Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Houdini must have been crazy to do this."

Recently I discovered some old cassette tapes I made as a kid, and on one I found a radio interview with the legendary Doug Henning. This appears to have been recorded in 1980 when he was preparing for a new tour that would kick off at the Los Angeles Pantages theater (a show I saw).

In the interview, Doug talks about performing Houdini's Water Torture Cell on his first television special in December 1975, and how he had a close call that night.

I hit record when the topic turned to Houdini, so it picks up as Doug is talking about looking through some Houdini material provided by his niece (Ruth Kavanagh). Enjoy.

Henning actually revived the Water Torture Cell for this run at the Pantages in 1980. According to the excellent Spellbound: The Wonder-Filled Life of Doug Henning by John Harrison, his first show went fine. But during the second performance, he panicked and had another close call. His lead assistant Nanci Hammond said, "The Water Torture Cell was very hard for him to do. He was really afraid that he was going to die doing it."

After the mishap, Henning's manager and the company staged an "intervention" and convinced Henning to cut the escape for good, which he did.

Below are links to anniversary coverage of Henning's first three live television specials, each of which featured an iconic Houdini feat.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

'Secret Life of Houdini' movie shows new signs of life

Deadline Hollywood reports that Lionsgate is in talks with Daniel Trachtenberg about directing its long-in-development Houdini movie. Here's the report:

EXCLUSIVE: 10 Cloverfield Lane helmer Daniel Trachtenberg is in talks to direct Lionsgate’s film about master illusionist Harry Houdini. This is the film that seemed to pull a vanishing act after reports that Johnny Depp was going to star and Dean Parisot direct. That went by the wayside in a puff of smoke, but I’ve confirmed that Trachtenberg is negotiating to take on a project based on the William Kalush and Larry Sloman’s book The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero. The film has all the elements for a prestige project. The script is by Noah Oppenheim, who won the scripting prize at the Venice Film Festival earlier this fall. And it’s being produced by Frank Marshall and American Beauty’s Bruce Cohen. Houdini is depicted here not just as the master of magic, but as an adventurer and investigator of the occult. Trachtenberg is repped by ICM Partners and Oasis Media Group.

Lionsgate's Houdini movie has been in the works since 2009 and has seen several writers, directors, and even actors come and go. He's hoping this time something will come of this. 10 Cloverfield Lane was one of my favorite movies of the year, so I'm all for this choice.


Monday, November 28, 2016

When did Houdini become "King of Handcuffs"?

My recent post about How "The Houdinis" became "Houdini" has raised the question of exactly when Houdini adopted his famous "King of Handcuffs" moniker. Some say it was Martin Beck who came up with the name when he signed Houdini to his Oprheum circut in 1899. Bill Kalush in The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare states that Houdini first used the billing in Joplin, Missouri in May 1898 (actually, the book contains a typo, 1889, which is impossible as Houdini was still Ehrich Weiss in 1889).

But now Joe Notaro has found an even earlier mention in The Columbus Daily Advocate for Tuesday, December 28, 1897. This was when Harry and Bess were traveling with the California Concert Co., a medicine show headed by "Dr." Thomas Hill that played the midwest.

Columbus Daily Advocate, December 28, 1897.

So is this the earliest use of "King of Handcuffs"? It certainly is a strong candidate. Bruce MacNab, an authority on Houdini's early career and the author of The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, says that he has not come across anything earlier.

The "King of Handcuffs" billing shows up again in May 1898 when the Houdinis are performing with the Welsh Bros. Circus. After Houdini signs with Martin Beck in March 1899, it becomes almost standard.

In October 1899, The Marion County Herald shortened it to "The Handcuff King" in a headline. As far as I can find, this is the first appearance of that famous variation. One wonders if this is where Houdini got the idea? (There was also a racehorse called "Handcuff King" active at this time.)

Interestingly, the same article says Houdini is also known as "the Needle King," in reference to his East Indian Needle trick. That one didn't stick.

So for the moment, it appears December 28, 1897 is indeed the earliest mention of Houdini as the "King of Handcuffs." It also proves that it was Houdini who came up with the name before Martin Beck came along and helped make it world famous.

Thanks to Joe Notaro and Bruce MacNab.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

FLASHBACK: The birthday magician

Magicians who endure the trials and tribulations of performing at children's birthday parties can take comfort in knowing that they are following in the footsteps of The Great Houdini himself! Yes, at the height of his career, Houdini performed as "birthday magician," and his audience was every bit as unruly as any group of children hopped on sugar. The only difference is these children were all named Roosevelt.

Click below for this "flashback" post from September 9, 2013 and learn all about...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

"A Houdini for the Millennium"

Having scored success using Houdini as a character in its popular Spawn series [see Houdini's SPAWN], in 1998 Image Comics launched a 4-issue mini-series featuring Houdini himself. In Daring Escapes, Houdini is a trans-dimensional time-traveller battling the forces of evil. Escape artist Jim Steranko, who penned an essay for issue #1, called it "a Houdini for the Millennium."

Daring Escapes was written by Andy Grossberg and Tom Orzechowski with art by Alan Weiss, Arthur Nichols and Jim Fern. Each issue containing a unique magic dedication. Below is are the covers and a description of each installment.

ISSUE ONE: Heart of the Matter
"Dedicated forever to Harry Houdini, the man who could not be held!"
Houdini, residing in an afterlife called the "Overlap," is assigned the task of retrieving a statuette made of dangerous Hellite (conjured in Spawn 19-20). The action plays out in 1492 Rome and sees Houdini escaping from the Vatican dungeon. This issue also contains the essay "Houdini Reincarnated!" by Jim Steranko. Released in September 1998 in two variant covers (above).

ISSUE TWO: Matters of the Heart
"Dedicated to James Randi, Esq. for his amazing book on conjuring."
Houdini travels with "Balsamo's Circus of Delights" through Central Italy in 1503 in pursuit of an artifact stolen by a dimension hopping Pope who may be immortal. Meanwhile, evil grows more powerful in modern day New York. With issue #2, Jim Fern replaced artist Arthur Nichols. The issue includes an essay by writer Andy Grossberg. Houdini's aviation career and Bess get brief mentions. There's even a nod to Star Wars. Released in October 1998.

ISSUE THREE: Mind Over Matter
"Dedicated to Kenneth Silverman. 'Houdini!!! The Career of 
Ehrich Weiss' is a must read!"
Houdini teams up with a young angel named Kimiel in pursuit of the Hellite statue in a modern day Manhattan awash in evil. This issue includes a flashback to a 1913 performance of Houdini's Water Torture Cell. It also includes letters to the editors. Released in November 1998. 

ISSUE FOUR: Heart and Soul
"Dedicated to all magicians everywhere, stage or otherwise!"
Houdini and Kimiel battle Pope Borgia and his cultists in a Manhattan church and uncover the true mastermind behind the plot, Judas Iscariot! A grand finale packed with a campy mix of religion and action. Writer Tom Orzechowski provides a final essay about the creation of the Houdini character in both Spawn and Daring Escapes. Released in March 1999.

Despite hopes, Daring Escapes was never collected and released in a combined edition (as far as I know).

Below are links to more adventures of Houdini in the comic realm.


Friday, November 25, 2016

See Ragtime in London through December 10

If you live in the UK and have never seen Ragtime, know there is a production playing at the Charing Cross Theatre in London through December 10th. The play features Christopher Dickins as Houdini. I've not been able to find a photo of him in character, but I'm guessing that's Harry to the right of the woman with the violin in the cast photo below (click to enlarge).

For show dates and ticket information, visit the Charing Cross Theatre website.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Houdini lived again on Thanksgiving 1947

Here's a clipping from the Bridgeport Post, November 21, 1947 touting "Houdini Lives Again," a traveling magic show headed by Hardeen Jr. (Douglas Geoffrey) and Sherms (Robert Sherman). But it's pretty assistant Sally Shulman who gets most of the attention here.

Despite what the story says, Hardeen Jr. was not Theo Hardeen's brother. He was Hardeen's assistant, Douglas Geoffrey, whom Dash named as his successor shortly before his death.

For the full story of Hardeen Jr. as his long career as "successor to Houdini and Hardeen," check out: The untold story of Hardeen Jr.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Houdini confederate confesses in 1975

Here's an interesting article from the April 22, 1975 Progress Bulletin about a man named Earle Codding who says he and a fellow solider were invited by "Houdini's manager" to offer up a pair of gaffed handcuffs during a performance in 1917. I especially like that Houdini "acted horrified about the military cuffs he was given." Way to make the most of the situation.

While it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Houdini planted handcuffs in his audience from time to time (you couldn't count on people showing up with handcuffs at every performance), there are aspects to this recollection that are problematic.

The first is that Houdini was nowhere near San Diego in 1917. As far as I know, he only performed in that city once in 1907. It's also unlikely that Houdini would be doing challenge handcuff escapes this late in his career. He had abandon the handcuff act nearly a decade earlier and was now featuring the Water Torture Cell and challenge escapes. While it's not impossible that he would occasionally include a handcuff escape in the act, a poster advertising people to bring their own cuffs does not sound like Houdini at this time.

All this makes me wonder if these soldiers might have seen another escape artist. Vaudeville was rife with Houdini imitators and "Handcuff Kings," and some purposely blurred the lines in their advertising.

Interestingly, Hardeen was in San Fransisco and Los Angeles performing on the Pantages circuit in 1917. Did he go to San Diego as well? Note that the soldier says he's not sure whether he was outside the Pantages or Orpheum at the time.

Just another Houdini mystery.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Houdini miniseries will NOT air November 27

It looks like HISTORY has dropped the Houdini miniseries from their schedule for November 27, so the 2014 miniseries will NOT be airing as planned.

Brodini isn't taking this well.

But cheer up! Know you can watch Houdini on Netflix and Amazon Video, or watch the full unedited international version on DVD and Blu-ray.


The Houdini Museum of New York adds to collection

The Houdini Museum of New York at Fantasma Magic has added to their collection a display case featured in the classic Tony Curtis Houdini movie. Inside are handcuffs from the Joseph Dunninger collection. Dunninger was the technical advisor on the film.

Dunninger shows star Tony Curtis the Houdini handcuff case.

The museum also recently added an original set of slides from Houdini's anti-spiritulism lecture. This is one of only a few known sets.

The Houdini Museum of New York contains one of the largest public displays of authentic Houdini memorabilia in the world. The museum is located at 421 7th Avenue, 3rd Floor, New York, NY and is open to the public.

Check out the links below for a two-part interview with owner Roger Dreyer.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Houdini will appear on 'Timeless'

TV Line reports that Houdini will play a role in episode 10 of Timeless, the NBC series about a team of time travelers who protect the present in the past. The episode is set during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and will also feature serial killer H.H. Holmes. Michael Drayer will play Houdini.

The series has their history right. The young Houdini did perform at the 1893 Chicago's Worlds Fair with Jacob Hyman as The Brothers Houdini. It was also here that he struck up a friendship with a fellow struggling magician, Howard Thurston. It will be fun to see how they portray the novice Houdini.

Interestingly, Wikipedia says that Sony and NBC Universal are being sued by Onza Entertainment who claim the concept for Timeless is based on the Spanish series, El Ministerio del Tiempo. That series aired their own Houdini episode in March.

No air-date has yet been announced, but as long as the series keeps to its current Monday night at 10/9c schedule, the Houdini episode will air on December 12.

UPDATE: The Houdini episode will NOT be episode 10 as reported by TV Line. Don't know the episode or air-date just yet, but I will let you know as soon as I do.

UPDATE 2'Timeless' Houdini episode will air January 16.


Houdini's SPAWN

In October/November 1994, Houdini appeared in the popular Image comic book SPAWN. The story by Tom Orzechowski and Andrew Grossberg was called "Showtime" and spanned (spawned?) two issues, #19 and #20. Houdini appeared on the cover of the November issue (below).

Houdini is featured here as a trans-dimensional time-traveller. Writer Tom Orzechowski explained how the magician came to be part of the story:

"Who would commute between our reality and other dimensions? And who would hold Spawn's attention, be respected by him without hesitation? We wanted the story to hit the ground running, so we felt it best to work around a real-world personality. At the top of our short list: Harry Houdini. Aggressive. Brash. A man who continually cheated death. He'd be quite a counterpoint to the hesitant, reactive character Spawn was in his early days."

The Houdini character proved popular enough that Image allowed Orzechowski and Grossberg to spin him off into his own 4-issue mini-series called Daring Escapes. I'll take a look at those in an upcoming post.

Below are links to more adventures of Houdini in the comic realm.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

'Houdini: My Hero Magic Show' with Tom Yurasits

Magician and escapist Tom Yurasits will present a special program called "Houdini: My Hero Magic Show" at the Mahwah Public Library in New Jersey this Saturday, November 26 from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Below are details.

Tom Yurasits will demonstrate a few of Houdini's famous feats that made Houdini a household name, like making an Elephant disappear, or Escaping from Stocks and Handcuffs. You will even hear Houdini's voice from an excerpt of the only recording that he made on a wax cylinder over 100 years ago in 1914. Then Tom will attempt to walk through a one foot by two foot piece of solid steel that is first examined by the audience. You don't want to miss this show! Fun for the entire family. The program is free. No tickets are necessary. Seats are on a “first come” basis.

For more information visit the Mahwah Public Library website.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

LINK: Providence man says he knows where Houdini's treasure trove is

Houdini got a lot of press attention this past Halloween (the 90th anniversary of his death), and I've been playing catch up. Today I have a link to the most unusual article of the batch. The Providence Journal profiled Noah Schwartz who believes he's on the verge of discovering Houdini's lost "treasure box."

Schwartz tends to demand your attention by saying he is the reincarnation of Houdini. If he's pressed, he'll say that he is not really claiming to be Houdini resurrected, but the recipient of "inklings" and feelings, "faint echoes" of Houdini "being transmitted through me."

Noah first shared this info with me via the Wild About Harry Facebook page. He's clearly passionate about his quest, but I admit I could never quite puzzle together his theories about airships, C.M. Eddy, and the Superman Building. And his claim that he's the reincarnation of Houdini is, of course, hard to verify.

But now The Providence Journal has done the leg work and gave Noah an impressive front page spread in their Halloween print edition (above). Who knows? Maybe the extra attention will help solve the mystery.

Click here or on the headline to read the online version at The Providence Journal.


The master mystery behind Houdini's pirated films

Our friend Joe Notaro over at HHCE has come up with a nice new nugget of info about Houdini's movie career. Joe examined four mysterious Houdini "movies" that appear in newspapers around 1920-21: The Marked Woman, The Lure of Power, The Law Pirates and The Doctor’s Vengeance. It's clear from the ads that these features were made using footage from Houdini's 15 episode serial, The Master Mystery. But were they legitimate releases?

We now know that answer is "no." Joe has discovered a notice from Octagon Films warning distributors that the titles are pirated work by Amber Productions of Philadelphia. It certainly took some cheek for Amber to call one of their movies "Law Pirates."

By 1920, Houdini was on the outs with Octagon and producer B.A. Rolfe. He had to sue for money owned him for the serial. So here's a thought. Could Houdini be behind Amber Productions? He might have felt entitled after being stiffed by Rolfe, and he did own a film lab that could have whipped up these prints. Just throwing it out there.


Friday, November 18, 2016

The Chinese Sudsy Happy Cell

The Dayton Daily News has a nice article by Lisa Powell about Houdini's appearances in that city. Among the photos shared from their archives is the advertisement below. While I've heard of Houdini's Milk Can being filled with beer (a challenge he frequently arranged with local brewers), I've never heard of a beer challenge using the Water Torture Cell. That's a lot of beer! The escape took place on December 15, 1916.

The assistants must have loved this one.

For more check out the full article at the Dayton Daily News. Assistants photo from The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Walter Gibson.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Houdini miniseries on HISTORY November 27

HISTORY will repeat their two-part Houdini miniseries starring Adrien Brody and Kristen Connolly on Sunday, November 27 at 7:30 AM (part 1) and 9:30 AM (part 2).

The Houdini miniseries first aired in September 2014. The version that shows on HISTORY is the shortened U.S. cut. The full unedited international version is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

UPDATE: It looks like HISTORY has now dropped this from their schedule, so Houdini will NOT air on November 27.


    Wednesday, November 16, 2016

    Delta Bravo finds Houdini's jump site

    The Boston Chapter of The Delta Bravo Urban Exploration Team -- "a collective of individuals that seek to find location detail for pop culture" -- have pinpointed the exact location of the famous photo taken of Houdini during his jump from the Harvard Bridge in Boston on April 30, 1908. I love "then and now" shots like this.

    One thing this image immediately reveals is that the photo was not taken moments before Houdini made his leap into the river, as one might suppose. It was taken either before or after the stunt as Houdini (and Bess) are not even on the actual bridge from where the jump was made. No doubt having the bridge in the background made for a better photo op. This photo was likely taken by Arthur Kramer, whom Houdini later credited as the "official photographer" of the jump.

    Below is a shot of Houdini's jump from the bridge itself.

    Houdini was performing at Keith’s Theater on Washington Street at the time of this outdoor stunt. The Cambridge Chronicle (below) offered some nice details, including that Houdini wore a "cerise-colored bathing suit." This is second time I've heard of Houdini wearing a red(ish) bathing suit during a bridge jump. It makes sense. This would help Houdini stand out in the massive crowd, and help rescuers better spot him in the water should something go wrong.

    Color of Houdini's bathing suit.

    Houdini's leap from the Harvard Bridge is one of his more well-known bridge jumps, not only because of the excellent photos taken that day, but there is also a plaque commemorating the escape placed on the Boston side of the bridge by the Boston chapter of the Society of American Magicians in 1994.

    Unfortunately, this plaque incorrectly dates the escape as May 1, 1908. The escape actually took place on April 30. But at the time the plaque was made, Milbourne Christopher's Houdini The Untold Story was still the most authoritative biography on Houdini, at that book misdates it as May 1 (the date on which most papers reported the event). The first book I found to contain the correct date is 2010's Houdini Art and Magic by Brooke Rapaport.

    Related posts:

    Tuesday, November 15, 2016

    Houdini (1953) released on new Blu-ray and DVD

    The classic Houdini (1953) starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh is released today as a new DVD and Blu-ray by independent distributor Olive Films.

    This marks the first standalone Blu-ray release of Houdini in the U.S. The last time Houdini was released as a standalone DVD was in 2008. It doesn't appear there are any extras on the discs.

    Purchase the new Houdini Blu-ray and DVD from


    Houdini spies Pirate Utopia

    Houdini appears in the new novel Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling. The official description on Amazon doesn't mention Houdini, so here's a review from Publisher Weekly that gives an idea of how Harry (and H.P. Lovecraft) fit into the story:

    “Cyberpunk progenitor Sterling’s alternate history novella is bizarre, chock-full of famous people in improbable situations, and wildly entertaining, even when the world-building seems to go a little off the rails. Lorenzo Secondari, a veteran of the recently ended Great War and forever changed by it, is the head engineer of the titular utopia, the Italian free state of Fiume. He and his compatriots build flying boats and fight communism while dealing with American secret agents, including Harry Houdini and Howard Lovecraft (who’s now working as Houdini’s publicity agent after going into advertising). Hitler died saving another man’s life in a bar fight, Wilson was poisoned, and Mussolini’s been disabled by a pair of bullets aimed “where a man least likes to be shot,” so the Europe in which Secondari is attempting to create his radio-controlled airborne torpedoes and other gizmos is already massively different from ours. An introduction by Warren Ellis and an interview with Sterling sandwich the novel, both bearing an air of false gravitas, but the actual story is wacky and fun what-if-ing at its finest.” —Publishers Weekly

    Pirate Utopia is released today and can be purchased on

    Monday, November 14, 2016

    A Regular Little Houdini movie in the works

    Actor and playwright Daniel Llewelyn-Willams tells the South Wales Argus that a movie version of his acclaimed one-man show A Regular Little Houdini is in the works.

    Says Daniel: "We are in the early stages of pre-production on a feature film adaptation of the stage play with a very prominent London-based Independent Film Company who we cannot name yet until funding is secured. That is a long process but we anticipate production to begin after 2018."

    A Regular Little Houdini is set in Newport in Wales and tells the coming of age story of a young boy who idolizes Houdini. Houdini himself appears in the story, which makes the notion of a film version all the more exciting.

    I reviewed the play when it came to the Hollywood Fringe last summer. In my review I mentioned that I thought it would make an excellent film.

    Current UK tour dates for A Regular Little Houdini can found at the official website.


    David Saltman unearths the Weisses in Milwaukee

    Our friend David Saltman is sharing on his blog The Houdini File information he recently uncovered and revealed at the Official Houdini Seance 2016. These are fascinating new facts about the years the Weiss family lived in Milwaukee, which according to Houdini, were years best forgotten.

    Most amazingly, David has uncovered an official copy of the rabbinical ordination credential for Rabbi Weiss, issued in 1852 when he was about 21 years old. David found it in an uncatalogued stack of old papers in the vaults of the Milwaukee County Historical Society. Its existence was unknown to Houdini historians and shows us that Mayer Samuel became a Rabbi much earlier that previously thought.

    David has also tracked down the various addresses where the Weiss family lived and provides period photos showing what kinds of conditions they were living in at the time.

    But instead of me telling you all this, head on over to The Houdini File and have a read for yourselves. Below are links to all of David's stories thus far. I will add more as he posts.


    Sunday, November 13, 2016

    LINK: Joe Lee – Houdini’s Forgotten Advance Man

    Chuck Romano at My Magic Uncle has an excellent post about a little-known Houdini operative, Joe Lee, who worked as Houdini's advance man during the years of the full evening show.

    Joe “Doc” Lee is a name Houdini enthusiasts rarely stumble upon. He isn’t mentioned in the master magician’s popular biographies, yet he did play an important role in Houdini’s success later in life. Lee, a highly effective ad man, utilized the media and promotional stunts to keep his clients in the public eye and bring people into the theaters.

    Click the headline to read the full story at My Magic Uncle, where you will also find several other terrific Houdini posts.


    Saturday, November 12, 2016

    Master Mystery episode 3 poster sells for $28,080

    An original poster for episode 3 of Houdini's The Master Mystery sold for $28,080 at today's Haversat & Ewing Galleries November magic auction.

    The poster came from the collection of Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, who own a complete set of all 14 posters from the serial. An Episode 3 ("The Water Peril") has never come up for auction before.

    The auction contained several unique and desirable Houdini rarities. A cabinet photo of Houdini and his mother fetched a remarkable $16,380. This appears be an all-time record for a Houdini photo at auction. A "King of Cards" poster brought in $11,700. A letter on unique stationary in which Houdini talks about his bi-plane in Australia went for $10,852. A letter to Will Goldston in which Houdini discusses an early injury took in $7,575.

    One item that I had my eye on was a business card for Houdini's first chief assistant Franz Kukol. But it looks like it caught the eye of others as well. It beat the auction estimate of $250-$300 and went for $2,661. (All prices include the 17% buyers premium.)

    As always, congratulations to the buyers and sellers and to Haversat & Ewing Galleries for another stellar auction.


    Friday, November 11, 2016

    The Ehrich Weiss Bible is going to Budapest

    The recently unearthed "Ehrich Weiss Bible," which has been in the family of musician Tara O'Grady for some 38 years, will find a new home at David Merlini's House of Houdini museum in Budapest, Hungary. The Bible's arrival will be heralded with a major press event and concert on December 3. The following is from Tara's website:

    On December 3rd Tara O'Grady returns to the city where she studied during her university days to present a rare signed bible from 1893 belonging to one of Hungary's most famous sons - Ehrich Weiss aka Harry Houdini. A press conference will take place at 11am at The House of Houdini. Irish Ambassador Pat Kelly will join Tara along with Museum Founder and Hungarian escape artist David Merlini, as well as the Hungarian Prime Minister’s cultural advisor Géza Szőcs.
    Later that evening a reception and concert will be held at 8pm at Becketts hosted by the Irish Hungarian Business Circle. Tara will be joined by Hungarian jazz musicians including Attila Korb. It will be a magical day indeed!

    Tara first shared images and the amazing story of how the Bible came to be in her family with WILD ABOUT HARRY in August. While there was interest from private collectors and auction houses, it's nice to know the Bible had landed somewhere where it can be enjoyed by the public and help tell the story of Houdini. David Merlini opened The House of Houdini, which is the first and only museum devoted to Houdini in Europe, in June.

    Tara O'Grady and David Merlini (and Harry).

    For more information visit Tara's website and Twitter or the official House of Houdini website and Facebook.


    Thursday, November 10, 2016

    Houdini's underwater battle surfaces

    Houdini collector Arthur Moses recently made a terrific discovery via Elif Rongen, Curator of The EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. The screen caps below come from a 9 minute compilation of footage from a Dutch print of The Master Mystery. Among the clips is Houdini underwater in a diving suit fighting with another diver. This footage is missing from the current Kino DVD release of the film, so this is unseen Houdini here!

    According to Joe Notaro, who recently made a thorough study of the missing Master Mystery footage, this scene was originally part of Episode Four: "The Test." (Not Episode Five, as claimed in the Kino explanatory cards.)

    In the episode, Locke is testing a "self-liberating diving suit" with Eva's assistance. But beneath the waters Locke is ambushed by another diver. "There, under the sea, commenced a battle royal!" The villainous diver draws a knife and severs Locke’s oxygen tube (which is what we see in the Dutch clip). But Locke manages to escape the suit...Houdini style!

    Unfortunately, the Dutch clip does not include the escape itself. However, Joe points out that an archival print in the collection of the UCLA Film Archives does include the full sequence. But UCLA does not allow copying or screen captures, so this is best look we'll get until someone embarks on a proper restoration.

    There is another layer of interest here. Houdini invented a diving suit with a quick release mechanism for emergencies. It's said he did so "after word came to him that one of his best friends, a diver in Australia, was lost when his air lines were destroyed." Houdini shared his patent with the U.S. Navy, believing it could save lives. Newspapers at the time noted that the scene in The Master Mystery shows "a practical working demonstration" of Houdini's great invention.

    Below are some of the unique title cards that appeared in this Dutch print, along with a newspaper advert from the time. Cinema Context records 23 screenings of "Houdini, de boeienkoning" in The Netherlands from August through October 1920.

    Recently I learned that The Master Mystery may contain another Houdini icon that could exist in the cut scenes. I'll dig a little deeper and see what I can discover about that one. Stay tuned.

    Thanks to Arthur Moses, Elif Rongen and Joe Notaro.