Monday, October 21, 2019

REVIEW: A Houdini book for everyone

To date there have been more than 160 non-fiction books written about Houdini, and just as many that feature Houdini in fictional adventures. There have been books devoted to his entire life, to his psychology, and even to a single trick. So one can pretty much find a Houdini book to suit ones needs...as long as you don't mind sifting through some 300+ titles.

Or you can just read one book, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini by Joe Posnanski. Because this is the first Houdini book that will appeal to everyone. And I mean everyone. If you love Houdini and think you know it all, this book will give you new insights. If you hate Houdini and have had enough of him already, you will find support and ammunition for your hatred. And if you just want to see what all the fuss is about, this book will tell you everything you need to know and just might hook you into Houdini World. And with the author's breezy observational style, it's just a great read!

The key here is that Joe Posnanski is an honest broker who approaches his subject as an outsider. He's also a sports writer with keen reporter instincts and an understanding of human nature and fame. The result is one of the most honest Houdini books ever written, one that treats Houdini mythology and biography with refreshing transparency. You always know where you stand with Joe. There's no manipulation of Houdini history for his own gain, no conspiracy theories or pseudo-history. Joe always lets the reader know when he's relating a myth, fact, or something that seems to exist in-between. In this way he's able to leave no compelling Houdini story untold, but also leaves no confusion in his wake. Bravo.

But one should understand going in that Joe is not out to break new ground as far as Houdini's life story is concerned. This is not a strict biography (although it still works as one and is factually solid). His real goal is to discover why Houdini continues to fascinate today. So a lot of this book is Joe's personal journey into "Houdini World", as he calls it. Along the way he meets a cast of characters both famous and unknown, including: David Copperfield, Jim Steinmeyer, Mike Caveney, Joshua Jay, Dorothy Dietrich, Dick Brookz, Jen Kramer, Andrew Basso, Jamy Ian Swiss, Kristen Johnson, Lee Terbosic, Juan Tamariz, Eric Mead, Paul Cosentino, Joe Notaro, myself, and most significantly, Patrick Culliton.

The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini is really a search for two enigmatic men; Houdini and Patrick Culliton. Patrick is a big part of this book. It even opens with a quote from him. Patrick has an amazing life story, but I know it's a story he'd prefer to tell himself. Still, I think the book works beautifully as a tribute to this greatest of all Houdini historians and remarkable man. There's no "afterlife" of Harry Houdini without Patrick Culliton.

Some other highlights. Joe's description of going through the late Ken Silverman's research papers at Appleton's History Museum gives a real feel for how Ken himself struggled to discover Houdini. Joe's overview of the various theories and arguments about how Houdini may have escaped from the Mirror Handcuffs (or not) offers the most definitive examination of this escape ever put in print. Mike Caveney's unbridled dislike of Houdini is, yes, a highligh! Mike is one of the greatest magic historians alive and his take on Houdini is important and valid. But Mike doesn't write much about Houdini. Now, thanks to this book, we have Mike Caveney talking Houdini on the record. I'm also thrilled with what isn't in the book. Houdini a spy? Joe addresses this with a single word: Silly.

But this wouldn't be a proper review without a few criticisms. The notion that Houdini was a magician of limited ability gets a bit overstated and never properly refuted (and it can be). Joe allows Joshua Jay to tell the story of the punch and Houdini's death, which feels too important and subjective to be covered by someone other than the author himself. And while not really a criticism as it's a standout and somewhat heart-stopping moment, Jim Steinmeyer's partial exposure of the Water Torture Cell might be misunderstood by the layperson. (Without revealing anything, know Houdini could do the Water Torture Cell without an assistant in the building.)

But I keep coming back to the honestly. As to Houdini's spiritualism debunking, Joe admits: "I can't lie: It bores me. I prefer the escapes. I'd rather talk about the magic." It's this level of candor that makes this such a refreshing read. For me it feels cathartic, a clearing of the air. Sometimes it takes an honest outsider to show you the world that you've been living in. Joe Posnanski is that man and The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini is that book. And it's for everyone.

The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini can be purchased at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Grim Game super rarity drops from the clouds

Here's a remarkable Grim Game collectible that literally fell into a lucky collector's lap in Australia. Noel from New South Wales sent me and Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence these images and his remarkable story:

"I discovered this heavy paper stock card (approx playing card size) advertising the first screening of the movie in Sydney at the Haymarket Theatre in 1920. I believe this would have been a card/flyer handed out to the public to get them to the cinema. I literally found this only yesterday by chance in an old diary I had bought at a market about 6 months earlier, and presume it was used as a bookmark or the like. As I was repacking some of my paper ephemera collectables into plastic tubs, it just fell out as I flicked the pages of the diary/journal of what appears to be diary of a road works workman. This may well be the only copy of this item?"

This is certainly the only one of these I've ever seen. I've also never seen this artwork and ad copy. And as it references a single day screening, I think this is an ultra rarity indeed.

Coincidentally, this was discovered two days before The Grim Game had a special screening at the Brisbane International Film Festival in Australia. "Houdini's message from the clouds"? Believe.

Thank you Noel for the share and congrats on the find!

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Friday, October 18, 2019

The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini Los Angeles launch events

Author Joe Posnanski will be in Los Angeles next week to participate in three events to mark the launch of his new book, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini. Here's the rundown.

Monday, October 21
The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles will be the site of a special launch party event featuring Joe and actor and comedian Nick Offerman.

This is not only a terrific independent bookshop, but it also sits directly across the street from the Hotel Alexandria where Houdini celebrated his Silver Wedding Anniversary in 1919. It's also just a short walk to the Orpheum Theater (today the Palace) where Houdini had his famous encounter with Jess Willard, a story that opens Joe's book. So Houdini would feel right at home!

Admission is the price of the book itself. Tickets and details here.

Tuesday, October 22
This is the official release day and Joe will be doing a Writers Blok PLUS session in Culver City with former NBA player and soon-to-be novelist Paul Shirley. Ticket price includes a copy of the signed book. Click here for details.

Wednesday, October 23
I will be joining Joe for a discussion of the book at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. The event starts at 7:00 PM and this one is FREE. Hope to see you there!


Click here for a full list of Joe's upcoming book tour appearances. The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini can be purchased at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. [Amazon links earn a commission and support Wild About Harry.]

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The category is Magic & Illusion

Always a treat when you-know-who shows up on Jeopardy! This one caught the attention of a certain author on Twitter.


Visit J! Archive to see the full board and all mentions of Houdini going back to 1986.

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Interview at Brookledge

Yesterday I had the pleasure of doing an interview about Houdini for an upcoming episode of The Unexplained. But the real thrill was that we did the interview at Brookledge in Hancock Park which afforded me my first visit to this historic magic location.

Brookledge was the home of magic manufacturer Floyd Thayer who built an adjoining showroom, workshop, and theatre that became known as the Thayer Magic Studio. In the 1930s it was a popular gathering place for magicians from all over the world. In 1942 Thayer sold Brookledge to the Larsen family and it continued to be a gathering place for magicians (yes, a place even more "inside" than the very inside Magic Castle). In 2009 Erika Larsen re-opened the theatre and studio as an invitation-only venue for variety arts performances known as the Brookledge Follies.

I didn't have a chance to see too much, but what I did see blew my mind. The walls are festooned with magic history that appears frozen in time. When I first entered I instantly spotted an original photo of Jacob Hyman in shackles that could have been put there by Hyman himself.

After the interview I had the pleasure of chatting with Erika who informed me Bess Houdini was a frequent visitor to Brookledge. She directed me to the below photo of Bess in same room where I have just done my interview. To think I had been sitting and talking about Houdini in a room where Bess Houdini once sat and may have reminisced herself. Now that's magic!


You can read more about Brookledge at the Huffington Post and LA Times.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Official Houdini Seance to be held in Niagara Falls

This year's Official Houdini Seance will be held at the Rapids Theater in Niagara Falls, New York.

Please join us on October 31 at 7:30 pm for the Official Houdini Séance…right here at the haunted Rapids Theatre. Celebrate the life (and return?) of magician Harry Houdini. Enjoy an evening of mystery, magic & mentalism featuring Mentalist Kent Axell, Medium Jenn LeFevre, Magician Keith Randolph, along with Souls Gate Paranormal’s Scott and Deidre Emminger. 
Will the Spirits return? Find out at this unique and historic event!
Click to purchase tickets.

This is a great choice of location. Not only did Houdini film The Man From Beyond on the Niagara rapids, but for many years the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame stood on the Canadian side of the falls. The museum was the site of The Official Houdini Seance in 1968, 1976, and 1992.

The Official Houdini Seance is organized each year by Bill Radner and Tom Boldt.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Mystifier, Fourth Quarter 1999

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


The Fourth Quarter 1999 Mystifier marks the opening of a new HHC exhibition, Houdini: A Magician Among the Spirits, with a lengthy article by curator Kimberly Louagie giving an overview of Houdini's involvement with Spiritualism. It's well researched and doesn't fall into any of the familiar narrative traps (no Mama death a motivator), but as with Louagie's other Mystifier contributions, it's aimed more at the general reader than the hardcore Houdini buff.

The newsletter continues with news of new posters at the museum shop and a report on the recent Young Magicians workshop held at the HHC. New HHC members and recent donors are also listed.

In his "Backstage" column, Sid Radner describes the 1999 Official Houdini Seance held at the Magic Circle in London. Among the attendees was Mick Hanzlik and Frank Koval. Sid then reports on the legal takedown of a Houdini family impostor:

As the result of a federal court case, the imposter who claimed to be a grand-nephew of Houdini will do so no longer. The alleged "Hardeen H. Houdini" is actually Donald Ferguson. The federal court has ordered him to stop making false claims and has ordered him to cease using the Houdini and Hardeen names. His website will be removed from the Internet. Houdini would no doubt be pleased, as he too fought imposters' use of his name.

Sid concludes with news that a new Houdini documentary produced by Nancy Porter Productions for WGBH will air as part of the PBS American Experience series in January 24, 2000. (If we all survive the "Millennium Bug"!)

Mystifier
Volume 9, Number 4
Fourth Quarter, 1999
6 pages

Contents:
New Houdini Exhibit
Museum Shop News
New Members
Young Magicians' Workshop
Backstage with Sid Radner

PREVIOUS ISSUE | INDEX | NEXT ISSUE

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Monday, October 14, 2019

The Last Act of Harry Houdini

The Company O Theatre and The Cockpit in London will present a new play, The Last Act of Harry Houdini, from October 29 to November 2. The play is written and performed by Barry Killerby and directed by Ishwar Maharaj. It is part of the "Festival of Brexit: Inside a Mass Hallucination".

On October 21st, 1926, two strangers visited Houdini in his theatre dressing room. 
Ten days later, he was dead. 
Harry Houdini was a poor Hungarian Jewish immigrant who rose through the Vaudeville theatre circuit to become the greatest showman of the early twentieth century. If he was a pioneer of magic and illusion onstage, off stage he was a force of nature: an aviator in the first days of flight; a movie idol at the birth of cinema and the scourge of the new Church of Spiritualism. 
It was his extraordinary private life that sealed his fate. 
In this highly acclaimed production, the Master Magician is forced to confront his obsessions with asylums and dance halls, movies and seances until finally revealing confidential show business secrets and the real motivation behind his death defying career. 
Somewhere, in this last act, is the answer to what killed the greatest escapologist of all time.

For more details and to buy tickets visit The Cockpit website.

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Jewish Museum Milwaukee screening The Master Mystery

As part of their Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini programing, the Jewish Museum Milwaukee will screen all the available episodes of Houdini's The Master Mystery. The serial will be shown in three parts on the third Thursday of each month, starting with the first five episodes this Thursday, October 17 at 5:30 PM.


For more information on the screenings and to view all their upcoming Houdini-related events (including a Halloween Seance), visit Jewish Museum Milwaukee's official website.

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini runs through January 5, 2020.


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Saturday, October 12, 2019

Theater owners review The Grim Game

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Houdini's The Grim Game going into wide release around the country. (It had played exclusive engagements in New York in August and Chicago in September.) Below is a collection of reviews from theater owners. These appeared in the trade journal Exhibitors Herald and offer a terrific time capsule of audience reactions. Enjoy!


And my favorite:


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Friday, October 11, 2019

HOUDINI by Tom Frueh at Theatre Row, Oct. 28

A new Musical HOUDINI by our good friend and frequent commenter Tom Frueh will play the 2019 United Solo festival at Theatre Row in New York on October 28, 2019. Tom has put a lot of work into the show and it looks great. He even has a song about 278!

In 1926, the world-famous magician and escape artist Harry Houdini left New York on a farewell tour – and his life passed before his eyes. Follow his odyssey through the past, present and future as he struggles to unlock the key that will truly set him free. Director: Jen Jurek. Music Director & Accompanist: Chris Piro. Show image by Johan Renvall. Recommended for: adults only (not suitable for children).

2019 United Solo is the world’s largest solo theatre festival, currently in its 10th anniversary season. All shows are staged at Theatre Row: 410 West 42nd Street, New York City. 

For more details and to purchase tickets visit the United Solo website. You can also read an interview with Tom at Broadway World.

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

The House of Houdini welcomes special visitors

David Merlini's The House of Houdini museum in Budapest welcomed two very special visitors recently: Joe and Merna Guttentag. Merna's father was Dr. Daniel Cohn, the young physician who treated Houdini at the Statler Hotel in Detroit and arranged for his transport to Grace Hospital in 1926. Cohn was one of the four doctors who attended to Houdini during the week of his fatal illness. David shared photos of Joe and Merna on the museum's Instagram.



🇬🇧 After being cowardly hit in the stomach several times in his dressing room at the Princess Theatre in Montreal, Houdini’s ruptured appendix was first seen by a medic at the Statler Hotel in Detroit days later. A young doctor named Daniel Cohn, visited Houdini, and urged him to Grace Hospital immediately. 93 years later, it was our pleasure to welcome Joe and Merna Guttentag. Merna’s father was that doctor. 🇭🇺 Miután alattomosan, többször is gyomorszájon vágták öltözõjében, a montreali Princess színházban, Houdini roncsolt vakbelét elsõként Daniel Cohn, egy fiatal orvos vizsgálta meg napokkal késõbb, a detroiti Statler Hotelben, majd sürgönyözte Houdinit a Grace kórházba. 93 évvel késõbb, abban a különös megtiszteltetésben volt részünk, hogy Joe és Merna Guttentag-ot köszönthettük a Houdini Házban. Merma édesapja volt az a bizonyos orvos. #houdini #houseofhoudini #houseofhoudinibudapest #magic #davidmerlini
A post shared by Harry's Shadow (@harrys_shadow) on

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

And the WINNER is...

Okay, here we go! The winner of the early copy of The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini by Joe Posnanski is...

Keith Ahlstrom

Keith correctly identified Patrick Culliton as "a performer at the Magic Castle who calls himself Houdini's Ghost." Congratulations Keith! Your book will be mailed from the publisher.

My thanks to everyone who entered.

As promised, below are the answers.

In his search for Houdini, author Joe Posnanski encounters:
  1. A woman who runs away from home to chase her dream of becoming a magician. (Dorothy Dietrich)
  2. An Italian who revives Houdini’s most famous illusion every night. (Andrew Basso)
  3. A performer at the Magic Castle who calls himself Houdini’s Ghost. (Patrick Culliton)
  4. A man in Los Angeles whose sole mission is life has been to keep the legend’s name alive. (John Cox)

For those who didn't win, know you can still get the book on October 22 by pre-ordering at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk (UK release Oct. 31). Author Joe Posnanski will also be doing a book tour where you can get a signed copy. Click here for the schedule.


Thank to Avid Reader Press for allowing me to hold this giveaway.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

French edition of Magical Rope Ties and Escapes

French publisher Fantaisium has released Houdini's 1920 book Magical Ropes Ties and Escapes as Manuel des noeuds magiques (Manual of Magic Knots). Translation is by François Montmirel.

This might actually be the first foreign language printing of this book ever (but Arthur Moses can correct me if I'm wrong about that).

Fantaisium appears committed to reprinting Houdini's works. This year they've released A Magician Among the Spirits as Un Magicien chez les Médiums and The Right Way to Do Wrong as Manuel du malfaiteur: Révélations sur les criminels qui gagnent.

You can purchase Un Manuel des noeuds magiques at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.fr.

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Monday, October 7, 2019

WIN an early copy of The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini

UPDATE: This competition is now closed. Winner announced here.

Thanks to Avid Reader Press, today I can offer readers a chance to win a copy of The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini in advance of its October 22 release. All you need to do is take a stab at the following.

In his search for Houdini, author Joe Posnanski encounters:
  1. A woman who runs away from home to chase her dream of becoming a magician.
  2. An Italian who revives Houdini’s most famous illusion every night.
  3. A performer at the Magic Castle who calls himself Houdini’s Ghost. 
  4. A man in Los Angeles whose sole mission is life has been to keep the legend’s name alive.
If you can correctly guess the identity any ONE of these people, email it to me along with your mailing address. I will then use my spirit guide to do a random drawing. The only catch is you must be in the U.S. (Addresses are only so I can forward the winner to the publisher, I will not keep or share any addresses otherwise.)

I will post the name of the winner on Wednesday along with the identities of each person in the book description.

And if you just want to get the book the old fashioned way, it can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk (UK release October 31).

Good luck!

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

Houdini and Doyle return to the '20s

I just wanted to thank everyone who came out yesterday to hear my talks on Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the Homestead Museum's "Ticket To The Twenties" festival. We had a great turnout for both talks with some terrific Q&A. And what a fun festival this is overall! Below are a few pics, including a shot of my stage setup with some nice Houdini-Doyle visual aids created for me by the good folks at the Homestead Museum (click to enlarge).


The Ticket To The Twenties festival continues TODAY from 2pm to 6pm. For full details visit the official website or Facebook.

Stage photo by Gary Leonard. Click for more images.

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Saturday, October 5, 2019

Joe Posnanski's "Did I Mention" Houdini book tour


October always means a lot of Houdini action, but this year will be especially loaded as October 22 sees the release of Joe Posnanski's highly anticipated, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini.

Joe will be doing book signings and special events across the county, including events with yours truly at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena (Oct. 23) and The Magic Castle (Nov. 12). I can't wait!

Joe has a full list of tour dates on his blog that he will update as new appearances are added and confirmed. Click the text link below to go:


You can pre-order The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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Friday, October 4, 2019

Sir Arthur say what?

Tomorrow I will be presenting a talk on Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the Homestead Museum's Ticket to the Twenties festival in City of Industry. So I figured this was a good time to share this curious article from the April 29, 1923 Los Angeles Examiner. This appeared the day after Houdini freed himself from manacles in the swimming pool at the Ambassador Hotel. One-upmanship by Doyle? Or has he gone bonkers? Or both!


The Workman & Temple Family Homestead Museum is located at 15415 East Don Julian Road in City of Industry, CA. My talks are tomorrow at 2:30pm and 4:30pm (same talk twice). The outdoor festival is free and a lot of fun. Hope to see you there!

Click to enlarge.

For full details visit the official website or Facebook.

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Thursday, October 3, 2019

LINK: When Houdini Came To Williamsport

The blog Valley Girl Views ("Locations & Events in the Susquehanna Valley, through the lense of a local farm wife's camera") has a nice post about Houdini's visits to Williamsport, PA. I think she might have the date of Houdini's spiritualism lecture wrong--I have that it was 1924, not 1925--but this is well-researched and a worthy read.

Click the headline and go to Valley Girl Views.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Lee Terbosic in The Life and Death of Harry Houdini

Magician and escape artist Lee Terbosic will present a very special Houdini-themed show at his Liberty Magic Theater in Pittsburgh from October 23 to November 3, 2019. Below are details.

Join Lee Terbosic, widely considered one of the foremost magical experts on Houdini, as he explores the mysteries surrounding Houdini's astonishing life and death. 
In this special LIMITED ENGAGEMENT event, Lee will lead audiences through an exploration of some of Houdini's most magical moments. The 75-minute performance, part lecture, part Q&A, part demo, and all magic- will leave you wondering if there was something more sinister afoot on the night of Houdini's passing 93 years ago. 
Lee Terbosic is an internationally touring magician, comedian, actor, daredevil and entertainer from Pittsburgh, PA who is proving that anything is possible. 
Purchase tickets here

Last month Lee and I shot an interview in the Houdini Seance Room at the Magic Castle that may be part of his show. Lee also filmed in some other exciting Houdini locations, so if you are in Pittsburgh or can get there, this would be the show to see!


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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Joe Posnanski's new Houdini book is in THE house

This month sees the release of Joe Posnanski's highly anticipated, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini. But a copy of the book has already magically appeared on a bookshelf inside Houdini's 278. Looks right at home.


Stay tuned for details on Joe's upcoming book tour appearances, including a few with yours truly. It's going to be an exciting October!

Pre-order The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Thanks to Vincent.

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Monday, September 30, 2019

September 2019 in review

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

Most Viewed Post
Hardeen meets Copperfield

Houdini History
Houdini and his "sister" 112 years ago today
Houdini's Salt Lake City sequel
What do Houdini, surfing, and Robert Kennedy have in common? 
Aberdeen is wild about Harry
Houdini no Junior

Events & Exhibitions
Houdini and I return to "Ticket to the Twenties"
'Inescapable' opens this week at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee

Movies
Houdini (1953) on MOVIES! in September
The Grim Game at the Brisbane International Film Festival, October 13

Books
New Houdini biography by Adam Begley in 2020
Houdini joins the 'Boston Metaphysical Society'
The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles 3: Metamorphosis
Get your Houdini erotica here
Houdini by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi reprinted

Plays
Staged reading of Houdini The Musical in Orlando
Doctor Who: Harry Houdini's War (audio)
Katie Bender's "Instructions for a Seance" in Austin
Axis Theatre Company shares past Houdinis

News
Dorothy Dietrich & Dick Brookz to receive Milbourne Christopher Award

Mystifier File
Mystifier, Second Quarter 1999
Mystifier, Third Quarter 1999

Links
LINK: Nurse Sophie Rosenblatt's version of events in Detroit
LINK: Houdini solves a Charlie Chaplin mystery!
LINK: The complete account of Houdini's visit to Salem, Massachusetts
LINK: Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape in Minneapolis

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