Sunday, January 31, 2016

Houdini (1953) on MOVIES, Feb. 3

Paramount's classic Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh will air this Wednesday, February 3, at 7:20 AM on MOVIES. It appears MOVIES, which is available on cable and free over the airways in some markets (including KCOP in Los Angeles), is the new home for Houdini which had been airing on TCM.

MOVIES will show Houdini complete and uncut. It will repeat on February 29 at 3:35 PM.

Related posts:

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Houdini & Doyle will track Spring Heeled Jack

Massimo Polidoro, author of Final Seance: The Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Conan Doyle (2001), recently speculated on his blog that one of the paranormal mysteries we might see investigated in the upcoming Houdini & Doyle is that of Spring Heeled Jack, a real-life terror that gripped London at the turn of the Century. Well, I can confirm that Mario is correct. In episode 4, the boys will indeed tackle the mystery of Jack!

The true story of Spring Heeled Jack begins in October 1837. A servant girl by the name of Mary Stevens was walking through Clapham Common when a strange figure leapt at her from a dark alley. After immobilizing her with a tight grip of his arms, he began to kiss her face, while ripping her clothes and touching her flesh with his claws, which were, according to her deposition, "cold and clammy as those of a corpse". In panic, the girl screamed, making the attacker quickly flee from the scene. The commotion brought several residents who immediately launched a search for the aggressor, who could not be found.

The next day, the leaping character is said to have jumped in the way of a passing carriage, causing the coachman to lose control and crash, severely injuring himself. Several eyewitnesses claimed the mysterious figure then escaped by jumping over a 9 ft high wall while babbling with a high-pitched, ringing laughter.

Gradually, the news of the strange character spread as incidents and attacks mounted. Soon the press and the public gave him the name "Spring Heeled Jack".

Spring Heeled Jack was described by people who claimed to have seen him as having a terrifying appearance, with eyes that "resembled red balls of fire." One report claimed that, beneath a black cloak, he wore a helmet and a tight-fitting white garment like an oilskin. Many stories also mention a "Devil-like" aspect. Several reports mention that he could breathe out blue and white flames and that he wore sharp metallic claws at his fingertips. At least two people claimed that he was able to speak comprehensible English.

A vast urban legend grew around Spring Heeled Jack. The devil was even renamed "Spring Heeled Jack" in some Punch and Judy shows. For decades, especially in London, his name was equated with the bogeyman, as a means of scaring children into behaving by telling them if they were not good, Spring Heeled Jack would leap up and peer in at them through their bedroom windows.

No one was ever caught and identified as Spring Heeled Jack, leading to numerous and varied theories of his nature and identity. The last reported sighting is said to have been made in Liverpool in 1904.

Back in August, while the Houdini & Doyle production team was filming stunt work in Liverpool, the Liverpool Echo captured what appears to be a photo of Spring Heeled Jack himself! So how are Houdini and Doyle going to solve the famous mystery? I guess we'll find out in Spring.

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini and Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The 10-episode series will air Mondays, 9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT on FOX in the U.S. It will also air on ITV Encore in the UK and Global TV in Canada. Premiere dates have yet to be announced.

Spring Heeled Jack history from Wikipedia.


Friday, January 29, 2016

Gillian Armstrong's Death Defying disappointment

Gillian Armstrong, who directed the 2008 Houdini film Death Defying Acts with Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones, has received some press lately for her criticism that movie studios are run by "12-year-old executives."

Gillian Armstrong directs Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Death Defying Acts.

Death Defying Acts, which was British-Australian co-production distributed by the Weinstein Company in the U.S., was Armstrong's last feature film. She now makes documentaries in her native Australia.

"What's happened to drama in the last 12 years, is that all the drama writers have left the feature industry and gone to TV and [are] writing for HBO, Showtime and Netflix," Armstrong says. "The sort of films I like to make, human dramas, the last 12 years... the scripts are all rubbish. They are all nothing. They're empty, they're formula, they're nothing."

Armstrong also complains that movie executives interfere with the creative side of a production, and this was an issue on her Houdini film.

"I had a lot of battles on the last one, Death Defying Acts. The co-production thing is quite damaging to the industry and I had something like five producers in three different countries all fighting with each other. It made it hard focusing on making the movie wonderful."

Can't say I disagree with her! But despite her struggles, I still think she turned out a quality film with Death Defying Acts.

You can read the full article at The Sunday Morning Herald. Death Defying Acts is available on DVD from Amazon.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Houdini lives at LILA

On Tuesday I had the great pleasure of giving a talk about Houdini to the 7th Grade class at the International School of Los Angeles a.k.a. LILA. This was a tag-team talk with the great Joe Fox who demonstrated some of Houdini's magic and escapes. Joe did the Kellar Rope Tie, Spirit Slates, escaped from handcuffs and showed the students a real straitjacket. But Joe really brought the house down when he extracted a 4-inch lock-pick from his nose!

The students were attentive and enthusiastic, and I was very impressed with how much knowledge of Houdini they already had. True, their teacher, Anna Scottie, had assigned them a Houdini biography to read (Harry Houdini: Death Defying Showman by Rita Thievon Mullin), but during the Q&A, I could see they had already dug beyond the text. One bright young man asked about "conspiracy theories" surrounding his death. The Miracle Factory's Todd Karr, who arranged this event, informed me that his daughter, Sierra, had developed a particular interest in Bean Giant handcuffs. Looks like there's a new generation of Houdini Nuts in the making!

The students also taught me a lesson about magic history. They seemed especially taken with the story of the Mirror Handcuff Challenge, but when I mentioned that the handcuffs are today owned by David Copperfield, I could hear, "Who?" These bright young students, who knew the name J. Gordon Whitehead, had never heard of David Copperfield?

Afterwards, Todd told me that shouldn't have come as a surprise. They would know the name Criss Angel, but Copperfield has been off television for decades. That's when I realized I've been holding a false assumption. I believed Copperfield had broken through into popular culture and had taken a place beside Houdini as the very definition of a magician. After all, in the recent Marvel movie Ant-Man, a character reacts to the Ant-Man's metamorphosis as "some David Copperfield s***."

However, I'm now thinking that Copperfield, like so many other great magicians in history, might not transcend his era. Not that he will ever be forgotten within the world of magic. But a horse who escapes from its stable will never be called a "Copperfield Horse." (I use this example because I opened the talk with a clip of "Houdini Horse.")

This helps me understand how a magician as popular as Howard Thurston could today be largely forgotten outside magic circles. It also makes me marvel even more at how strong Houdini's hold is on popular culture. I guess a biopic every decade and 150+ books help. Not to mention that Houdini still tends to fascinate school kids.

As I was leaving the school, I noticed the car parked beside mine had a surprising window sticker. If you're as knowledgeable about Houdini as the 7th graders at LILA, you'll understand why I thought this was a little spooky...

Thanks to Todd Karr, Sierra Karr, Anna Scotti, Milan Mendis, Anneli Harvey, and all the 7th Grade students at LILA for a wonderful visit.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Houdini exhibition opens in Budapest

A special exhibition of Houdini memorabilia from the collection of escape artist David Merlini opens today at the National Széchényi Library in Budapest. The display includes authentic Houdini artifacts along with props from the 2014 Houdini miniseries, which was shot entirely in Budapest with David as technical advisor.

Last night an opening ceremony was held in the Library's Ceremonial Hall. The exhibition will be on display for one month. Here are some photos of the exhibition and pics from last night's opening.

The National Széchényi Library's Houdini exhibition runs from January 27 to February 27, 2016, in Building “F” of Buda Castle. Hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. More information can be found at the library's official website.

Thanks to David Merlini and Barbara Kiss. Photos courtesy David Merlini and the Országos Széchényi Könyvtár Facebook page.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Meet Houdini's new assistant

So far there is no indication that Bess Houdini will be in the new television series Houdini & Doyle. However, it appears Harry will have a woman in his life -- "Florrie" played by actress and model Jerry-Jane Pears.

Florrie is Houdini's assistant. It is she we see breaking the glass of the Water Torture Cell in the ITV trailer. It may also be Florrie who we later see massaging Matt Weston's Houdini, so she might be more than just his assistant. At the moment, IMDb lists Florrie as appearing in two episodes.

Of course, I don't think I need to point out that there was never a "Florrie" in real life. During his first UK tour, which is when Houdini & Doyle is set, Bess was the only woman who shared the stage with Harry, and for the bulk of his career Houdini used male assistants who worked as the "axe handlers" during his escapes. It wasn't until the final years of his life and his full evening show that Houdini employed female stage assistants, such as Dorothy Young.

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini and Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The 10-episode series is due to air on FOX in the U.S. in Spring 2016. It will also air on ITV Encore in the UK and Global TV in Canada.

UPDATE: Here's a photo of Jerry-Jane Pears in costume and in action as Florrie.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Guest blog: Houdini Reflected, Part I

Today I'm excited to share a new guest blog by Neil McNally, who last gave us a three-part look at Houdini in Washington. Now Neil tackles the story of Houdini's most challenging challenge escape.

Houdini Reflected: Part One
by Neil McNally

“Houdini” and “Handcuffs.” These two words are synonymous in entertainment history with bold challenges, daring escapes, and enraptured audiences. During his fifty-two years on this Earth, Harry Houdini never encountered a pair of handcuffs that he couldn’t somehow get out of. His mastery of locks, picks, and their inner workings was so complete that eighty-nine years after his death, people still talk in baited breath about these escapes as if they witnessed them first hand.

Ironically, for all the success handcuff escapes gave Houdini there is one revered pair that to this day looms large over the rest: the famed British “Mirror Cuffs.” They were elegant in design and execution; however, it was this apparent simplicity that seemingly almost defeated Houdini on a London stage. His eventual escape from these is, as you would expect with Houdini, shrouded in mystery, conspiracy, and much debate. What was real? What was not? How much can myth and legend be separated from cold hard facts? There is no better place to start than from a quote from the Great Houdini himself:

“The secret of showmanship consists not of what you really do, but what the mystery-loving public thinks you do.”

Mirror, Mirror

If seeing is believing, than the “official” story of Houdini and the Mirror Cuffs begins in March, 1904. Houdini, then playing a matinee at London’s illustrious Hippodrome Theater, found himself quickly escaping from a string of “mundane” handcuff challenges from the audience. The monotony was suddenly broken when he was approached onstage by a representative of London’s Daily Illustrated Mirror with a challenge seemingly like none other. The representative explained to Houdini and the enthralled crowd the story of a pair of handcuffs made in Birmingham by a blacksmith named Nathaniel Hart. Hart, who had allegedly spent five years working on the cuffs, boldly stated that the handcuffs “cannot be picked.” Apparently, he himself had spent one week crafting the key and allegedly could not break the secret of his own creation. With the crowd holding their breaths, Houdini accepted the challenge. No pressure I’m sure.

The Mirror Cuffs, even by today’s standards still stand out as a bold and remarkable technical achievement. For those unfamiliar, the handcuffs themselves are small, compact, and rigidly hold the wearer’s hands in a vice-like grip. As Kenneth Silverman explained in his book Houdini: The Career of Ehrich Weiss:

These were inflexible handcuffs, without a chain or swivel; the wrist holes coupled to cylinders that housed the intricate locks…The key was a metal tube with slots cut in the end. When the key tube entered the lock it pushed a number of slides, each to a different depth. The key could be turned only when all the slides were depressed the correct distance, which required endways pressure and many delicate rotations.

Okay, so it’s wasn’t going to be as easy as opening up a can of beans. However, in the eyes of the theater going public of the time, there was only one man who could defeat these cuffs and it was Houdini. But, then again, maybe he couldn’t.

A media storm of publicity engulfed the escape artist as Houdini soon found himself in a place he very much liked to be…the talk of the town and in every newspaper in London. The challenge and ensuing publicity eventually reached a fevered pitch as the fateful day, March 17th, arrived. Four thousand ticket holders and over a hundred journalists thronged the Hippodrome to watch Houdini, and his career, literally liberate themselves from this deceptively simple contraption.

Tick, Tick, Tick…

"I am now locked up in a handcuff that has taken a British mechanic five years to make. I do not know whether I am going to get out or not. But I can assure you I am going to try my best."

It was with this earnest statement that 29-year-old Harry Houdini addressed the Hippodrome’s electrified audience. By all accounts, when he initially entered the theater he was greeted with a thunderous ovation which was swiftly “rewarded” with the daunting cuffs being firmly and tightly mounted on to his wrists. Then at 3:15pm, with his wife Bess by his side, the Hippodrome orchestra began to play its melodic strains. Houdini was then led to a covered stage cabinet that was ironically referred to as his “ghost house.”

When most people today think of Houdini’s escapes they most likely envision a man in a strait jacket hung upside down or thrashing about violently on stage. But, when it came to escapes, Houdini generally would leave a fair amount to the imagination and, most importantly, tension within the audience’s minds. So, essentially after Houdini would enter his “ghost house,” the audience basically was on their own to envision what kind of struggles he was grappling with within this small darkened enclosure.

However, never one to leave them hanging Houdini’s flair for the dramatic would manifest itself in three separate events in close succession:

Twenty-Two Minutes: Houdini emerged from the cabinet to get a clearer look at the lock in the theater lights.

Thirty-Five Minutes: Houdini appeared once more exasperated and sweating profusely. He explained to the audience that he needed to stretch his knees. Bess then brought him a cup of water as a cushion was provided for him by an attendant.

Fifty-Five Minutes Later: Houdini, looking even worse for wear, began to plead to have the handcuffs briefly taken off so he could remove his constrictive frock coat. When this request was denied, what occurs next has become one of the most famous and dramatic pieces of Houdini lore. By all accounts, he proceeded to contort his body until he was able to remove a pen knife from his vest pocket. Opening the knife with his teeth, Houdini began to systematically cut his upturned coat off of his body in broad slashes until it hung from both of his arms in jagged pieces. Not a small feat to be sure.

Sixty-Five Minutes Later: Houdini triumphantly emerged from the “ghost house” holding the defeated Mirror Cuffs in his hands. The crowd erupted into deafening cheers and according to author Kenneth Silverman, Houdini left the stage for a few moments “hysterical and weeping” to gather himself. When he returned he gave a short speech claiming that throughout the arduous ordeal he had considered giving up. This was Harry Houdini triumphant!

The Aftermath:

As you would expect, the ensuing publicity for Houdini was immense. The feat was reported on not only in newspapers in London, but also the United States, and beyond. In a very important way, it could be argued that this event in Harry Houdini’s life was essential in establishing him as a true and important headliner. If he could defeat the Mirror Cuffs, then he could definitively conquer any escape or challenge thrown his way. The Mirror Cuffs were the real deal and Houdini would never have lied about the struggle they put him though.

Or would he have?

The Mirror saga continues in Part Two.

Special Thanks to Kenneth Silverman.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Harry Houdini: Magic Among The Spirits on KRCB, Jan. 28

The documentary, Harry Houdini: Magic Among The Spirits, will air on PBS station KRCB in Northern California this Thursday, January 28 at 8:00 pm. This is a 2012 documentary made by Tom Wyrsch originally titled The Annual Harry Houdini Séances.

This program tells the story of how Houdini's magic led to his involvement in seances, his untimely death, and the pact he made with his wife Bess to try to reach him in the hereafter. The film details how the Houdini seances made their way to Sonoma County in 1964 and continued every Halloween night until 2002. Viewers will see the secret locations where they were held, the people who attended, and if contact was made. This 37-year annual Halloween event celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Interviews, historical film footage and photographs tell the complete story.

Harry Houdini: Magic Among The Spirits first ran on KRCB in 2014. Because it deals so specifically with local history, I don't expect it will air on PBS nationally. It is available on DVD under the original title, The Annual Harry Houdini Séances, although it's tricky to find. (Joe Notaro recently reviewed the DVD at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence.)

Thanks to Dave Sikula.


Vietnamese Houdini

Check out this Vietnamese edition of Vicki Cobb's DK Houdini biography. The title translates as The face that changed the world - Harry Houdini. This was release in July of last year. I really love The Grim Game inspired cover art.

Collector Arthur Moses is currently selling a copy of this on eBay. You can also purchase it HERE

The English language edition was first released in 2005 and can still be purchased at Amazon. The 6th edition had a variant cover.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

The birthday girl will be spectator

Today is Bess Houdini's 140th birthday. To celebrate, here's a terrific clipping from the November 6, 1916 Pittsburgh Daily Post that takes a different approach to promoting a Houdini suspended straitjacket escape. As you can see, the subject is Bess -- "Wife of handcuff king" -- and includes a great photo that I've never seen.

Click to enlarge.

Happy birthday Bess!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Duffy Hudson brings Houdini to life in South Pasadena

Last night I had the pleasure of attending Duffy Hudson's one man performance as Houdini at the annual meeting of the Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library in beautiful South Pasadena (where Houdini once visited the Huntington Library). It was a terrific show. His hour plus performance was extremely well researched and structured, delivering equal amounts of magic, drama, and information about Houdini's life in a unique way. Duffy clearly gave it his all and received standing ovation for his efforts.

The Community Room in downtown South Pasadena was jam-packed with people of all ages (the event was advertised as "free and family friendly"). Duffy made his entrance as "Harry Houdini" bound in a period straitjacket. As he struggled to escape, he recounted the early days of Ehrich Weiss. When he spoke of how Ehrich one day poured coins into his mother's lap, coins sprung from his straitjacket as he finally broke free. Nice.

Hudson is an actor who specializes in one man shows (he also does Einstein, Edgar Allen Poe and George Burns), so all his "recollections" where infused with dramatic flair. His description of the torturous Hodgson challenge was a standout for me. He pantomimed the entire ordeal; his vivid depiction of how Houdini was thrust up in shackles by the strong man would have made Patrick Culliton proud (Pat's the great authority on the Hodgson challenge). By the time he bounded free, it was as if I was there in Blackburn applauding Houdini's escape.

Hudson also brought to life the Mirror Challenge (including liberating himself from his coat while cuffed), the Buried Alive, and his ordeal being trapped under the ice of a frozen river. Yes, this last one is a fiction, but Houdini himself would tell this story, so you can't really fault him for including it. And I was impressed that he located the escape in Pittsburg, as Houdini would tell it, instead of Detroit as established in Kellock (and Curtis). This told me Duffy knew his subject and really took pains to be Houdini that night.

Duffy also performed magic as part of the show. He teased out a terrific card trick and did the Needles as part of his finale. At one point he invited the whole audience to hold their breath as long as he, Houdini (3 minutes). Incredibly, one man in the audience did it!

Missing from the evening were mentions of Houdini's aviation and movie careers. Also, being Houdini, he couldn't necessarily recount his the details of his own death. But nothing felt lacking. There were many young people in the audience, and unless their parents explained to them the nature of the show, it's amusing to think how may will carry forward a memory of once "seeing Houdini."

Afterwards, people lingered and there were pockets of conversation about Houdini. I introduced myself to Duffy and was flattered that he was familiar with my blog and it had aided in his research. Up close, I could see he was wearing a Masonic pin on the lapel of his tuxedo jacket. Like Houdini, Duffy is a Mason, so this was a nice authentic touch.

I learned about this show last minute, so I felt lucky to have attended, and was happy to come away with one of the show posters the library was handing out. I didn't get great photos, but there was a photographer there from South Pasadena Now, so maybe some better images will show up online.

Here's hoping we will be seeing more of Duffy Hudson as Houdini.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

David Jaher on The Witch of Lime Street movie

Word and Film has an interesting interview with David Jaher, author of The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World. In December it was announced that STX has acquired the movie rights and David would be writing the screenplay himself. In this Q&A, David gives a taste of what to expect from the movie version of his work.

"Though Margery's séances could be ghoulish and frightening, this movie is a psychological thriller, with a strong historical and scientific backdrop. It's not a horror film, though it is about the supernatural. I would say that I envision it as dramatic more than spooky. But those people with a taste for the latter will not be disappointed."

Click below to read the entire interview at Word and Film.


Duffy Hudson plays Houdini tonight in South Pasadena

Tonight in Pasadena, California, Master Impressionist Duffy Hudson will give a free "Living History Performance" as Houdini at the annual meeting of the Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library. Below are details.

A Living History event with the dynamic Duffy Hudson appearing as iconic magician Harry Houdini will serve as the centerpiece of the Annual Meeting of the Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library on January 21 at 7:00 p.m. in the Community Room. 
Duffy Hudson, recently named by the Los Angeles Daily News as “LA's Best One Man Show,” recently brought Houdini to life at the world famous Magic Castle in Hollywood. Previously, Hudson was the first Living History performer to appear at the renowned club, when he performed there as Edgar Allan Poe. 
The entertaining play for all ages focuses on the character of Harry Houdini, who looks back on his incomparable career as an escape artist and magician. No one else ever completely defined the art of escape as Harry Houdini, who also possessed a magnetic stage personality. 
The Harry Houdini Living History Night is free and family friendly. It is presented by the South Pasadena Public Library, the Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library, and the Living History Centre Fund. Refreshments will be served, no tickets or reservations are necessary, and doors will open at 6:30 p.m. 
The Community Room is located at 1115 El Centro Street. Free parking is available after 6:00 p.m. in the Meridian Mission Parking Garage adjacent to the Metro Gold Line Station on 805 South Meridian Avenue. Street parking around the library is also available, but it tends to fill up quickly.

Sorry for the late notice on this. I only just now learned about this event and this is the first I've heard of Duffy's Houdini act. How did I miss him at the Magic Castle? But I'm looking forward to attending tonight's performance in South Pasadena.

Full details at the Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library website.

UPDATE: Duffy Hudson brings Houdini to life in South Pasadena.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Houdini joins the ROUGH RIDERS

Today we have news of a new graphic novel featuring Houdini and some other familiar faces. ROUGH RIDERS #1 is written by well-known television producer Adam Glass (whom I happen to know is a Houdini buff) with artwork by Pat Olliffe. Here's a look at the cover art and a plot description from Aftershock Comics.

Led by a young Theodore Roosevelt, a motley crew of soon-to-be American legends must work together to solve a mystery that threatens all of existence. Harry Houdini – street magician and master of misdirection. Annie Oakley – a washed-up entertainer, eager for a chance to prove herself in a real war. Jack Johnson – an undefeated brawler and the son of ex-slaves, determined to get his shot at the heavyweight championship… When a terrifying alien technology destroys the USS Maine, these unlikely allies set sail for bloody Cuba, into the heart of a brewing conflict, to wage a shadow war against the greatest threat mankind has ever known. Before they were famous, they were… ROUGH RIDERS.

ROUGH RIDERS #1 will be released on April 6, 2016 (yes, on Houdini's sorta birthday).


Houdini & Doyle TCA panel highlights

The cast and creators of Houdini & Doyle appeared before the Television Critics Association (TCA) in Pasadena on Friday, January 15. During a panel discussion they provided new information about the series set to air on FOX this Spring. Here are some highlights:

  • Each episode is different. One may be a gothic story and another may be a psychological thriller. 
  • Bram Stoker, Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison appear in episodes. Bram Stoker was a distant cousin of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • Before filming, the writing staff went to the Magic Castle in Hollywood for a seance.
  • Michael Weston (Houdini) "learned the magic on the fly." He said all the escapes were scary.
  • The first episode was filmed in a theater where Houdini once performed.
  • Stephen Hopkins directed the first two episodes. The producers wanted a "real pro." [You can see all the directors at my new Episode Guide.]
  • Constable Adelaide Stratton (Rebecca Liddiard) is based on a real person. She was the first woman to arrest someone.
  • Writer/producer David Shore said the stories will feel contemporary and that, "Houdini needs Doyle; Doyle represents hope."
  • Writer/producer David Hoselton said Houdini and Doyle's famous falling out isn’t covered, but their rivalry is there in the background from the start. Should the show continue beyond the first season, their increasing tension will become an increasingly larger part of the story.
  • Houdini & Doyle is 10 episodes. But David Shore says it's not an event series. "The plan is to do many, many more."

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

Photos by Frank Micelotta.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

If not Soo or Foo then who?

Click to enlarge.
The eBay mystery seller who listed a treasure trove of early Houdini rarities earlier this month is back with what he says is the last Houdini item from the scrapbook of magician Charles Dunbar of Boston. This time the item being offered is a terrific hand-written postcard that is already up to $1,125 with 9 days still left to go.

Normally, per my somewhat loose auction reporting policy, I wouldn't post about this until after the auction had ended. However, these rarities have created quite a stir among collectors and just their appearance has been news. Also, in this case, I think I can help correct the auction listing.

You'll notice that on this card Houdini has written: "A new Chinese magician is expected over here soon." The seller, who is a non-magic antiquarian dealer, speculates that Houdini could be talking about Chung Ling Soo, and includes this in the auction heading and description. It would certainly add interest and value to this item as Soo is the most famous "Chinese" magician of them all.

However, this was written in December 1900, and William Robinson had already established himself as "Chung Ling Soo" earlier that year. In fact, Houdini and Soo shared the bill at the Alhambra in July of 1900. So this is not a reference to Chung Ling Soo.

It's also unlikely this is Ching Ling Foo, a genuine Chinese conjurer who was responsible for making "Oriental magic" all the rage at this time. Foo actually returned to China in 1900 and would not reappear in the UK until 1904, at which time Houdini helped arrange a showdown between Foo and Soo -- which is one of the wildest stories in magic. (If you haven't read Jim Steinmeyer's brilliant Chung Ling Soo biography, The Glorious Deception, it's a must.)

So who this "new Chinese magician" might be is a mystery to me, although I admit I haven't tried very hard to suss it out. If you have any ideas, drop a comment below. And let's all enjoy watching this last beauty sell.

UPDATE: Final sale price was $2,150 with 20 bids.

Related posts:

Monday, January 18, 2016

Haversat & Ewing's 'Houdini Birthday Auction'

Haversat & Ewing Galleries have announced a special "Houdini's Birthday Auction" to be held March 23-24, 2016. Below are the details and a terrific early photo of Houdini that will be up for bid.

Handcuff Harry will celebrate his 142nd birthday this coming March 24th and in celebration, Haversat & Ewing Galleries will host a catalog auction featuring interesting items from his storied career. We have a number of great consignments from major collectors that we're sure Houdini aficionados will find inescapably interesting and desirable. In addition we have a great selection of unique photos, letters and conjuring collectibles from the greatest names in magic. The auction starts at 11:00 AM on March 23rd and ends at 5:00 p.m. March 24th. So join us as we celebrate this great magician! Preview available in March.

We are accepting consignments for this auction, please contact us

Along with Potter & Potter's "Houdiniana" auction on April 9th, looks like it's going to be an exciting/expensive Spring for Houdini collectors.

LINK: The Great Escape: When Harry Met Amon

Here's a nice companion to my recent post about Houdini in Texas. The blog Hometown by Handlebar has a very well researched piece about Houdini's 1916 appearance in Fort Worth. It includes newspaper clippings about Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape from the Star-Telegram building, including the clipping below. There you see a great shot of Houdini testing his scaffolding ropes. I had never seen one of these "test" shots before, and now suddenly we get two in the same month (the other being in Christine U'Ren's recent look at Houdini in San Francisco).

Click on the headline to have a read at Hometown by Handlebar.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Guest blog: The Last Séance by Leona Preston

Today we have a different kind of guest blog; an exclusive piece of Houdini fiction and illustration by the talented Leona Preston. Enjoy.

The Last Séance 
by Leona Preston

   'You should try, just one more time.'
    There it was again, the familiar twinkle in my companion's eye, ever present when he was confident he had the better of me.
    'You've waited years and here, now, how fond you are of your own stubborn nature. How comfortable is that despairing perch where you have willingly placed yourself... good fellow, this could be your last chance!'
    Wryly, I turned toward his rounded countenance, one questioning brow raised.
    'Sir, It would seem that we are destined to bitterly contend yet again, you and I, for you know how deeply I feel about this subject. I am adamant'.
    The look upon my face must have said otherwise, for my companion laughed; that infuriating laugh that denotes a light-hearted flippancy and unwavering belief in this damned delusion, as he brushes the seriousness of my statement aside.
    'Here,' he motioned toward a darkened corner of the room, 'I took the liberty of preparing the effects... and now the setup is all yours.'
    With a heavy sigh, I resigned myself to the inevitable. My insatiable desire to be proven wrong won out.
    'I shall wait until midnight, when those of your particular following say the conditions are right. Until then, I shall seek repose, for I believe it would require some exertion to discover even the faintest tidings of her.'
    My companion, seemingly satisfied with the meagre assurances I proffered, gave a curt bow and now motioned to take his leave, but just as he reached the door, he paused. A shadow seemed to pass over his face, but within the space of a moment, it was gone.
    'Just remember', said he, 'as has always been your own conviction; take away all that is false and what remains, must be the truth.'
    Alone now, I could not help but fall into a state of thoughtful melancholy. It was the easiest of illusions; to recall the moments of my life where true happiness could be found, concealed in mystery, in my element, revealed to an astounded audience, relief in light of the ultimate prestige. The moment when I truly knew I had made it, was when I saw her face again. She was always by my side, had always been with me when I had thought myself alone, or worse, lost. In a stack of cards, she was the queen of my heart and always at the top of the tier. All too soon, however, those fragile memories are lost again, and it is hard trying to claw my way back from that dark, cascading place. Heavier than the deepest waters. Shackled without a key.

    The midnight hour came at last, pointedly announced by the chiming of the old clock, obscure in the darkness. Leaving the relative comfort of my scuffed leather chair that had seen better days, I turned my weary attention to the aforementioned 'effects'.
    It was a table, round and of an old-fashioned style, carved from rosewood and covered with a black, gaudy material, embroidered with silver flourishes. Upon it were arranged my instruments for the night's proceedings; an unlit candle in an ornate silver holder, a box of matches and a simple wooden frame containing a photo... a symbol of hope in the form of a gentle embrace. How happy we once were. Hesitant, I pulled a sturdy wooden chair out from under the table and took my place.
    For a long moment I did nothing but gaze into the infinite darkness of the room, focusing intently on my own breathing, as I had done many a time during the once daring exploits of my life. Control, focus, resolve. With one steady intake of breath, I lit the candle.
    Time passed, and I became aware once more of the ticking of the old clock. Was it slowing down, or just a figment of my addled imagination? Focus. With my hands planted firmly in front of me upon the table top, I waited. Before long I called out, somewhat hastily, 'are you there?'
    No reply.
    'If there is someone present who wishes to speak with me, please make your presence known. Am I alone
in this room?'
    A movement, out of the corner of my eye. Perhaps? Or a trick played by the dim light? Then again, am I
not already familiar with trickery? I should know, for we are old friends, he and I, and I know him as a brother.
    Again, I appealed to the darkness before me. 'Is anyone here present?'
    A noise now, faint and indistinct. I was sure of it.
   My voice was a tentative whisper, 'hello?'
    In an instant, diaphanous forms began to manifest themselves before me, circling the edge of the table like draped sheets of residual smoke. In shock I registered the spectral figures, gently illuminated by the candlelight. Each was holding the other's hand and, at the head of the table, so faint and delicate as to be a wisp of silk carried on a breeze; a woman.
    She is more defined now and I begin to make out the features of her face; the kind lips, the sleepy eyes, her delicate chin and gentle, curling locks. Time seems not to have passed for her, for her beauty is unfading. She is a vision of how I once knew her. Finding myself in her presence, I felt both elated and aggrieved. I was never one for anything other than a show of strength, but here and now, I could hardly see through stinging eyes. Again, I attempted to appeal to her, to reach her, to finally make contact.
    'Be...' but I am cut short. She is asking the questions but they are distant and indiscernible. I see weariness etched onto her face now. She seems tired, perhaps tired of this, as am I. But now I am so close, so close, as never before. She asks another question, muffled, and I am unable to answer. My protests go unheard. She cannot hear me!
    In desperation I utter the word... 'Rosabelle'.
    In that moment, she appeared to pause, as if something had registered, struck a familiar note. She raised her tear filled eyes to meet mine, but, coldly, they look right through me. I was singing now, softly, the delicate song we had shared between us, all those years ago. I moved my hand to hers, passing through the space where warm flesh should be.
    'Please... Rosabelle, believe!'
    Sadly, she lowered her head, shook it and appeared to mouth the word 'enough', and snuffed the life from the candle.

    The darkness was cold, heavy, all-consuming. A weak wisp of smoke arose from the still warm candle wick. The photo frame lay face-down. My painful solitude was interrupted by my companion re-entering through the door whence he had retired; a pillar of light flooding before him to highlight my anguished face.
    'Harry! What on earth happened? Did you make contact? Did you make contact with her, your wife?' 
    Wiping the tears from my face, I arose from the chair, stern, indifferent. More myself.
    'No Sir Arthur, I did not.'
    I knew. I had always known. There was no contacting the living from beyond this veil of death. This was the one place, the one certainty, from which I could not escape.


You can read more about the creation of Leona's Houdini illustration at her Behance blog. This illustration was published in The Ghastling Magazine - Book Three.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

New Houdini & Doyle cast photos

Along with yesterday's trailer, FOX has released new photos of Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston, Stephen Mangan, and Rebecca Liddiard. The new photo of Weston has him looking his most Houdini-like yet. Click the images to enlarge.

Michael Weston as Harry Houdini.

Stephen Mangan as Arthur Conan Doyle.

Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton.

Houdini & Doyle will air on FOX in the U.S. in Spring 2016. It will also air on ITV Encore in the UK and Global TV in Canada.

Photos © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co. Credit: Joseph Scanlon / FOX.


Friday, January 15, 2016

FOX releases Houdini & Doyle trailer

FOX has released their own trailer for Houdini & Doyle. We see more of Michael Weston's Houdini on stage in this trailer than we did in the ITV trailer released in the UK last month. We also get the first indication of when the series will air. Enjoy.

Houdini & Doyle will air on FOX (U.S.), ITV Encore (UK), and Global TV (Canada).


Houdini exhibition coming to National Széchényi Library in Budapest

Escape artist David Merlini is working with the National Széchényi Library in Budapest on a large Houdini exhibition set to open January 27, 2016. As with David's recent "Houdini in Milano" exhibition, the display will include authentic Houdini memorabilia along with props from the 2014 Houdini miniseries (which was shot entirely in Budapest).

The exhibition will be on display at the National Széchényi Library for one month, January 27 to February 27. The collection will then move to an exciting new permanent location... More details on that soon!

Thanks David.


Saoirse Ronan nominated for Best Actress Oscar

Saoirse Ronan, who played Benji in the 2008 Houdini movie Death Defying Acts, has been nominated for a Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Brooklyn. This is her second Oscar nomination.

In Death Defying Acts, Saoirse plays the young daughter of Mary McGarvie (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a Scottish psychic who has an affair with Houdini (Guy Pearce) in Edinburgh in 1926. The story is entirely fictional, but it's a decent film with strong production values and Saoirse is especially good as Benji.

But Saoirse isn't the only Houdini movie alumnus to be nominatde for an Oscar this year. Mark Ruffalo, who played Theo Hardeen in TNT's Houdini (1998), is nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Spotlight.

The 88th Academy Awards will take place on February 28, 2016. Death Defying Acts is available on DVD.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Houdini tours Texas

It was a 100 years ago this week that Houdini embarked on his first tour of Texas in 1916. The reason it took Houdini this long to appear in the Lone Star State was probably because Texas was not part of the Keith-Orpheum vaudeville circuit, on which Houdini was a headliner. Texas vaudeville was controlled by Karl Hoblitzelle and his Interstate Amusement Company. Hoblitzelle's theaters were called "Majestic." It was not typical for Houdini to appear on another circuit, but Texas was not a typical state!

Karl Hoblitzelle's Majestic Theaters.
Houdini kicked off his tour on January 10 at the Majestic Theater in Fort Worth. This was a popular Vaudeville house that sat 1500 and stood until 1967. To promote his appearance, Houdini performed a suspended straitjacket escape from the Star-Telegram offices at Throckmorton and 8th Street. Later in the week, he was bound and dragged down Fort Worth's Main Street behind a motorcycle ridden by daredevil Ormer Locklear who would later become a famous wing-walker. Houdini wore a hood and heavy protective overalls and freed himself before Locklear could get up to speed. Possibly the stunt felt a little anticlimactic as the papers appear to have not covered it.

Houdini then traveled to Dallas where on January 18 he performed a suspended straitjacket escape from the Dallas Morning News building at Commerce and Lamar. Later in the week, he faced a punishment suit challenge from Sheriff W. K. Reynolds.

Next came Houston. Houdini performed at the local Majestic (called the New Majestic) and on January 25 he again performed a suspended straitjacket escape from the Houston Chronicle building. This time he was raised to a height of 100 feet, twice as high as in Dallas and Fort Worth. While the papers praised his Water Torture Cell and challenge escapes (one from a sea bag nailed to the stage), there was one criticism. Houdini's popular Needles trick had recently been performed in Texas by two other magicians, and the papers noted:

He introduces the well known needle trick which has been worn thread bare this season on this circuit and trailing so close in the wake of Long Tack Sam this feature should be eliminated, as it cheapens the work of the great artist.

On the Majestic circuit it was customary for acts to perform a "Free Cabaret" on Thursday nights. At these shows, Houdini performed magic and also exposed tricks. (One wonders if these might have been spiritualistic in nature.) One of the tricks Houdini performed was the Jesse James Hanging Trick.

Houdini also gave a talk about his life to newsboys at the Emma R. Home and Club. His advice: "Be true to yourself, honor your parents and hew the line."

Note the mention of the Free Cabaret.

Houdini's next stop was in San Antonio where he played a Majestic Theater that only held 300. Perhaps this smaller theater could not accommodate the Water Torture Cell, for the papers did not mention the famous escape. They instead reported that Houdini freed himself from a straitjacket and accepted challenges.

On an unusually chilly day, Houdini performed a suspended straitjacket escape from The Express building at the corner of Navarro and Crocket before 12,000 spectators, the largest crowd of his Texas tour. The Express did an especially good job of infusing the stunt with a sense of life and death danger:

There are two veins in Houdini's forehead, one in each temple and which feed the blood to the brain. Should one burst under the tremendous strain of dangling head down so many feet in the air and so many minutes, Houdini would become a helpless paralytic beyond aid of medical science. A slow, certain death would be his position.

Houdini's final stop was the state capitol of Austin. Houdini played a newly opened Majestic Theater, which still stands today as the Paramount. (The theater recently featured a Houdini hologram.) On February 10, he escaped from a straitjacket suspended from the fifth floor of the Littlefield Building at 6th and Congress. That same day he faced challenges at matinee and evening performances. During his Austin engagement, Houdini stayed at the famous Driskill Hotel.

Houdini's Majestic is today the Paramount.

The Paramount still celebrates Houdini's appearance.

The Driskill where Houdini stayed in 1916.

So popular and plentiful were Houdini's Austin challenges that his engagement was extended. Because the rest of the company had moved on to Arkansas, the Majestic's bill was filled out with movies during his extended run. Houdini did turn down a challenge to escape from the Travis County Jail, saying that jail breaking for him was "old stuff."

Houdini's final challenge came from students at the University of Texas in Austin who nailed him inside a packing crate. Today the University is home to the Harry Ransom Center which houses one of the largest and most important Houdini archives in the world.

Of his time in Texas, Houdini told a reporter:

"I am glad to have come to Texas. It has been a revelation and a tonic. I like your atmosphere and I like your people. There is a broad civilization down here which seems to be characteristic of the State. That greater things will follow down here goes without saying. They will come just as surely as death and taxes."

Houdini would tour Texas again in October-November of 1923. His made his final visit with his anti-spiritualism lecture for one week in October 1924.

For a definitive look at Houdini's appearances in the Lone Star State, a must read is Houdini's Texas Tours 1916 & 1923 by Ron Cartlidge. Ron followed up with Houdini and the Ku Klux Klan (2005) and Houdini’s Final Texas Tour (2010).