Saturday, September 30, 2017

Derek Tait's new book is a Houdini ESSENTIAL

Derek Tait's The Great Houdini: His British Tours is now available in the U.S. (a month early). Here's my review.

To date there have been approximately 152 non-fiction works on the life and career of Harry Houdini (double that if we include fictional works). But only a small number of these would I consider essential -- a work that so contributes to Houdini history that is a must read. Essential works do not come along all that often, and that's why the arrival of Derek Tait's The Great Houdini: His British Tours is cause for celebration, because this is a new essential Houdini work of the highest commitment and caliber.

Derek takes a specialized approach, focusing only on Houdini's performances in the UK. The author spent 11 years unearthing the exact dates and details of just about every Houdini appearance. The book is packed with new, fascinating facts. Among the many revelations is Houdini's original iron bar escape (page 91); a detailed account of a bridge jump in rough seas (page 145); a mysterious operation Bess underwent in 1913 (page 194); fresh details on his Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery (which I mined for this post); and much, much more. The book is laid out chronologically, so using this book in conjunction with Frank Koval's Houdini Research Diaries allows one to place Houdini in time and place like never before. As I said, essential.

But before plunging in, one should understand this is very much an academic work. Derek does not compress, finesse, or fictionalize information for the sake of narrative. He sticks to the chronology and reproduces accounts of Houdini's act in full, even if that means repetition (my God he escaped from a lot of packing crates!). When available, Derek also includes reviews of the other performers on the bill, creating context for the world of show business that Houdini inhabited. While an academic approach may alienate a casual reader, the serious reader will be exhilarated. With this approach, you can truly see how Houdini evolved his act and grew as a performer.

But even the most general Houdini fan will thrill to the many beautiful photos in the book, some never before published. So on that level alone, this book is a must buy for all.

The only area where I might fault the author is his inclusion of excerpts from Will Goldston's Sensational Tales of Mystery Men (1929). I don't entirely trust these colorful accounts of Houdini as Goldston was a bit of a myth-maker. His story about Bess crying the key away from the Mirror representative is infamous. But these tales are still interesting to read, especially for those who have not encountered the Goldston book or his stories before.

Finally, Derek does not interject himself or his own theories into this work. He reports. This is refreshing in an era when biographies sometimes irresponsibly mix fact and speculation. Instead, Derek takes one of the most hands off approaches I've seen in any Houdini book, presenting his findings in full without comment or conclusion. It's a selfless approach and an ethical one. He does the hard work of knocking down the door so all can enter and freely explore the fascinating world of Houdini in the UK. Bravo!

Purchase The Great Houdini: His British Tours by Derek Tait at (U.S.) and (UK).


    Friday, September 29, 2017

    David Haversat lands Houdini's spirit slates & chair

    David Haversat has once again tracked down and added to his collection a major piece of Houdini history. Below is the email sent out yesterday from David Haversat Magic with the exciting news.

    A tantalizing listing on eBay for Houdini's Chair and Spirit Slates topped the Houdini search for years, but one day just like disappeared never to reappear again! That was back in 2006 and some wondered what became of this historic relic? 
    Several years ago I visited the owner who listed the chair and slates, it indeed was still there after all that time. In fact it had been in the same location for 80 years! Everything about the offering was terrific. The original crate with "Houdini" stenciled in multiple places, the letter from Hardeen, the slates and of course the special chair where Houdini sat and demonstrated in his big show how unscrupulous mediums could make the secret switch.

    I made an offer, left and wondered if one day I would receive the call? 
    Well that day came and I'm now the proud owner of these historic items that have only been owned by several. 
    The chair passed from Houdini to Hardeen and then to Herman L. Weber (1900-1953) a.k.a "Nemreh". It sat on the same property until I recently purchased the chair along with the magic collection of Herman Weber.
    Herman L. Weber with his old friend Hardeen.

    Check out the links below to see the original 2006 eBay listing and other recent finds by David.


    Thursday, September 28, 2017

    Is there a Houdini prop in the basement of 278?

    If you were lucky enough to attended last weekend's open house at Houdini's 278 in Harlem, you got to experience something not afforded to those who attended the first open house in June. This time the basement was open to visitors. This is where Houdini is said to have worked on and kept some of his famous feats, some of which were still being stored there right up into the 1980s.

    In fact, the basement may still contain one last iconic Houdini prop! Check out the photos below, taken by one of last weekend's lucky attendees.

    Now, I know we discussed this back in July when David Saltman posted a photo of this "giant wheel" on his blog The Houdini File. But that photo didn't show the same detail. It looked like it might have been part of the house, possibly a gear from the disassembled dumbwaiter. But now getting a closer look, as well as learning the diameter (approx. 40"), one can see that this is actually a wagon wheel. All the elements are there, the most notable being the "Flat Steel Tire" as seen below.

    So what's this have to do with Houdini? Well...

    Before we get too excited, the wheel we see Houdini tied to above is not the exact same wheel (different number of spokes). But that doesn't mean the wheel in the basement wasn't used by Houdini in exactly this same way. This was one of Houdini's escapes. In his 1920 book, Magical Rope Ties & Escapes, Houdini devotes a section to what he calls "The Big Wheel Release." He even expresses a preference for the type of wheel to use, allowing for dramatic "scenery":

    An audience which would go to sleep while and artist was making a really difficult escape from the wheel of a farm wagon will break into tumultuous applause over a comparatively easy one from a cannon wheel.

    So how has this wheel remained in the basement all these years? Maybe it was just too impractical to take away. Or maybe those who say it didn't recall that the "Big Wheel Release" was part of Houdini repertoire. But after seeing these photos, I'm thinking the basement of 278 holds one last Houdini treasure, and that's pretty cool!

    Here's a look at the full basement (which had a dirt floor in Houdini's day). I especially love those arches. Also notice the horseshoe on the far left. In his book Houdini Question Reality, Dixie Dooley reports seeing a horseshoe over the front door in 1985 that dated back to Houdini. Same one?

    So what do we think? Is this wheel for real? Or are we going in circles? Sound off in the comments below.

    Thanks to our open house attendee for sharing these terrific pics.


    Wednesday, September 27, 2017

    Photos from The Last Séance

    Here are some terrific photos from Jennifer Berman's new play The Last Séance at the Hudson Guild Theater in New York. The play will run for two more performances this Friday, September 29 and Sunday October 1st. Thanks to David Goodman of David Goodman Photographs for sharing these great shots.

    Lady Doyle (Isabel Schnall) channels "Mama."
    Houdini (Justin Chevalier) and Conan Doyle (Jim Haines).
    Megan Ghorashy as Eusapia Palladinio.
    Justin Chevalier as Houdini.
    Harry and Bess (Megan Ghorashy) in performance.

    CLICK HERE for tickets to The Last Séance. For more information visit the website for The New York Theater Festival.


    Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    Monsterama hopes to scare up Harry

    The 4th annual "Monsterama" horror and sci-fi convention in Atlanta, Georgia, will hold a Houdini seance as part of their opening night events this Friday, September 29 from 11:00 PM to Midnight. Seance summoners wil be Shane Morton, Dan Roebuck, and Marcus Koch.

    Friday night will see what we hope to be our first annual Monsterama Seance! This year we’re hoping to conjure up the spirit of Harry Houdini, famed escape artist, magician and debunker of fake mediums. Before he passed on to the other side, he asked his wife to try to contact him in the hereafter, and we’re taking up the mantle. We’ll be using some of Harry’s own techniques to try and get him to sign in.

    For more check out the Monsterama website, Facebook and Twitter.


    Important correction to Houdini bookcase story

    On Sunday I reported that Houdini's famous bookcase is longer inside his former home at 278 West 113th St in Harlem. This was something noticed by open house attendees on Sunday. I then reported that it had been sold to an anonymous collector, which certainly got everyone's attention!

    Well, I've just gotten off the phone with Beverley Draggon, the always helpful realtor from Douglas Elliman Real Estate who is handling the sale of the house. She tells me that information is wrong. There was no sale.

    I've now rewritten and reposted the story with the confirmed information, and apologize to everyone. Didn't mean to spread "fake news."

    UPDATE: So it looks like I wasn't wrong after all. Read: David Copperfield has Houdini's bookcase and a message for all of us.


    Monday, September 25, 2017

    REVIEW: The Last Séance by Jennifer Berman

    Dorothy Dietrich, Dick Brookz and Jane Mallison of Houdini Museum in Scranton attended the opening performance of Jennifer Berman's new play The Last Séance at the Hudson Guild Theater in New York on Monday. The play will run for two more performances on September 29 and October 1st. As you'll read in their guest review below, this is one not to be missed!

    Justin Chevalier as Houdini. Photo by David Goodman.
    If you are within range of New York City, run don’t walk to see Jennifer Berman’s new play The Last Séance at The Hudson Guild Theater as part of their New York Theater Festival. It is set against the backdrop of the early twentieth century. Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle confront each other over the emerging, widespread and growing phenomenon of Spiritualism. While devoted follower Doyle embraces the ability to contact and talk to the dead, Houdini is an anti-Spiritualist crusader. 
    Almost everything about this production goes beyond expectation. At the very top of the list is the lead Justin Chevalier, who plays Houdini, and is as good as it gets. Good looking and reminiscent of Houdini, short of statue, but tall in presence he exudes the kind of confidence one would imagine of the legendary superstar. 
    There are four other actors in the presentation, Jim Haines, who plays Doyle, has a large build that is physically larger than Houdini, but clearly not of the intellect of Houdini, though the part is written in a positive and intelligent manner, not cartoon like which would be the easy way to go. 
    The other three actors play multiple parts in the show. Isabel Schnall plays Lady Doyle and Margery (in a blond wig). As Lady Doyle, she sometimes is a little laid back and not always up front enough, but still very good and winsome. She totally changes as Margery being very sexy, brash and up front. Megan Ghorashy plays Bessie Houdini and spiritualist Eusapia Palladinio. Two widely different characters that she plays well, once you can in your mind make the transition. 
    Last but not least is Michael Fidalgo who plays 5 or 6 characters that by the end blend into one. Doyle’s son, Sir Oliver Cabot Lodge, Pheneas, Hereward Carrington, and and Margery’s husband, the enigmatic Dr. Crandon. 
    This show richly deserves a much wider showing, which in our minds could even extend to Broadway. 
    -Dick Brookz, Dorothy Dietrich, and Jane Mallison. 

    CLICK HERE for tickets to The Last Séance. For more information visit the website for The New York Theater Festival.


    Rose & Co. remembers their favorite pitch man

    English bath and beauty product maker Rose & Co. has posted the following to their Twitter. This appears to be an original. Nice.

    You can still buy Zam-Buk from the Rose & Co website. Tell them Houdini sent you.


    Sunday, September 24, 2017

    Houdini's bookcase and piano are no longer inside 278

    Breaking news from today's open house at 278 in New York. An attendee tells me that the original piano and Houdini's famous parlor bookcase are GONE!

    Initially the rumor was that an unknown collector contacted the owner after the first open house in June and a deal was made to sell the items. (This after I was told that the bookcase and piano were to stay with the house.) But the realtor tells me this isn't accurate. She says the owner simply moved them out of the house. Whether or not the owner did this because he plans to sell them at a later date is not clear.

    Two bathtubs that dated back to Houdini's time were also on the property in June. One was in the backyard being used as a planter. The other was in the front of the house at the sunken garden floor entrance. Reports are the one in the front of the house is also gone. Despite the legend, I've never heard anything about either bathtub having the initials HH.

    (Speaking of initials my tipster confirmed for me that Bess's top floor bathroom does not have the BH tiles.)

    The piano, which was located on the garden level, is also said to be original to the house. I didn't look too closely at it when I was there in June, but I do own a copy of a listing of property inside 278 from 1919 (made for insurance purposes), and on that list is a "player piano."

    It does break my heart to see these leave the house. I loved that they had survived all these years. But who knows what would have become of them with new owners who might not care about the history. So if they wind up in private collection where they will preserved and cherished as a piece of Houdini history, then I guess that's a good outcome. But it appears the great dissolution of Houdini's historic 278 has begun.

    The sale of 278 is being handled by Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

    UPDATE: The above story was rewritten when the realtor confirmed that the bookcase and piano had not been sold, so the comments below may not accurately reflect the information here. Attendees to the most recent open house (10/15) report that they are still absent. I have also now confirmed that one of the two bathtubs has indeed been sold.

    UPDATE 2David Copperfield has Houdini's bookcase and a message for all of us.


      Houdini, Big Pharma's calendar boy

      In 1977, Stuart Pharmaceuticals in Delaware produced a series of Houdini advertising calendars as part of a campaign for their new drug Kinesed ("Working out of tight squeezes."). Each calendar featured beautiful original paintings by James Barkly of iconic Houdini feats.

      Below are three calendars that I own. The first is from June 1977 and the painting is a combination of Houdini's 1903 Amsterdam Jail Break poster and one of his famous 1903 "nude" publicity shots.

      "Escape from Prison when Manacled in Handcuffs and Irons."

      The next calendar is from August 1977. The painting here is taken from a photo of Houdini's 1908 Suffragettes Challenge. Despite the caption, I don't believe the sheets were doused with water for this particular test, but this is still how a "wet sheets" challenge would look.

      "The Challenging Release From Wet Sheets"

      This last calendar uses an image from Houdini's 1917 Ladies Home Journal article "How I get Out of a Straitjacket." It is a bit of an outlier as it's from 1978 and technically not part of the "Tight Squeezes" campaign (although still part of the overall Kinesed campaign).

      "Just When You Think There's No Escape..."

      It's possible there was a variant of this last calendar that shows Houdini free of the straitjacket using the painting below.

      "Something Makes it Happen!"

      You can see some of the other calendars at Joe Notaro's Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence:

      The Daring Underwater Escape from a Nailed Packing Box (Nov/Dec 1977)
      The Milk Can (Jan/Feb 1978)
      The Water Torture Cell (March/April 1978)
      The Iron Boiler (May/June 1978)
      100 Foot Rope Escape (Sept./Oct. 1978)
      The Gallows Restraint (Nov/Dec 1978)

      Below are links to more Houdini adventures in advertising.


      Saturday, September 23, 2017

      Harry Houdini Halloween Vigil in Los Angeles

      This Halloween marks the 91st anniversary of Houdini's death, and the special events are starting to roll in. Today we have news of an event in Los Angeles, the Harry Houdini Halloween Vigil with Investigative Psychic Medium Jill Marie Morris, to be held at the Dearly Departed Tours & Museum on Santa Monica Blvd., right across from Hollywood Forever Cemetery (which happens to hold Edward Saint).

      Here are the details:

      "Incredibly spooky . . . seriously funny!" 
      Join Investigative Psychic Medium Jill Marie Morris at Dearly Departed Tours & Museum for a special Halloween vigil for the world-famous Harry Houdini amidst the backdrop of artifacts and memorabila related to some of Tinseltown's most notable celebrities. This year will mark the 91st anniversary of Houdini's death which remarkably transpired on Halloween, 1926. Find out what links Dearly Departed's Scott Michaels to the magician, and see what spirit messages Jill may receive from Harry Houdini beyond the grave, as she guides the audience in an open investigation and spirit session at the Musuem.
      You never know who will visit Dearly Departed Tours & Museum from the other side. In addition to dark comedy, Jill will share her psychic impressions, and perform random, open gallery readings for the audience. Audience participation is part of the event, but not mandatory.
      Each ticket includes: Admission into the event, dinner (pizza, salad, dessert and beverages).  

      I'm not yet sure what my own Halloween plans are. But as this is in my own backyard, I might just be joining the vigil!

      CLICK HERE for more details and to buy tickets. You can also check out the event page on Facebook.


      Friday, September 22, 2017

      Houdini returns to Baltimore in 2018

      Big news today! The Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore will host a major Houdini exhibition next summer called "Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini."

      Magician David London is curating the exhibition. Says David, "I have been tasked with bringing Houdini back to Maryland. I say back, as Houdini made at least 7 appearances in Maryland in the early 20th Century including at least five appearances right here in Baltimore."

      David has written the first of what will be a series of blog posts chronicling his efforts in putting together the exhibition. So check out "Finding Houdini: Bringing Houdini back to Maryland" at the Jewish Museum of Maryland website. And stay tuned for more on what promises to be the big Houdini event of 2018.

      UPDATEInescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini.


      Thursday, September 21, 2017

      Duffy Hudson brings Houdini to Davenport

      Duffy Hudson will bring his acclaimed Houdini one-man show to the German American Heritage Center in Davenport, Iowa, this Saturday, Sept. 23 at 2:00pm. The performance is part of the museum's "Houdini: The Magic and Mystery" exhibition which runs through November 4.

      Duffy Hudson has done one-man shows as Albert Einstein, Edgar Allan Poe, and George Burns. In a profile at QCOnline, the actor explained how he decided to portray Houdini as his next subject:

      "I was performing Poe for 500 middle-schoolers once, I was doing a Q & A, asking what character I should do next, and I put out 10 names. When I hit Houdini, they started screaming."

      Visit the German American Heritage Center's website for more information on this and their "Houdini: The Magic and Mystery" exhibition. You can follow Duffy Hudson on Facebook.


      Houdini movies screening Sunday in Wilton, NH

      Houdini's Terror Island and The Man From Beyond will screen this Sunday (9/24) at the historic Wilton Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, New Hampshire. As with the screenings last week in Brandon, the movies will include live musical accompaniment by silent movie music specialist Jeff Rapsis.

      "These films are audience favorites, and people continue to be surprised at how engrossing and exhilarating they can be when shown as they were intended: in a theater, and with live music," says Rapsis.

      The screenings start at 4:30pm. Admission is free.

      For more information, visit the Wilton Town Hall official website. You can also check out Jeff Rapsis at his blog Jeff Rapsis / Silent Film Music.


      Wednesday, September 20, 2017

      Open House at 278 this Sunday, October 15, 1-3pm

      There will be Open House at Houdini's former home at 278 West 113th Street in Harlem this Sunday, Sept. 24 from 1-3pm. After briefly being off the market, the house is once again listed with Douglas Elliman Real Estate at a reduced price of $3,999,000.

      As much as I'd love to, I won't be be jumping on a plane to attend this Open House like I did in June. But it's exciting that we have another chance to see inside Houdini's home. Trust me, it's magical.

      For more about 278 past and present, check out the links below.


      See the Magic Castle's lost Houdini display case

      The Houdini Seance Room at the Magic Castle currently has two large display cases filled with various escape restraints and Houdini memorabilia. But it used to have three. This third case was removed several years ago to make way for a fireplace.

      As the Castle does not allow photos (the above photos came from the AMA Newsletter), exactly what that third display case contained has been somewhat lost to time. The best we have is a photo of Mark Wilson standing in front of the case on page 219 of The Original Houdini Scrapbook.

      But now I've stumbled on a sensational color image of the full display case on the stock photo website Unfortunately, the site charges $50 for limited website use, so I'm just going to refer you to THIS LINK where you can see the photo on the site itself (click it to enlarge).

      Some of the items in the case have been spread around the Houdini room, so they are still on view. However, the photos of Houdini's Machpelah plot (which appears to be this recently discussed Oscar Teale photo) and the photo of Houdini and Dorothy Young I've not seen in the Castle. Too bad, because they appear to be originals and would offer much better resolution than the images we have today.

      UPDATE: According to our friend Joe Fox, the items in the case belonged to the late Manny Weltman.


      Tuesday, September 19, 2017

      Houdini challenges the tax man

      This book just popped up on Amazon today. What is this? A Italian novelization of the Houdini Miniseries? Perhaps the behind the scenes story of Adrien's "Brodini"? Or maybe a new study that tackles the question of why Houdini never performed in Italy. (Yeah, why is that?)

      Turns out it's none of the above. The title, Houdini e il fisco Italiano: Escapologia e Controescapologia, translates as "Houdini and the Italian Taxes: Escapology and Counter-Escapology" (according to Google translate). So it looks like this is a manual to help you escape those pesky Italian taxes. Thanks Harry.

      For you completists, Houdini e il fisco Italiano: Escapologia e Controescapologia can be purchased at (U.S.), (UK) and, of course, the Italian


      Sunday, September 17, 2017

      Remembering Steve Baker

      Sad news today. Dean Carnegie of The Magic Detective reports that legendary escape artist Steve Baker a.k.a. "Mr. Escape" has died. Says Dean:

      My friend and mentor, Steve Baker has passed away. He died at 11:11pm on Saturday Sept 16th, 2017 at his home in Illinois. His wife Julie, who was his faithful assistant throughout his career was by his side when he passed. Steve had been ill for quite a long time, but recently suffered several mini strokes which he did not recover from.

      Steve Baker was one of the most prominent escape artists of the 1970s and '80s. He was also very much a part of my own coming to Houdini and magic. I first became aware of Steve from an article in the June 1976 Valley News. The headline read "Bettering Houdini's Stunts" and contained the following:

      "I'm not as great as Houdini...I'm better," said the 37-year old Baker, who says he has broken all of Houdini's escape records. 
      "Houdini could pick most locks with a hairpin but today technology is 20 times more advanced," said Baker, adding with a smile that he is, therefore, 20 times better than Houdini.

      I admit this did not sit well with the 11-year-old me. But on some level I understood that Steve was just engaging is some Houdini-like boasting for the press, which, in a way, was its own tribute to the great magician. The article promoted Steve's upcoming suspended straitjacket escape in front of Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to mark the 50th Anniversary of Houdini's death and kickoff the IBM convention that year. The same paper later reported the escape (below).

      Shortly after this, Steve made an appearance at The Magic Emporium in Tarzana, one of the local magic shops I haunted in those days. Steve performed alongside his wife Julie on a small stage inside the store. This was the first "famous" magic personality I had ever seen in person. Unfortunately, I can't remember what kind of magic he did, but afterward I got a signed photo (above).

      As I was leaving, I spotted Julie Baker in front of the store talking with a friend. I asked her to sign my photo as well. She seemed flattered and amused, saying assistants don't usually get asked for autographs, but she was happy to do so. I guess I felt that every Houdini had a Bess who was every bit as important to his story.

      Another powerful memory was Steve's performance of the Water Torture Cell on Dick Clark's LIVE Wednesday in 1978. It's still the most harrowing version of the escape I've ever witnessed, and it gave me great respect for Steve's showmanship.

      R.I.P. Mr. Escape.

      For a retrospective of Steve Baker's life and career, click over to The Magic Detective and read Dean's full post. And feel free to share your own memories of Steve in the comments below.


      Saturday, September 16, 2017

      Did Hardeen reveal Houdini's most secret secret?

      While visiting the Houdini Museum of New York last June, I saw a remarkable document on display. It consisted of two typewritten pages by Hardeen from a biography he was writing about his brother at the time of his own death. That book was to be called The Truth About Houdini, and if anyone knew that truth, it was Dash!

      Among several fascinating tidbits is the following paragraph in which Hardeen apparently spills the secret of Houdini's escape abilities, which I share here with the permission of museum and document owner Roger Dreyer. [UPDATE: Bruce Averbook and The Averbook Magic Art Museum & Library now own these framed manuscript pages and photos.]

      Hardeen first explains how Houdini ran away from home at the age of nine, then follows with this bombshell [spelling errors as written]:

      While on this trip he became a jockey rode horses and mules &...any thing they put before him. He was accidentally shot in the palm of his left hand, and though at the time it seemed a misfortune--it proved to be the turning point of his life. Because the bullet remaing in the palm of the hand, caused the groth to seem the same as the other hand and apparently was the same. Houdini could contract the hand so that he was able to pull it through the smallest kind of hole. This was the secret that he carried to his grave, and not even his wife knew of it.
      No one ever knew about the musclare contraction Houdini was able to perform.

      The story of Houdini being shot in the hand is one Houdini himself told, although he set it later in his life. According to Harry, early in his career, he was taken at gunpoint by gamblers and forced to unlock the door of a casino after hours. But Houdini flung the door into the crooks and ducked inside. They took at shot at him through the door, and when Houdini threw up his hand to shield his face, the bullet lodged inside his hand, where it remained for his entire life.

      Also displayed at the museum is an original x-ray photo showing the bullet in Houdini's hand. This photo has appeared elsewhere, but seeing the original is a revelation. That's because one can see the "bullet" has clearly been added or at least filled in with black ink. Possibly this was done to enhance the image. Or could it be a fake?

      I admit I've never entirely bought the story of the gangsters. Seems like a bit of Houdini fiction. But possibly it was a way to romanticize or misdirect from what Dash claimed was a childhood accident. But I'm still not sure how an object inside Houdini's hand could aid in his escapes. Seems to me it would actually impede his ability to slip out of cuffs, etc.

      That brings me to this intriguing footnote in Houdini's Fabulous Magic (page 19) by Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young:

      Many people thought that Houdini could slip cuffs that were locked about his wrists, but he found that impossible. He even tried compressing the knuckles of his hands in special clamps for hours at a time, hoping to reduce their girth, but it was no avail; so he gave it up.

      I've never heard about these clamp compression experiments, but it's likely the source was Walter Gibson, who knew Houdini personally. Was this Houdini once again misdirecting from his big secret? It should be noted that Houdini did slip handcuffs on occasion, sometimes in full view of the audience, and he can be seen slipping cuffs during the jailbreak sequence in The Grim Game.

      Finally, it's worth noting that Houdini's left hand gave him problems as he aged. He repeatedly broke his wrist, and in 1926, he told a doctor that he only had "50% strength" in his left hand. Could all this be related to the big secret?

      While Dash was not above myth-making when it came to his own career (he also claimed to have been once trapped under an ice sheet), he seemed to be the most candid of all the Weisses. He also famously took umbrage to the Harold Kellock biography, Houdini His Life Story, as being "full of lies."

      Unfortunately, Hardeen never completed his Houdini biography, so all we have is this tantalizing tidbit. But what a remarkable thing to hear from the man who knew all of Houdini's secrets.


      Friday, September 15, 2017

      Hardeen is ready to talk

      Did Hardeen reveal his brother's biggest secret? If we are to believe a remarkable document in the Houdini Museum of New York, he did!

      "This was the secret that he carried to his grave, and not even his wife knew of it."

      Check out WILD ABOUT HARRY this weekend when all will be revealed.

      Future of Appleton's "Metamorphosis" still uncertain

      The Post-Crescent reports that the future of Richard C. Wolter's sculpture "Metamorphosis" -- which once stood in the center of Houdini Plaza in Appleton, Wisconsin -- "is about as certain as Houdini's return from the grave."

      The sculpture is currently lying on its side outside the Appleton parks and recreation facility at Memorial Park.

      The iconic sculpture anchored Houdini Plaza from 1985 to 2010, when it was removed because the base was deteriorating. Houdini Plaza underwent a major renovation in 2013. A Houdini bust was added to the plaza in 2015.

      "There's been talk off and on about bringing it back out," said Chad Doran, Appleton's communications coordinator. "There's some people in the arts community who are really pushing to have it brought back out. I don't know that anything is imminent."

      Alex Schultz, president of Sculpture Valley, a nonprofit arts advocacy group in the Fox Cities, said Appleton made a mistake by removing "Metamorphosis" from Houdini Plaza. He wishes the 2013 renovation of the plaza would have reserved a spot for the piece.

      "Everybody recognized it as being part of the plaza," he said. "Having taken it out and not incorporated it into the redesign, I think, was just shortsighted."

      Schultz recommends restoring the sculpture and mounting it in the center of the roundabout at the east end of the College Avenue bridge. He said the location was proposed to the city but wasn't met with much enthusiasm because of safety considerations.


      Thursday, September 14, 2017

      Two Houdini movies screening in Brandon, VT

      The historic Brandon Town Hall and Community Center in Brandon, Vermont will screen Houdini's The Man From Beyond and Terror Island this Saturday, September 16, from 7pm to 9pm. Both movies will include live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer regarded as one of the nation's leading silent film musicians.

      Admission is free, with donations welcome. All proceeds support ongoing restoration of the Town Hall, which dates from 1860.

      Terror Island (1920) was the second feature Houdini made in Hollywood for Famous Players-Lasky Paramount. The Man From Beyond (1922) was the first film produced by the magician's own Houdini Picture Corporation.

      For more information, visit the Brandon Hall official website or the event page on Facebook.

      Thanks to the Addison Independent.


      Wednesday, September 13, 2017

      Houdini captured at Historic Auto Attractions

      I love discovering Houdini artifacts and displays where you might not expect them. Recently I found this photo of a Houdini display at Historic Auto Attractions in Roscoe, Illinois. Who knew!?

      This is more than your average display. The full body straitjacket appears to be an original that sold for $24,150.00 in Butterfield & Butterfield's auction of memorabilia from The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in November 1999. The red trunk on the left of the pic is also familiar to me (my recollection is that it reads "Glass"), but I'm not able to find it in any of my auction catalogs.

      This photo was taken by "sporst" and posted to Fliker. I wasn't able to contact the user (not without selling my soul to yahoo), so if you are "sporst" and would like a different credit or for me to remove this image, please contact me. In the meantime, thank you for sharing this!

      Below are links to a few other unexpected Houdini displays.

      UPDATE: Chuck Romano over at My Magic Uncle also covered this in 2013, so it looks like he knew!


      Tuesday, September 12, 2017

      The curious story of Houdini and Carleete

      The 2013 blog Carleete tells the story of escape artist Harry Howes ("Carleete") who is said to have sold Houdini the idea for his famous Water Torture Cell.

      The blog is a bit of a tangle of unclear dates and confused interpretations of the "water escape," but the basic story is that in 1911 Carleete toured Britain with an underwater barrel escape similar to Houdini's Milk Can (which Houdini invented in 1908). When Houdini was in Bradford, he paid Carleete to challenge him with his apparatus. When Houdini later introduced his Water Torture Cell, the idea that he had purchased his "water escape" from Carleete was born.

      Of course, the USD and Carleete's barrel are hardly similar, but this claim dogged Houdini for years, and even gets a mention in Houdini The Untold Story.

      The blog also includes a reprint of a terrific article by David De-Val from the April 1986 Escapism about Houdini's meeting with Carleete as recalled by his son Osmond (pictured above). It contains a wealth of interesting details -- including Houdini introducing himself as Mr. Harry Weiss -- and it offers one of the few eyewitness accounts of Houdini conspiring to set-up a challenge.

      So click on over to Carleete and check out the post and David De-Val's must-read "Houdini & Carleete." You can also view a video on YouTube of Carleete's other son, Bayne Howes, telling an entirely different (barrel free) version of events.

      Thanks to "Jack" of Houdini & Hardeen for the tip.


      Monday, September 11, 2017

      A new addition to The Houdini Estate

      Yesterday I zipped up into Laurel Canyon to have a look at this recent addition to the famed Houdini Estate. Very nice!

      This new signage is in front of the property on Willow Glen. So even though the estate is private, you can still get a nice photo. Think that now makes this a must stop on the L.A. Houdini sightseeing circuit.

      Once a ruin, the beautifully restored "Houdini Estate" is available as a rental for weddings and other special events via the official website. For a full history of Houdini's connection to the property, check out this post from 2012.


        Sunday, September 10, 2017

        Houdini in the 1981 Ragtime movie

        Houdini's role in E.L. Doctorow's bestselling 1975 novel Ragtime is well known. You could even say the great "Houdini Renaissance" of the 1970s started with Ragtime. Houdini also appeared in the hit Broadway musical. He even sings a song. But far less known is his appearance in the 1981 film adaptation directed by Miloš Forman.

        When the movie was announced in the November 2, 1980 issue of the Los Angeles Times, the paper used a nice still of Houdini in action. This was exciting as it suggested Houdini would be a large part of the film. Houdini was played by Jeffrey DeMunn, who reportedly performed the suspended straitjacket escape himself.

        However, when the movie was released in November 1981, Houdini's role consisted of only two brief, silent appearances. I don't know when this reduction took place, but considering both John Belushi and Harvey Keitel were considered for the part (with some reports saying Keitel was "set" for the role), it must have been a larger part at some point in the development process.

        Ragtime author E.L. Doctorow did not participate in the development of the screenplay as he believed a feature film could not do justice to his novel and that it should be done as a ten-part television miniseries. He may have been right. The first cut came in at over three hours and had to be shortened to its final 2:36 runtime. Was Houdini part of any of that cut footage I wonder?

        While Houdini's appearances are brief, they are not insignificant. The first is during a newsreel montage that opens the film. Here we learn Houdini is departing on a nationwide tour (with his mother). This tells us that during this gilded age, the world's greatest magician was, reassuringly, everywhere.

        The movie then concludes with Houdini doing a suspended straitjacket escape high above a crowd, even above the American flag. Perhaps this is an expression of the ultimate high point of the era, the soaring triumph of the individual. The irony is that the crowd below are reading newspapers announcing the start of World War I -- the end of that very era, and the movie.

        Despite 8 Oscar nominations, Ragtime was greeted with tepid reviews and box office. The New York Times wrote: "The movie, which opens today at the Loews State and Coronet Theaters, is sorrowful, funny and beautiful. It is also, finally, very unsatisfactory." Jeffrey DeMunn would go on to play Houdini again in the 1986 television movie Young Harry Houdini, making him the only two-time Houdini (at least on film).

        I also find the movie to be just okay. Certainly I would have preferred more Houdini. But the trailer (below) still gives me chills. "Bad time. Good time. Ragtime." Love it.

        For more appearances of Houdini in film and television, check out my page devoted to The many lives of Harry Houdini on film.


        Saturday, September 9, 2017

        Houdini now haunting McSorley’s Old Ale House

        I honestly don't know where Houdini finds the time to do all the haunting he's credited with. But maybe that explains why he hasn't shown up at any official seance in 90 years. He's one busy spook!

        Now according to America's Haunted Road Trip, Houdini haunts the famous McSorley’s Old Ale House in New York a cat! This from the website:

        According to Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg, tour guide for Ghosts of New York, whenever a cat is seen in the window of McSorley’s, Harry Houdini is present as the spirit inside the cat. Why Houdini, you ask? Dr. Schoenberg claims that the set of handcuffs secured to the footrail of the bar once belonged to Houdini.

        We tackled the question of those handcuffs last year (links below). In short, while Houdini may have affixed handcuffs to the McSorley’s bar, the handcuffs there today are likely replacements. And as far as the cat goes...Houdini was really more of a dog person.

        Hairy Houdini?