Saturday, January 31, 2015

'Houdini' nominated for Excellence in Production Design

The Houdini miniseries had received yet another Guild nomination, and certainly a deserving one. The Art Directors Guild (ADG, IATSE Local 800) has nominated Production Designer Patricia Von Brandenstein for Excellence in Production Design in Television 2014: Television Movie or Mini-Series.

The ADG will present its 19th annual Excellence in Production Design Awards tonight at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.

UPDATE: Looks like Houdini lost to American Horror Story: Freak Show.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Now let's worry about Terror Island

Now that The Grim Game is safe, restored, and will return to the big and small screen in March (huzzah!), it's time to turn our attentions to another Houdini movie rescue mission, restoring his second Paramount-Lasky feature, Terror Island (1920).

While Terror Island has been available on VHS and DVD since the late 1990s, that version is incomplete. That's because the only know print of the film, housed in the Library of Congress, is missing two reels, resulting in a runtime of only 55 minutes.

Disclaimer at the start of the current version of Terror Island.

Unfortunately, and maybe not coincidentally, those missing reels contain the movie's two best escapes. The first features Houdini, as Harry Harper, escaping from a burning dockyard warehouse after being chained to a chair by the villains. Stills from this sequence survive, but not a single second of film footage. Houdini/Harper later hides in a packing crate -- only to be discovered by the villains who hammer shut the lid and throw it into the bay with predictable results. No photos of this scene survive, hence, it's not generally known that Terror Island even contains an overboard box escape (an iconic Houdini escape not featured in The Grim Game).

Harper then returns home where he's vamped by actress Rosemary Theby. A well known still of this scene survives, although it's sometimes misidentified as being another Houdini film. Harper then sets out to save Beverly in his super submarine, saving her from a sown sack underwater in the process.

All of this is missing from the existing print.

Two of several missing scenes from Terror Island.

Another issue is with the title and dialog cards. The Library of Congress print is from a later Realart re-release of the film, so the original 1920 Lasky-Paramount cards have all been replaced. Now that we've gotten a peak at how spectacular the original title card for The Grim Game looks, one can only imagine what the studio did for Terror Island.

Realart title card is not original.

Unfortunately, restoring Terror Island could prove to be a bigger challenge than The Grim Game. In the case of The Grim Game, we knew at least one print survived in a private collection, so there was always hope. But with Terror Island, it's unclear if these missing elements exist anywhere at all. Might there be no hope for Terror Island?

If anyone happens to have a lead on those missing reels, or if anyone knows of more complete print out there, shoot me an email or leave a comment below.

Let's find Terror Island!


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Madame Houdini in Reno

Magician Hellevi Woodman, who bills herself as Madame Houdini, is appearing at the Eldorado Resort Casino in Reno, NV. Hellevi earns her Madame Houdini moniker by performing a suspended straitjacket escape as part of her show. Here's a description:

From the producers of the award-winning stage spectacular, “Magique” comes a sensational and sensual new magic show appearing in the Eldorado Theatre now through April 19. Madame Houdini will astound audience members with her dazzling deceptions and stunning aerial skills.

The art of magic has been dominated by men for centuries. Only a handful of strong, talented female magicians have ever succeeded in the highly competitive field of grand illusion. For the first time in the United States, audiences will see one of the most glamorous and successful performers in the world of magic when Madame Houdini (Hellevi Woodman) takes the Eldorado stage.

The beautiful Mistinguett dancers, decked in spectacular costumes created by Lord Caruso and Lucio Boliver, artfully support the performance. Producer Kevin Jeffrey provides stellar production value, including stunning special effects and multi-media backgrounds to create a visually striking show for the whole family.

You can purchase tickets to the Madame Houdini show at the Eldorado Resort Casino website.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Houdini's magic theater

On February 3, 1918, the New York Tribune reported that Houdini was planning to open a "Magic Theatre" in the city. The theater would feature magic performances from different eras, and also house items from Houdini's collection, including automata. While not named, the article twice refers to it as a "Temple of Mystery." Here is the article from the Tribune spelling out Houdini's ambitious plans.

Click to enlarge.

Houdini's magic theater never materialized, but the idea did not go entirely unrealized. In 1935, Hardeen opened "Houdini's Temple of Mystery" in Atlantic City, which may have been modeled on Houdini original magic theater plans. Unfortunately, Houdini's Temple of Mystery only latest a few short years.

You can read more about the Houdini-Hardeen Temple of Mystery at Dean Carnegie's Magic Detective.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hardeen beats Houdini

Actor Mark Ruffalo took home the SAG award for "Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries" last night, beating out Adrien Brody for his nominated performance in Houdini. While Ruffalo won for the HBO series, The Normal Heart, around here he'll always be Theo Hardeen. Ruffalo played Houdini's brother and sometimes magic rival in the 1998 TNT production of Houdini starring Johnathon Schaech.

So Hardeen finally beat Houdini. Will wonders never cease?


Friday, January 23, 2015


"The Grim Game is not just a long lost film from the silent era, but a really great and fun film that will surprise and entertain all."
- Rick Schmidlin (Restorationist)

HUGE Houdini news today! Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has acquired the only known print of Houdini's 1919 feature, The Grim Game. The movie has undergone a full restoration by renowned preservationist and silent film scholar Rick Schmidlin. The restored film will have its world-premiere at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood in March with a live score conducted by composer Brane Zivkovic. It will then play on the TCM network later this year.

Here is the full press release from TCM:

Turner Classic Movies to Host World Premiere Screening of Long Lost Harry Houdini Classic The Grim Game at 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is bringing the long-lost Harry Houdini classic The Grim Game (1919) back to the public eye in a world premiere screening during 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival held March 26-29 in Hollywood. This much-sought-after film – a complete print of which was only recently rediscovered and brought to TCM for restoration – features the escape artist and legendary illusionist in one of his few starring roles. The film was discovered and the restoration was produced and restored by award-winning film preservationist and silent-film scholar Rick Schmidlin, whose credits include such landmark restorations as The Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894/'95), Greed (1924), London After Midnight (1927), Touch of Evil (1958) and Elvis: That's the Way It Is – Special Edition (1970).

"The discovery, restoration and screening of The Grim Game is the perfect embodiment of the TCM mission to celebrate our cinematic heritage and share it with new audiences," said Charles Tabesh, senior vice president of programming for TCM. "We are thrilled to be collaborating with some of the most important figures in film preservation in order to bring this timeless classic back to the screen for the first time in decades."

In The Grim Game, Houdini plays Harvey Hanford, a young man who is framed for murder. As Hanford escapes from the police and goes after the gang of men who framed him, the movie offers numerous opportunities for Houdini to display his own skills as an escape artist, illusionist and stunt man. Among the most remarkable sequences is a mid-air collision between two airplanes that was actually a real accident caught on film and used in the story.

During the world premiere screening at the festival, composer Brane Zivkovic will be on hand to conduct a live performance of his new score for the film. Additionally, The Grim Game will make its world television debut on TCM later in the year.

Below is the complete story behind the rediscovery and preservation of The Grim Game, including restoration credits. Information about the other films added to the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival can be found online at
A Classic Rediscovered: How The Grim Game Came to TCM
In April of 2014, noted film scholar and preservationist Rick Schmidlin met with friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, who own The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA, where they discussed having a lead on the long lost 1919 feature starring Harry Houdini, The Grim Game. The only known copy of the complete film was held by Larry Weeks, a 95-year-old retired juggler who lived in Brooklyn. Weeks had obtained the film from the Houdini estate in 1947, had only shown it a few times and had never been willing to sell it. Schmidlin decided to give it a try, knowing that his friend Charles Tabesh, senior vice president of programming for TCM, would be interested in obtaining the film for the network. Schmidlin eventually got in touch with Weeks and made arrangements to visit him to assess the condition of the film.

When Schmidlin arrived, Weeks showed him the two-film cans that he thought contained The Grim Game. After examining the film by hand, he let him know that TCM was willing to make an offer, and after two hours of discussion, Weeks finally agreed.

Schmidlin had become friends with Brane Zivkovic, who teaches film and music composition at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where Schmidlin regularly lectures. After the two discussed The Grim Game, Zivkovic expressed his interest in composing and conducting the score for the film. Zivkovic also introduced Schmidlin to Paula De Stefano, the Barbara Goldsmith Curator for Preservation at NYU's Preservation and Conservation Department. Through De Stefano, Schmidlin arranged to bring Weeks to New York in June to screen the entire film and arranged to have NYU provide storage for the film in their on-site vault.

Leading up to this day was tense for Schmidlin, as he wondered if he had really found the complete version of The Grim Game. "If so this would be the first major project I've produced in 12 years. I felt as if this was the greatest adventure in my career and well worth the wait to find a long lost film desperate to be restored," said Schmidlin. 
When they arrived at NYU, they examined the film and found that the total movie was five-and-a-half reels, not the five reels that had always been reported. They also had two reels of negative film. "Nothing was missing," said Schmidlin, "The film was a complete joy to see. The Grim Game is not just a long lost film from the silent era, but a really great and fun film that will surprise and entertain all."

The Grim Game Restoration Credits
The Grim Game restoration was produced and supervised by Rick Schmidlin, in association with The Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department, New York University Libraries, Kimberly Tarr, head of the media preservation unit, and Benjamin Moskowitz, lab supervisor who helped prepare the restoration. The digital restoration was carried out by Thomas Eberschveiler at Metropolis Post in New York City, with John Rizzo as project manager and Brian Boyd as colorist for the black-and-white timing.

Brane Zivkovic – who teaches music composition for film and television at the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU – composed and conducted the score for The Grim Game. The music was recorded under the supervision of music contractor Dave Eggar at Dubway Studios, New York, with recording engineer Mike Judeh. It is being mixed by Matt Rocker at Underground Audio, New York.

Consultants for the restoration of The Grim Game are Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, owners and operators of The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA.

This is tremendously exciting news! At long last everyone now has a chance to enjoy what is said to be Houdini's best film work.

Dorothy Dietrich, Rick Schmidlin, Dick Brookz © 2014 Houdini Museum.

Thanks to Rick Schmidlin.

UPDATE: I didn't realize this until now, but this momentous news was announced on Bess Houdini's 139th birthday.

UPDATE: The screening is set for Sunday, March 29, 2015 at the Hollywood Egyptian Theater. Click for details.


American Horror Story: Freak Show has a Houdini finale

The FX limited series American Horror Story: Freak Show had its final episode this week. I didn't watch the series, but from what I'm finding online, it appears the show climaxed with a main character being drowned in "Houdini's Water Torture Cell."

You can read more about this final episode at (where I snatched the above pic).


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Houdini at the Midwest Magic History Weekend, May 28-30

David Charvet has reveled details of the upcoming Midwest Magic History Weekend to be held May 28-30, 2015 in Marshall, Michigan. As you can see, I will be presenting my full "Houdini in Hollywood" talk along with a screening of a Houdini movie (which movie we haven't decided yet). I'm very excited about making my first visit to Marshall, "The Magic Capital of the World", and to the famous American Museum of Magic, which houses an important collection of Houdiniana. In fact, this entire weekend looks to be a delight for any magic history buff! Here are the confirmed details, with more to come:

Registrations are open for the Midwest Magic History Weekend - May 28-30, 2015 in Marshall, Michigan. Organized in conjunction with the American Museum of Magic, this will be THE event in the midwest this year for magic collectors and devotees of magic history.

Features include:
  • Behind-the-scenes tour of the American Museum of Magic collection, including the legendary Robert Lund Research Library (not open to the public).
  • A chartered motor coach day tour to Colon, Michigan with a backroom visit to the Abbott Magic Company including a show of historic Abbott magic on the factory showroom stage.
  • Three speaker's sessions on Thursday and Friday, including:
  • John Cox with his acclaimed "Houdini In Hollywood" multi-media presentation, as recently featured at the Magic Castle; including rare film clips of Houdini in action and a showing of his 1920 Paramount feature, "Terror Island."
  • Bill Spooner on the mysterious and controversial "Pendulum" mystery.
  • Adele Friel Rhindress with memories of "Blackstone Island" in Colon during her time as an assistant on the Blackstone Sr. show during the 1940's.
  • Gabe Fajuri with the story of Percy Abbott and the Abbott Magic Company including a panel discussion of what it was like to work at "The Magic Capital of The World" by past Abbott employees.
  • Friday night "late show" featuring Keith Stickley and his "Dr. Scream's Spook Show Revival" - a full-stage show tribute to the campy midnight ghost shows of the 40's-50's and 60's.
  • Saturday night "History's Mysteries" Stage show hosted by Mike Caveney, featuring seldom-seen magic and illusions from the past - some on stage for the first time in over 70 years.
  • And MANY MORE speakers and surprises to be announced.
  • Dealer's Room with antique and collectible magic for sale.
  • Sunday auction of historic magic by Potter and Potter.

Plus included in your registration: "Welcome" reception on Thursday night; lunch at the River Lake Inn in Colon on Saturday; full country-style dinner on Saturday evening; Farewell reception on Saturday night.

All in the beautiful, historic town of Marshall, Michigan. Located midway between Chicago and Detroit. Take a step back in time where history lives.

Registration is $225 per person. Hotel rooms are $119/night + tax. This promises to be a weekend you'll remember.

Details and registration at:

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

All About History is all about Harry

ALL ABOUT HISTORY magazine (issue #20) contains a nicely illustrated article about Houdini. The magazine is a UK publication, but it looks like it can be purchased worldwide from Imagine Shop.

Thanks to ROBHORROR for the alert.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mind reading

Today HISTORY aired an 8+ hour block of Houdini and magic-themed programing. This included their first repeat of the Houdini miniseries starring Adrien Brody and Kristen Connolly. This drew triple the normal traffic to WILD ABOUT HARRY. So what are people thinking after watching the miniseries? Below are the top Google search keywords that drew in traffic today. Kind of an interesting way to see what aspects of Houdini's life as shown in the miniseries sends people to their computers.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

HISTORY offers a day of Houdini and magic, Jan. 20

This Tuesday, January 20, HISTORY will offer up an 8-hour block of Houdini and magic-themed programing. Below is the line-up:

  • 7:00 am - Brad Meltzer's Decoded: Houdini Murdered?
  • 8:00 am - Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery
  • 10:00 am - Houdini, Part I
  • 12:00 pm - Houdini, Part II
  • 1:30 pm - Lost Magic Decoded

This marks the first repeat of Houdini starring Adrien Brody and Kristen Connolly. The two-part miniseries first aired in September 2014. Tuesday's airing will be HISTORY's edited for TV version. The full unedited version is available on DVD and Blu-ray.


Friday, January 16, 2015

"Houdini is in town. Can we help?"

Here's a terrific nugget of information from our friend Lisa Cousins, librarian at the William Larsen Sr. Memorial Library at The Magic Castle. (I shared this at my recent "Houdini in Hollywood" talk at the Castle.) It involves Houdini and comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, seen above the set of Backstage in 1919. Lisa writes:

"I've been reading a book called Room 1219 about the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and trials, and I was amused when I came across an anecdote involving a "Judge John Cox," who sentenced actress Bebe Daniels to ten days in prison for speeding. The coincidence became even more amusing when the point of the anecdote proved to be Fatty Arbuckle sending a telegram to the jailed Bebe Daniels, which read "Dear Bebe, Houdini is in town. Can we help? Love."
Judge John Cox seems to have benefited somewhat from the publicity, as Bebe sang a song called Judge Cox Blues at a benefit, and Bebe is said to have been visited by 792 friends during her ten days in jail, including numerous Hollywood celebrities "and one new celeb, Judge Cox."

Not be a buzz kill like my namesake, but Houdini actually wasn't in town in April 1921 when Bebe did her famous stint in jail. But it's a good joke, and the Bebe-Judge Cox speeding incident is a great story from Hollywood's silent era.

You can read more about Bebe Daniel's arrest and Judge John Cox at the Orange County Sheriff's Museum website.

Bebe making the most of her 10 days in jail.

Thank you Lisa!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Guest Blog: Houdini Vacation

Handcuff collector Mark Lyons recently took a "Houdini Vacation" across Europe. Stops included Budapest, Cologne, and London. Below is Mark's account of his travels with photos. This originally appeared at Handcuffs.Org, and is shared here with Mark's kind permission. Enjoy.

In planning my trip to Munster Germany for the Handcuff Convention, I decided to book an 8 day scenic river cruise on the Danube River in Austria. The trip, which turned out to be very wonderful, started out in Budapest, Hungary.

The trip had several options and was finalized early in the summer. Several days elapsed since I signed the paperwork when I awoke in the middle of the night when it occurred to me that I was about to travel to Houdini's birthplace.

I'd never seen a picture or recalled any kind of tribute to Houdini, so I mailed the tourism board in Budapest to see if there was a statue, plaque, or marker anywhere in the city. They replied that unfortunately there was none. I wondered how could the greatest showman of all time not have anything honoring him. They offered no help.

A quick look at John Cox's Wild About Houdini turned up a copy of a birth certificate which lists the address of Houdini's first home. This certificate was obtained from records in Budapest.

It is interesting to see the name "Erik" on the certificate instead of "Ehrich" as he usually spelled it. Another interesting fact and perhaps Houdini's biggest secret is his birthday. He normally told people that he was born in Appleton, WI on April 6, 1874. The paperwork from 1939 shows that he was indeed born in Pest on March 24, 1874.

Budapest used to be 2 different cities, Buda and Pest, each on its side of the Danube. Houdini and his family resided on the poorer Pest side.

In locating more info about the address listed on the birth certificate, I read that Wild About Harry contributor Botund Kelle, who lives nearby, was able to search records and discovered that the street name had changed and the new name of the street made it possible to find the original place where young Houdini lived during his first 4 years. A quick email to Botund produced excelled results when he asked me to write to his friend David Merlini, an escape artist of amazing talent. He holds the worlds record for holding his breath underwater. His new record now stands at 21 minutes, 29 seconds. He also performed an escape from a concrete block lowered into the Danube river.

Who could have guessed that this random email would lead to this wonderful day where I got to meet these fine folks. David had previously worked on the new Houdini movie as Technical Advisor and had access to the props used in the movie. A visit to the warehouse was a fantastic way to spend my first day in Budapest. He was a great host and took me by limousine to the HH birthplace and Royal Hotel where HH promised and delivered the "Finest Meal in all of Budapest". The movie was filmed in the city and David pointed out many of the film locations.

As a simple tourist of Budapest, I was blown away by the hospitality of Botund and David. My other shipmates were out buying paprika and ordering goulash while I was having this amazing tour. Time was short as my ship was about to head out to Vienna. The Houdini Connection made my trip unbelievable and certainly unforgettable. There just wasn't enough time to learn more about them in person. I hope we will be reunited another time. I promised not to spill the beans about some future happenings, but I will tell you to expect some very great things along these lines in the near future.

We are not sure if this apartment house was where HH lived. This apartment house may have replaced an older structure. This used to be 2 stories tall but 2 more floors got added in the last 10 - 15 years.

This is the address where the birth certificate indicates. A street name change occurred sometime in the past several years.

A Weiss resides in this unit. Perhaps an heir to the Houdini fortune?

Did HH come out of these doors to play with the neighbor kids?

As a tenant went in through the door, we were able to sneak a peak inside. Just a few botanical specimens and balconies in this courtyard.

The Royal Hotel. It looks almost the same as when HH dined here. When HH's father was dying, he promised him that he would take good care of his mother. He promised her the best meal in the city. She was very disbelieving that he would ever be able to afford this luxury. He also took other family members to this feast and later said that this was his proudest moment.

Queen Victoria died before she could wear this dress. HH snapped it up and it proved to be good enough for his mom.

Koln or Cologne. HH has to go to court to see if he is tricking the citizens of the city. Claims of this was what the police charged him with. He wins his day in court and tries the policeman for slander of his good name. Three trials later, the good name of Houdini is restored and the police have to print an apology in the newspaper....a big one!

Not 100% sure this is the exact court house but a great deal of probability exists that it is.

Opening locks and handcuffs in front of the judge is very rare now, but financial crimes are the typical cases being heard these days.

The London Hippodrome. A handcuff 5 years in the making was a big enough challenge to make headlines in 1904. The London Daily Mirror newspaper challenged HH to escape from the "Mirror Cuffs" that locksmith Nathaniel Hart made which took him 5 years to construct. Is this fact or is it fiction? Exactly 110 years later, we are still discovering and contemplating, How did he do it?

The stage where HH performed is a bit lower than the stage flooring of today.

The Hippodrome is now a Vegas style casino. 4,000 people were said to be in attendance 110 years ago. An hour later, Houdini was free.

Hope you enjoyed.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Uli Edel nominated for DGA Award for 'Houdini'

Director Uli Edel has been nominated by the Directors Guild of America (DGA) for Best Director TV Miniseries/Movie for his work on Houdini. The miniseries has also earned two nominations from the Motion Picture Sound Editors Guild (MPSE) for ADR and FX/Foley in the TV long and short form categories.

The 67th Annual DGA Awards will take place on February 7 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. The MPSE's Gold Reel Awards will be announced February 15.

The Houdini miniseries has already received several other Guild nominations, including Best Actor (Adrien Brody), Best Screenplay, Best Costumes and Best Make-up and hair.

UPDATE: Edel lost to Lisa Cholodenko for Olive Kitteridge.


Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #3

Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini issue #3 is released today (after being delayed from its original December 10 release date). The graphic novel series from Dynamite is written by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery with artwork by Carlos Furuzono. As with issues #1&2, Dynamite has released this latest issue with different covers (below).

Detective Sherlock Holmes' and magician Harry Houdini's refusal to investigate the attacks on Houdini's shows together leads to a horrific attack on a loved one and puts Holmes and Houdini face to face with a deadly force that defies death...

You can purchase Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #3 direct from the Dynamite website. I've also been very satisfied buying my issues on eBay from Abbas Discount Place.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Uncovering 'Houdini The Great'

Our friend Joe Notaro has posted on his blog Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence summarized excerpts from a 1936 story treatment for Houdini The Great by Frank O’Connor and Dore Schary. This was a movie set-up at Paramount by Bess and Ed Saint and would have been the first Houdini biopic.

For those who thought the recent HISTORY miniseries took liberties, wait until you read this! Houdini racing to save a kidnapped Bess following the death of their child? Houdini gunned down by a spiritualist assassin? Mercy.

Have a read at Joe's website:

Houdini The Great would languish in development for many years with later drafts written by Pierre Collings. Chester Morris was one of the actors rumored to be in consideration for the lead. Producer Dore Schary would try and revive the Houdini project in 1944 when he became head of production at David O'Selnick's Vanguard Films. You can read that story HERE.

Thanks Joe.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Who is this Houdini mystery girl?

Here's a mystery for us all. Jim Matthews, author of Edward Saint...or Sinner?, sends over this photograph that he found loose in a file of Houdini's personal correspondence. Writes Jim:

"In a small section of Houdini's personal letter writing file (mostly 1926) I found this picture. I wonder if any of your devout fans could help me identify this lovely young lady. The file passed through Ed Saint so there could also be a connection there."

Anyone out there recognize this Houdini mystery girl? If so, leave a comment below.

UPDATE: Is this another sighting of the mystery girl here: Houdini Headquarters.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

'The Witch of Lime Street' will appear in October

It's official! David Jaher's much anticipated (and much delayed) non-fiction study of Houdini and Margery will be released on October 6, 2015. Amazon now has a pre-order page for The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World. Here is the full book description:

History comes alive in this textured account of the rivalry between Harry Houdini and the so called "witch of Lime street," whose iconic lives intersected at a time when science was on the verge of embracing the paranormal.

The 1920s are well remembered as the golden age of jazz and glamorous prosperity. Less remembered is the era's fevered yearning for a connection to an unseen spirit world. That '20s roar came soon after tens of millions of lives were lost in the First World War and the Spanish-flu epidemic. A desperate search for reunion with so many lost souls precipitated a tidal wave of self-proclaimed psychics—and, as credulity reached an all-time high and reputable media increased coverage of paranormal phenomena, mediums became celebrities.

That is how, in 1924, a pretty Boston housewife became the idolized focus of the raging national debate over Spritualism, a movement centered on communication with the dead. Tabloids dubbed her the blonde witch of Lime street, but she was known to her followers simply as Margery. Her most prominent advocate was none other than Sherlock Holmes' creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed so thoroughly in Margery's prowess he recommended her to the editors of Scientific American, which was offering a prize to the first medium who could authenticate her powers to its impressive six-man investigative committee. Her supernatural gifts astonished five of them. There was only one judge left to convince...the most renowned escape artist of all time.

Master illusionist Harry Houdini had dabbled in séances during the early part of his career. His experiences with con artists who took advantage of grief-stricken believers turned him solidly against Spiritualism, and he spent much of his later life debunking the occult movement. But that was all before he walked up the stairs at 10 Lime Street, where one of the most debated psychic research investigations would unfold, and where he would potentially meet his match.

Screenwriter David Jaher's extraordinary debut centers on the ensuing showdown between the world's greatest unmasker of charlatans and the nation's most credible spirit medium. The Witch of Lime Street, the first book to capture their electric public rivalry, returns us to an oft-mythologized era to deepen our understanding of its history, all while igniting our imagination and engaging with the timeless question: is there life after death?

This is exciting. It's been a while since we've had a major new non-fiction Houdini work to sink our teeth into, and as the description says, this is indeed the first standalone study of Houdini and Margery. At 432 pages, this is one that I'm greatly looking forward to!

The Witch of Lime Street was first announced back in 2007.

Pre-order The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher on Amazon.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Young Houdini book 1 released in UK

Despite an official release date of February 5, the first book in Simon Nicholson's new "Young Houdini" series, The Magician's Fire, is now shipping from The book is released in the UK by Oxford University Press (OUP) and is aimed at readers 10-13. The series features the fictional adventures of young Houdini in 1886 New York.

The Magician's Fire was released in hardcover in the U.S. back in October. In the UK, the book is only available in paperback. OUP will released the second book in the series, The Demon Curse, in May.

The OUP website notes that film rights to both novels have already been sold.

Purchase Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire (UK edition) from

Friday, January 9, 2015

Houdini miniseries garners more award nominations

The Houdini miniseries has picked up more award nominations from the Hollywood Guilds. The Costume Designers Guild has nominated costume designer Birgit Hutter for Outstanding Made for Television Movie or Mini Series. Meanwhile, the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild has nominated Gregor Eckstein in three categories: Best Period Character Make-up, Best Special Make-up Effect, and Best Period Character Hair Styling.

The Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild awards will take place Saturday, February 14 on the Paramount Pictures lot. The Costume Designers Guild Awards will take place on February 17 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Good luck to the nominees!

UPDATE: Houdini lost to American Horror Story: Freak Show which swept all four categories.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

New York Times: What went wrong with Broadway's Houdini musical

The New York Times has an article by Patrick Healy all about the tortured development of the Houdini Broadway musical. The project, which was first announced in 2008, lost its star, Hugh Jackman, and composer, Stephen Schwartz, last year. This was after writer Aaron Sorkin left the project the previous year.

Below is a highlight from the Times piece which gives insight into what this production could have been:

[Aaron] Sorkin chose to set his story during Houdini’s final days, in 1926, with much of the action taking place in flashbacks. (A copy of his 2012 script, with Mr. Schwartz’s lyrics, was provided to The New York Times by a member of the production team.) The show centered on Houdini and Margery Crandon, who emerges as a complex character, by turns antagonistic and comforting, as she accompanies him in a dreamlike state as he relives moments in his life. (Jane Krakowski of TV’s 30 Rock and a Tony winner for Nine, played Margery in readings.) Some passages are funny, some tender, but many others are full of the long, brainy conversations that are a hallmark of Mr. Sorkin’s writing but less common in musicals. (Mr. Sorkin’s agent said that the writer would not comment for this article.)

Mr. Schwartz, meanwhile, wrote more than a dozen songs for the show, exploring Houdini’s relationship with his rabbi father (“Have a Little Faith in Me”) and the inherent deceptiveness within illusions (“It’s a Cakewalk”). But work sessions proved difficult to schedule; in 2011, for instance, members of the “Houdini” team flew to San Francisco to meet Mr. Jackman, who squeezed in meetings as he was rehearsing a concert that would soon become his smash revue “Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway.” And developing thrilling moments of magic often seemed secondary to the plot about the spiritualists.

Kenneth Silverman, author of the biography Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, who has not been involved with the show, said the focus on Houdini and Margery was “an intriguing idea” for a musical but also potentially fraught.

“Houdini’s experience with her and the spiritualists was a very hostile one, but focusing on it risks taking away from the hugely entertaining moments of illusion and escape that defined his life,” said Mr. Silverman, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1985 for his biography of Cotton Mather.

For those who worked on “Houdini,” the show remains a delicate, even painful subject. Most declined to comment on the record or would answer questions only by email through publicists. Many said they didn’t want to draw attention to the musical’s travails because its producers are trying to attract a new creative team and star to resuscitate the show. “We strongly believe ‘Houdini’ can be a remarkable theatrical experience,” said David Rockwell, one of the producers. “It’s not easy to create new work, yet the greatest rewards come from big thinking and creative risk.”

Thanks to Dave Sikula.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hardeen's close call (updated)

In 1935 Hardeen had an accident while doing the Double Fold Death Defying Milk Can escape in New York. [See update.] He was saved by the quick actions of Jim Collins. Here is an account of the incident from The Gettysburg Times, May 6, 1935.

Click to enlarge.

UPDATE: I've now found a second account of this incident and, unless this happened twice, it appears this actually took place on March 30, 1935, during a matinee performance at the "Grand Congress of Magicians" at the Lyric theater in Allentown, PA. What's even more interesting is this was Hardeen's very first performance of the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Houdini returns to Hollywood tonight

Just a reminder that I will be giving my "Houdini in Hollywood" talk at the Magic Castle tonight at 8:00pm in the Inner Circle. This will be an an expanded version of the talk I gave at Hollywood Heritage back in October. It's a Magic Castle "Members Only Perk." All AMA members are welcome. Hope to see you tonight!

Appleton Post Crescent, April 1, 1921.