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.



  1. So, January 30, 1965 is the date I “met” Houdini for the first time. I sat on the floor of my living room, riveted and fascinated, finding it difficult to believe that this man had been a reality once. I even put the question to my dad who watched the movie with me and he assured me that, indeed, Houdini was alive when Dad was a little boy. He never said whether he had seen any of Houdini’s acts but he did say he remembered hearing about his dying. After that I started on my quest to get to know Mr. Houdini more and am still doing so. I’m happy to have found Wild About Harry because I learn so much from your site. Thank you for your hard work.

    1. Thank you so much, Margie, for the sharing your memories and the kind words. How cool that your first viewing was the first TV showing! Also cool that your dad remembers Houdini in life (and death).

  2. After viewing that movie, and as I said, I began keeping my eyes and ears open for anything relating to Mr. Houdini and throughout my life I’ve “met” Harry many times over, so to speak. I’ve discovered similarities and coincidences between his life and mine which are interesting and amusing. Prior to seeing the movie I was training myself to become a magician putting my parents through the agony of watching my tricks over and over, tricks I found in library books. Later, I discovered that Mr. Houdini was Hungarian (like my paternal grandparents), shared my birthday (March 24th), flew an old-timely airplane (I’ve a cross stitch pattern book of old-timey airplanes), enjoyed eating chicken paprikash (a favorite of mine as well), was close to his mom (I was close to my dad), and enjoyed origami (I’m a card-carrying member of OrigamiUSA and possess a facsimile edition of Houdini’s Paper Magic which I bought for a penny). It’s been fun running into Houdini here and there as the years go by. I just wanted to share this with you.

    1. Thanks, Margie. Love this. And you share Houdini's birthday!? So cool.

  3. I remember seeing "Houdini" on Ch.4 in Los Angeles in 1965. I was too young to know who Harry Houdini was, But I was somehow influenced by the movie. I became a magician because of the movie,among other influences such as Mark Wilson & Chuck Jones(the magician)



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