Sunday, May 31, 2015

REPORT: Houdini-Hardeen Milk Can reappears on stage

The Man (Hatari) and the Can.
History was made last night at the Franke Center in Marshall, Michigan, when escape artist "Hatari" (a.k.a. Joseph Patire) freed himself from a genuine Houdini-Hardeen Milk Can on-stage in front of a live audience. The can belongs to the collection of the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, and was part of the International Stars of Magic show that concluded the Midwest Magic History Weekend.

I was honored to be among the committee that locked Hatari into the can. It was a thrill (and a little nerve-wracking) to handle and snap shut a real Houdini-Hardeen padlock. Also on stage was mega-collector Arthur Moses. Among the many magic luminaries in the audience that witnessed the escape were Bill Kalush, author of The Secret Life of Houdini, and legendary illusion maker John Gaughan. The show was emceed by the great Mike Caveney.

Before the escape, a video was played that explained the history of the escape, as well as the history of the Houdini-Hardeen can that was to be used that night. One bit of historical serendipity was that the night happened to be the 70th Anniversary of the last night that Hardeen himself performed the escape. Believe to or not, this was not known by organizer David Charvet when all this was planned! Just another one of those spooky Houdini coincidences.

The theme music from the horror classic Halloween played while the can was concealed by a raised curtain. A large stage-side clock counted down the minutes. A loud screen by Hatari's assistant helped bring the drama to a crescendo. Hatari freed himself in just under two minutes and received a nice ovation.

Now, I need to let you know that the Milk Can was not actually filled with water. The museum decided that would pose just too much risk to this important Houdini artifact. While this wasn't announced to the audience in advance, it also wasn't kept secret. Following the escape, host Mike Caveney quipped, "Not only did Hatari escape, but he was able to blow-dry his hair -- a feat not even accomplished by The Great Houdini!"

I think leaving the can empty was the right call. The performance was staged very effectively, with Hatari clad in a period bathing suit on a stage filled with nice "undersea" lighting effects, and it all worked as beautiful recreation of this historic escape without posing any real danger to the can or Hatari himself.

Immediately after the escape (which occurred mid-show before the intermission), the Milk Can was whisked back to the American Museum of Magic under the constant care of the museum's administrator, Keli Spears Hindeach, who seemed very happy and relieved to have her can back safely "at home."

It was a truly magical night and a wonderful tribute to this classic Houdini-Hardeen escape.

Events at the Franke Center are still going on today with a Potter & Potter auction of rare magic books and memorabilia. You can continue to follow my live tweets from Marshall HERE.

I'll have a full report on the Midwest Magic History Weekend later this week.

UPDATEREPORT: The Midwest Magic History Weekend 2015.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Live tweeting from the Midwest Magic History Weekend 2015

This week I'm in Marshall, Michigan for the 2015 Midwest Magic History Weekend. I'm excited to be giving my "Houdini in Hollywood" talk on Thursday night, along with screening a Houdini film. I will then be enjoying the other talks and events, including an escape attempt by Hatari from a genuine Houdini-Hardeen Milk Can during the big show on Saturday night.

It promises to be several days loaded with magic, Houdini, and good friends. Below is my Twitter feed @HoudiniWild where I will do my best to keep you up-to-date with all the magical happenings in Marshall. #MHW

I'll resume normal posting on June 1st.

UPDATEREPORT: The Midwest Magic History Weekend 2015.


'Houdini' up for Emmy consideration

HISTORY has included the Houdini miniseries in their 2015 Emmy campaign DVD pack sent out to voting members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Houdini is up for consideration as Outstanding Limited Series; Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series (Adrien Brody); Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series (Kristen Connolly); Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series (Evan Jones); as well as "all other categories."

Nominations will be announced on July 16. Winners will be announced during the live Emmy telecast on September 20, 2015.

UPDATEHoudini miniseries locks up 7 Emmy nominations


Monday, May 25, 2015

Laurel Canyon Houdini Estate homes for lease

The LA Times reports that two houses on the "Houdini Estate" in Laurel Canyon are available for lease at $7,500 and $16,500 a month.

One house is 2,060 square feet and the other is 1,240 square feet. Believe it or not, the smaller house is the one with the larger price tag. It is the beautifully renovated "carriage house" that sits atop the property and contains original Houdini artwork throughout.

Debi Raveh and Adrienne Doty-Carolan of Rodeo Realty are the listing agents.

For a full history of the property and its connection to Houdini, check out my post from 2012: Inside the Laurel Canyon Houdini Estate.

Houdini Plaza turns 30

Today is the 30th Anniversary of Appleton's Houdini Plaza. The plaza was dedicated on May 25, 1985, in a celebration that featured magic performances by members of the Houdini Club of Wisconsin.

The original plaza design centered around an abstract sculpture created by Richard C. Wolter called "Metamorphosis." The original dedication plaque said the plaza was built on the site of the Weiss family home, but that claim has been dropped in recent years.

In 1986, the great Doug and Debbie Henning (right) performed their famous quick-fire version of Houdini's Metamorphosis in the plaza center. You can see a clip of that performance in the 1988 documentary, Houdini: The Greatest Illusionist of All Time.

Houdini Plaza was completely renovated and rededicated in 2013. In August, a spectacular new bronze bust will be installed in the heart of the plaza celebrating Appleton's favorite son.

Doug and Debbie Henning pic from Houdinez Home Page.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Did a contract clause kill Houdini?

In his new booklet, The Houdini Correspondence File, Wayne Wissner provides a collection of Houdini letters which have largely escaped examination. Many come from the final months of Houdini's life, and one letter might add a troubling new dimension to the story of his death.

In an urgent letter, sent from his dressing room at the Van Curler Theater in Schenectady on October 14, 1926, Houdini threatened to cancel his 3 Shows In One tour after his engagement at the Garrick Theater in Detroit. The reason for this was because Houdini discovered a clause in his contract that he found unacceptable.

Following his accident in the Water Torture Cell in Albany on October 11, a clause was brought to Houdini's attention that stipulated should he be struck down with any illness or accident that would necessitate closing the show, he would have to pay the theater $1000 (over $13,000 today) for each day the theater was dark. While lying flat on his back nursing his broken ankle, Houdini dictated a letter to Jules Murray at the Shubert Theatre, saying:

"If that is the case with contracts on the tour, I herewith cancel everything after the Detroit engagement as I positively will not accept any contracts under these conditions."

Houdini sent a copy of the letter to his show manager, L. Lawrence Weber, further stating:

"I am amazed any sensible manager would sign a contract with such a clause in it and I am perfectly willing to leave the road before I would take such a chance. [...] Am perfectly willing to continue if a new clause is inserted but under the present contract I retire gracefully."

Houdini's 1926-27 full evening show was to be a "Coast To Coast" tour. The tour kicked off in September and featured new effects such as Buried Alive and Slicing A Girl in Eight. Presumably, Houdini had signed contracts up through his appearance in Detroit.

I don't think this was a bluff by Houdini. I'm sure he would have walked away from the tour if the contract was not amended. But I expect it all would have been worked out and the show would eventually move on as planned. However, Wayne says that he could find no documentation that a change had been made before the troop reached Detroit.

Ironically, in Detroit the worst case scenario happened. Houdini was struck down with appendicitis and the theater went dark for his entire engagement. One wonders if the Garrick charged Houdini/Weber for the missed days. (The full cause has no "Act of God" allowance.) In light of Houdini's death, this would have been pretty ruthless. But had Houdini recovered from his illness, in which case the theater probably would have enforced the clause, you could bet there would have been a battle royal.

Here's a final, dark thought on all this. We know Houdini stubbornly refused to do anything about the growing pain in his stomach during his final days, and even insisted on taking the stage at the Garrick with a 104 degree temperature. He even returned to his hotel after the show. Could Houdini's reluctance to seek medical attention been, in part, because he knew this $1000 a day fine was hanging over him? Was he trying to make it through Detroit before surrendering himself to the doctors?

Did a contract clause kill Houdini?

Thanks to Wayne Wissner for opening up this new rabbit hole. Wayne is currently offering The Houdini Correspondence File on eBay.


Come see the historic Houdini Milk Can escape, May 30

Here's the poster for the big Saturday night show at the upcoming Midwest Magic History Weekend in Marshall, Michigan (May 28-30). As you know, the show will climax with a one-time only escape from the American Museum of Magic's original Houdini-Hardeen Milk Can!

The good news is this Saturday show is open to the public, so you can see this historic Houdini event without having to buy a full 3-day convention pass.

I will be attending the full Marshall weekend and will be presenting my "Houdini in Hollywood" talk on Thursday, May 28. I will be live tweeting all the weekend happenings right here at WILD ABOUT HARRY, but I still hope to see some of you in person.

CLICK HERE for more information on the Midwest Magic Weekend. Tickets for the Saturday night show can be purchased from the American Museum of Magic.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Bristol Historical Society screening 'Houdini' this weekend

The movie loving Bristol Historical Society will offer two screenings of the Tony Curtis classic Houdini tomorrow, May 23, at 1:00 pm and 7:00 pm. The screening will include classic cartoons and and an episode of Flash Gordon starring Buster Crabbe. They stress that the movie will be shown on film (not DVD).

The Bristol Historical Society is located at 98 Summer St. in Bristol, CT. Admission is a $3 donation. Proceeds benefit The Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum and the Bristol Historical Society. For more information, call (860) 583-6309 or visit

Thursday, May 21, 2015

WIN tickets to see The Grim Game in Scranton

The Times-Tribune is giving away 10 pair of tickets to the screening of Houdini's The Grim Game at the historic Leonard Theater in Scranton, PA on June 13th. Plus, you could be randomly chosen to win 2 VIP Tickets to the show if you answer the question, "What year did Harry Houdini perform at the Poli Theater here in Scranton?" (If you need help, here's a clue.) 

All entries much be received by June 5th. Good luck!

The Times-Tribune has also run a full page ad for this in their print edition. Click to have a look at that ad. Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz at the Houdini Museum in Scranton for this.


Death Defying Acts on BBC 2 today

It's not often you hear about a showing of Death Defying Acts on television, but it look like the movie will screen today in the UK on BBC Two at 11:20pm.

Death Defying Acts is a romantic fiction starring Guy Pearce as Houdini and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Scottish psychic. It had a very limited theatrical release back in 2008. It's available on DVD.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

HISTORY pulls Houdini bust episode of Monument Guys

As if HISTORY hadn't already done enough to rile Houdini fans (recall Brad Meltzer and a certain miniseries), now, according to WBAY, the network has pulled tonight's episode of Monument Guys that was to feature the making of the new Houdini bust. According to the report:

A spokesman for Boldt Company in Appleton says a show that was scheduled to air on the History Channel Wednesday night about Houdini Plaza will no longer do so.

The episode of Monument Guys was pulled by the network Tuesday night according to the spokesman, who says he was notified Wednesday.

The spokesman says the show has been moved to H2 (History Channel 2), but it is unclear when the episode will air.

I have no idea why the network would do this, and it's pretty disappointing. The episode promised to reveal the bust's "hidden secret."

Brodini is upset.


LINK: TV series gifts Houdini bust to Appleton

Good article today by Shane Nyman in the Appleton Post Crescent about the new Houdini Plaza bust. (Click headline to read.) The making of the bust will feature on the series Monument Guys tonight on HISTORY.


Monday, May 18, 2015

First look at the new Houdini Plaza bust

WHBY in Appleton has revealed the first images of the new bronze Houdini Bust that will be installed in Houdini Plaza in August. The creation of the bust will feature this Wednesday, May 20, on the HISTORY Channel series, Monument Guys. The episode description says the life-size bust includes a "hidden secret."

Tom Boldt of The Boldt Company, who played a major role in the renovation of Houdini Plaza in 2013, says sculptor Craig Campbell captured a look of confidence and resolve with the Houdini piece.

"I think this image of Houdini is universal, and I think it’s something that has distinguished America," Boldt told FOX 11. "A land of opportunity, and through your hard work and effort, you can be successful."

I have to agree. I think this is a beautiful bust and I can't wait to see it in Houdini Plaza.


The Houdini Correspondence File

Magician and collector Wayne Wissner has a new publication called, The Houdini Correspondence File. Wayne has made 10 copies available on eBay TODAY. Below is the cover and description:

About two years ago I discovered a small stach of original Houdini corresponcence that hasn't been looked at in almost 70 years. I culled several of these letters, most from 1926, the year that Houdini passed away. These are now the basis for this 30 page publication. References to Dunninger, Carter, Thurston, Hardeen and many others. Should make a great read as well as a wonderful research tool. Please do let me know if you wish it signed and thanks for looking! The cost is $25.00 postpaid.

Wayne previously released a 22-page collection of correspondences between Houdini and Robert Gysel called, Houdini & Gysel.

And in case you are wondering, that is Houdini with his Terror Island leading lady Lila Lee on the cover.

UPDATE: Check out this interesting revelation from this (now sold out) book: Did a contract clause kill Houdini?

Houdini Brainteaser puzzle game

ThinkFun has released a new brainteaser puzzle game based on Houdini. It's described as the "World's First 40-Challenge Escape Puzzle."

So you think you’re Houdini? Well, let’s see what you’ve got! Try your hand at these 40 disentanglement puzzles. Just secure Houdini using the ropes, lock and rings and work your magic to set him free without undoing the clasps! Sound easy? Well, let’s just say we won’t ask you to tie yourself up quite yet!

You can purchase ThinkFun's Houdini Brainteaser puzzle at


Friday, May 15, 2015

Houdini to Bess – "Sweetheart Mine"

Houdini famously wrote love letters to his wife Bess that he would leave on her pillow or around the house. Now a fellow Houdini buff shares with us one of those letters from his collection. I don't believe it has ever been published. It's dated July 8, 1925, and appears to have been written while the Houdinis were staying at the Adams House hotel in Boston.

The letter is handwritten and a little hard to decipher. I've made my best attempt below. Maybe someone can improve on it?

To the only Mrs Houdini
July 8 - 25
Sweetheart Mine –
No ink in room here but all my love could not be told with all ink in World –
Missed train. Sawyer told me wrong time & I bot ticket!
Am off to Sommerville to see spiritualist [illegible] - then to a E Fay.
Kilby with me.
Love & Kisses
Yours and yours alone!

"Sawyer" is likely Bess's niece Julia Sawyer (I've also seen it spelled Sauer), who worked as an assistant to the Houdinis both onstage and off. "Kilby" is Houdini's friend and fellow theatre collector Quincy Kilby. Houdini's reference to "a E Fay" is Anna Eva Fay, the famous medium who lived in Melrose, Massachusetts.

This is a wonderful and also somewhat curious letter. Houdini's assurances to Bess that she is "the only Mrs Houdini" and that he's "yours and yours alone" feel like reassurances, as if they've had a fight. It's known that Bess would sometimes have fits of jealously. Perhaps this letter followed one of her "brain storms" (as Houdini once called them).

The Adams House was a Boston hotel built in 1883 that offered long-term lodging in the heart of the theater district. Next door was an annex where B. F. Keith opened his first vaudeville house in 1885. In 1908 he converted it into one of Boston's first cinemas, the Bijou Dream. The Adams House was closed in 1927 and demolished in 1931, although the annex building still stands today.

Thanks to our friend for sharing this wonderful letter. And thanks to "Ace Underwood" and David Saltman for helping improve the transcription.

UPDATE: This letter sold on eBay for $1,875.99.

UPDATE (2021): This letter is now part of Roger Dreyer's Houdini Revealed museum. It's framed with a tiara that belonged to Bess Houdini.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bessie and the Colonel

Remember that scene in the Houdini miniseries in which Bess (Kristen Connolly) sits on the lap of a soldier at a party and Houdini (Adrien Brody) goes to pieces? Believe it or not, this is based on a real event. The curious story was first told in Harold Kelock's 1927 biography Houdini His Life Story as follows:

Once and once only did Mrs. Houdini venture in a small way to put Houdini's personal jealousy to the test. They were at a party at which the pace was a bit swifter than at those they commonly attended. A certain colonel invited Mrs. Houdini to sit on his knee and drink a glass of champagne with him. The colonel and his knee had no attraction for Mrs. Houdini, but she was seized with a whimsical desire to see how Houdini would react to such a performance. A few minutes later, when Houdini entered the room, the scene was set. Mrs. Houdini was sipping her champagne and gazing roguishly up at the colonel, and his arm was about her waist. 
Houdini stopped sharply in the doorway with an expression of incredulous horror on his face that his wife never forgot. His knees sagged as if he had received a knockout blow. Mrs. Houdini rushed to him and helped him to a chair. He could hardly speak. She helped him into a taxi and into their lodgings. None of her explanations could lift him from his utter prostration of spirit. He wept bitterly far into the night. For days he dragged himself about, brooding and dejected. 
Weeks afterward they were dining with friends at a hotel. In the party was a young lieutenant in dress uniform. A passing waiter slipped and spilled the contents of nineteen cocktail glasses over this resplendent young man. As he stood up mopping himself off, he remarked, with mock concern: "I wonder what the colonel would say?" 
At the words "the colonel," Houdini pushed aside his knife and fork and an expression of deep gloom over-spread his face. His evening was ruined. Mrs. Houdini had to take him home before he spoiled the occasion for every one else.

The story of Bess and the colonel also appears in Houdini: A Mind in Chains by Bernard C. Meyer, the book on which the Houdini miniseries was based (the author is screenwriter Nicholas Meyer's father). This incident is ripe for a psychological read, and Dr. Meyer observes: "It was as though the nightmare of abandonment had come true."

Bess had an adventurous spirit, and while I don't believe she was ever unfaithful to her husband, she did enjoy her flirtations and escapades. In a taped interview, her sister Marie recalled how when she and Bess would go out dancing, Bess would tell men they were single girls. After they had gotten their fill of attention and a box of candy "for their mother," they would excuse themselves to the ladies room and then "beat it."

"Houdini never knew she did that," says Marie. "She was a devil."

TOMORROW we'll continue our look at the Houdinis marriage with an affectionate letter from Harry to Bess that I don't believe has ever been published before.


Gene Franklin Smith reading 'Flim Flam' in Calabasas, May 16

Playwright Gene Franklin Smith will be appearing at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Calabasas this Saturday, May 16 at 2PM, reading selections for his acclaimed play, Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter.

Come meet Gene, hear him read, and get your book signed! (I'm hoping to be there.)

Barnes & Noble is located at 4735 Commons Way, Calabasas, CA 91302. Phone is 818-222-0542. For more details and directions click here.

Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter ran at the Malibu Playhouse in the summer of 2014. It starred Rick D. Wasserman as Houdini, Melissa Kite as Bess, Sabra Malkinson as Margery.

Purchase Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Appleton adding bust to Houdini Plaza

Today it was revealed that the city of Appleton, Wisconsin, will be adding a life-size Houdini bust to their downtown Houdini Plaza. The bust will be made of bronze and show Houdini from the torso up doing a straightjacket escape. It will be accessible so people can take pictures with it.

Sculpture Valley, of Appleton, spearheaded the effort to guide the bust design and find a permanent place for this exquisite new work near the site of Houdini Plaza's former abstract piece, “Metamorphosis". The new sculpture will fill the void left in the new plaza design which called for a piece of public art but was conspicuously missing from the final execution.

Sculpture Valley is also working alongside Tom Boldt, president of the Boldt Company and a devoted Houdini fan, on a new series of Houdini walking tour markers to add more depth of history to the current set of makers Boldt placed back in 1986 mostly along College Ave.

The new bust and the new markers will be officially unveiled on the weekend of August 27-29th when the Houdini Club of Wisconsin comes back to Appleton to host their annual convention at the Raddison in downtown Appleton.

You'll be able to get an early look at the new Houdini bust on the HISTORY channel reality show Monument Guys next Wednesday, May 20. The show follows the inners workings of The Crucible bronze foundry in Norman, Oklahoma, who cast the bust.

Houdini Plaza, which was once said to be the site of the former Weiss family home (we now know it was a few blocks away), underwent a massive renovation in 2013.

Thanks to Alexander Schultz of Sculpture Valley.


The Grim Game is coming to Scranton

TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game will screen at the historic Leonard Theater in Scranton, PA on June 13, 2015. Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz from Scranton's Houdini Museum will be on hand for a discussion before and after the screening. The gala evening will include a cocktail reception and Houdini artifacts from the Houdini Museum.

Here's the evening schedule:

6:00 PM – VIP Admission
6:00 to 7:00 PM - VIP Cocktail Party, includes hors d'ourves & OPEN bar.
7:00 PM – Reserved & General Admission
7:00 to 8:00 PM - Houdini displays, pre-movie discussion & cash bar.
8:00 PM - The Grim Game movie screening
9:30 to 10:30 PM - Houdini displays, post-movie discussion & cash bar.

For advance tickets, go to:

Houdini himself performed in Scranton in 1915 at the Poli Theater (now the Ritz Theater). Posters and details of Houdini's performance in Scranton a century ago will be on display at The Leonard Theater before and after the movie screening.

The Leonard is Scranton's oldest theater. Thought the years the Leonard building has housed an Opera House, a Vaudeville Theater, and even a speakeasy lounge. The Leonard Theater is located at 335 Adams Ave in downtown Scranton, PA.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Young Harry Houdini screening at The Magic Castle, May 26

The Magic Castle in Hollywood will screen the 1987 movie Young Harry Houdini as a "Castle Perk" for members on Tuesday, May 26 at 8:00pm. Star Wil Wheaton will be in attendance for a Q&A with Steve Valentine. Here's a description of the event:

INNER CIRCLE: Join us for a screening of Young Harry Houdini, the 1987 "Disney Sunday Movie" starring Wil Wheaton. See the movie and then enjoy an exclusive Q&A with Mr. Wheaton after the screening. He will chat about his memories of the shoot and his lifelong relationship with magic. If you haven't seen the movie, Billy McComb plays a character called Merlin. ALL MEMBERS WELCOME!

This is probably the hardest of all the Houdini biopics to see, so this will be a real treat. You can read more about Young Harry Houdini HERE.

The Confabulist released in paperback

Steven Galloway's The Confabulist is released today in paperback in the U.S. by Riverhead Books. The paperback sports terrific new cover art.

What is real and what is an illusion? Can you trust your memory to provide an accurate record of what has happened in your life? 
The Confabulist is a clever, entertaining, and suspenseful narrative that weaves together the rise and fall of world-famous Harry Houdini with the surprising story of Martin Strauss, an unknown man whose fate seems forever tied to the magician’s in a way that will ultimately startle and amaze. It is at once a vivid portrait of an alluring, late-nineteenth/early-twentieth-century world; a front-row seat to a world-class magic show; and an unexpected love story. In the end, the book is a kind of magic trick in itself: There is much more to Martin than meets the eye. 
Historically rich and ingeniously told, this is a novel about magic and memory, truth and illusion, and the ways that love, hope, grief, and imagination can—for better or for worse—alter what we perceive and believe.

Purchase the paperback edition of The Confabulist on Amazon.


Monday, May 11, 2015

LINK: Eerie ghost image–is it Houdini?

A few weeks ago Dean Carnegie shared a photo taken by Andrew Basso at the site of the former Wm. R. Hamilton's Funeral Home in Detroit where Houdini was embalmed (a location I plan to visit on my Houdini photo safari of Detroit at the end of this month).

Now Dean has a spooky update. There appears to be a ghostly image in one of the windows! Is it Houdini, or Edgar Allan Poe? Click on the headline to have a look at Dean's site. Believe.

FOX leaves Houdini & Doyle off 2015-2016 schedule

This week U.S. television networks announce their schedules for the next year. There had been speculation that FOX would announce Houdini & Doyle as one of their new dramatic series for next year, but that didn't happen today. There was no mention of the series on FOX's new lineup for Fall 2015-2016.

FOX did announce the return of The X-Files as a six episode "event series." Perhaps because Houdini & Doyle has been described as a "Victorian X-Files", the network didn't want the two similar shows running concurrently?

Despite this, there is evidence that the series is going forward with the hiring of a production designer Arwel Jones and casting. When Sony Television sold the series last March, ITV in the UK and Shaw Media in Canada also picked it up for distribution, so it's possible we will still see the series later this year or next, just not in the U.S.

It's also possible Houdini & Doyle will show up as mid season replacement on FOX, or it will be announced as a new series for the Fall 2016-2017 season. There is also the hopeful note at the end of the official press release: "Additional schedule information to be announced."

As with all the other potential Houdini TV and movie projects, I guess we will just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, if you care to read about the real-life relationship between Houdini and the creator of Sherlock Holmes, I would recommend Christopher Standford's superb study, Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.

UPDATEIt's on! Michael Weston and Stephen Mangan are ‘Houdini & Doyle’


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Houdini's baby shoe

Here's a Mother's Day treat from the collection of Jon Oliver (the man who sleeps in Houdini's bed). This is Houdini's baby shoe. This is from a pair presumably saved by his mother and then passed to Houdini. After Houdini's death, they went to Bessie's family. This appears to be the right shoe. David Copperfield has the left one in his collection. Oh baby.

Happy Mother's Day.

Thank you Jon.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Medium Who Baffled Houdini -?

The Medium Who Baffled Houdini is a new book about Mina "Margery" Crandon by Elaine M. Kuzmeskus. Considering the title and the fact that the author is a spirit medium herself, I expect this book has some bias. But Margery is a fascinating subject and I'm interested to give this a read. Here's a description.

"Houdini the Magician Stumped," proclaimed the Boston Herald in 1924. Who was this medium who baffled Houdini? None other than Margery Crandon, the wife of a prominent Boston surgeon. "Margery the Medium" made headlines throughout the 1920s. She captivated not only Harvard professors, but the editors of Scientific American with her amazing physical mediumship. Margery was very much a woman of her time- the Roaring Twenties. By the time the Twenties were in full swing, Margery and her second husband Dr. Le Roi Crandon became interested in psychic phenomena. In May of 1923, Dr. Crandon invited two couples to join them in a table-tilting séance. During the evening, he discovered that his wife had a genuine gift for communicating with the spirits. Within months, Margery produced psychic music, direct voice, trumpet séance, and even apports. She not only fascinated her husband, but the scientific community in the United States and England. While Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle championed Margery's mediumship, Harry Houdini denounced her as a fraud. Was Margery Crandon too good to be true or was she the last of the great physical mediums?

Of course, Houdini was not "baffled" by Margery, although he acknowledged that she was a very "slick" medium. Houdini ultimately explained all her phenomena and prevented Margery from collecting the prize offered by the Scientific American for proof of genuine mediumship.

In October, David Jaher's eagerly anticipated new book, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, will be released, and I expect it will be the definitive Houdini-Margery study.

Purchase The Medium Who Baffled Houdini at (U.S.) and (UK).

Young Houdini book 2 released in UK

The second book in Simon Nicholson's Young Houdini series, The Demon Curse, have been released in the UK as a paperback by Oxford University Press (OUP). The story finds young Houdini and best friends Billie and Artie investigating a mystery in 1886 New Orleans.

The first book in the series, The Magician's Fire, was released in the UK in January. The Demon Curse will be released in the U.S. as a hardcover in June.

The OUP website notes that film rights to both Young Houdini novels have already been sold. No word yet on a Book 3.

Purchase Young Houdini: The Demon Curse (UK edition) from

Friday, May 8, 2015

Houdini poster pulls a vanishing act

Recently this Houdini poster appeared on eBay with a starting price of just $15. The seller said it was found in a flea market. It seems too good to be true, but it appears this could be a worse for wear "1902" Amsterdam jail break poster which, ironically, I just did a post about HERE. Below is the poster and description:

Up for sale is this neat Houdini Prison Poster with print date Date Jan. 1902. This is being sold as a reprint, and found at a flea market. Looks great. Great for any collector of vintage pieces. Never seen one of these before! The item is in very poor condition (see pictures) and has dimensions of approximately 10" X 15". It is fragile. No returns accepted. DO not bid if you do not really want it.

The auction ended early with the explanation: "This listing was ended by the seller because the item is no longer available." This sometimes means the seller accepted an outside offer. So the mystery remains: was this an original Houdini poster? If so, perhaps we will see it reappear with the restorationists at Poster Mountain. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Below are comments from magician Chuck Romano who makes an good case for this being a fake:

The Ebay poster dimensions are odd. Also notice the missing area to the right of the seal above Houdini's shoulder. I bet the words "From Reno Collection" appeared there. The Ebay poster conveniently has that area missing. 
A 10x15 reproduction could easily have been made from a printed image of the original Amsterdam poster. Look at page 69 of The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Gibson. It's even in sepia. That image says "From Reno Collection."

In 1990 a similar Houdini Amsterdam poster (1902) sold for $8,250 at the Neil. The size of that poster is approx. 20" x 30". In Europe the English Double Crown litho size was used. It measured 20" x 30". This would make sense since the Amsterdam poster was printed overseas.

I would bet the Ebay poster in question is definitely a fake.

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Houdini & Doyle screentest on Vimeo

Check out what appears to be an audition by actress Maddie Phillips for the role of Adelaide in the new series Houdini & Doyle (which I think is now safe to assume is definitely happening). It was uploaded a month ago to Vimeo by BC Buzz.

[UPDATE: The video has now been put behind a password wall.]

Houdini & Doyle is a fictional series that teams up Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle solving paranormal mysteries. The series will air on FOX in the U.S., ITV in the UK, and by Shaw Media in Canada. No air date has yet been announced.


Sherlock production designer joins Houdini & Doyle

Today we have further evidence that the Houdini & Doyle TV series is moving forward. According to IMDb, Arwel Jones has joined as Production Designer. Jones is best known for his work on Sherlock and Doctor Who.

In March, FOX purchased the Houdini & Doyle idea from Sony Television and creators David Titcher, David Shore and David Hoselton. It's said that Shore will helm the 10-episode first season. The series will film in Canada and the UK.

The networks announce their lineups for next year during the week of May 11. We should learn then if we can expect to see Houdini & Doyle solving paranormal mysteries on FOX in 2016.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

LINK: Lovecraft to Houdini about Edgar Allan Poe's desk

Here's a link that's been generating some excitement. Among the items on display at a recent Houdini event in Toronto was a letter written by H.P. Lovecraft to Houdini congratulating him on his acquisition of Edgar Allan Poe's writing desk. Images of the letter and desk are posted at Lovecraft eZine.

Houdini and Lovecraft knew each other well. Lovecraft ghostwrote Houdini's short story, Imprisoned with the Pharaohs, and at the time of Houdini's death they were collaborating on a book called The Cancer of Superstition. The two men have also been teamed up posthumously in many fictional adventures.

I've heard there is an Edgar Allan Poe desk in the collection of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. As they also house a large collection of Houdiniana, can we assume this was the desk Houdini owned?


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Houdini on radio

Here's a clipping from The Houston Post, November 5, 1923 announcing a radio address by Houdini on "The Sane Side of Spiritualism." It's not generally known that Houdini often spoke over the radio. In fact, the very day he was struck in his dressing room by J. Gordon Whitehead he gave a radio interview. I've always wondered how it's possible that not one of these radio addresses has survived. I have a fantasy that one day one will be discovered in some radio archive and we will once again hear Houdini "over ether."

For a taste of what Houdini might have said in this 1923 address, check out my post from back in 2010. There I shared from my collection a two-page radio talk that Houdini gave over station WTIC in Hartford on December 3, 1925:


Monday, May 4, 2015

The Man From Beyond screening in the UK, May 23

Houdini's silent feature The Man From Beyond will screen at the Southend-on-Sea Film Festival in the UK on May 23, 2015. Stuart Burrell, an escapologist and stamina strongman, will do a presentation that is said to include a clip from The Grim Game. My guess is this will not be from the new TCM restoration, but will be the plane crash footage from the Kino DVD set.

The official website notes that The Man From Beyond was "released in the UK shortly after his untimely death in 1926." I've never heard this before. As far as I know, The Man From Beyond was distributed via the Houdini Picture Corporation, and that was dissolved by the mid twenties. So who released the film in the UK in '26, I wonder?

The Man From Beyond screening will take place at the Park Inn Palace Hotel Ballroom on Saturday May 23 at 6:00pm. For more information, check out the official website.

UPDATE: According to the always amazing Joe Notaro of HHCEThe Man From Beyond was released by Unity Film Company on Dec. 27, 1926. Joe uncovered this information in a 1927 Kinematograph Year Book. More here.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

YES!--"Jim Collins is still with me"

Here's an add-on to my post yesterday about Jim Collins and his "solo career." While researching that post, I found this terrific Hardeen-Hellzapoppin ad in the October 1938 issue of The Sphinx. There's a lot to like here, but note the line at the bottom, YES!--"Jim Collins is still with me."

Click to enlarge.

I expect this was an inside joke. Perhaps this was the question Hardeen was repeatedly asked by fellow magicians? It speaks to just how popular a figure Jim Collins was in the magic world. Collins, of course, worked as Houdini's chief assistant and engineer for many years.

Hellzapoppin was a madcap comedy revue show starring the popular Olson and Johnson. Hardeen appeared in it for four years. Unfortunately, he did not appear in the 1941 film version.

I also found this news item in the March 1938 issue of The Sphinx. This is the first I've heard of this accident, and I'm afraid I don't have any other details.

Jim Collins was recently portrayed by Evan Jones in the Houdini miniseries. Unlike what was shown in that movie, he was not a southern-fried bumpkin from Macon, Georgia. Jim Collins was born in the UK. He died in Philadelphia on March 6, 1942.

Collins with "the boss."

I hope you enjoyed our special Jim Collins Weekend. Stay tuned for our Franz Kukol Mega Month! (kidding)

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    Saturday, May 2, 2015

    When Jim Collins went solo

    Our good friend Joe Fox has uncovered an interesting nugget of information about Jim Collins, Houdini's trusted chief assistant and engineer. It appears that after Houdini's death, Collins performed a solo act in a tent show doing Houdini's effects. Here's the item Joe found in the December 1931 issue of The Sphinx.

    Magic Under Canvas
    By Julien J. Poskauer

    Carnivals and circus side-shows have used magic as drawing card during the summer season which has just closed, to an extent never before reached in the outdoor show business. About two hundred and thirty professional and semi-professional magicians have been working under canvas.

    Indicating the extent of magicians' popularity is the fact that at the Connecticut State Fair which closed October 16th at Danbury, Conn., there were six magic acts working at the same time. James Collins, for many years assistant to Harry Houdini and the only man in the word that knows the secret to the last master's "Upside Down" trick, is featured in a tent of his own.

    Collins is working a large illusion owned by Hardeen and himself, the Houdini Chinese Execution Trick in which eight steel blades "penetrate" the body of a beautiful assistant, the Flying Bird Cage and escapes from restraints of all kinds.

    This "Chinese Execution Trick" is almost certainly the "Slicing A Girl in Eights" illusion that Houdini featured in the second season of his full evening show.

    So what should we make of this tent show appearance? In 1931 Collins was working with Hardeen. However, this may not have been a full time job as it had been with his brother. This was during the depression and Collins probably needed to make extra money during the summer. Hardeen was playing the RKO-Pantages Circuit, so performing a State Fair tent show would not have been a conflict. Or it could even be that Collins was fulfilling this engagement on behalf of Hardeen. How Collins was billed might provide us with more clues, but I've not been able turn up anything more on this performance.

    I'm wondering if this was a one off, or if Collins had a minor career in tent shows and small venues under the radar. If anyone has any additional info on Collins' solo act, please share in the comments below.

    By the way, the author of this piece in The Sphinx, Julien Poskauer, later performed the Milk Can escape himself, assisted by none other than Jim Collins.

    Thanks to Joe Fox and Paul Zenon.

    Tomorrow our special Jim Collins Weekend continues with: YES!--"Jim Collins is still with me".

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