Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Houdini comes home in 'La Maison Mystère'

The fourth book in Vivianne Perret's French language "Houdini Magicien & Detective" series, La Maison Mystère (The Mystery House), is released today.

This time the adventure is set in New York in 1904 and takes place largely inside Houdini's newly purchased home at 278 West 113th Street. Vivianne had always planned book 4 to be set inside 278, and it was just a happy coincidence that the house opened up last year while she was writing.

Vivianne's second book, Le Kaiser et le roi des menottes (The Kaiser and the King of Handcuffs), will be released tomorrow in a mass market paperback edition. This time the publisher decided to go with new cover art for the paperback, as can be seen below. Curious art in that it isn't even and illustration of Houdini. Robert-Houdin perhaps?

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

No word yet on Book 5 or English language editions, but fingers crossed that we will see both.


Rough Riders: Ride or Die begins today with issue 1

Today sees the release of Rough Riders: Ride or Die #1, which kicks off the third Rough Riders storyline by Adam Glass and Patrick Olliffe. The series features Houdini in action alongside Theodore Roosevelt, Annie Oakley and more.

Volume Three of the hit AfterShock Series! A great jumping-on point!

It’s 1906 and Theodore Roosevelt is the sitting president when a familiar face from his past asks him once again to call upon the Rough Riders to save the world. But this time it’s not anarchists or aliens—no, it's something from the great beyond. Something so ancient and inherently evil that the Rough Riders will need to add to their ranks in hopes of defeating it. Who will be the newest historical figure to have the honor to call themselves a Rough Rider?

Collected editions of the first and second Rough Riders series can be purchased at


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The New Houdini Chronology progress report

I'm happy to report that my New Houdini Chronology now runs unbroken from 1874 to 1918. While I will continue to add information, these years are currently filled in to the best of my abilities. I've also launched the "A.D." page (1927 to present).

I'm now tackling 1919 to 1926, and expect to have the entire Chronology completed sometime next month.

Below is a link to the homepage where you can begin the journey. You can also leap directly to the year of your choice via the drop-down menu above.

In doing this, I've discovered many little gems of Houdini history that have been missed or ignored in most biographies, so expect some cool upcoming posts.


Monday, February 26, 2018

Early Houdini letter sells for $18,720

An early handwritten Houdini letter from 1897 sold for a whopping $18,720 (including 17% premium) at Haversat & Ewing's Winter Magic Auction this weekend. This shattered the $4,750-5,000 reserve price. The letter is written on early stationary promoting "The Houdinis" and their signature trick, Metamorphosis.

The Houdini's Metamorphosis Stationary. Handwritten and signed by Houdini June 10, 1897. Content includes Houdini and Bessie performing at Fairview Amusement Park in Dayton, Ohio on June 14, 1897. Reverse contains a full page of vignettes of The Houdini's Metamorphosis! Only other known example is in the Library of Congress, but trimmed and without handwriting of Houdini. This may be the only known example with handwritten correspondence directly from Houdini. $4,750-5,000.

As high as this price is, it's actually not the highest I can recall for a Houdini-related letter. In 2011, a letter from Harry Kellar to Houdini congratulating him on his vanishing elephant sold for $32,500.

An original screenplay for Houdini (1953) sold for a surprisingly high $4,504. Another early (1900) handwritten Houdini letter fetched $3,685.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Into The Copperfield Zone, Part II

On Tuesday, February 13, I had the extreme honor of visiting David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas. In PART I, we went as far as the famous Houdini display, and this is normally the grand finale. But then David said, "Just wait. You haven't seen anything yet." He was so right...

Leaving Houdini behind (not an easy thing to do!), David and I entered what is to be the expansion of the museum. Here two assistants and the tireless Mikayla were at work sorting what appeared to be a recently acquired magic collection (or perhaps just unsorted items of David's own collection). Racks of magic books stood on one side of the room and select piles of ephemera covered the floor. This was the "mess" David had warned me about, but I thought it was glorious! I was seeing items being discovered and shown to David on the spot. One item that caught his eye was a program for Man of Magic, which he directed to the "Houdini stuff." There was also an original UK playbill featuring the Water Torture Cell, and David was excited to point out that the illustration was unlike any other -- the monster holding down the stocks was not the "giant" we normally see.

David then showed me where the new Houdini area will be. It's probably three times the size of the old section. He pointed out where Houdini's bookcase and "ice-filled" bathtub from 278 will sit (these are not yet in Vegas). Sitting against that wall at the moment were several gigantic Houdini posters, including the only known Overboard Box Escape poster, which came from the Norm Nielsen collection. This is a poster that has never been reproduced in color and it's a beauty! There was also a gigantic straitjacket poster [remember David Copperfield has a big one], a poster for The Grim Game, and a French poster for The Master Mystery. There may have been more which I overlooked, if you can believe that!

Also sitting against the wall was something I noticed was conspicuously absent from the Houdini display; the Double-Fold Death Defying Mystery chest. Next to the Water Torture Cell, I'd rank this as the most important piece of surviving Houdini escape apparatus. But unlike the USD, it's all still original! David acquired the chest at auction in 2014 for a cool $55,000. I was dying to see inside, so I asked David if this was possible. His answer: "Of course!"

David called over Mikayla and she and I lifted the heavy lid. Inside was the canvas transport sack. There was also a ring stain on the bottom where Houdini's Milk Can once sat. This was exactly what I had hoped to see. (I still contend the Double-Fold Milk Can is currently sitting in an uncaring Santa Monica coin shop.)

Now, I have to be careful because I don't reveal secrets on WAH, but I explained to David that while I knew in principle how the effect worked, I didn't know how it worked in practice (and if that's confusing, good!). We were missing a certain something that would help reveal the secret, but certainly we could discover it on close examination, right? Well, David, Mikayla and I poked and prodded and searched all sides, turning everything upside down and sideways, and we could NOT discern any means by which Houdini escaped from the chest, let alone a Milk Can at the same time. We were all on our hands and knees at one point! We actually had to give up, and this delighted me. Here a 108-year-old piece of Houdini-Collins apparatus had held its secret against the ultimate committee. Bravo!

During the tour, David hadn't told me what I would see. I simply followed him room to room. Now I followed him beyond this work area into a private office, and then beyond that into a small side room. In here were several huge safes, the kind Houdini himself would escape from. This was by no means part of the normal tour, and I held my breath as David stepped up to an enormous vault door at the end of the room. He didn't even ask me to look away as he keyed in the combination, but I looked away anyway--I don't need to know such things!

The vault door swung open and we stepped inside. Now I understood why David kept saying, "You haven't seen anything yet." Here were racks filled with foot high stacks of original Houdini posters, photos, and challenges. I recognized one photo that had recently sold in auction sitting on top. Rows of file boxes filled an entire wall, each neatly labeled with their precious contents: "Houdini Letters," "Houdini Scrapbooks," "Houdini Bibles", "Conan Doyle Correspondence", etc. Somehow I wasn't able to commit to memory, or even read, all I was seeing. I was just too overwhelmed. Houdini's own words came to me when he described seeing the collection of Henry Evans Evanion: "I remember only raising my hands before my eyes, as if I had been dazzled by a sudden shower of diamonds."

I now kick myself for not taking a photo, even just one to illustrate this blog or to later read what was written on those file boxes. But one doesn't take photos inside Fort Knox. And I was clearly inside a Fort Knox of magic.

David then pointed to a small square black box sitting in the corner and asked if I knew what that was. The first thing that leapt to mind was De Kolta's Cube (a.k.a. The Expanding Die). But just as quickly, I dismissed that as impossible. If David Copperfield owned De Kolta's Cube, we would all know about it. It would be discussed in the same breath as the Water Torture Cell and written up in magic journals. And it would not be in here. It would be sequestered in it's own isolation chamber, guarded like Hannibal Lecter or the Hope Diamond. Far too dangerous and valuable to be within the reach of humans. So this was not De Kolta's Cube. But it would be something cool. So I answered, "No."

"It's De Kolta's Cube," said David.

Remember that scene in Jaws when Sheriff Brody sees the Kitchener boy eaten by the shark in one bloody gulp, and Spielberg uses a special camera move called a dolly-counter-zoom that warps the world around Brody and isolates him in a vortex of pure and utter shock? That was me.

Okay, time out for a quick bit of history. Buatier de Kolta was a French magician and a brilliant illusion builder who died in 1903. One of his last creations was an effect in which a cube (or die) would be sat on a table, and then on command would instantly and visibly expand to many times its size. De Kolta would then lift the cube to reveal his wife inside. By all accounts it was a masterpiece in both presentation and construction, and it became a legend in it's own time. Even today it is praised as one of magic's finest creations.

Houdini purchased De Kolta's Cube in 1913 to feature in his Grand Magical Revue the following year. It would be a standout effect of his first attempt to get away from escapes and establish himself as a master magician -- "The Supreme Ruler of Mystery." But Houdini only performed De Kolta's Cube a few times (Gresham claims only once). It isn't exactly clear why, but the complex mechanics took a full hour to prepare, and if not prepared precisely right, it might not expand. Or maybe it would expand when you didn't want it to! Still, Houdini kept the effect in his collection as an important piece of magic history. I like to think of it as the trick that even intimidated Houdini. And now here it was in front of me.

"You can open it if you want," said David.

The idea of opening this Pandora's box spooked me. If it was unpredictable when new, what would it be like 100+ years later? But how could I not! So I got down on my knees and flipped open the latch and lifted the hinged lid. Inside was a leather case nested tightly within. There was a handwritten note sitting on top saying the case was made by Houdini himself. I wasn't sure how best to get that out, but David said to just lift it by the handle. A new wave of apprehension came over me as I could imagine the aged handle ripping off in my hand. But I took hold and lifted. One revelation I'll share about De Kolta's Cube, it is HEAVY!

I had to turn around in the small space and sit the case down on the floor between David and I. I was a bit too timid with the hasp on the front, so David knelt down and undid it for me. The case is made in such a way that the lid lifts and the front falls forward, so you can see the cube without having to extract it fully from the case (thank you, Harry). I folded it open and there before me was De Kolta's Cube, black with white dots, held in its tightly compressed state by a few old straps and hatpins. Who knows how long it had been since this had been opened, and I had a real fear that it would suddenly expand, crushing both David and I and destroying all the precious Houdini artifacts in the room. I looked up and saw David's eyes were as big as mine, and I had a feeling he might have been thinking the exact same thing! I asked if he had ever performed it. He just shook his head and said he hadn't, he was too afraid it would "blow apart."

With some relief, I closed it back up and returned it to its case. (A full explanation of the cube and its workings can be found in Will Goldston's Exclusive Magical Secrets, the publication of which infuriated Houdini.)

I was still reeling when David reached up and plucked down a file box from the shelf. He opened it and slid from within a smaller box containing a spirit slate complete with a chalk written message in Houdini's own hand. I just couldn't handle it anymore and I blurted out (hopefully not too rudely), "No way. That can't be real!" David just smiled and returned it to its box and said, "There's a whole story behind it."

We then started sifting through the stacks of posters, retrieving a beautiful poster for the Grand Magical Revue to see if it included a mention of De Kolta's Cube (this one did not). David then said he'd be happy for me to come back sometime so I could go through all this vaulted material. He'd even set up a few tables for me out in the work area.

Once again, I was Sheriff Brody.

Oh, did I mention the bound set of all of Robert-Houdin's personal diaries and Michael Curtiz's Oscar for Casablanca? Yeah, those were in here too.

After locking up the vault, we returned to the normal museum and David showed me one last surprise. Until his show, I didn't know David had started as a ventriloquist. "A bad one," he admits. Now we entered a room filled with vintage ventriloquist dummies, some of which were quite famous, such as Edgar Bergen's Charlie McCarthy and Wayland Flowers' Madame. But what really caught my attention were the original dummies from one of my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone. It's the episode in which a ventriloquist played by Cliff Robertson is driven mad by his own dummy, and in the end he becomes a dummy himself. David not only has the abusive dummy, but he has the dummy that Robertson became in the end. The artist forever imprisoned within his obsession.

So there I was, standing in a Las Vegas warehouse at 1:30 AM beside the world's most famous living magician, surrounded by hundreds of grinning ventriloquist dummies. I had truly entered...The Copperfield Zone.

I woke up the next morning in my room at the MGM Grand, with the massive visage of David Copperfield staring in at me through the window. Was it all a dream? It very well could have been! But now it was time to get back to the real world.

As I showered, all I could think about was De Kolta's Cube. That seemed to sum up the whole experience for me. I was allowed to go as deep as I dared into a special world of magic and mystery to see something very few have ever seen. I still don't know what I did to deserve such trust from David and his team, but I'm eternally grateful.

I fired off a short thank you email to David and Chris Kenner, then packed up my computer and bag and left.

But I had one last stop to make. I had resolved to visit the "showroom" location of Houdini's Magic Shop on Dean Martin Drive. Inside was a display case of nice Houdini artifacts, including a letter from Hardeen talking about Bessie's funeral (finally I was able to add that date to my A.D. chronology). But not unlike my visit to New York and 278, after being inside Houdini's bathroom, there wasn't much that could wow me the next day.

After taking a few photos and chatting with the friendly magician at the counter, I climbed back into my car. But before hitting the road for the drive back to L.A., I quickly checked my email and saw I had received a reply from David himself. It was just a single line...


    The Man From Beyond screened in Chicago

    I'm only learning this morning that The Man From Beyond screened last night in Chicago with a live organ score by Jay Warren. Had I known earlier, I certainly would have sounded the alert. Sorry Chicago Houdini fans!

    The screening took place at The Silent Film Cafe at City Newsstand and was followed by a Q&A. If anyone attended, let us know how it was.


    Thursday, February 22, 2018

    Into The Copperfield Zone, Part I

    Last week I had the extreme honor of visiting David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas. David's collection is staggering. Imagine the world's largest magic collection, and then triple it. And when it comes to Houdini, two hours I saw more authentic Houdini props and memorabilia than I've seen in my lifetime. But to share this experience right, I need to share it from the beginning.

    A few weeks ago I had a telephone conversation with David and his Executive Producer Chris Kenner about Houdini's bookcase from 278. [I shared details here.] During the conversation, David invited me to Las Vegas to see his collection. He warned me "it was a mess" because he's currently working on a major expansion. But he was eager for me to see it now, and then come back when it is finished. Well, you don't say no to an invitation like that!

    So on Tuesday, Feb. 13, I hit the road to Las Vegas where a room had been arranged for me at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. The view from my window was my first clue that I had entered The Copperfield Zone.

    The plan was for me to attend David's 7:00 pm show. As I had a few hours to kill, I hopped over to the New York New York Hotel & Casino and paid a visit to Houdini's Magic Shop. This was the first store to carry the "Houdini's" name, and it's still my favorite. Not only do they have a life-size mannequin hanging from the ceiling in a straitjacket, but they also have Houdini (1953) playing on a loop out front. Houdini posters and photos cover the walls, and several display cases contain authentic memorabilia from owner Geno Munari's collection. Unfortunately, there's far less on display than in the past.

    I was told by the helpful magician working the counter that the larger Houdini stuff was now at their main headquarters store on Dean Martin Drive. This was a location I wasn't aware of, so I resolved to see it before I left town. That's when I noticed high atop a shelf a slim wooden case stamped with Houdini's name. I was told this was the case that held the glass for the Water Torture Cell. It wouldn't be the only one of these I would see this day.

    Show time came and I took my excellent seat inside the MGM's David Copperfield Theater. Now, David's Las Vegas show requires a full blog in itself, so I'm not going to be able to do it justice here. Suffice to say, it was awesome! The last time I saw David perform live was in 1997, so I was struck by the evolution of his show. It was surprisingly informal and very interactive--almost every trick involved the audience in part or whole--and even downright raucous at times! The pace of the show was breathtakingly fast and David's team of assistants were a marvel to watch. His climatic BLU production was quintessential David Copperfield in its mix of storytelling, magic, music and emotion. This is the stuff I really love. And, of course, there were several jaw dropping moments that have to be seen to be believed. A full alien spaceship appearing in the center of the showroom? Yep, that happened.

    After the show, I went backstage with a small group of VIPs (you can get a ticket that allows you to meet David and take a photo). David's very nice assistant, Mikayla, told me to hang back, and after everyone left, I met David and Chris Kenner. Everyone seemed excited for me to see the collection, and the plan was for me to return to the theater after David's second show (meet at the lobby statue at 11:10 pm).

    After dinner, I was in place at the statue, and with the same clockwork precision I enjoyed watching during the show, one of David's assistants whisked me back through the now empty theater and out through a stage door. There I joined David and Mikayla for the short drive to the museum. Along the way, David and I talked Houdini (what else!?). He asked how I became interested in Houdini, and we chatted about various collectors and collections (anyone's ears burn?). We discussed the merits of various biographies, and even some of the questions of the day, such as the notion that Houdini may have worked as a spy. I gotta say, I was instantly comfortable with him. He's a Houdini guy!

    We arrived at the museum around 11:30 and entered via a false front made up to look like the tailor shop of his father. After seeing his show -- BLU is a moving tribute to his father -- I understood how much David loved his dad and understood the symbolism of how the entrance to his dreams would be via his father's work. That's when I realized how the museum itself was a massive David Copperfield production, combining magic with personal biography, meant to awe and inspire. Even more so than his show, I was entering a special world of his creation, and I understood why he's so proud of it and excited for someone to experience it for the first time. [The museum is not open to the public, but David gives private tours.]

    Now, I should say up front that I took no photos inside (okay, one, but we'll get to that). This was not because I couldn't. I quickly discovered David would deny me nothing. I was able to handle and open anything I wanted (make sure you come back for Part 2 for more about that!). So I'm certain I could have taken photos had I asked. But I didn't want to. This was about experiencing the museum, not photographing it, and I wanted to give everything my full attention. But that means I have nothing to illustrate this blog going forward, so I've plucked down a few online photos to help, starting with one that shows the "shop" entrance.

    We then entered the warehouse itself via the tailor shop's dressing room -- pull down on a shirt tie and the mirror pops open. Very cool. We then stepped into what could be considered the David Copperfield area. This is a massive open space housing all his famous illusions. Here stands the massive rack of spikes from his "Fires of Passion" escape. There's even a helicopter! The entrance to David's offices and museum are through an unmarked and innocuous side door. Inside I waited as David and Mikayla turned on the lights and display cases of the museum. Yes, this was all being opened just for me!

    To explain all that I saw inside is just not possible, even in a two-part post like this. It was truly overwhelming! The entire museum is structured as a journey. It starts at the small magic counter from Macy's department store where David bought his first magic trick (which he performed for me). It then opens up and one travels deeper and deeper into the special world of magic. Room after room is filled with amazing artifacts. There's a room devoted to magic kits and apparatus in general, with ceiling high racks holding every version of every magic trick ever created by legendary magic manufacturers like Owens, Abbotts, and Thayer. I even spotted the magic table I had as a kid. There's a full size reproduction of the back room theater of Martinka's Magic Shop in New York with the original store cases filled as they were in the days of Al Flosso.

    Every major magician is represented with displays made up of posters, props and personal memorabilia. David guided me through the worlds of Herrmann, Kellar, Thurston, Carter, Alexander, Blackstone, and even Doug Henning. Orson Welles has his own area, complete with the sub trunk he used with wife Rita Hayworth. The Chung Ling Soo display has one of the rifles used during his bullet catch. David doesn't know if it's the rifle that killed the magician, but it is one of them that Soo stood in front of on that fateful night in 1918. An unrestored 8-sheet Kellar poster bewitched me for some reason, and I was surprised when David told me it had belonged to Houdini and came from inside 278.

    Robert-Houdin has his own standalone room filled with clocks, props, and automata from this earliest age of magic. I believe it's the only closed room devoted to one magician. This was one of my favorite rooms as it seemed to hold a special energy, not unlike how the Houdini Séance Room at the Magic Castle feels like a world apart. Here are the very seeds of modern magic; beautiful and exquisite apparatus that Houdini himself revered as treasures from the past. David said this will all be moved into an open area behind the new Houdini section, so I'm glad I got a chance to experience this room as is. There's something magical going on here.

    Eventually we arrived at the famous Houdini area, and it's everything we've seen in photos and more. Here I was able to examine and touch Houdini's custom traveling library case, his Milk Can, Metamorphosis, straitjacket, iron gibbet, and Water Torture Cell. I was inches away from the Mirror Cuffs and Houdini's baby shoe. A stage jacket worn by Bess is so small you'd think it was made for a large doll. One-of-a-kind posters towered over me, and David paged through a scrapbook filled with photos I've never seen. The famous Houdini-Keller correspondence are in a book that one can flip through. And here too was a case made to carry the Water Torture Cell glass, identical to the case in Houdini's Magic Shop. (This is explained by the fact that Houdini always traveled with an extra pane of glass.)

    The Water Torture Cell looks much like it did when I saw the unrestored original at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in 1990. That's because after buying the restored cell at auction, David and his team stripped it back to its original surviving elements (namely all the metal) and rebuilt it using antique wood and period accurate hardware. They also aged it so it appears exactly as if it had never been cleaned since Houdini's final performance. David and I seemed to share the philosophy that it's not always necessary to restore things to look brand new. Age and signs of travel are part of their stories.

    David then showed me a rejection letter sent to the young Houdini from John Nevil Maskelyne dated March 24, 1898. He also had a small display devoted to the artist who created many of Houdini's posters, including his beautiful but perplexing 1911 Buried Alive poster, which stands behind the Houdini exhibit (I didn't even know David owned this poster until that moment).

    For whatever reason, I did not think to play the snippet of Houdini voice recording that David has set up beside the original wax cylinders and Edison player. But David and I had a conversation about the recordings. I learned that he has not yet transferred all the cylinders to another media, but he plans to. He actually wasn't sure himself what's contained on all six cylinders, and that made me wonder if there's content on these yet to be discovered? [Watch for a dedicated post on this soon.]

    It was here I decided to be a fanboy and asked if we could take a picture together. How could I not? David was very obliging and even took the selfie himself, working to get a good Houdini image in the background.

    Now, you might think this was the grand finale, and it typically is. But then David said, "Just wait. You haven't seen anything yet."

    Yes, I was about to go off the normal tour and deeper into this very special place to see things very few people have seen. But I'm going to save that for PART II (GO NOW).


    Tuesday, February 20, 2018

    Houdini at the Colonial

    There are several Manhattan theaters linked to Houdini history: the Hippodrome, the Palace, the Times Square, and Tony Pastor's. But you'll rarely hear the Colonial mentioned among these, even though it played a significant, but now largely forgotten, role in Houdini's career. So let's tell the story!

    After Houdini played his first successful season on the Keith and Orpheum vaudeville circuits in 1899 and early 1900, he went to Europe. The plan was for him to stay for six months, and then return with a boosted reputation that came with a European tour. But he was so successful that he remained in Europe for a remarkable five years. In his absence, a proliferation of "Handcuffs Kings" sprung up in his place. In 1905, Houdini resolved to come home and conquer America. But after so many years, would America be interested in, or even remember, the original Handcuff King?

    The Philadelphia Inquirer Sun reported his return on August 20, 1905:

    Harry Houdini, "the Handcuff King," who returned from Europe three weeks ago, had decided to accept the extremely liberal offers made him by American vaudeville managers. He will rest until October 1, when he will begin his American vaudeville tour. Houdini releases himself from handcuffs, leg shackles, etc. This wonderful performance will be seen at Keith's during the winter season.

    It's no surprise to see Keith's mentioned here. Houdini's former manager Martin Beck was partnered with B.F. Keith, and their Keith-Orpheum circuit defined big time American vaudeville. So which of the many Keith's theaters would usher in Houdini's triumphant return? Surprisingly, none.

    Instead, Houdini decided to play his first dates at the independently owned Colonial Theater on 1887 Broadway near 62nd Street in New York City. The Colonial was a new theater to Broadway. It had opened on February 8, 1905, and was designed in the style of a Victorian London music hall. It was creation of Fred Thompson and Elmer Dundy, the same duo behind the Hippodrome and Coney Island's Luna Park. But within two months of its opening, Thompson and Dundy sold the theater to Percy Williams, who dropped the "Music Hall" theme and ran it as a straight vaudeville house. It was Williams who landed Houdini's return.

    The theater proudly promoted this "Important Engagement."

    In the week proceeding his U.S. opening, Houdini made two PR stumbles. An attempt to expose rival Handcuff King, Cunning, in a Harlem theater, had led to a brawl and the arrest of Hardeen. The press sided with Cunning against the "foreign looking" interlopers. Houdini then challenged another rival, Boudini, to an underwater handcuff escape contest off Battery Park. But the few New York papers that covered the contest smelled a set-up and reported as much. So Houdini was not going into his Colonial engagement riding a wave a of glowing press, and the theater itself was not known for giving performers a break.

    In Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls, William Lindsay Gresham described the Colonial and its reputation:

    In one way, it was the toughest spot in town. Although vaudeville, growing respectable, had lured the family trade, there were rough elements in Little Old New York who de- lighted in rattling the performers and, if antagonized, doing everything short of ripping up the seats. Monday matinee at the Colonial was a nightmare to vaudevillians, even those who could "josh" a music hall audience into a good humor. At this lush palace of entertainment was born a tactic of audience-displeasure which has persisted to the present day at ball parks and fight arenas—the "Colonial clap." This was applause de- signed to rattle and "break up" the actors onstage by its maddening, mocking rhythm: clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.

    On opening night, according to Gresham, Houdini marched out onstage to the stirring Kaiser Frederic March "his chin held in, his gray-blue eyes staring directly ahead." He performed a straitjacket escape and then accepted handcuff challenges. This was basically the same act he had performed five years early on Broadway when Bess became disastrously stuck in the Metamorphosis trunk. A repeat of that certainly would have brought on the "Colonial clap." But Houdini's act, honed in Europe, delivered.

    On October 8, 1905, the New York Tribune reported:

    So successful had Harry Houdini, the "Handcuff King," proved as a magnet art the Colonial Theater during the week just closed that Percey Williams has retained the lock picking specialist as the headliner of the Colonial bill for another week. Challenged as he is at every performance by spectators skeptical of the legitimacy of his feats of handcuff elusion, Houdini has thus far in every instance succeeded in escaping from the manacles, shackles and other locks with which volunteers have sought to imprison him.

    For his second week, the Colonial billing dropped "Harry" and featured him as just HOUDINI.

    Following his second successful week, Houdini set out on the Keith-Orpheum circuit. His escape from the United States Jail in January 1906 firmly established him as an American superstar. It does not appear he ever played the Colonial again. [See UPDATE.]

    In 1912, B.F. Keith took over the theater, altering its name to Keith's Colonial Theatre. When E.F. Albee took over from Keith five years later, it became the New Colonial Theatre. In 1923, a show at the New Colonial called Runnin' Wild introduced the dance craze called the Charleston to America.

    In 1932, RKO took over the theater and began showing movies. NBC purchased it in 1956 and converted it into one of their New York television studios (Show of Shows was taped here). A decade later, ABC used the Colonial studio mainly for taping game shows.

    The last owner was Rebecca Harkness, who in 1971 sunk $5 million into renovating the theatre for her ballet company (it went broke after one season). There were a few Broadway bookings in the mid-1970s, after which the building was sold off to a developer and demolished in 1977.

    Today the location of the Colonial is a condominium tower with a public atrium (the David Rubinstein Atrium at Lincoln Center). Certainly this is now a worthy stop on any tour of Houdini's New York; the site of Houdini's triumphant U.S. return.

    UPDATE: I recently came upon this letter of thanks Houdini published in the October 14, 1905 issue of the New York Clipper following his Colonial engagement.

    UPDATE: I've just discovered Houdini again played the Colonial during the week of April 15, 1907.


    Monday, February 19, 2018

    Discovering Terror Island

    "...Where the drums beat till dawn and the wild dances madden the blood."
    Our expedition to Catalina Island this weekend in search of Terror Island locations and filming details exceeded all expectations! The good folks at the Catalina Island Museum rolled out the red carpet for me and fellow explorers Joe Notaro and Mark Willoughby. We had the time of our lives, and not a cannibal in sight. Whew!

    The discoveries (and there were many!) will be featured in the museum's upcoming exhibition Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, which runs May 5 to Oct. 7, 2018.

    I also learned what kinds of artifacts the museum has planned for the exhibition, and it's going to be historic. Executive Director Julie Perlin Lee is clearly committed to making this a major event (she may have even caught the Houdini bug herself). So if you have any unique Terror Island collectibles you think might enhance this exhibition, feel free to contact me or the museum direct. They'll be gathering material until April 1st.

    And if there was ever a time for someone to come forward with the missing reels 3 & 4, THIS is it!

    The museum will also be screening Terror Island with live musical accompaniment in the famous Avalon Casino on May 19th. Tickets are available now. I'm told this will be a busy weekend on the island as the Art Deco Society will be holding their annual Avalon Ball, so making travel arrangements early is encouraged.

    Below are a few (non-spoiler) pics from our adventure.

    Fearless expedition leaders Gail and Julie.
    Treasure hunting on the seas and in the archives.
    Into uncharted territory...
    Where all will be revealed in May.

    Keep watching WILD ABOUT HARRY and the Catalina Museum website for upcoming details about Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle.

    A monumental thanks to Julie Perlin Lee and everyone at the Catalina Island Museum.


    Sunday, February 18, 2018

    Houdini in World War I exhibition in Richmond

    A pair of Houdini handcuffs can be seen as part of an exhibition devoted to World War I at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond, Virginia. The display commemorates Houdini's various war efforts, such as teaching soldiers heading overseas the secrets of escaping from German handcuffs and restraints (yes, he really did that).

    The exhibition runs February 17 through July 29, 2018. For more information visit the museum website.


    Friday, February 16, 2018

    Expedition to Terror Island

    I'm off on another Houdini adventure this weekend. This time I'm headed to "Terror Island" itself (a.k.a. Catalina) with fellow explorers Joe Notaro and Mark Willoughby. We will be meeting with the good folks at the Catalina Island Museum in preparation for their exhibition Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, which runs May 5 to Oct. 7, 2018. I'm looking forward to digging through their newspaper archive and also taking a boat trip in search of filming locations.

    Hope we don't run into any cannibals!

    I was hoping to get the first part of my report about visiting David Copperfield's incredible museum in Las Vegas up this weekend, but there is a lot to describe and I need more time to do it justice. So watch for that next week.

    Meanwhile, check out the Catalina Museum website for details about Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, as well as their special screening of Terror Island on May 19th. Tickets for that are available now.


    Young Saint

    Here is a remarkable photo of Dr. Edward Saint. This comes from George Martin, a vintage camera collector, who discovered this while rummaging through some old photos. This shows Saint in his "Professor Sesrad" stage costume. It may have been in this guise that he first met Bess Houdini at Playland in Rye Beach, New York in 1930. The rest is history.

    Thank you George for allowing me to share your find here on WILD ABOUT HARRY.


    Thursday, February 15, 2018

    The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini #3 released

    Hard Case Crime and Titan Books has released the third issue of Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini by Cynthia von Buhler. The adult comic comes in two variant covers as you can see below.

    Unappreciated at her father's detective agency, the fabulous, rabbit-loving Minky Woodcock straps on her gumshoes in order to uncover a magical mystery involving the world-famous escape artist, Harry Houdini. Created by acclaimed artist, author, director, and playwright Cynthia Von Buhler.

    The  fourth and final issue is due for released next month. A collected edition will be released in June and can be pre-ordered at

    For more on the series visit You can also read a terrific profile of Cynthia von Buhler at Genii Online.


    Wednesday, February 14, 2018

    Houdini has no time for love

    Here's one for Valentine's Day. This appeared in the Harrisburg Telegraph, May 5, 1926. So don't pester Harry today!


    Tuesday, February 13, 2018

    Off to Vegas...

    This morning I'm gassing up the Humber and heading to Las Vegas, where I've very excited to see David Copperfield's show at the MGM Grand and get my first look at his legendary International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts. David's museum is currently undergoing a massive expansion, so I will getting preview of what's to come. Including, presumably, an expanded Houdini section, which we now know will include a few pieces of furniture.

    I'll also be dropping in at the original Houdini's Magic Shop in New York, New York, a museum in itself, and whatever else I can fit into this quick trip. A stop off in Needles maybe?

    Anyway, I'm excited to share all that I can when I return. I'll be tweeting some photos and whatnot @HoudiniWild.

    The original photo above is in the Jim Rawlins collection.

    UPDATE: Into The Copperfield Zone Part I | Part II


    Monday, February 12, 2018

    Replica Water Torture Cell at Austin Magic Museum

    Magic's Theater & Museum in Austin, Texas contains a Houdini display that I was not aware of until now. As you can see, the display includes a remarkable reproduction of Houdini's Water Torture Cell. I wonder who made this?

    The museum is run by John Magic and is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Please call 512-289-4461 24 hours in advance for reservations. Entrance is $10 for all ages. For more info and photos visit the official website.


    Sunday, February 11, 2018

    Remembering Bess on the 75th anniversary of her death

    Today marks the 75th anniversary of the death of Bess Houdini on February 11, 1943. To mark the occasion, our great friend Janet Davis braved the rain and fog and traveled out to Bess' grave in Gate of Heaven cemetery in Hawthorne, New York to bring us some photos.

    John, here are the photos I took of Bess' gravestone this morning, exactly 75 years after her death. You can see that someone who preceded me has BIG love for Bessie, with the large stone they left! 
    Someday, I know you will see this marker for yourself. In the meantime, I know we're all thinking of Bess today. Take care and enjoy the rest of the weekend.

    Thanks Janet.


    Saturday, February 10, 2018

    Houdini returns to Catalina Island in 2018

    In November 1919 Houdini filmed part of Terror Island on Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. Now Houdini will return in a special exhibition at the Catalina Island Museum called Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle. The exhibition runs May 5 to Oct. 7, 2018 and will feature many rarities never before put on display.

    Escape artist Harry Houdini delved into the magic of moviemaking toward the end of his career. This unique exhibition focuses on the 1920 adventure film Terror Island in which he starred. Ephemera and movie props from the film made on Catalina Island, nicknamed The Magic Isle, will be on display. The exhibition highlights a real-life occurrence in Catalina's waters that placed Houdini in a precarious situation that ended in mystery.

    The museum will also host a special screening of Terror Island in Catalina's spectacular Art Deco Avalon Casino Theater on Saturday, May 19th at 1:00 PM. The screening will include live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla and The Accompanists. Tickets are available now.

    I'm proud to say I've been working with the museum on gathering artifacts and information for this exhibition. In fact, next weekend I'll be heading over to Catalina with fellow Houdini nuts Joe Notaro (HHCE) and Mark Willoughby to scout out any surviving Terror Island locations along with the museum staff. Whatever we find will also be part of the exhibition. So get ready for a lot of Terror Island talk in the coming months!

    Check out the Catalina Museum website for more details, and maybe start planning a vacation in Catalina Island for 2018. Even without a Houdini exhibit it's a terrific destination. Look who else thought so!

    The Catalina Islander, Oct. 29, 1936.

    The Terror Island lobby card above comes from the Mark Willoughby Collection and will be among the many original lobby cards on display at Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle.

    UPDATEDiscovering Terror Island.


    Friday, February 9, 2018

    John Bushey has passed away

    I have some extremely sad news. John Bushey, a great friend and a major collector of handcuffs and Houdiniana, passed away on Thursday after battling cancer for several years. The blog Ennyman's Territory announced his passing today with a heartfelt tribute. Friends are leaving messages of condolences and remembrance on John's Facebook page and at

    Among John's many contributions to the Houdini world was his taking on the task of collecting and documenting every edition and variation of Houdini's pitchbooks. He was an unsurpassed expert in this area, and I always enjoyed receiving his excited phone calls sharing the news that he had just uncovered yet another variant of Adventurous Life of Versatile Artist, etc. John shared many of his rare finds in a continually updating treatise called The John Bushey Houdini Collection.

    John was also a huge Bob Dylan fan and one of the forces behind the Duluth Dylan Fest in his home state of Minnesota. John had a regular show on radio station KUMD called Highway 61 Revisited. The studio has now been renamed the "John Bushey Highway 61 Revisited Studio."

    A giant among the Houdini collectors and a good friend to us all, I was very lucky to have known him and I will miss him very much. Say "hi" to Harry for us John!


    Houdini goes 'Under the Knife'

    For those who can't get enough of Houdini's final illness, know that the new book Under the Knife: A History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations by Arnold van de Laar has a 10 page chapter devoted to Houdini.

    Where does Mr. Laar come down on the many intrigues surrounding those final days in Detroit? I don't know because I don't have the book, but the suspense is killing me like a case of peritonitis!

    You can purchase on (U.S.) and (UK).

    Thanks to Arthur Moses for the alert.


    Thursday, February 8, 2018

    LINK: Houdini connection to the first driverless car

    Here's an interesting article at the Discover website about the first driverless car experiments done in the 1920s by the Houdina Radio Co.

    The Houdina Radio Control Co., a radio equipment firm, was founded by former U.S. Army electrical engineer Francis P. Houdina (that was indeed his name, a detail to keep in mind for later).

    Click the headline to read the full story and learn how Harry comes crashing into the story.


    Wednesday, February 7, 2018

    New image of Houdini in straitjacket

    Here's a terrific photo of Houdini in a straitjacket that I've not seen before. This comes from the March 15, 1908 Pittsburgh Daily Post Sun. It's always exciting to find something like this. Now if we can just find a better version of this shot.

    During that same search I also turned up what I believe to be a new portrait shot. This is also from the Pittsburgh Daily Post Sun, March 8, 1908.