Monday, March 19, 2018

Houdini returned to Los Angeles in 1924

I love making Houdini discoveries having to do with my hometown of Los Angeles, and while working on my 1924 chronology, I made a whopper! Conventional wisdom had been that Houdini last appeared in Los Angeles in 1923 when he played the Orpheum and Hillstreet theaters as part of his nationwide vaudeville tour that year. But it turns out that is not the case. Houdini came back to L.A. in 1924!

Los Angeles Times, Oct. 22, 1924

Houdini returned to Los Angeles as part of his Lyceum and Affiliated Bureau lecture tour in which he exposed the methods of fraudulent spirit mediums. His talk was called, "Can the Dead Speak to the Living?" Houdini gave two lectures on October 27 & 28 at the Philharmonic Auditorium located at 5th and Olive Street across from Pershing Square (where Houdini was once roped to a cannon). Los Angeles was one of four cities on the tour in which Houdini received 50% of the net profits.

By this time, Houdini's friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was at an end, so the gloves were off when he told the Los Angeles Times: "Doyle thinks he is a Messiah who has come to save mankind by instructing them in the mysteries of occultism but instead of that he is misleading then public and his teachings are a menace to sanity and health. I have investigated his work and know whereof I speak."


While in Los Angeles, Houdini stayed at the Biltmore Hotel, also in Pershing Square. While the Philharmonic was demolished in 1982, the Biltmore still stands as the Millennium Biltmore and is a downtown landmark. I was especially excited to discover that Houdini had stayed here. The Black Dahlia murder has always fascinated me, and the Biltmore is famous for being the last place Elizabeth Short (a.k.a. "The Black Dahlia") was seen in 1947. I've been to the Biltmore several times on Dahlia pilgrimages. Little did I know I was also walking in Houdini's footsteps!

Below is a period postcard that shows the Biltmore (large red building on the left) and the Philharmonic Auditorium (red roofed building in center of the image). Below is the same location today.



So for those keeping score, this puts Houdini in Los Angeles in 1899, 1907, 1915, 1919 (twice), 1923 and 1924.

I used to think Houdini's movies were the most under-reported aspect of his career. But I now believe it to be his 1924 lecture tours. This was a major change in direction for Houdini, and he appeared in many cities and venues that have never been properly recorded. Looks like Houdini's "year of the ghost" will be a topic to tackle in a future post.

Related:

9 comments:

  1. Be reminded it was in this time frame that we uncovered he performed in Williamsport PA with this series of lecture tours.

    http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2016/06/williamsport-to-unveil-houdini-plaque.html

    http://houdini.org/houdinisinwilliamsportPA.html

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum, Scranton, PA
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini

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    1. There's SO much to discover re these lecture tour dates. HH was playing one nighters back to back in some cases. But this tour barely get a mention in bios and Koval has almost no dates. That has tripped us all up good! Recall that only after Ron Cartlidge released his excellent book on Houdini in Texas did HE discover HH returned in 1924. I've now nailed down many dates and places in my '24 chronology, but there is clearly more to discover. Exciting. :)

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    2. Do you guys have an exact date for that Williamsport appearance? I don't have that one. I expect it's sometime in Feb 1924 when HH was in PA.

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  2. No, the rare clipping we have from Williamsport in our collection has the date missing. He was there twice in Williamsport, in that era, we believe, and other times early on, but have no exact dates on the later ones.
    "Over 28 years" Plus 1895 puts it at about 1924 or later.

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum, Scranton, PA
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini

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    1. Thanks. It's a great article.

      For now, I'll make an educated guess that this was during the week of Feb. 17-23, 1924 before or after his lectures in Pittsburg and Warren. I have a "[Date?]" placeholder in the chronology for now.

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  3. Thanks for this, John. Houdini's anti-spiritualism lectures are among my greatest HH interests.

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    1. Are they? Well stay tuned for a post about a review of one of his early lectures that I think you'll find interesting.

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  4. Houdini's 50% cut doesn't jibe with Silverman's account that Harry did these lectures more for the public good than profit.

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    1. That info comes from Christopher. It was in his contract. HH was paid $1,500 a week plus travel, and in 4 cites (Boston, Philadelphia, LA, SF) he received 50% of net profits.

      Houdini clearly did do these lectures more for the public good than profit (he would have made much more on the vaudeville circuit this year), but the tour was still negotiated and Houdini wasn't a dummy. He knew his worth.

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