Thursday, August 22, 2019

Houdini and The Master Mystery at Clune's

While Houdini was filming The Grim Game in Hollywood in the summer of 1919, his serial The Master Mystery began playing at Clune's Broadway Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Over the course of five months Clune's showed all 15 episodes paired with a different feature attraction. Here's the ad for opening week.

On Wednesday, June 25th, Houdini made a personal appearance at Clune's during the 9:30 show, as reported in the Los Angeles Evening Herald.

Houdini, the famous “Handcuff King” whose thrilling serial of romance, mystery and intrigue, "The Master Mystery,” is at Clune's Broadway, will make a personal appearance at the theater Wednesday evening at the 9:30 show, following immediately at the conclusion of the first thrilling episode in which he makes his screen debut. The Houdini feature augments the regular film attraction at Clune’s Broadway which this week will be Wallace Reid in “You’re Fired.”

Clune's was located at 528 S. Broadway, just down the street from the Los Angeles Orpheum Theater where Houdini headlined in 1915 and 1923. Clune's opened in 1910 and was famous for the large electric sign that stood on its roof. It was renamed the Cameo Theatre in 1924. Later operators included Fox West Coast, Pacific, and Metropolitan. It closed as a theater in 1991.

Today the building still stands and is still recognizable. It's now occupied by retailers. But according to the excellent Los Angeles Theaters blog, the auditorium and screen still survive in the back. Here's hoping one day it might be restored and reopen as a theater.

Below are all the features that Clune's paired with The Master Mystery during its 1919 run:

June 22: You're Fired starring Wallace Reid / with Episode 1.
June 29: True-Heart Susie starring Lillian Gish / with Episode 2.
July 6: True-Heart Susie starring Lillian Gish / with Episode 3.
July 13: The Spoilers (extended version) starring Rex Beach / No Houdini serial.
July 20: The Love Burglar starring Wallace Reid / with Episode 4.
July 27: Nugget Nell starring Dorothy Gish / with Episode 5.
Aug. 3: The Peace of Roaring River starring Pauline Frederick / with Episode 6.
Aug. 10: The Man Who Stayed at Home starring King Baggot / with Episode 7.
Aug. 17: A Sporting Chance starring Ethel Clayton / with Episode 8.
Aug. 24: The Gray Horizon starring Sessue Hayakawa / with Episode 9.
Aug. 31: The Valley of the Giants starring Wallace Reid / with Episode 10.
Sept. 7: Nobody Home starring Dorothy Gish / with Episode 11.
Sept 14: Stepping Out starring Enid Bennett / with Episode 12.
Sept. 21: The Market of Souls starring Dorothy Dalton / with Episode 13
Sept. 28: The Dragon Painter starring Sessue Hayakawa / with Episode 14.
Oct. 5: The Other Half starring Zasu Pitts / with Episode 15.

You can read more about the history of Clune's at Los Angeles Theaters


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

New Houdini stage musical announced for 2021

Broadway World reports that a new musical based on the life of Houdini is currently in development with plans for a world premiere in Detroit in 2021. Below is the press release and teaser trailer:

Producer Karl Sydow and Director Federico Bellone announce the development of a brand new musical, The Impossible Man, based on the true story of illusionist and stunt showman, Harry Houdini.

Following successful readings and recording sessions in London, the show will see workshops from 2020, with full scale previews planned for Detroit (location of Houdini's last stunt) the year afterwards and sights on Broadway and the West End.

Bringing together an international creative team, The Impossible Man will feature over twenty big stage illusions, many of which have never been presented before on a stage or screen, and a musical theatre score influenced by the Hungarian folk music of Houdini's birthplace.

Budapest-born Houdini moved to America as a child where, from a young age, he would marvel audiences; first as a trapeze artist before making a name for himself in the US and on European tours as an escapologist and stunt daredevil. The Impossible Man is set during the last show of the great magician's life in the autumn of 1926 and through a series of flashbacks, we experience his life, loves and rise to fame.

Obviously, this is one we'll be following with great interest!


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Dave Goulding emulates Houdini's Aberdeen escape

Magician and escape artist Dave Goulding freed himself from handcuffs and a padlocked sack on Waterloo Quay in Aberdeen Harbour on Sunday. Dave did the stunt just 200 meters from where Houdini himself leapt handcuffed into the harbor in 1909.

Modern health and safety rules prevented Goulding from exactly recreating Houdini's feat. "The safety concerns of the lifeboat crew and others meant I could not go in the water," said Goulding, "But it was yucky looking, so I was reasonably pleased about that."

Even in Houdini's day authorities attempted to halt his stunt due to weather and poor conditions in the harbor. Unwilling to disappoint the large crowd that had gathered, Houdini chartered a tug and performed the escape in the rough seas anyway.

Goulding performed his stunt as part of the RNLI lifeboat station's open day and to promote the Aberdeen Magical Society show, Harbour Sleights, planned for The Tivoli Theatre on August 30. All money raised will go to support the work of the Aberdeen lifeboat crew.


Monday, August 19, 2019

KIRKUS REVIEW's The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini

The widely read Kirkus Review has given a thumbs up to Joe Posnanski's upcoming The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini, calling it "a jaunty and infectious biography."

You can read the full review online. It will also appear in their September 1, 2019 issue.

Author Joe Posnanski is counting down the days to the October 22 release with a post a week on his special Houdini blog. Topics covered so far: The Joy of Writing Houdini, Worlds Collide, Blurbs, blurbs, blurbs, and Surrounded by Houdini.

You can pre-order The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini at and I've read the book (twice!) and I think it's sensational.


Houdini gets the Biographics treatment

Houdini is the subject of a new video at the popular Biographics YouTube Channel. This compressed biography is hosted by Simon Whistler and written by Arnaldo Teodorani. A few errors creep in, but overall it's well done. And the fact that they debunk the idea that Houdini was a spy gets a thumbs up from me and a share.

Below are a few more made-for-YouTube Houdini treats.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

Dean Gunnarson recreates Houdini's L.A. escape

On October 29, 1987, escape artist Dean Gunnarson recreated Houdini's 1915 suspended straitjacket escape in Los Angeles to promote the live Halloween television special, The Search for Houdini. Dean was introduced as James Randi's protege, and Randi was on hand to assist in the stunt.

The show claimed Dean was doing the escape "on the same spot" as Houdini. We now know that's not strictly correct. Houdini did the escape from the Express Tribune building at 719 S. Hill Street. Dean did his from the Garfield Building at 403 W. 8th St. (opened in 1930). But the Express building was long gone by 1987 and the Garfield stands on the same block, so, close enough!

Below is coverage of the escape from the Los Angeles Times.

It's ironic that the Times covered Dean's escape, which appears to have drawn only a few dozen onlookers, but chose to ignore Houdini's 1915 stunt, which drew an estimated 25,000-35,000 spectators. But maybe Dean "had a better press agent."

So along with Steve Baker and Lee Terbosic, we can now number Dean Gunnarson as one of the men who have hung in Houdini's shoes.

Thanks to Joe Notaro for bringing this to my attention.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

Houdini "Halloween" window card and production tables sell at auction

Today's Potter and Potter Online Magic Auction saw the sale of two interesting Houdini lots for reasonable prices. First up was an original window card for Houdini's "3 Shows in One" which went for $2,200 on a $1,500 - $2,500 estimate.

I've always been intrigued by this particular poster artwork, which was used by Houdini during his final tour in 1926. The style is a dramatic departure from his other posters, and his use of Halloween iconography--witches, bats, owls--is eerily prescient. Of course, this tour would end with his sudden death on Halloween.

The second lot was a "Production Birdcage and Growth of Flowers Table" said to have belonged to Houdini and later Hardeen (certified by Sid Radner). This was likely used in Houdini's "3 Shows in One", so it makes a nice companion to the poster. The colors even match! It sold for $3000, also on a $1,500 - $2,500 estimate.

The auction description explains in detail the table's workings, revealing the type of highly mechanical magic Houdini seemed to enjoy. But whenever I see something like this, I can't help but think of the quote by Chicago magician Vic Torsberg: "Houdini's magic was just a bunch of junk. You know, that push-button German crap. That's what he performed."

Below are links to some more examples of Houdini's eerie "Halloween" style 3 Shows in One poster.


Friday, August 16, 2019

Last weekend to see 'Inescapable' in Atlanta

This is the last weekend to see Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini at The Breman Museum in Atlanta. The exhibition closes Sunday, August 18.

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini was created by magician David London and the Jewish Museum of Maryland. The exhibition will travel next to the Jewish Museum Milwaukee where it opens September 26, 2019.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Christopher Sandford talks Houdini and Conan Doyle

Here's an excellent interview with author Christopher Sandford about his 2011 book Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini. I'm not able to embed the clip, so you'll need to listen on YouTube.

The interviewer, Dr. Zohara Hieronimus, seems a bit preoccupied by the idea that his book should be a movie. Of course, Houdini and Doyle's friendship has already been the subject of a movie, a TV series, and numerous graphic novels and fiction books. I much prefer a solid work of non-fiction like Sandford's excellent book.

You can purchase Masters of Mystery at In the UK the book was released under the title Houdini and Conan Doyle and can be purchased at


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Arturo Balseiro's Houdini bust is breathtaking

Renowned Spanish makeup artist Arturo Balseiro has revealed his amazing life-like Houdini bust made of silicone. This is quite a work of art. Arturo will produce a limited edition of 10. Pictured here is bust #1 which is available now.

  • Silicone bust (last at least 20 years in a good condition showcase).
  • Punched man hair in head, brows and eyelashes.
  • Leather and canvas straitjacket (can be done in synthetic leather in case of vegan collector).
  • Plastic chain and padlock (for lightweight shipping costs), can choose real metal chains and padlock.
  • Acrylic resin eyes.
  • Polychromed Fiberglass base.

The price is $4,800 plus shipping. If interested, you can message Arturo via his Instagram or his official website. (I can also put you in direct contact.) Please mention that you saw it here on Wild About Harry. If I help Arturo sell a few, it will go toward reducing the price of a bust for myself. Thanks!


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

New cover art for Charlotte Montague's Houdini

A new edition of Houdini: The Life and Times of the World's Greatest Magician by Charlotte Montague has been released by Chartwell Books. While the book's content is the same as the 2017 hardcover, it spots a nice new cover design and new end pages. My copy arrived without a dust jacket, so presumably this is a jacket free edition, which is another difference from the 2017 book.

This reminds me of the Houdini coffee table books of the 1970s. It's heavily illustrated and nicely laid out in an encyclopedia-like style. Some mythology and inaccuracies do creep in (Bells of the Kremlin, "Ralph" Hodgson), but overall it's well researched and a good reference book.

Purchase the new Houdini: The Life and Times of the World's Greatest Magician from and

HARRY Houdini (First Names) released in the U.S.

Today sees the release of the U.S. hardcover edition of HARRY Houdini (First Names Series) by Kjartan Poskitt with illustrations by Geraint Ford. It's very nicely illustrated and well researched. A cut above other Houdini biographies for kids.

Discover the man behind the magic and see how Houdini pulled off his most daring escapes

Before Harry Houdini (1874–1926) became the greatest magician in the world, he was just little Ehrich Weisz, a Hungarian-born immigrant who moved to America with his family and performed stage tricks for a little extra cash. He started off with card tricks and then eventually began performing the escape acts that would make him famous. Known for his daring and death-defying illusions, he would do some of the greatest tricks ever: escaping from a milk can, being buried alive, and being locked inside a crate and thrown into a river. He conquered each of these seemingly impossible feats and showed the world the power of a little magic. Fun, fast-paced, and highly illustrated, Harry Houdini tells the story of the curious boy who became the world’s greatest magician and reveals how Houdini did some of his most stunning escapes. It includes a timeline, glossary, and index.

Purchase HARRY Houdini (First Names Series) at A UK paperback was released earlier in the year.


Monday, August 12, 2019

Minerva reappears at the Edmonton Fringe Festival

Ron Pearson's acclaimed play Minerva – Queen of the Handcuffs will be part of The 38th Annual Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, August 15-24.

The play tells the true(ish) story of escape artist Minerva Vano, played by Miranda Allen, and her rivalry with Houdini, played by Richard Lee Hsi.

For more information and to buy tickets visit the Edmonton Fringe website. You can also follow the production on Facebook.


Saturday, August 10, 2019

Uncovering Houdini's 1915 Los Angeles straitjacket escape (at last!)

For years I've been trying to uncover details of Houdini's first suspended straitjacket escape in Los Angeles. While his 1923 escape is well represented in photos and newspaper clippings, his 1915 escape has proven strangely elusive. This would have been a major event with a massive crowd and snarled traffic, yet there's no mention of it in either the Los Angeles Times or the Herald. How could that be? If fact, the only clue that it ever happened at all is this short undated film clip:

This has been especially vexing as L.A. is my home and I've tasked myself with uncovering all the Houdini connections I can. I've actually been entertaining the idea that the above film is misidentified and there never was a 1915 Los Angeles escape. Maybe this is Oakland? We know Houdini did an escape there before coming to L.A.

But on a recent visit to the Magic Castle, librarian Joe Fox finally helped me crack the case. He showed me a flyer from the 1987 televised séance The Search For Houdini. Joe wondered if I had ever seen it. I told him had. In fact, I own one myself. But I haven't looked at it in years, so I popped it open anyway. There, much to my astonishment, was a paragraph about Houdini in Los Angeles with key details about the 1915 escape. As if to mock me, it referred to it as one of Houdini's "best documented" escapes. Needless to say, I went wild!

Armed now with information, I did some Internet research, but quickly discovered what I needed was not available online. For this one, I needed to go old school. So I traveled downtown to the Los Angeles Central Library's newspaper microfilm archive, and there I discovered gold!

Yes, the escape happened, and today I'm excited to share the full story along with some great unseen images.

Houdini's 1915 Los Angeles engagement began the week of November 29 at the Orpheum Theater on Broadway. It was his first appearance in Los Angeles in eight years. The Saturday before his arrival, the Los Angeles Tribune reported that he had been challenged to escape from the county jail by Sheriff John C. Cline. Houdini accepted the test for Tuesday morning, reportedly wiring: "Just out of Oakland jail; you can't put me in a cell I cannot open."

If this escape ever happened, I could find no evidence of it. Also, Houdini doing a jail break in 1915 is highly unusual. There's also no record of him doing an Oakland jail break. Instead, Houdini began the week by beating a packing crate built onstage by the shipping department of Hamburger's department store.

But then came a challenge that would take the form of a major outdoor stunt. The drama began on November 30 when Houdini appeared to take umbrage to a sentence in the Tribune's otherwise glowing review of his act. In discussing his Water Torture Cell, reviewer Monroe Lathrop noted:

But baffling as the trick is--for it must be such--across the footlights, it still gave the skeptics a chance to say that the wizard's prowess might show up less brilliantly if he were compelled to make his tests in the open, without the use of his specially constructed stage devices.

Houdini responded with a letter to the editor in the same issue:

Gentlemen--With all due respect, your review in the Morning Tribune today does me a great injustice. I assure you that every "trick" I do is on the square, and there is no collusion in any way; neither do I make my escapes by means of apparatus.
However, just to prove this to the satisfaction of your erudite critic, I am willing to perform for you, in public, away from the theater, and at such time as you may set–provided, of course, I have the permission the Orpheum, in whose contract this is provided–some trick that you may invent, select or devise.

By the end of the day, the paper had its challenge ready:

Houdini quickly accepted under the condition that firemen with a life net should be on hand in case of emergency. He told the paper, "I may not succeed in this experiment, but I'll make the effort of my life. I must say, the conditions are extreme, but then so will be the victory, provided I succeed." The date of the test was set for that Saturday, December 4th.

Of course, Houdini had developed the entire idea of the suspended straitjacket escape that same year and had already performed it in Kansas City, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, and Oakland. So it's obvious to us today what would not have been so obvious to the citizens of Los Angeles in 1915; that this was all a publicity stunt cooked up between Houdini and the Evening Express and Morning Tribune. One now understands why the competing newspapers chose to ignore it entirely.

But the other papers were not lacking Houdini headlines. Their pages were instead filled with reports about his wholly unplanned encounter with heavyweight champion Jess Willard during his opening night at the Orpheum (read: Houdini vs. the Pottawatomie Giant). Interestingly, no mention of the encounter appears in the Express or Tribune. They instead remained focused on their own Houdini grudge match with daily updates that built the suspense.

On December 2, the papers introduced two new players into the drama:

Plans Complete for Actor's Attempted Escape in Front of Express Tribune Office
Two of the most expert criminal catchers and holders in the police department Detectives M. Thornberg and T.T. Toomey, sat in the Orpheum theater last night and sized up Houdini, the escape marvel. They are detailed by Chief Snively and Lieutenant Heath to put the aforesaid Houdini so securely into a police straitjacket that Houdini cannot get out of it. After seeing Houdini perform, the detectives still believe they can do it.
Thornberg and Toomey will call on Houdini Saturday forenoon at his hotel and search him. And it will be "some" search! Then they will escort him personally to the Express Tribune building, never letting him out of their sight for an instant.
When Houdini at the Orpheum was told that the police heads had assigned two special detectives to his "case" he smiled.
"Well," he declared, "I've had police chiefs try and stop me escaping, without success. I do not say that I'll escape this time, but I'll try, you may gamble on it."
The two detectives were taken to Houdini's dressing-rooms last night at the Orpheum and introduced to him. That was to give them an opportunity of "sizing him up" that they might know what manner of man they had to deal with; to get a line on his personality, as it were. After they left him they admitted that he looked like a "tough nut to crack." They were not discouraged, but all the more determined.

Meanwhile, preparations where being made at the Express Tribune building itself, which stood at 719-721 S. Hill Street. This warranted its own story on December 3:

Firemen to Erect Tackle at Express Tribune Building for Test Tomorrow
Promptly at 10 'oclock this morning the Pioneer Truck company will deliver at the Express Tribune building the rigging, block and tackle that will be erected under the supervision of Chief Eley's specially detailed firemen and from which, tomorrow at noon, Houdini, the Orpheum man of mystery, will be swung.
The object of putting it up today is twofold–that the public may see it and inspect it and that it may be thoroughly tested by the firemen, that no accident happen at the last minute. So, carefully, each rope, block and fall will be tried out and gone over by Chief Eley, with the permission of the board of fire commissioners. When they and the Pioneer Truck company under fireman's supervision have finished this job no one can doubt the thoroughness of the work. And when, from the end of the ropes Houdini dangles tomorrow, he need have no fear of anything giving way.

Of course, the more talk of safety precautions just reinforced the idea that danger existed and accidents can happen. Houdini himself arrived late in the day and made his own inspection along with the firemen. This drew a nice front page story and a terrific photo in the Tribune (below).

All that was left was the escape itself. Despite an overnight downpour, the stunt proceeded as planned. Houdini arrived on the scene around noon. So did an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 spectators who filled Hill Street from Sixth to Ninth Street. Police on horseback halted all traffic into the area. The Express called it "the greatest street throng in the history of Los Angeles."

Newsreel cameramen were also on hand to record the action. In the surviving footage one can see Hardeen, who was performing at the Los Angeles Pantages this same week, assisting his brother. Maurice W. Clark, "the noted Oklahoma sporting man," acted as the official time keeper for the escape. Bess was also present.

Standing on a fire truck from the No. 7 company, Houdini was bound in a straitjacket by Thornberg and Toomey. At exactly 12:22 he was hoisted approximately 50 feet up. A photo shows that a large white sheet was hung on the side of the building directly behind Houdini. It's unclear if this was for safety reasons (Houdini had hit his head when he swung into the side of a building in Oakland), or to provide a backdrop so people could better see him doing the escape.

Houdini freed himself in two minutes and seven seconds. The papers reported this was "a minute less than he ever removed a similar shackle on the sound planking of the stage floor." The first thing he did on reaching the ground was to embrace and kiss Bess. For all the buildup, one can't help but wonder if the escape itself felt like an anticlimax, not unlike a much hyped championship bout that only lasts 30 seconds. But it didn't matter. Houdini had won.

Interestingly, Houdini would pen a letter that same day to his new friend Jack London in San Fransisco. In it he described his encounter with Jess Willard several days earlier. Hanging in a straitjacket 50 feet above the heads of 25,000 people was, apparently, business as usual and did not warrant a mention.

The next day both the Tribune and Express featured the escape on their front pages. In their account, the Express downgraded the crowd size to 15,000. The Tribune carried a spectacular five column photo of the escape, which you can see below. (And if you're wondering why there are swastikas on the page, know that in 1915 the symbol did not yet have its infamous association and, according to Wikipedia, was often used for ornamentation.)

Click to enlarge.

Houdini performed for another week at the Orpheum. He then moved on to Salt Lake City where film of his Los Angeles escape was shown before his act. He then repeated the feat in front of Salt Lake's Walker Bank Building.

It's not generally remembered that most of Houdini's outdoor stunts were presented as "challenges" coming either from the local police or newspaper. That's what makes the coverage of this particular escape so informative. It shows how Houdini crafted the story in cooperation with all the players, building suspense over the course of several days. For those who remembered Houdini doing such a stunt in their town, I suspect the memory was partly implanted because of the week long drama they experienced. This is what made Houdini, Houdini.

Having uncovered all these wonderful clippings in the L.A. Library (I guess it was one of his "best documented" escapes, if you read the right papers!), there was still one last thing left for me to do. I wanted to find the location of the escape today. Happily, my phone showed it was a mere 12 minute walk.

Today the site of the escape is a parking lot. The Express folded in 1919 and the building was demolished in 1935. None of the surrounding buildings visible in the film footage or newspaper photos appear to be the same. But the parking lot still carries the familiar address of 719 S. Hill Street.

So even though there's nothing recognizable left to see, one can still stand in this historic spot and imagine what it was like to watch Houdini do his first suspended straitjacket escape in Los Angeles on December 4, 1915. A mystery no more.

Thanks again to Joe Fox at the William Larsen Sr. Memorial Library. Also thanks to Athena Stamos for discovering The Express archive in the Los Angeles Central Library and introducing me to this amazing resource. Film clip comes from Kino's Houdini The Movie Star DVD.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Houdini gold is coming

Recently I made a spectacular discovery in the newspaper microfilm archive at the Los Angeles Central Library. At long last I've uncovered a full account and several unseen photos of an escape Houdini did in Los Angeles that has proven frustratingly elusive.

I'm just putting the finishing touches on a post that I will likely share this weekend. Can't wait to take you all on the journey and show you the gold I found in this gold box. GO NOW.

'Before Houdini' art exhibition in Vermont

An exhibition called Before Houdini: The Making of a Graphic Novel beings today in the Jackson Gallery at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury, Vermont. The exhibition examines the work of Jeremy Holt and his new graphic novel, Before Houdini. It runs through September 22, 2019.

There will be an opening night reception with artist Jeremy Holt tonight from 5pm-7pm. For more information visit the Town Hall Theater website.

Before Houdini is available from and


Thursday, August 8, 2019

My Houdini letter and a 100 year mystery

Here is one of my first and most cherished Houdini collectibles; a letter he wrote exactly 100 years ago today. I got this around 1980 and it has hung framed on my wall(s) all these years. Today seemed like the right day to share it.

But this letter has also baffled me from the day I received it. Who was Col. Flinn? What was the "shark stunt" that was "on the square." And what does "on the square" even mean? And if "all the newspapers copied the advert", why have I never been able to find any of those ads or any mention of anything to do with Houdini and a shark in 1919?

In 1916 Houdini announced plans to fight a live shark, and this was picked up by the papers. But the demonstration never happened (thankfully). Could this somehow be referencing that? Might Houdini have been sending Flinn old newspaper clippings about past stunts? One pet theory I have is Flinn was the ghostwriter of his "Nearly Dying for a Living" article that appeared in the December 1919 Hearst’s, and this letter marks the genesis of that project. A theory.

One thing I do know is the timeline around when this was written. Houdini had just returned from Hollywood after filming The Grim Game. This was written during his first week back in New York. Houdini wrote this on Friday, August 8, and would have met with Flinn on Tuesday, August 12 (unless he was "otherwise phoned"). But apart from this, my chronology for these first three weeks of August are a blank. The next notable event was a private screening of The Grim Game the Famous Players-Lasky offices on August 18. The movie then opened on Broadway on August 25.

But this may not have had anything to with The Grim Game. Houdini always had a dozen projects going at once, so this could have been anything. The key, I believe, is finding out who Col. Flinn was.

So does anyone out there that has anything else that mentions Col. Flinn? It would be fun to finally solve this 100 year old mystery.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Mystifier, Fourth Quarter 1998

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

The bulk of the Fourth Quarter 1998 Mystifier is taken up with a delightful Q&A interview with Houdini's niece Marie Hinson Blood. In it Marie shares many memories of her Uncle Harry and Aunt Bess. Some of the stories are familiar ones, but at the start she reveals some biographical details about Bess and the Rahner family that I don't believe have appeared elsewhere.

Marie: Well, there were eight children, one boy. The father died when Bess was twelve years old, and my mother was 8 months old. The oldest child in the family was engaged to a young man that was a tailor. They married, and luckily he had a big tailor shop. All the girls, when they were old enough, worked in the tailor shop. Aunt Bess hated this. She hated sewing... it was to her advantage, because she made patterns and she designed them, and she was very, very good. Aunt Bess designed the clothes that [she and Houdini] had in the show. So it did help them. At the beginning she sewed the costumes, but later she had other people sew them.

There's also this interesting exchange:

Mystifier: What kind of person was your Aunt Bess? Was she optimistic and positive, or moody? Could you describe her? 
Marie: Never moody. Oh, no. Very vivacious. In fact, he [Houdini] was the one who was quiet. I don't think I ever heard him tell a joke in his life.

It's interesting how Marie and Dorothy Young, who both experienced the private Houdini, describe him as "quiet."

The newsletter also contains an article by Mick Hanzlik describing his work on a half-scale replica of the Water Torture Cell that's part a new Houdini display at The Magic Circle headquarters in London. The model was created by art design student Andrew White as a school project and purchased by The Magic Circle. Mick added special lighting effects and a motor that allows the feet of a figure of Houdini inside to move. Mick says the straitjacket Tony Curtis wore in Houdini (1953) is also part of the new display. Is that display still there, I wonder?

The museum shop then announces the arrival of new Houdini mouse pads and a 80-piece puzzle depicting the Water Torture Cell.

Sid Radner begins his "Backstage" column with a reproduction of a poem about Houdini by Sharon Olds. It's called "My Son the Man" and appears in the book The Wellspring (1996). Sid says it was brought to his attention by Ken Silverman.

Sid then reports on that year's Official Houdini Seance held in Las Vegas. Attendees included actor Johnathan Schaech and director Pen Densham who premiered their new TNT Houdini biopic at the seance. Sid says it was "very well received." As always, Sid is proud of the publicity the seance generated, noting that it got an "exceptional story in USA Today."

Sid closes with the news that a new play, The Great Houdini, is set to open at the Stella Adler Theater in Hollywood in April 1999. Sid reports that playwright Alan London spent 12 years writing the play. [!]

Volume 8, Number 4
Fourth Quarter, 1998
6 pages

A Conversation With Houdini's Niece, Marie Hinson Blood
The Houdini Exhibit at the Magic Circle, London
Museum Shop News
Backstage with Sid Radner



Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Houdini in the Los Angeles Times crossword

Houdini found his way into the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle on July 16, 2019.

  • 22 Across: Singer Styles and illusionist Houdini
  • Answer: HARRYS

Believe it or not, this is not the first time Houdini and Harry Styles have been linked.

Thanks to my dad (Ron Cox) for this one!


Monday, August 5, 2019

Jules Traub remembers Houdini

Recently Joe Gargano shared with me a story about meeting Jules Traub in the 1980s. Traub performed magic professionally as Stuart Jules. He also worked briefly for Houdini. I love a good "eyewitness" story, so I'll let Joe tell his tale:

Jules Traub in 1968.
It was September 1988, and my wife and I were in Coronado on our honeymoon. My wife was laying out by the pool, and I in my typical fashion was too antsy to sit still, so I decided to go into San Diego to look through some antique shops. I was in a shop, and talking to the owner, who of course asked what I was looking for. I told him magic and Houdini memorabilia, and he told me that he knew this man that had worked for Houdini. The man was into Art Glass and would come into the shop periodically. I asked if he could put me in touch with him and he told me he would try and contact him and would call me if he reached him. 
A short while later he called me and gave me the gentleman's number. I called him and he invited me over. His name was Jules Traub. He was a magician in New York as a young man, and I believe he subsequently owned Fun Inc. in Chicago. He had a very dignified and refined air about him, even at that age. He did have COPD, and I could see the struggle in his breathing at times. 
He told me that when he was 17 or 18, he was working in a magic shop in New York, I don't recall if he told me which one. As he told it, "I was at the counter wrapping up a package to send out. I was tying the package and I had wrapped the string around the package and had brought the string up to tie it at the top. As I was doing this the door to the shop opened and a couple of men walked in but I didn't look up as I was in the process of making the first tie. The men approached the counter and were just in front of me, and I said: Mister, would you mind putting your finger here so I can tie this not? And in a loud voice the man says, 'Everywhere I go, people want to tie me up.' I looked up and it was Houdini."
He was there with Jim Collins, as they were getting ready for the 1926-27 tour. They were there to get some things, and as Houdini was busy, Collins told Traub that they needed some help on the tour, someone to help with loading and unloading and putting things on stage. He asked Traub if he would be interested and he was and went on that last short fateful tour. 
His recollections of Houdini, was that he was very egotistical, and didn't like his pushy, boastfulness. Jules seemed to like Hardeen much better as he felt he was more kind and personable. He also felt Hardeen was a better magician, and kept up a correspondence with Hardeen for many years. He showed me letters that he had from Hardeen. 
He was very kind, and generous in sharing stories of his past. He also told me a very funny story not related to Houdini, but to Max Malini, with him and Dai Vernon in New York. It was a wonderful visit with a kind man willing to share his personal memories.

Thank you Joe. And thanks to Joe Fox at the William Larsen Sr. Memorial Library at the Magic Castle for finding me a photo of Jules (from the Jan. 1968 Genii).


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Posting comments

Hi everyone. I know some of you have had trouble posting comments here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. I've done a little research and it appears this could be because I was using an embedded comments design option. According to Blogger Help:

"This option (embedded) uses third-party cookies to connect users to comments. Many people disable third-party cookies on their browsers, and that is the usual cause of this problem."

I've now switched to a pop up option. You'll need to click "Post a Comment" to bring up the dialog box. One thing that has been lost is the ability to reply to individual comments. This is a shame, but if it helps more people share, then maybe worth it.

If you are having issues commenting from a phone, know that just might not be doable. Blogger is still a nice free platform, but it's barely supported anymore, and I'm not sure Google is keeping up with the next generation mobile interface. That's the price of free.

So if you've had trouble commenting in the past, maybe give this new way a try and see what happens. Thanks!

UPDATE: I've not received any feedback that this has made anything easier for folks. But what I have noticed is the pop up option is now giving me issues with my own comments. So I've switched back to an embedded format, but I will continue to experiment. One thing I would suggest to those of you who would like to make frequent comments is to create a Blogger account. You don't have to provide personal info, and you can stay signed in and comment easily. I'd also recommend using Chrome. Thanks!

Circus Busch Houdini poster for sale at Magic Live

An original poster for Houdini at the Circus Busch in Berlin is being offered for sale by Nielsen Magic at the MAGIC Live convention which kicks off today in Las Vegas. The poster is from 1908 and is a beauty.

Variants of this poster exist. Some have alternate typeface, but the version below has always intrigued me. Here Houdini's head has been replaced showing him at an older age (we also see this in a German Cologne Trial poster). This is likely from 1912 when he again played an extended engagement (two months) at the Circus Busch.

UPDATE: According to Lupe: "The Houdini did sell, but I won't be disclosing the sale price. Do know that it did go for a mid level five figure amount."


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Gresham turns 60

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls by William Lindsay Gresham on August 3, 1959.

Pictured here is my battered 1975 paperback edition from Manor Books. This was the first Houdini biography I ever owned. While other biographies have now surpassed Gresham, it will always hold a special place for me, as I bet it does for others.

Feel free to share your own Gresham memories in the comments.


Friday, August 2, 2019

Houdini's broken wrist and the San Diego connection

I'm always excited when I discover a new date for my ever growing New Houdini Chronology. But it's even more exciting is when that discovery unlocks a new story or solves an old mystery. And this one does all of that!

We all know Houdini re-broke his wrist while filming The Grim Game in 1919 (he had first broken it while making The Master Mystery). But the exact day of the accident was unknown. Houdini wrote to Oscar Teale on June 30, telling him of the accident and saying it would delay completion of the movie by two weeks. So the best we had was that it was sometime around the 30th.

But recently I discovered a news item in the San Diego Union that finally provided the exact date: June 28, 1919. Why was this in a San Diego newspaper? Because Houdini was scheduled to make a personal appearance at the Pickwick Theater in downtown San Diego for the opening of The Master Mystery. But as the paper reports:

The San Diego Union, June 29, 1919
Managing Director H. E. Malaby of the Pickwick theatre was informed late yesterday morning, by wire, that Houdini the king of entertainers and star of The Master Mystery, who was to be this week's feature at the Fourth street playhouse, had met with an accident when he first began work at a Los Angeles studio Saturday morning and would be unable to make his appearance in this city until June [sic] 6. Houdini had wrist broken.
However, Mr. Malaby has provided a musical act to complete the bill and Fred Olsen, violinist, and Richard Malaby, pianist, play during the coming week.

The manager of the Pickwick also published a special notice to patrons explaining why Houdini was unable to appear, which nicely confirms the date.

Click to enlarge.

The Pickwick Theater opened in 1905 as a vaudeville house. It stood at 1029 4th on the East side of Fourth Avenue between Broadway and C Street in downtown San Diego. By 1919 it featured a combination of movies and live performance. In 1922 it switched to movies only. It was demolished in 1926. An office building now stands at the site.

Now let's move on to the mystery that I believe this finally solves.

The Pickwick manager says Houdini would appear on July 6. While I couldn't find confirmation that this happened (but I'd like to think Harry kept his promise), I did remember this photo from Doug Henning's Houdini His Legend and His Magic (right).

Back in 2012 I did a post explaining how this photo had me and San Diego historian Richard Crawford, author of The Way We Were in San Diego, stumped. On it Bess has written: "On our way to San Diego Calif." But Houdini's only recorded appearance in San Diego was in 1907, and this is clearly Harry and Bess at a later time.

I'm now thinking this is Harry and Bess in 1919 when Houdini traveled back to San Diego to make his appearance at the Pickwick. That is clearly his dyed movie hair, and you'll also note his left hand is concealed behind Bess. In many photos taken at this time he conceals that hand because he had a cast on it. In fact, you can see there's some kind of dark cloth draped over his wrist. I think this might be his sling. In the one photo of the sling that I have seen (below), it was dark in color just like the cloth we see here.

Finally, this refutes the idea that Houdini's broken wrist was the reason he couldn't perform The Grim Game airplane stunt. This had been an assumption made Houdini historians, myself included. But the airplane crash occurred on May 31, 1919, a month before Houdini's accident. So his broken wrist didn't keep him out of the sky. It kept him out of the Pickwick!



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