Thursday, December 5, 2019

Houdini and the Doctor reunite in STAR TALES

In the first season of Jodie Whittaker's Doctor Who, the Doctor name-checked Houdini, saying how she once spent a "wet weekend" with the escapist. Now Houdini and the Doctor are reunited in this clever collection of adventures pairing the Doctor with famous personalities.

‘Even though they’re gone from the world, they’re never gone from me.’ 
The Doctor is many things – curious, funny, brave, protective of her friends...and a shameless namedropper. While she and her companions battled aliens and travelled across the universe, the Doctor hinted at a host of previous, untold adventures with the great and the good: we discovered she got her sunglasses from Pythagoras (or was it Audrey Hepburn?); lent a mobile phone to Elvis; had an encounter with Amelia Earhart where she discovered that a pencil-thick spider web can stop a plane; had a 'wet weekend' with Harry Houdini, learning how to escape from chains underwater; and more. 
In this collection of new stories, Star Tales takes you on a rip-roaring ride through history, from 500BC to the swinging 60s, going deeper into the Doctor's notorious name-dropping and revealing the truth behind these anecdotes.

The Houdini story is by Steve Cole and is called "Who-Dini?" It's narrated in part by a thinly disguised Dorothy Young ("Dorothy Smith"). While the story doesn't actually chronicle the aforementioned "wet weekend", it's a fun romp set in Chicago in 1926 and finds Harry and Bess interacting with two different Doctors. And it has a nice surprise ending.

Doctor Who: Star Tales is released today in the UK in hardcover and can be purchased at Amazon.co.uk. In the U.S. it's available on Kindle.

Related:

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Houdini at Chapel Hill (and in my home)

Here's my "Moses Buy" for 2019. This is an original 4-page flyer for Houdini's spirit lecture at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill on November 21, 1924. There's a lot to love here.


This Chapel Hill appearance was part of Houdini's second lecture tour of 1924. While I've seen a similar flyer for his first tour, I've never seen one from his second. This one has the new name for his talk, "Can the Dead Speak to the Living?", which was an improvement over "Fraudulent Spiritualistic Phenomena." This also has the address for the Alkahest Lyceum System in Atlanta on the back, so I'm wondering if this might have been unique to the South?

But what really thrills me is I know the identity of the Chapel Hill student who saved this. The eBay seller (blueridgeheritage) was kind enough to provide me with these details:

The name of the original owner was Joseph Franklin Neal (1903-1965). He was from Jefferson, NC and was a student at UNC Chapel Hill in the early-mid 1920s. The Houdini program was found in the attic of the old family house built in 1880. There were 2 UNC yearbooks from '24 and '25 and a few other UNC items. Most certainly Joseph went to the show and saved the program and brought it home. The folds looks like it was put in a back pocket. This is the ONLY one I have or have seen.

As to the lecture itself, it attracted a sell-out crowd of 1,500, and appears to have gone over very well. Houdini recorded in his diary: "College boys. Great audience. Gave me the college yell." Houdini also seemed to be in true form this night, as evidenced by the below account from The Daily Tar Heel:

The Daily Tar Heel, November 26, 1924

Next week I will be wrapping up the blog for 2019 with a major historical post having to do with this same lecture tour. It's a story never before told, and it was no Chapel Hill! So watch for: "The Chattanooga debacle."

Related:

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

ETHER at the iRT in New York, December 19-22

ETHER: The Strange Afterlife of Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Susan I. Weinstein will make its debut at the iRT Theatre in New York City December 19-22, 2019. Below are details.

ETHER is a play within a play, a story told with the aid of projections, puppetry, and stage magic. Doyle and Houdini’s afterlife is a continuation of a passionate personal war about the nature of life and death. Yet their worlds are contained within the afterlife–our present in abstracted media. Their wives, Bess and Lady Doyle, are aware of this, yet tethered to their husband’s worlds. They join forces to resolve the bitter conflict so all can move on. The journey starts with the origins of Houdini’s persona, his escapes and Doyle’s vocation and revelations. Together they investigate mediums, famous and infamous; Mr. Powell, Margery, Eva C and even Lady Doyle. Each instance they emerge with dramatically opposite narratives. As evidence mounts up. Subjective and objective truths erupt in a transcendent conclusion.

For tickets and more information visit the iRT Theatre website.

Related:

Monday, December 2, 2019

Houdini KOs Willard in the Record

Following up on my recent post about re-dating the Houdini-Jess Willard encounter (to Nov. 29), Roger Dreyer of the Houdini Museum of New York sends over the pic of the original front page of the Los Angeles Record from his collection. I could not locate this issue while doing my research at the LA library, so this is a real treat. Look at that banner headline!


The Houdini Museum of New York has received a lot of media attention lately, due largely to their youthful new Director Rajon Lynch (RJ the Magician) who hails from Houdini's own Wisconsin. Check out the impressive profile of RJ and the museum in The New York Times. The story also includes an account of some strangeness that occurred during their own Halloween Houdini Seance.


Thanks to Roger and RJ.

Related:

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Guest Blog: A modern day Transport Cell challenge

Today I'm excited to share a UKEA Guest Blog about Tim Houlton's modern day attempt of one of Houdini's most famous challenge escapes: the Transport Prison Van.

by Tim Houlton, Allan Taylor & Chris Gower

So where on earth do you get a Transport cell from I hear you ask? Well, it’s a funny story but the prisoner transport unit was originally sold at a motor auction and purchased by a vehicle recovery company. They bought it for its chassis cab with the intention of converting it into a new recovery truck for their fleet. The prison truck body was then removed and put up for sale on E-Bay. Before the truck was sold the usable electronics had been removed and kept for spares and when they did, the looms were cut through causing further damage. On the positive side the mechanics of the security systems on the truck where intact as were all the internal fixtures.

The Challenge

The concept of a cell escape in terms of my escapology performances isn’t one I had previously considered; I enjoy the audience participation aspect of performance. The idea of adding a cell escape to my range of performances came from Andy Robertson’s Escape from a cell at Peterhead Prison on 31st October 2017 along with David De-Val’s book Cell Escape – The Real Secret presented to me by Rebecca as a thank you for assisting with an escape that she and Allan performed. The prison truck escape idea actually came about during a conversation with Allan Taylor whilst replacing his kitchen floor, we were talking about the Discovery channel series Houdini’s Last Secrets Allan and his Wife Rebecca featured on the show and had been involved in the episode that spoke about the Siberian Cell escape.

So taking this discussion one step further, we knew the many rumours about how Harry had succeeded and defeated the technology of his day but could we do it again in the modern age?

First step was to make this beleaguered prison transport unit actually work and that was quite a project. Getting a Haynes manual for this truck basically isn’t happening, I’ve never seen the inside of one of these trucks and the equipment that remains was largely approaching the end of its life. I started with the wiring that didn’t go anywhere and with the display from the main panel and worked from there. Originally the truck would have had a central panel running down the ceiling down the truck from one end to the other. This panel had the main lighting, Fire detection, CCTV, speakers for the sound system (yes it had a sound system) and some form of indication of the status for the locking systems on the cell doors. The status indicator was critical as the signals from the locks went into it and emerged in another format to communicate with the main panel. So in short I had a puzzle and people who know me will tell you I love a good puzzle. Many hours and days later the systems were in working order and that’s when the real challenge begins on how to defeat this thing. The obvious solution is the escape trap hatches on the roof.

The locking mechanism release involves operating a lever inside the truck body and another one that would have been inside the cab. The lever that would have been inside the cab is badly rusted and seized, even if I could operate both at the same time from inside a cell the one outside cannot be released. The trap hatches and the locking mechanism for them have sensors on them that will trip the alarm system. The cell doors don’t have a hatch so that option isn’t viable. I have a 50mm gap under the door that is a metre away from the main lock on the outside of the cell and the auxiliary lock and both of those mechanisms are also monitored by the alarm. The cell door is in a solid steel structure and the 3 stage locking system goes 40mm into the door in the centre and at the top and bottom. I’m sure you agree it’s an interesting challenge.


The Escape

Saturday 23rd November 2019, a day to remember. After our tour of Hull to view some historical Houdini locations, we all met back at the Hotel and set off in the rain in convoy. The first sight of the Prison Van was when we travelled down a small country road and looked over to a disused gravel pit where the Transport Unit was parked.

The main door was secured with a high security DOM lock and had a three point locking mechanism. On entering the unit there were six cells each one having a triple locking system. Firstly when the door is slammed it is locked like a night latch, turning the key deadlocks the latch and finally another key is used to secure the door top and bottom and also sets the alarm. Needless to say there are no keyholes inside the cell. Each Cell has a hatch in the ceiling used in cases of emergency. These hatches can only be opened using two independent levers.

These levers are located at the front and back of the van and need to be operated at the same time. Tim had rebuilt all the electronics and basically a guard would travel with the prisoners. An alarm would sound if any of the doors were opened or if the escape hatch was opened. Furthermore another alarm unit was wired into the main cab to alert the driver if any problems occurred.

After changing into his ‘Lucky’ shorts, T shirt and heavy motorcycle boots, Tim was checked by our volunteer Police Officer using a metal detector to ensure he did not have hidden tools. Two large D padlocks were locked onto his ankles and were connected by a chain and secured with two Abloy high security padlocks. His wrists were handcuffed with a pair of single linked Chubb Arrest Handcuffs which were double locked. The chain from the legs was then attached to the link in the handcuffs using another Abloy padlock.

Tim was then escorted into the cell and yet another lock secured the chain to the floor. Several of us checked the cell to make sure there were no tools hidden. The Cell Door was then slammed shut and the key turned to deadlock the door. The second key was then used to set the alarm and throw the bolts top and bottom. The outer door was closed, locked and the timer started. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 minutes passed then at 7 mins 40 seconds the panic alarm sounded! Next thing we know the Prisoner Tim was on the roof drinking a bottle of milk completely free from the cell and all his shackles! He took his bow and climbed down with huge applause. The Milk was dedicated to David De-Val who famously escaped from York Prison and was found outside drinking a bottle of Milk.

The main door was opened and the Cell Door was still closed. When the Cell door was opened everything was still in place and the escape hatch secure. Well done Tim, really looking forward to our next UKEA meeting when we might have an idea on how you accomplished this remarkable escape. This is a first in the history of escapes and will go down as one of the great escapes in the 21st century.


You can watch a video of the escape at the De-Val Escapology YouTube Channel.

Related:

Saturday, November 30, 2019

November 2019 in review

Here's a rundown of posts by category that appeared on WILD ABOUT HARRY in November.

Most Viewed Post
Here is that remarkable Houdini mystery footage

Houdini History
Bess appears on Halloween
In 1919 Houdini was tied to a cannon for veterans (twice)
Mysterious Houdini footage now mysteriously gone
My first look at the real Houdini
LINK: Harry Houdini made history right here in Kansas City
Houdini is a Historical Hottie
Houdini and the Mandela Effect
Houdini was to speak at spiritualism symposium in late 1926
Finding Houdini in Hull
Houdini's close call on Catalina Island 100 years ago today
The true date of the Jess Willard encounter

Events
Houdini's Day of the Dead on Catalina Island
Photos from The Official Houdini Seance 2019
Discover Houdini the Collector at the Harry Ransom Center, Dec. 5

Music
The Fens - Xmas in November (Official Video)
Once Upon A Time in Laurel Canyon
'Man of Magic' to be released as limited edition CD

Television
Sneak Peek: The Brave Harry Houdini

Books & Merch
The Phantom Files: Houdini's Curse
Harry Houdini's War is at peace with the facts
The scent of Houdini

Auctions
Houdini's Magicians Club portrait to be auctioned
The Master Mystery episode 3 poster at auction

Misc.
Hidden Houdini in the "Cursed Temple"
"Houdini & Hardeen" is back online
Barcelona's Museum of Chocolate holds Houdini
SPECTATE brought Houdini to Brisbane in 2017

Mystifier File
Mystifier, First Quarter 2000

Friday, November 29, 2019

The true date of the Jess Willard encounter

Every biography tells the story of Houdini's contentious encounter with heavyweight champion Jess Willard at the Los Angeles Orpheum in 1915. The incident even opens the newest book, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini by Joe Posnanski. And the date always given is November 30th.

But I recently found evidence that this actually took place on November 29th (Houdini's opening night). First and foremost are two reports from the Los Angeles Daily Times and the Long Beach Press (below), which are the earliest accounts of the incident that I'm aware of. Both ran on November 30th and both state that it happened "last night", which would be Monday the 29th. The Los Angeles Herald also ran a small blurb about it on the 30th.

Heck, just the existence of these disproves the November 30th date as these stories appeared before Houdini even took the stage that night.

Los Angeles Times and the Long Beach Press, Nov. 30, 1915.

There is also corroborating evidence from Willard himself. In a letter to the editor that the boxer penned to the Los Angeles Examiner giving his side of the story, Willard writes that it happened "Monday night." An account in the New York Tribune also identified it has having happened "Monday night."

So why does everyone cite Tuesday, November 30? I believe it's because everyone uses the Los Angeles Record as their source. This is the account that was widely syndicated and used in Variety. It also appears in Houdini's pitchbooks (below). As with the other stories, the Record states that it happened "last night." But the Record was late to the game, or maybe it took them a day to work up their more detailed account (likely with Houdini's input), and they did not publish until December 1st. This turned "last night" into November 30th and history was forever altered.


This wouldn't be the first time we've been fooled by a syndication dateline. I've discovered some papers would alter them, presumably to makes their reporting appear more current. One paper pushed the encounter to December 1st!

I'm continuing to seek evidence for and against this new date, but I feel confident enough to begin to using November 29, 1915 as the true date of the Houdini-Jess Willard encounter.

And if you don't like it, take it up with Jess!


The poster artwork at the top of this post comes from The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories by Andy Duncan. 

Related:

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Master Mystery episode 3 poster at auction

Bruce Hershenson's eMoviePoster.com is offering a Master Mystery episode 3 poster in their current auction that runs through December 5th. You can view the auction lot HERE.


It appears this is not the same episode 3 poster that Haversat & Ewing sold in 2016, but the auction listing does not provide provenance. Last June eMoviePoster.com sold an episode 9 poster for $28,500.

Related:

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Houdini's close call on Catalina Island 100 years ago today


It was on Thanksgiving day exactly 100 years ago that Houdini tried to play a real life action hero on Catalina Island. Houdini was there filming Terror Island and staying at the Hotel St. Catherine. The production was using the Catalina Flyer to shuttle crew and equipment between Avalon and the native village set at Banning's Beach (today Toyon Bay). But this day was stormy and the seas were rough, and a drama would unfold in front of the hotel that would call Houdini into somewhat fool-hearted action.

The Los Angeles Examiner on November 29, 1919 reported what happened:


A note about the date of this incident. The Examiner's dateline indicates this happened the morning of November 28, which was a Friday. But in preparing their 2018 Terror Island exhibition, the Catalina Island Museum discovered an account of the incident in the local Catalina Islander newspaper. That article and a letter to the editor by Captain McAfee thanking everyone for their help both state that it happened on Thursday, which was November 27 and Thanksgiving. Just think, had Houdini perished, he would have been known for dying on Thanksgiving! (Somehow not as good as Halloween.)

Intriguingly, both papers report that the incident was filmed. Perhaps if Houdini had been successful in his rescue attempt it would have been worked into the plot of the film as airplane accident was worked into The Grim Game. Unfortunately, this 300 feet of footage has never surfaced. But the Examiner did run a spectacular photo of the action on their front page.

Click to enlarge.

The Hotel St. Catherine was demolished in 1966 and today is know as Descanso Beach. The rocky outcrop where Houdini attempted his rescue remains. There's even talk of renaming it "Houdini Point"! Below are photos I took during my visit to Catalina earlier this year. As you can see, the low tide reveals the real danger both the Catalina Flyer and Houdini faced on that stormy Thanksgiving day 100 years ago.



Wishing everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

Related:

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Finding Houdini in Hull

Last weekend Allan and Rebecca Taylor visited Hull, England, for a special UKEA challenge. While there they visited a few Houdini sites, including Victoria Square where Houdini filmed footage for Haldane of the Secret Service. Below is a great comparison shot. Houdini is the light colored suit and that's Allan in the UKEA hoodie walking in Houdini's footsteps. I love stuff like this!

Click images to enlarge.

You can see more photos, including Corporation Dock where Houdini did a pier jump on April 27, 1914, at the David De-Val Magic and Escapology Facebook page.

Thank you Allan!

Related:

Monday, November 25, 2019

'Man of Magic' to be released as limited edition CD

Here's one I never expected to see! Stage Door in the UK will release the original cast recording of the 1966 London stage musical Man of Magic as a limited edition CD on December 13, 2019. Below are details.

Continuing Stage Door's 'Cast Album Masters Series' is the CD debut of the 'Man Of Magic' Original London Cast Recording. Based on the life of iconic magician and escapologist Harry Houdini, 'Man Of Magic' opened at London's Piccadilly Theatre on November 15th 1966 and ran for 135 performance. 
Featuring music by Wilfred Wylam (a pseudonym for classical composer Wilfred Josephs) and book and lyrics by John Morley and Aubrey Cash, the production starred Stuart Damon as Houdini alongside Judith Bruce as Bess and Stubby Kaye as Toby Kester. Produced by legendary theatre impresario Harold Fielding, the production received mixed reviews and failed to achieve the acclaim of his earlier successes 'Half A Sixpence' and 'Charlie Girl'. Despite the lukewarm critical response to 'Man Of Magic', the production was noted for its elaborate recreations of Houdini's illusions and the performances of its leading players Stuart Damon, Judith Bruce and Stubby Kaye. 
Although 'Man Of Magic' marked Wilfred Josephs' only work for musical theatre, there is much to be enjoyed in his distinctive and immediate score, not least the rousing duet 'Conquer The World', 'Suddenly' and the comedy numbers 'Take Your Medicine' and 'Kester's Crystal Cabbage'. 
The limited edition 500 unit only release of 'Man Of Magic' continues Stage Door's 'Cast Album Masters Series'. Licensing recordings from the major labels, the series presents the CD debut of many London Cast Recordings from the 1960s and 1970s, all digitally remastered from the studio master tapes.

You can hear song samples and pre-order at the Stage Door website. It's also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Thanks to Michael Mitnick for the alert.

Related:

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Houdini was to speak at spiritualism symposium in late 1926


It's always interesting to find something that reveals what Houdini would have been doing had he not died on Halloween 1926. This is one of those finds.

In December 1926, Houdini would have attended an 11-day symposium on spiritualism at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was to have been the closing night speaker, in fact.

According to Dr. Carl Murchison (above), the idea for the symposium came about during a luncheon with Houdini and Professor William McDougall of Harvard at the Bancroft Hotel in Worcester in 1925. Murchison recalled:

Professor McDougall and Mr. Houdini, though the best of friends, did not seem to be in entire agreement concerning certain matters that have become of wide social interest because of newspaper emphasis. Half jokingly and half in earnest, I suggested that they and other representatives thrash out the entire matter in a public symposium to be held at Clark University. The suggestion struck both of them with great force, and the three of us worked together in the lobby for more than two hours, planning the form of the symposium as well as we could at that early date.

Despite Houdini's death, the symposium proceeded as planned, running November 29 to December 11, 1926 at Clark University. Among the many presentations was the reading of paper by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ("The Psychic Question as I See It") and Dr. Le Roi Crandon presenting new photographs of his wife Margery producing ectoplasm. Instead of Houdini, the symposium ended with a lecture by Professor Nans Driesch of the University of Leipzig.

But there was still hope that Houdini might contribute, as reported by the Associated Press on December 13, 1926:


It appears Houdini had not yet prepared his manuscript, or that it couldn't be found. Instead, excerpts from his book A Magician Among The Spirits were included in the symposium's official volume, The Case for and Against Psychical Belief. In the introduction Murchison writes: "The book is only two years old, and Mrs Houdini agrees that it still represents Mr. Houdini's final convictions on the subject."


Saturday, November 23, 2019

The scent of Houdini

While working among Houdini's private papers at the Harry Ransom Center, playwright Beth Burns believed she caught a whiff of what Houdini might have smelled like. She described it as: "A nice, clean, woodsy smell—like Old Spice and shaving cream, with a note of coffee."

I'm not sure if that's what this new Houdini Cologne smells like. But as this is the creation of our friend and class act David Haversat, I'm sure it's just as nice. So if you're looking for a gift for the magician in your life, look no further than your nose.

Houdini - Cologne for Men will be available this Christmas and Hanukkah Season for $29.95. For pre-orders please contact houdinicologne@gmail.com.

Related:

Friday, November 22, 2019

Houdini and the Mandela Effect

The "Mandela Effect" refers to a collective belief in a historical event or fact that actually has no foundation in the truth. Below is a YouTube channel that looks at popular Mandela Effects. In this episode Houdini's drowning death comes in at #1.



The source of this "Mandela" is no mystery. The collective misconception that Houdini died in the Water Torture Cell was born in the 1953 Paramount biopic Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Two subsequent television biopics, The Great Houdinis (1976) and Houdini (1998), also show the escape playing a role in the magician's death.

But it's not just Hollywood to blame. Many magicians and escape artists when doing their own versions of the escape will advertise it as "the escape that killed Houdini." A recent offender was David Blaine. Even Simon Cowell once spoke this myth on America's Got Talent.

But I've also discovered this misconception doesn't have the hold it once did. Today most people have some idea about the punch, and a Google search can tell anyone the truth. I also find that people under the age of 20 have not really heard this. Back in the 60s, 70s and 80s the Tony Curtis movie was a shown repeatedly on television and that was the way most people learnt about Houdini. But nowadays kids watch YouTube videos...like the Mandela Effect!

Thanks to Lisa Cousins for this one.

NOTE: I've created a new playlist on my YouTube Channel called Linked Videos in which I've collected all the Houdini-related second party videos, such as this one, that I've shared here on WILD ABOUT HARRY.

Related:

Thursday, November 21, 2019

SPECTATE brought Houdini to Brisbane in 2017

Here's a Houdini play that flew under my radar back in 2017. SPECTATE ran November 7-18 at the Sue Benner Theatre in Brisbane, Australia, and offered what sounds like a unique experience. Here's a description from Scenestr.com:

'SPECTATE' is a transmedia performance work that frames the audience as witnesses to Harry Houdini’s final tragic show. 
3D printed performers, live video compositing and immersive audio are used to construct a world of contemporary illusion. 
'SPECTATE' is a show about being an audience and using transmedia forms Counterpilot is asking you to play the role of the audience. Wearing a headset throughout the show, you’ll hear a voice inside your head prompting you. You’ll be suspended between layers of reality while Counterpilot challenges you to navigate versions of truth and fiction. 
The work features performances by Hugh Parker, Anna McGahan, Toby Martin, Cam Clark, Elise Greig, Brad Haseman, Lucas Stibbard, Veronica Neave, Lauren Jackson, and potentially the spirit of Houdini himself. Written & directed by Nathan Sibthorpe.

Below is a trailer that gives a sense of the show's avant-garde nature. The company also offered a "live-streaming attempted hi-tech séance" on Halloween that year.



Related:

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Discover Houdini the Collector at the Harry Ransom Center, Dec. 5

On Thursday, December 5, Eric Colleary, Cline Curator of Theatre & Performing Arts collections at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin, will give a lecture on "Houdini the Collector". The talk starts at 7 PM and admission is free.

Click to enlarge.

The Harry Ransom Center is located at 300 W 21st St, Austin, TX 78712. For more information visit their official website.

Related:

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Here is that remarkable Houdini mystery footage

Earlier this year our friend Leo Hevia discovered 30 minutes of largely unseen Houdini footage buried in a YouTube video of random magic clips. It was an exciting find! A few weeks ago the clip and channel disappeared. It's still not clear who ran this channel, nor where this footage originated.

But this footage was just too remarkable to let vanish, so I've taken the liberty of uploading four of the most complete and interesting clips to my own YouTube channel. (Hopefully I'm not stepping on any toes by doing this.) I have also embedded the clips below along with a description of what they show. As you can see, the quality is poor, but the content is incredible. Enjoy!

1. Visiting sister Gladys: This appears to be unedited home movies of Houdini visiting his sister Carrie Gladys on a snowy day. After several shots outside of Houdini leaving the house (the footage is not in sequence), we cut inside the house to find Gladys playing the piano as Harry and Bess enter. Gladys then greets Houdini's assistants one by one: Franz Kukol, James Vickery, Jim Collins, and an unidentified assistant. Two more men are greeted by Gladys and Houdini, but I don't know who they are. After everyone leaves, Houdini returns to pick up and kiss a photo of his mother. We then see Houdini hugging and kissing Bess outside in the snow. Incredible.



2. Houdini Coin and Card handling: A real mystery is this one minute of footage showing Houdini doing coin sleights and card manipulations in slow motion. It's tempting to think this is a lost fragment from Velvet Fingers, but Houdini is dressed in a suit instead of a tuxedo, so this appears to be something entirely different. Whatever it is, it's a remarkable minute of film and breathtaking to watch Houdini's hand movements.



3. Monk Table Tie Escape: This footage shows Houdini doing an escape on the set of Haldane of the Secret Service. But this is not from the movie itself. The scenario here appears to be that he's being challenged by monks (played by actors and his assistants). This footage has appeared in documentaries, but it always cuts off as Houdini is being tied. Here the footage is complete and uncut, showing the full escape and Houdini being raised up on the shoulders of the ecstatic monks.



4. The Man From Beyond cliff stunt: While maybe not as spectacular as the above clips, this is every bit as interesting. This shows Houdini filming his cliff fight and his stunt of hanging off the edge. Shot from a distance, we can see the cameraman and also the geography of the stunt, showing Houdini was not as high off the ground as it appears in the movie. A rare piece of behind the scenes.



Also part of the original clip was the first few minutes of Houdini's 1909 movie, Les merveilleux exploits de Houdini à Paris. But this is something I'm going to save for a later time as part of a larger restoration project.

Related:

Monday, November 18, 2019

Barcelona's Museum of Chocolate holds Houdini

It's official. You can find Houdini anywhere. He's even hanging around the Museu de la Xocolata (Museum of Chocolate) in Barcelona, Spain. The image used here is from a French Mastery Mystery poster (released 101 years ago today). And, yes, this is made of pure chocolate!


Houdini is even featured on the museum tickets (below). Also chocolate bars. Delicious.


Thanks to Ted Costas for this sweet treat.

Related:

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Houdini is a Historical Hottie

Here's a fun one. This podcast by sisters Whitney and Lindsey Nelsen assess the overall "hotness" of historical figures. In this episode they rank Houdini and magician Dell O'Dell. I especially enjoyed their discussion of Houdini's physical attractiveness (4.5 out of 5) starting around the 40 minute mark. Enjoy.



For show notes and more episodes visit the Historical Hotties website.

Related:

Saturday, November 16, 2019

My first look at the real Houdini

Today marks my 44th Houdini birthday. It was on this day in 1975 that I saw the Tony Curtis Houdini biopic for the first time. That lit a flame of curiosity that has never been extinguished. But the truth is I did not immediately rush out and buy a book about Houdini. My great passion at that time was Universal Monsters, and I was not yet ready to set Frankenstein aside for a life of magic.

But then a few weeks later, I opened the TV Guide, always hoping to find a listing for a Universal Monster movie, and saw this:


This is an ad for Doug Henning's first World of Magic television special, a historical event in itself. But it was not the show I was interested in. I didn't know who this hippie magician was and I didn't care. All I saw was the image behind him. Houdini. The real Houdini. It was my first look at the actual man and this image electrified me!

You can see this ad has small holes in it. That's because I pinned it to my bedroom wall and would stand gazing at it, searching it intently. This somehow made Houdini real and tangible. He also seemed to be looking right at me, inviting me to investigate the mystery of his life. I can still feel that coming off this image. If the Tony Curtis movie was my indoctrination, this was my awakening. And after I watched the Henning special, I was a goner!

If you had an "awakening" moment, please feel free to share in the comments below.

Related:

Friday, November 15, 2019

"Houdini & Hardeen" is back online

Great news from the Houdini blogosphere. Jack Coray's Houdini & Hardeen is back! Here's how Jack explained it in his return post:

Click to enlarge.

Houdini & Hardeen has already clocked some impressive posts, including this post with a pic of Hardeen and Dr. A.M. Wilson that I've never seen. Jack is also promising to review every issue of Houdini's Conjurers Monthly Magazine; a great idea!

So revisit or visit for the first time Houdini & Hardeen, because one can never get enough of The Brothers Houdini!

https://houdiniandhardeen.home.blog

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Sneak Peek: The Brave Harry Houdini

Here's a preview of an episode of Xavier Riddle and The Secret Museum that features a young Houdini. The series airs on PBS Kids.



A companion book to this episode will be released in April and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Mysterious Houdini footage now mysteriously gone


At the beginning of this year, thirty remarkable minutes of largely unseen Houdini footage appeared on a YouTube channel run by someone called "Sleight of Direction". The clip was titled "Various TV Magic Clips from the US - 1970s to before." The video description didn't even mention Houdini, and when I asked about this, I received an odd reply to my comment:

"Yeah, I noticed that when the video was first uploaded. But the majority of my viewers are exclusive fans of sawings/slicings/zig zags/twister/compressors/selbits illusions, so didn't think it'll be of any interest. However, it's good to know fans of other illusions exist."

It now appears this channel and video are gone. I can't say I'm surprised. There was something strange about this user, and I'm wondering if any of this footage was ever theirs to share. (I continue to think these clips may have somehow come from the late Bill McIlhany's collection.)

While the quality was poor, the footage was amazing! (I've detailed it in the original post.) I did save the footage and can upload it to my own YouTube channel and re-link it. But I don't want to step on any toes.

If anyone knows the story behind this, please email me. Thanks.

UPDATE: I decided to go for it and upload select clips to my own YouTube channel and have embedded those clips HERE. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Once Upon A Time in Laurel Canyon

I really enjoyed the new Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. Not only because I'm a Tarantino fan, but it depicts a bygone Hollywood that I clearly remember. And now friends have alerted me to a Houdini connection to the film. If you buy the exclusive LP soundtrack, it includes a map of 1969 Hollywood. And if you look closely on that map, you'll see the "Houdini Mansion" among the historic Manson-era haunts.


This is a reference to what is today the restored and privately owned Houdini Estate, a popular site for weddings and film shoots. But back in the 1960s and '70s it was a burnt-out abandoned ruin that everyone called the "Houdini Mansion". This was a haven for hippies and all kinds of characters to flop, including one man who called himself Robin Hood and would shoot arrows at people. And, of course, it was said to be haunted!

The remains of the house and gardens with overgrown stairways and stone arches where open and visible to motorists driving through Laurel Canyon, so the "Houdini Mansion" was a well-known and somewhat mysterious Los Angeles landmark. No surprise to see it on this map as part of the Hollywood Tarantino so lovingly recreated in his movie. [For the truth of Houdini's connection to the property check out my related links.]


No, this photo isn't from the movie, and that's not Brad Pitt! This is me in 1977 at the "Houdini Mansion" showing off a freshly pilfered brick. And look at that cool Magic Castle t-shirt.

The Once Upon A Time in Hollywood exclusive soundtrack LP is available in independent record stores and in a limited quality on Amazon.com.

Thanks to fellow Tarantino fans Matt Bradford and Michael Curran for this one.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

LINK: Harry Houdini made history right here in Kansas City

The Martin City Telegraph has a very well researched article by Diane Euston about Houdini's history in Kansas City. KC was important stop on Houdini's tour, and has the distinction of being the first city to witnesses his suspended straitjacket escape on September 8, 1915. The article includes what's credited as a photo of that very escape (right). Diane also recounts a 1907 underwater escape at the Kansas City Athletic Club that's entirely new to me!

So click the headline and have a read at the Martin City Telegraph.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

In 1919 Houdini was tied to a cannon for veterans (twice)


In England in 1911 Houdini accepted a challenge in which he was tied to the mouth of a cannon with a lit fuse. While no photos of this escape have ever surfaced, the cannon challenge is iconic enough to have been depicted in two Houdini biopics. Most biographies record this as being the only time Houdini ever did this stunt. But I recently discovered that he repeated the cannon challenge in Los Angeles in 1919...twice!

The first occurred on April 26, 1919, just a few days after Houdini arrived in the city to begin work on The Grim Game. Houdini was part of a troupe of Famous Players-Lasky artists who gave a charity performance at the "Victory ship" in downtown's Pershing Square. This was part of a nationwide effort to raise funds for The Victory Liberty Loan, a drive to help returning soldiers from World War I. Below is an ad for the campaign.


This ad is pretty wild and emblematic of the drive. The Liberty Loan was an aggressive campaign that was not above shaming people into donating. Newspapers actually printed the names of wealthy or prominent citizens who had not contributed as "Liberty Loan Slackers" (a "slacker" was a draft dodger). But this particular ad is notable on that it mentions the Lasky Stars and advertises Houdini's escape:


Below are details of the upcoming escape as reported in the Los Angeles Herald on April 25, 1919:


What exactly was the Victory ship? Try as I might, I could not find any photos of it. But from a later newspaper account about its dismantling, I'm assuming it was a temporary stage set up in Pershing Square made to resemble a battleship perhaps?

A few weeks later, the Lasky stars were back at the Victory ship, including Houdini's future Terror Island co-star Lila Lee. Houdini repeated his cannon challenge, as reported in the May 10, 1919 Los Angeles Herald:


Unfortunately, I couldn't find any photos or news accounts of how either challenge played out. Presumably he made it! But many stars performed at the Victory ship, including Charlie Chaplin, and I could find no account of what they did either. I believe it would have been considered bad form to use a charity event to promote oneself. This was about veterans, and even Houdini was restrained. But that leaves us to only guess what this escape looked like.

At the top of this post is an illustration of Houdini tied to a cannon which is the only depiction of the challenge I've ever seen. (This comes from The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Walter B. Gibson.) The illustration appears to be based on the 1911 escape, which is well described. But this could also have been how he was restrained in 1919. Unless...

Below is a photo of Houdini tied to the wheel of a cannon. Could this have been taken at the Victory ship? This is Houdini in 1919, and the cannon he is roped to is clearly a piece of World War I ordinance. While this isn't how the challenge was advertised, the cannon may have been too large for him to be tied to the mouth, so maybe this is how he actually did the escape? Or this photo was taken after the fact. The edifice behind him does appear to be some sort of temporary structure which could be the Victory ship.


When I first uncovered these two challenges, I had hoped to do what I did for his 1915 suspended straitjacket and his 1923 Ambassador Pool escape. But I came up short in my research. So I'm offering up what I have in the hopes it will unlock more info. But at least we now know that it happened. Houdini was tied to a cannon in Los Angeles' Pershing Square in 1919...twice!

Site of Houdini's escape today.

Honoring all who have served on this Veterans Day.

UPDATE: Turns out an account of this escape (one of them, at least) appears in The Grim Game pressbook. Thanks to Joe Notaro.


UPDATE 2: Our great friend Bill Mullins has come through with a photo of the Victory Ship! As suspected, it's a stage made to look like a ship. This is from the May 3, 1919 Los Angeles Times.

Click to enlarge.

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