Monday, February 29, 2016

A gift on Hardeen's birthday

I just received a copy of a new German book, Geschwister berühmter Menschen. This is a book about the siblings of famous people and features a chapter on Hardeen (of course!). I provided the publishers with a photo of the Brothers Houdini and received the book and a nice thank you note in return.

But what I really love is how this arrived on Hardeen's birthday.

Geschwister berühmter Menschen can be purchased at (U.S.), (UK) and (Germany).


Happy Leap Year Birthday, Hardeen

Like his famous brother, Theo "Dash" Hardeen was born in Budapest. But also like his brother, Hardeen claimed Appleton, Wisconsin as his birthplace and selected a new birthday to go with it.

While Houdini chose April 6 (the day his mother always wrote to him), Hardeen showed a sense of humor and selected February 29, Leap Day, as his adopted birthday.

Houdini biographies for children often bemoan that fact that "poor Theo could only celebrate his birthday once every four years." Always overshadowed by Harry! But I think what this really tells us is Dash didn't take himself nearly as seriously.

So even though we now know he was actually born on March 4, 1876, lets celebrate Hardeen's adopted birthday TODAY as we only get this opportunity every four years.

Happy birthday, Dash!


Houdini leaping on big and small screens today

Just a couple reminders of Houdini events on this Leap Day 2016. At 3:30 PM the classic Houdini (1953) with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh will air on MOVIES! And tonight in the UK Houdini & Doyle will have a premiere screening at the Everyman Cinemas at 6:20 PM followed by a Q&A with the stars.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Preview: Haversat & Ewing's Houdini Birthday Auction

Today I'm excited to offer an exclusive first look at some choice items from Haversat & Ewing Galleries upcoming "Houdini's Birthday Auction" on March 23-24. This will be their largest auction to date with 250 items, of which 55 relate directly to Houdini or Bess or Hardeen.

First up is a Hardeen scrapbook!

Large, oversize 75 page personal scrapbook of Hardeen. Compiled by Hardeen himself from 1912-1914. Contains newspaper clipping and advertisements for Hardeen's upcoming dates and favorable press. Nearly every page has handwritten annotations by Hardeen. Includes a letter written by Hardeen's son " Dear Papa were (where) are my skates I will not go in the road, Theodore Weiss.". Hardeen types on the top of the page - This is the first letter that Toddles Weiss wrote to his Father. I received it in Buffalo, N.Y. Feb. 26th 1913. Signed Theo Hardeen Weiss. Measures 14.5" x 19". Detached front cover. A very historically important scrapbook.

In 2011 two Hardeen scrapbooks appeared at auction and blew well past their auction estimates. I've not seen a Hardeen scrapbook come up for auction since then. This will be an exciting one to watch.

The auction also includes a jaw-dropping original photograph of Houdini in shackles (pictured at the top of this post). Here's the auction description:

Outstanding, original first-generation Houdini photo from photographer's collection. Image of a manacled Houdini taken by the Siegel Studio in Boston. The photo was developed on Baryta layer (fiber) photographic paper, giving the image a matte appearance. However, the image is highly detailed and crisp. Photo can be lifted to reveal a number 6, an indication for the photographer and client (Houdini) of what image was to be used or ordered. Harry Houdini's name is written below and the date of 1915. The image is from an earlier time in Houdini's career. One often sees the variant of this image taken at the same studio of Houdini looking down at his arms. Very rare.

A rare two page hand-written letter from Ira Davenport to Houdini dated June 10, 1910 makes up another lot. In it the famous medium and member of the Davenport Brothers writes:

"It gave me great pleasure to know your safe arrival and also to learn that you will do me the honor of a visit on or about July the 1st. and don't come with the idea that you are going to get away in a few hours. Come prepared to spend a few days!"

Another lot contains over 10 letters written by Houdini to Will Goldston (from Goldston's scrapbook). One letter sent from Germany in 1912 contains a nice mention of The Water Torture Cell: "The new stunt I am doing is a marvelous success, and without doubt the greatest spectacular thing ever witnessed on any stage."

Finally, one of Houdini's rare early pitchbooks with a page devoted to the Mirror Challenge will be up for bid.

And this is just a small taste of what's to come. All lots will be available for view online in early March. This auction will also include a full-color printed catalog.

The auction starts at 11:00 AM on March 23rd and ends at 5:00 p.m. March 24th.

Thanks to David Haversat.

UPDATE: The original photograph of Houdini in shackles (pictured at the top of this post) sold for $7,371. The Goldston letters lot fetched $10,530. The Hardeen scrapbook sold for $2,457. The Davenport letter took $725.40. More here.


Houdini in New Orleans

Another day, another terrific newspaper image of Houdini that I've never seen before. This one comes from The Times-Picayune/ website which has a nice article by James Karst about Houdini's visit to New Orleans 100 years ago this week. On February 23, 1916, Houdini performed a suspended straitjacket escape from the fifth floor of The Daily States building on Canal Street.

It's interesting to read that a net was stretched out below Houdini and that a jazz band played "Brownskin, Who You For?" during the escape. This is the first I've ever heard of Houdini using a safety net or music being played during an outdoor stunt. The article also refers to the straitjacket as being white -- which would also be a first -- but looking at the image above, it appears to be the same brown jacket Houdini used for so many of his suspended escapes.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

LINK: Houdini and Bess – The Sing Sing Connection

Chuck Romano has an excellent post on his blog My Magic Uncle about Harry and Bess Houdini's strange connection to Charles Chapin, the former editor of the New York World who was imprisoned in Sing Sing for the murder of his wife. Not only did Houdini regularly visit Chapin in prison, but Bess started up a correspondence with him after Houdini's death and at one point it was reported the two would marry!

This is a largely new story to me, so click the headline and have a read at My Magic Uncle.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Irene Larsen, 1936 - 2016

Extremely sad news today. Irene Larsen, affectionately known as Princess Irene, who was one of the founders of the Magic Castle, has passed away.

It is with heavy hearts that we announce the sudden passing of our beloved matriarch, international ambassador and co-founder of the Academy of Magical Arts, Irene Larsen. Princess Irene passed away peacefully Thursday morning at her home at Brookledge. 
Irene, AMA member #1, was the love and the light of the Academy and truly defined our mission statement, serving the Magic Castle in every aspect. A past President of the AMA Board of Directors and member of the Board of Trustees, she served on virtually every committee over the years. She devoted her life to the Magic Castle. 
From the Castle’s earliest days, Irene and her husband, AMA President for Life, Bill Larsen Jr., spent each evening greeting guests as they walked through the doors … a practice she frequently continued, right up until her untimely death.

An ardent animal activist, Irene referred to herself as “The Animal Police” within the magic community, ensuring that all performers who included animals in their acts – at the Magic Castle and everywhere – treated them with dignity and respect. In Genii: The International Conjurers Magazine, the monthly publication that she co-edited for many years with Bill, Irene posted tips in nearly every issue on how to correctly care for animals in acts.

Irene was a driving force behind the AMA’s international reputation. She insisted that Genii be referred to as The International Conjurers Magazine to be inclusive of magicians worldwide and attended magic conventions around the globe to promote both the AMA and the magazine.

Irene will live on in our hearts forever.

Please keep Irene’s children in your thoughts and prayers in the coming days … Dante (Blaire), Heidi and Erika Larsen, as well as her four beautiful grandchildren, Liberty, Lily and Liam Larsen and Jessica Hopkins.

All Hail the Queen. We love you Irene.

It was always a joy to see Irene at AMA functions. I recently had the pleasure of seeing her at the annual Founders Day celebrations where, as usual, she gave a lively, funny, and heartfelt speech filled with love for the members and the Magic Castle. She was true magic royalty and a very special part of the Castle experience. It's hard to imagine the Magic Castle without her. She will be greatly missed, but never forgotten.

Aloha, Princess.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

'Houdini & Doyle: World of Wonders' original digital series announced

Along with the big news today that Houdini & Doyle will premiere May 2 on FOX and Global TV comes some great news for viewers in Canada.

Houdini & Doyle is also complemented by an original digital series, Houdini & Doyle: World of Wonders. Hosted by Houdini & Doyle star Rebecca Liddiard, the 10-part mini-documentary series explores the real lives and times of Houdini and Doyle through contemporary magic and mind-bending illusions, delivering a fresh and modern take on a time when the worlds of science and spiritualism collided. Houdini & Doyle: World of Wonders premieres on Monday, April 11 exclusively on and Global Go. The digital series is produced by Shaftesbury's digital arm, Smokebomb Entertainment, in association with Shaw Media and the Canada Media Fund.

Unfortunately, Houdini & Doyle: World of Wonders will probably not be viewable online outside of Canada.

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton.

UPDATE: New premiere date is Monday, April 18.


Houdini & Doyle premieres May 2

We finally have a premiere date for the new Houdini & Doyle TV series! The pilot episode will air simultaneously on FOX in the U.S. and Global TV in Canada on Monday, May 2 at 9:00 PM ET/PT. The 10 episode series will then air each Monday at the same time.

Houdini & Doyle will also air on ITV Encore in the UK. Now word yet on whether ITV will premiere the series on May 2, but the pilot will have a special ITV screening in London on February 29, so it's possible the UK might get the series early.

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton.

UPDATE: Viewers in Canada will be interested in this: 'Houdini & Doyle: World of Wonders' original digital series announced.


Houdini on Mysteries & Scandals

Here's the Houdini episode of the E! Entertainment series Mysteries & Scandals. This first aired on October 26, 1998 and includes interviews with Ken Silverman, Penn & Teller, Lance Burton, Dorothy Young and more.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, this video has been removed.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Death in Asbury Park

In July of 1913, Houdini departed New York for a Scandinavian tour that would see him perform for the first time before the King of Sweden in Stockholm. After bidding an extended goodbye to his mother at the dock -- and promising to bring her back a pair of woolen slippers, size six -- he set sail on the German ocean liner Kronprinzessin Cecilie.

His brother Hardeen stayed closer to home, accepting an engagement in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Thinking his mother would enjoy a vacation by the sea, Hardeen brought along Cecelia Weiss.

Asbury Park is a seaside community located on New Jersey's central coast. Developed in 1871 as a resort, the city features a mile-and-a-quarter stretch of oceanfront. In its heyday, as many as 600,000 people a year vacationed in Asbury Park. In 1912, The New York Times estimated that the summer population could alone reach 200,000.

Opening day ad for Hardeen at the Lyric, July 14, 1913.

Hardeen opened at the year-old Lyric Theater on July 14, 1913. The Lyric was located at 214 Cookman Avenue. It featured vaudeville and even early movies -- "The Lyroscope Animated Photo Plays." Here Hardeen did his usual act; escaping a straitjacket, accepting challenges, and closing with the Milk Can. On July 15, he leapt manacled from the Asbury Park Fishing Pier.

The following day Hardeen escaped from a packing crate made by The Tusting Piano Co. But unbeknownst to the audience, the real drama was playing off-stage. The next day, July 17, the Lyric ran a special Announcement in the Asbury Park Press that said it all:

Special announcement on July 17, 1913.

Upon their arrival in Asbury Park, Cecelia Weiss had suffered a stroke that left part of her body paralyzed. She was tended to in Room 18 at the Imperial Hotel by Dr. James Ackerman, who put her on the critical list. Hardeen phoned his brother Leopold and sister Gladys who quickly arrived from New York. After escaping from the Tusting packing crate at the Lyric, Hardeen rushed back to Cecelia's bedside. She struggled to communicate a message for Houdini, but was unable to speak. She died at 12:15 AM on July 17.

Hardeen sent a cable to Houdini notifying him of their mother's death. Thinking it was simply a welcoming message from "the folks", he delayed opening it. After performing his Water Torture Cell at the Circus Beketow in Copenhagen before an audience that included the royal princes (Houdini did his act in Danish), he finally read Hardeen's cable at a press reception and fell unconscious to the floor.

Houdini and Bess quickly reboarded the Kronprinzessin Cecilie for its return voyage to New York, leaving Jim Collins behind to deal with the show. In Denmark, breaking a contract was a serious offense, and Collins was jailed until the situation was explained to the theater manager.

Following her death, it was reported that Mrs. Weiss has been taken by "Undertaker Burtis" on the 1:10 train to Brooklyn. The funeral had been planned for the following Sunday, but was delayed until Houdini returned. Houdini arrived several days later to find his mother laid out in the parlor of 278. He had brought along the woolen slippers she asked for and placed them in her casket.

Cecelia's death devastated Houdini. On the one year anniversary, Leopold drove Houdini and Hardeen back to Asbury Park to photograph Room 18 at the Imperial Hotel (what happened to those photos, I wonder?). That night Houdini wrote in his diary: "Things have never been the same, since, and I know that they can never be the same again."

The Imperial Hotel is, presumably, long gone (at least I couldn't find any information about it, past or present, online). But the Lyric Theater remained a fixture on Cookman Avenue until the 1960s. Renamed Park Cinema, it became a pornographic movie theater in the 1970s and '80s. It also appeared in the Robert DeNiro film City by the Sea (2002) and in The Sopranos.

The building was finally demolished along with the rest of the block in 2005. Today the site of Hardeen's Lyric Theater is an empty lot.

For more on Asbury Park, check out A Seaside Ghost Town Trying to Rise Again by Christopher Clay.

Thanks to Ron Armstrong for providing additional details.

UPDATE: Our friend Perry Reed has discovered this postcard image of the Imperial Hotel at the website


Monday, February 22, 2016

'Piper Houdini' now available in print editions

Glenn Herdling's Piper Houdini: Apprentice of Coney Island is now available in hardcover and paperback. It had previously only been released as an eBook. This well-researched and charming children's book chronicles the (fictional) adventures of Houdini's (fictional) niece.

Piper Houdini: Apprentice of Coney Island is a young adult novel set in the Roaring Twenties against the hustling and bustling background of New York’s Coney Island—a time filled with silent movies, secret speakeasies, and an unscrupulous Spiritualist movement that is the unwitting pawn in a plot to bring about hell on Earth. Populated with a cast of actual historical figures—including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dion Fortune, and Aleister Crowley—this spine-tingling tale will appeal to readers who enjoy urban fantasy and paranormal historical fiction as much as a jaunt on the Wonder Wheel.

Purchase Piper Houdini: Apprentice of Coney Island at (U.S.) and (UK).


Sunday, February 21, 2016

McSorley's Houdini handcuffs update

Here's an update from the great Fred Pitella on my recent post about the "Houdini handcuffs" in McSorley's Old Ale House in New York (Were these handcuffs left behind by Houdini?). Fred sent me this souvenir coaster that McSorley's produced a few years ago that sheds some light on the subject.

So while the story of Houdini visiting McSorley's might still be true, it looks like these are not the original handcuffs that Houdini affixed to the bar himself. According to Fred, one of the older bartenders told him they've had to replace the handcuffs because people took them for souvenirs.

But I still think any Houdini tour of New York requires and stop and a pint at McSorley's. In fact, just thinking about it is making me thirsty!

Thanks to Fred Pitella. Check out Fred's site: Houdini & Escapes Museum. Also check out this recent article about McSorley's anniversary: New York’s oldest Irish pub celebrates 162 years.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Houdini covers ROUGH RIDERS #2

Last month I shared news of a new graphic novel series called ROUGH RIDERS (issue #1 is due out April 6) that has Houdini teaming with Teddy Roosevelt, Annie Oakley, Jack Johnson, Thomas Edison and Monk Eastman. Now here's a look at the cover for issue #2 (due out May 4) with a terrific illustration of Houdini underwater in chains.

The year is 1898 and Teddy Roosevelt has put together an incongruous band of dissidents to battle a mysterious force in Cuba. Under the guise of the Spanish American War, Teddy and his “Rough Riders” will try to discover who is truly behind the sinking of the USS MAINE. But as they touch down on Cuban soil, they’ll soon discover that the biggest battle, they must fight is the one amongst each other.

ROUGH RIDRES is the work of writer Adam Glass (executive producer of Supernatural and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders) and artist Pat Olliffe. The book is released by Aftershock Comics.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Houdini and The Doctor regenerate

The latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine (#496) contains an original comic strip story, Theatre of Mind, featuring Houdini and the 12th Doctor (played on television by Peter Capaldi). This marks Houdini's third meeting with the Time Lord.

The Doctor meets his old friend Harry Houdini and encounters some trouble at the theatre in a brand-new comic strip adventure, Theatre of Mind, written and illustrated Roger Langridge.

Doctor Who Magazine is a British publication. Issue #496 is on sale now. Click for the official website.

Thanks to


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Were these handcuffs left behind by Houdini?

McSorley's Old Ale House in New York's East Village has what it claims are a pair of handcuffs locked to a bar rail by Houdini himself. The cuffs are a popular attraction and are even mentioned on McSorley's wikipedia page. But could these really have been left behind by Houdini?

Established in 1854, McSorley's is New York’s oldest continuously operated saloon. So it was around in Houdini's time. And even though Houdini didn't drink alcohol, he still could have found himself in McSorley's for a meeting. Also, Abraham Lincoln, a great hero of Houdini's, was said to have been a customer, so Houdini might have been drawn to the tavern for that reason alone and, yes, felt a need to leave behind his own historical marker.

But what about the handcuffs themselves? At initial glance, they do not strike one as being the type of handcuffs associated with Houdini. They appear too modern. Here's what handcuff expert Joe Fox (my recent lecture partner) has to say on that matter:

"The cuffs pictured ARE from Houdini’s time-period (approx. 1915+)…they are virtually of identical design of today’s modern police handcuff.

However, no photo has ever surfaced of Houdini wearing or holding, or mentioning these new type of "swing-through" handcuffs (meaning that these handcuff can be slapped around the wrist & they will automatically lock).

When these handcuffs were marketed in 1914 -1915, they literally made every handcuff up to that time obsolete – including every handcuff that Houdini was ever shown with. But again, they ARE of his time-period.

They are of this type: Peerless Handcuff Co. Springfield, Mass. (still in business today)."

So the bar was around in Houdini's time, the cuffs are of the correct period, and McSorley's seems to have a good handle on its history (it's said no piece of memorabilia has been removed from the walls since 1910). So while we can't really prove the legend, I'm thinking we can trust it, and having a pint (or several) at McSorley's might now be a required part of any Houdini tour of New York.


McSorley's Bar, 1912 painting by John French Sloan.

McSorley's today.

Thanks to Joe Fox for the info and pics. McSorley's is located at 15 East 7th Street in NYC.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Bruce Thomson, here's a pic of Houdini using Peerless swing-through cuffs!

UPDATE: Important update today from the great Fred Pitella. Looks like these cuffs are not the originals. Check out: McSorley's Houdini handcuffs update.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Houdini now spooking grade schoolers

Here's a 2015 release that slipped past me. Ghosts of the Rich and Famous by Emily Raij is an "educational" book aimed at kids Grades 1-2. Here's a description:

From musicians to adored actors, stories of famous ghosts are certainly entertaining. Are the spirits of deceased celebrities still roaming the Earth? Let young readers decide for themselves as they dig into the details of these spooky reports.

Ghosts of the Rich and Famous comes in two varient covers; one with Elvis and the other with Houdini as you can see here. The trick when ordeing online is making sure you get the Houdini cover. That's a trick I'm not exactly sure how to pull off, so this might be one that needs to be hunted down in bookstores.

Ghosts of the Rich and Famous is available on Amazon (listing shows Elvis cover).

Thanks to the mighty Arthur Moses for the discovery.


Monday, February 15, 2016

The Guiteau cell

The other night I watched the excellent American Experience documentary, Murder of a President, about President James Garfield and his assassination just 200 days into office in 1881. I really knew nothing about Garfield and the documentary was extremely enlightening.

The documentary also covered the troubled life of the assassin, Charles Guiteau, and I sat up when this reenactment of Guiteau in his prison cell came on screen. Why should this be of interest to Houdini buffs?

In 1906, Houdini famously escaped from the United States Jail in Washington, D.C. The "Murderers Row" cell he was confined in was the same cell that had held Guiteau while he awaited execution. The United States Jail is long gone and I've never seen a photo of the Guiteau cell, so it was fun to see it in this reenactment, although I have no idea how accurate this is.

For a detailed account about Houdini's Washington D.C. jail escape, check out my blog from last year:

You can watch the American Experience Murder of a President online at

Here are a few more links to enjoy on this Presidents Day.

Obama replaced Houdini with Gordon

UPDATE: Here are some other, potentially more accurate depictions of the Guiteau cell (thanks to Perry Reed).

Handcuff expert Joe Fox shares another Houdini-Guiteau association. The photo below was taken by Mark Lyons at the 2004 Great Houdini Auction in Las Vegas and show "Guiteau" cuffs in a Houdini display case (now in the David Copperfield collection).

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Time out for Love

Harry and Bess Houdini on the set of The Man From Beyond steal a kiss between takes. Happy Valentine's Day.

Clip from the 1970 BBC documentary, The Truth About Houdini.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Houdini and the American Gaiety Girls

David Saltman at The Houdini File has an interesting post today about Houdini's short-lived and ill-fated experience managing a burlesque troop, The American Gaiety Girls, in the 1890s. David explains the interesting connections back to the extended Weiss family and also shares an early family portrait showing a young Cecilia Weiss.

The American Gaiety Girls is a subject I've yet to tackle here, so click on over to The Houdini File and enjoy:


Friday, February 12, 2016

The Linguini Incident reappears

The 1991 film The Linguini Incident starring David Bowie and Rosanna Arquette has been reissued on DVD in the UK.

In the movie, Arquette plays an aspiring magician and escape artist who collects Houdini artifacts and comes into possession of "Madame Houdini's" wedding ring. While waiting for her big break, she works as a waitress at a Manhattan restaurant where Bowie tries to marry her so he can get his green card.

The film is loaded with Houdini references and escapes. In some territories it was titled Houdini & Company.

You can purchase The Linguini Incident at No word on whether there will be a new U.S. reissue.


Duffy Hudson brings Houdini to Boulder, Feb. 27

Actor Duffy Hudson will perform his Houdini one man show at the Boulder City Library in Boulder, Colorado on Saturday, February 27th at 2:30 PM.

I had the pleasure of seeing Duffy debut his show in South Pasadena last month. If you're in the Boulder area, I'd recommend checking it out.

More information at the Boulder City Library website.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Houdini and Brindamour: Showdown in San Francisco

Magic historian Gary Hunt, who blogs at Magic Footnotes and has made a specialty of researching escape artists of Houdini's era, has uncovered a story about Houdini and a rival "Handcuff King" that I don't think has ever appeared in print before. I'm excited to share that story today.

In September of 1907, Houdini was appearing in San Francisco at the Orpheum Theatre on Ellis Street near what's known as the Fillmore District. The Orpheum had relocated to the area while downtown was being rebuilt after the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906. Right next door to the Orpheum was another vaudeville house, The Princess.

During the final week of Houdini's engagement, a rival escape artist, Brindamour, was booked into the Princess Theater. Below is a photo from Brindamour's own scrapbook showing the side by side theaters at this time. In fact, you can see a Brindamour poster in front of the Princess.

Click to enlarge.

George W. Brindamour was born to French Canadian parents in Cannon Mills, Minnesota on April 5, 1870. A one time photographer, Brindamour began performing handcuff escapes at the turn of the century. He claimed to have been the originator of the handcuff act. With his mustache and goatee, it was said he also sometimes doubled on stage for Herrmann the Great (presumably Leon).

In 1900, when Houdini was first finding success in the U.S. under the management of Martin Beck, Brindamour twice appeared in opposition theaters in Providence and Philadelphia offering an exposé of Houdini's act. Soon Houdini was off to Europe and super stardom; but his absence allowed Brindamour to gain a foothold in America vaudeville with his own version of the handcuff act.

Gary reports that a confrontation between Houdini and Brindamour had been building during the summer of 1907. The men sniped at each other in the pages of Variety, which ran an ad touting Brindamour's $1,000 per week salary as the highest ever paid by the Western States Vaudeville Association. Rumor had it that the William Morris Agency had signed Brindamour to play against Houdini who had recently signed with a rival agency. As if to tweak Houdini even more, the Princess advertised Brindamour as "King of All Handcuff Kings." Variety predicted that "fur should fly" when the two rivals finally met in San Francisco.

So did Houdini march over to the Princess with his Bean Giant, Mirror Cuff, or one of his other "handcuff king beaters"? Did he send confederates to gum up Brindamour's act or knock down his advertising? (Recall Houdini once allegedly threatened to shoot down a balloon advertising Blackstone that flew within sight of his own theater.)

The September 21, 1907 issue of Variety reported what happened:

Jail Breakers at Peace
Despite the predictions of open warfare when the rival jail breakers (Houdini and Brindamour) came into as close a competition as they were last week in this city, the dove of peace reigned supreme over Ellis street. Both lock defiers pursuing the even tenor of their ways as though oblivious of the other’s existence.

Anticlimactic, I know, but that's also what makes this interesting. Why didn't Houdini go after Brindamour (or vice versa)?

Well, in 1907, Houdini was already looking beyond handcuffs and jail-breaking as his bread and butter. His feature that week was a challenge to escape from a box made by employees of the Emporium department store. The week prior he had escaped from a paper bag without tearing the paper. In fact, while Brindamour's was billed as King of all Handcuff Kings, Houdini's billing at the Orpheum was: "Houdini in New Sensations." So Brindamour might have seemed less of a threat to Houdini at this time, and to have engaged him would have just given him publicity. The best way to hurt Brindamour (and William Morris) was to do nothing.

But it's also possible Houdini and Brindamour might have made a truce. It's possible both men could sense that a spat over who was the superior "handcuff king" might seem trivial and petty to citizens of a city that was still digging out from one of the worst catastrophes of the 20th century.

After San Fransisco, Brindamour and Houdini never again crossed paths, and Brindamour would meet what The Santa Cruz Sentinel called his "waterloo" just a few weeks later in Sacramento.

Brindamour keep doing the handcuff escape act long after it went out of fashion. When bookings got slim, he would sometimes put on a full evening show or just do magic. He performed on all the major vaudeville circuits through the 1920s. He retired to Los Angeles in 1930 and was said to have played character roles in movies. George Brindamour passed away on July 31, 1941 at the age of 71.

Today the Orpheum and Princess are long gone, and Ellis Street has been subdivided with a shopping center and condos. (I visited the area last Halloween while I was in San Francisco for the Official Houdini Seance.) But it's fun to know that, for one week in 1907, Houdini and Brindamour shared the street as co-handcuff kings.

Thank you Gary Hunt for this story, photos, and additional background information on Brindamour.

Related posts:

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Houdini meets Aleister Crowley

In the wild world of independant film financing, posters will be created for films that don't yet exist. This is so producers can sell the concept for the film and use foreign pre-sales to fund that actual making of the movie.

Below is one of those posters for a Houdini movie called The Dead of Night. This appeared in the May 2, 1990 issue of Variety showcasing movies being shopped at the Cannes Film Festival that year.

As you can see, the idea here was to team Houdini and Aleister Crowley, the English occultist who was sometimes called "the wickedest man in the world." As far as I know, The Dead of Night never made it beyond this poster.

Hey, I kinda like this idea, and I really like this poster. Is it too late to invest? Probably.


Monday, February 8, 2016

The showdown is coming...

This week I will share an untold story about Houdini and George Brindamour uncovered by magic historian Gary Hunt.

Brindamour was a rival "Handcuff King" who taunted Houdini from his earliest days of success in the U.S. What happened when, thanks to an earthquake, the two were forced to share the same street?

It's "Showdown in San Francisco"... and it might not end how you think.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Houdini and the Wizards of the South

A remarkable photo postcard showing a dapper Houdini posing with members of the Associated Wizards of the South (AWS) sold on eBay today for $470.93. Below is the photo and a description from the seller.

This is an exceptionally rare RPPC (real photo postcard) of Harry and Bessie Houdini with the AWS (Associated Wizards of the South) taken on Southampton Docks prior to Harry Houdini's departure to New York on 21st May 1913.

The AWS are the 4th oldest magical society in the world and Harry Houdini became a member during a 5 night string of shows at the Southampton Hippodrome in 1911. Famously the day after this first meeting with the AWS Harry Houdini performed his Water Torture Cell trick for the very first time to a rumoured audience of 1 in Southampton. Houdini wrote articles and attended further meetings with the group.

During one meeting the AWS chairman, Professor Woodley challenged the star to a display of contact mind-reading. Houdini, boastful of his own expertise in this area, insisted on being the person to hide the object for Woodley to find, which he did, over and over leaving Houdini unable to discover the secret to the trick - I know, as I'm his great grandson but its a family secret. Professor Woodley can be seen behind Houdini's left shoulder (the tall chap in a cap). The famed early magician Spitari is also in the postcard, second on the left.

These postcards were available for AWS members only and no more then 10 were ever produced. I believe this may be the only existing copy. It has been lent out by the family on a few occasions over the years. Channel 4 productions, The Magic Circle and Magical World have all borrowed the postcard from the family in the past.

A truly rare piece from an early magical society, original and direct from the family.

The only correction I'd make is I don't believe that's Bess standing beside Houdini. Still, a fantastic never-before-seen image of Houdini with a wonderful story to go with it. Congrats to the winner.

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Norm Nielsen magic poster collection will be auctioned

Last year it was reported that Norm Nielsen's collection of almost 2000 magic posters was for sale. At the time, it was said the collection would be sold only as an entire lot. But now word is the collection will be auctioned poster by poster by Potter & Potter in June 2016.

Starting this Monday, February 8, Lupe Nielsen will post on the Nielsen Magic Facebook page "a poster a day" until the auction. She will also share information about the poster and the story behind how it came to be part of the Nielsen Collection.

Among the many Houdini posters in the Nielsen collection is what I believe might be the only surviving poster for his Overboard Box Escape (below).


Friday, February 5, 2016

Houdini & Doyle premiere screening in London, Feb. 29

The new series Houdini & Doyle will have special premiere screening at the Everyman Cinema in London on Monday, February 29, 2016. Here are the details:

ITV presents the premiere of Houdini & Doyle, on Monday the 29th of February, exclusively at Everyman, followed by a satellite Q&A with the cast.

Stephen Mangan stars as Sherlock Holmes' author Arthur Conan Doyle in this new ten-part drama, alongside Michael Weston, who will play escape artist Harry Houdini. Houdini and Doyle will explore the friendship between Doyle - an ardent believer in the paranormal - and Houdini, who, as a professional magician, is sceptical about anything that appears to be supernatural.

The series is set within the rich history of the early 20th century, when the Metropolitan Police were overwhelmed by bizarre and often inexplicable cases. In uncertain times, New Scotland Yard turned to Doyle and Houdini for help.

This event will be followed by a satellite Q&A with actors Stephen Mangan and Adam Nagatis and producer Adrian Sturges.

Monday, 29 February 2016 from 18:20 to 20:30 (GMT)

Everyman Cinema - 5 Holly Bush Vale London NW3 6TX GB

Tickets can be purchased for £7.00 via Eventbrite. There are also complimentary tickets available for live satellite venues. A full list of links can be found at Everyman Cinema.

Houdini & Doyle will air in the UK on ITV Encore in March. It will also air Mondays, 9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT on FOX in the U.S., and on Global TV in Canada.

Thanks to Flynn Fan @FlynnFan1.

UPDATEHoudini & Doyle premieres in London.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Inside Houdini's 278 today (update)

Actor Alec Mathieson, who is currently touring as part of the ensemble of Ragtime, is a Houdini buff and fellow 278 obsessive who discovered these these incredible images of the inside of Houdini's New York home from an old real estate listing. I'm guessing this is from 2012 when the top floor unit became available. These are the best shots of the inside of 278 I've even seen. And while the original brownstone's interior had been substantially remodeled, you can still see some moldings and features that must have been there in Houdini's day. Enjoy.

Thank you Alec!

UPDATE: Ryan Whelan, a former resident of this unit, has posted to his Facebook page what it was like living in Houdini's house:

"I lived here for a while. Had some wild times, and some down right creepy ones. But if you can imagine furniture in this place, its just the same as in the photos. The sunroom was his office and the living room was his library. My room was his, and his wife had a seperate one which was my roommates. The bathroom was super different. The rest of the house was amazing. Three floors, I lived on the top. The second was used for maid quarters and the first floor was for parties and a giant kitchen at one point. Fun looking at these. I never took one picture when I lived there."

Thank you Ryan!