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.


  1. You're welcome John! The pleasure was mine my friend!

    Are you ready for some interesting information? On the Live Auctioneers website for April 26, 2009, there is a listing for 2 card magic books by Scarne inscribed by him to Dr. Jacob Daley, the legendary card magician from the 1940s and 50s who was a student of Dai Vernon.

    The handwriting in the book inscriptions matches the handwriting in the note left in Horowitz's copy of the Kellock Houdini bio.

    Look closely at the words "of" and "the" in the inscriptions and note how the letter "f" matches the "f" in the Swiss note. Also notice how the cursive letters "h" and "e" from the word "the" look identical in one of the book inscriptions and the Swiss note.

    I believe we have a match and the author is Scarne.

    1. The Live Auctioneers Link:


  2. Whoa! Good work. I will have close look at that tomorrow. If our man is Scarne, that will be great news for Jamy.

  3. The book inscriptions are not much to go on, but compare the word "the", which is written at least 6 times in the Swiss note from the photo to the one in the inscription. It's a close match. Other letters like "p", "y", and "f" have a close resemblance.

  4. It's exciting to read any stories by people who met Houdini but this one seems historically significant. Dai Vernon was not the first or only magician to fool HH? And a recount of HHs performance at The Orpheum describing Straitjacket and Handcuff escapes?
    Thanks for sharing this discovery Leonard and John! I'll definitely be reading up on Scarne!

  5. I'm trying to pinpoint that day when Scarne walked into Ducrot's shop. Ducrot acquired it in the summer of 1920 so it couldn't have been before then. Scarne was born in 1903, so he would have been 17 years old in 1920, a bit too young to have been a professional magician, as he mentions in that anecdote.

    If David Charvet is correct, and I believe he is, that the hole in the wall elephant incident was at the Times Square Theater, I would speculate that Scarne walked into Ducrot's shop around late February 1922.

    According to the Koval Diaries Houdini was performing at the Majestic Theater in Chicago in late February 1922. Ducrot had mentioned to Scarne that HH was performing in Chicago and would return to N.Y.C. the following week.

  6. Great detective work. Kudos. Fascinating read. Excellent. Thank you.

  7. Ducrot assured Scarne that HH would return to New from Chicago in about a week. Sure enough, according to Koval, HH returns in roughly two weeks to perform at the Riverside Theater in N.Y.C. March 13-18.

    Could this have been where Scarne actually saw HH perform instead of the Hippodrome? Maybe. According to Koval, HH performed at the Hippodrome in 1925. Scarne may have also seen those later Hippodrome performances and conflated them with the Riverside Theater shows.

    Interesting that Harry was still doing the cuffs long after it was thought he dropped it around 1908. No surprise that Scarne saw HH doing the Needles and Straitjacket. Those were bread and butter effects to coast along when needed.

    The Times Square Theater performance were from April 3-22. This would have given Scarne about a month to hobnob with Ducrot, HH, and the gang after meeting Ducrot at his shop. It would have been enough time for Scarne to be a part of that Hole in the Wall story.

  8. Thanks John! All those years of watching Columbo have paid off.

    As Peter Falk used to say: "My superiors want me to crack this case."