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 CanvasBy 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".