On May 15, 1976, the BBC documentary The Truth About Houdini aired on American television for the first time. The film footage in this well-made documentary was for many (including myself) their first look at the real Houdini in action. Along with the new books, the Doug Henning specials and The Great Houdinis, the airing of this first major Houdini documentary in the U.S. was part in the great "Houdini renaissance" of the 1970s.
|Original TV Guide ad for the May 15, 1976 U.S. airing.
The Truth About Houdini was originally produced for the BBC in 1970 by David C. Rea and Patria Pictures Ltd. It first aired on BBC One on Tuesday, November 10, 1970 at 9:20 PM (it was following by Monty Python's Flying Circus). It repeated on December 29, 1970, April 25, 1973 and December 18, 1973.
The very first screening in the U.S. was at Ulster County Community College in Kingston, NY, on November 9, 1975. Curiously, newspaper accounts record the title as "The Great Escape Artist." The screening was attended by Walter B. Gibson and Sidney Radner who introduced the film and participated in a Q&A.
Following its U.S. television premiere on May 15, 1976, which was local to Southern California, The Truth About Houdini aired on local televisions stations across the country. In Tampa, Florida, WTOG-TV aired it back to back with the Tony Curtis biopic Houdini over the Halloween weekend. It remained in circulation until 1979.
|Ad for an October 1977 airing on WTCN in Minneapolis.
It's not generally known that the producers of the documentary secured permission to use the Houdini voice recordings discovered in 1970 from the widow of John Mulholland. They even acquired high quality reproductions of both Water Torture Cell speeches. But for whatever reason, Houdini's voice was left out of the final cut.
While now dated, The Truth About Houdini is still a fascinating documentary and must watch for all Houdini buffs. While it has never been commercially released on home video, a bootleg version under the title "The Magic of Houdini" (not to be confused with the Alan Davies doc of the same name) has appeared from time to time. Currently Amazon has it available as a streaming video.
So did The Truth About Houdini play a role in your own coming to Houdini? Share your memories in the comments below.