Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ready to get WILD?

The clock is ticking down to a whole new year of WILD ABOUT HARRY. Come back tomorrow for the first post of 2018. And put a shirt on, will ya?

Have a Safe and Happy New Year.

Thanks to Andrew Basso.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Houdini's wild 2017 in review

It's time to wrap-up the year with a look back at the highlights of 2017.

January's 33 posts kicked off with a look at what Houdini himself was up to in 1917. A collected edition of Rough Riders Vol. 1 was released. Houdini showed up on Mysteries at the Museum and on Timeless. I paid a magical visit to the workshop of John Gaughan. The Houdini Museum announced HOUDINI-OPOLY. Quirkology vanished Houdini's elephant as a new vanishing elephant pic appeared. We discovered Houdini's Coca-Cola connection and his favorite hotel. Harry and Bess hit Ceylon while Sherlock Holmes and Audacity Jones met the Handcuff King.

February (24 posts) opened with an investigation of a famous forgery. A Water Torture Cell poster made history. The Magic Castle revealed a new Seance Coin. Houdini threw shade at Edison. A major Houdini exhibition opened in Madrid. Ken Ralston remembered an unmade Houdini movie. Tell flipped the bird as eBay went Wild About...Clempert? We heard from a creepy grave robber and saw Houdini artwork by Tom Lovell. Le Kaiser Et Le Roi Des Menottes hit stores as author Vivianne Perret discovered Hardeen in Budapest. The month ended with a look back at the first great Houdini documentary.

In March (31 posts) we explored Houdini in 1901 as well as his bizarre plan to fight a shark. A Houdini poster appeared at the Winchester Mystery House, where Ed Saint once considered holding a Houdini séance. Tony Curtis channeled the young Houdini. Kevin Connolly gave us a Houdini birthday present. American Pinball unveiled Houdini in Texas. Peepolykus mixed Houdini and Dracula while rappers mixed Houdini and drugs. A Water Torture Cell photo escaped with $889. The Secret Life of Houdini screenplay was reviewed...and seemed as silly as Benny Hill. Potter & Potter showed us Mama in Europe, and we got a taste of Houdini horror from Italy.

April (28 posts) began with the news that The Magic Castle changed its name! But no one was fooling when Bessie's brooch pinned down $72,000 at auction. The Houdini Museum of New York gave fans a chance to try on Houdini's handcuffs. Houdini tried to buy the Oakland Oaks and gave a free show for Buffalo's newsies. Houdini engaged in a great radio debate while a lucky diarist saw Houdini in 1911. Penn Jillette discussed a "nut" in England as Dave Koenig made the case for Houdini's Ghost. Houdini also saved a life, met The Tramp, and had a Close Encounter.

May (33 posts) began with a screening of Terror Island in St. Charles. Mysteries at the Museum revealed the real ghostbusters. Hardeen appeared on television as Bess discussed (not) having a son. We looked at how Houdini didn't vanish an elephant or walk through a wall. Leopold's house went up for auction. An Escapology exhibition opened in East Kilbride. Magic came to Montreal and Houdini took D.C. We saw inside David Blaine's magic lair and enjoyed some original artwork by Luis Dominguez. Houdini appeared in Heavy Metal and Vanish while VIZ named Houdini the Hunkiest Harry.

In June (25 posts) Wild About Harry hit 5 million pageviews. But the big news was that Houdini's New York home ("278") went on the market. I jetted to New York City and went inside 278, which was the Houdini experience of a lifetime! Meanwhile Hardeen's Tramp Chair was displayed at Oakfest. Houdini's lecture slides sold for $31,980. I spotted evidence of a lost Houdini poster while David Haversat shared his restored Master Mystery 6-sheet. Dover released a new edition of Houdini's Paper Magic. A Houdini exhibit opened in Davenport. Houdini covered Riders on the Storm #4 and Drake got scared away from Houdini's "haunted house."

278 kept us talking in July (31 posts) with a detailed look back at the owners and occupants. Houdini showed up on Jeopardy while his plane landed in a Diggers Rest cafe. Is a Houdini pet is buried in West Hollywood? Maybe The Shadow knows? Criss Angel got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and someone got taken by an eBay fraud (I tried to warn you). Derek Tait's The Great Houdini: His British Tours was released in the UK while The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini was previewed at Comic Con.

August (33 posts) kicked off with a look at Houdini in 1902. Dead Famous went in search of Houdini. Harry took a turn as a serial killer. A new Houdini book by Charlotte Montague was released. Robert Wringham taught us to Escape Everything! Film fragments revealed a Houdini pier jump and a rare poster. 278 briefly went off the market as we brewed up Houdini beer. Houdini secrets were unlocked in 1995. The Magician and the Spirits was released. We waited for Houdini at the 2000 Official Séance as Lorde rocked the Houdini Estate. Milbourne Christopher channeled Houdini, and our friend Colleen Bak gave us a new perspective on an old photo.

In September (34 posts) I investigated Houdini's Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery. The Houdini Estate in Hollywood got new gates while his house in New York lost its bookcase and piano. But is there a Houdini prop in the basement? We looked at Houdini in Ragtime and also found him at Historic Auto Attractions. The future of Appleton's Metamorphosis remained unclear. David Haversat landed Houdini's spirit slates and chair. Houdini became a calendar boy and a pitch man. A lost Magic Castle Houdini display case reappeared. I reviewed Derek Tait's new book while Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz reviewed The Last Séance. And did Hardeen really reveal his brother's most secret secret?

October (40 posts) opened with my visit to Terror Island in Riverside. Fred Pittella revealed the Bobby Handcuffs. Dean Carnegie celebrated Houdini all month on his terrific blog The Magic Detective. We revisited why Houdini's last show was a killer. MOVIES gave us multiple airings of Houdini (1953) while HISTORY revived Houdini (2014). Vivianna Perret's 3rd book sent Harry to Budapest. And speaking of Budapest, Hardeen was in the House! Gene Gamache's Houdini doc arrived on DVD. The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault was released. A Grim Game lantern slide sold on eBay. Paul Zenon brought Linking Rings to the Secret Cellar. 278 had another open house. Joe Mantegna explored Houdini's Secret Life. Houdini muscled in on a Blackstone auction. And I decided to mark Halloween with the untold story of Houdini's secret straitjacket escape.

November (37 posts) began with a recap of Halloween séances, official and otherwise. But maybe Houdini is waiting for 2022? We celebrated the centenary of Houdini's Times Square escape. Appleton held their annual Houdini 10K run. David Saltman released HOUDINI UNBOUND. A mystery prop appeared at FrightFest. The Disney Channel launched Club Houdini with Iñaki Ruiz de Galarreta as our new Harry. Russian researchers offered a Harry Houdini Prize. We learned David Copperfield wants Houdini's bookcase. A Houdini mystery sack sold in auction. June Horowitz remembered a visit from Houdini. Rough Riders Vol. 2 was released along with The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini #1. American Pinball offered Houdini game artwork. We ended the month with a look at Houdini in 1903.

December (17 posts) started with the Houdini-Hilliar Code hand off. A Regular Little Houdini came to New York. The Flaming Nose asked the burning question: Houdini -- Hot or Not? A 1933 Houdini poem was reprinted. We previewed Vivianne Perret's 4th book. A Houdini musical couldn't escape sound problems, and 278 had a price reduction. The McCord announced the winner of their poster contest. Houdini and Dunninger showed up in The Shadow. The Houdini Museum of New York moved to a new location. A medium waged a final battle while Margery materialized on eBay. A review site deep dived the new Houdini pinball machine. Houdini rang in the New Year at auction. And we asked the all important question: Does the Jawa in Star Wars say "Houdini"?

Sadly, this year we lost some notables from the Houdini world: Houdini Hall of Fame co-founder Henry Muller; collector William McIlhany; Herrmann expert and friend James Hamilton; the great biographer Kenneth Silverman; magician and escape artist Celeste Evans; collector Ray Goulet; and "Mr. Escape" himself Steve Baker.

This year I enjoyed talking Houdini with Dash Finley and Dark Times. I was honored to be a guest on Scott Wells' popular The Magic Word podcast. I was also interviewed for an upcoming episode of Strange InheritanceThe Linking Ring shared my story of going Inside Houdini's 278. I launched new standalone pages devoted to Houdini Plays, Documentaries, and my ongoing project to document Houdini's life Year by Year. And I shared my strange confession about Charles Nelson Reilly.

I will be taking the rest of the year off, but I'll see you all back here on New Year's Day for what I expect to be another WILD year. Thanks for all your support. Please feel free to share your own 2017 Houdini highlights in the comments below.

Resting up for 2018.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Houdini rings in the New Year with $738

A Houdini postcard wishing a "Happy and Prosperous New Year" sold today at Potter & Potter's Winter Magic Auction for $738. The postcard was sent to escape artist Joseph Kolar and is postmarked December 28, 1923.

Another postcard, which I actually find a more interesting piece of Houdini history, sold for a more modest $153. That card (below) promotes his 3 Shows In One at the Princess Theater in Chicago in a unique way.

Other lots included $3,120 for an Elliott’s Last Legacy inscribed by Houdini. A press photo of Houdini dangling in a straitjacket went for $1,045. A lettergram from Houdini to Charles Carter (Carter the Great) took $1,045. A broadside from the East Ham Palace Theater landed at $1,599.

Speaking of the holidays, this is my last regular post of the year. Tomorrow I will share my 2017 wrap-up and then take my usual end of year break.


Friday, December 15, 2017

LINK: This Week in Pinball deep dives Houdini

The website This Week in Pinball has an excellent "deep dive" review of American Pinball's new "Houdini Master of Mystery" pinball machine. It reveals how the game integrates many key moments from Houdini's life. It even includes five "modes" based on Houdini's movies.

Click the headline and have a read. And if you're so inclined, "Houdini Master of Mystery" is available for $6,995 from the following distributors.


Does the Jawa in Star Wars say "Houdini"?

Ok, today we delve into the important stuff. In the original 1977 Star Wars, does the Jawa who, after zapping R2-D2, call out "Houdini!"? I know I've always heard that. But if a car backfires I think I hear Houdini!, so I've largely kept this to myself. But recently I found this meme online.

So it looks like I'm not the only one who hears this afterall. So what do we think? Is there a Houdini namecheck in the original Star Wars? Is George Lucas a closet Harryphile!?

Below are a few more "Houdini!" Star Wars connections. Today sees the release of the latest movie, The Last Jedi.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Margery materializes on eBay

A remarkable edition of J. Malcolm Bird's Margery The Medium was recently listed on eBay where it sold for a Buy It Now of $1,200 (at least I think it did -- I can't quite tell from the ended auction). What makes this copy so special is it's signed by Margery herself (as Mina Stinson Crandon) and also includes a special stamp quoting her deceased brother and spirit guide, Walter. Only one other example of this stamped book exists in the collection of Dr. Bruce Averbook. It also still has the original dust-jacket.

Houdini was no fan of this book. He once inscribed a copy: "The author of this book is a liar." (That copy sold for $3,900.) Indeed, author J. Malcolm Bird was in charge of the Scientific American committee investigating Margery's alleged powers, on which Houdini served. But Bird was infatuated with Margery and was secretly suppling the Crandons with information the entire time.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The last battlefield

It isn't surprising that Houdini's campaign against fraudulent mediums brought on lawsuits. It's said Houdini was facing over $2 million in lawsuits at the time of his death. And while we could expect mediums to file suit against Houdini himself, here's one who took the extra step of suing the theater, in this case B.F. Keith's in Boston. This is from the August 5, 1926 New York Times (page 34).

Houdini didn't seem to be troubled by lawsuits. He had the means to defend himself and made the most of the publicity. But suing individual theaters (or circuits) could make them reluctant to book Houdini, and that could impact his career. So this might have been a shrewd tactic late in the battle.

In fact, this is shrewd enough that I can't help but wonder if Boston's own Dr. Le Roi Crandon (husband of Margery) might have been guiding the medium here?

Thanks to long-time reader Harry Houdini (real name) for this one.


NOTE: If you enjoy historical posts such as this one, please see that I now offer a custom Viewing Option in which you can view only Houdini history related posts.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Houdini Museum of New York moves to new location

The Houdini Museum of New York at Fantasma Magic had moved to a NEW location at 213 West 35th Street, Room 401, New York, NY 10001. Below are the first photos of the new expanded museum, which, as you can see, now includes Q!

While I've not confirmed it, I'm pretty certain the museum's new Q The Automaton figure (from Houdini's The Master Mystery) is John Gaughan's terrific "working" reproduction that he created for the 2015 Los Angeles Magic History Conference.*

For more on the new Houdini Museum of New York, check out their website, Facebook and Instagram.

*UPDATE: I've now confirmed that this is a second Automaton created by John Gaughan especially for the museum.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Houdini and Dunninger lurk in The Shadow 124

An article by Will Murray exploring the "Gibson-Houdini-Lovecraft connection" is included in volume 124 of Sanctum Books The Shadow. The collection includes two stories in which The Shadow unmasks phony spiritualists, including "House of Ghosts" in which he teams with Joseph Dunninger.

THE SHADOW Volume 124: “The Ghost Makers” & “House of Ghosts”. The Master of Darkness unmasks phony spiritualists in two legendary pulp novels. First, in one of Walter Gibson’s greatest classics, the Dark Avenger investigates “The Ghost Makers” after a glowing dagger materializes to bring death at a seance. Then, The Shadow teams with real-life ghostbuster Joseph Dunninger to investigate a series of spirit murders in a “House of Ghosts." This haunting collectors collection showcases the original color pulp covers by George Rozen and Modest Stein and interior illustrations by Tom Lovell and Paul Orban, while Will Murray explores the Gibson-Houdini-Lovecraft connection and Anthony Tollin recalls The Shadow Big Little Books. (Sanctum Books) 978-1-60877-241-4 Softcover, 7x10, 128 pages, B&W, $14.95

You can purchase The Shadow Vol. 124 via the Sanctum Books website and on Amazon. For more information visit Sanctum Books on Facebook.

Thanks to Tim King for the alert.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Winner of the McCord's Houdini poster contest

The McCord Museum in Montreal has announced the winner of their "Houdini Last Show Poster Contest." Entrants were asked to create a poster for Houdini's last show at the Princess Theater in Montreal. Samuel Clairoux won the prize of the jury and the public's favorite prize for his poster below.


Come discover the posters by our "Houdini: The Last Show" contest finalists, exhibited at the Museum from December 8, 2017 to January 7, 2018! It is your last chance to visit the exhibition "Illusions: The Art of Magic" before it comes to an end.

For more information visit the McCord Museum website or Facebook.


Friday, December 8, 2017

278 asking price drops by $1 million

The asking price for Houdini's famous New York home at 278 West 113th Street in Harlem is now $3.6 million. That's a full $1 million reduction from the original asking price of $4.6 when the house first went on the market in June. The sale of the brownstone is being handled by Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

Houdini purchased "278" (as he called it) in 1904. This is the first time the house has been on the market in 26 years.

If you follow this blog, you'll remember that I attended the first open house and gave a full report on what I saw inside. I also posted a history of the house and its owners over the years.

Thanks to Janet Davis for the alert.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Houdini musical can't escape sound problems

This one slipped past me last year, but it appears a Houdini musical, Houdini, a varázslatos musical (Houdini, the magical musical) had its premiere in Hungary. I discovered the official artwork (below). But reading the comments at, it looks like the venue sunk this show with poor sound and parking. Said one attendee, "The actors seem to have tried to give it everything, to no avail."

Below are links to some other Houdini stage musicals, successful and otherwise.


Apologies if I've not answered your email

Hey everyone. Just wanted to say I'm sorry if you've sent me an email and I've not yet responded. My real-world work has kept me very busy this season, and it takes my all just to keep up with Houdini news and the blog. Something has to be neglected, and that something is my WAH email. But I'll do my best to answer all when I get some holiday downtime.

Thanks for understanding!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Vivianne Perret's 4th book brings Houdini home

Even though I can't read French, I still look forward to each installment of Vivianne Perret's French language "Houdini Magicien & Detective" series. That's because the author sets her fictional stories within a historically accurate time and place in Houdini's career, and it's fun to see where Vivianne will send Harry next.

Book 1, Metamorphosis was set in San Fransisco in 1899. Book 2, Le Kaiser Et Le Roi Des Menottes, was set in Berlin in 1900. The just released book 3, La Reine de Budapest, is set in Budapest in 1902 (okay, she cheated the year a bit for that one).

Now comes word that the fourth book will be set in New York in 1904, taking place largely inside Houdini's newly purchased home at 278 W 113th Street. The book is called La Maison Mystère (The Mystery House) and will be released in February 21, 2018. It can be pre-ordered now at

You can purchase all the "Houdini Magicien & Détective" books from,, and


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bob Brown's 1933 Houdini poem reprinted

What is likely the earliest book of Houdini-inspired poetry, 1933's Houdini by Bob Brown, has been reprinted in a new paperback edition from Roving Eye Press.

Bob Brown (1886-1959) was an American writer and publisher, central to the pulp fiction factory of the early twentieth century, the expatriate avant-garde in France, and the Bohemian arts scene in Greenwich Village in the 1950s. Originally published in 1933, Houdini was a pamphlet-length book part of The Modern Edition poetry series under the editorial direction of Kathleen Tankersley Young. This new edition includes a Foreword by K. A. Wisniewski, an Introduction by Craig Saper, and a new cover and text design. It is the latest title from the revamped Roving Eye Press, the press originally started by Brown in the late 1920s.

You can buy Bob Brown's Houdini at (U.S.) and (UK).

UPDATE: Be alerted that while this book is 19 pages, most of that is the introduction and forward. Brown's actual poem is only 4 pages.


Monday, December 4, 2017

A Regular Little Houdini comes to New York

Daniel LLewelyn-Williams' acclaimed one-man play A Regular Little Houdini will make its New York City debut December 12 through the 31st at the 59E59 Theaters. A special press opening will be held Sunday, December 17 at 3:30 PM.

An enchanting story that blurs the lines between childhood imagination and the cynicism of adulthood. An extraordinary tale of hope, determination, and magic!

Newport, South Wales: A tenacious young dockworker's son, smitten by Harry Houdini's amazements, dreams of a life of magic to "escape" a suffocating, impoverished future and unlock his shackles—the brutal Welsh working-class reality of Edwardian Britain. Is it possible to follow one's dreams in a world where poverty weighs you down like mud?

A Regular Little Houdini is written and performed by Daniel LLewelyn-Williams and directed by Joshua Richards. Original music is by Meg Cox. Magic was created by Adrian Solar and Tom Silburn.

For more information and to purchase tickets visit 59E59 Theaters. You can read my review of the play below.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

LINK: Magician Harry Houdini -- Hot or Not?

This post at The Flaming Nose TV Blog appeared back in 2014. It's a terrific post by Lisa that assess the relative "hotness" of Houdini and the actors who have portrayed him on screen.

I'm sorry I failed to link to this back then, not only because it's an excellent post, but because I like supporting fellow bloggers who share their passions and knowledge. I think independent blogs like The Flaming Nose represent what's best about the Internet, and I fear they are now being downed out by the Twitters, Facebooks, and organizational blogs that are less about sharing passion and more about spreading agendas and advertising.

Or maybe I just like this because Lisa and I appear to be kindred spirits in our affection for the 1976 TV movie The Great Houdinis. It's also interesting to hear she worked in programming at TNT when the 1998 Johnathon Schaech biopic aired, so she has an insider's take on that film.

But why am I telling you this? Click on the headline and have a read for yourself, and let's keep on blogging!


Saturday, December 2, 2017

100 year ago: The Houdini-Hilliar Code hand off

It was 100 years ago today that Houdini entered The Billboard offices in New York and gave an inscribed copy of Roget's Thesaurus to his good friend William J. Hilliar. Houdini said, "Hilliar, there is OUR code, but never breathe it to a living soul. If I go first and you get a message from me which includes these words you will know it is genuine. If you pass on first I will look for the same from you."

Hilliar keep the book and what Houdini had written inside a secret. In fact, it remained a secret until it was finally revealed right here on WILD ABOUT HARRY on Halloween 2016 to mark the 90th anniversary of Houdini's death.

So on the anniversary of the famous hand-off, I thought it would be fun to link back to that two-part post and relive the story of the secret Houdini-Hilliar message code:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

American Pinball offering Houdini game artwork

American Pinball is offering high quality prints of the translite and playfield of their new "Houdini Master of Mystery" pinball machine. The artwork is by Jeff Busch.

We are proud to offer the Houdini Translite which is a unique art piece that utilizes the eye-catching art from our backglass, and showcases some of the characters on the stage getting ready to open the curtain on the API Grand stage for Houdini to appear. Only $85 shipped to your door within the US. International Shipping is also available.
We are offering High Quality Miniature Playfield Prints. These are a 12x24 miniature print of the art of the Houdini Playfield. It is printed on high gloss quality paper and is perfect for framing and showcasing the art behind Houdini. Only $35 shipped to your door within the US. International Shipping is also available.

To purchase the Houdini Translite or Playfield print email:

American Pinball's "Houdini Master of Mystery" pinball machine is yet to be released, but you can keep up with the progress at their official website and Facebook. There you can also watch a video of the gameplay.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Russian Houdini escape room

Escape Room attractions certainly remain popular around the world. In Moscow the Escape Room facility Claustrophobia features a Houdini-themed room. Love the promotional images below (click to enlarge).

Harry Houdini is a renowned conjuror and illusionist. He has demonstrated to the whole world that he could get out of any set of handcuffs and escape from any locked room. This time the conjuror decided to share his art and find some trainees. How far can you go? Test your luck! Are you ready to pass an exam and enter Houdini’s academy? You have one hour to make an escape in an attempt to excel your legendary teacher!

For more vist the Claustrophobia website. Below are links to a few other Houdini-themed Escape Rooms.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Rough Riders Vol. 2 collected edition released

Aftershock Comics has released a collected edition of Adam Glass's second series Rough Riders: Riders on the Storm.

Three years have passed since the Rough Riders last adventure, but when an assassins’ bullet takes President William McKinley’s life, Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt is thrust into the role of Commander in Chief. As a country mourns the loss of their leader, Roosevelt believes that the assassin is part of a bigger conspiracy, ones whose tentacles reach back to Europe and whose intentions are to destroy humanity through world-wide ANARCHY.

To stop them Roosevelt must convince Harry Houdini, Jack Johnson, Thomas Edison and Annie Oakley to band together again. But time has strained the bonds that once united them and the ideologies of their enemies may have already seeped into one of their own.

The collected Rough Riders Vol. 2: Riders on the Storm can be purchased at (U.S.) and (UK).

A third series, Rough Riders: Ride or Die, will kick off on February 18, 2018.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Houdini one of the 'Songs For Extraordinary People'

A song devoted to Houdini can be found on Michael Hearst's new Songs For Extraordinary People. This is a musical tie-in with his 2015 book, Extraordinary People: A Semi-Comprehensive Guide to Some of the World's Most Fascinating Individuals. The Houdini tune features Allyssa Lamb and is pretty good!

You can buy the Houdini track or the full Songs For Extraordinary People CD at Apple Music or iTunes. The book can be purchased at


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Copperfield is "trying to get" Houdini's bookcase

If you've been following the story of the sale of Houdini's home in New York (278), you'll recall a bit of mystery in regards to his original bookcase. After the first open house in June, in which lucky attendees, including myself, got to recreate Houdini's famous pose beside the case, the bookcase mysteriously vanished, as reported by attendees at the second open house. After initially reporting that the bookcase had been sold to a private collector, the relator told me I was mistaken. It had simply been moved to another property.

Now David Copperfield has confirmed that he's trying to acquire the famous bookcase for his "International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts" in Las Vegas. In an interview with Luis de Matos about Magic Books, Copperfield speaks about owning "half" of Houdini's library (the half that went to John Mulholland), and then drops this bombshell:

Copperfield: We're trying to get the cabinet from his house that was just discovered, so the cabinet...the bookcase can be reunited with his books. Wish me luck with that. We'll see what happens.

So there we go. The bookcase is in play, and that's probably why it's no longer in the house (and therefore not part of the sale). Will it reappear in Las Vegas? Stay tuned.

You can watch the full interview at the Essential Magic Collection Facebook page.

UPDATEDavid Copperfield has Houdini's bookcase and a message for all of us.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

LINK: George Hardeen's Halloween Budapest Sojourn

The Lake Powell Chronicle has a nice article about George Hardeen's recent visit to Budapest and The House of Houdini museum. George is the grandson of Theo Hardeen and great-nephew of Houdini.

Click the headline above to read.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Houdini in 1903

By 1903, Houdini had established himself as a very successful performer with a wildly popular specialty -- the handcuff act. But had he retired at this time, as he often threatened to do, he would not be known to us today. But in 1903, he would perform feats and cement his image in a series of famous photos that still resonate more than a century later. It could be said 1903 was the year Harry Houdini became an icon.

Houdini began the new year in rough water -- literally. His passage across the English channel to Holland was done in a storm "in which we all nearly lost our lives, the captain saying that in his thirty-four years of service he never had the misfortune of making such a terrible trip."

Houdini opened at the Rembrandt Theater in Amsterdam. During his month long engagement, he escaped from the Amsterdam Prison in 15 minutes, a feat he immortalized with a well-known poster (possibly his first escape specific poster). He then traveled to Hanover for a return engagement at Mellini’s Theater. He "packed them in as usual", but failed to break the house record he set in 1901.

In March, Houdini played with the Circus Carre at the Reichshallen Theater in Cologne, the city where he had recently scored his great legal victory over Werner Graff. It was here that Houdini hired a new chief assistant, Franz Kukol. The Austrian-born Kukol was the first of what would become a team of all male assistants who would play a major role in Houdini's life both onstage and off. Kukol signed his secrecy oath on March 2, 1903.

Part of the reason Houdini brought Kukol onboard was because Bess was tiring of stage work. While she still appeared in Metamorphosis, Kukol inherited her other assistant duties. "My wife says she wishes she could raise children and stop working," Houdini wrote to a friend that year, "and perhaps in 1905 we may rest long enough to raise one of them things called children ourselves."

Alexander Heimburger
But for now, magic remained the focus of Houdini's life. While in Cologne, Houdini discovered that the great German conjurer, Alexander Heimburger, long thought dead by the magic community, was alive and living in Münster. Houdini visited the 83-year-old Heimburger, who was flattered that the young magician knew so much about his career. Heimburger was the first magician to perform at the White House. He had also known Robert-Houdin. He told Houdini that the Frenchman was not the great inventor that he claimed to be. Even his celebrated autobiography, which had set young Ehrich Weiss on his career in magic, was largely the work of a Parisian journalist. Houdini said the meeting "was like having the history of magic unrolled before my eager eyes."

April saw Houdini back at the popular Wintergarten in Berlin. Here he performed his challenge packing crate escape, which he had first introduced in Essen Ruhr in 1902. He also attended the trial of Anna Rothe, the celebrated "Flower Medium," who had been caught using trickery in a police raid. Houdini wrote about the trial in his regular New York Dramatic Mirror column (perhaps his first writings on the topic of Spiritualism). With a surprisingly sympathetic tone, he wrote that the medium's ultimate conviction was "a sad blow to the cause of spiritualism."

On May 5, Houdini, Bess, and Franz Kukol set out for Russia. (Because the country was still on the Julian calendar, they arrived on April 23.) Houdini opened on May 4 at the Yar, a popular Moscow dinner theater frequented by high society. He was an instant hit. Looking to promote his appearance with a jail escape, he visited Moscow's Butyrskaya Prison. There Chief of Police Lebedeff suggested he try to escape from their Siberian Transport Prison Van, a rolling "safe on wheels" used to ship prisoners to Siberia.

On May 10, Houdini performed his miraculous escape after receiving the most through strip search of his career. But Lebedeff refused to provide an affidavit, and no Russian newspaper reported the escape. Nevertheless, word spread and Houdini's Russian tour was extended for a second month and his salary doubled. During this time he also performed for the Grand Duke Sergei Aeksandrovich and the Grand Duchess at Palace Kleinmichel in Moscow. The royal couple gave the Houdinis gifts, including a white Pomeranian that the Houdinis named Charlie. Houdini then went on to play the Ermitage and Zoo Gardens.

Houdini had some unusual experiences in Russia. One night at the Yar, an Army Officer decided to stand center stage, blocking the audience's view of Houdini's act. The officer cited his right to do so was allowed by his superior social status -- the status of entertainers being considered quite low. When Houdini explained that in America he was considered a "millionaire", the officer apologized and moved aside. Houdini was also hired by a Moscow locksmith to open a safe that had defeated their best efforts for 14 years. Houdini opened the safe in nine hours, revealing a treasure trove of jewels inside. He was paid $750 for his work.

Houdini and Bess spent the Fourth of July (June 21 in Russia) with a group of fellow Americans at the American Consulate. Houdini wrote; "There were many speeches, but not a single firecracker or report of a gun was heard, and without these it did not seem at all like the Glorious Fourth to me." Below is a photo of that gathering, which (at the moment) is the only known photo of Houdini and Bess in Russia.

Houdini then traveled to the sea side resort town of Nizhny Novgorod to play their annual August festival. The city had laws against female performers, so a special show had to be performed for the police, who afterwords gave Bess a special license to appear. Despite a law forbidding smoking on the street, Houdini wrote; "Everything is allowed in this city, and some of the 'goings on' would make the slums of Budapest, Whitechapel, London, and the Cafe Chantants in some parts of Germany look like orphan asylums."

Houdini had planned on traveling to St. Petersburg, home of the Tsar, but he never made it. There are conflicting accounts why. Houdini said that managers in Holland refused to postponed his return engagement to accommodate an extended Russian tour. But biographer Ken Silverman claims that the eccentric promoter who arranged the tour mysteriously vanished after a celebratory dinner in Moscow. Whatever the case, Houdini wrote that, "I will have to open in Holland and return to Russia next Spring."

But he would not be back. Having spent a total of four months in Russia, Houdini was relieved when he left. He recorded in his diary that he felt the country itself was "some sort of mild prison" from which he had "managed to escape."

In September, Houdini toured with the Circus Carre in Holland. In Dordrecht, he escaped from "The Old Prison." But it was what Houdini did in Groningen that would have the most indelible effect on his legacy. He posed for a series of publicity photos at the studio of J.F. Blöte, located at Oosterstraat D 18. These shots, which showed the muscular magician in a loincloth shacked with an assortment of manacles, would become among the most iconic images of Houdini ever produced. To this day they are used to illustrate Houdini in his prime, and even actors who portray Houdini are tasked with reproducing the most famous of these images, with varying degrees of success.

A selection of shots from the J.F. Blöte photo shoot in Groningen.

Houdini turned down a tour of Italy with the Circus Carre, and instead spent October at the Central Theater in Dresden. Houdini boasted that the theater drew the best business since his departure in 1900. On October 8, he paid his famous visit to magician Wiljalba Frikell, whom many considered to be the first true modern magician (it was Frikell, not Robert-Houdin, who first rejected the wizard robes in favor of evening dress). But when Houdini arrived, he found the great man sitting dead among his artifacts, having been struck down by a heart-attack just two hours before. Houdini attended his funeral on October 13, placing a wreath on his grave on behalf of the Society of American Magicians.

Houdini's visits to past master magicians, such as Heimburger and Frikell, as well as his pilgrimages to the graves of dead ones, were inspiring him to write a book on the history of magic; if for no other reason than to redeem the contributions by a generation of magicians who had been overshadowed by Robert-Houdin. (The irony being Houdini would overshadow his own generation, if not the entire history of the art.) To this end, he began to collect enormous amounts of material, sometimes buying whole collections at a time. He would never shake or satisfy his enormous collector instinct.

In November, Houdini returned to the UK, committing to a six month tour. His first engagement was at the Pavilion Theater in Leicester. Sharing the the bill were the famous cake-walkers of Leeds. Houdini wrote: "The business is record breaking and the only mystery apparent is, who is doing the drawing––is it Houdini with his $800 weekly salary or the cake-walkers with their $8 'cold' watches." On November 9th, he escaped from a military prison in which Oliver Cromwell had held his prisoners.

It was during this tour that Houdini published his first biographical pitchbook: America's Sensational Perplexer! The 12-page booklet featured the first appearances of his Groningen photos, said to depict feats in Berlin, Cologne, and Moscow. The pitchbook was another important part of his legacy. After three years as a headliner, Houdini now had enough to begin to build a biography of his career success. He would continue to expand and update this base pitchbook for the rest of his life.

After Leicester, Houdini appeared at the People's Palace in Halifax, where he had an onstage encounter with a rival Handcuff King named Pollard. The Empire in Huddersfield followed. It was there Houdini learned of the death in Australia of another rival, Cirnoc, who had so memorably disrupted his Alhambra debut in 1900.

It was then back to "the wretched town" of Blackburn, site of the painful Hodgson challenge the year before. Here Houdini had to deal with "a heel named Wilson" who turned the audience against him during a challenge. Even though Houdini was successful in defeating Wilson's doctored handcuffs, he was booed. This seemed to again trigger thoughts of retirement in the 29-year-old, as the Blackburn papers reported:

I hear that Houdini having made his 'pile' tends shortly to retire from the stage, for the demands made on him by his performances and the brutality to which he has not infrequently had to submit, are making inroads to his health.

Houdini and Bess spent Christmas in Hull. With the theater closed and "London too far to go for a single day", Houdini spent Christmas writing his Dramatic Mirror column. He then closed out the year in Birmingham where police refused to allow him to escape from their jail.

Thanks to John Bushey for the pitchbook image.


    Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    New UK paperback edition of ESCAPADE

    A new paperback edition of Walter Satterthwatt's 1995 novel Escapade has been released by Ostara Publishing. This marks the book's first publication in the UK. Shame the cover art doesn't play up the Houdini connection.

    It is the summer of 1921 and the guests are arriving at the stately country house (haunted, of course) of Lord Purleigh in Devon; among them a Viennese psychoanalyst, a mysterious medium there to conduct the obligatory seances which were all the rage, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the creator of Sherlock Holmes and the great escapologist and showman Harry Houdini. Ostensibly hired to act as Houdini’s bodyguard, following threats from a jealous fellow magician, Phil Beaumont finds himself casting a wise-cracking American eye over English high society whilst dealing with the energetic attentions of Lady Purleigh’s daughter and having to solve the murder – in a locked room – of the wheelchair bound head of the family, the Earl of Axminster. With assistants such as Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, the case should not be difficult, though of course it is, but the one who shows the most promise could be Jane Turner…

    Purchase Escapade at (U.S.) and (UK).


    Tuesday, November 21, 2017

    Houdini in Eastern Europe

    Barbara Kiss at the House of Houdini museum blog has uncovered details about Houdini's early appearances in Vienna and Prague. Precious little about these engagements appear in biographies, so this is exciting. Links below:

    Houdini and Vienna, Part 1 (1900)
    Houdini and Prague (1901)
    Houdini and Vienna, Part 2 (1902) - coming soon

    A poster for Houdini's Prague appearance (right) sold at a Potter & Potter auction in February for $3,936.

    The House of Houdini is located at at 11 Dísz Square, within the walls of the Buda Castle. The museum is open Monday to Sunday from 9:30am to 7pm.