Friday, April 29, 2016

The true story of Houdini & Doyle

This Monday, May 2, FOX premieres Houdini & Doyle, a new TV series in which the two famous men investigate paranormal mysteries in England in 1901. Advanced publicity says the series is "based on true events." So before we enjoy the show, let's look back at the real story of Houdini and Doyle.

"Apart from his amazing courage, he was remarkable for his cheery urbanity in every-day life. One could not wish a better companion so long as one was with him, though he might do and say the most unexpected things when one was absent." - Doyle on Houdini

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a well-known believer and advocate of Spiritualism, a self-proclaimed religion in which one could communicate with the dead through a spirit medium. Even though Spiritualism had been around since 1848, the movement found new life after World War I, which had left so many dead on the battlefields and so many grieving loved ones wishing to make contact. The fact that esteemed men such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Oliver Lodge championed the movement also gave it great credibility.

Harry Houdini was skeptical of Spiritualism. His own interest in the subject dates back to his youth (not his mother's death, as is frequently depicted). In the 1890s, when Houdini was first setting out as a magician, the tricks of spirit mediums were the cutting edge magic of the day, and Houdini studied their techniques in books such as Revelations of a Spirit Medium. Houdini and his wife Bess even performed "Spiritualistic Entertainments" during their struggling years. Even after Houdini achieved his great fame as "The Handcuff King", he continued to study Spiritualism, accumulating a vast library on the subject. While he still held out hope there could be such a thing as a genuine medium, all he ever found was fraud.

In 1920, Houdini traveled to England to fulfill engagements that had been postponed because of the war. Houdini was a fan of the Sherlock Homes stories and had read Doyle's latest books on the subject of Spiritualism, such as The New Revelation. By way of introduction, Houdini sent Doyle a copy of his own most scholarly work, The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin. Doyle saw Houdini perform at the London Palladium in June 1920. A short time later, the men struck up a friendship.

The focal point of their new friendship was the subject of Spiritualism. Houdini told Doyle he was a "seeker of Truth" and "willing to believe." Doyle agreed with Houdini that there was fraud out there, but that he could send him to genuine mediums. While in the UK, Houdini claimed to have visited over 100 mediums, including those Doyle felt were genuine. But at every sitting, Houdini recognized trickery. The experience left him "further than ever from a belief in the genuineness of the manifestations."

But Doyle firmly believed that Houdini himself had supernatural powers, and cited as evidence a man who claimed to have felt Houdini dematerialize while doing his Milk Can escape -- "A great loss of physical energy was felt...such as is usually felt by sitters in materializing séances." Doyle famously wrote to Houdini: "My dear chap, why go around the world seeking a demonstration of the occult when you are giving one all the time?"

Houdini and Doyle kept up a steady correspondence after Houdini returned to the U.S. The magician even paid homage to his new friend in his film, The Man From Beyond, which ends with Houdini's reincarnated man, Howard Hillary, reading The New Revelation. Doyle returned the favor by enthusiastically endorsing the film.

In 1922, Doyle came to the United States to lecture on the subject of Spiritualism. His lectures were a sensation in a "Jazz Age" that embraced the paranormal as fashion. Doyle even attended a special dinner hosted by Houdini for members of The Society of American Magicians. Showing a propensity for trickery himself, Doyle screened special effects footage from the in-production The Lost World. According to Doyle, the magicians were utterly fooled and believed he had somehow captured film of real dinosaurs.

But Doyle himself remained as gullible as ever. When Houdini playfully demonstrated a simple slight of hand trick in which he appeared to remove his thumb, Doyle was thunderstruck and once again proclaimed it as evidence of Houdini's paranormal powers.

In June of that same year, the Doyles invited the Houdinis to join them on a vacation in Atlantic City. While on the beach one day, Sir Arthur informed Houdini that Lady Doyle -- who had developed the power of mediumship herself -- was sensing that Houdini's deceased mother wished to communicate with him. Privately, Bess warned her husband that Lady Doyle had been peppering her with questions about his relationship with his mother just the day before. Nevertheless, Houdini agreed to the séance.

During the séance, held in Doyles suite at the Ambassador Hotel, Houdini's mother appeared to return via "automatic writing", a process in which Lady Doyle transcribed Cecelia Weiss's words from the beyond onto a note pad. Immediately, Houdini could see there where problems. The pages were in English, a language his mother did not speak. She also made the sign of the cross at the top of the first page. Not something one would expect from the wife of a Rabbi. The day before had also been his mother's birthday, something the spirit failed to mention. But Houdini concealed his doubts and thanked the Doyles for the séance.

After Atlantic City, Sir Arthur told the press that Houdini had been converted to the religion of Spiritualism. This forced Houdini's hand. Houdini countered publicly that he had not been converted and that he was more skeptical than ever. Of course, this raised the question of whether Houdini thought the Doyles were frauds. The public exchange put a strain on the friendship.

Feeling challenged, Houdini began touring with his own lecture that was the flip-side of Doyle's popular talks. Houdini demonstrated the tricks of fraudulent mediums and denounced the very mediums Doyle supported. Doyle felt Houdini was being too vitriolic in his attacks. Houdini felt Doyle was being too naive. The strain became too much and their friendship collapsed with the publication of Houdini's book, A Magician Among the Spirits, in May 1924.

With no more fear of offending his former friend, Houdini ratcheted up his campaign against fraudulent spirit mediums and made a sensation of it (giving his career a boost after his lackluster stint in the movies). He attended séances in disguise and exposed mediums from the stage. He even testified before Congress in support of a bill that outlawed fortune telling. Doyle continued his own vigorous defense of Spiritualism, supporting mediums Houdini debunked, notably the famous Mina Crandon a.k.a. "Margery." He continued to express his belief that Houdini was a medium in denial. He even felt Houdini was putting himself in danger, saying "The spirit world might well be incensed against him [for] using psychic powers at the very time when he is attacking them."

Houdini now publicly ridiculed Doyle's gullibility, citing his support of the Cottingley Fairies as an example. (Two young girls claimed to have photographed fairies in their garden. Doyle wrote a full book in support of the phenomena, The Coming of the Fairies, before the girls admitted the fairies were cutouts from a picture book which, ironically, contained a story by Doyle.) Houdini even considered taking their feud to a new level by publishing a monograph showing how Doyle plagiarized Edgar Allan Poe in his Sherlock Holmes stories. Happily, Houdini's research didn't pan out and he dropped the idea.

After Houdini's sudden death in October 1926, Sir Arthur wrote Bess a heartfelt letter of condolence, ending with: "I am sure that, with strength of character (and possibly his desire to make reparation), he will come back." As thanks, Bess sent him a portfolio of artwork by Conan Doyle's father that Houdini had acquired in an auction. Doyle wrote her in return:

"The book arrived and filled me with surprise... It really seems like a series of miracles–first that it should exist still, then that it should cross the Atlantic, and finally that it should come back home. I accept it as a peace-offering from your husband, and I thank him as well as you."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died on July 7, 1930. He never wavered from his belief that his former friend was "the greatest physical medium of modern times."

So while Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never solved paranormal mysteries together, their famous friendship and feud forever links them in history, and it is nice to see the old friends reunited, if only in fiction.

For more on the real story of Houdini and Doyle, check out Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini by Christopher Standford. Houdini & Doyle airs on FOX Monday's at 9 PM ET/PT.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Meet ROUGH RIDERS creator Adam Glass, May 7

Adam Glass, creator of the new graphic novel series ROUGH RIDERS, will be signing books from 11am to 12:30pm at Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica as part of Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 7th.

ROUGH RIDERS teams Houdini with Teddy Roosevelt, Annie Oakley, Jack Johnson, Thomas Edison and Monk Eastman. The book has proven to be a big hit for publisher Aftershock Comics with issue #1 selling out.

ROUGH RIDERS # 2 will sport a terrific Houdini cover and is due out May 4, 2016.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Houdini haunts UCLA

Today I had the pleasure of being a guest speaker at Tom Ogden's course Boo! Ghosts and Hauntings at UCLA Extension OSHER. This class focused on magic and magicians in the world of the paranormal. Tom covered the first half with a discussion that took us from Ancient Egypt through 1950s Spook Shows and The Amazing Randi. He then gave me the second half to discuss the greatest ghostbusting magician of them all -- Houdini!

It was a great group who really seemed to take an interest in the subject. I also brought along a signed copy of A Magician Among The Spirits to share with the class.

Thanks to Tom Ogden and Mark Willoughby. Be sure and visit Tom's official website.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The curious case of the incomplete Houdini scrapbook

In the recent Potter & Potter auction of Houdiniana, a major Houdini scrapbook sold for a whopping $43,000 (not including commission). This was, I believe, the high price of the auction. Who won it and what will become of it, I have no idea. But according to David Haversat, who runs Haversat & Ewing Galleries, the scrapbook was incomplete. Therein lies an interesting story.

The complete scrapbook was originally acquired by the late Larry Weeks (of Grim Game fame) in 1948. Larry held in his collection for half a century. Then in the late 1990s, Larry invited David to have a look at the scrapbook. Larry said he felt it was time to do something with it. When David returned, he discovered Larry had cut it up!

"He said he wanted to let everyone have a chance on getting a piece of Houdini from the book," says David. "While some would have been really upset, I understood Larry and could not entirely disagree with his logic. The scrapbook was falling apart and Larry's place was jammed with stuff. If the scrapbook was lost or destroyed, then all the historical items would be gone as well."

David handled the sale of the individual items for Larry between 1999 and 2000. Many items sold on eBay and fetched record prices at that time. Among the items sold were at least 20 Houdini challenges, annotated photographs, letters written to Houdini, postcards, tickets for his movies, photos of Bess and Houdini on vacation, and a receipt for parts for Houdini's airplane. With each item came a note from Larry explaining that it had come from Houdini's scrapbook.

Collector George Daily acquired a good number of the challenges and had them restored. Other major collectors who benefited were Arthur Mosses, Ken Trombly, Sid Radner, Roger Dreyer and Pat Croce (whose own collection was sold in 2014).

Below are a few choice items from the original scrapbook, including a terrific challenge from The Pittsburg Vise that I've never seen before ("The War Between Man and Machine"). There's also an signed affidavit from Houdini to the Pan Pacific Exposition of 1915 assuming all responsibility during his overboard box escape in San Fransisco Bay. I'm excited to share these gems here today.

So do you think Larry did the right thing in cutting up his Houdini scrapbook so more collectors could own a piece? Or did he destroy an important Houdini artifact? Sound off in the comments below.

Thanks to David Haversat.


Monday, April 25, 2016

"No human can get through that door."

Here's another preview clip from the premiere episode of Houdini & Doyle. No need for historical dissection this time. This one is just for fun. Enjoy.

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton. It premieres next Monday, May 2, at 9:00 PM ET/PT on FOX.

Later this week I will be sharing "The Real Story of Houdini & Doyle."


Houdini in the political arena (again)

As happens every four years, Houdini's name has come up in the political mud-slinging between the U.S. presidential candidates. This from the

According to ABC News on April 23, Cruz's is coining terms when referring to Trump such as, "crazy Donald" and "phony Donald." He's called Trump a "master illusionist like Houdini" and comparing his campaign style to "Mick Jagger parachuting into a rock concert." Cruz might not realize that Houdini and Jagger’s acts were super popular, so he’s doing Trump a favor!

If only we could escape all this. Below are links to more Houdini presidential cycle mentions.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Watch the Water Torture Cell escape from Houdini & Doyle

Today I'm excited to share this preview clip from the premiere episode of Houdini & Doyle. This shows Michael Weston's Houdini performing the famous Chinese Water Torture Cell. Enjoy.

The production filmed this scene last year at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, where the real Houdini performed the same feat. However, it could not have been "100 years to the day" as some publicly has stated. Houdini was touring the U.S. throughout 1915. Derek Tait in Houdini The British Tours shows Houdini performing at the Palace Theatre in Manchester (Oxford Street) in 1913.

So how does this depiction compare to others? Not bad! The cell is pretty good reproduction of Houdini's real cell, notably the stocks, although it is much larger and has a glass back, which Houdini's cell did not have. As I noted in my episode one review, they resist having Houdini appear as his own axe-wielding assistant at the end. This "twist" was created by Doug Henning in 1975, but recent Houdini biopics have seized on it as the way to conclude the escape. In this regard, the admittedly fictional Houdini & Doyle restores some welcome reality.

The posters on stage are based on real Houdini posters. The bathing suit Weston is wearing is what Houdini would sometimes wear during outdoor underwater escapes (on stage he wore a one piece). As discussed here, the attractive and put-upon Florrie is fictional. And, yes, there's the ever present giant clock.

Overall, I think we should tip our hats to production designer Arwel Jones for giving us a pretty darn good USD! Looking forward to what else Houdini & Doyle has to offer when the series premiers next week on FOX.

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton. It premieres next Monday, May 2, at 9:00 PM ET/PT on FOX.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Houdini the bibliophile

"When I have come to town the police have tried to show me that their shackles could hold me, and have failed; the booksellers have tried to sell me many books, and have succeeded." - Houdini

Our friend Lisa Cousins, librarian at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, has uncovered a fascinating profile of Houdini as collector in the January 1927 issue of The Bookman. The piece is called "Houdini's Literary Escape" by Prosper Buranelli, who interviewed Houdini in his home. It was published posthumously.

While Houdini was a well-known collector of books on magic, spiritualism and theatre, his collecting does not come in for much discussion or examination. That's why this article is especially interesting. It provides quotes from the man himself about his (surprising) initial motives for collecting, Bess's own book collection, and his plans for a project that he would not live to complete.

The article kicks off with a description of Houdini's home:

A three story house crammed with fifteen thousand books, fifty thousand prints, half a million cuttings and four tons of theatrical bills stands on an obscure New York block and domiciles a bibliophile–Houdini the Handcuff King. A dozen and a half rooms are lined with shelves and these with books, old, new, small, large. One is heaped with filing cases of prints. The basement is full of antique posters.

Buranelli describes Houdini as "a middle aged, middle sized man with a broad head and a good profile; small strait nose and long mobile upper lip. His talk is leisurely and whimsical, and characterizes a man of reading and meditation with a dash of the theatre." He then goes on to quote Houdini at length about how and when he started collecting books:

"I was a young magician," Houdini relates. "I took my magicship seriously. I saw myself one of the subtle necromancers of old times, full of mysteries, secrets, and secretiveness. I felt that the darkness and concealments of magic must be kept from the uninitiated, and grew earnest about it. I was young and visionary.

"On public stalls I saw books exposing magic, perhaps an old pamphlet detailing the secrets of great fire eater, or a treatise upon the use of mirrors in conjury. These books filled me with misgiving. I should have liked to suppress their editions. The editions were past my reach, but the books before me were not. I could buy them and cast them into the flames. I bought them, but did not cast them into the flames.

"My father had been one of the earliest rabbis in the middle west, a Talmudic scholar of note, and a writer of speculative disquisitions. He had reared me in the love of books. I felt the sin of destroying a book, and I kept the offending volumes I bought. But I burned their titles pages, lest some intruder should note where they had been printed and could be found, and gain the secrets they contained.

"I found myself with a growing library on magic, the bibliophile instinct I had inherited took full hold of me, and I collected systematically. Much of the writing about magicians lay in books about stage notables generally, and I was led to collect on the theatre."

Buranelli notes that Houdini's himself has published exposures -- including fire eating in Miracle Mongers and Their Methods. Houdini's defense is that "fire eating has gone out of vogue."

The article then turns, amusingly, to the question of spouses and the domestic problems that a book collecting habit can bring.

"Most bibliophiles," he declares, "are unable to work a reconciliation between books and marriage. Some give up marriage for books, other books for marriage, and still others nourish the discordant two in their bosoms. I know a professor who gathers books in spite of his wife, as many do, and who hides the volumes he had bought under the icebox until he finds a chance to get them into his room unnoticed.

"My wife is, herself, a bibliophile. She specializes in cook books. She has gathered approximately a thousand volumes treating upon the kitchen in many languages, some very quaint. I have to do on a little of my book buying surreptitiously."

Houdini says he is currently reading Virgil ("I should like to dream of Virgil with a black lined stage and a set of mirrors"), and discusses the ancient art of conjuring. Even though Houdini's show program at this time specially states that he would not answer questions related to the miracles in the Bible (a spiritualistic trap), he does so here:

"But the greatest source of ancient magical lore is the Bible. When I want to beginnings of almost any of our devices I look into the Bible first. The theocrats of the Jews, like those of the Chaldeans, were wonderfully versed in conjuring.

"A superb trick seen in Aaron's staff that becomes a serpent. The Egyptian priests knew when pressure was exerted on the nerve centre at the base of the skull, and which was set squirming again by pressure on a nerve centre at the tail. Aaron, no doubt, learned the secret from the priests."

Houdini then introduces the reporter to Alfred Becks, his librarian, and reveals his plans for a future project (that would never be):

"He [Becks] is indexing the library for me," said Houdini. "I shall keep him with me, for no man living knows as much about the American theater as he does. He is a link with a splendid past.

"And when these tons of material are in order I shall begin a major work upon an enterprise that has kept my fancy for many years – a treatise upon literary plagiarism. In my reading I have caught numberless parallel passages, and have made notes on them. I shall compile them."

The article concludes:

All this was very scholarly, but sorcery would out. Houdini began toying with his left thumb. He pulled the thumb off the hand. Then replaced it.

Thanks to Lisa Cousin's for sharing this wonderful find. The full Bookman article can be read by AMA members at the Magic Castle's William Larsen Sr. Memorial Library.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Houdini gets surreal in Ohio

The Perrysburg Municipal Building in Perrysburg, Ohio, currently has an exhibition of surrealist pop art by Mr. Atomic. Among the 18 works on display is "Houdini."

"Mr. Atomic" is the combined efforts of twins Mark and Michael Kersey, who use the term Narrative Pop Surrealism to describe their style of painting.

The Perrysburg Municipal Building is located at 201 W. Indiana Ave. in Perrysburg, OH. The exhibition runs through June 15 and can be viewed from 8AM to 4:30 PM. Mondays through Fridays.

Source: The Toledo Blade.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Free Houdini & Doyle screening in Appleton, April 29

Appleton's History Museum at the Castle will be screening the first episode of Houdini & Doyle on Friday, April 29 at 6:30pm. The screening is open to the public and is FREE.

The History Museum at the Castle is located at 330 E. College Ave. in Houdini's very own Appleton, Wisconsin. The museum houses a permanent display of Houdini memorabilia.

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton. It will air Mondays at 9:00 PM ET/PT on FOX starting May 2.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

King of Cards

Here's another fun Houdini & Doyle promo from the fine folks at FOX's social media. The Magic Castle magician "assisting" Michael Weston is Crow Garrett.

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton. The series premiers May 2 at 9PM on FOX.


    USD, Needles, and a future co-star?

    This ad from a 1915 Rhode Island newspaper not only nicely features Houdini's Needles and the Water Torture Cell, but there's something else here that escaped my notice until now. Can you spot it?

    Notice the name of Jane Connolly, "The Dainty Comedianne", just below Houdini. I'm wondering if this is Jane Connelly, Houdini's co-star in The Man From Beyond? As I noted in my Leading Ladies profile, Connelly and her husband were vaudeville performers, and it's likely Houdini's friendship with the Connellys was behind the casting. (Mr. Connelly was also in The Man From Beyond.)

    Of course, the name on this ad is spelled Connolly, not Connelly, so this could be a completely different Jane. But misspellings in newspaper ads are not unheard of, even for the most famous of headliners:

    UPDATE: I'm now certain this is Jane Connelly from The Man From Beyond. "A Strong Cup of Tea" was written by her husband Erwin who also appeared in the cast. But this wasn't the first time Houdini and the Connellys shared a bill. I will have more about that in an upcoming post.

    Monday, April 18, 2016

    LINK: Obscura Day Houdini Escapes D.C.

    Dean Carnegie has a full report on Saturday's Houdini event in Washington D.C. hosted by Atlas Obscura. The day included a talk by collector Ken Trombly, a visit to the site of Keith's Theater, and a performance by Dean. The event was sold out and it sounds like it was a great success.

    "The wonderful thing about this escape is,
    you never know just how people will tie you up."

    CLICK HERE or on the headline to read Dean's report at Carnegie: Magic Detective.

    Related posts:

    Sunday, April 17, 2016

    Listen to The Master Mystery

    As we know, Houdini's 1918 movie serial The Mastery Mystery was published as a photoplay edition by Grosset and Dunlap. This book makes for a nice Houdini/silent cinema collectible, especially when found with the original dust jacket  (right). It's also a valuable tool when trying to piece together the 15 episodes of the existing film, which does not survive complete.

    The Master Mystery photoplay is in the public domain and has been reprinted several times. But now LibriVox Audiobooks has recorded an audiobook version complete and unabridged. The recording comes in at a whopping 7 hours 52 minutes and can be listened to in it's entirety for free. The reader is Roger Merlin.

    You can also download a full version in various formats along with cover art and CD insert at the LibriVox website.

    Saturday, April 16, 2016

    Fraud Jedi Exposed!

    Two pop culture icons collide in this image being made available on t-shirts, hoodies and phone cases by Teepuplic. Yes, it's Star Wars meets Houdini.

    This clever mockup uses Houdini's well-known Do Spirits Return? poster with Darth Vader as the star of his own 3 Shows in One: "Fraud Jedi Exposed."  This would have melted my brain in 1977. It's still doing a pretty good job of it.

    Check out all the buying options at Teepublic.


    Houdini & Doyle screening at Houdini Museum in Scranton, April 29

    The Houdini Museum in Scranton will have an advance screening of the first episode of Houdini & Doyle on April 29 at 8:00 PM. The screening is FREE, but reservations are required by calling (570) 342-5555.

    The Houdini Museum is located at 1433 N. Main Ave, Scranton, PA 18447. Visit their official website for more information.

    Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton. It will air Mondays at 9:00 PM ET/PT on FOX starting May 2.


    Friday, April 15, 2016

    Houdini & Doyle's World of Wonders launches on

    Houdini & Doyle fans in Canada are getting a special treat. An exclusive webseries, Houdini & Doyle's World of Wonders, has launched on the official Houdini & Doyle webpage at and on the Global GO app. The series is hosted by Canadian-born Rebecca Liddiard, who plays Constable Adelaide Stratton in the new show.

    Houdini & Doyle’s World of Wonders takes viewers inside the magic, science, and beliefs of Houdini, Doyle, and the Edwardian period in which they lived. Rebecca tackles topics such as seances, straitjackets, spirit photography and psychic surgery.

    The clips are now LIVE at However, they are only available to view in Canada. Lucky Canucks!

    Houdini & Doyle also stars Michael Weston as Houdini and Stephen Mangan as Arthur Conan Doyle. It premieres May 2 on Global TV in Canada and on FOX in the U.S.


    'Death and Harry Houdini' returns to Chicago, May 12

    The House Theatre of Chicago's popular Death and Harry Houdini returns to The Chopin Theatre May 12 through July 24, 2016. The play is written and directed by Nathan Allen and features magician Dennis Watkins as Houdini.

    After playing sold-out crowds in Chicago and Miami from January through August of 2012 and again in the summer of 2013, we're thrilled to bring back this dynamic, award-winning, magic-filled production. 
    A ringmaster leads us through the events of Harry’s life, all told through stunning magic, poignant dialogue and original music. We travel from the untimely passing of his father, through his first tent shows with his younger brother Theo, meeting his wife Bess, and beginning a journey towards fame on the Vaudeville circuit. All the while, Harry feels Death close on his heels and he won’t rest until he’s conquered him once and for all. Harry will walk on broken glass, swallow razor blades and risk his life in the Water Torture Cell, but will he pull off an escape from Death? Marvel with us as Houdini battles Death once more.

    The Chopin Theater is located at 1543 W. Division St., Chicago, IL. For more details and to buy tickets visit the House Theatre of Chicago.

    UPDATE: This is now extended to August 21.


    Thursday, April 14, 2016

    Houdini & Doyle gets social

    FOX's social media campaign for Houdini & Doyle is kicking into high gear. Below is a poster mock-up featuring star Michael Weston as Houdini posted to the official Houdini & Doyle Twitter and Facebook. This is based on a real Houdini poster of the same period in which the series is set (1901).

    The social media team have also shared the first clip of Michael Weston's visit to the Magic Castle in Hollywood. I had the pleasure of meeting Michael during his visit, so you might be seeing a bit of me behind that bookcase in upcoming clips.

    Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton. It's currently airing in the UK on ITV Encore. It will air Mondays at 9PM on FOX starting May 2.


      Discover Houdini in D.C. this weekend

      Just a reminder that Atlas Obscura will host a special Houdini event in Washington, D.C. this Saturday, April 16, from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM. "Obscura Day 2016: Houdini Escapes DC" will feature a walking tour of Houdini's Washington, rarities from the collection of Ken Trombly, magic and escapes by Dean Carnegie, and a picnic lunch of Cherry Pie (a Houdini favorite).

      This event takes place 100 years to the week that Houdini performed in Washington during his 1916 vaudeville tour.

      You can find all the details and purchase tickets at the Obscura Day 2016 event website.

      Related posts:

      LINK: Houdini, Martin Beck, and Herrmann in Cincinnati

      The new blog on the block, Houdini & Hardeen, has uncovered some terrific information about Houdini, Martin Beck, and magician Leon Hermann in Cincinnati in December 1899. Quite the confluence at a key time in Houdini's life and career.

      I'll let you click the headline and discover the story for yourself. Know there's info here that I don't we've heard before, and that our favorite kind!

      At last weekend's big Potter & Potter auction a collection of early letters from Martin Beck to Houdini sold for $26,000.

      UPDATE: Unfortunately, it looks like the Houdini & Hardeen blog is no longer online.

      Related posts:

      Wednesday, April 13, 2016

      A Magic Castle movie? Already done.

      This week it was announced that Scott Free Productions and Radar Pictures have teamed with Milt Larsen to develop a movie about the Magic Castle. Reports are they are "seeking to develop properties across various platforms and simultaneously exploring TV and digital opportunities." Radar had originally set up a Magic Castle movie at 20th Century Fox, and at one point had McG attached to direct, but the rights reverted back last year.

      However, hardcore Houdini buffs will recall that a movie set inside the Magic Castle was already done in 1988 with Houdini as a main character! A Night At The Magic Castle starred comedian Arte Johnson as the ghost of Houdini who brings a 7-year-old boy to the Castle for a night of magic and adventure (which is every bit as creepy as it sounds). You can view select clips in this post from 2012. The full movie is also available on YouTube.

      Here's my idea. Forget all the cross platform whatnot and make a movie about the true story of the creation of The Magic Castle by Bill, Milt and Irene Larsen in the 1960s. If you read Milt's 2012 series "50 Years at the Castle" in MAGIC Magazine, you'll know there's a wonderful story there about the rebirth of magic in a dying Hollywood. For me, this would be the best way to honor and immortalize the Magic Castle and its founders.

      But I'm thinking they'll give us more ghosts and grade-schoolers.

      "They're bringing us back!"


      Tuesday, April 12, 2016

      Houdini's electric chair - the shocking truth

      Today we have the answer to the question of what happened to the electric chair Houdini purchased from Huber's Dime Museum in 1910 and kept in his New York home (read: Houdini and his electric chair). I can also now show you exactly what the chair looked like.

      Reader Richard Lane, who's specializes in researching hypnotic performers, shared with me information he uncovered at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The university houses a massive Houdini collection, including correspondence with Dr. Walford Bodie, a Scottish hypnotist and stage magician famous for his mock electrocutions. (Bodie was not a real doctor, the M.D. stood for "Merry Devil," he explained.)

      Bodie, who counted Charlie Chaplin among his admirers, wrote to Houdini on April 8, 1920, asking if he did indeed own the first electric chair from "Sing Sing", and that he would love to see it. By the end of the month, Houdini gave Bodie the chair. Bodie displayed the chair in theater lobbies in the UK with a sign that boasted not only its grisly history, but that it was a gift from the "Great Houdini."

      Below is a photo Bodie sent to Houdini as thanks. This photo finally reveals Houdini's electric chair.

      Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin.

      While this answers the question of what happened to Houdini's chair, it creates new questions. The world's first electric chair, the one used to execute Kemmler, was housed at Aubun State Prison, not Sing Sing. And the Bodie photo reveals that the chair was clearly not the same chair from Auburn, nor is it the chair seen in Houdini's The Master Mystery.

      The chairs from Auburn Prison (left) and The Master Mystery (right).

      It's possible Huber's advertised the chair as coming from Sing Sing because that was the more infamous and recognizable name to the general public. In a Dime Museum, exaggeration and hype was the name of the game. It's also possible this was just Bodie's mistake and Houdini never corrected him. "He'd had Sing-Sing rattling around his brain for 23 years," says Richard.

      But I also think we need to consider the possibility that the Huber's chair may have been a fake from the start. Maybe the museum mocked it up and Houdini was fooled. Or maybe the young Houdini, who was performing at Hurber's the week the chair arrived, had a hand in creating the chair himself. He could have even suggested the idea. This is why he felt "sentimental" about it and bought it in the 1910 liquidation auction. This also explains why he let it go so easily in 1920. It wasn't a true historical artifact, just a bit of fun, and Houdini might have been happy to see it once again play the role for which it was created in the first place.

      You'll notice that Bodie offered a £1000 Reward to anyone who could prove this was not the first electric chair or "furnish information contrary." He was lucky no one collected on that bet.

      Today the whereabouts of the Huber-Houdini-Bodie chair is unknown, so that's still a mystery to uncover. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if it's still sitting on display somewhere, teasing people with its grisly (and questionable) history.

      Thanks to Richard Lane for sharing his info on Bodie, and to Chelsea Weathers of The Harry Ransom Center for her help securing the Bodie photo. Also thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz at the Houdini Museum in Scranton who first alerted me to the Bodie connection.

      UPADTE: Our friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz at the Houdini Muesum in Scranton have uncovered more information about Houdini's chair in the book, Old Sparky: The Electric Chair and the History of the Death Penalty by Anthony Galvin, which includes this revealing paragraph:


      Monday, April 11, 2016

      Take a seat

      With the help of a reader and the Harry Ransom Center, I've sussed out the mystery of Houdini's electric chair. The shocking truth tomorrow.

      Exclusive: Houdini collection for sale

      Today readers of WILD ABOUT HARRY get first crack at an entire Houdini Collection (primarily books) being offered for sale by Jack Allen. This list is being made available to us via Bill Goodwin at the Magic Castle's William Larsen Sr. Memorial Library.

      While Jack would love to sell the collection as a whole, he's open to selling items individually. Unfortunately, he does not list prices, but his phone and email are at the top of the list, so contact him with your wants and prices can be hashed out. There's some good stuff here, so act fast!

      Thanks to Bill Goodwin and Lisa Cousins at the William Larsen Sr. Memorial Library.

      Sunday, April 10, 2016

      David Jaher at the Morbid Anatomy Museum

      David Jaher, author of the excellent The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, will be giving an illustrated lecture on the topic of Houdini, Margery, and the spirits at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn tomorrow, April 11 at 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm. Tickets are $5.00 and can be purchased HERE.

      Last year it was announced that STX Entertainment had purchased the movie rights to David's book and that development had begun on a film to be directed by Andres Muschietti. Hoping to get an update on that soon. I'm also thinking we should expect a paperback edition of the book this year?

      The Morbid Antony Museum is located at 424A 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215. More details at their official website.


      Saturday, April 9, 2016

      Potter & Potter Houdiniana auction results

      Potter & Potter held their remarkable auction of "Houdiniana" today, and the results did not disappoint. It was a wild ride with some lots soaring to new highs while others offered up surprise bargains.

      As I've already reported, the most publicized lot, the unpublished manuscript for The Cancer of Superstition, sold for $28,000 (all prices noted here are before 23% buyer's premium). A collection of letters from Houdini's manager, Martin Beck, which I considered to be the most historically significant item in the entire auction, went for $26,000. A Houdini scrapbook sold for $43,000 in what I believe was the highest price realized. Houdini scrapbooks have certainly become hot auction items lately!

      The Castle Lock display case featured in the 1953 Houdini biopic starring Tony Curtis locked up $27,000. (It sold for $22,000 in the 2014 Pat Croce auction.) A Houdini lock pick brought $3,200 while a ball and chain, authenticated by Dunninger, went for $8,000. A pair of black McKenzie Mitts grabbed $5,500.

      Martin Beck correspondence - $26,000.

      Houdini scrapbook - $43,000.

      Castle Lock display case - $27,000.

      Houdini's Needles - $18,000.

      A set of Houdini's Needles, complete with box, fetched $18,000. Twenty-six minutes of film footage, including film of Houdini's funeral and some missing footage from The Master Mystery, brought in $4,000. A 1904 "Caught" and "Flown" Christmas card sold for $3,200 while a colorful 1908 Christmas card sold for $3,000.

      Photos sold fast and furious and ran the gamut of prices. An original photo of Houdini and Ching Ling Foo sold for what I thought was a low $300 (estimate was $400 – $500), while an 8x10 from The Grim Game sold for a surprisingly high $1,500 (estimate $600 – $800). Grim Game stills in general seemed to fetch premium prices. A pic of Houdini and the Roosevelt grandchildren (his toughest audience) sold for $750. A street scene of Houdini shooting a movie sold for $1,900.

      But the image I thought was the photo of the auction -- and the one I most wanted for myself -- was the infamous "frenemies" shot of Houdini and Margery at Lime Street. I bowed out and let it go at $1,300 (and will probably kick myself forever).

      Houdini and Ching Ling Foo - $300. Houdini and Margery - $1,300.

      Street shoot - $1,900.

      A postcard showing Houdini's historic Australian flight flew away with an impressive $3,200 (estimate $1,000 – $1,200). Another postcard showing Hardeen and his two "prize winning" pups brought $400 (another one I'll kick myself over). A wonderful pen and ink cartoon from 1905 -- "Oh! He’s here again, is he!" -- drew $2,600.

      1905 pen and ink - $2,600.

      The best bargains seemed to be books. A copy of Handcuff Secrets in very good condition sold for $375. A near fine copy of Magical Rope Ties and Escapes went for a low $250, and The Right Way To Do Wrong for $175. The pitchbook Houdini: His Life and Work in Prose and Picture by Hardeen sold for only $60.

      Surprisingly, posters came in at the lower end of their auction estimates. The famous "Houdini for President" lithograph featured on the auction catalog cover sold for $12,000 (estimate $12,000 – $18,000). A King of Cards sold for $9,500, below the estimate of $12,000 – $15,00. In a 2014 Potter & Potter auction a King of Cards sold for $17,000. Finally, a sensational original lobby display and transport case was a steal, IMO, at $7,000 (estimate $7,000 – $9,000).

      Houdini lobby display and case - $7,000.

      Poster fragment - $650.

      If you log into Live Auctioneers you can see all the auction results.

      Congrats to Potter & Potter and all the buyers and sellers in what was yet another historic and exciting Houdini auction.

      UPDATE: These two lots came late in the auction so I missed them yesterday. An unusual signed photo of Bess and Julia Sawyer in French costumes and wigs sold for $2,400. A Robert-Houdin glass column mystery clock brought a whopping $42,000!

      Bessie and Julia - $2,400.  Robert-Houdin clock - $42,000.