Monday, December 31, 2018

The countdown to Houdini's WILD 2019 begins...


These teaser ads appeared in the Evening Review April 10-11, 1919.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Bess and I are taking a Christmas break

It's time to wrap up 2018, which was a truly amazing year for Houdini. This year saw the sale of 278, four major museum exhibitions, new plays, books, graphic novels, TV appearances, and an assortment of discoveries and special events. For me the year brought memorable Houdini adventures in Las Vegas, Catalina, New York, Baltimore, Fort Worth, City of Industry and here at home. I'm overwhelmed by how much joy and generosity Houdini brings into my life. I feel very grateful to have stumbled on this "hobby" 43 years ago.

I thought the below from the Tampa Bay Times, which appeared 80 years ago yesterday, was a good way to end the year. So Bessie and I will take our "rest", and we'll see everyone back here on January 1st for what I expect will be another huge year for Houdini.

Have a very Merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year!

Review 2018 below:
January (32 posts)
February (27 posts)
March (32 posts)
April (32 posts)
May (31 posts)
June (37 posts)
July (37 posts)
August (36 posts)
September (31 posts)
October (34 posts)
November (27 posts)
December (16 posts)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

First promo for 'Houdini's Last Secrets'

The first promo for the Science Channel's new 4-part series Houdini's Last Secrets is below. The series features George Hardeen and magician Lee Terbosic investigating some of Houdini's enduring mysteries. (I may even show up as well.)

Despite what this promo implies, I've been assured that the show will not actually expose Houdini's secrets.

Houdini's Last Secrets premieres Sunday, January 6 on the Science Channel and the SciGO app.


Friday, December 14, 2018

Harry Houdini and the Circumnavigators Club

Houdini enjoyed belonging to fraternal clubs such as The Society of American Magicians, The Magicians Club, The Rabbis' Sons' Benevolent Association, the Elks, and the Masons. But here's a club that I had no idea Houdini belonged to until I got a friendly email from David Mink, the current president of the intriguingly named Circumnavigators Club.

The Circumnavigators Club was founded in 1902 and headquartered in New York. As the name implies, it was made up of individuals (exclusively men until 1983) who had circumnavigated the globe. Houdini joined the club in 1912, citing his tours of Europe and especially his journey to Australia as his credentials as a world traveler.

Click to enlarge.

Accepted as a member, Houdini became "Circumhoudini" in the tradition of naming club members with "circum" before their last names. Houdini attended his first banquet at the Hotel McAlpin in New York on March 2, 1916. A photograph of the dinner (above) was shared in the March issue of the official club journal, The Log, which included the following account:

Circumhoudini traveled from New Orleans especially to attend the dinner, and he spoke very nicely of how the Circumnavigators' Club was the first club he had joined and that he made this long journey to meet the officers and members for the first time because he felt that it was "home" to him; that he knew many of the members through reading The Log and that he was not disappointed. Circumhoudini said he flew the first aeroplane in Australia; that he is one of six pioneers living who were the original aviators and that he stopped flying when women took it up. Circumhoudini is a very moderate eater at all times and he did not care for "another piece of pie." Furthermore, on his recent trip to the Pacific coast and back he got the whole "pie" in the way of front page publicity in the leading newspapers of the different cities.

If you're wondering what the whole "piece of pie" thing refers to, according to David Mink: "Harry was the featured speaker at a dinner along with John Henry Mears who set the world record for circling the globe. Mears related that people of many nations, particularly the Japanese, are very hospitable, and in Tokyo he was offered another piece of pie that cost him a bit of time on this record trip. Harry who spoke next [said he] didn’t care for another piece of pie. I suppose this got a laugh!"

Houdini would occasionally contribute to The Log himself. In 1921 he took out a two page ad. The first page was blank -- Houdini having "slipped through" to the second page. "That's my act!"

Click to enlarge.

Houdini also wrote articles for the club journal, including a remarkable piece called "My Happiest Christmas" in 1923 (made even more remarkable by the fact that Circumhoudini was Jewish). In it he tells the story of when he stumbled on an idea how to make extra money as a messenger boy during the holidays. This story appears in many biographies, but Houdini's account in The Log provides more details, including a nice tidbit about how his brother Bill "did the best handwriting in the family." Below is the first page for a taste.

Click to enlarge.

Houdini remained an active member of the Circumnavigators Club for the rest of his life. At one point he and John Phillip Sousa sat on the board of governors together. Below is a photo of Houdini and The Log editor in 1918.

The Circumnavigators Club remains active to this day. The Log is still published and available to anyone to read at their official website. There you can also find details on how to join. The club's mission is worth repeat here in full:

The Circumnavigators Club is the only organization devoted to bringing together those men and women who have circumnavigated the globe. The Club's purpose is to encourage global fellowship and understanding. It strives to inspire people to see and absorb as much as they can about the world in which we live. It is devoted to providing those who have circumnavigated the globe with a forum for intellectual exchange.

Thanks to David Mink for alerting me to this and allowing me to share these remarkable mementos of "Circumhoudini".

UPDATE: A few developments. David Charvet reminds me that Edward Saint mentions Houdini's membership in the Circumnavigators Club during the famous Final Houdini Seance recording. And Dr. Bruce Averbook owns Houdini's membership book and card (below). Very nice.

David Mink has also uncovered a few more items related to "Circumhoudini," which I will share in the New Year.


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Guest blog: The Brothers Houdini reading in NYC

Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton attended Tuesday's reading of  The Brothers Houdini at the Consulate General of Hungary in New York. I'm pleased to share their review of the evening.

The Brothers Houdini review
by Dorothy Diertrich and Dick Brookz.

We spent a interesting evening at very well presented reading of the The Brothers Houdini... The Musical at the Hungarian Consulate on 223 East 52 Street in New York City.

The evening started with champagne, wine, orange juice and a fun assortment of Hungarian snacks.

There were several very special moments during the reading.

 The beginning of the play sets up the strong relationship between Houdini (Perry Sherman) and his younger brother Theo (Rico Le Bron
). They were close in age by two years. Houdini did have a great relationship with his brother, which is an ongoing theme of the show. The truth is Houdini died in his brothers arms. It presented the two as great pals with a lot of plans for their successful future.
 They worked the streets to raise money to help their family. A scene shows the proud boys saying ... Shake me Momma (who was played by Amy Bodnar)... as the coins fell from the boys pockets. Amy portrayed her part as a loving mother who was very supportive of her sons adventurous ways.

It covers the fact that their father Samuel (Wade Mc Cullum) was not in good health. He died when Houdini was only 18 and Houdini vows to his mother that they will take care of her, which the brothers do. All is well with them as a team, until they meet lovely Beatrice Rahner (played by Quiana Holmes) who was working with an act called the Floral Sisters.

A precious moment when Bess tells Houdini about how much she loves the song Rosabelle. There’s a great sense that they have met their perfect love. They soon after get married.
 This leads to one of the very special moments during the reading.

The show is not linear, but goes back and forth in time. Several of the transitions are very clever and magicial. For instance Bess taking on the role of assistant in the act is depicted by having Harry and his brother Hardeen present the trunk trick but at the finale instead of the brother coming out of the trunk Bess appears. A very exciting and magical transition as a trick, but in time and space as well. There should be more moments like this.

Another is the scene regarding Houdini’s contentious run in with the noted spiritualist Mina Crandon, aka Margery (Laney Allan), who played several other roles to great aplomb. Laney’s feisty performance gave a real sense of who Mina was. Margery holds a seance for Houdini and apparently “talks” to Houdini’s mother, which he exposes as a ruse. Though this never happened, this way, it was again a dramatic juxtaposition of two actual events.
Houdini meets theatrical agent Martin Beck (Wade McCullum) who changes everything. 
The performance of Wade McCullum was brilliant. He more than aptly portrayed the two characters of Houdini’s aging father Samuel and Houdini’s agent Martin Beck. He adds much to the characters he plays. It’s a joy to watch him playfully bring the story forward. Martin Beck’s wise guy character is full of chuckles and comic relief.

Houdini sets out on tour having great success with his new agent in charge of the tour, but leaves Bess behind. 
Beck introduces Houdini to his new attractive assistant Daisy (Pilar Martinez). Daisy is interested in being more than assistant to Houdini.

Gordon Whitehead was played by Terrell Foster-James who presents the famous punches to Houdini’s abdomen.

The fun story plays loose with the facts. Although Houdini may have toyed with the Bullet catch in his youth and been hurt, the show has him presenting it successfully. In this same vein it has him rescued out of the Water Torture Cell by breaking the glass. I guess in a way, a homage to the Tony Curtis movie. 
It also has Houdini taking punches in the stomach, incessantly from childhood on to his untimely death, which could have been a one time event. 

Toward the end of the story, Peter Scattini plays the theater manager who insists that Houdini performs even though he is gravely ill.

The play has a lot of potential. The fact that it’s a musical is even more exciting.

As to the songs in the show, only about half were presented in the time allotted, but they move the story along well. However the only memorable melody that people might leave humming or singing was the classic Rosabelle, so it should be reprieved several times, and possibly at the end.

It would be great to have a Broadway Show about Houdini.

We will do all in our power to help any such production.

For more information visit the official website:

Thanks to Dorothy and Dick for the review and pics.


Houdini's Burnley Empire theater saved

The Burnley Empire Music Hall where Houdini appeared in December 1902 has been purchased by the Burnley Empire Theater Trust for £1. The theater, which was built in 1894, has stood abandoned for 23 years. The news was picked up my the UK's Daily Express and tweeted out by @jamesfspencer (coincidently on the anniversary of Houdini's opening day there).

Houdini appeared for a second time in Burnley at The Palace in 1911. According to the Burnley Empire Theater Trust, at one time the city had five music halls. The Empire is the only one still standing.

You can follow the good folks at the Burnley Empire Theater Trust and help out in the restoration via their Twitter and official website.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Joe Notaro finds Houdini on the East Coast

Recently our friend Joe Notaro of Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence took a trip to the East Coast where he attended the Official Houdini Seance, explored Houdini sites, and got to visit some the world's finest Houdini and magic collections. Joe has chronicled his trip in five terrific posts with lots of photos. Click each link below to go, and enjoy the trip!

Day 1: Official Houdini Séance Experience
Day 2: George Goebel
Day 3: Houdini Museum NY, Kevin Connolly, 278, and The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini
Day 4: Ken Trombly
Day 5: Houdini in Baltimore, JMM Exhibition, Houdini in Hollywood and The Grim Game

Dover will release The Right Way to Do Wrong in 2019

The 2019 Houdini books are starting to reveal themselves, and among them will be a reprint of Houdini's first book, The Right Way to Do Wrong, from Dover. Dover has a long tradition of releasing Houdini titles. They've kept The Secrets of Houdini and Houdini on Magic in print for decades, and last year released Houdini's Paper Magic. Below is the cover art, which is worthy of a major biography!

With this remarkable book, the legendary magician conducts a master class in crime by revealing the trade secrets of crooks. Harry Houdini is known not only as an illusionist and escaper of handcuffs and jail cells, but also as a debunker of phony spiritualists and other charlatans. His interest in exposing fakery led Houdini to interview both police and criminals around the world. The result is this captivating volume, intended to help readers avoid being victimized by pickpockets, con artists, and other thieves. 
Written with verve and humor, these lively chapters recount the techniques of burglars, sneak thieves, shoplifters, and pickpockets as well as those of faith healers, fortune tellers, art forgers, card sharks, and counterfeiters. The instructive and amusing book concludes with an autobiographical essay, in which Houdini discusses the early days of his career and the experiences that contributed to his renown as the Handcuff King and Prison Breaker.

Other books due for release in 2019 are: The Sensational Houdini's Puzzle Safe (April), Harry (April), Before Houdini (July), and paperback editions of Escaping from Houdini (August) and The Escape Artist (April). October will then see the release of the most anticipated book of them all, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini by Joe Posnanski.


Monday, December 10, 2018

When things went wrong

Houdini cultivated good relationships with both police and the press, which certainly helped in his escapes from jails and the subsequent news coverage. But here's a case where it all appears to have gone wrong. The resulting coverage is unflattering (and a bit bizarre), but it does give us a different picture of what sometimes occurred during a Houdini jail break.

Click to enlarge.

This seems to have been of a pattern. For for many years Houdini was not able to win over the New York City police and press. He received similar snarky coverage in The Times for his Boudini underwater challenge in 1905 (I wondering if this might be by the same reporter), and police repeatedly stepped in and shut down some of his outdooor stunts, forcing him to sometimes perform them unannounced.

Thanks to Harry Houdini.


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Christmas Day screening the Houdini Miniseries at the Jewish Museum of Maryland

The Jewish Museum of Maryland will screen the 2014 Houdini Miniseries on Christmas Day as part of their Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini exhibition programing.

Houdini: The Mini-Series
December 25 @ 12:30 pm - 4:00 pm
Tickets to this program include Museum admission. 
Buy Now! (Members: Reserve Your Seats!) 
Follow the man behind the magic as he finds fame, engages in espionage, battles spiritualists and encounters the greatest names of the era, from U.S. presidents to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Grigori Rasputin. Houdini stars Adrien Brody, Kristen Connolly, and Evan Jones.

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini runs through January 21, 2019. For more information visit the JMM website.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

278 in the 1940s

Our friend Alec Mathieson recently discovered this terrific photo of Houdini's 278. This comes from the NYC Municipal Archives of tax photos and was taken between 1939 and 1941 by the WPA.

There isn't anything new to be gleaned here, but it's cool to see the house in the days when Hardeen and Bess were still alive, and very much how Houdini would have remembered it. At this time, 278 was occupied by the Bonannos, who bought the house from Bess in 1927. (To see a pic of the house in Houdini's time, click here.)

Thank you Alec.


Friday, December 7, 2018

Houdini envelope delivers $1,750

A standout item in last weekend's Haversat & Ewing Galleries magic auction was the below envelope which sold for a remarkable $1,750 on an $80-$100 estimate. While this is a very uncommon piece of stationary, I'm thinking the reason it went so high is because it appears to be signed. However, the auction listing made no mention of a signature.

King of Handcuffs illustrated envelop mailed by Houdini 110 years ago to Wallace Dibble in 1908. Postmarked in front and back. Envelope only, no contents. $80-100

So is this signed, or is that signature just part of the stationary artwork? The book Houdini A Pictorial Life reproduces this artwork on its title page, and there is no signature present. Same goes for the actual stationary, which you can see in this post. So...


Thursday, December 6, 2018

20th anniversary of TNT's HOUDINI

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the TNT Original movie HOUDINI. The two hour biopic aired on December, 6, 1998 at 8pm, and was immediately played a second time as an "encore." The movie was heavily promoted by TNT as a cable television event.

Written and directed by Pen Densham (who also produced the documentary Houdini Never Died), HOUDINI stars Johnathon Schaech as Houdini, Stacy Edwards as Bess, Mark Ruffalo as Hardeen, and George Segal as Martin Beck. For whatever reason, I've never warmed to it, even though the production design is excellent, as is the musical score. But it was the first Houdini biopic in 22 years, so it was treat to settle in and watch it unfold...20 years ago tonight.

TNT's HOUDINI is available on DVD.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

New candidate for Houdini's first police station test

Our friend Bill Mullins has uncovered a new candidate for Houdini's first known police station handcuff escape. The below clipping from the Worcester Daily Spy includes a great description of the American Gaiety Girls performance on November 14, 1895, including how Houdini dealt with a "fresh" volunteer. The final paragraph mentions the station house escape on that same day. This is a week before our other candidate.

It would be poetic if this was Houdini's first such publicity stunt as Worcester was also the site of his last known publicity stunt in 1926 (the Summerfield's Department Store test). In fact, Worcester seems to have been a place where Houdini tried many firsts, including his Buried Alive.

Thank you Bill.


Monday, December 3, 2018

Surprise! It's a Houdini cake.

My friends and co-workers threw me a surprise birthday party the other night (their planning was codenamed "Operation Houdini"). I thought I'd share a photo of the amazing cake!

Thanks for the terrific surprise everyone.


Sunday, December 2, 2018

The last original Houdini Seance

Last night I had the pleasure of taking part in the very last Magic Castle Houdini Seance in its original form. As announced back in July, the Seance will now go on hiatus as it is being significantly retooled. It will be relaunched in the second half of 2019.

The seance table attendees were: Patrick Culliton, Arthur Moses, Mark Willoughby, Joe Notaro, Neil McNally, Brian Verkuylen, Adam Glass, Mia Glass, Tabitha Kostka, Dawn Kostka, and myself. Our medium was Leo Kostka, who told us he has done more that 5,500 seances.

We took a nice group photo which will appear in Leo's column in the next AMA Newsletter.

UPDATE: Here's the AMA Newsletter item:


Saturday, December 1, 2018

The magician speaks

Like finding new photos, I love finding a new quotes from Houdini that reveal him in some unique way. Here's a quote from a 1925 letter. It not all that often we hear Houdini talk about himself as a magician, so this is pretty cool.

"You see a trick when performed by an ordinary magician is not the same in my hands. I weave an air of romance and mystery about it and it appears in a different light, for example my card star trick, silk trick, fish bowl stack, and even Palagenesia, so when I get hold of the effect I will see what I can do with it. Remember I try out lots of tricks and throw them away."

Speaking of Houdini the magician, here's something I recently found; a 1906 lesson by Houdini on how to tie a one-hand knot ("one of my most baffling feats").

Click to enlarge.

Below are a few more memorable Houdini quotes.