Sunday, May 20, 2018

LINK: An invitation to meet Houdini

This excellent article by Marco Pusterla at The Ephemeral Collector is about the formation and inaugural meeting of The Magicians' Club in London in 1911.

Houdini's presidency and involvement with that early magic fraternity (which pre-dates his presidency of the S.A.M.) doesn't get much attention in biographies, so this is interesting stuff. Click the headline to have a read.

Thanks to Joe Fox for the alert.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Were Bess and Ed Saint secretly married?

There has long been a rumor that Bess Houdini and Edward Saint were secretly married. Magician Arnold Furst, who knew the couple well, believed they were. But no evidence, such as a marriage certificate, has ever surfaced. Of course, no marriage certificate for Harry and Bess has ever surfaced either!

Recently while fleshing out the A.D. page of my New Houdini Chronology, I found this curious item in Ed Sullivan's 1938 Hollywood gossip column:

So is this where the marriage rumor got started? Possibly. But it makes no mention of Saint. Should we accept Bess's word that it isn't true? Or does this item present evidence it might have been true. At least this shows us the idea of a secret marriage was in the air ever at that time.

The date, April 19, 1938, might be suggestive. This is right around the time Bess and Ed began to have some middling success in the movies. Bess had just shot Religious Racketeers, and they had recently set-up a Houdini biopic at Paramount. So maybe they married in anticipation of a expected windfall of cash? Possibly it was more about consolidated assets than romance.

Anyway, just more to fuel the speculation!

Arnold Furst's recollections of Bess and Ed can be read in David Charvet's excellent cover profile of Bess Houdini in the October 1995 issue of MAGIC.


Thursday, May 17, 2018

Duffy Hudson brings 'Houdini' to L.A., June 1-3

Duffy Hudson is bringing his acclaimed Houdini one-man show to the Generation DCD Studio in Burbank, CA for three nights starting Friday, June 1, 2018.

Join Force of Nature for a night of magic and wonderment with one of the most iconic legends of all time: Harry Houdini!
Dare to escape reality and hear from the man who mesmerized and inspired millions, even long after his death! You will believe! 
Featuring Duffy Hudson as Harry Houdini.

The Generation DCD Studio is located at 1001 W Olive Ave, Burbank, CA 91506. CLICK HERE to purchase tickets.

I'll be there with a pack of "Houdini Nuts" on June 2. Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Houdini's Mirror Handcuffs to be displayed in New York

The legendary Mirror Handcuffs will be part of a display of original Houdini artifacts at the New-York Historical Society's Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection exhibition, June 15 to Sept 16, 2018. This is the first time the Mirror cuffs have been made available to view by the public in some 20 years!

The exhibition will feature a rich assortment of rarities from the Copperfield Collection. Below is a description from the museum's website.

Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection features highlights from the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, the incomparable trove of magical historical artifacts from the Emmy Award-winning illusionist David Copperfield. Evoking the New York magic shops that sparked Copperfield’s imagination, displays explore the careers and achievements of legendary magicians from the Golden Age of Magic (1889s–1930s) and showcase iconic objects used by Harry Houdini in his famous escape stunts, culminating with the Death Saw—one of Copperfield’s groundbreaking illusions. Curated by Cristian Petru Panaite, assistant curator of exhibitions.

Iconic objects on view include the Metamorphosis Trunk, used by Harry and Bess Houdini, that allowed the couple to magically trade places; handcuffs from the 1904 London Daily Mirror challenge, from which Houdini struggled to escape for more than 70 minutes; and Houdini’s Milk Can, an act that premiered in 1908 in which he attempted to escape from this colossal, locked can filled to the brim with water. Also on display are a dress believed to be worn by Adelaide Herrmann (1853–1932), the “Queen of Magic,” who started out as her husband’s assistant and carried on the show after his death, performing her dangerous death-defying bullet catch act; Harry Kellar’s Nested Boxes, an illusion performed for President Roosevelt’s family; and an Inexhaustible Barrel from Dante the Magician’s Broadway show Sim Sala Bim.

A recreation of a magic shop evokes the legendary New York City stores like Macy’s Magic Counter and Tannen’s Magic Shop that inspired and nurtured many magicians. On display are A. C. Gilbert Mysto Magic sets and props from Tannen’s grand catalog—decks of cards, linking rings, a disappearing bird cage, and wands.

The museum is planning a full program of magic and Houdini related events, including a special "Houdini Weekend" on July 13-15. I will be appearing on Friday, July 13, to give a short presentation on "Houdini in New York" before a screening of the acclaimed 2000 PBS documentary, Houdini. The event is free but you'll need to reserve tickets online or by calling (212) 485-9268.

For more information on the exhibition and all the programs, visit the New-York Historical Society's website. I will also keep you updated on all the Houdini-related talks and events.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The real story of Houdini at Scotland Yard?

The following article ran in several American newspapers in 1901-02. It describes Houdini's visit to Scotland Yard on June 14, 1900, shortly after his arrival in the UK. This is the first recorded version of the events that day, and it's not quite the same story that has become legend. Check it out.

It should be noted that this story was almost certainly supplied by Houdini himself. Houdini frequently sent back to the U.S. stories of his European adventures and victories. However, when Houdini returned to the U.S. in 1905, he began to tell the story of his Scotland Yard visit as a legit challenge, the very thing this article says he was denied. He even claimed he escaped from a jail cell!

The 1928 Harold Kellock biography, Houdini His Life Story, took it to the next level with the full blown story of the all-or-nothing bet between Houdini and Alhambra manager C. Dundas Slater, with Houdini's arms handcuffed around a pillar by no less than the head of Scotland Yard, Sir William Melville That's the story that is repeated in subsequent biographies (except Silverman), right up to 2006's The Secret Life of Houdini which added even more colorful embellishments.

I challenged this "classic" version events in my 2013 post Houdini vs Scotland Yard; but did it really happen?, and what I speculated really happened that day is very much what we read in the above. So do we have here the real story of Houdini at Scotland Yard?

I think we do.


Monday, May 14, 2018

'The Great Houdinis' on Talking Pictures TV tonight

The rarely seen 1976 TV biopic The Great Houdinis will air tonight at 9 PM on Talking Pictures TV in the UK. The network is advertising this as a "premiere," so hopefully that means it will screen regularly. The Great Houdinis was never released on any home format (not in the U.S. at least), and this is first airing of the movie on television that I can recall in decades. So this is exciting!

I'm a big fan of this biopic, despite the liberties it takes. The Great Houdinis first aired on October 8, 1976 on ABC.


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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Here's to the moms

Here's a great image of Bess Houdini with her mother, Balbina Rahner, and mother-in-law, Cecelia Weiss, in 1909. The Houdinis took their mothers to Europe that year. By all accounts the two moms, who were both German-speaking widows with seven children, got along extremely well.

Happy Mother's Day.

Photo from Houdini His Legend and His Magic by Doug Henning.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

See 'Terror Island' on Terror Island next Saturday

Next Saturday, May 19, you'll have the unique opportunity to see Houdini's 1920 movie Terror Island on Terror Island itself (aka Catalina Island).

The Catalina Island Museum in conjunction with the 31st Annual Silent Film Benefit will screen Terror Island in Avalon's historic Art Deco Casino with live orchestral accompaniment by award-winning composer and sound designer, Michael Mortilla & The Accompanists. The screening is at 1:00 pm and tickets can be purchased HERE.

There will also be special pre-screening Magic Show with magician and noted Houdini impersonator Jim Bentley. Jim will be doing several signature Houdini feats, including a straitjacket escape. The pre-show is for museum members only, but memberships will be available at the door.

As a bonus, the Art Deco Society will be holding their annual ball that night, so expect to see the island swarming with people in period dress -- just like the days when Houdini was there! And, of course, Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, the first ever exhibition devoted entirely to a Houdini movie, is currently on show at the Catalina Island Museum and is a must see.

Catalina Island can be reached using the Catalina Express, which runs boats to and from the island all day long. I'll be attending the May 19 events along with a pack of fellow Houdini nuts. Hope to see you there!

UPDATE: This won't be the first time Terror Island has screened on Catalina. As you will learn in the museum's exhibition, Terror Island played at Catalina's Strand Theater during its initial release in 1920. Last weekend Joe Notaro found the location of The Strand. Check out Joe's report HERE.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Is David Blaine reviving a Houdini myth?

I really admire and enjoy David Blaine. In many ways, I do believe he is the modern Houdini. And those who have seen his live show say it's phenomenal. However, a recent article at Houston Culture Map suggests David might be trading on the old myth that Houdini died in his Water Torture Cell. Here's the surprising paragraphs:

Fans who know Blaine only from TV will see a different side of his work at the Smart Financial Centre — up close, front, back, and side. For his finale, he allows audience members to come onstage and examine a large, clear tomb of water before Blaine is lowered in and holds his breath for minutes that seem like hours. It’s the closer for Blaine’s show. It was his hero Houdini’s final act, too.

“Insurance companies won’t cover that part of the show. I push myself as far as I can, right to the breaking point, and that’s the end. Houdini died after doing this. He collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.”

So that's a bit of shocker to read. Certainly David Blaine knows the truth of Houdini's death. David is a great admirer of Houdini and credits the image of Houdini on a book cover as igniting his passion for magic. I'm also sure he knows Houdini didn't even do his Water Torture Cell during his final performance in Detroit, so there's no way to parse this into any kind of truth.

But David Blaine wouldn't be the only performer who couldn't resist the publicity appeal of this myth. In the 1970s, escape artists such as Steve Baker and Charlie Myrick openly advertised the Water Torture Cell as "the trick that killed Houdini." I believe even Doug Henning said this at some point. But this was back when the influence of the Tony Curtis movie--which created this myth--reached was far and wide, and people didn't have the immediate means to know any better. But nowadays a simple Google search will reveal the truth.

So even though you won't witness "the trick that killed Houdini", David Blaine Live is clearly a must see. Check out his official website for tour dates.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

"The Great Handcuff Contest"

David Copperfield is sharing select treasures from his collection on his Instagram, and yesterday he shared this incredible poster for the Mirror Handcuff Challenge. Of course, that's what we call it today. In 1904, as you can see here, it was "The Great Handcuff Contest." (This can also be seen on a playbill that recently sold in auction.)

Anything related to the Mirror Challenge is always of interest, and this is especially exciting to see because there is no illustrated standalone poster that we know of. (The closest thing we have is an image on this lost poster.) Of course, David also owns the Mirror handcuffs themselves.

Earlier this year I had the extreme honor of visiting David Copperfield's amazing collection in Las Vegas. Click the related link below to relive that adventure. Also stay tuned for some exciting Copperfield Collection news...


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The haunting of Houdini's 278

In 1927, Bess Houdini sold the house at 278 West 113 Street to her neighbors, John and Filippina Bonanno. The Bonanno family owned 278 for the next 53 years, with their daughter, Rose, occupying the house until her death in 1979.

Recently I found this incredible article about how the Bonanno family believed the house was haunted. This appeared in several newspapers in late October 1949. The following clipping is from the Hartford Courant:

Click to enlarge.

That year Joseph Dunninger held his annual Houdini seance inside 278 (it was Dunninger who started the annual seance tradition in 1947). During the midnight proceedings there was a curious incident, as reported the next day by The Evening Sun:

Click to enlarge.

The Bonannos weren't the only ones who claimed contact with Houdini inside 278. Mr. Wilkes, who lived in the house alone during the 1980s, said the spirit of Houdini was a regular visitor. This is according to Dixie Dooley who spent a stormy evening inside 278 with Mr. Wilkes in 1985. Wilkes told Dixie: "He'll educate you too, he's educated me!"

Fred Thomas, as far as I know, made it through his 26 years in the house spirit free.

Last week came the news that 278 now has new owners. Might they find themselves dreaming of Houdini? Or maybe a plaster dog with one ear?



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Houdini inspired original music by Casey Winn

Houdini: The Curious and Amazing Illusions of Harry Houdini is a selection of original music by Casey Winn inspired by Houdini's life. Among the 15 tracks are: Houdini Overture, The Manacled Diver, The Death and Resurrection Show, Film Star, and Magician Among the Spirits.

This was released in 2013. Individual tracks or the full MP3 Album can be purchased at and There you can also sample each track.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Mystifier, First Quarter 1993

Continuing my look back at Mystifier, the quarterly newsletter of the Houdini Historical Center that ran from 1991-2003.

The First Quarter 1993 Mystifier kicks off with the reproduction of an article called "Card Tricks Exposed" from The New Penny Magazine (No. 120, Vol. X). It doesn't provide a date, but it appears to be from very early in Houdini's first european tour (similar to his "Wizard Exposed" articles of 1901).

I recently asked the "Mystical Man" if he would mind enlightening the readers of The New Penny Magazine as to how certain tricks are performed–those shown in public, and others indulged in by "sharps" at card tables. He readily responded to this invitation, and also consented to go before the camera in order to illustrate pictorially his various explanations. These photographs, I think it will be admitted, are quite unique, and form a remarkably interesting feature of the expose.

This is actually a pretty major exposé, revealing card moves practiced by card sharps and also magicians. The newsletter notes that this article comes from Houdini's "jail breaker" scrapbook, given to museum by Tad Ware of Excelsior, Minnesota.

The newsletter continues with a reproduction of an unintentionally amusing article from a 1913 Variety headlined, "Magic on Decline". The article rings the death knell of the magic art and puts the blame on exposure acts and "the lack of a master performer of the calibre of Herrmann or Kellar." (Ah, hem.)

Many magicians have given up the fight and entered other occupations. At this very time New York has two former magicians of high ability performing in its first class theaters. One is a dancing comedian and the other a comic ventriloquist. I know another magician upon whom great hopes were placed, but he has given it up and is studying law.

Also reprinted from 1913 are two oddities: "Some Passing Thoughts" by George Schulte, and "What to Wear While Performing Magic Stunts" by Harry Palmer, both from The Sphinx.

In his "Backstage with Sidney Radner" column, Sid praises Frank Koval's newly published Illustrated Houdini Research Diary. He also states that "Ken Silverman is writing what I predict will be the most complete biography of Houdini to date." And he says Pat Culliton's Houdini's Strange Tales and accompanying cassette tape are "first class all the way."

Sid goes on to say that his interview with Dorothy Young has to be postponed to the next issue due to the death of Dorothy's husband in December. He also promises to reveal a photo of Dorothy coming out of the Radio of 1950 illusion from the collection of Manny Weltman. At the time, that was an unpublished image. He finishes by announcing his upcoming visit to the Library of Congress and librarian John Higbee. Organizing the McManus-Young collection, which he complains "is not what the magic fraternity would like", appears to have been one of Sid's major efforts at this time.

Volume 3, Number 1
First Quarter, 1993
6 pages

Looking Through Scrapbooks
New Houdini Books at Museum Shop
Magic on Decline
Some Passing Thoughts
Fashion Tips for Magicians
Backstage with Sid Radner

Thanks to Gary Hunt of Handcuff Queens for supplying me with this issue. 



Sunday, May 6, 2018

Craig Campbell Houdini bust reproductions for sale

Artist Craig Campbell is selling a limited edition reproduction of the gorgeous Houdini bust he made for Appleton's Houdini Plaza in 2015. The busts are bronze, 26" on a 2" walnut base, and come in a limited edition of 25.

You can purchase the bust at Campbell's website. It says there to contact him regarding price, but an article about the bust at City of Lafayette shows the price as $25,000.


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Houdini is back on 'Terror Island' starting TODAY

Today sees the opening of Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle at the Catalina Island Museum in Avalon. The exhibit is devoted to Houdini's second Famous Players Lasky-Paramount feature film, Terror Island, which Houdini filmed on Catalina in November and December of 1919. This is the first ever exhibition devoted entirely to a Houdini movie. It runs through October 7, 2018.

Last night the museum held its First Friday "Magic at the Museum" event featuring World Champion Magician Johnny Ace Palmer, preceded by a short Houdini talk by myself. The event was very well attended and offered everyone a first look at the exhibition. I can tell you, this is something very special.

Housed in the museum's standalone SAPAP Gallery, the exhibit tells the story of Terror Island from conception to its opening at a local Catalina Island movie theater in 1920. Among the treasures on display are original letters penned by Houdini while on location; pages from the original screenplay (showing the original title, SALVAGE); original stills; lobby cards; magazines; the pressbook; a pair of authentic Polynesian spear handles, said to be the only known surviving props from the movie; and recently discovered issues of The Catalina Islander newspaper from 1919 covering the filming of the movie as well as Houdini's infamous near drowning incident in front of the Hotel St. Catherine. An authentic 1910 diving helmet, identical to the one seen in the film, is also on display.

Almost all the artifacts are being displayed for the first (and likely only) time. Among the contributors are Arthur Moses, Mark Willoughby, Fred Pittella, Joe Notaro, Chip Romero, the Motion Picture Academy Library, and myself.

The story of the making of Terror Island on Catalina is told with screen captures and photos of the locations as they exist today (this information has never appeared before). The museum also reconstructs the missing Reels 3 & 4 in an audio-visual presentation using stills and text from the original screenplay.

There is great artistry in how the exhibit is laid out, making this one of the most unique and special Houdini exhibitions that has ever been offered. And it's on Terror Island itself! That's magical. Credit is due hard work and skills of curator Julie Perlin Lee (who has become a bit of a Houdini nut herself during this process), assistant curator Jessica Zumberge, Gail Fornasiere, and all the staffers who clearly take pride in their beautiful island museum.

Of course, what would a Terror Island exhibition be without a screening of the movie itself? So on May 19th, the museum in conjunction with the annual Silent Film Benefit will screen Terror Island in Avalon's famous Art Deco Casino with live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. Tickets can be purchased HERE.

And if you need a further inducement, the museum also has a fantastic exhibit devoted to the movie JAWS. The city of Avalon is also festooned with advertisements for the Houdini exhibition and the upcoming Terror Island screening. It's just so cool that after 99 years, Houdini back as a star on Catalina Island.

Catalina Island can be reached using the Catalina Express, which runs boats to and from the island all day long. The ride takes about an hour. Just watch out for cannibals!

Houdini, wizard of the stage and screen, was reported to have declared that Santa Catalina Island was the most ideal spot that he had ever come across, and that when he had finished his work before the footlights that he intended to come back to the island and build a magnificent home.
- The Catalina Islander, 1936

For more information on Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, visit the Catalina Island Museum website. I will also keep you updated on upcoming screenings and related special events. The summer of Terror has begun!

UPDATE: Joe Notaro has a nice report on Friday's event at his blog, Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence.


Friday, May 4, 2018


Big news today. Houdini's former home at 278 W. 113th Street in New York is now officially SOLD. The house had been "under contract" since January. The only information the realtor can share is that the buyer is "a family of four and the wife is a doctor."

Houdini's 278 was owned by Fred Thomas, who bought the house in 1991. It went on the market in June 2017 for $4.6 million. The price dropped to $3.6 million in December. I attended the first open house and gave a detailed report on what I saw inside.

Congratulations to the new owners and to our friends at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Sounds like this great house is in good hands.

UPDATE: I'm very happy to report that the new owners of 278 are excited about owning Houdini's house and are "working hard to make sure all of the beautiful historic elements remain and are preserved with love and care." So it is indeed in good hands!


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Houdini hanging out in Houston

Magic collector and dealer Ken Trombly has posted this terrific photo to his Magic Posters Instagram. Not an image I've seen before.

Going by Houdini's appearance and "Houston" visible on the window behind him, I believe this is his suspended straitjacket escape from The Houston Chronicle building on Tues., Jan. 25, 1916, during his first tour of Texas. (Although he sometimes did these rope tests the day before.) He had good reason to make sure that rope would hold. He did this particular escape 100 feet in the air!

Thanks Ken. Check out his website


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Houdini meets Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Houdini puts in an appearance on the DreamWorks Animation series The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show. In Season 4, Episode 5, "Gone Comic Gone / Harry Houdini", Peabody and Sherman time travel to 1895 to "teach Houdini restraint."

The show is pretty manic, but the Houdini storyline is fun. Harry starts off as an unsuccessful and overbearing "show off" magician (who bares a striking resemblance to Criss Angel). With the help of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, he transformers into the iconic magician of history. We even get to see him do his thumb racket!

Houdini is voiced by Jeff Bennett. The show was written by Mike Leffingwell.

The series is now airing on the Universal Kids TV network, but all four seasons are available on Netflix where this episode premiered on April 21, 2017.

Below are links to some other Houdini animated adventures.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Rare photo of Houdini's early Water Torture Cell

Eric Colleary of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has shared to his Twitter this phenomenal photo of Houdini's Water Torture Cell in the workshop (click the image to see it full size). This is a rare image that I've never seen with such clarity. One can clearly see that the stocks are prototypes. There is no built-in lock. Indeed, there aren't even the folding lock hasps on the cell itself.

I expect this photo was taken in England during the cell's construction in 1911 or 1912. I'm afraid I don't recognize the man in the background, nor the man reflected in the glass.

This photo and the Milk Can poster are currently on display as part of the Harry Ransom Center's Vaudeville! exhibition that runs through July 15. Check out the official website for more details.

Thanks to Eric for sharing this fantastic image!


Monday, April 30, 2018

The time Houdini swallowed needles...for real

One doesn't think of Houdini's East Indian Needle Trick as one of his more death-defying feats, but it apparently has its dangers. This comes from the November 11, 1940 Chicago Tribune, and is a story I've never heard before.

Click to enlarge.

Based on the description, this appears to have happened during Houdini's 8 week run at Princess Theater in Chicago in early 1926. A bad year for accidents!

Houdini wasn't the only magician to have a mishap with the Needles. In 1946 an amateur magician named Stanley McAuley garnered headlines when he swallowed a needle during his own performance of the trick. It took two operations to retrieve it.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

LINK: Joe Notaro escapes to celebrate Houdini on the Magic Isle

Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence had the great pleasure of attending a special private party to celebrate the upcoming exhibition Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle at the Catalina Island Museum in Avalon. While the exhibit itself is not yet in place, Joe got some photos of the promotional posters now hanging outside the museum, and got a sneak peek at the exhibit materials and gallery space.

Click here or on the headline to read Joe's full report at HHCE.

Houdini Terror on the Magic Isle runs May 5 through Oct. 7, 2018. Visit the Catalina Island Museum website for more details.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Unseen Elliot Sanford archive sells for $48,000

An archive of unseen material from Elliot Sanford, a previously unknown member of the Houdini troop, sold for a whopping $48,000 (including 20% buyers premium) at Potter & Potter's Spring Magic Auction today. I had called this possibly the most historically significant Houdini auction lot ever, and it certainly got attention, blowing way past the pre-auction estimate of $15,000-$20,000.

Sanford joined the Houdini show in the final weeks of the magician's life and was eyewitness to all that occurred before and after Houdini's death. He was also one of the pallbearers at Houdini's funeral. Included in the lot is an unpublished manuscript Sanford wrote detailing his time spent with the Houdinis. The material had been held by Sanford's family and, incredibly, has never been read by any Houdini biographer. What's contained in these pages could greatly enhance our knowledge of Houdini's final days.

The auction contained a variety of other Houdiniana. Two annotated Houdini spiritualism scrapbooks from the Joe Dunninger collection brought in a hefty $66,000 (estimate $30,000-$40,000). An attractive 1905 color playbill with nice mentions of the Mirror Challenge and the Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery fetched $7,200. A box of photographic negatives labeled "Houdini in Atlantic City" found $5,280. A photo of Hardeen wearing what might be Houdini's iron bar shackles (a little discussed early invention) unlocked $780.

I had my eye on two unpublished original photos, both of which sold beyond their estimates. One shows Houdini and Dr. A.M. Wilson clowning with a "No Parking" sign outside an Orpheum Theater ($2,280). The other shows Bess as a fortune teller ($660). The story of Houdini and Wilson's famous feud is a favorite of mine. I have no idea what the story is behind the Bessie photo.

A pair of alleged Houdini throwing knives, which have made the reality show rounds over the past few years, failed to get any bids. (I was surprised to even see these in this auction.)

As always, congrats to all the buyers and sellers!


Friday, April 27, 2018

"Magic at the Museum" next Friday on Catalina

Next Friday, May 4, the Catalina Island Museum kicks off the first of several Houdini and magic-related special events to tie into their exhibition, Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle. Here are details.

Friday, May 4, 2018
First Fridays at the Museum
Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building
6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Members $20, Non-Members $25
Children (3-15) $10

You are invited to enjoy Magic at the Museum! This month, First Fridays at the Museum offers a magic show on the Magic Isle. World Champion Magician Johnny Ace Palmer will amaze and entertain throughout the evening. He will perform close up magic tricks as he circulates through the crowd. At 7:30 pm Houdini Expert John Cox will do a brief presentation about the great Harry Houdini followed by the main Magic Performance by Palmer.
Each month First Fridays at the Museum encourages residents and visitors to explore the museum’s galleries, digital theater and plazas, enjoy refreshments and shop in the Museum Store. The museum will reopen for this event at 6:00 pm. Wine, beer, soda and water will be available for purchase. Click for tickets.

My presentation will be a 15 minute illustrated talk giving an overview of Houdini's career. My idea is to "introduce" Houdini to the island in advance of the opening of Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle the following day (May 5). Should be fun!

You can read more about the event and magician Johnny Ace Palmer at The Catalina Islander.

Other upcoming events will be a screening of Terror Island on May 19, a screening of the classic Houdini (1953) on June 1, and a screening of Death Defying Acts on July 18. Click here for details to purchase advance tickets.

UPDATE: According to the museum's Facebook page, event attendees will get a "sneak peek" at the Houdini exhibit! 


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Houdini in the reptile house

This just goes to show Houdini can appear anywhere -- even the reptile house of a zoo!

CALM (California Living Museum), located in Bakersfield, California, has an exhibit honoring magician Al Robbins, who worked with live rattlesnakes in his vaudeville act and was a reptile expert. The Al Robbins Herpetological Center holds many of the specimens Al collected through the years, along with a timeline of his life. As you can see by the photo on the right, that timeline includes his friendship with Houdini.

Born Dec. 25, 1902, Robbins performed magic for over 70 years. In 1948 he moved to Bakersfield and became Dean of the Bakersfield Magic Circle - part of the parent group of the Society of American Magicians. Al Robbins died in 2000. As far as I know, he was never interviewed about his memories of Houdini.

For more details about CALM (California Living Museum) check out their official website. Below are links to a few more Houdini appearances in unexpected places.

Thanks to Athena Stamos for this discovery and the pic.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Houdini jumps into L.A. photo exhibition

A exhibition of select photographs from the Library of Congress is on show at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. Among the 500 images culled from the Library's 14 million is one of Houdini.

The Houdini photo is not shown on the official website, so I went and had a look today. The photo is the iconic shot of Houdini during his 1908 Harvard bridge jump (below). The original photo is a glass lantern slide from the McManus-Young collection. The exhibition credits it to John Thurston.

Unfortunately, what's on display is not the original photo, nor was it among the printed images hanging on the gallery walls. The Houdini photo cycles along with a dozen others on a video screen representing "Art" alongside "Sports" and "Leisure." Still, it was great to see Houdini representing the art of his era.

Not an Ostrich: And Other Images from America’s Library can be see at Annenberg Space for Photography, 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles, CA 90067. The exhibition is free and runs until Sept. 9.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ehrich Weiss makes a name for himself

Houdini has always been used in advertising, both during his life and after his death. Here's an interesting ad from 1939 for "vikingized" coal. The illustration doesn't look much like Harry, but I am happy to see they got the spelling of his real name right.

Below are a few more adventures in Houdini advertising.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Houdini's low point

Houdini had a long hard road to success. But along that road he developed all the aspects that would eventually make him a superstar; Metamorphosis, the challenge handcuffs act, police station challenges, the straitjacket escape, even exposing fraudulent mediums.

But having mastered his performance, in 1898 he found himself sliding backwards. He had given his all in a string of failed tours with outfits like the American Gaiety Girls, the California Concert Company, and the Marco Co. Now he and Bess rejoined to the Welsh Bros Circus, going back to where they had effectively started in 1895. Houdini's diary entries for this period reflect his depressed mood. He records that the last two weeks of the tour "felt like an eternity."

After their circus engagement ended, the Houdinis returned to New York and Harry put his act up for sale in a self-published catalog of magic. Even that failed. In December, he set out to play engagements at the Dime Museums he had worked as a teenager. It's interesting to note that Bess does not appear with him during these late 1898 dates. Did she quit and had remain home in New York? It's possible.

And then came the night of January 11, 1899 at Middleton's Clark St. Dime Museum in Chicago, which I can only think was Houdini hitting his lowest point. The next day the papers recorded the event.

Houdini attempted to spin the incident as an "unfair test", but a failure was a failure and it must have devastated him. Luckily -- or unluckily -- at this stage in his career no one seemed to notice that the Handcuff King had been bested.

But the old saying "it's always darkest before the dawn" seems to apply here. Just two months after this embarrassment, Houdini would be discovered by Martin Beck and was on his way to fame and fortune.

Many biographers say this incident is where Houdini learned to always test handcuffs before an escape, and that he would insist all handcuffs be regulation. But there's evidence to the contrary. Later that same year, Houdini again became stuck in a pair of doctored cuffs. (He was able to free himself from one side and did the rest of his act with the cuffs dangling from one wrist.) He also did not always refuse doctored or non-regulation cuffs. When he discovered a pair of cuffs had been tampered with, he would inform the audience exactly how the cuffs had been rigged to defeat him, but that he would try them anyway if they would grant him extra time. This was a terrific bit of showmanship which certainly got the audience on his side.

Stay tuned for another tale of an on-stage embarrassment; one that I've never heard of before and was painful in more ways than one!


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Mystifier, Fourth Quarter 1992

Continuing my look back at Mystifier, the quarterly newsletter of the Houdini Historical Center that ran from 1991-2003.

The Fourth Quarter 1992 Mystifier is a standout issue in that it reprints a full account of a challenge packing crate escape at the Zoo-Hippodrome in Glasgow in 1904. This challenge had an interesting added element, as you can read below:

During the day representatives of the firm had visited the Zoo and complained that there was a trap door on the stage. They proposed to erect a platform on which the packing case should be placed. To that Houdini had no objections, so he called upon the carpenters present to proceed to business, and the band played. Four tradesmen immediately threw off their coats. Long stout beams were dragged on to the stage, and they set to work with hammer and nails to baffle, if possible, the daring performer. The music of the orchestra was almost drowned in the noise of the active woodworkers. By and by the platform was completed. It was about a couple of feet high, supported by struts, so that a clear view of the stage floor could be obtained underneath.

The newsletter continues with an article by Tom Boldt about the newly opened La Maison de Robert-Houdin-Centre National des Arts de la Magie et de I'illusion in Blois, France. A Christmas greeting from Houdini's December 1907 issue of the Conjurer's Magazine is reprinted along with "Helpful Hints for Young Magicians Under Eighty" from the August 12, 1908 issue.

Regular contributor Dr. Morris N. Young then provides an interesting article about the books Houdini traveled with on tour in 1911. Among the some 19 mentioned books that Houdini felt were important enough to keep with him at all times are curiosities such as The International Scientific Series Animal Locomotion and Grimms Fairy Tales.

In "Backstage with Sidney Radner", Sid reports on the recent discovery of a large cache of uncatalogued Houdini material in the Library of Congress. Incredibly, this material had remained unboxed since its arrival in 1927! Sid talks about meeting Dorothy Young for the first time at the 1992 Official Houdini Seance at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame. He says that the BBC and National Geographic are both working on Houdini documentaries. Sid also notes that the first volume of Frank Koval's Illustrated Houdini Research Diary -- "an absolute must for Houdini researchers" -- is available from the museum shop for $20. So too is Pat Culliton's Houdini's Strange Tales.

Sid finishes by reporting that David Copperfield visited Appleton and the Houdini Historical Center on November 19, 1992, and "gave us a very generous plug during his performance in nearby Neenah, for which we give great thanks."

Volume 2, Number 4
Fourth Quarter, 1992
6 pages

Looking Through Scrapbooks
Center to Honor Robert-Houdin
Houdini's Bookshelf on Tour
Helpful Hints for Magicians
Backstage with Sid Radner

Thanks to Gary Hunt of Handcuff Queens for providing me with this issue.


Friday, April 20, 2018

LINK: Houdini film ‘Terror Island’ subject of Island Museum exhibition

Full details of the upcoming "Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle" exhibition at the Catalina Island Museum have been revealed by The Catalina Islander. Instead of re-posting here, click the headline and have a read at the Islander itself. It seems appropriate to learn about this at the paper that was around in Houdini's time and reported on the movie as it was you'll learn in the exhibition!

I've been working with the museum on this, so I already know how special it's going to be. I've withheld the many discoveries that have been made, so the exhibition itself will reveal all and write Houdini history. On May 4, I'm heading over to the island to give a short introductory talk on Houdini during the museum's "First Friday" event at 6pm. And, of course, there's the big Terror Island screening at the Avalon Casino on May 19 (tickets and details here).

So click the headline and read all about "Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle", and visit the Catalina Island Museum website for more information and upcoming special events. It's gonna be a summer of Terror!


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini

The Jewish Museum of Maryland has released details of their upcoming Houdini exhibition, Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, curated by local magician and performer David London.

On view June 24, 2018 – January 21, 2019

Harry Houdini wasn’t born. He was invented. 
The world’s most famous magician began life as Erik Weisz, the son of a Hungarian rabbi. In 1878 immigration to the U.S. transformed Erik Weisz into Ehrich Weiss. It was the first of many transformations for the man who would become the first international superstar. 
Inescapable, curated by local performer and magician David London, tells the story of how Ehrich Weiss became Harry Houdini and investigates the technologies, marketing prowess and entertainment trends that transformed him into a superstar. On one level, the exhibit is pure fun – incorporating magic, escapes, seances, films, rare artifacts and hands-on illusions. On a deeper level, the exhibit pulls back the curtain, revealing the story of the man behind the image. 
In addition to the exploration of his early life, visitors will find sections illuminating stages of his life and career:
  • Setting the Stage describing the struggles of Houdini’s early life and the difficulties faced by his father, artifacts include a Hebrew bible that belonged to Rabbi Weiss.  
  • The Self Liberator featuring a spectacular display of reproduction posters, photos and press clippings, as well as original apparatus, including a straitjacket and milk can that he used in his performances.  
  • On the Cutting Edge investigates his exploration of new technologies and also features clips from his film career and a chance to listen to a rare recording of his voice.  
  • Houdini’s Third Act: Exposing Frauds showcases his crusade against deceptive spiritual mediums.  
  • The Final Bow/Curtain Call sets the record straight on the events that led to his death and explores the séances to contact him by his wife, Bess.  
  • Houdini in Maryland shines a spotlight on his appearances in the state where he performed close to 100 shows during his career. This section also features Houdini’s personal diary from 1898 turned to the page recording his first tour of Maryland (before his success) where he where he repeatedly reports “no dinner,” as he could not afford to eat. 
Throughout the exhibit, visitors also will have the opportunity to try out some of Houdini’s magic tricks, including the world’s smallest version of Houdini’s biggest illusion – making a five-ton elephant “vanish.”

The museum has also revealed a slate of related public programs, one of which features yours truly:

Houdini Unbound
Speaker David Saltman
Sunday, July 15th at 1pm 
Mrs. Houdini: The Woman Behind the Magician
Speaker: Victoria Kelly
Sunday, July 29th at 1pm 
Street Show, Sideshow, Stage Show
Speaker: James Taylor
Sunday, October 7th at 1pm 
Capturing Houdini
Speaker: Ken Trombly
Sunday, October 21st at 1pm 
Houdini in Hollywood
Speaker: John Cox
Sunday, November 4th at 1pm 
Film Screening: The Grim Game
Sunday, November 4th at 2pm

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini runs June 24, 2018 to January 21, 2019. For more information visit the Jewish Museum of Maryland website.


The Great Nicola Magic Festival, April 21

This Saturday, April 21, The Warren County History Museum will host "The Great Nicola Magic Festival" in Monmouth, Illinois, the hometown of Nicola. "He was on par with Houdini," says Kellen Henrichsen, executive director of the history museum. "He's still a big name in the magic community."

The Warren County History Museum aims to bring the memory and legacy of the Great Nicola back and remind our community of the great magician that once called Monmouth "home." The first annual Great Nicola Magic Festival will combine magic, history, and entertainment in a family friendly carnival atmosphere. We invite those in our community and beyond to come out, have fun, see some magic, and learn about a man from Monmouth who went on to mystify the world!

During his career, Nicola imitated many of Houdini's signature feats, including the Handcuff Act, Metamorphosis, the Milk Can and even the Vanishing Elephant.

More information of The Great Nicola Magic Festival can be found HERE.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Rough Riders: Ride or Die #3 digs Houdini

The third issue of Adam Glass's Rough Riders: Ride or Die! is out today. It features a nice "buried alive" Houdini cover and storyline with the familiar title "Under the Pyramids".

Volume Three of the hit AfterShock Series continues! In 'Under the Pyramids', Harry Houdini walks on through to the other side and discovers that the Rough Riders are up against the legendary Dutch 'Bokkenrijders 'who have returned to this earthly plane to settle a score with one of his teammates! But Harry's truest challenge may be a visitor from his past who can spell his end...unless he listens to his newest teammate H.P. Lovecraft! Created and written by Adam Glass (executive producer of Supernatural and writer of Suicide Squad) with artwork by Patrick Olliffe (Untold Tales of Spider-Man).

You can buy Rough Riders: Ride or Die #3 at Midtown Comics.



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