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.



  1. Hey John
    Just wanted to jump in with.02 cents here regarding the oft thought idea of Houdini relying on his bridge for needle trick and or pick hiding. Because this is public I won't go into too much detail. However I've been doing needles forever and on occasion naked police station handcuff challenges both incorporating a certain method.
    A bridge would just get in the way.
    Love love love your blog.
    Michael Griffin

  2. I looks to me like he's missing a tooth in that photo. Dentistry back then was nothing like it is today. Fillings and crowns in the 21st century have moved away from metal and are now ceramic.

    That tooth was probably knocked out in some accident in his early days and he didn't bother to replace it. Perhaps it happened when he boxed in his teen years. I saw the GG on TCM and missed this.

  3. There is a publicity still of the same scene of our toothless Houdini, but the tooth appears to be there in the staged publicity shot, which may imply a bridge. I will follow-up with an email.

    1. Thanks Joe. Added as an update. Looks discolored to me. Maybe photographed black?

  4. That discolored tooth is I believe the first bicuspid and it certainly is blackened from decay or from fillings. The doctors report in 26 states ALL his teeth from bicuspid backward both upper and lower were in poor condition. I would hope with Houdinis wealth his bad teeth were at least all filled. When looking at photos of Houdini before his death he certainly looks to have aged prematurely although this was probably true of most during that time as the average life span was much lower than today. I remember Groucho Marx story of coming on stage to examine Houdinis mouth prior to the needles trick. Houdini asked Groucho, not recognizable without his mostache, to tell the audience what he sees and he opened his mouth wide. Grouchos response.....Pyoria! (Gum disease).