Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hardeen's magic vs. Clara's "IT"

This ad from the March 26, 1928 Harrisburg Evening News shows just how much movies were dominating Vaudeville in the years following Houdini's death. This is when Hardeen carried on the act using props willed to him by his famous brother. Here he's in crowded company.

Click to enlarge.

I like that this ad gives us the duration of Hardeen's performance: "30 golden minutes out of the treasure house of Houdini's greatest creations." I also like the ad for Clara Bow's film Red Hair. But I think I'd see Dash instead. He had "IT" as well.


New book examines Houdini (1953)

The new book Invented Lives, Imagined Communities: The Biopic and American National Identity professes to be the first full-length examination of American movie biopics. Among the biopics put under the microscope is the Tony Curtis classic Houdini (1953) in an essay by Murray Pomerance called "Empty Words: Houdini and Houdini."

The essay is highly academic and this book is probably published for use as a college textbook, which explains the inflated price of $90. However, you can read a good chunk of the Houdini essay via Amazon's preview feature for free.

Some of the other films examined are: Patton, The Great White Hope, Ed Wood, Milk, and Steven Spielberg's Lincoln.

Invented Lives, Imagined Communities: The Biopic and American National Identity is available as a hardcover and Kindle eBook on


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Williamsport to unveil Houdini plaque

A new Houdini historical marker will be unveiled as part of Williamsport, Pennsylvania's "150th Birthday Party Bash" this 4th of July weekend. Mayor Gabriel J. Campana says, "The city plans to unveil a Houdini plaque in honor of the escape artist and magician who appeared at the Pine Street United Methodist Church to debunk mediums of his day."

Click to enlarge.

Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in nearby Scranton are responsible for the plaque. Dorothy and Dick did groundbreaking research into Houdini's appearances in Williamsport, first as part of the Welsh Bros. Circus and later with his anti-spiritualism lecture in the 1920s. They shared their research with city officials, who until then had been unaware of their city's Houdini history.

Dorothy and Dick will perform magic and escapes as part of the dedication celebration on Friday, July 1st at 6:30pm on Pine Street. There is also an ongoing Houdini exhibit at the Williamsport City Hall.

Pine Street United Methodist Church in Houdini's time.

You can get more information on Williamsport's 150th Birthday Bash at the official website.

Thanks to Dorothy and Dick for this news and early peek at the Houdini plaque.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

REVIEW: Houdini & Doyle (ep. 9): Necromanteion

In Houdini & Doyle episode 9, "Necromanteion," the trio travel to Canada and meet Thomas Edison who has invented a device he claims can communicate with the dead. I don't have to tell you who believes him and who doesn't.

The episode kicks off with Houdini, Doyle and Adelaide aboard an ocean liner bound for North America. Houdini is bringing his deceased mother back to the U.S. for burial in New York while Doyle and Adelaide are off to investigate a homicidal poltergeist in Canada.

During the funeral for Mama, we get to meet Houdini's brother, played by Canadian actor and musician Justin Rutledge. While not mentioned by name, the credits show him as Theodore Weiss. While it's nice that we get to see another important part of Houdini's life, I can't help but feel like Theo is wasted here. I would have preferred him to show up in London in his professional guise as "Hardeen," a Houdini clone, who shared his brother's skills and skepticism. I can just imagine Doyle moaning, "Oh God, there are two of you?"

But Thomas Edison is the real focus of this episode. Edison uses his "Necrophone" to channel the dead and gives a convincing demonstration of the device at the scene of an alleged poltergeist murder. Houdini, a friend of Nikoli Tesla, is no friend to Edison, and is skeptical of his "glorified Ouija board." The story plays out at an estate in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada and features lots of spooky haunted house action. At one point, Edison's Necrophone appears to reach the spirit of Houdini's mother.

But the only person who actually returns from the dead is Adelaide's husband, who confesses he's been working with the secret service and faked his death. Speaking of Adelaide, this episode finally features a kiss between Houdini and the good constable! I'm been waiting for this, and the scene was very well played by Michael Weston and Rebecca Liddiard, who have nice chemistry. (This got a big reaction on Twitter last night -- #HoudiniAndDoyle even trended during the East Coast feed.)

Ultimately, the murderer is exposed as human and Edison destroys his Necrophone, fearing he has "opened a doorway to Hell." But one thing Houdini can't explain is the repeated appearance of a mysterious young woman who seems to be following him. She even appears (and disappears) at his mother's grave. Is she a stalker or a ghost? It looks like they're saving the answer for the season finale next week.

Just the Facts

This episode opens with a transatlantic ocean voyage. In real life, Houdini suffered from terrible sea sickness. Just the sight of a ship in the harbor would make him feel queasy. But here Adelaide is the sick one.

There's no record of a friendship between Houdini and Nikola Telsa and nothing that records his feelings on the Edison vs. Tesla competition. But Houdini did correspond with Thomas Edison. I've never read any of these Houdini-Edison letters, but it's likely the topic was Spiritualism. Edison was convinced that the medium and mind reader Bert Reese was genuine. This, of course, delighted Conan Doyle.

Edison also claimed that he was working on a device that could communicate with the dead. Nothing ever came of his "Telephone to the Dead", but the idea persists today with EVP (electronic voice phenomena). In 2013, EVP was employed at the annual Official Houdini Seance in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The medium later claimed a positive result.

Despite Edison's spiritualistic predilections, it's likely Houdini was an admirer. Certainly Edison's inventions played a large part in his world. Houdini's adopted hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin was the first U.S. city to have electric street lights. Houdini also famously recorded his voice on an Edison wax cylinder in 1914. He also kept an electric chair in his home, said to be an Edison original from Sing Sing, but more likely a dime museum mock-up which reminded him of his early days. [Read: Houdini's electric chair - the shocking truth.]

As noted, we get to meet Houdini's brother Theo a.k.a. "Dash" in this episode. (Houdini was one of seven Weiss children.) Theo was born Ferenc Dezső in Budapest in 1876. The brothers were very close and performed together as The Brothers Houdini in their youth. When Houdini found fame in Europe, he sent for Dash. There he set him up with his own escape act and even provided him with a stage name: Hardeen. Dash would perform as Hardeen throughout his life and carry on the act after Houdini died.

This episode suggests conflict between the brothers over how to handle Mama's death. While there was no conflict between Houdini and Dash (who was with Cecilia when she died), Houdini later turned his wrath on his youngest brother, Leopold, whom he partly blamed for their mother's death. In my opinion, it would have been better if the brother in this scene would have been Leopold, and Hardeen could have been saved for season 2 (if we get it).

Finally, the scene in which Houdini grieves at his mother's grave is certainly a moment that the real Houdini experienced. Houdini visited his mother's grave in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens on a regular basis. He would also say Kaddish, as we see him do here, over both the graves of his mother and father on the anniversaries of their deaths. In 1916, he dedicated a large marble excedra in the memory of his parents which still stands today.

Next Monday: Houdini & Doyle concludes with the season finale, "The Pall of LaPier."

Houdini and Edison illustration by Marco Roblin from the unpublished Edge of the Unknown II.


Monday, June 27, 2016

LINK: Why You Should Be Watching ‘Houdini & Doyle'

This review at UPROXX by Andrew Husband is worth a read. It's an honest take on the merits of Houdini & Doyle by a regular television watcher and critic. It also contains a few choice insights about how the show has been rolled out here in the U.S., including this quote from creator David Titcher:

“All my friends hadn’t heard of it unless I’d told them about it,” Titcher admits. “We’re really trying to get the word out, because Fox has thrown us into the deep end and we’re hoping we can swim.”

There are only two more episodes of Houdini & Doyle left (including tonight), but you can watch all the past episodes at FOX NOW. Links to my reviews can be found at my Episode Guide.


Houdini & Doyle tonight

Houdini & Doyle meet Thomas Edison in episode 9, Necromanteion, tonight at 9/8c on FOX. Here's a preview.

The trio travels to Canada to investigate a homicidal poltergeist, where they are joined by other paranormal experts, including Thomas Edison, who unveils his latest invention - the Necrophone - a device that can purportedly communicate with the dead.

"Necromanteion" is directed by Jeff Renfroe and written by Melissa R. Byer and Treena Hancock. Watch for my review tomorrow.

Houdini & Doyle airs every Monday at 9/8c. You can also watch episodes at FOX NOW.


LINK: 10 Days of Houdini & Doyle

The amazingly comprehensive fansite HOUDOYLE is running "10 Days of Houdini & Doyle." Every day the site focuses on a specific episode with screen captures, quotes, and tidbits of information, counting down to the final episode on July 4. You can follow along on Twitter @HouDoyle or view the archived tweets at HouDoyle.

Houdini & Doyle airs Monday's at 9/8c. You can watch past episodes at FOX NOW.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Regular Little Houdini in Hollywood

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Daniel Llewelyn-Willams' one-man show A Regular Little Houdini during its final performance at the Hollywood Festival Fringe. The play has been very well reviewed and I certainly understand why. Daniel delivers a tour de force in both the acting and writing departments in what is clearly a passion project for the talented performer from Wales.

A Regular Little Houdini tells the story of a working class boy growing up in Newport, South Wales at the turn of the century who idolizes Houdini and longs to create "amazements" like his hero. Williams relates the boy's experiences in the first person, which are both funny and harrowing. The tale of his first "amazement" -- hanging off the gondola of the Transporter Bridge -- was so vivid and exciting that I'm convinced in years to come I will recall it as being something that I actually saw. This is the power of Daniel's performance and, not be overlooked, his writing, which I believe is the secret weapon that elevates this play above every other one-person show I've ever seen. In fact, this is the first one-person show that I honestly think can and should be made into a movie. It's a classic coming of age story based on real events with moments as sad, funny, and as exciting as any movie gets.

Oh, and it has Houdini in it! (There's evidence for how much this show impressed -- I went two paragraphs before I thought about Harry.) A Regular Little Houdini works as a magnificent tribute to the Handcuff King, who performed in Newport in 1905, 1913 and 1914. (The nice show program contains "Further Reading" about Houdini and Newport, including the original advert right.)

I sometimes think Houdini is now just too mythic to feature as a main character in any work of fiction. Like Abraham Lincoln, just the act of depicting him in a normal setting diminishes him in a way. The best way to show Houdini is to do so from a distance and through the eyes of a comtempory, either an admirer or enemy. This is how A Regular Little Houdini does it, and along with the book Carter Beats The Devil, it's one of the best, most effective and flattering fictional depictions of Houdini I've ever encountered.

So built up is Houdini's legend and importance that when he finally appears (yes, I'm again thinking I saw it) it's as thrilling for the audience as for the boy. And Houdini is not diminished. He doesn't turn out to be a jerk, which is always a temptation in a piece like this; a final coming of age lesson about how your heroes are sometimes all too mortal. This is a rare case where meeting your hero is not a bad thing. Although the unexpected can still happen, and that is certainly the case here, but I won't spoil it.

I should point out that Daniel also performs a few nice sleight of hand tricks during the course of the evening, and there is a real love and respect for the art of magic throughout. Direction is by Joshua Richard. Music is by Meg Cox and available on CD. The show runs 55 minutes that magically fly by.

My only note: At one point Houdini calls out to an assistant named "Bob." Make that "Jim" [Collins] and it's perfection!

A Regular Little Houdini starts today at the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego as part of the San Diego Fringe, June 26 to July 3. It then moves to Headwaters Theatre in Portland Oregon, July 18-23. It then returns to the UK and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, August 3-26.

More information can found at the official website: You can also keep up with the show on Facebook and Daniel Llewelyn-William's Twitter @broadsworddan.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Nielsen collection Houdini posters sell at auction

Today saw the first part of Potter & Potter Auctions two-part sale of Norm Nielsen's legendary magic poster collection. Among the 324 lots were several rare Houdini posters. Here are the auction results (including buyer's premium).

Water Torture Cell - $45,600 | The Grim Game - $24,000

A 1916 lithograph for Houdini's Water Torture Cell was the highest selling poster in the auction with $45,600. A healthy price to be sure, but a bit below the estimate of $50,000 - $70,000. A one-sheet for Houdini's The Grim Game sold for $24,000 with just one bid! It fell well below the $40,000 - $60,000 estimate and suggests the 2013 sale, in which this same poster took $67,166, was a fluke.

Doomed to Die - $6,720 | Master Mystifier - $2,400

A Houdini "DOOMED TO DIE!!" broadside beat the auction estimate of $3,000 - $4,000 and brought in $6,720. A 1925 poster is for Houdini's "3 Shows in One" fell right within the estimate at $2,400.

Houdini in Essen- $1,920 | Hardeen at Proctor's - $600

A German playbill for Houdini's 1902 appearance at the Colosseum in Essen sold for $1,920. Hardeen showed that he could surprise like his brother by tripling the low end of his auction estimate and adding $600 to the family.

In other results, the only know example of an Okito poster blew away the $10,000 - $15,000 auction estimate and crept into Houdini territory with a final price of $26,400 (second highest price of the auction). A one-of-a-kind Blackstone poster took in an impressive $18,000. A poster for Thurston as Kellar's Successor sold for $19,200 (short of the $25,000 - $35,000 estimate).

Okito - $26,400 | Blackstone - $18,000 | Thurston/Kellar - $19,200

Among more modern magicians, a poster for Doug Henning's own Water Torture Cell took in $300. An Amazing Randi Milk Can poster found a buyer at $600. A 1980 Richiardi Jr. poster surprised with $2,280 (estimate $400 - $600).

Henning - $300 | Randi - $600 | Richiardi - $2,280

Potter & Potter issued a beautiful hardbound auction catalog for this sale, which is a collector's item in itself. You can download or purchase a copy at their website. The auction house has not yet announced a date for The Nielsen Collection Part II. It will exciting to see what Houdini posters that next auction might contain.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Larry Weeks now "Houdini's Biggest Fan" for eternity

Colleen Bak, our girl in Queens, took a stroll through Machpelah Cemetery today and noticed that Houdini collector Larry Weeks now has a beautiful headstone that identifies him as "Houdini Biggest Fan." Larry purchased the plot expressly to be near Houdini own gravesite. He died in 2014.

Speaking of Houdini's plot, Colleen reports that the S.A.M. restoration appears to be underway. She says, "HH's grave looks really it has been power washed, and a glass piece placed over the mosaic...awesome work on the restoration for sure."

Thanks Colleen.

Related posts:

Hardeen joins Houdini & Doyle

Houdini's brother Theo Hardeen makes an appearance in this Monday's episode of Houdini & Doyle played by actor and musician Justin Rutledge. Rutledge shows up during Mama's funeral, and while not mentioned by name, the closing credits identify him as "Theodore Weiss."

The Canadian born Rutledge joins a growing list of actors who have now portrayed Hardeen on film. Past Dash's have been: Jack Carter (The Great Houdinis), Mark Ruffalo (Houdini), Remy Auberjonois (Boardwalk Empire), and Tom Benedict Knight (Houdini Miniseries).

Hardeens: Carter, Ruffalo, Auberjonois, Knight.

The real Hardeen appeared in a 1936 Vitaphone short called Medium Well Done. Unfortunately, that film is currently considered lost.

Houdini & Doyle "Necromanteion" airs this Monday at 9/8c on FOX and Global TV. For reviews and links to view past episodes, check out my Episode Guide.


See Margery's seance kimono and 'Imponderable' at MoMA

Tony Oursler's modernist film Imponderable is now showing at MoMA in New York City through January 8, 2017. Tony is the grandson of Houdini's friend and colleague Fulton Oursler. The film features Houdini (played by Mark Mitton), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mina Crandon a.k.a. "Margery" among the cast of characters.

But what makes this MoMA exhibition especially exciting is it includes items on display from Oursler's collection, as well as artifacts from the private Libbet Crandon de Malamud Collection that have never been shown before. These include Margery's seance chairs and her original seance kimono, seen above on actress Sarah Kinlaw who plays the famous medium in the movie.

Here's a description of the film and exhibition from the MoMA website.

Tony Oursler’s Imponderable (2015–16) offers an alternative depiction of modernism that reveals the intersection of technological advancements and occult phenomena over the last two centuries. Presented in a “5-D” cinematic environment utilizing a contemporary form of Pepper’s ghost—a 19th-century phantasmagoric device—and a range of sensory effects (scents, vibrations, etc.), Imponderable is an immersive feature-length film inspired by Oursler’s own archive of ephemera relating to stage magic, spirit photography, pseudoscience, telekinesis, and other manifestations of the paranormal. Drawing on these objects, Imponderable weaves together a social, spiritual, and empirical history of the virtual image that overlaps with the artist’s own family history. A cast of characters including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, Mina “Margery” Crandon, and members of Oursler’s family are portrayed by an eclectic ensemble of artists, musicians, and performers including Kim Gordon, Jim Fletcher, Keith Sanborn, and Constance DeJong. Bringing together Oursler’s ongoing interest in mysticism, psychedelia, popular culture, and media history, the work employs macabre humor and theatrical surrealism to reflect on the irrational relationship between belief systems and the authenticity of images. Imponderable is presented in conjunction with selections from Oursler’s archive relating to the film.

Imponderable was originally commissioned and produced by the LUMA Foundation for the Parc des Ateliers, Arles, France, and LUMA Westbau, Zurich, Switzerland, 2015.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is located at 11 West 53 Street, New York, NY 10019. The museum recently screened Houdini's The Grim Game.

Tony Oursler's work and collection also appear in the book, Imponderable: The Archives of Tony Oursler.

Thanks to Anna Thurlow for the image of Sarah Kinlaw in the Margery kimono.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Did the Houdinis secretly marry in 1901?

Today is the 122nd wedding anniversary of Harry and Bess Houdini. The couple married on June 22, 1894. Or did they? In recent years, historians have pointed out that there's something fishy about the official story of the Houdinis marriage. While there is no doubt Harry and Bess lived and traveled together from that June day, some have questioned whether they were ever actually legally married at all.

As the story goes, Harry and Bess met in Coney Island where they were both performers, and after knowing each other for only a week, they married. The famous Coney Island boss John Y. McKane performed the civil ceremony. They later repeated their vows in two more ceremonies, one with a Rabbi (for Harry's family) and again with a Roman Catholic Priest (for Bess's family). This led to Bess saying, "I’m the most married person I know, three times and to the same man."

But the late great Houdini historian Manny Weltman found problems with this story. In his book, Houdini: Escape into Legend: The Early Years (1993), Weltman revealed that John Y. McKane could not have married Harry and Bess as he was in Sing Sing prison at the time. There were also plenty of rackets on the Bowery in those days, and it's possible whatever marriage license the young couple purchased (for $2.00 -- Bess paid) might not have been legit. In Houdini His Life Story, Bess admits: "How people went about getting married was a mystery to both of us."

As to the later ceremonies, Weltman (and later William Rauscher) argued that no Rabbi or Catholic priest would have performed a mixed faith marriage in 1894 as it was prohibited by both faiths at that time. Houdini said they were married by Rabbi Tintner of Mt. Zion Temple -- "The man who married me to the woman I have never ceased to love." Trouble is, Rabbi Tintner would have only been 14-years-old in 1894. The Priest who did the Catholic ceremony was said to be Rev. G.S. Loui of Brooklyn. But Weltman could find no priest by the name of Loui (or Louis) in the records of the New York Roman Catholic Archdiocese, nor in the 1894 phone book. To top it all off, no record of the Houdinis marriage certificate has ever been found.

So this is what leads some to question whether Harry and Bess Houdini were ever legally married. Another possibility is that they got legally married later in life in secret ceremony. That's the theory that comes to my mind when I look at the photo below from Houdini His Legend and His Magic by Doug Henning. Is this the smoking gun evidence that has been hiding in plain sight all these years?

This photo comes from Bess Houdini's own scrapbook, and was among several other "anniversary" pictures. (The Houdini's took an anniversary photo every year, in Coney Island if they were in town.) On the photo is written: "Houdini and wife, married 7 years." So at first sight, this appears to be their 7th anniversary photo. But look at what's written at an earlier time in ink that is fading: "1901 Wedding day." That could be just another way of referring to an anniversary. Or it could literally mean their Wedding DAY. It also happens to be the first such photo in the album.

Is it possible this photo was actually taken on their legal Wedding Day in 1901? They are certainly dressed for it. Rabbi Tintner would have been old enough to conduct the ceremony, and the secret of the missing wedding certificate might be a simple as no one has looked for it in the year 1901. It's also possible the marriage took place in Europe, which is where the Houdinis spent much of that year.

Later, when this annotated "wedding day" photo was added to the album, it was re-annotated as an anniversary photo along with the other pictures, as by that time Houdini was establishing his official biography and mythology. Recall that the Houdinis also created a romantic fiction about how they first met.

Anyway, this photo and the "Wedding Day" annotation has always given me pause, so I thought today was a good day to throw it into the stew of speculation about the Houdinis mysterious marriage.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

REVIEW: Houdini & Doyle (ep. 8): Strigoi

In Houdini & Doyle episode 8, "Strigoi," Dracula author Bram Stoker is at the center of vampiric mystery and horror story. But it's the ending that will give Houdini fans with the biggest shock. First, the mystery...

Vampires! Or rather, Vanatoarea, those who hunt vampires, are now hunting those who glorify vampires, and there's no greater offender than Bram Stoker (Paul Ritter). Stoker seeks the help of his good friend, Arthur Conan Doyle, when the murder of his maid raises the stakes (wooden and otherwise).

The current situation is stirred up by the "paperback" publication of Dracula. Houdini takes delight in tweaking Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, by proclaiming Dracula as "the most famous character in all of fiction." Houdini even invites Stoker to stay in his hotel suite. But Stoker starts showing signs that he might be a vampire himself; his nocturnal sojourns witnessed by Houdini's own mother.

This action this time takes place in an assortment of Gothic settings, including a graveyard in which Houdini finds himself buried alive. This is a highlight of the episode, but it also shows up what I believe is the series greatest flaw. Houdini doesn't escape.

In my opinion, part of the appeal and promise of this entire series concept is that we have in Houdini a "detective" who has the ability to free himself from all forms of restraint. This is built into the idea, just as it is built into Houdini's own silent movies. While this was somewhat exploited in early episodes (mainly with lock picking), in the second half of the series, Houdini's skills as both a magician and escape artist have been largely absent. The series has turned Houdini into a detective with no special abilities other than cocksureness.

But now we have an opportunity for a showcase Houdini escape [see below]. Instead, they opt to have Houdini rescued by Doyle and Adelaide. If the writer couldn't figure out a way to have Houdini escape (there are methods), then he could have had him mysteriously free by the time Doyle and Adelaide arrive. He's Houdini. He did that! Also recall that in real life Doyle came to believe Houdini himself possessed supernatural powers that he concealed. This would have been a perfect way to begin to build that belief in Doyle's mind. A missed opportunity.

In the end, Stoker's mysterious vampiric predilections turn out to be the advanced stages of Syphilis. But it's the very end of the episode that provides the biggest shock when Houdini returns to his hotel suite to find his mother has passed away in her sleep. And that brings us to...

Just the Facts

Before we get into mama's death, lets tackle some of the other Houdini history in this episode. The episode shows Houdini as a gushing fan of Dracula and Stoker's work. While it's likely the real Houdini read Dracula, we unfortunately don't have anything that records his thoughts on the famous vampire. All we have of Houdini and Dracula is a fictional meeting in the 1991 comic The Ghosts of Dracula. As far as Houdini not being able to whistle...that's one I've never heard.

As discussed, Houdini finds himself buried alive in this episode. The idea of a buried alive escape fascinated Houdini and was something he worked on throughout his career. In 1914 he conceived of a stage-bound version that had him buried in a casket under "tons of sand." While a poster was created for the new feat (right), it's unclear if he ever performed it at this time.

Houdini attempted an outdoor buried alive escape in Santa Ana, California, in which he was buried without cover in a grave six feet deep. Much to his horror, Houdini discovered the "weight of the earth is crushing" and called for help. But he couldn't be heard. He had to claw his way to the surface where he passed out. It was a his closest brush was death.

[Interestingly, when I met Michael Weston at the Magic Castle, he told me about shooting the buried alive sequence and, without realizing it, used Houdini's exact phrasing about the weight of the earth being crushing.]

Finally, in September 1926, Houdini perfected his stage-bound Buried Alive and performed it in Boston and Worcester. It would have become a regular feature of his full evening show, but he died the following month. His body was shipped back to New York in the casket he created for this escape.

The death of Houdini's mother was a seminal moment in his life. "He was never the same man after his mother's death," wrote one acquaintance. Houdini & Doyle is set in 1901. Cecelia Weiss died in 1913. But it is correct that she died in a hotel while on the road. Except the son she was traveling with was Houdini's brother, Theo Hardeen, who was also an escape artist. Hardeen brought Mama with him to Asbury Park, New Jersey, where she suffered a stroke upon their arrival and died 3 days later in Room 18 of the Imperial Hotel. Houdini, who was performing in Copenhagen, fainted when he received the telegram from Hardeen informing him of her death.

Finally, there is a nice line when Houdini and Doyle are debating the possibility of vampires. Doyle suggests immortality might be tied to evolution. Houdini dismisses this by saying, "The only path of immortality is fame. People will be talking about me for hundreds of years."


Next Monday: Houdini & Doyle meet Thomas Edison in "Necromanteion."


Monday, June 20, 2016

Houdini & Doyle tonight

Houdini & Doyle meet Bram Stoker in episode 8, Strigoi, tonight at 9/8c on FOX. Here's a preview.

Bram Stoker, author of Dracula and good friend of Doyle’s, shows up at Doyle’s house in a panic. Vampire hunters are trying to kill him, believing Stoker to be a vampire. As they investigate a disturbing murder, they begin to wonder if Stoker really is a vampire, and if not, what is the dark secret he’s desperately trying to hide from the world?

"Strigoi" is directed by Robert Lieberman and written by Carl Binder. Watch for my review tomorrow.

Houdini & Doyle airs every Monday at 9/8c. You can also watch episodes at FOX NOW.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Greatest: Houdini (1999)

If the 1970s was a boom time for Houdini books, then the 1990s was the heyday of Houdini documentaries. This was largely due to the proliferation of cable channels and the success of A&E's "Biography" series (which did a Houdini episode in 1994). Soon every history and entertainment channel had a similar  weekly documentary series, and a Houdini episode was de rigueur.

One of those Houdini documentaries appeared on TLC's short-lived series The Greatest. Produced by Whatabout Me Entertainment, the 60 minute doc aired on August 5, 1999. It includes interviews Ken Silverman, Penn & Teller, Patrick Culliton, Dorothy Young, Joe Fox and The Pendragons. Jim Bentley, who also co-produced, plays Houdini in several well done dramatizations.

It's a good documentary with some great Houdini footage and Bentley's reenactments make it a standout. On the downside, it gives us the acid-on-dress version of the Houdinis courtship, exposes the Milk Can, and makes no mention of Houdini's movie career.

The Greatest: Houdini was never released on VHS or DVD, and is one of the few '90s docs that has not yet found its way onto YouTube. So I've taken the liberty of uploading my own recording of the original 1999 broadcast. YouTube monetized it for music copyright holders (so you will see pop-up ads), but it looks like they are letting it remain, so I'm happy to share it here. Enjoy.

You can see more videos like this at the WILD ABOUT HARRY YouTube Channel.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

The House of Houdini opens today in Budapest

The first and only Houdini museum in Europe, The House of Houdini, opens today in Houdini's hometown of Budapest, Hungary. The museum is the brainchild of escapologist David Merlini and houses authentic Houdini memorabilia, props from the 2014 Houdini miniseries (shot entirely in Budapest), as well as a research center and a showroom.

The excellent new official website is also now live. Tickets to visit the museum can be booked there.

The House of Houdini is located at at 11 Dísz Square, within the walls of the Buda Castle, just steps away from the Royal Palace on the Buda side of the Danube River. The museum is open Monday to Sunday from 9:30am to 7pm.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Grim Game screening twice in the UK in July

The upcoming Yorkshire Silent Film Festival in the UK will offer two screenings of Houdini's The Grim Game in July.

The first screening takes place on Sunday, July 3 at 12:40 PM at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. The second is on Wednesday, July 20 at 6:30 PM at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield. Both screenings will have live musical accompaniment by Jonathan Best. Tickets are available at the venue websites.

Considered lost for decades, The Grim Game was acquired and restored by TCM. While 2015 saw several screenings and a television airing, screenings this year have been few and far between, and there's still no news of a DVD release. So this is a great chance for people in the UK to catch what is certainly Houdini's best film.

Park Circus distributes The Grim Game on behalf of TCM. Screenings can be arranged via the Park Circus website.

More information on the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival can be found HERE.

Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz at the Houdini Museum in Scranton.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

REVIEW: Houdini & Doyle (ep. 7): Bedlam

Houdini & Doyle episode 7, "Bedlam", largely belongs to Doyle. The episode takes us not only inside the infamous insane asylum, but also inside Doyle's mind. Houdini remains on the outside.

A possible case of demonic possession is what brings Houdini, Doyle and Adelaide Stratton into action. The clues lead them to the Bedlam insane asylum, which we learn once held Doyle's mentally ill father (in reality, Doyle's father was in Sunnyside in Scotland).

This is one wild episode in which reality and hallucination mix as Doyle is put through a Shock Corridoor-type ordeal when he finds himself committed to the asylum under the control of a sadistic doctor. A highlight is that Doyle meets Sherlock Holmes himself, well-played Scottish actor Ewen Bremner. Of course, this is a mental institution and "Sherlock" is a patient who only believes he's the great detective...or is he?

Doyle meets Sherlock Holmes.

On the outside, Houdini engages in a race against time to save Doyle, while also trying to help Adelaide unravel the mystery of her deceased husband. Turns out he was involved with Polish anarchists who might be targeting Adelaide next.

The climax has Doyle coming to terms with the memory of his alcoholic and mentally ill father. It's too bad show creator David N. Titcher, who wrote this episode, couldn't contrive to get Houdini into a straitjacket. Seems like this wouldn't have been too difficult in an episode set in an insane asylum. But we do get a fun line of dialogue when Houdini meets a confined patient.

"Nice jacket. I have one just like it at home," he says.

Just the Facts

As I said, this episode largely focuses on Doyle, so there isn't as much Houdini history for us to chew on this time. But there is some. Early in the episode, Houdini mentions his "Lake Michigan stunt" in which he was trapped beneath the ice of a frozen river. Check out that moment below:

Of course, this is a reference to a famous bit of Houdini lore, said to have occurred at the Belle Isle Bridge in Detroit in 1906. But the trapped under the ice story, so memorably depicted in Houdini (1953), is a myth. While the waters of the Detroit river were icy cold that day, the papers make no mention of an ice sheet or a dramatic accident. [Although I'm currently corresponding with someone who might have evidence to the contrary. Stay tuned!]

Another fact worth mentioning is in regards to Houdini and Doyle's father. In the 1920s, Houdini won in auction a portfolio of artwork done by Charles Doyle. After Houdini's death, Bess returned it to Sir Arthur, prompting the author to write her back:

"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."

Artwork by Charles Doyle.

This episode once again has Houdini make a statement that suggests he's an atheist. This was something I tackled in my fact check of episode 3. [Quick answer: he wasn't.]

Finally, as far as Sherlock Holmes is concerned, Houdini himself has had many fictional encounters with the great detective, starting in the 1908 German dime novel, Auf den spuren Houdinis, and most recently in the 2015 graphic novel Sherlock Holmes vs. Houdini. But in 1908, Houdini wrote a letter to Holmes as if he were a real person.

Click to enlarge. (Source: Houdini The Key)

Is this letter just for fun, or did Houdini belong in Bedlam? I'll leave that up to you to decide.

Next Monday: Houdini & Doyle meet Bram Stoker in "Strigoi."


Monday, June 13, 2016

Houdini & Doyle tonight

Houdini & Doyle experience the horrors of Bedlam tonight at 9/8c on FOX. Here's a preview.

When several people are found literally scared to death, the clues lead the team to Bedlam, the notorious insane asylum, with which Doyle has a disturbing history. And when he starts to lose his grip on reality, he doesn’t know if he’s losing his mind or is becoming the next victim.

"Bedlam" is directed by Robert Lieberman and written by David N. Titcher. Watch for my review tomorrow.

Houdini & Doyle airs every Monday at 9/8c. You can watch earlier episodes at FOX NOW.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

House of Houdini opens doors to press

The House of Houdini in Budapest held a special opening ceremony for press on Friday. The new museum is the brainchild of escapologist David Merlini and houses authentic Houdini memorabilia as well as props from the 2014 Houdini miniseries. The museum opens to the public this week.

You can see photos from the event and watch a video that gives a great look inside the museum at The House of Houdini Facebook page.

Located in the Buda Castle, The House of Houdini is the first and only Houdini museum in Europe.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Now You See Me 2 poster mock-ups

This weekend sees the release of Now You See Me 2, the sequel to the 2013 hit about a team of crime-fighting magicians. As part of the promotion, Lionsgate has created a set of vintage poster mock-ups showing "The Four Horseman" as classic magicians of the Golden Age. As you can see, star Jesse Eisenberg is given the Houdini treatment.

While Houdini doesn't get a name-check in the sequel, you can spot several Houdini posters and photographs in the backgrounds of Daniel's apartment, the Macau magic shop, and the headquarters of The Eye. The movie also opens with a overboard safe escape gone wrong.

You can read a review at Deadline Hollywood.


The Adventure of the Spook House audiobook

If FOX's Houdini & Doyle still isn't enough Houdini and Doyle for you, know that C. Michael Forsyth's 2014 novel, The Adventure of the Spook House, has been released as an audiobook read by the author himself.

The year is 1922. A respected judge inexplicably vanishes in a decrepit mansion and two of the world's most remarkable men are summoned to investigate: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Harry Houdini, the world's greatest escape artist. Aided by a beautiful, young psychic, the unlikely partners probe a mystery that becomes murkier and more perilous at every turn and brings them face to face with evil incarnate. To solve the riddle of The Spook House - and to survive its dangers - they must call upon all of their extraordinary mental and physical powers. The story draws upon the real-life friendship of Conan Doyle and Houdini, two vastly different men brought together by their fascination with the paranormal.

Purchase The Adventure of the Spook House from


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Guest blog: The Houdini Museum of New York, Part II

Today Neil McNally continues his tour of the remarkable Houdini Museum of New York at Fantasma Magic and his interview with owner Roger Dreyer.

by Neil McNally

Every magic store has its own unique flavor and atmosphere and Fantasma Magic is no exception. There is literally something new to discover around every corner. Whether it’s David Copperfield’s own television special straight jacket or incredibly rare photos of Houdini performing at San Quentin prison, there truly is something for everyone. They even have their own live rabbit to boot.

However, there is one piece in Roger’s collection that stands out from the others as truly one of the most unique and rare pieces of Houdini memorabilia out there: The 1907 Houdini Escape Coffin!

The pedigree of the coffin is impressive and as the museum’s website states:

On Jan. 14, 1907, Houdini answered a challenge from the Boston Athletic Association, which runs the Boston Marathon, to escape from the coffin while manacled during an exhibition in the BBA’s headquarters on Exeter Street.

It took Houdini just 66 minutes to get out of the elaborate case which had been – get this – nailed shut with 6-inch nails!

In fact, when one enters the museum the coffin, along with the Metamorphosis trunk, are clearly the centerpieces of the museum, and Roger’s collection. The coffin is in pristine and polished condition, and you can’t help but have your eyes immediately drawn to this important artifact in the life of Houdini.

Roger’s passion for Houdini and the history of magic is obvious. As we sat down in his office, he went onto elaborate on his thoughts and views of Houdini and how he continues to profoundly influence him today.

What was the start of your initial love of Houdini and when did it begin?

Ray Goulet introduced me to a man named Chester Karkut. Chester Karkut was the most active performer in Connecticut…and best friends of Al Flosso. Anyone who knows the story of Al Flosso and owning Matinka’s and Hornmann's (Magic Shops) which were previously owned by Houdini in 1919. Al Flosso was then picking up all these Houdini pieces and giving them to Chet Karkut  Without me being even crazy about Houdini at the time, I slowly but surely was picking up Houdini pieces from Chet Karkut  Nothing like visiting a gentleman inside an 8ft by 8ft room with thousands of pieces and where he would have four to five cigarettes lit at once. I just love magic!

What was the first piece that you acquired?

The first piece was a photograph of Houdini performing in San Quentin [in 1915].

(These rarely seen and possibly never published photographs are framed and on display at the museum)

What is the most valuable piece in your collection?

As far as value, which is not why I do this, it’s one of Houdini’s Metamorphosis trunks [pic here]. This was acquired from John Gaughan, who acquired it from Mike O’Dowd, who acquired it from Houdini’s accountant. That may be the most significant piece we have on display. But, my personal pieces are the plum metal hand that Houdini used to expose spiritualists, his wide variety of picks that have the thread wrapped around them, unusual handcuffs, and a lot of his tools…

Do you have a personal favorite out of all of them?

I would say the plum metal hand. I think it’s brilliant how it would go around another person’s hand while it was dark and then being able to convince the people that your hands are still being held onto by the medium.

Of his long career what is your favorite Houdini moment?

I like how an unknown American hardly making it in the U.S. and just getting started had the chutzpah to go over to London and say “I Harry “Handcuff” Houdini, the American Sensation, am now here!” Then he ends up staying at the theaters for three to four years in London before heading back to New York. So, the fact that he could use his unknown to make himself act like he is known…was quite impressive.

How has he influenced your career as a businessman?

Houdini has influenced me tremendously. The Houdini Museum is my passion that I like to share with people. Our business is running Fantasma Magic which is the world’s largest manufacturer of magic sets. The way Houdini would use guerilla marketing and creative ideas that were unheard of to promote something… a lot of that I was influenced by.

How do you think Fantasma stands out from other magic stores and organizations?

We have been told that there is no other magic store in the world like Fantasma. You have the most famous actors, lay people, and a-list New Yorkers hanging out in our Suite 3 with wannabee wizards to the best magic pros in the world. So, we are an actual brick and mortar store…that attracts the largest amount of people into a magic store that are not just tourists….But, we encourage magicians to be able to utilize our stage, to hang out, to film, and to use Fantasma in any way they would like without any charge.

Why do you think close to ninety years after his death Houdini still commands people’s attention?

No one has been able to create the façade that “I challenge you to lock me up anyway you desire and I the Great Houdini will escape!” … The way he marketed his feats and the way he advertised and promoted his show by having these challenges in the town before he even got there was absolutely brilliant. So, the idea that he was able to accomplish things unlike anyone else is one reason why. Houdini himself is a common word. People may not even understand who Houdini is, but to Houdinize, or to Houdini, or escape like Houdini. It’s amazing when kids come in and say “I didn’t even know he was a real person!”

Roger Dreyer thank you very much.

When in town please visit Fantasma Magic and the Houdini Museum of New York at 421 7th Avenue, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10001.