Saturday, June 30, 2018

June Horowitz passes away at 104

June Horowitz, who was the first female president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and who met Houdini as a child, has passed away at age 104. June was the last person that I'm aware of to have a living memory of Houdini. Below is a photo of June taken last year when she visited the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan.

You can read more about June's amazing life in magic at Genii Online.


LINK: Rabbi Weiss’s Farewell Sermon

Tom Interval has update his blog Houdini Museum with a brilliantly researched and superbly written examination of Houdini father, Mayer Samuel Weiss. There's a lot of new information here, including an account of Mayer Samuel delivering sermons in Louisville, Kentucky in 1883 on "The human soul can never die" and "The characteristics of women as shown in Solomon's song entitled 'The Worth of the Woman'."

Tom also helps debunk the idea that Mayer Samuel was fired from his position in Appleton because he could not speak English, finding evidence that his replacement also couldn't speak English.

But you don't need to hear all this from me. Click the headline and have a read at Tom's own Houdini Museum.


Baltimore Jewish Times magazine covers Houdini

The Baltimore Jewish Times magazine for June 29, 2018 contains a nice story about the new exhibition Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Below is the printed edition, but you can also read the article at the Baltimore Jewish Times website.

Thanks to Arthur Moses for the alert.


    Friday, June 29, 2018

    Bill Kalush has been to the mountaintop

    It's official. William Kalush now knows more about Houdini that anyone living (if he didn't already). That's because Bill, who co-wrote the 2006 biography, The Secret Life of Houdini, was recently granted unique access to Houdini's private diaries.

    Last weekend Bill gave a talk about the diaries at the Cincinnati Magic Collectors conference (aka "Gathering of the Vultures"). I've only heard snippets about what Bill shared, but what I've heard has blown my mind!

    The diaries start in 1904 and are handwritten with some typed inserts. Houdini appears to have added to his original entries over time. Bill showed several photos from the diaries, many that featured images of unknown posters. One photo shows Bess sitting at wheel of Houdini's Voisin bi-plane. Bill also showed ads that Houdini placed trying to sell the plane in 1910. There was also photo of a cabinet that Bill described as a possible precursor to the Water Torture Cell.

    The diaries also revealed the existence of two hitherto unknown assistants; Thomas Clarke Pendrigh, who worked with Houdini for two years, and Harry Wittaker, who stole Houdini's secrets and went out on his own (and failed miserably). Houdini supported a female escape artist known as Oceana. He had gaffed cuffs made by Froggatt & Company. He once struggled 80 minutes inside a U.S. Navy boiler. And Bess once left £40,000 worth of jewelry in a cab in England. (Later recovered.)

    One bombshell was the revelation that Houdini might have had a half sister named Peppi (possibly a daughter of Mayer Samuel before his marriage to Cecilia). Also, Chung Ling Soo told Houdini he had three wives, including a Jewish one.

    During the Q&A, someone asked Bill if the diaries contained any information about Houdini being a spy. They did not.

    While Bill said he could not reveal who owns the diaries, it's pretty well known that the family of Bernard M.L. Ernst, Houdini's lawyer, have held a collection of diaries since Houdini's death. So I'm assuming that's what Bill saw. The family have only provided limited access to select researchers in the past. In fact, Bill could not even get access to the diaries when he was writing his own book.

    Here's hoping Bill will share what he learned in some larger way, perhaps in an upcoming issue of Gibecière, the journal of his own Conjuring Arts Research Center. But, for now, I'm perfectly happy knowing that someone has been to this particular mountaintop, and confirmed it is indeed a place of special knowledge.

    Thanks to an attendee tipster, Bill Kalush, and Phil Schwartz at the excellent Thayer Magic forums for the info.


    Thursday, June 28, 2018

    LINK: Showbiz magic on the whistle-stop tour

    Here's a nicely researched article by Bill Miller at the Mail Tribune about Houdini's "whistle-stop" lecture tour appearance at the Medford Armory on November 1, 1924.

    Bill speculates that the Medford audience "would have preferred a few of his old tricks," which echoes this recent post. He also explains what happened to the Medford Armory building.

    Click here or on the headline to have a read.

    Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for the heads up.


    David Jaher brings Houdini & Margery to Baltimore

    The Jewish Museum of Maryland will kick off their series of Houdini exhibition tie-in events this Sunday (July 1) with a talk by David Jaher, author of the excellent The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World.

    The Psychic Contest
    Sunday, July 1, 2018 at 1:00pm
    Speaker: David Jaher, author of The Witch of Lime Street

    The Jazz Age Psychic Contest of 1923-25 offered more money than the Noble Prize. It was sponsored The Scientific American Magazine and was judged by some of the top scientists in the United States, and one great magician, Harry Houdini. The contest was an international search for a genuine psychic, and attracted one charlatan after another until a young and beautiful Boston psychic entered at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s urging. The competition between the medium Margery and Houdini led to one of most famous rivalries of the Jazz era. 
    Talk followed by book signing – copies will be available at Esther’s Place, the JMM Shop. 
    Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

    The Jewish Museum of Maryland's exhibition Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini runs through January 21, 2019. For more information and a full list of events, visit their website.


    Wednesday, June 27, 2018

    The Art of Escaping by Erin Callahan

    Escape artist Dorothy Dietrich and the 1987 movie Young Harry Houdini provide inspiration for the young protagonist in The Art of Escaping, a new novel by Erin Callahan. Here's a description.

    Seventeen-year-old Mattie has a hidden obsession: escapology. Emphasis on hidden. If anyone from school finds out, she’ll be abandoned to her haters. Facing a long and lonely summer, Mattie finally seeks out Miyu, the reclusive daughter of a world-renowned escape artist. Following in Houdini’s footsteps, Miyu helps Mattie secretly transform herself into an escapologist and performance artist. 
    When Will, a popular athlete from school, discovers Mattie’s act at an underground venue, Mattie fears her secret persona will be exposed. Instead of outing her, though, Will tells Mattie a secret not even his girlfriend knows. Through a blossoming friendship, the two must find a way to express their authentic selves.

    Told through the perspectives of the witty main characters, this funny and fresh debut explores the power of stage personas and secret spaces, and speaks to the uncanny ways in which friendships transform us.

    Author Erin Callahan will be appearing tomorrow (June 28) at Gibson's bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire, for the official book launch. There will also be a reading by Erin at the Houdini Museum of Scranton on July 14 at 5:00pm. You'll be able to get the book signed by Erin and Dorothy Dietrich herself!

    For more information on Erin Callahan's work and upcoming appearances check out her official website.

    The Art of Escaping can be purchased on (U.S.) and (UK).


    Houdini (1953) Confidential

    I'll conclude my 65th anniversary celebration of Houdini (1953) with something a little kinky. These are from a series of promotional photos that, as far as I know, were never used. Yes, that's a lace straitjacket Janet Leigh is being put into by a lascivious Tony Curtis.

    Even those these photos were taken by Life, my guess is they were earmarked for the men's magazines of the day, such as Gent, MAN, or Adam. These precursors to Playboy and Maxim offered male-centric stories and sexy photos, and flourished in the 1950s. So this was a way to reach a target male audience, although in a slightly underground way.

    Of course, objectification was part of the job for an actress in the 1950s. Check out this bonkers photo from The Cincinnati Enquirer on June 28, 1953. This image ran widely in syndication without any explanation. I really don't know what's going on here--I'm sure it's innocent--but you can't deny it has a pretty horrible implication! #BessToo

    Despite the predilections of the publicity department, the movie itself presents Bess as a strong-willed and intelligent woman, a true partner to Houdini in all regards. It's really one of the best and most positive portrayals of Bess Houdini ever put on screen. And throughout her life, Janet Leigh never expressed anything but positive memories of her time as Mrs. Houdini.


    Tuesday, June 26, 2018

    When Houdini (1953) came to TV

    Yesterday marked the 65th anniversary of the release of Paramount's Houdini to movie theaters in 1953. The movie was a popular success and played in theaters and drive-in's for years. (I've found showings as late as 1957.) But Houdini may have enjoyed even greater success, and had its greatest impact, on television.

    Houdini first aired on television on January 30, 1965, as NBC's "Saturday Night Movie." Maybe owing to the fact that the movie was in color and featured stars who were even more famous in 1965 than they were when the movie was made, the broadcast received a lot of attention. NBC would repeat the movie several times throughout the year.

    Houdini became a perennial on TV, airing multiple times every year, carrying the touch and igniting interest in many new fans, included me. All this time it was also priming the pump for the great Houdini and magic renaissance of the 1970s, which you could say actually began here in 1965. And if you think I'm reading too much into the impact Houdini's television debut, check out this June 27, 1965 news item in the San Antonio Express:

    One of the highlights of Houdini's many television airings were the ads for it in newspapers and TV Guide. Below is an unusual one from 1967 that paired Houdini with the 1965 biopic Harlow starring Carroll Baker.

    There's no question that part of Houdini's enduing fame can be credited to the Tony Curtis movie, first with it's theatrical release and later its extended life on TV. That impact may now have wained, but Houdini is still shown every year (now on MOVIES!) and I still think it has the power to work its magic on the right viewer.

    You can click here to review all 98 posts I've made about Houdini (1953) here on WILD ABOUT HARRY.


    Monday, June 25, 2018

    Houdini (1953) premiered 65 years ago today

    It was 65 years ago today on June 25, 1953 that Paramount's Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh had its world premiere opening at the Des Moines Theater in Des Moines, Iowa. Why did the movie premiere in Des Moines instead of New York or Los Angeles? Beats me! Below is the terrific opening day ad from the Des Moines Tribune.

    As a promotion, the theater offered $100 to anyone who could free themselves from a straitjacket during opening day. In order to get theater owner Don Knight to agree to the contest, the Paramount publicity agent, David F. Friedman, had to bet him $100 that no one could do it. The first person to take up the challenge was 18-year-old Ed Brown, who arrived at 8:30am for the 11:30am contest. The papers reported:

    So young Brown was strapped into the strait jacket, the first one to try it. He wiggled and twisted, sweat and grunted. Finally he got the back strap of the jacket around to the front and got his teeth on the strap. In three minutes he was out. 
    He handed the jacket to an usher and said with his right hand extended, "Where's my money?"

    The paper went on the report that forty others tried to escape from the jacket but failed (which I find a little hard to swallow).

    The movie appears to have been a hit in Des Moines. The next day the Tribune ran a very favorable review, stating: "It seems almost impossible that anyone would try to improve upon the extraordinary career of Houdini, still hailed as the world's greatest magician. But Paramount does."


    Sunday, June 24, 2018

    Terror Island overboard box escape footage FOUND!

    Today Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence shares a monumental discovery. He has located the missing overboard box escape footage from the lost Reel 4 of Houdini's Terror Island! Incredibly, the footage has been hiding in plain sight on a commercially available (but out of print) DVD. Joe covered his amazing find in the two posts below:

    So how can one see this footage? At the moment, the only way is to attempt to find the DVD set You Asked For It - Rare Magic Films, which was released by Todd Karr's The Miracle Factory in October 2013. Happy hunting.

    Thank you Joe for this incredible news. With the current exhibition at the Catalina Island Museum, what a year of Terror this is turning out to be!

    UPDATE: Joe continues his investigation with a theory of how Terror Island's lost reels become lost. He has also uncovered exactly when the Library of Congress received their print. It's more great stuff, so click to read: What happened to the missing Terror Island Reels?


    LINK: How Harry Houdini stayed chained to his roots as a rabbi’s son

    Here's an interesting article from The Times of Israel about Houdini's Judaism and the new exhibition, Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, which opens today at The Jewish Museum of Maryland. Of particular note is this significant piece of new information uncovered by curator David London.

    London cited a letter from Houdini to “a lifetime friend” in Appleton, Wisconsin, in which the magician told of his “relief one year after his mother’s death, when he no longer had to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer nightly.” While it is not known whether he did this on his own accord or out of reverence for his parents, “we discovered he did that 365 days,” London said.

    Click the headline to read the full article at The Times of Israel.

    Thanks to Ken Trombly.


    Saturday, June 23, 2018

    Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini opens tomorrow in Baltimore

    A major new exhibition, Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, opens tomorrow (June 24) at The Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore. The exhibition is curated by magician David London and contains many original Houdini props and artifacts from several private collections. This is the largest exhibition devoted solely to Houdini since Houdini Art and Magic back in 2012.

    The exhibition will kick off with a special street fair at 12pm featuring a suspended straitjacket escape by Dai Andrews. Details below.

    Sunday, June 24th 12 pm to 4pm 
    Join us as we open our newest exhibit, Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini. We will mark this special day with the recreation of one of Houdini’s greatest escapes. Dai Andrews, professional escape artist, will recreate Houdini’s 1916 Baltimore escape when he escapes from a strait jacket while suspended upside down from a 50-foot crane. This impressive feat will be accompanied by other performers and the chance to get a first look at the new exhibit. Buy tickets.

    The museum has revealed a full slate of related public programs, one of which features yours truly (Nov. 4). You can see a list of events and find more information on the exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Maryland website.

    Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini runs through January 21, 2019.


    LINK: The Grand Illusion of Harry Houdini

    Here's a terrific interview with the Jewish Museum of Maryland's executive director Marvin Pinkert and magician and curator David London about their new exhibit, Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, which opens tomorrow.


    Friday, June 22, 2018

    To Gladys from Bess Houdini

    Fifteen years ago Bill Bremer, a postcard collector in Texas, unearthed a cache of 36 postcards sent to Houdini's sister, Carrie Gladys Weiss. All this week I am sharing select cards from this remarkable collection. [Read the full story of Bill's find here.]

    Today I wrap things up with three incredible cards from Bess Houdini herself. This is appropriate as today is Harry and Bess's anniversary (I didn't even plan it that way). There is so very little written by Bess during Houdini's lifetime that anything in her hand is gold, and these cards have some great content. So let's get at 'em.

    The first card is from Kansas City on Sept. 8, 1915. It's addressed to Gladys at 315 West 98th St. in New York, where she and Leopold now resided. The card was written while Houdini was on a coast to coast vaudeville tour that year.

    Kansas City - MO
    Lots of love to you both. I wish I was in Flatbush where I belong
    Ever your sister

    When Bess speaks of "Flatbush," she is taking about home. Harry and Bess had moved out of 278 and in with the Hardeens in Flatbush the previous year. So she appears to be homesick. Or maybe her comment here has something to do with the date. Sept. 8, 1915 was the day Houdini performed what is believed to be his first suspended straitjacket escape. So perhaps her wish to be elsewhere is a sign of her nervousness that day?

    Bess seems to have found peace a month later in Seattle, Washington, where she sent this card on October 20, 1915.

    Hello Gladys
    I've got a lovely little flat here and am some busy.
    Lots of love to all

    It's interesting that she says I've got a lovely little flat, not we. This card was sent while Houdini was playing the Orpheum Theater at 3rd & Madison in Seattle.

    In Bill's collection there is a third card from Bess, this one sent to Leopold from Denver, Colorado, on December 30, 1915.

    Dear Doc
    Merry Xmas and a very Happy New Year.
    Harry is doing his outside stunt to-morrow (Thurs.) and Friday this state goes dry, two historical events. Say isn't it too bad Bro. Bill doesn't live here now.
    Lots of love

    Bess seems to have recovered from any nervousness about Houdini's suspended straitjackets escapes, at least enough to be able to quip that his upcoming escape (from the Denver Post building on Dec. 30) was a "historical event." Of course, she turned out to be right about this!

    Her mention of the state going "dry" refers to a prohibition on alcohol that Colorado and six other states (Iowa, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Arkansas, and South Carolina) instituted on December 31, 1915. Bess mentioning brother Bill in this context is likely a joke as Bill was said to be quite a drinker (his nickname was "Lobster Bill").

    Please join me in thanking Bill Bremer for sharing with us his incredible find. Below are links to all the posts.


    Thursday, June 21, 2018

    To Gladys from Franz Kukol

    Fifteen years ago Bill Bremer, a postcard collector in Texas, unearthed a cache of 36 postcards sent to Houdini's sister, Carrie Gladys Weiss. All this week I am sharing select cards from this remarkable collection. [Read the full story of Bill's find here.]

    Today's card is unique among Bill's collection and one of the most remarkable of the entire batch. This card was sent to Gladys from Houdini's trusted chief assistant Franz Kukol while he was on vacation in Austria in July 1911. Seems everyone loved Gladys! What's especially interesting here is that he addresses her as "Miss Gladys Weiss Houdini."

    JULY 3. 1911. 
    Am spending my vacation with my familiy at home the weather is very bad rain every day, so am indoors all day long.
    On Friday I'm going to my mother to Vienna & shall stay a few days & expect to be back in London July 15 or 16th.
    With kindest regards to all. 
    I beg to remain
    Respectfully yours

    Tomorrow I'll conclude my look at this incredible collection with three knockout cards from Bess Houdini herself. You won't want to miss these!


    Wednesday, June 20, 2018

    To Gladys from Hardeen

    Fifteen years ago Bill Bremer, a postcard collector in Texas, unearthed a cache of 36 postcards sent to Houdini's sister, Carrie Gladys Weiss. All this week I am sharing select cards from this remarkable collection. [Read the full story of Bill's find here.]

    Today we have two postcards sent to Carrie Gladys from brother Theo Hardeen while he was on tour in 1913. The first is from Salem, Massachusetts, postmarked Nov. 28, 1913. The other is from Lowell, Massachusetts, postmarked Jan. 31, 1913. The cards are signed Dash and (untypically) Theodore. Both are addressed to Gladys at 278. As you can see, Dash is a man of few words!

    Tomorrow I'll share a postcard to Gladys from an unlikely sender. This one will wow you!


    Tuesday, June 19, 2018

    To Gladys from brothers Leopold and Nathan

    Fifteen years ago Bill Bremer, a postcard collector in Texas, unearthed a cache of 36 postcards sent to Houdini's sister, Carrie Gladys Weiss. All this week I am sharing select cards from this remarkable collection. [Read the full story of Bill's find here.]

    Today we have a two postcards sent to Carrie Gladys from her brothers Leopold and Nathan Weiss. The first card from Leo was sent from the White Mountains in New Hampshire and is postmarked Sept. 1, 1912. Leo addresses it to Gladys at 278, where she and Leo were living at the time. As you can see, "Doc" enjoyed his nature hikes.

    This next card from Nathan is the only correspondence I've ever seen from him. It's sent from Jacksonville, Illinois, and postmarked April 8, 1914. This one is addressed to Gladys at 250 West 54th St. in New York. This appears to have been her workplace, Zieglers Magazine, a monthly periodical written in Braille for the blind. (The E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation still exists today). Not sure what the reference to Nesselrode Pudding is all about. I suspect Gladys was a fan!

    Tomorrow I'll share postcards to Gladys from the "Monarch of Manacles" himself...


    Monday, June 18, 2018

    Gladys Weiss postcard collection turns up in Texas

    Recently Bill Bremer, a postcard collector from Texas, contacted me with a remarkable story. Years ago Bill unearthed a collection of 36 postcards sent to Houdini's sister, Carrie Gladys Weiss, from various members of the Houdini family (but none from Harry himself). This is the kind of story that makes collectors drool, so I'll let Bill tell it himself:

    With time to kill and my wife Pat at work on a Saturday afternoon about 15 years ago, I drove to an antique mall outside of town to do a little shopping.
    This is the card that caught my eye while wandering the aisles. What drew my attention was the Jefferson Theatre return address. For many years my grandfather managed vaudeville at the Majestic Theatre, so I naturally felt some affinity to vaudeville performers.
    While thumbing through the cards I saw one with the name “Houdini” as addressee. I thought to myself, “Yeah, right. Houdini.” and skeptically tossed it aside. The cards didn’t seem especially interesting to me but I bought a few anyway. On the drive home I began to think about the “Houdini” name and decided to check on it when I got home. This was the era after the internet but before smartphones.

    At home, perhaps using Goggle, but more likely Alta Vista, I quickly discovered that Weiss was Houdini’s real name and that Gladys was his sister. Soon after this discovery, Pat (who shares my love of postcards) returned home from work. Turning to her, I said, “We have to leave NOW! There is a POSTCARD EMERGENCY! We drove back to the mall, went through every card in that booth, buying all we could find from the set. The result was the 36-card set I’ve had for the past 15 years.
    Before this event, I never had a particular interest in Houdini. Since then, I’ve learned much more about him and his family but remain primarily a general postcard collector, Houdini collecting being a bit beyond our budget. In spite of this, we continue to search for more random Houdini cards, but, so far, without success.

    Bill has sent me a dozen postcard images with permission to share them here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. These have never been shown before, and some of the content is pretty interesting. So ALL THIS WEEK I will devote the blog to these remarkable cards. I think you will enjoy them.

    Thank you Bill for the story and the cards.

    UPDATE: Our great friend Tom Interval believes the sender of this card, "Beaty Moreland", is likely vaudeville actress Beatrice Moreland (1877-1958). Houdini mentions her on p. 256 of A Magician Among the Spirits. She and Houdini also played at Fairmount Park (Kansas City, Missouri) on the same day in 1899. Moreland got top billing.


    Sunday, June 17, 2018

    Haldane of the Secret Service in Wilton, June 24

    Houdini's Haldane of the Secret Service will screen at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, New Hampshire, next Sunday, June 24 at 4:30 p.m. The movie will include live music by Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

    Made in 1921 and released in 1923, Haldane of the Secret Service was the final movie produced for the Houdini Picture Corporation. It was unavailable to the public until a print surfaced in Los Angeles in 2007.

    For more information vist the Wilton Town Hall Theatre website.


    Saturday, June 16, 2018

    Early Houdini playbill produces $2880 at auction

    An 1896 playbill clipping for the Marco Magic Company in Halifax, Nova Scotia, sold today at Potter & Potter's The Magic Collection of David Baldwin II auction for $2880 (including 20% buyers premium).

    The young Houdini and Bess were members of this ill-fated magic troupe. The program shows "Twenty Minutes with Mysterious Harry Houdini" and also lists Houdini as the Stage Director. "Mlle Marco, Psychometric Artist, Clairvoyant and Exponent of Mental Occultism", who gets second billing below Marco himself, is actually Bess.

    [The full story of the Houdinis Maritime misadventure appears in the excellent 2012 book, The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, by Bruce MacNab.]

    It's pretty uncommon to see original items from so early in Houdini's career at auction, and even rarer to see something from the Marco show, so this was a nice get for someone. At one point this had belonged to Bess's sister, Marie Hinson.

    The auction also featured several original stills from The Man From Beyond, some stamped "H.P.C." on the back (for Houdini Picture Corporation). Each sold for between $400-$750.

    A surprise in the auction was a pair of original press photos from Houdini's Shelton Pool Test which fetched $1,800 on a $250-$350 estimate. They are not unknown images, so I'm not sure why they went so high.

    I had my eye on two letters; one from Hardeen to Houdini written on Film Developing Corp. stationary, and the other written by Edward Saint on "Madame Houdini Speaks" stationary (this was the working title for Religious Racketeers). Both had magnificent content and fetched $570 and $360 respectively.


    Friday, June 15, 2018

    See inside the 'Summer of Magic' exhibition in NYC

    This AP video gives great look inside the New-York Historical Society's Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection exhibition. You'll see many of the Houdini rarities on display, including the Mirror Handcuffs and a one-of-a-kind Overboard Box poster, which I believe is being exhibited for the first time ever.

    For more information on the exhibition and the many related special events -- including my own appearance on July 13 -- visit the New-York Historical Society's website. The exhibit runs through Sept. 16, 2018.


    New-York Historical Society's Summer of Magic begins TODAY

    The New-York Historical Society's exhibition Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection begins today. Among the many magic rarities on displays are several Houdini items, including his original Milk Can, Metamorphosis trunk, straitjacket, Bess's stage coat, and the Mirror Handcuffs (the first time the cuffs have been shown publicly in some 20 years). The exhibition runs through Sept. 16, 2018.

    The museum is planning a full program of magic and Houdini related events, kicking off tomorrow with a special one-on-one interview with David Copperfield. Here are the details:

    An Evening with David Copperfield
    Bernard and Irene Schwartz Distinguished Speakers Series
    David Copperfield, Mark Pocan (moderator)
    Sat, June 16th, 2018 | 7:00 pm
    $38 (Members $24) 
    Magic has the power to inspire, amaze, and make the impossible a reality. How did sleight of hand and grand illusion evolve into one of the most fascinating and intricate performance arts in history? In an illuminating conversation with Mark Pocan, world-renowned magician David Copperfield uncovers the history of magic from its origins, including well-known figures such as Georges Méliès and Harry Houdini. Purchase tickets here.

    For more information on the exhibition and all the summer programs -- including my own appearance on July 13 -- visit the New-York Historical Society's website.

    UPDATE: The David Copperfield event is now SOLD OUT.


    Houdini and the Five Cent Circus released in UK

    Today sees the release of Houdini and the Five Cent Circus by Keith Gray, a fictionalized Houdini adventure aimed at young readers. The cover has a bit of a Harry Potter vibe. I'm thinking that's not a coincidence.

    The year is 1885 and Erik Weisz, a penniless immigrant, has found himself in trouble again. His uncanny talent for picking locks and his gleeful showboating to match it, have earned him very few friends and a bad reputation. But this is just the beginning of his story and Erik is destined for a far more magical future. Watch as he transforms before your very eyes into the greatest showman the world has ever seen...

    You can purchase Houdini and the Five Cent Circus at

    Click here to read a special guest blog by author Keith Gray about how he became a Houdini fan.


    Thursday, June 14, 2018

    Mystifier, Third Quarter 1993

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

    The Third Quarter 1993 Mystifier opens with a letter by Randall Bassett, author of Zen Karate (the previous issue contained an excerpt from the book), offering insightful speculation about Houdini's need to remain physically fit and his training regiment. It's a good letter and his observations seem spot on. For example:

    From what I can gather, strength and endurance were critical to most of his spectacular effects. Early on, Houdini grasped that what audiences wanted to see was a struggle--a severe test of sorts in which he would emerge victorious or...die. Anything that looked easy or was not dangerous seemed to lack dramatic impact. I further believe that Houdini felt the best way to convince the audience of the veracity of his struggle was to make it a real one whenever he could do this and not give away the secret of an illusion. But this required, I believe, his certainty that his body could keep up with his mind. It always did.

    Next up is a real treat and what in 1993 was a true game changer. It's an interview with Dorothy Young (referred to here as Dorthy Young Kiamie) who toured with the Houdini show in 1925. The interview is by Ken Silverman, who was working on his own Houdini biography as this time. Much of what the interview contains we are now familiar with, but there's a paragraph in which Dorothy mentions Bess and her smoking that feels new:

    I never thought of Mrs. H. as being older. We were just pals. I had breakfast with her and spent my days with her, laughing and kidding. We'd buy clothes together; she liked clothing and was always charmingly dressed. She made all my costumes, too, using gorgeous materials and making the costumes very sexy. I remember that she smoked a lot. (Houdini didn't at all.) The doctor told her to stop, that she would live ten years longer. She said she'd rather enjoy the ten years smoking.

    The interview is accompanied by the "Radio Girl" photo, which was also new to the Houdini world at this time. I wasn't yet a subscriber, but I can only imagine how exciting it must have been to receive this one in the mail.

    Members of the Houdini Historical Center staff and board members are then introduced with a short biography of each. Readers are also informed that the museum's new poster reprints, Coliseum, Houdini in Kaiser Wilhelm's Court, Houdini in Russia, and Houdini in the Water Torture Cell are "hot off the press" and ready to ship.

    Sid Radner devotes a large section of his "Backstage with Sidney Radner" column to a 1930 horoscope of Houdini that appeared in the book Your Future, A Guide to Modern Astrology by Sidney K. Bennett aka "Wynn." Sid wryly points out:

    Considering that Wynn did not known when or where Houdini was born, missing the date by 13 days and the location by a few thousand miles, it is quite remarkable how accurate the horoscope is. Or can we attribute Wynn's skills to the fact that he was doing the horoscope after Houdini's death?

    Sid continues with the news that the daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful has a storyline in which two characters move into Houdini's Beverly Hills? He notes that the new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Last Action Hero has "an important Houdini connection." He concludes with the news that the BBC is in Appleton shooting a Houdini documentary to be broadcast in England in October.

    Volume 3, Number 3
    Third Quarter, 1993
    6 pages

    Master of Physical Conditioning
    Recollections of Houdini
    Introducing HHC Staff, Board Members
    Order Houdini Posters from Museum Shop
    Backstage with Sid Radner

    Thanks to Jay Hunter for supplying me with a scan of this issue. If anyone is willing to part with an original, this is one of only two issues that I do not own, and I'd love to complete my set.


    Wednesday, June 13, 2018

    Houdini-Opoly price goes up July 1st

    If you haven't yet purchased the new Houdini-Opoly game, you'll want to do so before July 1st. That's when the price of the remaining games will increase to $50 plus $15 shipping. Currently the games are available for $35 plus $15 shipping from the Official Houdini-Opoly website.

    Only 1000 games have been produced. Once those are gone, the collectors market takes over!

    Houdini-Opoly has received uniform praise since its release last month, including the stamp of approval from the Houdini family:

    WOW! What a fantastic job you did on the Houdini-Opoly game. It's gorgeous. We love it. The research and effort you put into this project is much appreciated by the entire Houdini family. Everything you included in the game is top notch and high quality. The photos are all clear, detailed and beautiful. Houdini-Opoly players will learn alot of information about Houdini's life just by playing the game. You produced a great tribute to the life of Houdini. I am sure Houdini and Bess would be pleased and proud of your efforts. Much appreciation and thanks!
    Jeff & Debbie Blood
    Grand Nephew of Houdini

    Houdini-Opoly was created by Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA. You can find more information and buy the game at their Houdini-Opoly website.


    Tuesday, June 12, 2018

    Houdini plays the 1983

    On May 22, 1983, ABC broadcast Parade of Stars. The two-hour special benefited the Actors Fund and featured an assortment of Broadway and television stars recreating famous vaudeville acts at the Palace Theater in New York. Of course, Houdini played the Palace many times, and he was represented not only in the show, but also on the advertising key art below (top left).

    Houdini was portrayed by Alan Alan, the English escape artist who died in 2014. Alan did his signature upside down chain escape from a burning rope. According to a user on IMDb, Alan's act was cut down from 13 minutes to six minutes to eliminate the comedic elements and make it a more straightforward Houdini escape.

    Other celebrities who portrayed Palace stars of the past were: Debbie Allen as Josephine Baker, David Cassidy as George M. Cohan, Gregory Hines as Bill Robinson, Ann Jillian as Mae West, Rich Little as Jack Benny, Dorothy Loudon as Fanny Brice, Jeanne Moreau as Sarah Bernhardt, James Whitmore as Will Rogers, and Shelly Winters as Sophie Tucker.

    You can read a New York Times review of the show HERE. You can also view a short clip on YouTube.

    For fun, here's a photo of the Palace with the real Houdini headlining (also notice the real Fanny Brice on the bill).

    Thanks to Mark Willoughby for sharing the art and bringing this one to my attention. 


    Monday, June 11, 2018

    New evidence of Houdini's earliest film appearance UPDATE: Not Houdini after all

    At the moment, the earliest surviving film footage of Houdini is his Rochester bridge jump in 1907. There is also evidence of a lost film, Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt, shown in Boston in 1906. But recently I found evidence of Houdini film footage that pre-dates both those by several years.

    This clipping from The Record Argus is about a Lyman H. Howe "moving pictures" exhibition in Warren, Pennsylvania on March 13, 1900. Among the descriptions of what was shown that night is a mention of "Houdini's magic pictures."

    What's intriguing is this pre-dates Houdini's trip to Europe and his break out fame, so this would be film footage of Houdini before he was widely known to the public. This precludes the possibility that "Houdini's magic" is being used here in a general sense as one might see today. This is well before the Houdini name became a magic brand. So "Houdini" here can almost only mean the real person.

    Lyman H. Howe had a long career making and exhibiting early motion pictures. Unable to secure an Edison patent, he developed his own projection system, the animotiscope, which included a second take up reel that became standard on all projectors. Howe lived and worked in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, which suggests his Houdini footage could have been made while Harry and Bess were touring with the Welsh Bros. Circus. This would make the footage from 1898, which is even more mind-blowing!

    So what happened to Howe's film collection? Might there be footage of a very young Houdini out there somewhere? Just another master mystery.

    UPDATE: So it looks like I blew it and was taken in by a typo. Bill Mullins has uncovered a clipping from the March 3, 1900 Warren Evening Democrat that gives more details on Howe's films, and the magician being referenced here is Robert-Houdin, not Houdini, which I really should have considered. It sounds like it might even be a Georges Méliès film. Here's the full article:

    Thank you Bill.


    Sunday, June 10, 2018

    Guest Blog: From Erik to Houdini

    Today I have a very special Guest Blog from Keith Gray, author of Houdini and the Five Cent Circus due for release this Friday (June 15) from Barrington Stoke. Keith shares the story of how he became a "Houdini obsessive." Enjoy.

    My older brother introduced me to Harry Houdini on a wet English summer’s day sometime in the mid-1980s. We were trapped inside while it poured down outside and I guess I was being a pain because I was bored. John felt the need to entertain me. I was 7, maybe 8, so John would have been 12ish. We didn’t play together as often as we used to and we’d drift apart even more once John became a teenager and therefore cool by default. But on this day we were having fun in each other’s company leaping around our shared bedroom, bellowing and guffawing, playing one of our brilliantly weird storytelling mash-ups of heroes and villains. At least, having fun until I got fed up with being the bad guy all the time. I wanted to be Batman for once. Why was John always King Arthur, Luke Skywalker, Spiderman, Steve Austin? To stop me moaning he said I could be Harry Houdini. And I asked: ‘Who?’ 
    I was soon obsessed. 
    In hindsight I think one of the things that appealed to me so much was the fact that Houdini was real. Really real. A real-life person. There were photos! Most of mine and John’s play-heroes were made-up, fictional, possibly mythical. But Houdini had been a honest-to-goodness living legend. He’s been called ‘America’s first superhero’. But he didn’t get to be super because he was accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider or was bestowed a multi-million dollar inheritance or even born of magical parents. He got his amazing powers because he strived so damn hard to achieve them. And to a working class kid from the North of England that mattered. A lot. 
    And I suppose, in the beginning, I followed the usual path of most Houdini obsessives. I received rope burns, dislocated shoulders and even a cracked rib thanks to my terrible but enthusiastic imitations. Luckily card tricks are less dangerous and even now I can still fool my 6 year-old daughter with a couple of them. 
    Down the years my desperation to be a magician faded but not my interest in Houdini. My desperation to write took over. But it’s been said before that novelists and conjurers share a little bit of DNA. We’re both hoping our audiences can suspend their disbelief long enough for us to entertain them. Fiction should also be an intricately constructed illusion. 
    With ‘Houdini and the Five-Cent Circus’ I’m not trying to tell the true story - definitely not attempting a biography, there are plenty of them already. I’ve taken a handful of reported incidents from Houdini’s childhood, and shuffled them up, before dealing them out into what I hope is an original and entertaining narrative. I hope the truth that shines through is just how imaginative and ambitious Erik was. And how driven he needed to be before he could become Harry. Destiny didn’t happen to him. He chased it down. 
    Barrington Stoke are a publisher who specialize in nurturing new and struggling readers. I’ve written this book with the intention of introducing young people to the fascinating immigrant boy Erik who refused to be restrained and grew up to conquer the world. But I’d also like to reveal the wonderful escapism of books and reading too. 
    For now I’ll be sending a copy of the book to my big brother, as a thank you. And when she’s old enough, I’ll read it with my daughter. She has her own heroes she likes to play and pretend to be but there’s always room for one more hero in the world. And especially for one who’s self-made.

    You can read the first chapter of Houdini and the Five Cent Circus at the Barrington Stoke website. It can be purchased at

    Thank you Keith.