Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bilson & DeMeo's Houdini Deception

Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo are a successful creative team who have written and produced Hollywood movies, television shows, and video games. They are maybe most famous for writing one of my favorite films, The Rocketeer (1991).

What I didn't know until recently was that Bilson & DeMeo's first collaboration was on a Houdini-Sherlock Holmes play while they were Theater Arts majors at California State University San Bernardino. It was called The Houdini Deception.

Set in England in 1908, the three act play featured DeMeo as Sherlock Holmes and Bilson as Houdini. Scenes were set at 221B Baker Street and the London't Hippodrome. For good measure, Mata Hari was also thrown into the mix.

The team split research duties, with DeMeo researching Holmes and Bilson tacking Houdini. "Houdini was a driven human being, a publicity crazy person," the young writer told The San Bernardino Sun-Telegram at the time. "He wasn't all sugar and spice. Hopefully, we'll reflect the real Houdini."

The Houdini Deception made it's debut March 2, 1978, and played several performances at the college theater. Said the writers: "We think we can get our play published for other colleges to do, but as far as film and television productions are concerned, it depends on how the marketable it is at the moment. We think we're realistic about it."

It's fun to see how these successful men entered their creative life via Houdini (and Holmes). One wonders if they ever entered the revolving door of development that was Ray Stark's Houdini movie in the '80s and '90s?

Below is original ad artwork for The Houdini Deception from Bilson and DeMeo's Pet Fly Productions Facebook page.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Justin Bieber channels Houdini

I was hoping to make it through my life without having to acknowledge the existence of Justin Bieber, and then he goes and does something like this. Bieber!!!

The October/November issue of Complex magazine has a cover story on the young singer featuring photos of The Bieb doing his best Houdini. The interview, which you can read HERE, discusses his "struggle to keep his head above water" and deal with traumas such as the removal of his wisdom teeth.

For completists only.


Monday, September 28, 2015

David Jaher at NYC Corner Bookstore, October 6

On October 6, author David Jaher will be appearing at Corner Bookstore in New York to launch his new book, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World. David will be reading from the book, answering questions and singing copies. Start time is 6:00 PM.

The Corner Bookstore is located at 1313 Madison Avenue on the corner of 93rd Street in New York City.

David will be making several more appearances throughout October and November, including giving an illustrated lecture at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn on October 16 (Facebook event page here). You can view a full list of his upcoming appearance at his website.

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World will be released on October 6 and can be pre-ordered now at (U.S.) and (UK). I'm currently reading the book and it's magnificent!


Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Houdini File finds Rabbi Weiss in Appleton

Our friend David Saltman of The Houdini File recently traveled to Appleton, Wisconsin and has filed some interesting reports. Not only did he take a nice photo safari of Houdini's home town, but David also did research at the Outagamie County Historical Society where he was able to examine rare documents and writings from Houdini's father, Mayer Samuel Weiss. Some great work here, so have a read via the links below:

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Houdini Among The Spirits, Oct. 18

On Sunday, October 18, I will be giving an all-new lecture called Houdini Among The Spirits. I'll be doing the talk twice that day. The first will be at 11:00 AM in the Steve Allen Theater at the Center for Inquiry (CFI) in Hollywood. The second will take place at 4:30 PM at the CFI in Costa Mesa. The talk is being presented by the Independent Investigations Group (IIG) and is part of the CFI's regular "Feed Your Brain" series. Here's a description:

Harry Houdini’s role as a skeptic and debunker of fraudulent spirit mediums is one of the most fascinating aspects of his remarkable career. Yet very few people understand the whole story. Was Houdini’s crusade really motivated by his mother’s death? What role did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle play? What really happened between Houdini and the notorious “Margery the Medium”? And what about the sensational claim that Houdini himself escaped the grave in 1929? Using photos, film clips and rare documentation, noted Houdini historian and blogger John Cox ( offers fresh insights and tells the story of how Houdini spent a lifetime among the spirits.
Click to enlarge.

Yes, I realize this is the same day as TCM's airing of The Grim Game, so this is going to be one spectacular Houdini Sunday! Hope to see you there.

Houdini Among The Spirits
Sunday, October 18, 2015
11:00 AM: Center For Inquiry, 4773 Hollywood Blvd. 
Los Angeles, CA 90027.
4:30 PM: Costa Mesa Community Center, 1845 Park Ave. Costa Mesa, CA 92627.

For more, visit the details page at the CFI Los Angeles website and the CFI Costa Mesa website.

UPDATECenter For Inquiry welcomes Houdini (report)


Friday, September 25, 2015

Official Houdini Seance 2015 reaches initial funding goal

Great news. The Official Houdini Seance 2015 has achieved its initial Kickstarter campaign goal of $9000 to fund the nighttime seance a full 22 days early. That means the next step is to fund an extra program of magic, science and history events during the day on Halloween.

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.

Magician Robert Strong is hosting the 2015 seance which will be held at the historic Brava Theater in San Fransisco. Tickets are available via the Official Houdini Seance Kickstarter page with special premiums for different ticket levels, including a seat the seance table itself!

Below is current lineup of "summoners" who will be speaking and performing at this year's event (including yours truly).

For more information visit The Official Houdini Seance 2015 website or Facebook page. Again, tickets to the event are available via the Official Houdini Seance Kickstarter page.

Hope to see you there!


Thursday, September 24, 2015

The best forgotten Houdini book

Continuing my examination of books about Houdini using images and insights from my own collection.

Houdini's Fabulous Magic by Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young is the best forgotten Houdini book. I say that because when one thinks of books on Houdini's methods, one tends to turn to Houdini The Key by Patrick Culliton, The Secrets of Houdini by J.C. Cannel, or even Gibson's earlier work, Houdini's Escapes and Magic. Maybe because Fabulous Magic contains some reprinted material from the earlier Gibson book it tends to be thought of as a somewhat recycled work. But it's actually one of the very best books on Houdini's major feats and methods and maybe the best book for the layperson. It also contains historical tidbits that aren't found elsewhere. So let's remember it today!

Walter B. Gibson and Dr. Morris Young make an excellent team. Gibson knew Houdini and Young had one of the best Houdini and magic collections in the world (it's now in the Library of Congress). So Houdini's Fabulous Magic is packed with rare images on almost every page. It was certainly the best illustrated Houdini book up to that time. Also, for me, it feels like Gibson is finally willing to part with secrets that he had kept to himself – or at least out of print – for years.

The chapters on Houdini's challenge handcuff act and jail escapes are among the best, offering a whole host of clever methods that Houdini employed beyond the "key in a kiss." A clue to why these chapters are especially strong might be found in the acknowledgements:

Reminiscences of early Houdini days were personally provided by Lewis Goldstein, only living member of the Houdini show during the Handcuff Era of the early 1900s. Goldstein also worked with the Hardeen company during that same period, and the authors appreciate his first-hand recollections.

Goldstein is likely the source of the following story of a jail escape. It's not something I've read elsewhere, and I love how it shows that Houdini and Hardeen could work together spontaneously:

On one occasion, Houdini went to look over a jail cell accompanied by his brother Hardeen. The lock was formidable, but of the spring latch type. While the police chief was asking Houdini why he didn't try to make the escape then and there, Houdini suddenly decided that he would.
Houdini whispered a quick word to Hardeen and while Houdini was being searched, Hardeen pulled a sheet of paper from a notebook, wadded it tightly, and edged close enough to the door to jam the wad into the latch socket. Houdini was put into the cell naked, keyless, and presumably defeated; but the police chief and the jailer had scarcely turned away before they heard the door clang again behind them and there was Houdini free!

Houdini's Fabulous Magic also includes a final chapter "About Houdini" which features autobiographical excerpts by the great magician himself. And while the book has a very good chapter on the Water Torture Cell, it doesn't reveal the method. Some secrets should be kept.

Publication history:

Houdini's Fabulous Magic was first published in hardcover in 1961 by Chilton Book Company. The cover art has Houdini's name running vertically down a dark green background, somewhat recalling a spirit slate. As far as I know, it was only published in the United States. The book went through at least five hardcover printings with the same dust jacket artwork (I have a 5th dated August 1968).

The one and only paperback edition (that I know of) was published by Barns & Noble Books in 1977.

First hardcover (1961) and first paperback (1977).

Houdini's Fabulous Magic would benefit from the great Houdini renaissance of the mid 1970s. The book was reprinted in a new hardcover by Bell Publishing. This time the jacket featured the famous image of Houdini in handcuffs (dated 1903 in the book itself) against an orange background. The copyright page only references the 1961 edition, but it appears this hardcover might have been released in October 1976.

Bell hardcovers from the 1970s.

Bell later released another hardcover edition with new dust jacket art that added the descriptive: "His own scrapbooks reveal the secrets of 38 major illusions." Once again, the year of publication is unclear because the copyright only references the 1961 edition. But from my own recollection, this grey jacketed edition replaced the orange edition in my local magic shop around 1978.

Houdini's Fabulous Magic long ago vanished from print. But if one is interested in learning Houdini's methods, hunting down one of these old copies would be a fabulous way to do so.

UPDATE: In 2023 Vine Leaves Press reprinted Houdini's Fabulous Magic in paperback with a new Forward by Gabe Fajuri.

Enjoy these other selections from the WILD ABOUT HARRY bookshelf:

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Houdini & Doyle is set in 1901

Irish actress Amy Huberman has revealed an important detail about the upcoming TV series Houdini & Doyle. It is set in 1901. The actress dropped this info during an interview with the Irish Mirror Online. Huberman appears in one episode. It's not revealed what role she plays.

This means the series is set early in the career of Houdini, who first arrived and found fame in England in 1900. In reality, Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first met in 1920 during Houdini's final visit to the UK. But Houdini & Doyle is a fictional series that features the two men investigating paranormal mysteries, so expect it to play fast and loose with the timeline.

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


LINK: Jack London, Public Intellectual

VERSO, the blog of the Huntington Library, has a nice article by Matt Stevens about author Jack London. The piece references Houdini several times and features this excellent photo of Houdini and London from the Huntington Library collection. Houdini met Jack and his wife Charmian in Oakland during his 1915 tour of the West Coast. The Houdinis and the Londons spent that Thanksgiving together.

The Huntington Library also houses the private diaries of Charmian London, which include coded references to a possible affair with Houdini after Jack's death. These diary passages were uncovered by Kenneth Silverman for his book Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss.

Click here or on the headline to read the full article at VERSO.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Studio City Milk Can mystery solved

Thanks to our friend Joe Fox, the Studio City Milk Can mystery that I blogged about last week is solved.

The crux of the mystery was whether or not the Milk Can now residing at The Magic Apple in Studio City is the same can used in the 1976 TV movie The Great Houdinis. The Magic Apple Milk Can is notable for having arms that lock the lid of the can to the shoulders as seen in a famous Houdini poster (side by side image above). The only other place I recall seeing a physical can with this unique configuration was in The Great Houdinis.

But it turns out the Magic Apple Milk Can was actually owned and used by escape artist Steve Baker. It was later purchased from Steve by magic consultant Tony Clark, and is today rented out primarily for use in film and TV. While it's a little disappointing that it's not the Can used in The Great Houdinis, it's still pretty exciting that it's the Can used by Steve Baker, who was one of the great escape artists of the 1970s and 80s and a legend in his own right. Below are photos of Steve performing his Milk Can.

The Milk Can used in The Great Houdinis was owned and loaned to the production by comedy magician and collector Abb Dickson. Abb's Can has the same unique cover configuration as the Baker/Apple Can. Below is a photo from the January 1989 issue of Genii showing Dickson on the set of The Great Houdinis with technical adviser Harry Blackstone Jr. and his Milk Can. As to the claim that it's an original Houdini Milk Can...well, know that Abb made the same claim about the Water Torture Cell he provided to the film. But on close examination, one can see that Abb's USD is actually made from a modern shower stall.

Escape artist Mario Manzini appears to have acquired Dickson's Milk Can at some point. He performed it for several years and then advertised it for sale in 1997 as the can "used in the movie The Great Houdinis." As far as I know, it last changed hands in 2013 when it was sold by magic dealer Taylor Reed. Today the whereabouts of the Milk Can is unknown to me. If the new owner is reading this, I'd love to share a recent pic.

Thanks to Joe Fox for the information and photos. Also thanks to Jon Oliver and Dean Carnegie.

UPDATE: I've learned that the Milk Can and the Water Torture Cell are today owned by escape artist Troy Milligan. Here's Troy trying on Paul's Can for size.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Houdini at the 67th Emmy Awards

The Emmy escaped Adrien Brody and Uli Edel at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards held last night in Los Angeles. Brody and Edel were nominated for Best Actor and Best Director for the Houdini miniseries. The awards went instead to Richard Jenkins for his performance in Olive Kitteridge and Lisa Cholodenko for her direction of Olive Kitteridge.

Was Adrien Brody in attendance? Well, check out this clip from Andy Sandberg's opening monologue:

Brody actually was there. He was back in his seat during the Best Actor award presentation by Lady Gaga, and later presented the Emmy to Viola Davis for Best Actress in a Drama Series.

Houdini was nominated for a total of seven Emmys. It came away with one win for "Outstanding Sound Editing For A Limited Series, Movie Or A Special." That award was presented to the sound team at the Creative Arts Emmys held on September 12 and broadcast Saturday night on FXX.

With its one win, the Houdini miniseries ties TNT's Houdini biopic in which Judy Crown won the Emmy for "Outstanding Hairstyle for a Miniseries, Movie or Special" at the 51st Emmy Awards in 1999.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Life-like Houdini figure by Casey Wong haunts Monsterpalooza

Special FX Makeup artist Casey J. Wong has created an incredible life-size figure of Houdini which he is displaying this weekend at Son of Monsterpalooza, a convention of monster makeups and memorabilia held twice yearly in Burbank, California. Casey's Houdini stands 5ft 5in and is made of silicon with yak hair individually placed strand by strand. He is dressed in a vintage 1910 tuxedo and shoes from the same year. Casey says his Houdini is meant to depict the great magician near the end of his life, a time the artist feels Houdini's face showed all the character from a full career. One very unique feature is that Houdini's hands are actually modeled from the hands of magician David Blaine.

I gotta say, this figure is mind-blowing and downright eerie to behold in person. It was also clear from the time I spent at the show today that Casey Wong's Houdini is a huge hit with the attendees. Even though this was a monster convention, there was a never-ending stream of people taking photos and having their photo taken with the "Master Mystifier of the Age." A nice touch is that Casey had a recording of Rosie Sweet Rosabel playing in the background

Below are more photos and a brief interview with Casey Wong who describes the secrets of his Houdini.

The good news is you still have a chance to see Casey Wong's incredible Houdini figure because Son of Monsterpalooza runs one more day tomorrow, Sunday, September 20 from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM at Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel located at 2500 North Hollywood Way, Burbank, CA 91505.

Casey says he is not yet sure what he will do with his Houdini likeness when the show is over. Let's hope it doesn't vanish, because this is really something that should be seen and enjoyed by all fans of magic and special effects makeup.

You can see more of Casey Wong's work on his Facebook page.

A monstrously big thanks to John Cannon of Aladdin Books and Joe Fox for the alert.


Friday, September 18, 2015

"Houdini's Hidden Workshop"

Here's yet another "escape room" attraction with a Houdini theme. This one is at San Diego's popular Haunted Hotel and is called "Houdini's Hidden Workshop."

Long before David Copperfield and David Blaine, there was Houdini, the Grand Master of Illusion and the greatest escape artist of all time. Houdini'd soul is trapped in his hidden workshop; you and your group have just 60 short minutes to release him. Follow the clue trails and solve the mysteries to set yourselves and Houdini's soul free!

You can make reservations for "Houdini's Hidden Workshop" at the Great Room Escape website (be fun to do this with a group of Houdini nuts). And if you still haven't had enough, you can also visit The Great Houdini Escape Room in San Fransisco.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Side Show at the Porchlight in Chicago

Colin Funk plays Houdini in a revival of the 1997 musical about conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, Side Show, now playing at the Porchlight Music Theater in Chicago. Houdini's role isn't a large one -- Funk also doubles as The Dog Boy -- although he does appear in at least one musical number, "Come See a New Land." Below is a photo of Funk's Houdini with Colleen Fee and Brit-Marie Sivertsen who play the Hilton sisters.

Tony Award-nominated for both "Best Score" and "Book of a Musical," Side Show is based on the true-life stories of the legendary Hilton twins, Daisy and Violet, and their search for love and acceptance amidst the spectacle of fame and scrutiny under the spotlight of public opinion. Set against the backdrop of 1920s and '30s show business, Side Show seamlessly blends the worlds of carnival, vaudeville and Hollywood glamour in a haunting and sympathetic story of extraordinary humanity.

The real Houdini was friends with the Hilton sisters and gave them advice during their Vaudeville days. A post on the Torchlight's PMT Blog states:

In reality, as in Side Show, Houdini did meet Daisy and Violet Hilton. The sisters credited Houdini with teaching them to find individual privacy; the story goes that Houdini put the pair under hypnosis, teaching them how to "get rid of each other," in their words. The twins’ discuss Houdini fondly both in interviews and in their autobiography.

Side Show opened September 11 and is now extended through October 25. Click for times and tickets.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Houdini's lost autobiography

The Voisin biplane, the Margery Box, the transcribed Mama letters... These are all famous lost Houdini artifacts that would cause a sensation if ever discovered. But what about Houdini's lost autobiography? The following appears in the 1976 book Houdini: A Pictorial Life by Milbourne Christopher:

"Among Houdini's many unfinished projects was a illustrated autobiography. Pictures taken during his travels were to have been included. After losing the first draft of the text, he never found time to complete it."

Wild to think that at some point in time there was at least the first draft of a Houdini autobiography. Certainly this would be a fascinating read. How would Houdini himself tell his own story? And what are the circumstances of its loss? It's a shame Christopher doesn't give an approximate year.

If anyone has any additional info on this, drop a comment below, and let's add the Houdini Autobiography to the list of lost Houdini treasures.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Grim Game screening in New York

TCM's restoration of Houdini's The Grim Game will screen tomorrow, September 16, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. According to the museum, it is a private screening for MoMA Film Plus Members. Producer Rick Schmidlin will be there along with some of the restoration team to talk about the restoration of the film.

Tomorrow will also see a public screening of The Grim Game at the Northbrook Public Library in Northbrook, Illinois. The film will be shown in their auditorium at 1:00 PM and 7:30 PM with live piano accompaniment by Dave Drazin.

For those frustrated that they can't attend either screening, know that The Grim Game will have its television debut on October 18 on TCM.


Monday, September 14, 2015

A Houdini Milk Can mystery in Studio City

Recently a talented young magician named Riley Siegler ("That Magic Kid") appeared on Penn & Teller Fool Us. While Riley didn't succeed in fooling the great magic duo, he did perplex me. That's because during his introductory video, Riley stood in front of a Milk Can that looked alarmingly familiar.

As you can see from the screen capture (right), the can has a unique design in which bands connect the lid to the body of the Milk Can instead of the neck. This is an imitation of a famous Houdini poster that shows this particular configuration. However, this was an invention for the poster. Houdini's actual Milk Can locked to the neck as do most working cans. But one place a physical Can with this unique configuration did appear was in the 1976 TV movie The Great Houdinis starring Paul Michael Glaser. In scenes shot at the Wilshire Ebel Theater in Los Angeles on April 28, 1976, Glaser performed the Milk Can using what to my eye appears to be this very can!

Turns out Riley's segment was filmed at "The Magic Apple" in Studio City, which just happens to be right down the street from Wild About Harry Headquarters (i.e. my apartment). So I went and had a look for myself.

The Magic Apple is a terrific independent magic shop that serves both beginners and professionals and has become a part of the L.A. magic scene. Owner Brent James was there the day I stopped by, and he shared what little history he knew. He said the Milk Can is owned by magician and magic consultant Tony Clark and has "been around forever." It is not a functioning prop; the store rents it out primarily for use in TV and film work. (Brent said they could gaff it for escape, but it would be dangerous and the store could supply a safer can for performance.)

The Magic Apple's Milk Can is surprisingly light weight, as one would expect from a film prop. Brent did not know about any connection to The Great Houdinis, but he agreed that it seemed possible. (I later emailed Tony Clark, but never heard back.)

According to Patrick Culliton, who played Houdini's assistant Franz Kukol during those scenes, Abb Dickson provided the Water Torture Cell and the Milk Can to the production. He says the Milk Can was rigged for escape, but no escape was attempted during the shooting. Glaser was put in the can and taken out. However, the actor did attempt the escape without water.

The Great Houdinis Water Torture Cell reappeared for sale on eBay in 2011. But the Milk Can has been off the radar. The fact that this Can is a movie prop, has the unique cover configuration, and has been around for a long as most can remember had me convinced that I had found the Milk Can used in The Great Houdinis.

However, when I returned home, I looked at the film closely and saw something that deflated me a bit. While the Milk Can in the movie and the Magic Apple Can share all the same key characteristics, I noticed that the Milk Can in the movie clearly has more rivets on the shoulders. The Movie Can also has a line of rivets running down the side that are not on the Magic Apple Can.

Now, it's possible the production dressed their can with more rivets for effect. Recall they added a false front to the Water Torture Cell. There is a welding seam running down the Magic Apple Can exactly where we see the line of rivets on the Movie Can so, again, maybe placed for effect or to conceal the seam. It's also possible false rivets were an original feature of the Magic Apple Can, but may have fallen off over the years. But the discrepancy in rivets knocks this down from being a certainty in my mind to just a possibility.

The Milk Can as seen in The Great Houdinis.

Nevertheless, it is an exciting possibility, and if this is The Great Houdinis Milk Can, it's great to see that it's still in excellent condition. It's also nice that we now have a fix on two Houdini movie Milk Cans. The Can used by Tony Curtis in a cut scene in Houdini (1953) sits today in the Houdini Seance Room at The Magic Castle, just a few miles away from The Magic Apple.

Below is a clip from The Great Houdinis showing the Milk Can escape. This was the very first scene shot for the movie. Watch for Patrick Culliton playing Franz Kukol.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Plymouth proud of its "Garrick House"

The city of Plymouth, MI is embracing its own unique piece of Houdini history by sharing the story of "Garrick House" on the Plymouth, MI Discoveries website and Facebook. I covered this property back in 2008, but it's worth a revisit. I'll let the good folks at Plymouth Discoveries tell the story themselves.

46227 Ann Arbor Rd, Built in 1928 by George Smith. This home has a unique story unlike any other when it comes to the building materials used to build this brick colonial style home. Interestingly enough, there are bricks that were repurposed from the World famous Garrick Theatre in Detroit. The Garrick theatre is where Harry Houdini performed for the last time before passing away on October 31st, 1926. In 1928 the theatre located on Griswold was razed and George Smith acquired bricks from the old theatre to help build his dream home. When completed, this home was equipped with some the most modern amenities at the time. World renowned magician David Copperfield also has a brick from this home on display at the International Museum & Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas. Through the years, this home has been maintained and virtually kept in its original condition. The current owners have continued to keep this great Plymouth landmark in excellent shape and are proud of its mystifying building material history. Considering its location on Ann Arbor Road, there are literally thousands of cars that drive by this home not having a clue of its phenomenal creation. Now that you know, you can share this story and be proud of another great piece of Plymouth history.

Plymouth, MI Discoveries is maintained by Jim Salamay, volunteer at the Plymouth Historical Museum. The site of the Garrick Theater is now occupied by the David Stott Building in Detroit.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Houdini miniseries wins Emmy for Sound Editing

The Houdini miniseries has won the Emmy for "Outstanding Sound Editing For A Limited Series, Movie Or A Special." The Award was announced tonight at The 2015 Creative Arts Emmys held at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. FXX will broadcast a two-hour awards show next Saturday, September 19 at 8pm ET/PT.

The Creative Emmys are presented in advance of the Primetime Emmy Awards, which will be broadcast LIVE on FOX on September 20. Houdini is nominated for a total of 7 awards.

Congrats to the Houdini sound editing team and to my old boss Technicolor for tonight's big win!

UPDATEHoudini at the 67th Emmy Awards.


David Jaher at Speakeasy Cinema, Sept. 20

On Sunday, September 20, author David Jaher will be appearing at Speakeasy Cinema in New York to discuss his upcoming book, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World. Here's a description:

I'm excited to announce our new Fall Season for Speakeasy Cinema. We'll have monthly events from September to December, and possibly a few extra events thrown in. This month, our special guest is David Jaher, a filmmaker whose dramatic script turned into a heavily researched nonfiction book that is about to be published by Crown. From the advance praise it has already received, THE WITCH OF LIME STREET will be read and discussed, and is already attracting interest as a film. David won the Johnson Fellowship for directing at NYU and most of his screenplays have either been semifinalists or finalists for the major national screenwriting awards--Nicholl Fellowship, Scritptapalooza, and Cinestory. David will magically surprise us with a must-see film.

This is, I believe, David's first appearance talking about his book, so this will be a great chance to get a preview of what looks to be the Houdini publishing event of this year.

The talk takes place at Torn Page, 435 West 22nd St, New York, New York 10011 at 7:00 PM. Speakeasy Cinema is created, produced and hosted by Matt Kohn. For more information and directions visit the event page on Facebook.

David will be making more appearances once the book is released. You can view a full list at the official Witch of Lime Street website.

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


Friday, September 11, 2015

Who Done Houdini?

Who Done Houdini? by Raymond John finds Sherlock Holmes investigating the death of Houdini and defending Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for his murder! The book was scheduled for release on September 15, but it appears to be shipping from Amazon now. Here's a description:

Detroit Free Press reporter Timothy Wiggins learns of Harry Houdini’s death on Halloween 1926 with more than casual interest. He had been at the great magician’s final performance the night before. Wiggins had grown up as a sort of magician himself on the streets of London, stealing to survive. But then he met the real-life Sherlock Holmes, who made him his chief Bay Street Irregular. Now, years later, Holmes notifies Wiggins he is in the U.S. at the request of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who is being investigated as a possible murder suspect in Houdini’s death.

What follows is a mad dash to New York and Boston with a deranged Spiritualist medium on the tail of Holmes and his team of investigators: Wiggins, his feminist wife, and Rose Mackenburg, Houdini’s top investigator into phony Spiritualism, which was rampant at the time. In Boston, Sir Arthur introduces the team to Margie, the most highly regarded Spiritualist of the day. Her séance and the bizarre form of treasure hunt that follows leads to a stunning climax that will change everyone’s perception of Holmes’s character.

Sounds like fun. I especially like that Rose Mackenburg is a character in this book. Not sure why Margery is called "Margie," but, hey, it's fiction.

Purchase Who Done Houdini? by Raymond John at


28 Houdini lots in Haversat & Ewing October auction

The next Haversat & Ewing Galleries magic auction is October 16-17 and will feature 28 Houdini-related lots, including a rare original 1903 Amsterdam prison break poster, a terrific original photo of Houdini with his dog Charlie, and a key collection with some jail keys from Houdini.

The auction is made up of "over 220 choice lots cosigned by 20 of the nation's leading collectors including items from the late Ed Hill and Walter Gydesen."

To pre-order an auction catalog visit Haversat & Ewing Galleries.

UPDATE: The Amsterdam prison break lithograph topped out at $16,000, but failed to meet the reserve. The key collection also fell below the reserve, reaching $2,625. However, the photo of Houdini and his dog Charlie sold for a very respectable $5,775.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Houdini returns to Knott's Scary Farm

The Houdini themed "Black Magic" haunted maze attraction returns to Knott's Berry Farm's annual Halloween scarefest, Knott's Scary Farm. This year the maze will reportedly feature a new skeleton room in which "Houdini himself tortures his fans."

Houdini’s vengeful spirt continues to wreak havoc on the Faux Theater, where the veil between the living and the dead is severed. Houdini’s ghost comes alive and ushers a host of demonic illusions to play tricks on anyone who intrudes, only to finally meet Houdini in a show-stopping finale. Back for its third year, Black Magic is one of the most popular mazes at Scary Farm.

Black Magic was designed by Daniel Miller and made its debut in 2013.

Knott's Scary Farm runs September 24 to October 31. For more information and to buy advance tickets visit their website.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Hardeen tea canister brews questions

A decorative Hardeen tea canister, manufactured by Parnail & Son Bristol, is up for auction September 12 at Mendip Auction Rooms in the UK. Here's a description from online auction site the Salesroom.

Lot 455: A decorative tea canister, manufactured by Parnail & Son Bristol, painted to advertise "The great Hardeen. King of Jail Breakers. Brother of Houdini. Grand Tour of Britain 1905. Never before witnesses acts of Death- Defying Mystery", 91cm high. Estimate: 200 - 300 GBP.

I've never seen something like this. It's interesting. But is it really from 1905? If so, there are aspects that I find perplexing.

First off, "The Great" is not billing that was typically used by either Houdini or Hardeen during their careers (I've actually never seen Hardeen use this, and I've only seen it on a handful of Houdini newspaper ads). It's more common to see King of Handcuffs, Monarch of Manacles, or Hardeen The Mysterious on his advertising.

It's also unusual to see "Brother of Houdini" at this time. It's not unheard of, but the family connection was not generally known in these early days. It was only after Houdini died that Hardeen really exploited the "Brother of Houdini" billing.

Finally, the bottom of the can promises "Never before Witnessed acts of Death-Defying Mystery." But what exactly would Hardeen doing in 1905 that would be considered Death-Defying? This was still the days of the challenge handcuff act and Metamorphosis. The expression "Death-Defying Mystery" arrived with the Milk Can escape in 1908. Of course, Hardeen did bridge jumps, so those could be the death-defying feats referred to here. But like "Brother of Houdini," it's odd to see this specific wording from a later poster used on a piece of advertising that purports to be from 1905.

On the plus side, "King of Jail Breakers" is accurate to the period and Hardeen was in England in 1905.

So what do we think? Is this tea canister really from Hardeen's time? Or is it a later nostalgic recreation?

Thanks to Chuck Romano at My Magic Uncle for finding this one.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Animated 'Houdini' released on DVD

Today sees the release of NCircle Entertainment's Houdini (a.k.a. Little Houdini) on DVD. This is a feature-length French animated film produced by Dandelooo. It has been dubbed into English for this U.S. release.

Twelve year old Harry has lived and breathed magic since his early childhood. The problem is that his hometown, Appletown, is not the best place for his natural talent to blossom. Although he rehearses endlessly in his parents' barn he realizes that his dream is just that a dream. One day Harry catches the glimpse of a chance: the New York mayor has announced a magic competition due to the official opening of the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, there is a slight problem with this competition, in order to try out one must be trained by a real magician. Poor Harry doesn't know a single one. Until Harry s father runs into the magician, the Great Tesla, in town and Tesla promises to see Harry. Despite the young boy s lack of knowledge Tesla spots talent, creativity and boldness in Harry. He decides to give him a chance and invites him to his own home, accompanied by his niece, Beth, and his assistant, Amrold. Tesla will teach Harry the basics of magic, his tricks but will also test him. Will Harry be strong enough to become a true magician?

Purchase Houdini on DVD at Amazon.

UPDATE: Having now watched this, I can report that it is a delight. It's very well made with beautiful animation. The movie also does a nice job of explaining some of the principles of magic. While it's pure fiction, I think kids will enjoy it on many levels. This is a quality contribution to the world of Houdini-inspired cinema.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Escape artist rescued during Buried Alive stunt

The Huddersfield Examiner reports that escapologist Antony Britton is "lucky to be alive" after losing consciousness during a Buried Alive stunt at Slaithwaite Spa in the UK. Britton had hoped to escape after being handcuffed and buried in a standard-sized grave under six feet of soil. He was hauled out unconscious by crew members when he failed to appear after almost nine minutes.

"I almost died," he said. "I was just seconds away from death. It was scary. The pressure of the soil was crushing around me. Even when I found an air pocket, when I exhaled the soil around me was crushing me even more. I could feel myself losing consciousness and there was nothing I could do about it. I was pretty much dying."

"But everyone was on the ball and the crew was well-drilled. They knew pretty much where I would be under the soil and after the digger had moved in behind me, the team were hand-balling the soil until they could reach me."

Britton's stunt was a duplicate of a Buried Alive escape Houdini performed in California. Houdini had much the same harrowing experience. He quickly discovered the "weight of the earth is killing," and after failing to be heard when he called for help, his was able to just break the surface before losing consciousness. His assistants then pulled him from the ground.

In 1949, escape artist Alan Alan also attempted a Buried Alive escape without a container, and also had to be rescued. On Halloween 1990, magician Joseph Burrus was killed during a Buried Alive stunt when his casket collapsed under the weight.

Britton was taken to a waiting ambulance where he was given oxygen before regaining consciousness. He sustained a cracked rib and several scratches. He says he won't be attempting the Buried Alive escape again.


Sketching Houdini

I love first-hand accounts of meeting Houdini at his home in New York, and this one from newspaper sketch artist "Gonzalez" is a real hoot as Houdini appears to have been especially playful on this day. I'm always struck by how visitors to 278 all comment on how dark it was inside, and how they all climb a narrow stairway to meet Houdini in his cubbyhole office. This comes from the September 4, 1924 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Click to enlarge.

I love Gonzalez's observation that Houdini is "all upper lip, the bottom doesn't show." And while this is a light article, one can't help but be reminded of another appointment Houdini made to do a sketch with McGill student Sam Smilovitz in Montreal, and all that came of that fateful day.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Historic site of Houdini escape will be preserved

LA Curbed reports that the long empty Herald-Examiner Building in downtown Los Angeles will undergo a massive renovation that will preserve the historic 100-year-old structure. Of course, we know this as a prime stop on any Houdini tour of L.A., because it was here on April 4, 1923 that Houdini performed a spectacular suspended straitjacket escape.

A reported 20,000 people packed Broadway and watched as Houdini was strapped into a straitjacket by Los Angeles Police Chief Louis D. Oaks. (The straitjacket used that day resurfaced in 2011 on an episode of Pawn Stars). Houdini was especially focused on the task at hand. When someone asked him about a recent book he had written, he snapped, "I've no time to think of books. This is a big job and I have to concentrate."

Houdini was hauled 50 feet above the sidewalk and made his escape in five minutes. After the escape he told reporters, "This unequaled crowd and interest shown are very gratifying. I was not sure whether the police would beat me this time or not; certainly they gave me all they had. And I want to thank The Examiner for making this the biggest open-air exhibition of my career."

The Examiner Building opened for business on January 1, 1915 and remained the newspaper's headquarters until the paper folded in 1989. The Hearst Corporation kept ownership of the building and rented it out for film shoots, including Christopher Nolan's magic-themed The Prestige. But a question mark hung over the fate and future of the building.

Now the Hearst Corporation has now partnered with developer The Georgetown Company to turn the building into a combination of creative office and restaurant space. The $40-million project will restore the building's two-story lobby (which will remain accessible to the public) and rehab the Spanish-Moorish exterior. The majority of the building's interior will be turned into 80,000 square feet of creative office space. The whole renovation is expected to wrap up by the end of 2017.

It's great to know this historic and still recognizable Houdini location will remain an L.A. landmark. Maybe Hearst and Georgetown might consider a plaque on the building exterior: "Houdini hung here!" Or at least a nice Examiner-era press photograph in the lobby?

You can see more pics of Houdini's Examiner escape HERE and HERE. Read more about the building's renovation at LA Curbed.