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."



  1. That's a "Melrose" brand strait-jacket.

    Unfortunately for the theater owner, it doesn't appear (?) that the jacket's 2 "side-loops" were utilized for the sleeves to pass through, before being buckled together at the rear.

    (The 2 rivets shown at Ed's right hip, are securing the bottom of that particular "side-loop")

    It's hard to beat the determination of a youthful & slender teenager...Belated congratulations to Ed Brown!

    1. Oh, yes, you're right, Joe! Hey, maybe they figured that out and that's why the next 40 people couldn't do it. But, yeah, I don't think anything was going to stop Ed from getting that $100.

  2. Regarding the Promo Flyer for the 1953 "Houdini" film...Its always fun to see "scenes" (publicity stills) that ultimately weren't actually in the final print of the film.

    In this case:

    Tony is shown USD wearing an all white canvas strait-jacket, as opposed to the great looking "theatrical" jacket in the film.

    Jail Escape: Tony is shown with "leg cuffs & chains" around his ankle(s).

    1. Yes, these are all photographic touchups. The chains where added in some posters. The white straitjacket is one I've not seen before.