Monday, April 22, 2019

Houdini fiction in 'Today Tomorrow Always'

Houdini and Bess appear in a new collection of ten short stories, Today Tomorrow Always from Margery de Brus LLC. The Houdini story is called "Aufmachen" and is written by Cheryl Wollner.

Today Tomorrow Always: Volume One is an eclectic, entertaining, and thought-provoking mix of short stories. Readers will meet a lone robot mourning the loss of her creators as she continues to tend their gardens; Harry and Bessie Houdini as they navigate pre-WWII Budapest; a 70-year-old Dr. Dre who reinvents performance art, and many more unique but genuine characters. In our first anthology, we bring you a literary-scifi-speculative fiction mashup at its finest. Images of war and robots, Catholic Cardinals and queer lovers, Nazi occupation and forced marches throughout history live side-by-side in this intriguing and page turning collection. You’ll put down the book and question everything you think is real, only to pick up the stories and read them again. Three reading group discussion questions follow each story.

Purchase Today Tomorrow Always at (U.S.) and (UK). Below are links to a few more Houdini adventures in the sci-fi realm.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Happy Easter from Bess Houdini

This needle point was made by Bess Houdini and today hangs in the home of her great-nephew, John C. Hinson. It depicts...well, you know who that is! (No, not him.)

Bess was raised in a strict Roman Catholic family. Her going into show business and marrying a Jewish magician estranged her from her mother who was convinced Houdini was the devil. But fame and wealth seemed to soothe Mrs. Rahner's religious objections, and she even came to live with the Houdinis in 278.

Bess maintained her religious beliefs and, like her mother, was highly superstitious (it's said she never wore yellow because it was bad luck and refused to enter a room if someone had whistled in it). Based on her letters, she appears to have re-embraced her Catholic faith later in life when this needle point was made. Although she was not so devout that she didn't find fun in naming her pet marmoset "Satan."

Happy Easter Sunday.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

LINK: The Hopewell professor and Houdini’s mysterious death

Below are links to a well-researched two-part article by John Ashton about the days leading up to Houdini's death and the role played by the head of the psychology department at McGill University, Professor William Dunlop Tait.

Professor William Dunlop Tait.

The photo seen in part 2 is credited as being Houdini at the Princess Theater in Montreal. But it's actually a still frame from his card manipulation movie Velvet Fingers. To discover why the photo is mistakenly captioned, check out THIS POST at Joe Notaro's HHCE.

Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz at the Houdini Museum in Scranton.


Friday, April 19, 2019

Houdini play in Valencia, Spain

A new Houdini play is running at the Teatro Talía in Valencia, Spain, through April 22. The title translates to The Mysterious Case of Houdini and the Closed Room. Houdini is portrayed by Nacho Diago.

You can find more information and buy tickets at the Teatro Talía website.


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Wood lath from Houdini's 278 for sale

Attention Houdini fans and entrepreneurs! As part of the renovation of Houdini's New York brownstone, original wood lath has been removed to make way for new plumbing and HVAC. Before this goes into the dumpster, the new owners wanted to reach out to the Houdini community to see if anyone would be interested in buying it. You can "name your price", but they would like you to take away a minimum of 20 pieces to make it worth the trouble. Or you can take it all! All proceeds will go back into the renovation of the house.

Below is a pic of the lath before its removal.

I think these pieces could be cut up, heat stamped "Houdini's 278", and sold individually. If I lived in NYC, I would absolutely do this. But I'll leave it to others. You will need to go pick it up. But as a bonus, you'll get to see inside the house!

If interested, send me an email and I will put you touch with the owners.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Magic of Houdini with Alan Davies on Amazon

The 2014 documentary The Magic of Houdini with Alan Davies is now available for streaming and purchase via Amazon Prime.

In The Magic of Houdini, Alan Davies, a UK comedian and personality, travels to various Houdini locations in the UK and U.S. Along the way he talks with: Roger Dreyer, David Copperfield, Ruth Brandon, Ken Silverman, Kevin Connolly, Richard Sherry and Dayle Krall, and 93-year-old Larry Weeks (his last interview). As I wrote in my original review, it offers up a nice time capsule of the Houdini world in 2014.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Grim Game screening at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, May 3

Houdini's The Grim Game will screen at the historic Sierra Madre Playhouse in Sierra Madre, California on May 3 at 8:00pm. The film will have musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla and violinist Nicole Garcia. I will introduce the film. Below are details.

In collaboration with the Catalina Island Museum and in celebration of its own beginnings as a silent movie house, the Sierra Madre Playhouse is proud to present a screening of the recently rediscovered Houdini silent film, The Grim Game!

Everyone is invited to step back into 1919 -- one hundred years ago -- and see this lost classic as it was meant to be seen, with live accompaniment by the doyen of silent film musicians, Michael Mortilla, and violinist Nicole Garcia. This exciting event will be introduced by Houdini expert John Cox ( Michael will talk about the importance of music in the silent era.

The Grim Game is a silent drama that showcases Houdini's astonishing, world-famous talents as an escapologist, stunt performer and aviator. The film presents a series of Houdini's trademark stunts and escapes and builds to an airplane pursuit climaxed by a mid-air collision.

The film was considered lost for decades until it was rediscovered, restored and shown in 2015. It’s a fascinating cinematic record, revealing the reason that Houdini was one of the biggest stars of the early 20th century.

Now, for one night only, travel in time with us back in the Playhouse's history and see this recently rediscovered classic at Sierra Madre Playhouse!

Michael Mortilla made Terror Island soar last year. I can only imagine how well The Grim Game is going to play with his music. I'd encourage everyone who can make this or the Catalina screening on the 17th to do so. This is the way to see Houdini's best film.

The Sierra Madre Playhouse is located at 87 W Sierra Madre Blvd, Sierra Madre, California 91024. Click here to purchase advance tickets.


Monday, April 15, 2019

A horrible day

By now everyone knows that the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has burned. This building was beloved by the world, and it appears to have been a favorite landmark of Houdini's as well. He used the Cathedral as a backdrop in his 1909 The Marvelous Exploits of Houdini in Paris, and also took photos in front of the famous doors. Below is a well-known photo. Here he again used Notre Dame as a backdrop while filming random action scenes in the streets of Paris in 1920 (later to be worked into Haldane of the Secret Service). A terrible tragedy and a horrible day.


Mystifier, Second Quarter 1997

Continuing my issue by issue look back at the Mystifier, the newsletter of the Houdini Historical Center that ran from 1991-2003.

The Second Quarter 1997 Mystifier continues coverage of the Rabbi Weiss documents recently acquired by the HHC. This time curator Benjamin Filene examines a prayer Rabbi Weiss delivered at the opening of the first Appleton Temple on the corner of College Avenue and Oneida Street on October 28, 1878.

A synagogue, Rabbi Weiss emphasizes further, is built not for God, but for the Jewish community itself. The first temple, then, was an essential step in forging strong bonds among the Jewish residents.
Rabbi Weiss's emphasis on community only underscores the extent to which his dismissal by the Appleton congregation in 1882 must have been a personal tragedy. Only months before his dismissal, the congregation moved into a beautiful new building of its own -- a place that offered even greater opportunities for forging community -- Rabbi Weiss was cut off form the community he had hoped to build and thrive within.

The remainder of the issue is largely taken up with HHC business, including the announcement that curator Filene will be leaving the center for a new job at the Minnesota State Historical Society. It also notes that Ken Silverman has been awarded the Milbourne Christopher prize, and that he will speak at the HHC on September 20 as the keynote speaker for the Wisconsin Council for Local History Regional Convention.

The museum store announces the arrival of Houdini pre-paid phones cards. The cards come in sets of three (12 total) and feature images of Houdini from the HHC collection. Phone cards were popular in the 1990s. Each card allows for 30 minutes of long distance calls inside the U.S. (I have a set of these and will share at some point.)

In his "Backstage" column, Sid Radner reports that Gene Gamache's documentary Houdini: People Came to See Him Die has won a TELLY award. He says he recently visited Geno Munari's new Houdini's Magic Shop in the New York New York Hotel in Las Vegas. Sid writes, apparently without irony, that, "Foreign visitors or those from the west coast need not go east to see New York City anymore--the flavor and landmarks of the Big Apple are recreated vividly and thoroughly at the hotel." Good to know!

Sid continues by saying that he and Houdini Magical Hall of Fame owner Henry Muller attended a performance of the new musical Ragtime in Toronto. "The show has a prominent Houdini presence," reports Sid. He notes the Silverman book will be published in Japan at the end of the year. He also once again gives a shout-out to the Goodspeed Opera House's Houdini musical, and again says he wishes the U.S. postal service would honor Houdini with a stamp.

Volume 7, Number 2
Second Quarter, 1997
6 pages

Filene's Farewell
Rabbi Weiss Dedicates Temple
Membership News
Houdini Phone Cards Now Available
Backstage with Sid Radner



Sunday, April 14, 2019

Houdini arrives in Atlanta today

Today sees the opening of Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini at The Breman Museum in Atlanta Georgia. The exhibition will be on show until August 11.

Harry Houdini wasn’t born. He was invented.

The world’s most famous magician began life as Erik Weisz, the son of a Hungarian rabbi. In 1878 immigration to the U.S. transformed Erik Weisz into Ehrich Weiss. It was the first of many transformations for the man who would become the first international superstar.

Inescapable, curated by performer and magician David London, tells the story of how Ehrich Weiss became Harry Houdini and investigates the technologies, marketing prowess and entertainment trends that transformed him into a superstar. On one level, the exhibit is pure fun – incorporating magic, escapes, seances, films, rare artifacts and hands-on illusions. On a deeper level, the exhibit pulls back the curtain, revealing the story of the man behind the image.​

The museum has announced their lineup of related events, including my own talk on Houdini in Early Cinema on July 14 at 2:00 PM. Hope to see you there!

For more details on Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini visit the Breman Museum website or follow them at Facebook and Twitter.


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Paul Zenon's Linking Rings available on DVD

Paul Zenon's one man show Linking Rings is available as a DVD or download from Murphy's Magic Supplies. In the acclaimed play Paul portrays Houdini's chief assistant Jim Collins.

Bigblindmedia and Stranger Media presents
Paul Zenon in Linking Rings

A self-penned, semi-autobiographical theater piece marking a distinct change of direction for Paul Zenon, award-winning magician, comedian and actor who, in a career spanning four decades, has performed in around forty countries and made literally hundreds of network TV appearances. By far his most personal work to date.

About the show - 'Houdini's right-hand man deals with the death of his boss. A half century later, a Blackpool joke shop proprietor takes on a wide-eyed young protege. An affectionate look at a misspent youth and unsung heroes. Not a magic show, but magical nonetheless.'

Running time: 1 hour 7 minutes.

Purchase Linking Rings at Murphy's Magic Supplies.


Friday, April 12, 2019

David Copperfield conjures Houdini's library in Las Vegas

It appears David Copperfield has finished restoring Houdini's bookcase from 278 and has installed it inside his International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas. I've been seeing pics on social media of various magic friends standing in the magic spot, but this one from Scott Wells of The Magic Word Podcast gives us the best look yet.

David acquired the lone surviving bookcase from 278 and had a matching one made to recreate the two side by side cases that once stood in Houdini's library. The books David has put inside also belonged to Houdini. There are a few other goodies one can spot in the above pic (which you can click to enlarge). There's a blowup of the photo of Houdini himself in his library that guest are able to recreate. You can also see a portrait of Houdini that recently sold in auction just behind Scott's head. Also notice the original straitjacket lithograph to the far right (David's big one).

Below is a photo of me with the bookcase as it last appeared inside 278 (moved from the back library to the front parlor). It was fun to recreate the famous pic there and then. But leave it to David Copperfield to conjure up the illusion of Houdini's actual library.

Thanks to Scott Wells for allowing me to share his pic. CLICK HERE to listen to podcast I did with Scott back in 2007.

UPDATE: Magician Steve Cohen has shared an even clearer pic on his Twitter.


Thursday, April 11, 2019

Houdini and Margery rarities at the Wellcome Collection

Today sees the opening of Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic at the Wellcome Collection in London. The exhibition includes some spectacular Houdini and Margery rarities, such as the famous bell box, Margery's seance chairs, and a loving cup given to Margery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (seen right).

What can magic and conjuring tell us about the human mind? Our new exhibition brings together the worlds of psychology and entertainment in search of the truth about deception. 
Explore how our biases affect our perception and whether our senses can be hacked. Discover spirit photography, magic props and psychology experiments to see how magic works on – and in – the mind of the spectator.
Artefacts on display from the world of magic include the head of the gorilla costume worn by Derren Brown, Harry Houdini’s ‘Bell Box’, Tommy Cooper’s fez, and Paul Daniels’s sawing-in-half box. 
An accompanying live performance programme explores what magic reveals about the nature of perception and how psychologists have used conjuring to understand the appeal of the ‘supernatural’.

The Margery items come from the private Libbet Crandon de Malamud Collection and Margery's great granddaughter Anna Thurlow, who's in London for the opening. She tells us:

"The Wellcome Trust show was fantastic. Really beautifully curated - it celebrated the artistry of magic, the joy of allowing oneself to be willingly deceived but also encouraged critical thinking. Somehow they avoided all the pastiche and common conventions in achieving that goal, so very fresh and engaging."

Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic runs through September 15, 2019. Galleries are open Tuesday–Sunday. Admission is free. Visit the Wellcome Collection website for more details.


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Houdini's Liberty Island "mystification"

Here's an excerpt from a profile of Houdini in the October 10, 1926 issue of The Buffalo Times ("Things Never Told About Harry Houdini" by William H. Crawford). This is the first I've ever heard of this Liberty Island feat. I've kept the lead-in paragraph for its revelation that Houdini didn't like the word "trick".

So did this really happen? Seems fishy. Again, I've never heard of this, and if this was performed expressly to give newspaper men a story, where are those contemporaneous stories? Or even one from this reporter?

Still, it's a nifty story, and the only Houdini Statue of Liberty connection that I'm aware of, so I'm happy to let it ride.


Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Houdini adult coloring book

For the Houdini nut who has it all, here's a Harry Houdini Adult Coloring Book by Skyler Rankin.

HARRY HOUDINI: AN ADULT COLORING BOOK: A Harry Houdini Coloring Book For Adults 
*An awesome collection of Harry Houdini coloring patterns
*Perfect for relaxation and stress relief
*2 copies of each image, for two chances to color!
*Rad original designs, from Scribble Press!

This actually isn't the first Houdini coloring book. Houdini's Magic Shop released one in the early 2000s (see related link). But this is the first that I'm aware of for adults, which I guess is now a thing as there are a huge assortment of these on Amazon.

You can purchase the Harry Houdini Adult Coloring Book at (U.S.) and (UK).


Monday, April 8, 2019

'Inescapable' opening day event at The Breman

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini opens this Sunday, April 14, at The Breman Museum in Atlanta with a special opening day event. Details below:

Opening Event: Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini
Apr 14 2019 | 2:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Curator and Magician David London will share Insights and observations from the process of developing the exhibition, as he traveled around the country searching for keys to Houdini's passion, vision, and spirit. He will highlight aspects of the Houdini story, with a focus on Houdini's early life and Jewish heritage. Various themes of the exhibition will be punctuated with magic tricks from David's performance "Houdini's Trunk." As a special treat, David will give a personal tour, revealing hidden gems and stories that lie just below the surface. 
2 PM - 5 PM - Exhibition open to the public
2 PM - 3:15 PM - Lecture by David London, curator and magician.
3:30 PM - 4:30 PM - Public Tour 
10 AM - 2 PM - Members Preview
12 PM - 1 PM - Members Tour
1 PM - 2 PM - Members Reception
2 PM - 3:15 PM - Lecture by David London, curator and magician. 
Not a member? Join today!

The museum has also announced their lineup of related events, including my own talk on Houdini in Early Cinema on July 14 at 2:00 PM.

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini will run April 14 to August 11. For more details visit Breman Museum website or follow them at Facebook and Twitter.


Sunday, April 7, 2019

LINK: Where was the Checker Flag Photo taken?

Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence has taken a much needed deep dive into the famous checkered flag photo of Houdini starting an auto race, which is credited somewhat mysteriously on the back as being the last of the magician. But is it?

Joe has gone in search of possible auto races in Worcester, Montreal, and even Detroit. He also shares his recent discovery that an auto company solicited Houdini for an ad while he was in Montreal ("It would probably simply mean a picture in [by] the car"). Is there a connection?

To find out all, GO TO JOE!


ETHER: The Strange Afterlife of Harry Houdini & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

There will be a free staged reading of a new play, ETHER: The Strange Afterlife of Harry Houdini & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Susan Weinstein on April 12, 2019 at Dixon Place in New York City. Geoff Moonen will read Houdini and Owen Hayden reads Conan Doyle. Admission is free.

Act 1 of a 2-act play: Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s rivalry continues in the afterlife where they and their wives are stuck in their versions of life after death. The play is based on letters they exchanged after Houdini asked Doyle to find him a genuine medium. They explored the space between life and death together. They ended at opposite ends of a spectrum that here must find a resolution.

For more information visit the Dixon Place website or the Facebook event page.


Saturday, April 6, 2019

A gift for Houdini's preferred birthday

While we now know Houdini was born on March 24, today is the day he chose to celebrated his birthday. You can deep dive into the reasons for this in the related links below. Or you can just have some cake and enjoy this magnificent gift from the private collection of our good friend Mark Willoughby. I've never seen this image before.

Thank you Mark!


Friday, April 5, 2019

Houdini's lost breakfront has been found!

While we've been focused on bathtubs and bookcases from 278, our friend Eric Colleary at the Harry Ransom Center has been quietly searching for another important piece of lost Houdini furniture. This was the large antique breakfront that once resided inside 278 and held many of Houdini's important books. The newspaper clipping below tells the story of the breakfront, and Eric's tweets from Monday offers the exciting update.

The breakfront has had a very interesting journey, including residing for many years in Governor’s Reception Room at the Texas State Capitol. Eric will be writing up the full story for the Harry Ransom Center website and magazine.

The Harry Ransom Center's Houdini Collections are open to the public and available via finding aids at the Ransom Center website.


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Two new Houdini books released in the UK

Today sees the release of two new Houdini books in the UK. First up is a children's biography Harry (Houdini) by Kjartan Poskitt with illustrations by Geraint Ford. This is part of the "First Names" series.

True life stories of the most amazing people EVER! Meet HARRY HOUDINI, the brilliant escape artist who thrilled the world with his death-defying stunts and awesome showmanship. Find out how he was inspired by a man with no head, why he kept asking to be put in jail (and how he got out again) and why he dangled upside down from a crane 120 feet up in the air. Get to know HARRY on first name terms. 

Purchase Harry (Houdini) at A U.S. edition will be released in August.

The next a follow up to last year's The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault by Tim Dedopulos. This time Dedopulos is back with The Sensational Houdini's Puzzle Safe.

The Sensational Houdini's Puzzle Safe contains 50 exciting puzzles inspired by the greatest escapologist to have ever lived. With puzzle chains where one wrong answer can leave you locked in a never-ending circle of puzzles, and logic problems designed to confound the minds of the unworthy, this puzzle book is an enjoyable test for all. Unlock your brain and see if you can escape the challenges inside. 

Purchase The Sensational Houdini's Puzzle Safe at

UPDATE: It appears The Sensational Houdini's Puzzle Safe might actually be the same book as The Sensational Houdini's Puzzle Vault, just with the puzzles reordered and a new cover and name. Sneaky. On the other hand, the First Names book is extremely well done. Very nicely illustrated and well researched. A cut above other Houdini bios for kids. Recommended.


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Poster for Houdini's Water Torture Cell play to be auctioned

Potter & Potter's upcoming auction of "The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet" will include a likely one-of-a-kind Houdini rarity. It's a broadside for his 1911 playlet, "Challenged" or "Houdini Upside Down". This was the short play Houdini performed only one time for the purpose of licensing his yet-to-be-revealed Water Torture Cell. The poster, which I've never seen before, reveals some fresh details about the play, including that Houdini's assistants and brother Leopold were part of the cast. And it's signed! Below is an image and the full auction description.


Houdini, Harry (Ehrich Weisz). Hippodrome Southampton. Houdini “Challenged”. Southampton: What’s On in Southampton, [1911]. Letterpress poster advertises a matinee performance of “Challenged” or “Houdini Upside Down” at the Southampton Hippodrome. Inscribed and signed by Houdini in the central right blank space: “To my friend John Mulholland/Houdini.” 30 x 20”. Browning, restored losses at folds affecting parts of the text, a few chips and creases. Laid down to Japan. The only known example of this broadside. 
Houdini devised and wrote the script for “Challenged” with the goal of protection in mind – that is protecting his Water Torture Cell from infringement by copycat escape artists. Under British law, theatrical productions appropriately staged, scripted, registered, and performed before a live audience could be protected from infringement by imitators. Consequently, after assembling his cast (enumerated in details on this poster and including his three trusted assistants, James Vickery, Jim Collins, and Franz Kukol), the props, and booking the theatre in which to perform, Houdini staged the “playlet,” just once, on April 29th, 1911 in Southampton. 
According to Houdini scholar Patrick Culliton, the show may have been staged for an audience of just one, as the one guinea price of admission was an outrageous sum at the time. Interestingly, the Water Torture Cell is here described as an “aquarium,” and part of the poster suggests that Houdini will also be locked in a rubber bag which will then be tossed in the tank, from which he will escape. In his regular vaudeville and music hall turns, the bag was not part of the act. 
The broadside is inscribed and signed by Houdini to the scholarly magician and editor of The Sphinx magazine, John Mulholland, a fellow New Yorker, dedicated magic collector, and a sometime visitor to Houdini’s home as a young man, where he undoubtedly learned to appreciate the value of rare and precious magical artifacts.

The auction estimate is $15,000 - $25,000. But for something this unique and important to Houdini history, the sky could be the limit.

"The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet" will take place on April 27, 2019. For more details visit Potter & Potter Auctions.


Sunday, March 31, 2019

A special movie at a magical place

Last night I had the great pleasure of seeing Houdini (1953) at the historic Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo (near LAX). While the movie was a joy as always, the real surprise was this incredible venue. How have I not known about this place until now?

The Old Town Music Hall is a genuine silent movie theater built in 1921. Restored in 1968 by musicians Bill Field and Bill Coffman, the theater (a non profit) is a time capsule that offers up an authentic movie going experience from another era. The true star of the show is the massive 1925 Mighty Wurlitzer wind-powered pipe organ. Last night the evening kicked off with musician Edward Torres playing several numbers on this incredible instrument. This was followed by a sing along accompanied by authentic silent era lantern slides. The theater does this before all their movies, and it really conjures a starry dream-like experience worth the price of admission alone. If you want to know what it was like to live in Houdini's time, this is pretty close to finding that magical time machine.

Then came a raucous Laurel and Hardy short, Come Clean (1931), featuring Mae Busch as a suicidal mad woman giving the boys a very bad day. Of course, Mae also appears in Houdini's The Grim Game. Was this clever programing on the part of the theater? Nope. Just a coincidence. But a delightful coincidence, and Mae is terrific in the short.

After a brief intermission it was time for Houdini! What can I say? I never tire of watching this wonderful film, and every time I see it projected with an audience I have a somewhat different experience. This time the sheer star power of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh really jumped off the screen at me. They are electric. I also always find new details within the movie itself. This time I noticed something in the scene at 278 (er, I mean, 273) when Harry says to Otto, "If the press won't come to me I shall go to the press." At that moment, Otto is threading up a movie projector. A nod to the films Houdini made of his outdoor stunts maybe? Also, in the early scenes in Mama's house, there is something on the back of Harry's bedroom door that appears to be in German. Possibly an acknowledgment of the Weiss family's native tongue? (At last year's screening on Catalina Island, I noticed menorahs in the house.)

After the movie, there was an attendee doing some impromptu magic in the lobby for people who had lingered. He mentioned that Houdini himself made silent movies, but couldn't recall the names (and I didn't want to pipe up). This caught the attention of the organist who said he had no idea Houdini made movies. Oh???? I'm hoping this might have planted a seed and we'll see a Houdini movie playing at the Old Town Music Hall one day.

Houdini is showing again today at 2:30pm, and I'm tempted to go back. I know I'm going back for their screening of Animal Crackers next month. Not that there's much connection between The Marx Brothers and Houdini (apart from this). I just want to once again time travel back into that magical twilight world I experienced last night.

For more information on the Old Town Music Hall visit their official website, Twitter, or Facebook.


Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Grim Game 100th Anniversary Screening on Catalina Island

A special 100th Anniversary Screening of Houdini's The Grim Game will take place at the Catalina Island Museum on Friday, May 17 at 7pm. The film will be screened in the museum's magnificent outdoor amphitheater and will feature live musical accompaniment by acclaimed composer and musician Michael Mortilla (who last year accompanied a screening of Terror Island). I will also be on hand to introduce the film. Below are details.

Friday, May 17, 2019
The Grim Game - 100th Anniversary Screening
Ackerman Family Amphitheater
7:00 pm - 10:00 pm (Program begins at 7:30 pm)
Members $20
Non-Members $25
Children (3-15) $10
All children must be accompanied by an adult.
Only 100 tickets available. 
Celebrate the 100th anniversary of Harry Houdini's 1919 film, The Grim Game during an outdoor screening in our Ackerman Family Amphitheater. The film will feature live musical accompaniment by acclaimed composer and musician Michael Mortilla (who will accompany our annual Silent Film Benefit the following day). Houdini expert John Cox will introduce the film.

The Grim Game is a silent drama that showcases Houdini's talents as an escapologist, stunt performer and aviator. In the film, a gang of men frame Houdini's character for murder and kidnap his fiancée. Houdini is falsely imprisoned by the police for the crime. Shortly afterward, he escapes and pursues the men who framed him. The film unfolds as a series of Houdini's trademark stunts and escapes; his tormentors chain him up and imprison him on numerous occasions, only for Houdini to escape. The film concludes with a climactic mid-air collision following an airplane pursuit. Following the collision, Houdini is reunited with his fiancée.

The film was considered lost until for decades until it was recently discovered. It was restored and first shown again in 2015.

A specialty cocktail, wine, beer, soda and water will be available for purchase.

As a bonus, you'll be able to see the museum's new Houdini display in their permanent exhibition on Catalina Island history. The display includes unseen footage from Houdini's Terror Island, which was filmed on Catalina in November of 1919.

This is also the weekend of the annual Art Deco Ball and Silent Film Benefit, which this year features a screening of Colleen Moore's Why Be Good? in the famous Avalon Casino Theater. This is always a big weekend on the island and hotels fill up fast, so if you want to attend The Grim Game 100th Anniversary Screening, I would make plans soon.

Hope to see you there!


Friday, March 29, 2019

Tony's 273

Here's a look at Houdini's house in the classic 1953 biopic Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. I suspect this was shot on Paramount Studios' New York Street (which still exists). One thing to notice is the address, which can be seen on the press invitation as 273 W. 113th Street.

I'm assuming this is not a mistake and the production intentionally changed 278 to 273. Producer George Pal did visit Rose Bonanno at the house, so maybe this was done to protect her privacy. But I'm happy they kept it close.

Also notice the date of September 3rd. Houdini returned to America in late July 1905 and took a three week rest. If he had set up a press reception as this scene depicts, it would have indeed been in early September (near the start of the vaudeville season). It's also true that Houdini had to work to win his reputation in America upon his return.

This is what makes me love the Curtis movie and the people who made it. Sweating details like this shows respect. On the flip side, the 2014 Houdini miniseries with Adrien Brody located Houdini's house in Brooklyn for reasons I still can't fathom!

Houdini will be showing at the historic Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, California, tonight at 8:15pm, Saturday at 2:30pm & 8:15pm, and Sunday at 2:30pm.


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Ken Trombly talks 'Houdini and the Spiritualists' April 6

Houdini collector and historian Ken Trombly will give a talk on "Houdini and the Spiritualists" at the Connie Morella Library in Bethesda on Saturday, April 6 at 1:30 pm. Ken will share his thoughts on Houdini’s relationship with spiritualism and its adherents, and share images from his collection.

Ken Trombly, a lifelong magic enthusiast, has given presentations about the life of Houdini for a variety of groups. In the 1980’s Ken began collecting original letters, photos and other ephemera dealing with Houdini’s amazing career. Pieces from Ken's collection have been displayed at the Jewish Museum in New York City, the Skirball Center in Los Angeles, and, most recently, as part of an exhibit on the life of Houdini at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, in Baltimore. Recently Ken was interviewed on a mini-series aired on the Science Channel entitled “Houdini’s Last Secrets.”

Saturday, April 6, 2019
1:30 pm

Connie Morella Library
7400 Arlington Road
Bethesda, MD

For more information visit the website for National Capital Area Skeptics.


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Mystifier, First Quarter 1997

Continuing my issue by issue look back at the Mystifier, the newsletter of the Houdini Historical Center that ran from 1991-2003.

The HHC began the new year with a fresh redesign of the Mystifier. The First Quarter 1997 issue then kicks off with an announcement of a major new acquisition:

A recent acquisition by the Houdini Historical Center allows us, in effect, to "hear" Houdini's father for the first time. The acquisition consists of two German-language documents, One is a prayer that Rabbi Weiss delivered on October 28, 1987 to inaugurate Appleton's first Jewish synagogue; the other is a wedding speech he gave in Appleton on March 2, 1879. Both were acquired from a British dealer in rare manuscripts and maps and were translated for the Houdini Historical Center by Michaela Kirchhof of Lawrence University.

A short article about translator Michaela Kirchhof follows. Kirchhof observes that Rabbi Weiss "certainly liked to hear himself talk" and that his German grammar was "highly idiosyncratic and downright wrong at times." Like father like son?

The newsletter continues with an article by David Ben about Houdini's influence on his own performance character, "The Conjurer." A report on a special Houdini medal minted by the Jewish-American Hall of Fame follows. And among the new members we see Dorothy Dietrich and Jon Oliver.

Page 5 includes a real gem. It's a photo of Houdini with a small elephant and Ringing Bros. trainer Walter Allen (right). The photo belongs to Allen's son, Mel, who comes seeking information on his father and Houdini. The article states: "Allen family lore says that Walter may have helped Houdini learn how to work with elephants, or assisted in some way with the Vanishing Elephant act."

Houdini did use two smaller Ringling elephants for his Elephant Vanish at the Times Square Theater in 1922. In fact, he paraded them down Broadway on opening day (April 2). So are we seeing here the only known photo of Houdini with either Fannie or Lucy?

In "Backstage with Sid Radner", Sid reports on the March 30 airing of Houdini People Came to See Him Die on the Discovery Channel. He reports that Ken Silverman's Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss has received great reviews in both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, and is currently into its fourth printing. Sid also reports the sad news that Marie Blood's husband Forrest passed away on February 11. He then shares that he himself recently suffered a heart attack and underwent bypass surgery. (!) But he's home and recovering.

Sid then announces that the Goodspeed Opera House is readying a new Houdini musical to play September 24 to December 14, 1997. He ends the column with the prophetic: "Maybe all this Houdini activity will help us get a Houdini postage stamp..."

Volume 7, Number 1
First Quarter, 1997
6 pages

New Documents Reveal Rabbi Weiss
Houdini and The Conjuror
Member News
Houdini Medal Minted
Backstage with Sid Radner


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

See Houdini (1953) this weekend in El Segundo, CA

The classic 1953 biopic Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh will play at the historic Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, California, March 29-30-31. The theater is a cultural landmark located not far from Los Angeles International Airport and features a 1925 Mighty Wurlitzer wind-powered pipe organ.

Friday 8:15pm, Saturday 2:30pm and 8:15pm, Sunday 2:30pm

$10 regular admission
$8 seniors (62+)
Tickets are not available on-line. Tickets are on sale at the theater's box office 30-minutes before each show time. Cash or Check Only - No Credit Cards

Every show begins with music played on the pipe organ, an audience sing along, and a comedy short. There is a 15-minute intermission, followed by the feature film.

Old Town Music Hall
140 Richmond Street
El Segundo, CA 90245
(310) 322-2592

For more information visit their official website, Twitter, or Facebook. You can also get details on the Houdini screenings at their Facebook event page.

I'm planning on attending the Saturday, March 30th showing at 8:15pm. Hope to see you there!


Monday, March 25, 2019

Looking into the future...

Yesterday I retweeted the many Houdini birthday wishes (58) that crossed the various Twitter hashtags. Among them was this standout tweet from Howard Thurston expert and mega collector Rory Feldman who shared a gem from his collection. A great photo and a terrific inscription. Perhaps they are looking at us?

You can check out all the other birthday tweets @HoudiniWild.


Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Houdini birth year conundrum

Houdini buffs have long discussed the question of Houdini's two birthdays. While Houdini celebrated it on April 6, his birth certificate shows he was actually born March 24 (today!). In a letter to Hardeen, Houdini admitted that he celebrated his birthday on April 6 because that's when their mother would write to him. "As SHE always wrote me on April 6th, that will be my adopted birthdate."

But there's another mystery around Houdini's birth that never seems to get discussed. It's the question of why Houdini for the first half of his life claimed he was born in 1873 instead of 1874. When I first started encountering this 1873 date, I would chalk it up to a misprint or isolated error on Houdini's part. But I now see there is consistency in Houdini both using this date and calculating his age during these years. So it appears Houdini really believed he was born in 1873.

This has some interesting implications. Houdini thought he was a full year older during his formative years. So when he made the decision to leave his tie cutter job and begin a career as a magician, he thought he was 18. But he was 17. When he married Bess in 1894, he believed he was 21. He was 20.

So when did Houdini learn the truth?

On his May 26, 1900 passport application, Houdini records his birth year as 1873. But on his application for renewal filed April 15, 1903, he writes 1874 for what appears to be the first time. So what happened between these dates? One pretty significant thing; he went to Budapest.

I think it's possible Houdini discovered his true birth year from records or from relatives during his weekend visit to Budapest with his mother in 1901. However, in his pitchbook, The Life, History and Handcuff Secrets of Houdini, and in his first book, The Right Way To Do Wrong, both published in 1906, he once again gives his birth year as 1873.

The Right Way To Do Wrong (1906)

But the bigger mystery in all this is why Houdini believed his birth year was 1873 in the first place.

Before I get too deep into the weeds, I need to acknowledge that it could be just an honest mistake. I know it's hard for us to conceive this kind of mistake today, but the Weiss family grew up in a very different world, one without easily accessible records, and dates would be what one recorded yourself or could remember. And when having a child a year, birthdays and even birth years could be confused. Or it could be Houdini, who we know was famously bad at recording dates, was even worse than we think!

But if it was an honest mistake discovered in 1901, why does Houdini continue to use the wrong date in his publicity material? This suggests there might be something more to this.

Now, I do have a theory that gets us into some pretty provocative territory. These are thoughts I've had for a while, but have not shared. This is pure wild speculation on my part, but hear me out.

Houdini's sister Gladys once stated that Houdini/Ehrich was named after an earlier baby who had died. This remarkable claim appears in a letter she wrote to Bess in 1936, reproduced in full in The Houdini Birth Research Committee's Report (1972). She writes:

There was an infant son Ehrich of our household, at that time. This babe through a fall, died and broke the hearts of both our parents. Both of them said, if ever another son were to be their blessing, his name would be Ehrich.

No other evidence of this earlier Ehrich has surfaced, and in the next sentence Gladys says Houdini was born in Appleton. So she might be doing some myth making here. But it seems odd for her to be doing so with Bess, and she also writes, "I'm sure you have heard mother tell you all this before." So this seems like information that was well known among family members.

So if we take Gladys' word for it, could this earlier Ehrich have been born in 1873? Could he have been born on April 6, 1873!? Could Houdini's mother have confused the birth years of the two Ehrichs? Or, and this is where it starts to get strange, could the heartbroken Cecilia have been such a believer in reincarnation (as Houdini later said he was) that she decided her new Ehrich was the old Ehrich and that he was spiritually "born" in 1873 and wanted to honor that.

In the same letter that Houdini admits to April 6 being his "adopted birthday", he writes: "It hurts me to think I can't talk it over with Darling Mother." Could his mother's clinging to the trauma of the earlier Ehrich and her strange transference onto Houdini be what they needed to "talk over"?

This also helps explain the pitchbook and The Right Way To Do Wrong. Having discovered the truth in 1901, Houdini recorded his real birth year in official records. But for the public record, one that his mother might read, it remained 1873 for HER. Tellingly, the 1914 edition of his pitchbook, published after her death, his birth year is updated to 1874.

Is your head swimming yet? Here's one final bit of Freud for you.

If there was an earlier Ehrich who died in an accident, might it explain the extreme attachment Cecilia had for her second Ehrich. Might it also explain Houdini's drive to become a "death defier" -- compulsively acting out his own death and resurrection to delight his mother and heal the grief caused by "his" original failure to escape death. Recall his famous diary entry after his Rochester bridge jump in 1907: "Ma saw me jump!" Might this be the key to Houdini's psyche?

Anyway, on his 145th birthday today (or is it 146?), I just thought I'd share my thoughts on yet another delightfully mysterious aspect in the delightfully mysterious life of the great Harry Houdini.

Happy birthday Harry!



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