Friday, July 31, 2015

Tony Oursler collection spooks LUMA

Blouin Artinfo reports that a collection of artifacts and artwork from the collection of Tony Oursler, grandson of Houdini's friend and associate Fulton Oursler, are on show at the LUMA Foundation in Arles, France, though September 20.

"Tony Oursler’s Imponderable" includes spirit photographs, supernatural ephemera, and Houdini material inherited from his grandfather in 2000 (including the image on the right) displayed in artistic ways.

"Collecting this stuff was a hermetic hobby for me," Oursler said. "But this challenged me to look at the archive in a different way."

Oursler has also created a film featuring Houdini, Conan Doyle, Margery the Medium and, oddly enough, Frankenstein's monster. It all sounds pretty avant-garde. Below is an image from the film showing Margery in her famous Houdini-made control box. You can watch the trailer on Vimeo.

Tony Oursler's work and collection will also be published in an upcoming book, Imponderable: The Archives of Tony Oursler, due for release on September 29, 2015. The book can be pre-ordered now on Amazon.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Juvenile star and a Yankee inventor

Here are a few more unique Terror Island newspaper ads that do their own thing. As I explained in my last post, the official Terror Island pressbook provided images, but local newspapers or theaters would somethings come up with their own ad copy and "ballyhoo."

This first ad from The Circle Theatre not only uses a rarely seen Production Cut from the pressbook (no. 9934), but I'm intrigued by how they call Houdini "the artist who has a record of never having faked the public." Do they mean in regards to doing his own stunts, or is this a reference to his stage career? Also, how about the fact that this theater stayed open until 4am. I wonder if that was typical of cinemas back then? It's also worth noting that this ad appeared on Halloween.

Oregon Daily Journal, Oct. 31, 1920.

Women played a huge role in silent cinema. Not only were they biggest stars, but women were also writers and directors. This ad below illustrates that, for the patrons of the New Strand in Madison, the real attraction of Terror Island was actress Lila Lee.

Capital Times, July 2, 1920.

Here's another ad from the New Strand showing Lila Lee as an equal in Terror Island. Lee is referred to here as "The Juvenile Star" and Houdini is "The Handcuff King." That was a name Houdini had long ago walked away from, but this just shows how he never really escaped his early fame.

Capital Times, June 30, 1920.

Finally, the ad below from the Fayetteville Observer uses an image which is not from the Terror Island pressbook. In fact, this appears to be from a different film entirely. But it still works. The ad copy––including the reference to Houdini's character as a "Yankee inventor"––comes from the pressbook.

Fayetteville Observer, August 5, 1921.

If you enjoy this kind of thing, know that on August 15th I will be giving a talk on "Houdini in Hollywood" at the IBM Ring 96 in Seal Beach. Click for details.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Official Houdini Seance 2015 will be held in San Francisco

The Official Houdini Seance 2015 will be held this year at the Brava Theater in San Francisco. This year's event is being hosted by magician Robert Strong in conjunction with Wonderfest, the Bay Area Skeptics, the Bay Area Science Festival, and the Pan-Pacific International Exposition. Says Robert:

"After being a magician for 30 years, I just found out that I am related to magic royalty. My great great uncle was The Great Rendar (Sidney Radner). After connecting with his son the past few moths, I have some very exciting news that will launch in about two weeks. Please do me a little favor and join the page The Official Houdini Seance and get ready for the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!!!"

San Francisco is a great choice for the 2015 seance. It was 100 years ago that Houdini and Hardeen famously played opposite each other in the city and in nearby Oakland. Houdini performed a suspended straitjacket escape and also performed an overboard box escape in the Bay. It was also on this trip that Harry and Bess met writer Jack London and his fetching wife Charmian, and we all know what came of that!

The Official Houdini Seance 2015 has an official Facebook page and a website (still under construction). Sounds like this could be a great one. We'll see if Houdini finds it good enough to attend!

Thanks to Dean Carnegie for the alert.

Official Houdini Seances past:

Special London preview of Impossible

You don't have to wait until the Edinburgh Fringe festival to see the new play Impossible starring Alan Cox as Houdini and Phill Jupitus as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The play will have a "special London preview" this Friday (July 31) and Saturday (August 1) at The Cockpit on Gateforth Street.

Click here for tickets and directions.

Impossible will play at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe from August 5 to 31. It is one of several Houdini-themed events at this year's festival.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Oregon knows how to ballyhoo

Here are two terrific newspaper ads for Houdini's Terror Island at the Oregon Theater in July 1920. While the official Terror Island pressbook would provide basic ad images, it was largely up to theaters to come up with their own ad copy. As you can see, the Oregon goes all out in this regard. My favorite line: "It won't be necessary to drink the evening cup of coffee. SEE HOUDINI."

Morning Register, July 27, 1920.

Morning Register, July 25, 1920.

Later this week I'll share some more Terror Island newspaper ads that go their own curious ways.


Monday, July 27, 2015

LINK: Widow of magician & Houdini biographer scammed out of $1M

DNAinfo has a detailed article by James Fanelli today about how the late Maurine Christopher, widow of legendary magician, collector, and Houdini biographer Milbourne Christopher, was allegedly "looted" of her savings in the last years of her life by two scam artists. Click the headline above to read the whole, distressing tale.

Before her death in 2013 at age 92, Maurine worked with David Haversat on two beautiful collector editions of her husband's Houdini works: Houdini The Untold Story and Houdini A Pictorial Life.


LINK: Reuel Meditz conducts live score for The Grim Game

Joe Notaro has discovered photos from the screening of The Grim Game in Austin last week via musician Reuel Meditz's social media. Meditz, a Las Vegas-based musician, composed and conduced an original live piano score for the screening at the historic Stateside Theater in Austin on July 19.

Collector Arthur Moses attended the screening and said he thought Meditz's score was excellent.

Click on the headline to have a look at all the pics from the State Theater screening at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Houdini bust revealed on Monument Guys

Appleton's new Houdini Plaza bust was revealed on Monument Guys Saturday night. Commissioned by Tom Boldt and the City of Appleton, the bust was created by artist Craig Campbell. As you can see from the pics below, it's a stunner!

The episode showcased the planning and creation of the 125 pound silicon bronze bust. For research, Craig Campbell visited Appleton's Museum at the Castle and was shown into their special Houdini vault. There the museum has a collection keys and lock-picks from Houdini's famous trunk No. 8. Campbell incorporated several of these into the sculpture, including a bobby pin hidden in Houdini's hair and a key that pulls out from behind his ear.

The Houdini bust will officially be unveiled during the Houdini Club of Wisconsin's annual convention in Appleton, August 27-29 .

You can watch the entire episode ("Metal of Honor") at the Monument Guys website.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Houdini in Hollywood (mega lecture!) at IBM Ring 96, August 15

Houdini might have been an S.A.M. man, but next month he's headed to the IBM when I bring my "Houdini in Hollywood" talk to IBM Ring 96 in Seal Beach, CA. The talk will take place during their regular monthly meeting on August 15, 2015 at 7pm. It's open to the public and admission is FREE.

This will be a "Houdini in Hollywood" mega lecture (with intermission) and will include all the clips that I've only selectively shared at previous talks. Also, thanks to our friends at Park Circus, I will be showing 10 minutes of select footage from TCM's newly restored The Grim Game!

Ring 96 was chartered in 1949 and serves IBM members in the Seal Beach/Long Beach area with lectures, competitions and other magic based events. (One of their past presidents was George Boston, who served as technical advisor on the Tony Curtis Houdini.) Ring 96 has hosted some impressive speakers, so I'm very honored to have been invited to speak at their meeting.

The meeting will take place at the Seal Beach North Community Center, 3333 St. Cloud Drive in Seal Beach, CA 90740. For more information and directions visit the IBM Ring 96 official website. I've also created a Facebook event page.

Looking forward to making Houdini an IBM man!

Thanks to Cliff Gerstman.


Friday, July 24, 2015

A chilling Houdini challenge

Jon Oliver has sent over a copy of a curious Houdini challenge letter from the Wayne Country Morgue in Detroit dated October 23, 1916. In it, coroner J.W. Ratbach (sp?) challenges Houdini to escape from their cold storage vault. It's unclear if Houdini accepted, but as he once turned down a challenge to escape from a coffin casing as being "too gruesome," he may have taken a pass on this one as well.

Click to enlarge.

The tone of this letter is a little playful ("your efforts, though strenuous as they maybe, will not cause you any perspiration"), so maybe this challenge wasn't completely serious. However, the letter is somewhat chilling to read today. That's because exactly 10 years to the day after it was written, Houdini would travel by overnight train to Detroit and give his last performance at the Garrick Theater. Six days later, he would be dead.

But according to Jon, Houdini once again avoided confinement at the Wayne Country Morgue (this time for real). His body was taken direct from Grace Hospital to the Wm. R. Hamilton's Funeral Home just a few blocks away to be readied for transport back to New York.

Still, a macabre Houdini memento to be sure.

Thank you, Jon.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Daily Mail captures Houdini & Doyle

The Daily Mail has captured closeup shots of actors Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton in Houdini & Doyle. The pics were taken as the production filmed scenes in Manchester's city center.

This is our first good look at Weston as Houdini. Unlike how it appeared in the distant spy shot I shared on Monday, it looks like he will play the part clean shaven.

Michael Weston as Houdini.

Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton.

Houdini & Doyle will run 10 episodes and will air in 2016 on ITV Encore in the UK, Global TV in Canada, and FOX in the U.S.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Paul Zenon as Jim Collins in Linking Rings

Magician Paul Zenon will play both himself and Houdini's chief assistant Jim Collins in Linking Rings, one of several Houdini-themed productions at the upcoming Edinburgh Festival Fringe (August 7-31).

Paul Zenon is proud to present the premiere of his compelling autobiographical tale of a childhood spent in the world of wonders that was a seaside magic emporium; a story that also looks at the final weeks of the life of his hero; Harry Houdini, as told by his right-hand man Jim Collins - a man about whom, until now, very little has been known.
1926: Houdini's right-hand man deals with the death of his boss. A half century later, a Blackpool joke shop proprietor takes on a wide-eyed young protégé.
Linking Rings is an affectionate look at a misspent youth and unsung heroes; a touching true story of interlocking lives. This new work is an exciting change of direction for Paul Zenon, who has made regular appearances everywhere from Countdown to La Clique and is known as the UK pioneer of Street Magic. Not a magic show, but magical nonetheless.

In preparation for the play, Paul has done some important research on Jim Collins. Paul is the man who discovered that Collins was likely born in Portsmouth rather than the commonly accepted Irish/Scottish/Cockney origins.

Below is the official poster for Linking Rings. You notice it shows Houdini hanging from the Blackpool Tower. According to Paul, Houdini wanted to do some kind of "hanging" stunt from the tower when he was headlining at the Blackpool Hippodrome in 1905, but was refused permission to do so.

Click to enlarge.

You can buy tickets to Linking Rings at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

E.L. Doctorow dies at 84

E.L. Doctorow, who wrote the popular bestselling novel Ragtime, has died at age 84. The cause of death was complications from lung cancer.

Published in 1975, Ragtime featured Houdini in a key role and helped kick off the 1970s renaissance of Houdini in popular culture. It was made into a film in 1981 (with Houdini in a reduced role) and became a popular stage musical in 1996.

You can read E.L. Doctorow's full obituary at The New York Times.


First look at Weston & Mangan as Houdini & Doyle

Today we get our first look at actors Michael Weston and Stephen Mangan in character as Houdini & Doyle. The pic below was taken as the production filmed scenes on Back Piccadilly in Manchester and shared on Twitter by Derek Heath @monkeyboydez.

In this pic, Mangan/Doyle is the grey bowler hat and Weston/Houdini is beside him. It appears Weston has an unshaven face, so it looks like his Houdini will sport a contemporary look. In fact, both characters appear to have very distinctive "looks."

The Chester Chronicle captured a closer photo of Mangan as Conan Doyle during a shoot yesterday in Chester. The paper reports:

The Chronicle spotted Mangan in the alleyway alongside Alexander’s Jazz Theatre Bar, complete with fake moustache, smart chequered waist coat and green trousers, waiting for his next scene.

An empty house had been commandeered overlooking the Dean’s Field which was blacked out from the exterior. TV trucks were parked up around the back of Bollicini’s restaurant.

The crew, who are filming in other northern cities including Manchester, were only here on Monday (July 20) but are expected to back in Chester at the end of the month.

Houdini & Doyle will run 10 episodes and will air in 2016 on ITV Encore in the UK, Global TV in Canada, and FOX in the U.S.

Thanks to Derek Heath for allowing me to share his pic.

UPDATE: Looks like Weston will be clean shaven after all. Better shots from this same shoot here: Daily Mail captures Houdini & Doyle.


Monday, July 20, 2015

"I don't drink, smoke or chew"

Last month I saw the Houdini miniseries receive an IIG Award at the Los Angeles Center For Inquiry. During the reception, I was excited to discover that the CFI has several framed letters on display from Houdini's early career. These are copies of originals from a rare document collection in Santa Barbara, and are letters that I've never seen before.

The letter below I found especially interesting. It appears to be the second page of letter in which the young Houdini pitches himself for work.

Click to enlarge.

There's a lot to love here. It's a really interesting mix of bravado and humility. First off, notice that the stationary says "6th Annual Tour - 1890 to 1896." The Houdinis act began with their marriage in 1894, only two years earlier. Possibly Houdini is including his own first appearances on stage, which were around 1890. But this shows just how important it was at the time to be perceived as a "seasoned" act.

I'm also intrigued by the claim that "Herrmann the Great stole the idea for our act from us and he featured it." Alexander Herrmann was by far the most famous magician of the day (and was also indirectly related to Houdini). It's hard to know exactly what "act" Houdini is referring to here. The obvious candidate would be Metamorphosis. But while Herrmann did substitution illusions such as Indian Mail, Asiatic Boxes, and Lost Strobeika, they don't seem similar enough to be considered a lift. It's possible Houdini is referring to the mind reading act he did with Bess, a version of which Herrmann did perform. But claiming this as an original creation is a stretch. So this accusation is a bit of mystery. (Herrmann would die the year this letter was written.)

Finally, you gotta love Houdini's line: "I don't drink smoke or chew and we are good useful people, dress fair and willing workers." This really gives a feel for the frontier world Houdini lived and worked in at this time.

Today we tend to think of everything before 1900 as a prelude to Houdini's real career -- the struggle. We also tend to ascribe this thinking to Houdini himself, that all was in service of some future point of success and fame. But the sense I get from reading this letter is that Houdini already considered himself a success. The kind of worldwide fame Houdini would later achieve was born of 20th century mass media and might have been inconceivable in 1896. Houdini couldn't see the future (as far as we know!), so his life on the road with Bess at this time was his career -- his 6th Annual Tour, in fact. So successful even Herrmann The Great steals from him!

A fascinating letter and a nice surprise discovery at the CFI.

Thanks to Herrmann expert James Hamilton for help with the Herrmann info.

UPDATE: In the chapter about Metamorphosis in Houdini's Fabulous Magic, Walter Gibson refers to Herrmann's "Asiatic Trunk Mystery" which he was "presenting at the time of his death in 1896." Hermann billed it as his "Original Oriental Mystery" -- words that seem very similar to what we see on this stationary. I'm now convinced the Asiatic Trunk Mystery was the act that Houdini felt Herrmann stole from him.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

LINK: The Great Harry Houdini Museum

Artist and art blogger Rhonda Mum has created her own mini "Great Harry Houdini Museum." It's really nice work. Click the headline to see more pics and learn about the process and inspirations that went into the creation of her Houdini piece.

"I was thrilled when I was able to create this tribute to Houdini using lots of theme appropriate items from Alpha Stamps including the new Houdini collage sheet as well as Vintage Magician Posters. I want to share several pictures from my museum, and then I have several photos to show you how I put some of these items together."

Friday, July 17, 2015


"I'm on my way!"

Here's the news we've all been waiting for! TCM will air their restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game on Sunday, October 18 at 8:00 PM (ET) and again at 11:45 PM (ET). The movie will be part of a special evening of "Lost and Found" silent films, which will also include the recently discovered 1916 Sherlock Holmes starring William Gillette.

This news was fished out of the TCM advanced schedule by our great friend Meredith Secaur. Thank you, Meredith!

For those who might not have been following, the last known print of The Grim Game was acquired by TCM last year from collector Larry Weeks. It was restored and premiered at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood in March. It has since screened at a handful of theatrical venues. October 18th will mark its television debut.

Needless to say, mark your calendars!


Monument Guys try again July 25

The episode of Monument Guys about the creation of Appleton's new Houdini Plaza bust will air on Saturday, July 25 on H2. The episode, "Metal of Honor," was originally scheduled for May 20, but was pulled only hours before broadcast.

The Houdini bust will officially be unveiled on the weekend of August 27-29 during the Houdini Club of Wisconsin's annual convention in Appleton. The bust is said to contain a "hidden secret" which will be revealed on Monument Guys. 

Hopefully this time Houdini will appear!


An Honest Liar on DVD and Netflix

An Honest Liar, the acclaimed documentary about the life and work of James "The Amazing" Randi, is now available for streaming on Netflix and well as on DVD and Blu-Ray. Among the DVD extras is a deleted scene, "The Fonz and the Milk Can," from Randi's 1978 appearance on the popular TV show Happy Days.

AN HONEST LIAR is the award-winning, critically acclaimed feature documentary about the world-famous magician, escape artist, and world-renowned enemy of deception, James 'The Amazing' Randi. The film brings to life Randi's intricate investigations that publicly exposed psychics, faith healers, and con-artists with quasi-religious fervor. A master deceiver who came out of the closet at the age of 81, Randi created fictional characters, fake psychics, and even turned his partner of 25 years, the artist Jose Alvarez, into a sham guru named Carlos. But when a shocking revelation in Randi's personal life is discovered, it isn't clear whether Randi is still the deceiver - or the deceived. With Penn & Teller, Adam Savage, Bill Nye, Alice Cooper and more! A New York Times "Critics Pick", the film is rated 97% by Rotten Tomatoes. DVD includes bonus scenes and commentaries by the directors and James Randi.

You can buy An Honest Liar on DVD and Blu-Ray via Amazon or the official website.

Randi himself is currently hosting TAM 13 (The Amaz!ng Meeting). The annual gathering of advocates for science-based skepticism and critical thinking runs July 16-19 at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas.


The Grim Game in Austin, Sunday

Just a reminder that TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game will screen at the historic Stateside at the Paramount theater in Austin, Texas, this Sunday, July 19 at 7pm. Composer/pianist Reuel Meditz will accompany the film with his own original score.

As far as I know, this is the last announced screening of The Grim Game. While the movie will eventually air on TCM, the network has yet to announce a date. So this might be the last chance to see the film until then. The Grim Game is being distributed theatrically by Park Circus.

The Stateside theater was built in 1935 and sits adjacent to the Paramount Theater where Houdini appeared in 1916. That theater recently held an event in which a Houdini hologram addressed the audience.

Tickets for The Grim Game can be purchased online or by calling the box office at (512) 474-1221. For more information visit the Austin Theater Alliance website.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Houdini miniseries locks up 7 Emmy nominations

The Houdini miniseries has been nominated for 7 Emmy awards, including nominations for star Adrien Brody and director Uli Edel. Below is a list of all the nominees.

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Limited Series Or A Movie
Adrien Brody

Outstanding Directing For A Limited Series, Movie Or A Dramatic Special
Uli Edel

Outstanding Cinematography For A Limited Series Or Movie
Karl Walter Lindenlaub, ASC, BVK

Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing For A Limited Series Or A Movie
Sabrina Plisco, ACE
David Beatty

Outstanding Makeup For A Limited Series Or A Movie (Non-Prosthetic)
Gregor Eckstein, Co-Department Head Makeup Artist

Outstanding Sound Editing For A Limited Series, Movie Or A Special [WINNER]
Michael J. Benavente, Supervising Sound Editor 
David Beadle, Sound Editor
Timothy A. Cleveland, Sound Editor
Rachel Corrales, Sound Editor
Paul Diller, Sound Editor
Gary Megregian, MPSE, Sound Editor 
Ryan Maguire, Sound Editor
Michael Sana, Sound Editor
John Snider, Sound Editor
Robert Ulrich, Sound Editor
Lance Wiseman, Sound Editor
Jim Harrison, Music Editor
Joan Rowe, Foley Artist

Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Limited Series Or A Movie
Tamás Csaba, C.A.S., Sound Mixer
Onnalee Blank, C.A.S., Re-Recording Mixer
Ken Burton, Re-Recording Mixer

Winners will be announced during the live 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards telecast on September 20, 2015 on FOX.

A very big congratulations to all the nominees!

UPDATEHoudini at the 67th Emmy Awards.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Houdini Historical Roast, August 4

Here's a different kind of Houdini event. A Houdini Historical Comedy Roast will be held at the Nerdist Showroom at Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles on August 4 at 9pm. Meltdown holds regular Historical Roasts ("Teaching history a lesson") with comedians Ryan Pigg and Eddie Furth. Last time it was George Washington in the hot seat. Now they have The Handcuff King in their sights.

On August 4th, 2015, the most fearless illusionist and escape artist to ever live will be faced with his last, and most terrifying feat...a comedy roast. 
Join Historical Roasters Justin Willman, Christian Spicer, Sara Schaefer, Lisa Best and Jamar Neighbors, along with hosts Eddie Furth and Ryan Pigg, as they put Houdini in his most precarious predicament yet!
Tickets are $8 online, $10 @ the door.

Meltdown Comics is located at 7522 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046. You can get more information on the Houdini Historical Roast at the Event page on Facebook. You can also keep up with the latest Historical Roasts via Facebook and Twitter.

I'm looking forward to attending and will bring back a blow by blow description!

UPDATE: And what a great show it was! My review: Roasting Houdini.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Houdini on set

This remarkable unpublished photo sold in an eye-blink yesterday for $995 via David Haversat Magic. It shows Houdini on the submarine set of Terror Island with co-star Jack Brammall.

Click to enlarge.

Behind the scenes photos from Houdini's movies are pretty rare, and this is the only one I've ever seen showing the outside of the submarine on what appears to be a movie studio backlot (probably the Famous Players-Lasky Studio in Hollywood). In fact, seeing how Houdini is dressed, I'm thinking this photo might have been taken at the same time as this other studio shot.

The dockside scenes of Harry Harper preparing his submarine for its trip to the South Seas are among those now lost on the missing reels of Terror Island.

Congratulations to the new owner of this unique Houdini image.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Fact Checking Houdini The Miniseries in print

Today I'm excited to offer the first printed publication of the WILD ABOUT HARRY Press (yes, that's still a thing). Fact Checking HOUDINI The Miniseries is a printed version of my popular Houdini miniseries "Fact Check" posts from last year. But it's also more.

Included are reviews of the U.S. broadcast (History) version and the Extended DVD (Lionsgate) version, as well as something entirely new; a never before published history of the production with facts and behind-the-scenes images that you will not find anywhere online (what I show on page 9 is especially awesome). I've also packed it with photos from the miniseries and some uncommon shots of the real Harry. Here's the official description:

In 2014 the HISTORY channel aired a new biopic about the world’s most famous magician and escape artist, Harry Houdini. Written by Nicholas Meyer and starring Adrien Brody, it promised to tell the “cradle to grave” story of Houdini’s amazing career. But what was fact and what was fiction? Was Houdini really a spy? Did he have an affair with Lady Butler? In this illustrated primer, Houdini historian and blogger John Cox ( takes up the challenge and separates Fact from Fiction in the HOUDINI miniseries. Also included is a history of the production, reviews, and rare photos of the real Houdini in action.

The price is $12.99, higher than what I wanted to ask, but because I opted for a color interior and all distribution channels, it's the price I'm locked into. But I really think it's worth it. This offers a nice printed record of the Houdini miniseries which, like it or not, was the Houdini event of 2014 and is now an inescapable part of Houdini history. Here in a tight 58-page fully illustrated primer you have the whole story.

You can buy Fact Checking HOUDINI The Miniseries on (U.S.), (UK), or direct from CreateSpace.

Thanks so much for giving this a look. If you feel so inclined, a review on Amazon would be greatly appreciated. And if you have any questions about the book, please ask in the Comments below.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Houdini & Doyle shooting in Liverpool

The new series Houdini & Doyle has been spotted shooting on the streets of Liverpool, England. The Liverpool Echo has snagged several photos of the crew at work and reports:

Liverpool city centre streets were taken back in time as dozens of actors and film crew took over the roads outside the town hall for a period drama.

Horse-drawn cabs passed back and forth outside the town hall along High Street, while passersby stopped to watch the filming taking place, and take their own pictures.

The actors, dressed in Victorian-style costume, were mostly gathered just outside Liverpool town hall, which had a new brass sign proclaiming it to be the “Home Office”, while there were banners calling for “Votes for Women”.

New street furniture was placed around the town hall while the road was covered in grit, hiding the modern street markings.

Among the gallery of pics is this shot credited as: "A cast member takes a break during the filming of Houdini & Doyle outside Liverpool Town Hall." But look closely. Could this be Stephen Mangan as Conan Doyle?

UPDATE: Okay, maybe not...

You can view more images at the Liverpool Echo website.

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini and Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The series will air in 2016 on ITV Encore, Global TV, and FOX.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Houdini death photo keeps us guessing

Discussion has once again flared-up over this remarkable photo of what is said to be Houdini in death. This photo comes from the collection of Jon Oliver who says it was once part of a private scrapbook put together by Bess Houdini. Jon received the photo from Bessie's niece, Ruth Kavanaugh, and on the back Bess herself has written: "This is the last photo of Houdini."

There was some speculation that this could be Houdini alive during his Summerfield's furniture store test in September 1926, which was a repeat of his Buried Alive test out of water (more on that here). However, Perry from NJ comments that Houdini's fingers appear to be bound together with "some sort of elastic material" to hold them in place, which certainly suggests this is a corpse.

What do we think? Alive or dead? I'm afraid I'm the one who suggested the possibility that this was the Summerfield's test, but I'm coming back toward the belief that this is indeed the dead Houdini, most likely taken in Detroit before or during his return trip to New York. (It was widely reported that Houdini was returned to NY, and later buried, in his glass-topped Buried Alive casket).

But the circumstances of this photo are still puzzling. Why is he propped up as if on display? What is he wearing? Are his fingers bound? Who is the man in the background? And who took this photo and why?

I'm preempting my planned post today to re-share this photo for those who might have missed it on the first round, and provide a place for comment and discussion. It is a weird and remarkable image. Alive or dead, Houdini always keeps us guessing!

Thanks to Jon Oliver and Patrick Culliton.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Houdini's daughter is back

Terri Brown has published a sequel to her novel, Born of Illusion, in which she introduced us to Houdini's illegitimate daughter Anna Van Housen (not a real person). The new book is called Born of Deception and was recently released in paperback. Here's a description:

Perfect for fans of Libba Bray and Anna Godbersen, this thrilling historical suspense novel—and sequel to Born of Illusion—tells the story of a teen illusionist who must harness her special powers and navigate the underworld of magic before her murderous enemies catch up with her.

After scoring a spot on a European vaudeville tour, Anna Van Housen is moving to London to chase her dream and to join an underground society for people like her with psychic abilities. But when Anna arrives, she finds the group in turmoil—one of its members has been kidnapped, and members of the society are starting to turn on one another. Her life in danger and her relationship with her boyfriend, Cole, fizzling, can Anna track down the kidnapper before he makes her his next victim—or will she be forced to pay the ultimate price for her powers?

Lovers of historical fiction and stories filled with romance and intrigue will fall for Born of Deception and its world of magic set in Jazz Age London.

Purchase Born of Deception on Amazon.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Hotel Shelton pool in color

This is an image of the Hotel Shelton swimming pool in the 1950s. This is where Houdini famously spent 91 minutes submerged in an air-tight "coffin" containing only a few minutes of air. What I like about this image is that it shows us the pool in color.

Click to enlarge.

In the 1920s, The Shelton was one of New York's great hotels. It had slow decline and was set to be demolished in 1974 to make way for a new office building. That project did not go forward, and in 1990 Marriott took over the hotel and renovated it. Today it is the New York Marriot East Side.

I visited the Shelton/Marriot in 2005 and was told that the pool had been filled in a few years before. However, an article about the hotel in the March 26, 2009 New York Times noted:

Swimming ended years ago, and the space has been split horizontally into three levels. But there is a hint of Houdini in the subbasement: the original tiled pool ladder at the corner where he was submerged is intact.


Kirkus posts first review of The Witch of Lime Street

The prestigious Kirkus Review has posted the first review of David Jaher's upcoming book, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, calling the book: "Fascinating, sometimes thrilling, reading."


The printed review will appear in the August 1st issue of Kirkus.

The Witch of Lime Street will be released on October 6, 2015 and can be pre-ordered now at (U.S.) and (UK).


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Former home of Bernard Ernst sold

A house in Sea Cliff, New York, that once belonged to Houdini's lawyer and close confidant Bernard M.L. Ernst, has sold after coming on the market for the first time in 50 years.

Houdini visited Ernst at his Sea Cliff vacation home many times. This is where the magician famously stopped a rain storm on command during a 4th of July party. The house porch was also once the scene of seance conducted by Houdini in which he levitated a table for Ernst and his wife (a detailed description of this seance can be found in Kellock, page 305).

Houdini and Ernst in Sea Cliff.
After Houdini's death, Bernard Ernst (who was one of Houdini's pallbearers) succeeded him as President of the Society of American Magicians. He also oversaw publication of Houdini's Escapes and Magic as well as co-authoring Houdini and Conan Doyle. Bess dedicated Houdini His Life Story to Ernst as "Houdini's Dearest Friend and Advisor."

Mrs. Ernst sold the house in 1943 and a Public Auction of "Household Furniture and Furnishings" was held at that time. One wonders if any Houdini photos, letters or treasures slipped out into the world via this auction? Ironically, the auction took place the day before Halloween.

Congrats to the new owner. And if you ever want to hold a seance, you know where to find us.

Thanks to John E. and Barbara.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Vanishing elephants and swallowing needles on Broadway

My favorite magicians (and magic thinkers), Penn & Teller, are back on Broadway for a six week run July 7 to August 16. This will be their first appearance on Broadway in 23 years. This paragraph from Playbill gives a taste of what to expect:

One stunt involving "a vanishing, African-spotted pygmy elephant" has been six years in the making. "It's really a goofy comedy bit, but it has in it the hardest magic we've ever done," beams Penn. Teller's pride and joy is a Harry Houdini hand-me-down — swallowing 10 cast-iron needles and horsehair thread and bringing them up threaded. For this particular "acquired taste," he gave up eating razor blades at 20. 

Of course, both the Vanishing Elephant and Needles were made famous by Houdini himself, and he prided himself on the fact that he offered both the world's largest and smallest illusions. Now you can catch those again.

For more information and tickets visit Penn & Teller on Broadway.

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