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.



  1. Wow! What about the French footage? I remember seeing that one long ago - Houdini vs. the flics. Was from 1901, if I remember correctly, so this would predate it.

    1. That Paris film is actually 1909. Houdini wrote 1901 on a photo and that's why it's always misdated. But that film shows his jump from the Paris morgue and that happened in 1909.

  2. The 2 years Houdini worked in NE PA were very formative and important in his development. The grind of that kind of venue helps greatly in developing ones style and attitude. Though difficult and often depressing any entertainer who has gone through this kind of work will tell you how important it was to their growth. The two years he spent in Ne PA were also the longest engagements of his entire life.

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

  3. Checking Charlie Mussurs and Carol Johnsons book on Lyman Howe.

    1. Oh, I didn't know there was a book about him. Let us know what you find, Anon.

  4. I blew it. This is NOT Houdini. Check out the update thanks to Bill Mullins.

  5. A George Méliès film, Un homme de têtes (or The Four Troublesome Heads). Méliès owned the Robert Houdin Theatre and showed his magic and his films there. You can see it at: