Thursday, December 31, 2015

This way to see Houdini

Are you ready for more Houdini in 2016? I have over a dozen new posts ready to unleash in the New Year, starting with a look back at what Houdini himself was up to 100 years ago. I've also gotten a early idea of what 2016 holds, and it looks like it's going to be another big year for Houdini. So follow the signs and find your seat. Houdini's 2016 is about to begin!

Have a safe and Happy New Year.

Photo from The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Walter B. Gibson.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Houdini's WILD 2015 in review

It's time to look back on 2015, which will go down in Houdini history as the year of The Grim Game. In January we first learned that TCM had acquired the "lost" Houdini film, and in March came the big Hollywood premiere. The movie then screened in Wisconsin, Marshall, Scranton, Philadelphia, Austin, Helsinki, Edinburgh, Illinois, New York and London before the TCM television premiere brought The Grim Game to everyone in October.

The Grim Game was a constant topic of conversation during the course of the year. Producer Rick Schmidlin explained how it all happened, new details about the plane crash were uncovered, and silent movie historian John Bengtson identified several shooting locations which, of course, I had to visit. Even Teller had something to say. It's amazing to think that in December of last year it looked like we might never see Houdini's best film. What a difference a year makes.

But there was more to 2015 than just The Grim Game. This was a year jam-packed with Houdini news and events, and another exciting year for WILD ABOUT HARRY.

The year kicked off with a look back at Houdini in 1915 and Hardeen's close call. The McCord Museum received a massive Houdini collection while Houdini himself returned to an Austin theater as a hologram. Handcuff collector Mark Lyons took us on a Houdini Vacation, and guest blogger Neil McNally provided a 3-part look at Mr. Houdini in Washington (expect more from Neil in 2016). We also met Chickie Lee, looked into Houdini's open grave, and drilled down on the real story behind The Belle Isle Bridge jump.

In spring, Houdini escaped from Murderers Row and Hardeen hung up his handcuffs. News broke of a new TV series teaming Houdini & Doyle. AHC declared Houdini a Badass and the City of Los Angeles declared March 29 as "HOUDINI DAY" (which is what happens when the tireless Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz come to town). Houdini then invited us to come see him "magisch" and accepted a new challenge every day. We also met Houdini's daughter.

Jim Collins kicked off the summer months by going solo. Jon Oliver shared Houdini's baby shoe. Houdini wrote to his "Sweetheart Mine" (despite that incident with the Colonel), and assured us that he didn't "drink, smoke or chew". William Rauscher brought us inside Houdini's Hippodrome. A Houdini-Hardeen Milk Can returned to the stage at the Midwest Magic History Weekend. We took a tour of Houdini's Detroit, and discovered that Houdini threatened to cancel his 1926 tour, which for my money was one of biggest revelations of the year.

In mid-summer we met the new Houdini and learned how Harry almost went 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. David Copperfield and Houdini had an epic rap battle. We gossiped with Gresham about the Houdinis marriage and got a look at the photo Houdini didn't want you to see. Houdini was roasted in Los Angeles and immortalized in Appleton. Bess conjured Satan, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe went wild for Harry. And even though the Houdini miniseries lost the Guild Awards, it did receive an IIG Award and one Emmy. But the big award winner was Houdini himself who won the Oscar.

In the Fall we tracked down where Harry met Bessie and Houdini made a frightening appearance at Monsterpalooza. Houdini & Doyle began filming in Manchester. Justin Bieber, Amy Schumer and the Supreme Court all channeled the Houdini. David Jaher's new book The Witch of Lime Street manifested to rave reviews and a movie deal. Italy celebrated Houdini. And even though Houdini didn't perform in San Francisco in 1926, he was there in spirit at the Official Houdini Séance 2015. And while Houdini failed to return from the Beyond this year, The Automaton did!

The year rounded out with a look at Houdini and Hardeen in Oakland and Houdini and Margery in the apple orchards. The first official photos of Houdini & Doyle appeared along with the trailer. We also remembered when Houdini defeated the Pottawatomie Giant, and we got a peek at the first must buy book of 2016. And what better way to end the year than with a "sensational" discovery.

During the course of this year, I was excited give Houdini talks at The Magic Castle, The Midwest Magic Weekend, IBM Ring 96, UCLA, Center For Inquiry, and the Official Houdini Seance. I also enjoyed doing interviews with Wendy Edwards, Jeff Richards and Nicholas J. Johnson. Two Houdini mysteries popped up in my own backyard, one involving a Milk Can and another that turned out to be a bizarre prank. And November 16 marked a very special 40th anniversary for me.

Unfortunately, every year also sees the passing of people important to the Houdini world. This year we mourned the losses of Leonard Nimoy, Jack Carter, E.L. Doctorow, Norman Bigelow, and our great friend and contributor Mick Hanzlik.

Thanks to everyone for your continued support of this blog. Barring any breaking Houdini news, I'll be taking the rest of the year off. But I will see you all back here on January 1st, 2016 for what I expect will be another WILD year for Harry.

What was your Houdini highlight of 2015? Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Talking Houdini on Scamapalooza

I recently recorded a conversation with Australian magician and comedian Nicholas J. Johnson on his excellent Scamapalooza podcast. We spent an hour discussing Houdini, spiritualism, Margery (and her private parts). The episode (#24) is now live, so click below to have a listen on the Scamapalooza webpage or iTunes.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Houdini "America's Sensation" poster discovered in California

I'm delaying my year end review and break to share some exciting news! Collector David Haversat has discovered and purchased an original Houdini "America's Sensation!" poster from an antique store in California. As far as I know, this is only the third America's Sensation poster to ever turn up. Here's a photo of David's find.

America's Sensation was the first poster advertising Houdini solely as an escape artist. Houdini commissioned it from the St. Paul printing company in London shortly after he arrived in England in 1900. It might also be the only poster billing him as "Harry Handcuff Houdini."

As I said, this is only the third known example of this rare poster. Collector Gale Molovinsky has one that he purchased from Mario Carrandi in 1980. The other was discovered in a scrapbook in the collection of the New York Public Library.

This newly discovered America's Sensation poster might be the same one that hung in the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Canada years ago. (You can see it in the photo I took in 1990 below.) The fold marks on this poster match those seen on the black and white reproduction in Houdini His Life and Art, which is credited to the museum. But how did the Houdini world lose track of this poster for so many years?

David plans to have restoration work done on the poster. And if you're wondering whether it will appear in a future Haversat & Ewing Galleries auction...sorry. Says David, "It's a keeper!"


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Yes, Star Wars The Force Awakens has a Houdini connection

Did you happen to catch the Houdini connection in the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens? If you have an eagle eye, near the end of the film you can spot Houdini miniseries producer Gearld Abrams in a cameo as a Resistance officer. Even though he doesn't have dialogue, Abrams appears in the final credits as Captain Cypress.

Gerald Abrams, or Gerry as he's credited, is the father of Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams. He's had a long a career as a producer in television and was the driving force behind the 2014 Houdini miniseries starring Adrien Brody. In June he and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer received and IIG award for their work on the miniseries.

Of course, the original Star Wars also has a nice Houdini connection. Peter Cushing, who played Grand Moff Tarkin, traveled to Los Angeles immediately after his work on the George Lucas film to appear as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in The Great Houdinis. Cushing filmed for two days, May 11 & 12, 1976, at the 20th Century Fox studio. The same studio that produced, yes, Star Wars.

Apart from David Warner doing voice work for a Star Wars video game (Warner played Conan Doyle in the 1998 TNT Houdini movie), I don't know of any other Star Wars Houdini connections. Do you? If so, let us know in the comments.


German Houdini piece sells for $3,049

An original broadside for an early appearance of Houdini in Germany sold yesterday on eBay for an impressive $3,049. The auction received 21 bids.

The 25x11 inch ad shows Houdini at the Frankfurt Orpheum, March 16-31, 1901. According to the seller, it was sent to magician C. Charles Dunbar by Houdini and was stored in a scrapbook. This may be the first time this piece has ever appeared on the market. Even the great collector Kevin Connolly commented on his blog, Houdini Himself, that this was something he'd never seen.

Material from Houdini's first European tour is always desirable. The color on this is also very nice. And despite one edge having been chewed off by mice, it's still in pretty good condition. All reasons for the high sale price, I expect.

Congratulations to the winner.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

John Bengtson finds Houdini's crash site

The great silent movie detective John Bengtson is back with another post about Houdini's The Grim Game on his excellent blog Silent Locations. This time John has pinpointed the location of the staged portion of the famous plane crash from the film. Turns out this was shot on the backlot of the Famous Players-Lasky Studio in Hollywood. Click below to have read, and check out the related links for more Grim Game locations.

Today the location of The Grim Game's backlot plane crash is behind The Hollywood Palladium.


Friday, December 18, 2015

Christine U'Ren captures Houdini in San Francisco

What was I just saying about San Francisco being a hot-bed of Houdini activity these days? Now the San Francisco Silent Film Festival blog has posted the first of a multi-part post by guest blogger Christine U'Ren about, you guessed it, Houdini in San Francisco.

Christine has gone above and beyond in her research and, among other things, has uncovered a terrific full page article from the June 19, 1899 San Francisco Examiner with some images of a roped Houdini by Coover and Rasmussen (who also took this famous shot) that I've never seen before.

Below is the link to part one, which primarily discusses 1899. I will add links to the next installments as they appear at the SF Silent Film Festival blog.

Houdini in Vanishing San Francisco, part 1 (1899)
Houdini in Vanishing San Francisco, part 2 (1907-15)
Houdini in Vanishing San Francisco, part 3 (1923-4)

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival recently screened Houdini's The Grim Game at the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco.

UPDATE: Link to part 2 now added. I'm excited to see it includes a rare photo of Houdini's 1915 overboard box escape in San Francisco Bay from the collection of Dr. Bruce Averbook. This is the only photo of that escape of which I'm aware. I'm also excited to see Christine plans a part 3.

UPDATE: Link to part 3 now added. I very excited to see Christine has uncovered some newspaper clippings from Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape from the Hearst Building.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Houdini & Doyle trailer (for all)

Thanks to the magical powers of our friend Adam Steinfeld (Yo, Houdini), here is the Houdini & Doyle trailer viewable for all. The might disappear, so watch it quickly. Looks pretty good!

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


Houdini & Doyle trailer (for some)

The first trailer for Houdini & Doyle is out. That's the good news. The bad news is the trailer is only available to view in the UK. So if you're in the UK, click below and have a watch at the ITV Encore YouTube page. And let us know what you think in the comments.

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

UPDATEHoudini & Doyle trailer (for all).


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Houdini scrapbook in the Library of Congress

Here's a great video showing a Houdini scrapbook in the Library of Congress. I'm especially interested to learn that the famous "Dear Ma" postcard was "not visible" before the LOC's conservations efforts. You can watch by clicking the link below:

You might have noticed the cover of a 1941 issue of Genii in this "Houdini" scrapbook. I'm guessing what we might be seeing is a scrapbook put together by Edward Saint after Houdini's death. Those were also donated to the Library of Congress. So we can blame Ed for buying "cheap dime store scrapbooks"!


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

STX acquires The Witch of Lime Street

STX Entertainment announced today that it has acquired the motion picture rights to David Jaher's new book The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction and Houdini in the Spirit World. Andres Muschietti is attached to direct with Barbara Muschietti producing. Author David Jaher will write the screenplay himself.

"Quite a few producers and studios were pursuing rights to this book for very good reason," said STX’s Oren Aviv. "This is a spellbinding and exciting true story that weaves a fantastic mystery and lots of intrigue with history involving some of the most renowned and iconic figures of the era. The timeless question: ‘Is there life after death?’ is explored through a scientific quest to investigate and validate supernatural phenomena."

STX's Sheroum Kim will oversee development of the project on behalf of the studio.


LINK: Written by Houdini Himself!?

Our friend David Saltman at The Houdini File has a post today about "The Amazing Exploits of Houdini," a series that ran from April 1920 to November 1926 in the British weekly, The Kinema Comic. These "exploits" are pure fiction and said to be "Written by Houdini Himself." But David has discovered they were actually ghostwritten by Herbert Allingham.

It's interesting to see that Houdini's role as a fictional hero began during his own lifetime. It's a career that's still going strong today. It would be nice to see these early stories collected into a single volume someday.

A complete listing of all the Houdini issues of The Kinema Comic can be found in the recently updated Houdini Periodical Bibliography Reference from 1898-2015 by Arthur Moses, an essential resource.

Monday, December 14, 2015

150 Years of Jewish Magicians exhibit in San Francisco

An exhibition featuring "150 Years of Jewish Magicians" is currently on show at the Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. Among the displays are cases devoted to Houdini and Hardeen. Below is a description and details of a special upcoming event on January 20.

From Victorian to contemporary performers, many magical entertainers have made a lasting impression on the world of performing arts. There were women as well as men who toured the country performing magic. There were families of five and six generations who followed in their magical forefather’s footsteps (the Bamberg and Herrmann families were the magical royal dynasties of their time.) In every past decade there have been performers who became household names. Today large numbers of entertainers including David Copperfield, Ricky Jay, Jami Ian Swiss, David Ben, and the Bay Area's own Jay Alexander practice the art of magic worldwide. 
Join us on January 20 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm when the Elizabeth S. and Alvin Fine Museum will sponsor a gala night of historical and contemporary magical entertainment! Guests will take a trip back through time experiencing the wonders of famous Victorian magicians and also be treated to contemporary San Francisco Bay Area performers representing the present and future of Jewish magicians. Do you know about The Great Lafayette? Max Malini? Adelaide Herrmann? These, and possibly Houdini himself (who might make a surprise appearance) are just a few of the samplings from the magicians who will be wowing the audience with their magic! 
Please register for this very special event so we know to expect you.

San Francisco has certainly been a hot bed of Houdini activity this year!


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Linking Rings heads to the West End

Magician Paul Zenon's one-man play Linking Rings is set for a short run at London's West End Jermyn Street Theatre, Jan 25-30. Performances will be at 8pm with a Saturday matinee at 4pm.

In Linking Rings Paul portrays himself and Houdini's chief assistant Jim Collins. The play was one of several Houdini-themed productions that recently played the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Information and tickets can be found at:


Video of The Official Houdini Séance 2015

The producers of the 2015 Official Houdini Séance, Tucker Hiatt of Wonderfest and magician Robert Strong, have created a video of the entire 2-hour event held at The Brava Theater in San Francisco last Halloween. Enjoy.

For more read my full report on the weekend: The Official Houdini Séance 2015.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Houdini helps High Schoolers advance to finals

The Picayune Item reports that the Picayune Memorial High School theater group, High Tide Productions, have won the opportunity to compete a Mississippi state drama competition with their production of The Last Illusion, a play about the life of Houdini.

During a regional competition in Hattiesburg last weekend, Katy Fuller won best actress for her portrayal of Bess Houdini.

"I was very surprised," she said. "It was the first big part I've had. It makes me want to do more with the part and get even better. I'm very blessed to have this opportunity and will dig deeper into the character and get more emotional."

The Last Illusion also won awards for technical achievement, the distinguished play award, and all-star cast awards for Jackson Saul, who plays Houdini, and Chase Giadrosich who portrays his manager Martin Beck.

"It's cool to be recognized for the hard work we put into it," said Saul. "I’m definitely still working on differentiating between older and younger Houdini to bring that contrast."

Here's wishing the Picayune Memorial High School troop best of luck in the finals!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Great Houdini: His British Tours coming in 2016

An all-new expanded edition of Derek Tait's excellent study of Houdini's exploits in the UK will be released in the second half of 2016. Retitled The Great Houdini: His British Tours, the book will contain a wealth new information uncovered by Derek since his original publication in 2011. It will also include rare photos from some top Houdini collections. The Great Houdini: His British Tours will be published by Pen & Sword Books. Here's sneak peek at the cover art.

The Great Houdini: His British Tours successfully pieces together Houdini's appearances using archive material, old newspaper clippings and extensive research. His friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is also documented, along with his involvement with séances and spiritualism.
The book gives the most comprehensive account of his time within the UK and brings to life the excitement and thrills of many of his appearances. It contains many photos and adverts from his shows, some of which have not been seen since they were originally published over 100 years ago, and offers an insight into the life of one of the world's greatest entertainers.

There is no listing for the book yet on Amazon, but I will keep you posted. This will be a must have!

UPDATE: Release date is now 2017. The book can be pre-orderd at (UK) and (U.S.).


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Watch for this stolen Houdini item

Have you ever seen this framed ad for Houdini's The Grim Game? It was stolen back in 2012 from the Woodland Mall in Bowling, Ohio. Owner Rick Allen posted this photo and message below on his Facebook. It's never been recovered, and even though it's been three years, I figured I'd share here for Rick. Maybe it will show up in honest hands.

If this rare Houdini, newspaper ad from the Temple theater in Toledo, (frame is 11x17) turns up for sale on any online auction site or is seen anywhere in the Bowling Green, Toledo Ohio area, please let me know immediately or report to Bowling OH, Police Dept. Unfortunately it was stolen, along with a few other select items, last weekend from the Woodland Mall, sometime between Saturday night and Monday morning.

If it does turn up, the perpetrator will be prosecuted, anyone who may purchase this stolen property will also be prosecuted for receiving known stolen goods.

Do me a favor and share this on your pages and help me out circulate this. Thanks so much. -Rick Allen

If you have any intel on this, you can Contact Me and I can pass a message to Rick, or you can contact Rick direct via his Facebook.

Nick Meyer on Houdini: "The History channel cut it to ribbons."

My favorite Sherlock Holmes website, I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, has a terrific podcast interview with Nicholas Meyer, who wrote the seminal Sherlock Holmes pastiche novel, The Seven Per Cent Solution, as well as the screenplay for the film version. But we know Nick Meyer around here as the writer of the Adrien Brody Houdini miniseries, which comes up briefly in the conversation around 01:38:45.

"I did this Houdini movie that was on for two nights with Adrien Brody on the History channel. I wrote that. And the History channel cut it to ribbons. But you can get it on DVD, it's considerably better on DVD. They call it the expanded version, but what they really mean is the overseas version."

While the History channel didn't massively cut the film down in length, what they did cut was essential to understanding Meyer's intended mix of fact and fiction (including the disclaimer that explains just that). I agree that the extended edition is the only way to watch the film, and it even led me to reassess and re-review the miniseries here: How I learned to love the Houdini miniseries.

Unfortunately, the version that's streaming on Netflix, which is how most people are experiencing Houdini these days, is the butchered History channel version.

Meyer is a candid conversationalist and tells fascinating stories about the creation of The Seven Per Cent Solution and his adventures in the world of Sherlock Holmes and Hollywood, so click on over and listen to the entire podcast at I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere.


Houdini's Last Trick

Here's some new Houdini fiction from author David Khalif. Houdini's Last Trick finds Houdini in action in Hollywood. The book contains illustrations by Francesca Baerald and is part of "The Burdens Trilogy." Here's a description:

Harry Houdini has a talent unlike any other—and it isn't magic. The world's most famous illusionist has escaped death countless times because of his supernatural ability to see potential outcomes. But his secret talent is about to be revealed.

When a man on the run seeks out the magician for help from a deadly pursuer, the only outcome Houdini sees is death. Even so, he must perform his most dangerous illusion to lure a supernaturally strong man to Hollywood, where he and a band of other uniquely gifted friends can confront him. It's a risky move that will force Houdini to decide who can live and who must die.

An origins story of The Sixteen Burdens, this standalone novella takes place fifteen years before Gray Studebaker finds himself in the middle of the hunt for Newton's Eye. Read Houdini's Last Trick before The Sixteen Burdens to get the full backstory, or wait until after you jump into the full-length novels.

You'll notice the cover art features Grauman's Egyptian Theater. This 1922 Hollywood movie palace was the site of this year's world premiere of The Grim Game. It has also seen screenings of Terror Island and The Man From Beyond.

Purchase Houdini's Last Trick on Amazon.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Ragtime 2015-16 national tour

The Tony Award winning musical Ragtime has embarked on a new 91-city national tour. Houdini is a character in the play, as he was in the E.L. Doctorow novel from which the musical is based. In this new production Houdini is played by Mark Alpert.

The 2015-16 national tour of Ragtime kicked-off on October 22 at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Gainesville, FL. The tour concludes June 12, 2016 at the Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA. You can see a full tour listing and buy tickets at the Ragtime website.

I'm excited to see Ragtime will be playing at the Fred Kavli Theatre in nearby Thousand Oaks, March 24-27. I've never seen the play, so my plan is to go on Houdini's birthday!

Ragtime made its debut on Broadway in 1998 and ran for 834 performances. It had a short-lived Broadway revival in 2009.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Official photos of Houdini & Doyle

Digital Spy has reveled the first official photos of Michael Weston and Stephen Mangan as Houdini & Doyle. Drink them in!

Set in London in 1901, Houdini & Doyle is a 10-episode fictional series featuring the famous duo investigating paranormal mysteries. It will air in 2016 on ITV Encore (UK), Global TV (Canada), and FOX (U.S.).


Monday, December 7, 2015

The New York Review is wild about The Witch of Lime Street

The December 17, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books contains a lengthy and enthusiastic review of David Jaher's new book, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World. Here's a taste:

"David Jaher’s stunning and brilliantly written account of the battle between the Great Houdini and the blond Witch of Lime Street illuminates a lost period in American history. Improbably, it also offers significant lessons about the formation of people’s beliefs and the sources of social divisions—scientific, political, or otherwise. Jaher helps to explain how and why the most highly educated people can diverge on fundamental matters, even when the evidence is altogether clear."

If you have a subscription of The New York Review of Books website, you can read the full review online here.

The Wall Street Journal also has a nice article about the book and Houdini's ghost-busting: The Clear-Sighted Illusionist.

You can read my own review of The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World HERE. The book is available on (U.S.) and (UK).

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Grim Game house

The opening shot of Houdini's The Grim Game is of a house behind tall gates. This is the home of "eccentric millionaire-miser" Dudley Cameron (Thomas Jefferson), and a great deal of action is set at the property. In fact, it's probably the single most used location in the entire film (although interiors were likely shot at the Famous Players-Lasky studio). So where was this all important Grim Game location and is it still around today?

Thanks once again to the amazing detective work of John Bengtson (Silent Locations), we now know this was the Bergstrom estate at 590 N. Vermont at the SE corner of Vermont and Clinton in what is known as East Hollywood. Built in 1906, it was the home of architect George Edwin Bergstrom (who designed The Pentagon) and was considered "one of the showplaces of Southern California." It was also praised for using modern construction materials that would help make it more resistant to earthquakes.

As we see in the film, the gates of the Bergstrom estate were motorized, a novelty in 1919. These gates also featured in the 1920 Buster Keaton comedy Cops (which shares several locations with The Grim Game) and the Snub Pollard-Hal Roach Studio comedy Fresh Paint (1920).

In 1915, Bergstrom sold the house for $100,000 to S.C. de la Garza, a mining magnate from Mexico. The sale description read:

"The grounds comprise nearly five acres, having a frontage on the east side of Vermont Avenue by a depth of 300 feet on Clinton Street. The landscaping effects are elaborate, including a wide sweep of lawn, numerous shaded walks and drives and gardens, both formal and informal. The entire property is surrounded by an ornamental brick wall that is the height of a man's head and which is declared to have cost a small fortune in itself."

The estate was later owned by vaudeville magnate Alexander Pantages. Despite being a competitor to Martin Beck and Houdini's own Orpheum circuit (Hardeen was a Pantages star), Alexander and Houdini were friendly enough to share Thanksgiving dinner in 1915. It's unclear who owned the house at the time of The Grim Game filming in spring 1919, but in 1920, Pantages entered into a partnership with Famous Players-Lasky.

The Bergstrom house was demolished in 1951 to build a Jewish community center, Today it is the site of West Coast University Graduate Studies. It's hardly the idyllic hill top hideaway that it was in Houdini's day. The busy Hollywood Freeway now cuts along the south side of the property. But this makes this all important Grim Game location easy to spot as one passes by.

A few Sundays ago, when I visited another Grim Game location, the Cahuenga alley, I went and had a look at the site of the Bergstrom estate. One thing that stood out was a house directly across from it on Clinton Street. Also hidden behind gates, it looks somewhat similar to the Bergstrom estate, so one can catch a bit of a Grim Game vibe from that property.

I also traveled down Clinton to N. Juanita Ave where I found a retaining wall that was clearly not part of the modern construction. Maybe its too much to hope that this wall dates back to the Bertstrum estate, but I thought it was worth a photo.

Thanks again to John Bengtson and his website Silent Locations for providing the Houdini and magic world with information we would have never known otherwise. What a great way to end an incredible year of rediscovering Houdini's The Grim Game.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

LINK: The Houdini Wonder Show

The great Dean Carnegie of Carnegie: Magic Detective has dug in and uncovered some hitherto unknown details about "The Houdini Wonder Show," which Dean correctly points out goes unmentioned in most Houdini biographies.

The Houdini Wonder Show consisted of four traveling magic companies that offered up live shows before screenings of The Man From Beyond (Houdini himself appeared at some locations). Dean has the details and also the stories of the magicians who headed up each of the Wonder Show units.

This is great stuff, so click here or on the headline to have a read at Carnegie: Magic Detective.


Friday, December 4, 2015

American Museum of Magic shares collection online

Some great news today from our friends at the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan:

The culmination of several years of effort--collections from the American Museum of Magic are now available through the Google Cultural Institute. This is a major accomplishment for a small museum and we're delighted to have this finally up and running. The Magic Museum is home to the nation's largest publicly accessible collection of artifacts, exhibits, and live performance experience dedicated to this fascinating topic. Worth a trip to Marshall, Michigan to see it. In the meantime, follow the link to the GCI for a taste of what awaits.

The poster here is an example of what you'll find at the GCI page. You'll notice that this is not the familiar "Do Spirits Return?" poster that we've seen in books and online. The size of the poster and the colors are somewhat different, as is the typeface used for Houdini's name. The poster is misdated as 1909. This was used to advertise Houdini's full evening "3 Shows in One" in 1925-26.

Check out more at the American Museum of Magic GCI page.

Thanks to John C. Sherwood for the alert.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Houdini vs. the Pottawatomie Giant

Boxing has been given its worst black eye here to-day by none other than Jess Willard, heavy-weight champion who was so badly worsted to a wordy clash with Harry Houdini, a performer at the Orpheum Theater, last night, that the audience hissed him from the house.
- Los Angeles Record

It was 100 years ago this week that Houdini had his famous encounter with heavyweight champion Jess Willard at the Los Angeles Orpheum Theater. But this battle was not with fists or even handcuffs. It was an unscripted verbal joust that, in today's parlance, went viral.

Houdini had just begun a two week engagement at the Los Angeles Orpheum (which still exists today). On the night of November 29*, 1915, Jess Willard was in the audience. Standing 6' 7" and weighing 256 pounds, Willard was known as the Pottawatomie Giant. He had knocked out heavyweight champ Jack Johnson in the 26th round of a bout in Havana to win the title in April of that year.

During his performance, Houdini called for a volunteer committee to step on-stage during an escape (the Water Torture Cell?). After several men volunteered, Houdini came to the footlights and said, "Now I need three more gentlemen on this stage and there is a man here to-night who doesn't know I'm aware of his presence. He will be enough for three ordinary gentlemen if he will serve on this committee. He is Jess Willard, our champion." The audience broke into applause.

But Willard did not leave his seat. Instead he called out, "Awm g'wan with your act. I paid for my seats here." When Houdini tried to persuade him, Willard cut him off, barking: "Give me the same wages you pay those other fellows and I'll come down."

With the audience now uncomfortably quite, Houdini answered, "Sir, I will gladly do so. Come on down––I pay these men nothing." He then may have baited the boxer by adding, "Don't crawfish."

Willard got to his feet and roared, "Aw' g'wan with the show!" He then added insults which the Los Angeles Record reported sounded like "four-flusher" and "faker."

Willard's response jarred the audience from their silence. Some began to hiss. Houdini quieted them. By his own account, he was "white with rage." He then said to Willard:

"Look here, you. I don't care how big you are or who you are. I paid you a compliment when I asked you to be one of my committee. You have the right to refuse, but you have no right to slur my reputation... let me tell you one thing, and don't forget this, that I will be Harry Houdini when you are NOT the heavyweight champion of the world."

A great wave of applause erupted. Willard attempted a response, but was drowned out by "hoots and groans." Houdini delivered a final blow by turning to the audience and saying, "I made a mistake. I asked for GENTLEMEN to step on this stage and GENTLEMEN only."

The audience again roared their approval, during which Willard left the theater.

The incident at the Orpheum captured the imagination of the city. The front page of the Los Angeles Record was headlined: 2,000 HISS J. WILLARD. The story was picked up nationally, with the Washington Times reporting: CHAMPION WILLARD HOOTED BY CALIFORNIANS.

Three days later, on December 3, Willard tried to defend himself in an open letter to the Los Angeles Examiner, which he called "the one fair paper in Los Angeles." Refusing to acknowledge Houdini by name, he referred to his act as "moth-eaten" and stated:

When I declined to come down to the stage, this should have settled the matter and the stage "hero" should have gone about his work. The only reason in the world he "worked up a scene" was because he knew my name would be a boost for him.

The newspapers continued to hound Willard who eventually left town ("Driven out" the papers reported). Houdini gleefully wrote to his sister, Gladys, that he was now greeted in the streets with, "Hello Champion" and "How is the Champion today?" Even a local business got into the act by taking out an advertisement playing on the encounter:

In Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, biographer Kenneth Silverman offers up a different perspective on Willard's actions that night. He speculates:

Willard's grumbling may have been nothing more than a cover for stage fright. Although he had once killed another fighter, Bull Young, in the ring, he was known to have a peaceable disposition and to be embarrassed by his awesome size. Some even thought he lacked fighting spirit.

But Houdini expert Patrick Culliton speculates that Willard's words might have been more offensive than "four-flusher." Patrick thinks he might have hurled an anti-Semitic slur across the theater. In interviews, Willard expressed views consistent with white supremacy. This might help explain the intensity of the reaction against Willard.

Willard promised to turn the matter over to his attorney, Earl Rogers, saying, "I do not believe the laws of California permit of a theatrical management signaling out a patron for the abuse that I have had to stand." But there appears to have been no legal action taken. Houdini himself delighted in the avalanche of free publicity. "I have received at least a million dollars advertising space from this fray," he told his sister.

Jess Willard lost the heavyweight title to Jack Dempsey in 1919 in one of the most severe beatings ever in a championship bout. In 1923, at age 41, he made a surprise comeback by defeating Floyd Johnson at the newly opened Yankee Stadium. After being knocked out by Luis Ángel Firpo that same year, he retired.

Jess Willard died on December 15, 1968.

The poster image of Harry Houdini vs. Jess Willard is from the back of the book, The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories by Andy Duncan. The Huffman & Grant ad comes from Carnegie: Magic Detective.

* UPDATE: Many sources identify the date of this encounter as November 30, but I have found compelling evidence to support November 29 as the true date.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

First footage from Houdini & Doyle

ITV in the UK has created a promotional video showcasing their upcoming shows for 2016, including Houdini & Doyle. By my count, the video contains three quick shots from the new series, including a shot of Michael Weston's Houdini onstage. I'm guessing that he's just escaped from the Water Torture Cell here (which didn't exist in 1901, but we'll need to cut this fictional series some slack).

Click to enlarge.

The ITV video is blocked in some countries (including the U.S.), but the blog Hell Yeah Michael Weston! has a posted a version that can be viewed by all.

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


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Houdini at the Victory

Here's a terrific high resolution image of a Houdini theater display from a post by Amelia Robinson at Seen and Overhead, a blog about Dayton, Ohio. I've never seen this shot before. This is the Victory Theater in Dayton. Houdini played his 3 Shows in One here October 1-4, 1925.

Click to enlarge.

It's interesting to see that challenges are still part of Houdini's full evening show (Act II was escapes). The challenge here is to escape from a packing crate made by "N.C.R. Carpenters," a Dayton-based manufacture of cash registers which still exists today. If you look closely, you can see all the nails around the lid are standing out a few inches for examination.

Behind the challenge board you can see a large lobby stand that's now in the David Copperfield collection. A Houdini's handcuff case display, which I believe is also in the Copperfield collection, stands beside that. But something I don't think is in any collection is a large poster on the left wall showing Houdini's name written in cursive down the length of the poster (you'll need to click and enlarge the image to see it). This appears to be a lost poster.

This Victory Theater still exists. Today it is called the Victoria Theater and is located at 138 N Main Street, Dayton, OH.

Photo sourced from the NCR Archive at the Montgomery County Historical Society.

UPDATE: I recently came across this nice newspaper story and ad for Houdini engagement at the Victory. Enjoy.

Click to enlarge.

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