Monday, August 31, 2015

Conjuring Arts offering a magic steal!

Our friends at the Conjuring Arts Research Center are offering for a limited time a complete file of Mahatma, the very first American magic magazine, as a FREE PDF. This is part of their annual Summer Reading Program in which they offer free and discounted digital downloads for a limited time.

For Houdini buffs, this is pure gold. Mahatma ran from 1895 to 1906, so in these page one can trace the rise of Houdini issue by issue, from his very first mention in issue #1 -- "The Houdinis, Harry and Bessie, go with Welsh Bros, show this season" -- to full page ads and articles that herald him as the biggest name in magic. There's also an astounding wealth of information on other magicians of the Golden Age.

So CLICK ON OVER to the Conjuring Arts Research Center and grab your free archive of Mahatma.

Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini collected edition

Dynamite's Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini has been released in a trade paperback that collects all five issues of the graphic novel series by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery with artwork by Carlos Furuzono. Cover art by John Cassaday was used on the first issue. All the variant covers from all five issues are included within.

When the world's most famous detective meets the world's most famous magician… death is the case! 
Escape artist Harry Houdini’s London tour comes under attack from a mysterious figure that controls the powers of spirits. The goal? To destroy Houdini’s career and kill anyone who gets in the way. Houdini reluctantly teams with sleuth Sherlock Holmes, who is locked in a fight of his own. Can the two rise above their own battles to overcome a seemingly impossible force? 
Written by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, the Harvey Award-nominated creators of Kill Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes vs Harry Houdini is a witty adventure full of magic, spirits, technology and deduction. It’s a mystery you won’t be able to escape.

Purchase the collected Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini on Amazon.


'Mrs. Houdini' arrives in 2016

While this won't be released until March 2016, I'm excited to share news today of a new novel by Victoria Kelly that tells the Houdini story from the point of view of Bess. Here's the just released cover art and plot description for Mrs. Houdini.

A captivating debut novel, meticulously researched and beautifully imagined, about the passionate marriage of Harry and Bess Houdini—a love story that defied death itself.

Before escape artist Harry Houdini died, he vowed he would find a way to speak to his beloved wife Bess from beyond the grave using a coded message known only to the two of them. When a widowed Bess begins seeing this code in seemingly impossible places, it becomes clear that Harry has an urgent message to convey. Unlocking the puzzle will set Bess on a course back through the pair’s extraordinary romance, which swept the illusionist and his bride from the beaches of Coney Island, to the palaces of Budapest, to the back lots of Hollywood. When the mystery finally leads Bess to the doorstep of a mysterious young photographer, she realizes that her husband’s magic may have been more than just illusion.

In surprising turns that weave through the uncertain days of the dawn of the twentieth century and continue into the dazzling 1920s, Mrs. Houdini is a thrilling tale that will take you deep into the heart of one of history’s greatest love stories—asking what drives people to believe in something bigger than themselves—even as it reveals the famous magician’s most remarkable feat of all.

Pre-order Mrs. Houdini on (U.S.) and (UK). For more about Victoria Kelly visit


Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Remarkable Life and Magic of Houdini, Sept. 19

Canadian illusionists Lawrence Larouche and Cynthia Martin (a.k.a. Majinx) will present their show The Remarkable Life and Magic of Houdini at the Midland Cultural Centre in Midland, Ontario on September 19, 2015. Here's a description:

From Houdini’s death defying escapes to his spectacular illusions, magicians Lawrence Larouche and Cynthia Martin take the audience on a magical journey through realms of whimsy and the supernatural. Prepare to be amazed by this riveting tale of an extraordinary man who’s daring escapades separated him from every other entertainer of his time and transformed him into a global superstar.

The Remarkable Life & Magic of HOUDINI is storytelling for adults punctuated with live escapes and magical illusions. From Houdini’s first encounter with a straightjacket in Saint John, New Brunswick to the unveiling of his infamous Underwater Torture Cell, audiences will be spellbound by the extraordinary adventure of America’s first real-life super hero.

Keeping in mind the evolution of the contemporary audience, Lawrence has designed updated versions of all the illusions included in Houdini’s story. The result is a collection of some of the most beautiful and jaw dropping illusions ever assembled; a cascade of magical wonders sprinkled throughout an exhilarating evening of story telling.

The Remarkable Life & Magic of HOUDINI delivers what audiences would expect from Houdini himself: a thrilling escape.

Click here to buy tickets. You can learn more about Lawrence and Cynthia via their official website:


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pat Houdini's great escape

I've heard this story of Bess Houdini's pet parrot "Pat Houdini" getting loose in the Hollywood Hills, but here's an article that provides more detail. Pretty amusing. I suspect a fair amount of spin was put on it by Edward Saint. This is from the Klamath Falls Evening Herald, July 8, 1938.

Click to enlarge.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Great Houdini Escape Room in San Fransisco

A Houdini-themed "escape room" attraction has opened in San Fransicso's Palace of Fine Arts. I'm not entirely sure what these "escape rooms" are all about, but they appear to be shared funhouse-type experience that challenges a group of people to puzzle their way out of a locked room. Below is an explanation of The Great Houdini Escape Room and a video with the room designer.

The Great Houdini Escape Room is the world’s first “escape room” — built 100 years ago by the escape master himself, Harry Houdini, as a challenge to 8 brilliant innovators, to see if they could escape his contraption filled room within 80 minutes.* These innovators — Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Charlie Chaplin, John Philip Sousa, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Helen Keller, and Luther Burbank — all participated in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco. The room is now open to the general public, available by reservation only.
* This first line may not be exactly true — but let’s pretend it is! The rest IS true.

A visit to to "The Great Houdini Escape Room" is included in one of the Kickstarter premiums for The Official Houdini Seance 2015, which is being held in San Fransicico this year.

To make reservations and to get more information, visit


Death Defying Acts on KTLA, Sunday

UPDATE: This 2AM showing of Death Defying Acts appears to have vanished from the KTLA schedule. Oh well. Pop in the DVD!

Death Defying Acts will air on local Southern California television station KTLA this Sunday, August 30 at 2:00 AM. It's not often this movie shows up on T.V., so set those DVRs.

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


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Appleton's new Houdini bust unveiled

The new Houdini Bust was unveiled today in Houdini Plaza in Appleton, Wisconsin. You can view the magic moment for yourself via the City of Appleton's Twitter:

The Houdini Bust was created by Sculpture Valley and artist Craig Campbell. Campbell incorporated several keys and lock-picks from Houdini's famous trunk No. 8 (housed in Appleton's Museum at the Castle) into the sculpture. There is also a hidden key that pulls out from behind Houdini's ear.

In other happenings, The Houdini Club of Wisconsin is holding their 77th annual convention in Appleton this week. The club will present two public magic shows on Friday and Saturday at UWFox's Perry Hall. A special tribute to Houdini is scheduled for Saturday's show.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Houdini wins the Oscar for Best Actor

When Houdini made his movies in Hollywood, there were no gala movie premieres, no Hollywood sign, and no Academy Awards. But that hasn't stopped him from being named Best Actor of 1919! Yes, Houdini has now picked up an Oscar via the blog Through the Shattered Lens Presents The Oscars, which re-imagines Oscar history even in the years prior to the official start of the Academy Awards in 1928.

The site has named Houdini Best Actor of 1919 for "playing himself" in The Grim Game. The award was presented by his friend Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle at The Sixth Annual Academy Awards held on February 20, 1920 at the Hollywood Hotel.

Other winners included James Cruze as Best Director for The Roaring Road. Cruze also directed Houdini in Terror Island in 1920 (so let's not forget him next year). Mary Miles Minter took home the Best Actress Oscar for Anne of Green Gables. Bolshevism on Trial was named Best Picture of 1919.

While The Grim Game was also nominated for Best Engineering Effects, it lost out to Burton King's The Lost Battalion. King would later direct Houdini in The Man From Beyond and Haldane of the Secret Service.

Congratulations to Houdini for not only conquering Hollywood this year with the triumphant return of The Grim Game, but now conquering The Motion Picture Academy. He's King of the World!

Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dicks Brookz at the Houdini Museum in Scranton for discovering this one. Here's remembering our own magical night in Hollywood at the premiere of the now Oscar winning The Grim Game.


Make your own Houdini headstone

Davis Graveyard, specialists in creating creepy Halloween paraphernalia, is offering a two-day class in making a Houdini headstone this weekend at their Milwaukie, Oregon workshop. Here are the details:

In this workshop you will learn to make this detailed bust monument of Houdini. You can either just display it as it is or we will demonstrate how it could be used to project a talking face onto it. This is a two-day, hands on class – when you are done you will take home your own Houdini monument along with valuable skills to make more creepy stuff for your Halloween display.
$150 per person. Limit of 8. ONLY 1 LEFT!
Saturday/Sunday August 29-30, 2015 9am-5pm

It's interesting to see Houdini becoming part of Halloween iconography alongside witches, pumpkins, and black cats. Houdini eerily used such iconography on posters for his final tour.

For more information and to sign up for the Houdini Monument workshop visit

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Official Houdini Seance 2015 - FULL DETAILS

Magician Robert Strong has released full details of The Official Houdini Seance 2015 to be held at the Brava Theater in San Fransisco. The great news is the seance will be open to the public this year. Tickets are available NOW via the Official Houdini Seance Kickstarter page with special premiums for different ticket levels, including a seat the seance table itself! Below is a video and all the official details.

Have you ever wondered: “Gee, where has the magic gone?” Another evening, and you think: “Dinner, movie. Dinner, TV. Dinner, bedtime.” Yawn.

When was the last time someone danced with danger for your entertainment? On October 31, 2015 we are going to reach out to the dead with a self-described medium, and then with a magical medium.

Tickets are available only on Kickstarter, CLICK HERE. Get yours soon before they, well… Oh, c’mon—it’s a magic show—you know the rest. (POOF!)

The Official Houdini Séance 2015 will be a day of Science, History, Escapes, Magic, and More on Halloween at the historic Brava Theater (where Houdini performed in 1926). This event is being sponsored by Wonderfest, The Bay Area Skeptics, The Bay Area Science Festival, and the 100th Anniversary of the Pan-Pacific International Exposition.

You can watch it in person (only 360 seats), livestream the event, or watch it later online. The line-up is:

• Welcome – Robert Strong, MC/Moderator
• Escape Artist – Brian Brushwood, Scam School Creator
• Background – John Cox, Houdini Historian
• Earnest Séance – Terrie Huberman, Self-Described Medium
• Psychology – Melina Uncapher, UCSF Neuroscientist
• Doubt – Michael Shermer, Skeptics Society Founder
• Panel discussion – Brian, John, Melina, & Michael
• Magical Séance – Paul Draper, Mentalist
And, more to come…

Help us to fund the following three features of the day:
• NIGHTTIME SEANCE ($9,000 total needed): An evening extravaganza with two séances: one conducted by a self-described medium, the other by a master magician — with insights from a panel of behavioral scientists, neuroscientists, skeptics, and other experts.
• DAYTIME PRESENTATIONS ($9,000 more needed, $18,000 total): An afternoon forum with presentations by magicians, historians, escape artists (re-enacting Houdini's famous jail cell, water-torture cell, and upside-down straightjacket escapes), and leading authorities on: psychology, neuroscience, con-artistry, and technology/innovation. 
• VIDEO DOCUMENTARY ($7,000 more needed, $25,000 total): A professional video — based on highlights of both daytime & nighttime events — exploring the impact of Houdini as seen through the eyes of modern magicians, scientists, skeptics, and historians. Houdini: Then, Now, and Tomorrow!

Funds raised in excess of $25,000 will make the various events even better by bringing in more great talent and experts. The extra funds will also support Wonderfest, the nonprofit Bay Area Beacon of Science, creator of free science education events, both in-person and online.

Sounds like it's going to be a terrific event. I'm very honored to have been asked to participate as a speaker and as one of the "Summoners." Hope to see you there!

To keep up with updates, visit The Official Houdini Seance 2015 website and Like their Facebook page. Again, tickets to the event are available NOW via the Official Houdini Seance Kickstarter page.


Hurry Up, Houdini! in paperback

A paperback edition of Hurry Up, Houdini! by Mary Pope Osborne with illustrations by Sal Murdocca is released today by Random House Books for Young Readers.

The New York Times bestselling Magic Tree House series has a brand-new paperback! Jack and Annie travel to Coney Island, New York, to meet the master magician, Harry Houdini. 
Abracadabra! Mary Pope Osborne cleverly combines history, mystery, adventure, and trouble in this new Magic Tree House paperback.

The time-traveling brother-and-sister team Jack and Annie are on a mission for Merlin the magician. They’re looking for a secret of greatness from the best escape artist that ever lived, Harry Houdini. Using the magic tree house to travel back in time, Jack and Annie head to Coney Island to look for the elusive magician. How can they find the master of escape? It’s going to take some determination, a little bit of trouble, and a whole lot of magic!

Purchase Hurry Up, Houdini! at (U.S.) and (UK).


Monday, August 24, 2015

Houdini bust dedication in Appleton, Thursday

Appleton's beautiful new bronze Houdini bust will be officially unveiled in Houdini Plaza this Thursday, August 27, at an event starting at 11:30 AM. Here are the details from the "Houdini Bust Dedication" event page on Facebook:

Join us for the Houdini Bust dedication event this Thursday in Houdini Plaza following the lunchtime live performance.

Featured on the History Channel's Monument Guys, the Craig Campbell bust of Harry Houdini in the throws of his iconic straightjacket escape will be unveiled to the public for the first time.

Following the musical performance at the Fountain stage, The Dangerous Fun Show will take the main stage at 12:30 (or so) to perform some Houdini-inspired escapes. Bring the kids as Mr. Peters loves to get them in the act!

DFS will be followed by a number of speakers including Nick Hoffman (History Museum at the Castle), Rob Neilson (Prof of Sculpture, Lawrence U), Amanda Stuck (WI 57th District Assemblywoman) and of course Mayor Tim Hanna.

Bust will be unveiled at 1:30 PM.

Houdini Plaza is located at 111 W College Ave. in Appleton, Wisconsin. The Houdini Bust was created artist Craig Campbell and Sculpture Valley.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Grim Game screening in Northbrook, Illinois, Sept 16

TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game will screen at the newly renovated Northbrook Public Library in Northbrook, Illinois, on September 16 at 1:00 PM and again at 7:30 PM.

This is part of the library's "Wednesday Classic Film Series." The Grim Game will be screened in their auditorium with live piano accompaniment by Dave Drazin.

For more information visit the Northbrook Public Library's website, Facebook and Twitter @northbrookpl.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Grim Game lands in Edinburgh this weekend

TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game arrives in the UK this weekend with showings at the Filmhouse Cinema in Edinburgh on Saturday, August 22 and Sunday, August 23. Both screenings take place at 5.00 PM.

The Scottish capital is a hot bed of Harry these days. Also currently playing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe are three Houdini-themed plays, Impossible, Linking Rings, and The Titanic Orchestra, as well as a lecture by Robert Stek on The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini (August 25).

The Grim Game will have its television debut on TCM on October 18th. Arrangements to screen The Grim Game can be made through Park Circus Films.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Mrs. Houdini and her handcuffs

Here's another clipping from a collection recently sent to me by John C. Hinson. This is from the November 10, 1936 Dallas Journal and features a terrific shot of Bess holding the famous Mirror Handcuffs. This is 10 days after the Final Houdini Seance.

Dallas Journal, November 10, 1936.

The attractive little white-haired wife of the great magician stopped over in Dallas Tuesday to break her trip from Hollywood to New York.
Stepping over to her trunk she tenderly brought out a pair of heavy silver handcuffs which where locked.
"It has been more than ten years since Harry Houdini locked them." Mrs. Harry Houdini said.
The handcuffs, she explained had been made in England had one lock after another inside a heavy cylinder across the top. Houdini had escaped from them in the Hippodrome in London. They had been made escape proof and were made as a challenge to his ability.

The article goes on to explain how Harry promised Bess that, should he find a pathway back from the great beyond, he would either speak to her in their "secret language code" or: "I will unlock these silver handcuffs which I give you."

The article ends with mention of another test of Bessie's own making:

Mrs. Houdini said that she was going to New York to have Thanksgiving Day with her mother "who is older than I am." She declined to give her mother's name.
"No," she said. "I cannot do that because it is by that means that I have tested mediums and spiritualists. Not until this day have I told my mother's name and only she and I know it. It is a test that none of them can get by. So I don't give her name."

I think it is probably safe to reveal that Bess's mother's name was Balbina Rahner. The Mirror Cuffs are now in the collection of David Copperfield.

Thanks to John Hinson.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Chasing Houdini in Edinburgh

The Scotsman has a nice article about how Paul Zenon's researched Houdini and Jim Collins for his production Linking Rings, currently playing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. What I especially like is how Paul and photographer Jon Savage traced Houdini's steps on the Scott Monument and recreated a pic. I expect this will now become a must for Houdini buffs visiting the city.

Here's an excerpt from The Scotsman:

In 1920 Houdini was working on a film. It was eventually titled Haldane of the Secret Service, with the hero himself on the trail of a gang of counterfeiters. He shot scenes in Glasgow, Hull, Edinburgh, Paris and New York, always careful to feature local landmarks. 
The Edinburgh footage ended up on the cutting room floor, but by magical coincidence Paul Zenon was in the city last August when some surviving stills from the film shoot came up at auction. He bid and bought one of the pictures, of Houdini on the railings at Waverley station. Others feature Houdini on the first level of the Scott Monument, with Princes Street as the backdrop.
“It appears that the plot line was that he’d spotted the gang of counterfeiters, and they came up here,” Zenon says, as he sets about recreating the photo shoot for The Scotsman.

Visit the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for tickets to see Paul Zenon's Linking Rings.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Houdini by Danielle Vaillancourt

Here's one that escaped me when it was first released back in 2007. Houdini by Danielle Vaillancourt is a French Canadian paperback for young readers with beautiful illustrations by Francis Back. The cover gives a nice taste of the artwork within.

Houdini by Danielle Vaillancourt is currently listed on Amazon for .1¢ (while supplies last).


Monday, August 17, 2015

Houdini Headquarters

Here's another incredible unpublished image from the collection of the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan. This shows Houdini dealing with his correspondence, presumably somewhere inside 278. This is the only glimpse I've ever seen of what could be called "Houdini Headquarters."

The man on the left side of the photo is Bess's brother, John Rahner. The woman on the far right appears to match photos of Julia Sawyer. I'm unsure of the identity of the young woman in the center. Possibly Julie Karcher.

Thanks to Keli Hindenach of the American Museum of Magic. This photo was supplied to the museum by Jon Oliver.


Norman Bigelow has passed away

Sad news. The Magic Compass reports that friend and legendary escape artist Norman Bigelow passed away on Sunday after a long fight with leukemia. According to his wife Janet, he was comfortable, without pain and home where he wanted to be.

Norman Bigelow was a leading and innovative escape artist. He was born August 12th 1944, and as a teenager apprenticed with The Great Reno. He went on to develop his own spectacular original escapes, such as his famous and frightening Doors of Death (right).

Norm was also a passionate Houdini scholar who was never afraid to take on the more controversial aspects of the great magician's legacy. In 1983 he self-published Death Blow, which introduced many to the Houdini murder theory. In recent years he wrote a follow-up, The Original Houdini Murder Theory, along with new offerings, Houdini's Final Message To The World and Mind Reading.

A sad loss to the world of escapology and Houdini scholarship.


YO HOUDINI Episode 3: I am alive!

Magician Adam Steinfeld is back with the third installment of his Houdini-horror web series, YO HOUDINI!

Episode 3 is called I AM ALIVE! and as you might have guessed from the title, it features the return of Houdini himself. So turn down the lights and get ready to be spooked by YO HOUDINI Ep 3 available at and Filmfreeway.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Bringing Houdini to Seal Beach

Last night I had the extreme pleasure of giving my "Houdini in Hollywood" talk at the monthly meeting of the historic IBM Ring 96 in Seal Beach, CA. I'm happy to report that the event was a big success. I've never felt more relaxed giving this talk, and Ring Vice President Cliff Gerstman ran a tight meeting and everything timed out beautifully.

The Ring organizers told me this was one of their best attended events, and I was especially happy to see some young people in the audience. I really wasn't sure if teens and preteens would put up with over an hour of silent movie footage and a lecture about a man who has been dead for 89 years, but they were fully engaged from beginning to end, and even came up and asked me questions during the intermission. Yes, there's definitely going to be a next generation of Houdini nuts!

With special permission from Park Circus Films, I was able to screen clips from TCMs newly restored The Grim Game (the jail break and suspended straitjacket escape). The group seemed to really enjoy this. The young people were especially impressed with how Houdini rolled under a truck and rode it away. But the clip that seemed to resonate the most was Houdini's card manipulation short, Velvet Fingers. Made within a year of his death, it remains his most haunting piece of film. The magicians in the room also appreciated this evidence of Houdini's card skills.

Ring 96 holds meetings on the third Saturday of every month. They feature lectures, competitions and other exciting magic based events. I encourage you to bookmark their website and attend their meetings which are always open to the public. I also encourage you to check out Cliff Gerstman's website T.I.E.S. (The International Escapologist Society), and his monthly e-newsletter, The Chainletter, which regularly runs news and features on Houdini.

For this event, I extended my talk by 20 minutes, and I think I found the perfect length and combination of clips. Unfortunately, I don't have any current commitments to do the talk again. But I will be giving an all-new lecture on Houdini's spirit busting activities at the Center For Inquiry in Hollywood and Costa Mesa in October. This new talk is called "Houdini Among The Spirits." I'll post more details soon.

Thanks again to Cliff Gerstman and all the members of Ring 96 for the warm reception and for letting me bring Houdini to Seal Beach.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Letters To West 113th

Mentalist Jeff Newman is performing a Houdini-themed one-man show called Letters to West 113th at the 34th Annual Edmonton International Fringe Festival, August 13-23 (not to be confused with the current Edinburg Fringe Festival which also has several Houdini-themed shows). Here's a description:

What happens when one of magic's greatest thinkers and skeptics, Harry Houdini, encounters a man that left crowds speechless, but makes Houdini question his own beliefs? Jeff recreates an act that was all but erased from history, and will have his audience gasp in amazement as they witness a spectacle rarely seen before.

According to a review in The Edmonton Journal, the act that "makes Houdini question his own beliefs" is that of Thomas Whitford, "a widowed mentalist who was so good that people suspected his wife was helping from beyond the grave." It purports to be a true-story, but it's a story I admit I'm not familiar with.

Letters to West 113th (the title is a reference to Houdini's New York home) is now playing. Showtimes and tickets can be found at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival website.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Houdini seance inside Room 401

It wasn't an "official" Houdini seance, but in 1978 four researchers led by Mark McPherson gathered for a Halloween seance at what must go down as the best location of them all; the very room in which Houdini died! The article below from the The San Bernardino County Sun describes the seance inside Room 401 of Grace Hospital.

Click to enlarge.

As the article states, this was a year before Grace Hospital was scheduled to be torn down, so it's likely this section of the hospital was already closed and offered the investigators a unique one-time opportunity to hold a seance in the infamous Room 401 (Corridor D). But what about the claim that contact was made?

In 1997, seance organizer Mark McPherson wrote and hosted a Houdini documentary called The Houdini File which aired on local Michigan television. In it, he offered a few more specifics about the 1978 seance.

McPherson said the team of mediums reached Houdini via a "trunk call" to Harry Price and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The ghost of Houdini claimed that "direct voice communication" had been difficult for him, and that at the time of his death, he had been working on an effect having to do with "bilocation." Houdini also claimed he had been a reincarnated soul (hmmm) and that he would incarnate again through the child of a family member. When asked what he thought of the entire seance proceedings, the ghost of Houdini is said to have replied: "Misagosh!"

Now if we could only see more photos of this seance and get a last good look inside Room 401. Are you out there, Mr. McPherson?

Thanks to Jon Oliver for providing me with a copy of The Houdini File.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Dick Van Dyke Houdini connection?

Here's a photo sent over from a friend showing Dick Van Dyke standing in front of a Houdini King of Cards poster. This still is from a 1967 CBS television special, but I couldn't find much information about this show online. What did it have to do with Houdini and/or magic? You'll also notice the image of Bela Lugosi's Dracula used as a fictional magician, The Great Ludwig. Tux, cape, hypnotic gestures...why not?

If anyone has an information or memories of this Dick Van Dyke special, drop us a comment below.

Thanks to Barry Spector.

UPDATE: Reader John Simpson has uncovered this description of the comedy sketch from Dick Van Dyke's autobiography, My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business. That you, John!

UPDATE 2: Here's the clip!


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bessie conjures Satan

Our good friend John C. Hinson has sent over several newspaper clippings from the 1930s that were collected by Bess Houdini and Edward Saint. They provide a nice look at some lesser-known aspects of Bessie's post Harry life. First and foremost, her love of Satan!

Mrs. Houdini revealed all this when she arrived at the St. Mark Hotel, where last night she was honor guest at a joint meeting of the Oakland Magic Circle and the Society of American Magicians, San Francisco. She arrived by auto from Seattle, where she was feted at a convention of magicians, with Edward Saint, her manager and her husband's biographer, and Satan, a 10-year-old silver hued marmoset who weighs seven ounces and chirps like a canary with a cold when he is irritated.

This article appeared in the Oakland Tribune on Sunday, July 19, 1936, and in it Bess announced her intention to hold "one last" Houdini seance that Halloween "in the open air so as many people as possible can be present." That idea grew into the famous Final Houdini Seance on the roof of the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel.

The Oakland Post-Enquirer also picked up the story of Bessie's visit and seance plans, and once again Satan stole the show.

The Post-Enquirer story contains an additional intriguing tidbit. Bess says she plans to hold the final Houdini seance in California, not only because it is now her home, but because "Houdini expressed a last wish on his death-bed in Detroit to come to California to live."

One wonders if that is true, or if Bess was just playing to the home crowd. Although Houdini did once name Hollywood as his favorite "holiday destination," so...

Thank you John Hinson.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Houdini poster spied on Liverpool set

Houdini & Doyle is back filming on the streets of Liverpool and that means new spy shots! These pics show stars Michael Weston and Stephen Mangan as Houdini and Doyle (not sure I'm feeling Harry's curly hair) as well as a Houdini poster! This, of course, isn't an original poster, nor is it a copy of an original. It's a conceptual fusion of Houdini's early "Europe's Eclipsing Sensation" poster and two later Water Torture Cell posters.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

These pics come from the Twitter accounts of City of Liverpool (@I_amLiverpool) and the Bondmedia Agency (@Bond_media).

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton. It will air next year on ITV Encore (UK), Global TV (Canada), and FOX (U.S.).


Houdini's Shelton test on Decades

I'm afraid I completely missed this one, but on August 5th, the show Through the Decades with Bill Kurtis featured Houdini's Shelton Pool Test. So far I haven't been able to track down any more info., so I don't know whether the show was all about the test or just got a mention as having taken place on August 5th (the show is a "this day in history" type of thing).

Through the Decades airs on the Decades network. The network was launched last spring by Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting Co. and CBS Television.

Thanks to Dustin Stinett for the alert.


Edinburgh Festival is wild about Harry

Here's more evidence that 2015 is The Year of Houdini. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, currently running in Edinburgh, Scotland, has four different shows related to the great magician. Below is a description of each from the festival website:

Theatre (drama, magic)
Seances, spirituality, immortality and magic. The true story of the deadly feud between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Starring Phill Jupitus as Conan Doyle and Alan Cox as Houdini. By Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky, writers of previous Edinburgh smash hits Coalition, Making News, and Kingmaker. Directed by the multi award-winning Hannah Eidinow. More details.
The Titanic Orchestra
Theatre (drama, contemporary)
John Hannah stars in this madcap comedy of illusion. Four tramps huddle together at an abandoned railway station, full of vodka-fuelled dreams of escaping on one of the passing trains. But the trains never stop. Until one day, a dishevelled stranger is thrown into their midst. He claims to be the great Houdini, and promises that together they will perform the most astonishing vanishing act the world has ever seen. More details.

The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini
Spoken Word (talk)
Arthur Conan Doyle investigated psychic phenomena objectively as a member of the Society for Psychical Research for years, before becoming convinced of their reality and following spiritualism as a religion. Houdini famously debunked phony physical mediums, but was hopeful that he could receive a valid communication through a psychic medium from his deceased mother. This presentation will highlight their history together, examine novel research methodology, and feature a 10 minute excerpt of a sitting with a psychic medium, during a reading in which both men were contacted. More details.

Linking Rings
Theatre (storytelling, true-life)
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. 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. More details.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world's largest arts festival. It runs August 7-31. For more information visit the festival website.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Chainletter reviews Young Harry Houdini

Back in May, Steve Valentine screened my copy of Young Harry Houdini at the Magic Castle with star Wil Wheaton in attendance. It was a fun night and rare chance to see a film that's never been released on VHS or DVD in the U.S. The screening was on the eve of my trip to the Midwest Magic Weekend, so I was never able to properly cover it here on the blog.

Happily, the event and film was covered in the June 2015 issue of the online newsletter, The Chainletter (Vol 6. No. 57). The Chainletter is devoted to the art of escapology and put out monthly by Cliff Gerstman of T.I.E.S. (The International Escapologist Society).

So if you want to read about Young Harry Houdini, CLICK HERE and download the June issue from the T.I.E.S. website. And while you're there, catch up on other issues of The Chainletter, which regularly features Houdini news and reviews.


Another World by Rob Zabrecky

It's not often I share news of a commercial magic trick, but when that trick comes from the great Rob Zabrecky and involves Houdini, it deserves attention!

Another World is a trick using 20 pocket sized photographs of Harry and Bess Houdini. I've seen Rob do this at The Magic Castle and it's terrific. Here's a description:

20 picture cards of Harry and Bessie are dealt in four face-down piles. In the end, all of the cards in the two Houdini piles, are in fact pictures of Houdini! And all of the cards in the two Bessie piles, are of Bessie!

"Another World" is being released today at the Magic Live convention in Las Vegas. This is Rob's first commercial release. You can purchase it online at The Magic Apple.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Grim Game screening in Helsinki and Edinburgh

This month Houdini heads overseas with two international screenings of TCM's restoration of The Grim Game.

The first will be at the WHS Teatteri Union in Helsinki, Finland, on Saturday, August 21. The film then heads to Scotland and the Filmhouse Edinburg for screenings on August 22 and Sunday August 23.

Other upcoming Grim Game events to watch for: On August 15th I will be giving my "Houdini in Hollywood" talk at the IBM Ring 96 in Seal Beach and will be showing clips from the film. The film will also screen next month at the Northbrook Public Library in Northbrook, IL (details to be announced). The Grim Game will have its television debut on TCM on October 18th.

Arrangements to screen The Grim Game can be made through Park Circus Films.


Houdini's Escape Gastropub expands

The Post Crescent reports that the popular Houdini's Escape Gastropub in Appleton, Wisconsin, has expanded. The eatery has more than doubled its original footprint, going from 2,300-square-feet to 5,100-square-feet, plus a 1,500-square-foot patio.

Houdini's Escape is a local success story started when Eric Jacobson and Linda Mischler opened the small bar in 2013 and named it after Appleton's favorite son.

"We went through about 40 revisions of the plan to where it was acceptable to me," said Jacobson. "The goal was to keep the same feel that the little place had."

Houdini's Escape Gastropub is located at 1216 S. Oneida St. in downtown Appleton. You can check out their menu and more at their official website and Facebook page.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Roasting Houdini

On Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending the "Houdini Historical Comedy Roast" at the NerdMelt Showroom in Los Angeles. Comedians Eddie Furth and Ryan Pigg are the brains behind these clever historical roasts ("Teaching history a lesson"), and it was one wild night! From race to the Holocaust to every form of sexual insult aimed against one's mother, nothing was off the table. From start to finish it was a free-for-all of rapid-fire comedy insults both onstage and off. Not only was it a blast as a Houdini event, but it was exciting to experience this cutting edge of the L.A. comedy scene.

The NerdMelt showroom, located in the back of Meltdown Comics on Sunset Boulevard, was hot and near capacity with a mix of regulars and first timers drawn in by the Houdini name (even the great Max Maven was in attendance). Things kicked off at 9pm with hosts Eddie Furth (@EddieFurth) and Ryan Pigg (@RyanPigg) giving an introduction and taking Houdini trivia questions from the audience. The prize for stumping them were assorted Fleshlights (look it up). However, I knew they were in trouble when they were stumped by the question: "What was his wife's name?" The fleshlights went fast and, no, I did not ask a question (but I had one chambered).

It was then time for the man himself, The Great Houdini, to take the stage! Houdini was played by talented comedian and magician Justin Willman (@Justin_Willman), who made his entrance in chains and period tux. For my money, Justin was a dead ringer for Houdini in his younger, handsomer Handcuff King days. I mean, check this out.

The first comedian roaster up was Sara Schaefer (@saraschaefer1), who fretted that her audience was divided between people who knew absolutely nothing about Houdini and people who knew way too much ("Bunch of know-it-alls!"). Sara joked about the ridiculous complexity of the coded message Houdini arranged between himself and Bess. But she scored her biggest laugh by poking fun at people who spend all their time at The Magic Castle, several of whom were in the audience. She was terrific.

Next came the talented and ultra cool Jamar Neighbors (@JamarNeighbors). Jamar's act was loose and less about Houdini and more about magic. Funny moments were when he pointed out that his sister was "scared of magic" and that "Illusionist" was just magic speak for "arrogant magician." Said Jamar, "If I ever call myself a 'Humorist', you can sock me in the face." It was a slow burn of an act that drew one in for the kill, and I got a feeling I was seeing a future comic star on stage

Then came the absolutely hysterical Lisa Best (@lisabestcomedy) who set the room on fire with her insane persona. Lisa played the part of a somewhat dim roaster (repeatedly telling Houdini that his dead parents "HATED YOU!"), but I could tell she did the most research of them all. Lisa pulled out some obscure information, such as the fact that Houdini's sister Carrie Gladys was blind: "NOT BEING ABLE TO SEE WAS THE BEST PART OF BEING YOUR SISTER!" She relentlessly and sometimes irrationally zinged Houdini/Willman, who struggled to keep a straight face during her set. She was magnificent.

Host Eddie Furth then took the stage. He pointed out that Houdini was the first person they've roasted who "wasn't an entire dick." He said the more he researched, the more he realized Houdini was "a really great guy." I liked that.

Eddie then introduced a surprise guest roaster who didn't think Houdini was such a great guy: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! Doyle was played by Christian Spicer (@spicer), who came out wearing a straw hat and bushy grey eyebrows and mustache (which he sweated off before the end of his set). Doyle was enraged and foul-mouthed and raved about spiritualism being the only explanation for phenomena such as David Copperfield's ability to score with supermodels. He also brought up the Houdini Museum in Scranton, commenting on how it was advertised as the only building in the world entirely dedicated to Houdini. "That seems about right!" He was very funny, and having Doyle appear as a surprise roaster was an inspired idea.

It was then Houdini's turn to roast his roasters, and Justin knocked it out of the park. ("Tonight might be the first time I jump off a bridge after a show.") During his very funny set, Houdini not only took down his fellow roasters, but leveled shots at modern pretenders: David Copperfield, David Blaine, Penn & Teller and Criss Angel. He also did a card trick for Conan Doyle that was so filthy I won't describe it, but the climax might have been the funniest moment of the entire roast. He then concluded the evening with a demonstration of the Spirit Slates (a favorite trick of the real Houdini), in which the spirits sent a clear message to the room that you can read below:

The topic that the comedians singled out the most was Houdini's death by appendicitis (it was part of every set). His height, looks and religion also came in for some repeated fun. So did the various names he used throughout his career, such as King of Cards and The Prince of Air ("MORE LIKE BEING THE PRINCE OF BEING A DIPSHIT!" - Lisa Best). Adrien Brody also came in for a few choice insults.

After the show, I was happy to get a photo with Willman/Houdini (and his slates), and Eddie Furth allowed us to strip the room of their Houdini Historical Roast posters, so all the Houdini Nuts in attendance (Lisa Cousins, Joe Notaro, Joe Fox, Bullet Valmont) got to take home a nice souvenir.

All in all, this was one of the wildest and most unique Houdini events I've ever experienced. I had a blast.

You can keep up with the latest Historical Roasts via Facebook and Twitter. Roasts are also posted on their YouTube channel. The next Historical Roast subject will be Michael Jackson on September 1st.

Photos by Joe White (@mightyjoewhite).