Thursday, March 31, 2016

LINK: Houdini manuscript 'Cancer of Superstition' divides opinion

The Chicago Tribune has a very well-researched article by Jeremy Mikula about the authorship of The Cancer of Superstition manuscript going up for auction April 9 at Potter & Potter. Was it written by Houdini, H.P. Lovecraft, C.M. Eddy, or some combination of the three?

"We're selling an object here, not the copyright, and while we want the best price possible, we also want to be responsible," Fajuri said. "The only name on the manuscript is Houdini. One way or another, it has these links to historical figures attached to it, and that's exciting."

CLICK HERE or on the headline to read the full article at Chicago Tribune online.

Potter & Potter's "Houdiniana" auction takes place Saturday, April 9 at 10 AM. The Cancer of Superstition manuscript is Lot 84. You can view all the lots and bid online at


Houdini & Doyle episode 4 airs in UK tonight

The fourth episode of Houdini & Doyle airs tonight in the UK on ITV Encore at 9:00 PM. Here's a plot summery for tonight's episode: Spring-Heel’d Jack.

In the first of several attacks, a businessman is murdered by a mysterious phantom with demonic eyes and gravity-defying leaps. As panic spreads across London, the trio tries to determine if this is a case of mass hysteria, or is there a beast out there that thrives on fear?

"Spring-Heel’d Jack" is written by Carl Binder and directed by Daniel O'Hara. I will post a review of this episode when the series airs in the U.S. starting May 2.

Check out the true legend of "Spring Heeled Jack" in the first related link below.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Houdini the Great and toothless?

It was one year ago last night that Houdini's The Grim Game screened at Hollywood's Egyptian Theater after having been effectively "lost" for some 70 years. What a wonderful night it was! Over the course of the past year, we have had the chance to dissect every aspect of what we now know to be Houdini's best film, from the restoration process to reviews to location hunting. But here's something I spotted on that very first viewing that I've never been able to shake. Did The Grim Game show us that Houdini had a missing tooth?

Click to enlarge.

This scene occurs early in the film when Harvey Hanford (Houdini) comes to visit Mary Cameron (Ann Forrest). As you can see in the above screen grab, it looks as if something is missing!

So what do we know about Houdini's teeth? Well, we know a little, and it's not great. When Houdini was given a thorough physical examination in 1926 by Dr. Aleš Hrdlička, curator of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution, the doctor noted the following in regards to Houdini's teeth:

According to Patrick Culliton, Houdini actually had a bridge, which might have been used to his advantage in concealing lockpicks and also performing the Needles. I've heard the bridge idea connected to when Houdini broke some teeth as a child when he attempted to duplicate the circus feat of dangling from a rope by his teeth.

In no other movie or photo have I caught this possible missing tooth, so maybe what we see in The Grim Game is just a trick of the light. Here's a screen grab from The Master Mystery that gives us a good look at Houdini's teeth. We're not really seeing the angle, but his teeth look strong enough to bite through a straitjacket strap here.

So what do we think? Was The Great Houdini toothless!? Let's chew on that one for a while.

UPDATE: Our friend Joe Notaro of HHCE offers up a publicity photo from this same scene. It appears there might be a discolored tooth here (1st bicuspid) that could have photographed black on film. Or maybe it's part of a bridge? Check it out.

Click to enlarge.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016


A new Houdini museum will open soon in the city of Houdini's birth, Budapest, Hungary. "The House of Houdini" is the brainchild of escapologist David Merlini and will house authentic Houdini memorabilia as well as props from the 2014 Houdini miniseries. The collection was recently previewed at the National Széchényi Library in Budapest. Soon it will land in a permanent home on the Danube.

IBM President Joe M. Turner visited the site of the museum on Houdini's birthday (March 24) and exchanged commemorative plaques with David.

David Merlini and IBM President Joe M. Turner. (Photo by Ádám Urbán)

It's very exciting and long overdue to have a Houdini museum in Budapest. This will be the first and only Houdini museum in Europe. I expect The House of Houdini will become a great tourist attraction, as well as an important new research hub for Houdini and magic historians around the world.

The House of Houdini has an official website and Facebook page. I will keep you updated with the museum's progress and details on the opening soon.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Houdini and Argamasilla meet again

Houdini appeared on Spain's popular television series El Ministerio del Tiempo ("The Ministry of Time") last week. The show is about a Spanish Government Department that uses time travel to fix historical problems. Houdini was played by Gary Piquer (pictured above).

The episode, called Tiempo de magia ("Time Magic"), featured Joaquin Maria Argamasilla -- "the man with X-ray eyes" -- traveling to New York in 1924 to be tested by Houdini. Turns out Argamasilla is really a rogue agent of the Ministry of Time plotting to share the secret of time travel with the U.S. Government. Other agents are sent to stop him, which they do with the help of Houdini. As a reward, the Ministry allows Houdini to time travel back to Hungary to speak to his beloved deceased mother.

Houdini really did test Argamasilla in 1924. Houdini included his exposure of the Spaniard as a "bonus" in his pamphlet exposing the methods of Margery the Medium. If time travel was involved, Houdini kept that part a secret.

Houdini and Argamasilla.

You can get more information (in Spanish) at the official El Ministerio del Tiempo website. A book about Argamasilla was released in Spain in 2014.

A big thanks to Francisco Javier Coronet López for the alert and series description.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

MUM celebrates Dorothy Dietrich

The April 2016 issue of MUM Magazine features a cover story about our good friend and living legend Dorothy Dietrich. The interview by Bruce Kalver is candid and fascinating, largely covering the highs and lows of Dorothy's upbringing and early years in New York City. It's a must read.

"After the show, an elderly gentleman was backstage and came over to me to say that he absolutely adored what I did. He went on to say that he had not seen anyone with the kind of command of the audience that I have. The last time he saw that was when he saw Houdini. I thought was this guy was pitching me or something. As he was walking away, someone asked me if I knew who that was. I said no. It was Walter Gibson."

SAM members can read the online version at the SAM website. There's also a bonus "Backstage" podcast that non-members can listen to HERE.

Thanks to Bruce Kalver and Dick Brookz.

UPDATE: You can now read the entire interview at the Houdini Museum website.


An Honest Liar on PBS, March 28

The acclaimed documentary about the life and work of James "The Amazing" Randi, An Honest Liar,  will air on PBS Independent Lens tomorrow, March 28.

For the last half-century, James “The Amazing” Randi has entertained millions with his dazzling feats of magic, escape, and trickery. Along the way he discovered that faith healers, fortune-tellers, and psychics were using his beloved magician’s tricks to swindle money from the credulous. Fed up with the fraud, he dedicated his life to exposing con artists with a wit and over-the-top showmanship all his own. An Honest Liar is part detective story, part biography, and a bit of a magic act itself. 
An acolyte of Harry Houdini, Randi became a famed magician-turned-debunker of psychics and mediums in his own right with a series of unparalleled investigations and elaborate hoaxes. These grand schemes fooled scientists, the media, and a gullible public, but always in service of demonstrating the importance of skepticism and the dangers of magical thinking. Randi was a frequent guest on TV variety and talk shows, most notably The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, uncloaking high profile scams, like the “spoonbending” of illusionist Uri Geller. Eventually Randi’s efforts won him the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Award.

When dealing with a master deceiver, however, the truth can be elusive. A sudden and shocking revelation threatens to bring down Randi’s own house of cards, and the magician who spent his life exposing phonies may be the victim of a devastating deceit himself.

An Honest Liar is told through interviews with Randi, vintage footage of his TV appearances, and interviews with illusionists, performers, and skeptics alike, including Adam Savage, Penn & Teller, Bill Nye, Geller, Alice Cooper, and more.

For more check out the PBS Independent Lens website and Facebook. You can buy An Honest Liar on DVD and Blu-Ray via Amazon or the official website (much cheaper here).


The Deedle Deedle Dees do "Houdini"

Here's a new music video by Lloyd H. Miller and The Deedle Deedle Dees (who specialize in history rock albums for children) from their forthcoming summer release, Sing-a-Long History Volume 2. This was released on Houdini's birthday and it's pretty fun, even though escape artist Cardone uses a straitjacket fail. Have a watch below.

"Houdini" was filmed at Tompkins Square Park in the East Village of Manhattan and at Dean's No Parking Studio, plus the homes of various young fans.

You can buy the single at Bandcamp.

Thanks to Beth for the share.

Houdini & Doyle at WonderCon 2016

The first episode of Houdini & Doyle screened at WonderCon in Los Angeles on Friday. I wasn't able to attend as I had hoped, but reports that star Michael Weston was there along with executive producers David Shore, David Ticher, and David Hoselton.

While I'm sorry I didn't get hear what the panel had to say, I have had the pleasure of seeing the first episode and reviewed it HERE.

Houdini & Doyle will air Monday's at 9PM on FOX starting May 2. It's currently showing on ITV Encore in the UK.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Big contract + a vacation!"

I know my general policy is to not report on eBay auctions in progress, but I'm making an exception here because the seller is a good guy who facilitated my getting a cherished collectible, so I'm happy to return the favor. This also continues the recent boom in handwritten Houdini letters, although this one is a little hard to read in spots. Would anyone like to help decider it?

Click to enlarge.
Original, not a copy or reproduction, letter entirely hand-written and signed by Harry Houdini measures a large 8.5" x 11" on Hotel Statler St. Louis stationary. Perfect piece for framing with a photo.

(? means I'm not positive on the word. Feel free to contact me if you're able to decipher or know more history of this period of Houdini's travels.)

"Jan 19, 23 - Dear Van der Weyde - Rushed? off the Orpheum tour for 20 weeks. Will be back maybe May or June. Big contact? + a vacation. Have worked hard 2 years (yes ?) + ? will be a pleasure trial? Had a seance with Tompkins? in Chi. Will tell you all about it when I get back. Enclosed find my ? regards to you 2 - Houdini

Henry Van der Weyde (1838–1924) was a Dutch-born English painter and photographer, best known for his photographic portraits of the late 19th century. His is considered a photographic pioneer in the use of electric light in photography.

UPDATE: Sold for $1,056.00.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Houdini in cuffs photo unlocks $7,371

A beautiful original photo of Houdini in shackles sold for $7,371 at Haversat & Ewing Galleries "Houdini's Birthday Auction" yesterday, beating its pre-auction estimate of $2000-$2,750. (Sale price includes the 17% buyer's premium.)

A lot of 10 letters written by Houdini to Will Goldston (from Goldston's own scrapbook) fetched $10,530. A handwritten letter by Houdini from Germany in 1900 sold for $5,733.

A very nice typed letter from Houdini to Will Goldston shattered its pre-auction estimate of $900-1,200, landing at $6,142. In the letter Houdini writes: "Hope you will like America, for it is a good country, if viewed in the right light."

A Hardeen scrapbook sold for $2,457, lower than I thought, but still on the high side of the auction estimate.

But maybe the biggest surprise was a piece of original artwork showing Houdini's Vanishing Elephant from a 1959 article in Popular Mechanics by Milbourne Christopher (that I once blogged about here). It was estimated at $500-600, but sold for an elephant-sized $4,095!

Big sellers: Vanishing Elephant art and the "America" letter.

It appears to have been a very successful auction for our friends at Harvesat & Ewing Galleries. Congrats to all the buyers and sellers. Click here to view all the lots with prices realized.

Next up: Potter & Potter's mammoth Houdiniana auction on April 9.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

FOX wishes Harry a Happy Birthday

The official Facebook and Twitter for the upcoming Houdini & Doyle celebrated Houdini's birthday today with a nice custom image. Nice job, FOX. This is the way to our hearts!

Like Houdini & Doyle on Facebook.

Follow Houdini & Doyle on Twitter.

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton. It will air Mondays at 9PM on FOX starting May 2.



Today is Houdini's 142nd birthday. The great escapist was born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary to Mayer Samuel and Cecilia Steiner Weiss. As I do each year, I will gather a collection of birthday greetings from around the web and link them all below. So send me your link if you have one. Also check out Twitter #Houdini for many more birthday wishes.

Because today everyone is wild about Harry!

"Go easy, boys, it's my birthday."

Birthday wishes from around the web:
Colleen Bak: A Braid of Frost and Felt
Carnegie: Magic Detective: A Magical Day of Remembrance
HHCE: Harry is 1 Year older today!
The Daily Mirror: Harry Houdini: An Interview by Marcet Haldeman-Julius
New York Daily News: Remembering Harry Houdini on His Birthday
Houdini & Doyle (Facebook page): Happy Birthday Harry Houdini!
Houdini Museum: Happy 142nd, Harry
Houdini & Hardeen: Happy Birthday Harry Houdini!
Scott Wells Magic (Instagram): Happy Birthday Houdini

"Houdini Talks" on his birthday

Magician and filmmaker Adam Steinfeld has released a new experimental Houdini short film, HOUDINI...talks Houdini. The first part of the film is a recreation of what a 1926 Houdini radio interview might have sounded like.

Says Adam, "Most Houdini feature films make an error of giving Houdini's voice a mid-west Americanized accent, and if you listen to early Edison recordings from 1914, you will clearly notice his thick Hungarian accent. So to be accurate, and to deviate from the norm of past filmmakers, I hired a voice artist direct from Hungary, Gergo Benedek, to give Houdini's real words a more authentic ethnic augmented reality characterization."

CLICK HERE and enjoy hearing from the Handcuff King on his birthday. You can read more about the film at the S.A.M. blog The Magic Compass.

UPDATE: Based in part on our feedback below, Adam brought in another voice actor to re-record the voice and has posted the new version HERE.


Houdini & Doyle episode 3 airs tonight in UK

The UK gets to celebrate Houdini's birthday today with the third episode of Houdini & Doyle at 9:00 PM on ITV Encore. Here a pic and plot summery for tonight's episode: In Manus Dei.

When a heckler is mysteriously struck down at a faith healer’s show, the team investigates whether the healer is truly channeling the power of God. And if so, can he work a miracle on Doyle’s dying wife?

"In Manus Dei" is written by Melissa R. Byer and Treena Hancock and directed by Daniel O'Hara. I will offer up a full review of this episode when it airs in the U.S. Houdini & Doyle starts on FOX May 2.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Houdini's Birthday Auction now LIVE

Haversat & Ewing Galleries "Houdini's Birthday Auction" is now LIVE. This is their largest magic auction to date with 248 lots, 57 of which relate directly to Houdini.

Among the auction lots is an original 75-page Hardeen scrapbook compiled by Hardeen himself from 1912-1914; original photographs of Houdini in shackles; a two page hand-written letter from Ira Davenport to Houdini; over 10 letters written by Houdini to Will Goldston), and more.

The first lot closes tomorrow, March 24, 2016 at 6:00 PM EST. Good luck!

UPDATEHoudini in cuffs photo unlocks $7,371.


Bessie and the Mirror

Paul Davies has posted on a remarkable close-up photo of Bess Houdini and the Mirror Handcuffs that I've never seen before. Click below and have a look for yourself.

Thanks to Jack Coray for the alert.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Houdini & Doyle screening and panel at WonderCon, March 25

The first episode of Houdini & Doyle will have its U.S. premiere this Friday, March 25 at WonderCon 2016 in Los Angeles. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with cast members and executive producers. It will take place at 1:00pm - 2:00pm in Room 408AB at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

WonderCon is an off-shoot of the San Diego Comic Con. This is the first year WonderCon is being held in Los Angeles. Passes to WonderCon can be purchased via the official Comic-Con website.

I have my Friday pass and I'm looking forward to attending!

Houdini & Doyle will air on FOX starting May 2. It's currently showing on ITV Encore in the UK.


C.M. Eddy, Jr. and The Cancer of Superstition manuscript

There has been a great deal of press about Potter & Potter's upcoming "Houdiniana" auction and their offering of the lost manuscript for The Cancer of Superstition, a book Houdini was collaborating on with H.P. Lovecratft at the time of his death. Now Lovecraft experts have come forward to clarify the important involvement of Lovecraft's own collaborator Clifford Martin Eddy, Jr. (C.M. Eddy, Jr.), who is most likely the author of the manuscript pages.

The blog Wormwoodiana has an excellent post by Douglas A. Anderson laying out the details of Eddy's work on the project, which Lovecraft buffs appear to have known about well before us Houdinites. Anderson also speculates that The Cancer of Superstition might have only been intended to be short book of about ten thousand words, so the manuscript in the auction might actually be complete.

This is important information and largely new to me, so click below and have a read at Wormwoodiana.

Potter & Potter's "Houdiniana" auction takes place Saturday, April 9th at 10:00 AM in Potter & Potter's Chicago Gallery. The Cancer of Superstition manuscript is Lot 84. You can view all the lots and bid online at

Thanks to Douglas Mackintosh for this link.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Houdini the hypnotist?

Here's an interesting article from the February 15, 1926 Reading Times about the state of magic, citing Houdini as a "the foremost example of the progress made in magic art." But one thing that jumps out here is the claim that: "hypnotism is a factor of great importance in Houdini's success as a magician."


This is the first time I've ever heard Houdini associated with hypnotism. But who knows? Maybe we are all subjects of some century old hypnotic spell? That would explain a few things! Or maybe this writer is just being hyperbolic. You decide.

Thanks to our friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton for finding this one.

UPDATE: For a tale of Houdini as hypnotist go here: Paging Professor Murat.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

REVIEW: Houdini & Doyle (ep. 1): The Maggie's Redress

This review contains only minor plot spoilers.

The premiere episode of Houdini & Doyle, "The Maggie's Redress" reveals the series to be fast and breezy with terrific production values and fine performances. While Doyle purists might not forgive Stephen Mangan for abandoning the author's Scottish burr, I think Houdini fans will be very happy with Michael Weston. In fact, in some regards, Weston is giving us one of the more accurate depictions of Houdini during his early Handcuff King days. But I will get to that.

The episode kicks off with action showing Houdini and Doyle trapped in a cellar filling with water. Here we get a taste of their relationship via snappy dialogue, with Harry boasting he can hold his breath longer than anyone alive, and Doyle telling him that won't matter, he will still drown. Harry's retort: "I'm not saying I'm going to live. I'm just saying I'm going to outlive you."

This nicely establishes their competitiveness, which was an unspoken aspect between the real Houdini and Doyle. So right off the bat the series sets up their relationship in a way that is both accurate and funny. And the death trap device reminded me of watching Houdini's The Master Mystery so... I'm in!

We then jump "3 Days Earlier" and find Houdini and Doyle independently angling to investigate the murder of a nun in a Magdalene Laundry. The only eyewitness claims she was killed by a ghost. Doyle is there because this could prove the existence of spirits. Houdini is there to debunk the nonsense being peddled in the papers. Chief Inspector Horace Merring, played by Tim McInnerny (who also appeared in the Houdini and Doyle movie, FairyTale: A True Story), assigns freshly minted Constable Adelaide Stratton the thankless task of looking after the feuding celebrities during their investigation. Stratton is played by Rebecca Liddiard and she darn near steals the show. She's not only a very good actress, but her character is the only one of the trio that has something at stake that isn't all about ego. Her inclusion was inspired, and in some ways this is her series.

Michael Weston is very well cast as the young Houdini. His playful high energy and American brashness might be closer to the real Houdini's character than we've ever had before (although I have no idea where they conjured up that hairstyle). His tendency to back his claims with a cash bet is very Houdini, and something that hasn't really been exploited before. Weston's Harry has the famous ego, but it's not an objectionable ego. It's more a youthful expression of extreme confidence in his abilities, which are undeniably miraculous. But there's a point in which Houdini is not asked for his autograph, and Weston's reaction is perfect. However, showing Houdini loading up what appears to be an opium pipe is a bit of a shocker. I'm curious to see where this goes.

Stephen Mangan does a good job as Conan Doyle, and while he is the bigger name actor (at least in the UK), he has the less glamorous role. Houdini and Stratton are both youthful 20th century progressives, while Doyle is still rooted in Edwardian ways and weighed down with superstition; although he thinks he's the progressive. The series is set during a period of time when Doyle had retired from writing Holmes after killing him off in "The Final Problem." It will be interesting to see if the series motivates Holmes' resurrection.

Like I said, the action plays out fast and furious (maybe a little too fast for my taste), and the core mystery of the murdering ghost is okay, not great. Still, it's an easy 45 minutes to sit through, and for Houdini buffs there is a lot to enjoy, including a recreation of the Water Torture Cell with an accurate looking cell and a conclusion that shows Houdini escaping and not "magically" reappearing as one of his own axe-wielding assistants. Moments like this actually make Houdini & Doyle more historically accurate (and respectful) than the recent Houdini miniseries.

The music has come in for some criticism for being too contemporary, but I thought it worked well. The criticism that some of the dialogue is anachronistic is warranted. The final scene in which Houdini hears the sound of ghostly piano playing is very nice, suggesting that the great skeptic might himself be haunted. By what or whom? We'll just have to wait and see.

Just the facts

Houdini & Doyle is upfront about being fictional. But as with most Houdini fiction, it still inserts some factual elements. So it's worth putting this episode under the microscope and seeing what truths lie within the fiction. It's not fair to call this a "fact check." Let's call it "fact sleuthing."

First off, Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did indeed know each other in real life. However, they met later than what's depicted in the series. The series is set in 1901 (not stated in this first episode) during Houdini's first European tour. In reality, Houdini and Doyle met during Houdini's last tour of the UK in 1920. The real Houdini and Doyle did not investigate supernatural crimes, instead they shared an interest in spiritualism. It is true that Doyle was a great believer and Houdini was a skeptic. It's also true that Houdini was investigating spiritualism this early in his life and career, although he had not yet become the hardened skeptic and crusader.

The series shows Houdini doing his famous Water Torture Cell escape. As discussed, it's a pretty accurate depiction. The posters we see are based on real Houdini posters (although they would not be onstage like this), and while it's a little strange that the audience applauds each passing minute, the panic they later demonstrate is something that is said to have gone on during Houdini's performances.

But the Water Torture Cell, as well as Houdini's identity as a "death-defyer", was still several years away. At this time, Houdini was known as "The Handcuff King" and was primarily doing handcuff and jail escapes, as well as magic such as Metamorphosis. Harry's attractive and put upon assistant Florrie (Jerry-Jean Pears) is pure fiction. Houdini's wife Bess was still working as his stage assistant at this time. But it appears Houdini is a bachelor in this series.

The hostility between Houdini and Chief Inspector Merring comes amusingly from Houdini having broken out of one of Merring's jail cells. This is somewhat rooted in fact. While Houdini never did a jail break from Scotland Yard, legend has it that a handcuff escape at the famous police headquarters launched his career in England. (But even that is open for debate.) There's also a suggestion that Houdini has a special relationship with the head of Scotland Yard, here called Sir Nicolas Hampsted. This mirrors the relationship the real Houdini had with Superintendent Sir William Melville. A hint that Houdini's "spywork" might show up later in the series? (Hope not.)

The inclusion of Houdini's mother (Diana Quick) was a nice surprise. Houdini's "royal" reception for her is rooted in reality as Houdini gave his mother a similar reception in Budapest with relatives. The idea that Houdini might have known W. B. Yeats, Winston Churchill, and Nikola Tesla is a bit of fantasy. A least there is no record of the men ever having met.

The series shows Houdini living at the Metropole Hotel in London. The real Houdini and Bess stayed at a boarding house favored by magicians at 11-12 Keppel Street. Houdini later bought an apartment in Bloomsbury. At one point, Weston's Houdini says he drives an Oldsmobile. The real Houdini drove a British made Humber at this time.

Finally, there's one real missed opportunity (IMO). In the scene in which Houdini opens the Magdalene Laundry's strong box, he picks the lock, which we see him do a lot in this episode. But in The Grim Game, the real Houdini opens the exact same type of strong box by "bumping" the lock. Wouldn't it have been wonderful to have Weston's Houdini do what the real Harry did in The Grim Game? This would have not only been a treat for Houdini buffs, but it would have provided the audience with a wider variety of lock-opening methods.

Based on this first episode, Houdini & Doyle looks very promising. It's not quite the quality of SHERLOCK, and I'm not sure it's even The X-Files yet, but it's well made and great fun and in Michael Weston we have a Houdini as appealing as Tony Curtis. I can't wait for the rest of the series.

I will review and "fact sleuth" the remainder of the episodes as they air in the U.S. on FOX starting May 2.


Friday, March 18, 2016

106 years ago today

At dawn on March 18, 1910 Harry Houdini made the first powered controlled flight of an aircraft on the continent of Australia. The historic flight occurred 106 year ago today in Diggers Rest near Melbourne. Click below to read the details of Houdini's historic flight in a post I wrote back in 2010 commemorating the 100th anniversary.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Houdini event in Washington, D.C., April 16

Atlas Obscura, "the definitive guide to the world's wondrous and curious places", will host a special Houdini event in Washington, D.C. on April 16, 2016. "Obscura Day 2016: Houdini Escapes DC" will feature a lecture and rarities from the collection of Ken Trombly, a walking tour of Houdini's D.C., and a performance by Dean Carnegie. This takes place 100 years to the week that Houdini performed in Washington as part of his 1916 vaudeville tour.

Obscura Day 2016: Houdini Escapes DC

Join us as we explore Houdini's connection to Washington DC and create a little magic of our own

A frequent stop on his East Coast tours, Houdini always drew immense crowds when he performed in the nation's capitol.

It was said that he attracted over 15,000 witnesses along Pennsylvania Avenue in 1916 - at the time, more than any other event in DC's history aside from an inauguration - to see him attempt a death-defying escape while hanging upside down in a straitjacket. In 1926, he also came to DC to testify before Congress on the subject of spiritualism and the city's fortune-telling laws.

For this two hour event, we will delve into the treasured collection of Ken Trombly, attorney, magic enthusiast and Houdini collector. In an interactive presentation, Trombly will illuminate Houdini's rise, legendary performances, crusade against spiritualism, death and the rumors of his return from the great beyond.

We'll then walk to the former site of Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape outside B.F. Keith's Theater and then a quick stroll to Pershing Park, where a picnic of cherry pie (a Houdini favorite) and a magic show awaits us. Allow escapologist and historian Dean Carnegie to dazzle you by recreating Houdini's stunts: liberating himself from ropes, handcuffs (an authentic pair of Houdini-owned cuffs will be on display), amongst other devices. For his greatest trick he'll ask a volunteer or two from the crowd to participate... if you dare...

Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at the Obscura Day 2016 event website, which has all the details about what sounds like a terrific Houdini celebration!

Thanks to Julie Seigel.

Related posts:

What's this have to do with Harry?

Here's a cover of the latest The Hollywood Reporter featuring Oscar winner Brie Larson and her "power stylist" Cristina Ehrlich. Lovely, isn't it? Okay, but what's this have to do with Houdini!? Have a good look and you might figure it out. If not, continue reading below.

This photo was taken at the "Houdini Estate" in Laurel Canyon on February 25, 2016. The THR website reports:

"That shoot and Oscars feels like a lifetime ago," says Ehrlich of her time in front of the camera with Oscar-winning Room actress Brie Larson. The set for the day was the Houdini Estate in West Hollywood that was complete with a tomb-shaped pool and gargoyle statues on the property. "After last year's cover with [Lady] Gaga in Coco Chanel's apartment, this was the only location that could get close to topping it," said Ehrlich, wearing Monse.

Once a ruin, the beautifully restored "Houdini Estate" has been the setting for many photo shoots and Hollywood events in recent years. The property has an official website and recently joined Twitter @TheHoudiniHouse.

Of course, the property's true connection to Houdini is a little murky. But I did my best to clarify the history here: Inside the Laurel Canyon Houdini Estate.

This issue of The Hollywood Reporter (March 25 - April 1), which comes in four variant covers, hit newsstands on March 16.


Houdini & Doyle episode 2 airs tonight in UK

The second episode of Houdini & Doyle airs tonight in the UK on ITV Encore at 9:00 PM. Here a pic and plot summery of tonight's episode: A Dish of Adharma.

A 12 year old boy shoots a prominent suffragette, claiming he’s avenging a murder - his own murder in a past life. And if the trio wants to find the truth, they must solve the decades-old killing.

"A Dish of Adharma" is written by David Hoselton and directed by Stephen Hopkins.

Many in the UK are upset that the first episode of Houdini & Doyle aired free on ITV but the rest of the series will now only air on the SKY subscription channel ITV Encore. I can't say I blame them. Happily, the entire series will be released to DVD in the UK on May 23.

This weekend I will post my full review of episode 1, "The Maggie's Redress." Thanks to everyone who took part in my poll (results below). I will only be posting a review of this first episode. I'll review subsequent episodes after they air on FOX starting May 2.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Houdini & Doyle DVD coming to UK May 23

A 3-disc DVD set containing all 10 episodes of Houdini & Doyle Season 1 will be released in the UK on May 23. This is great news for those in the UK who are unable to enjoy the series on the pay channel ITV Encore.

Unfortunately, this Region 2 DVD will not play on U.S. DVD players (unless you have a region free player). But I'm hoping the quick release in the UK means the U.S. DVD might appear quickly as well. Houdini & Doyle will air on FOX in the U.S. starting May 2.

Pre-order Houdini & Doyle on DVD at

Houdini & Doyle UK street advertising

Here are some UK street ads for Houdini & Doyle, which is currently airing on ITV Encore. I love this kind of stuff. That second (subway) ad might be animated.

These images come from Twitter users Amethyst @magicamethyst1 (escapologists and illusionists who worked on the series) and @RichCain.

Houdini & Doyle will air on FOX in the U.S. and Global TV in Canada starting May 2.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Scarne on Houdini

The website The Amazing World of John Scarne has a fantastic excerpt from John Scarne's autobiography about meeting Houdini in 1918. This is one of the best first-hand descriptions of a Houdini meeting I've ever read. One can really feel his presence on the page. Bess, Daisy White, and Jim Collins are also part of the story. And forget Dai Vernon. It appears Johnny Scarne was the man who truly fooled Houdini. But Scarne didn't reveal that he had done so. Well, until his autobiography.

Have a read at The Amazing World of John Scarne.

Thanks to Leonard Hevia for this discovery.

Houdini, Lovecraft and Tesla in action

Houdini is a regular character in the ongoing comic book series Herald: Lovecraft & Tesla by John Reilly with art by Tom Rogers and Dexter Weeks. The title launched in 2015 and is now six issues in. Along with Houdini, the book also features Amelia Earhart, Aleister Crowley and Thomas Edison. Here's a look at a Houdini page.

Individual issues of Herald: Lovecraft & Tesla are available from Amazon. The first six issues have also been collected in two volumes: Herald: Lovecraft and Tesla - History in the Making (issues 1-3) and Herald: Lovecraft and Tesla - Fingers To the Bone (issues 4-6).

You can keep up with at the series via their official Facebook and Twitter.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Stuck on Houdini

According to review at Geek Dad, Stickyscapes: New York by Tom Froese, includes Houdini among the over 100 reusable stickers in this activity book depicting the modern, historical, and imaginary New York City.

I haven't seen what the Houdini sticker looks like, but I'm guessing there's a straitjacket involved.

You can purchase Stickyscapes: New York at


Sunday, March 13, 2016

"My wife said to me when I got this role, ‘I love Houdini.’ I had no idea."

Tonight the new series HOUDINI & DOYLE premieres on ITV and ITV Encore in the UK. It will air on FOX in the U.S. and Global TV in Canada starting May 2. For those of us who have to wait until May, here's something for us to enjoy today. This is a Q&A interview with actor Michael Weston who plays Houdini in the series.

Q: Why did you want to play Harry Houdini?

A: I was in House which was created by David Shore and David Hoselton. I remember going to my first script read through of House and not only were the actors so great and so professional but the scripts were deep, layered and well manicured.

There are so many moving parts in TV so you never know what you’re going to get in those first scripts. And they were gems. Smart, clever, funny and well thought out. That’s when I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m dealing with someone really talented.’ It was a privilege to work on that show. So David Shore could tell me to leap off a bridge and I’d do it. I’m a huge admirer of his. And David Hoselton too. He brought this idea together. It’s such a unique idea, set in this period time of these two epic figures. And he does it with such wit, humour and humanity. Yet it’s this great adventure and procedural at the same time. He somehow manages to weave all of that together in the course of an hour. That, to me, is a magic trick unto itself.

Q: Did you know much about Harry before this?

A: Not a great deal. I had read the novel Ragtime so I knew Harry Houdini from that perspective. I had a peripheral idea of who he was, just as a magician. But I didn’t really understand the place he occupied in history and in people’s hearts.

My wife said to me when I got this role, ‘I love Harry Houdini.’ I had no idea. He holds a place in people’s imaginations and in their sense of wonder and their own fantasies of what magic is. To push the possibilities and boundaries of your own imagination and your own capability.

When I started reading about him as preliminary research for the part, he was this person who represented freedom and liberation and hope and carved out the American Dream for himself. And held this energy in his acts and somehow managed to translate that from these escape acts to huge throngs of people crowded on blocks.

To each one of them it meant something else. I think it was very personal in some way. He pushed boundaries and had the sense of hope that you could escape them and be anything you want. And that’s magic. We need magic.

He pulled himself up from the dregs of poverty, having nothing, and became an international celebrity at a time when there was no YouTube, Twitter or television. You didn’t get around that easily. And so to become an international anything took some real work ethic. I think he had a real work ethic about everything he did.

Q: How would you describe Houdini and Doyle’s (Stephen Mangan) relationship?

A: What’s great about this series is these guys were real life friends and also philosophically combative. They ridiculed each other but at the same time had deep admiration for each other. Houdini probably read every one of Doyle’s books. He read and studied a lot and wanted to bring himself to a different class.

I feel like he looked up to Doyle a lot but at the same time was really frustrated with him. He couldn’t believe this incredibly intelligent man could be such a fool and believe in all this supernatural rubbish. And he spent a lot of his time trying to debunk all that spiritualism that Doyle needed to believe in for his own emotional arc.

In this series these guys have such a clever, David Shore and David Hoselton patented, repartee. It’s really fun to act. Stephen Mangan is a pal on and off stage and we really enjoy pushing each other’s buttons. So it’s been great fun.

Q: Did Houdini go out of his way to expose frauds and charlatans?

A: He made it a personal crusade to debunk spiritualism and expose charlatans. And did it in such a public way. At a certain point he had been that himself. He had learned the mechanics of what it takes to be a medium.

Mediums came up out of the Civil War and in people’s need to communicate with the people they had lost. When Harry Houdini was on the scene it was around the time of World War One and there was that same need to communicate with the people you have lost. He realised he was taking advantage of these people, they would hang on these hopes and it would derail them from their own trajectory. They would buy into it and get lost in it. Not only was he taking their money, he was lying to them. He hated that, hated the lie. He loved the trickery of a good trick but he didn’t want to take advantage of the very people he grew up with and was a real leader for. So he stopped.

He wanted everyone to know there was a science involved in it and that it was real. That’s another point where Doyle and Houdini really met eye to eye. They believed in science. Doyle tried to prove the supernatural from a scientific standpoint. Houdini made his tricks work and you couldn’t figure it out. And so there is a science involved in that too.

Q: How would you describe Harry’s relationship with Constable Adelaide Stratton, played by Rebecca Liddiard?

A: She really throws him. Adelaide is a total cutie, yet is a strong woman and he can’t use his celebrity to buckle her knees. It frustrates him. She challenges him because she can stand on her own two feet and is to the fore of the feminist and suffragette movement. She’s a new woman. I think she really enlightens him and makes him a deeper, better man as he sees the potential in her.

Q: In terms of the supernatural, have you ever had an experience you could not explain?

A: I think of myself as a very rational human being. A pragmatist, a realist. And yet I have a moment I remember in my grandmother’s old house where myself and an old buddy of mine from New York thought there was a ghost.

It was a big old house in Paris. My grandfather Arthur Rubinstein was a pianist who lived there. Then the Gestapo took the house over and my grandparents fled to Los Angeles, where my father was born. The Gestapo used it as a headquarters and took everything away.

After the war my grandfather returned to the house. My grandmother was in her nineties when I got to know her at the end of her life. I spent a year there working in Paris bars and hanging out.

One night I’d got up and went to the bathroom. I was going back to my bedroom along an old hallway when I saw this amorphous thing and my body just had a reaction. I’d never thought of ghosts in my entire life. I went in and my girlfriend was sat up in bed and totally awake when she had been asleep. She said, ‘Did you just see a ghost?’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God. You saw it? I saw it.’

Then two months later I’d gone back to the house with my giant six foot four inch buddy from New York, who doesn’t think of anything except burgers. And he had a moment in the same hallway where he freaked out and thought something had touched his head. It’s impossible to scare this guy. But he freaked out and was sweating, asking, ‘What just happened?’

So those two things happened. I don’t know what the hell that was. Just inexplicable things. I feel science has so many answers but not all the answers. I believe in a connected spiritual world and yet I’m not a religious man. I feel there’s a deep connective tissue in us but it’s not tangible. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t explain, some stuff is inexplicable to me. I don’t go around thinking about it in my daily life. But there are so many unanswered questions.

Q: The opening scene in the series sees Houdini and Doyle trapped up to their necks in a cellar as water rises all around them. How was that to film?

A: It was really intense, but fun. We have incredible wardrobe and set departments that build these extravagant things. They built this set for us and we were in water for hours and hours.

They were raising the level gradually and let us go right to the point of real danger. We always want to make it look real and feel real. So we will do it as close as we can. We really were gasping for air and happy when it was all over. But it was awesome fun. You get a little adrenaline rush.

Q: You filmed the infamous Chinese Water Torture stage routine, tell us about that.

A: They presented it to me as, ‘Hey, do you want to try this? Is that something you would do?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I definitely want to do that.’ Then I did it and it was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done in my life.

You’re literally being hung upside down in shackles so you can’t move your arms and you have the sense of being completely out of control. Then you’re dipped into this tiny claustrophobic tank full of water. If they drop you, if something malfunctions, you’re screwed. You know that but you know there are guys on set looking out for you. Yet as they dip you down you have to take this breath and your adrenaline is going and you’ve got butterflies. I didn’t have the control so I’d take a breath and I’d immediately run out of air. Then they’d say, ‘Action,’ and I’d be trying to get my breath as I went in and then hold it and remain calm upside down with water shooting up your nose. It was so intense.

It made me have deep respect for Houdini who could actually pull that off and go fully into it. I think I went in to just above my waist and stayed in for about 15 or 20 seconds. I came out gasping so I can’t even imagine being in there for three minutes or whatever he did, eight times a week. You have to have steel veins.

Q: Where did you film those stage scenes?

A: We did it at the Palace Theatre in Manchester where Houdini had performed. You look out from the stage and it’s a beautiful, ornate old theatre. Breathtaking. So being on stage there where he had performed -- literally 100 years ago to the day we filmed that -- was so special and pretty crazy.

For a second you just allow yourself to believe in it. It’s that rare moment as an actor where you walk through your own dream for a second. It was both surreal and beautiful. I savour that.

Q: What were some of the other memorable scenes?

A: There’s a scene where Houdini dives into the Port of London docks. They wouldn’t let me dive into the dock so we filled up a tank with water and then we spent a day in there, jumping in - with people making waves in the water. It felt so real.

I loved doing it and got such a rush out of it. It’s a first for me doing all those stunts. It’s fun but also scary.

Q: What were some of the other challenges?

A: Houdini’s back is covered in boils at one point. My least favourite thing to do as an actor is prosthetics. And then they told me it was know that’s going to be four hours in the make-up chair. But we had genius make-up artists and so they got it done as quick as they could and it looked incredible.

Q: Presumably you had to learn the secrets of the magic tricks?

A: We had a magician, a guy who is an escapologist in the vein of Harry Houdini. He came and helped me out and taught me a lot of tricks. It’s stuff I wish I was better at. You really need to spend a lot of time with a deck of cards in your hand. But I did do some tricks. I was really, actually doing them. It made me more nervous than anything -- more nervous than any stunt.

One card trick involves Houdini pulling out a hankie from someone’s breast pocket and it then dissolving into flames. That flame was real. I burned all the hair off my hand.

For details on all 10 episodes of Houdini & Doyle, visit my Episode Guide. I will review each episode as they air in the U.S.

Source: ITV Press Pack.