the opening segment of card minips?

    I believe we have this DVD but not the time at the moment. Shows, family, and trying to raise funds for projects to fix up the Houdini grave site in the spring. We are so thankful that the wonderful people at the National SAM have joined this great project. We will not live forever, but hopefully the club will.

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini
    Originally in NYC.

    1. The only part of the card footage that I hadn't see were the title cards describing what he's doing.

  2. Nice surprise. This Ron and Asbed sound like upstanding citizens and

  3. The highlight for me was the Cardini footage and for Houdini buffs, Leslie Guest performs the spring and catch of a deck of cards with one hand.

  4. Sid Fleischman wrote a children's book about Houdini called "Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini." I no longer have a copy, but I remember he talked about knowing Bess on the west coast after Houdini's death, and her interest in magicians.