Wednesday, July 4, 2018

John Calvert's Tribute to Houdini

John Calvert had several things in common with Houdini. Not only was he a magician and sometimes escape artist, but he was also an aviator and an actor. He was also good friends with Bess Houdini, who touted Calvert as her choice to play Houdini in a Hollywood biopic.

In 1987, Calvert released a video called A Tribute to Houdini. It's a strange confection of random clips with Calvert the only constant. Calvert is very much a 1940s style magician wrapped into a very 1980s production, which makes this tape pretty weird and also kinda wonderful. The version I have must have been a later release. While the copyright is 1987, it contains a sudden segment about the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, with shots of Tammy Calvert flying through the skies above Berlin via video magic.

But what about Houdini in all this? The tape does open with photos and film footage of Houdini under synthesized '80s rock before introducing Calvert as the continuation of the great escapist. It also makes comparisons between the men throughout.

But probably the most interesting Houdini-related element is when Calvert and an uncredited assistant (a fine escape artist herself) do an "underwater Metamorphosis in reverse." Calvert says that Bess Houdini told him this was an effect that Houdini had been developing himself. I've never heard of this before, but it's pretty impressive, and this tape is worth owning just for a record of this unique feat.

The final half of the video are excerpts from Calvert's stage show "Magicarama" at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis, which at one point Calvert characterizes as a tribute to Dante (hey, wasn't this about Houdini?). But with a stage overloaded with assistants clad in every kind of conceivable costume, his show really does evoke Sim Sala Bim, and also reflects the anything and everything esthetic of this tape.

So while this is barely a "tribute to Houdini," this is still a worthy piece of Houdiniana and some weird '80s fun.

Thanks to Bill Goodwin at the Magic Castle Library for providing me with this VHS.



  1. Is that underwater escape not found on this DVD?

    1. Good question. I don't know. I'm not familiar with that DVD.

    2. That Tribute to Houdini VHS tape is pricing up to at least $100 on Ebay so I hoped the DVD will be a far better deal.

    3. Is it possible for you to upload it online to Youtube or something considering that tape is out of print and hard to come by?

    4. Wouldn't be conformable doing that without permission from the copyright holders. But even then, I only have it on VHS, no digital media.