Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Landrah Corporation?

Here's a mystery for the end of the month. This appeared in the November 12, 1924 issue of The Film Daily and shows Houdini formed something called the "Landrah Corporation" that year. I have no idea what this was!


The only other reference I can find is a similar incorporation notice in the October 29, 1924 issue of Variety. This one is harder to read, but it does give a touch more information, including that the business is related to "pictures."


By 1924 Houdini was putting movies behind him, so it seems odd for him to be starting any new "picture" enterprise. Or maybe this has something to do with the dissolution of his various movie companies?

This is as deep as I've gone, so I figured I'd throw it out to the research wolves. Another Houdini mystery to chew on!

Related:

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Houdini's Last Secrets airs in the UK starting Feb. 6

The 4-part series Houdini's Last Secrets will air on the Discovery Channel in the UK starting next Wednesday, February 6, 2019. Discovery can be found on Sky 125, Virgin 250, and BT TV 322.


The series, which just completed airing in the U.S., investigates Houdini's Water Torture Cell, Bullet Catch, Carette escape, and Buried Alive.

Thanks to Allan Taylor (who can be seen in episode 3) for the alert.

Related:

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Houdini said he first did Buried Alive in 1908


On February 23, Potter & Potter will auction the first part of The Magic Collection of Jim Rawlins. Jim is a very nice guy who has a formidable collection, including some very nice Houdini items. Jim recently shared selections from his collection in two videos on his YouTube channel.

While I encourage you to watch both videos in full, what will be of special interest to Houdini nuts is what Jim shares at 15:30 in the below video. It's a signed copy of Miracle Mongers and Their Methods in which Houdini states he first performed the Buried Alive in Berlin in 1908! [Jim also blogged about this last year.]


I'm always leery of accepting any date from Houdini, especially when written from a distance (this was written in May 1926). However, 1908 makes sense as Houdini spent two months at the Circus Busch in Berlin. Saying that he rebuilt the apparatus in 1916 gives me some pause as it seems logical the rebuild would have happened in conjunction with the poster he had made in 1914. But I don't think we have any reason to doubt Houdini here. He performed the Buried Alive much earlier than anyone thought.

Houdini saying that he still has the apparatus changes how I think we should perceive his 1926 Buried Alive. Far from being a "new" effect developed for his new season, it appears it was an old effect he was dusting off. This is likely because the publicity windfall he received for the Shelton Pool Test suddenly made adding Buried Alive to the 3 Shows In One a great idea. In fact, you can almost imagine him getting that idea right after he writes this inscription.

This find also illustrates something I've been thinking about lately. Houdini's performances in Germany are a historical blind spot. Houdini spent a lot of time in Germany, and his engagements would last for months in a single theater. This gave him time to build apparatus and try out new ideas. But we know almost nothing about these German performances, probably because the newspaper accounts and playbills are all in German! But here's an indication of what we've been missing.

This particular book is not part of this first Potter auction of Jim's collection. For more information and to view the catalog visit Potter & Potter Auctions. Jim also sells items direct at his website Magic Collectibles.

Thanks to Joe Fox for this tip.

Related:

Monday, January 28, 2019

Houdini's Last Secrets ep. 4 unearths Buried Alive


Houdini's Last Secrets goes out on a positive note with an investigation of Buried Alive. This was a good choice of subject for the final episode. Apart from two posters, very little is known about this feat, so it was not only interesting to see how Houdini might have accomplished the escape, but it was interesting just to see how he might have presented it in the first place!

One can easily get buried in the history of Buried Alive as there were multiple versions. The show does a nice job of separating Houdini ill-fated outside buried alive stunt and his later stage-bound version. (They avoid the Shelton Pool Test.) The episode sticks with the conventional wisdom that Houdini never performed his stage-bound version. But in recent years, evidence has surfaced that shows he actually did perform it at least twice at the start of his 1926-27 season.

Interviews are again a highlight. This time George Hardeen visits Antony Britton in England, who attempted the outdoor casket-free buried alive and, like Houdini, nearly died. Roger Dryer shows us his magnificent Houdini Museum of New York which holds a casket Houdini escaped from in 1907 (unburied). It's a treat to see David Merlini and his own House of Houdini museum in Budapest, Hungary. I don't believe David has appeared in a Houdini documentary before, but his knowledge of Houdini history and his first hand experience with escapes--including being buried alive--make him an ideal interview subject. Finally, we get to see the mighty Arthur Moses in his own temple of Houdiniana in Fort Worth. Arthur handles his Houdini history with great authority.

In fact, this episode is probably the best yet as far as Houdini history is concerned, expanding it with mentions of his movie career and crusade against fraudulent spirit mediums. The idea that George is uncovering the story of his great uncle for himself and the audience is best realized in this episode. Of course, it wouldn't be "reality" TV without talk of a murder conspiracy! But the episode doesn't go too deeply into this and is not significantly derailed by it.

But the meat of the episode is the Buried Alive itself. Steve Wolf at Stunt Ranch constructs a theoretical version of Houdini's stage apparatus for magician Lee Terbosic to attempt. Both the conception and method is ingenious, and because we don't even know exactly how Houdini presented it, there's no danger of exposure. But in bringing the escape to life, one can appreciate how it was an effective stunt, and maybe even a lost Houdini masterpiece. So the episode has provided a real service to Houdini history by showing us what may have been.


Overall, this series turned out to be a mixed bag. It contained a disappointing amount of speculative hokum about Houdini being a spy at the expense of a more fact based exploration of his life. But the team's investigations and recreations of Houdini's feats were all very well done, and the series provided great interviews with fresh faces. And above all, it was respectful to Houdini and made him ever more fascinating!

It also did not turn out to be an exposure show as many had feared. They did indeed successfully ride the line between exposure and investigation, and in the case of a few genuine secrets, such as the Water Torture Cell, they went out of their way to protect the real method. So I'd say this series was a cut above and a worthy addition to the growing list of Houdini documentaries. I would be happy to see a second season.

The complete Season One of Houdini's Last Secrets is available for purchase at Amazon and iTunes.

If you're interested in more information on Buried Alive, check out the below links:

    Sunday, January 27, 2019

    LINK: How Harry Houdini might have pulled off his most daring trick

    This is a bit of a spoiler for tonight's fourth and final episode of Houdini's Last Secrets, but it's a good article by Mental Floss (an excellent website) with some nice details about the team's Buried Alive build. Click the headline to have a read.

    Stunt expert Steve Wolf considers the buried alive illusion Houdini's most daring trick. "The margin for failure on that is zero," Wolf tells Mental Floss.

    Houdini's Last Secrets airs on the Science Channel and the SciGO app. You can also stream episodes at their website or purchase the series at Amazon and iTunes.

    I'll share my review of episode 4 tomorrow.

    Related:

    Saturday, January 26, 2019

    Here's Houdini's rarely seen aviation trophy today

    Last Sunday I had the great pleasure of spending the morning with Eric Colleary who curates the Houdini Collections (and more) at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Eric and his team recently spent two years cataloging their massive Houdini holdings, making many discoveries in the process.

    While returning from brunch at The Magic Castle, Eric mentioned that the Center has an aviation award that Houdini received. I instantly thought of the photo in Houdini's pitchbook of the trophy he received from The Aerial League of Australia for being the first man to fly on that continent (right). I've never seen this trophy outside of that one photo, and I've always believed it to be a lost piece of Houdini memorabilia, so this was exciting! But Eric said theirs was not a standup trophy, it was a wall hanging plaque, and that it mentions the Wright Bros. (?) So it didn't sound like we were talking about the same thing. But I was still intrigued to know what this could be, and so was Eric.

    So before we said goodbye, we both pulled out our phones and started searching. I brought up the familiar pic from the pitchbook while Eric pulled up a photo from their database.

    And my jaw hit the floor!


    This is indeed Houdini's Australian Aviation Award, which is not so lost and quite different from what I've always thought it to be. As you can see, it's not a standup trophy as the pitchbook photo makes it appear. What's even more interesting is Houdini appears to have mounted it inside a frame with a label noting that "In the Competition to win this Trophy HOUDINI had to defeat a Wright Bros. Flier & Bleriot Monoplane."

    I believe this was used as part of a theater display as the typography on the label matches others I have seen (notably in a photo of a Houdini window display in Silverman, credited to the Ransom Center). It's also interesting that Houdini felt the need to enhance his accomplishment by making it clear that he had beat others for the prize.

    Making this discovery was a great way to end our morning. I told Eric if we could accomplish this sitting in my car in Los Angeles, just imagine the damage we could do at the Ransom Center itself! We're both hoping that day will come sooner than later.


    Thank you to Eric and the Harry Ransom Center for letting me share this photo of Houdini's rarely seen Australian Aviation Award. The Houdini Collections are open to the public and available via finding aids at the Ransom Center website.

    Related:

    Friday, January 25, 2019

    Houdini arrives in Los Angeles

    Arthur Moses sends over this gem of photo that I've never seen before. This shows Houdini arriving in Los Angeles on April 20, 1919 to begin work on The Grim Game.


    This comes from the Exhibitors Trade Review, May 17, 1919, which also contains the following report.

    Houdini in California 
    Harry Houdini, monarch of mystery, has arrived in Hollywood, CAL., where he started work immediately at the Lasky studio under the direction of Irvin Willat in the big six-reel mystery picture written specially for him by Arthur B. Reeve, author of the "Craig Kennedy" stories, and John Grey. 
    Houdini was met at the Santa Fe station in Los Angeles by Studio Manager Fred Kley and others, including a number of newspaper and publicity men who had been lying in wait for him with a number of stunts of extrication which they figured he would be unable to perform. They wasted no time in setting the famous escape artist to work, but he managed to wriggle out of every single one of the schemes they had prepared for him.

    What I especially like is this tells us the train station where Houdini arrived. The Santa Fe station (or La Grande Station) was located on 2nd Avenue and Santa Fe and was the main passenger terminal in Los Angeles before Union Station opened in 1939. It was demolished in 1946.


    Thank you Arthur.

    Related:

    Joe Posnanski has finished his Houdini book

    Joe Posnanski has officially completed his Houdini book. Joe shared the news today on Twitter.


    You can pre-order The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. This promises to be the Houdini book event of 2019.

    Related:

    Thursday, January 24, 2019

    Prince Ea on Houdini and the prison of the mind

    Here's a well done motivational meme by spoken word artist Prince Ea that uses Houdini as a way to illustrate the hazard of "overthinking" a situation. In the clip reenactments, Houdini is played by Andrew Morrison.



    Ea adds some embellishments, such as locating this in the South and saying a condition of Houdini's jail breaks was that he had be dressed in his street clothes. But that is not correct. Houdini would famously allow himself to be strip searched and do his jail escapes in the nude, as he would have been here.

    So did this really happen? That's not clear. This was a story Houdini would tell himself, but sometimes the context would be a safe, not a jail cell. So like Ea, it appears Houdini might have used the story of the lock that was never locked as a parable. I do like how the video subtly implies that the jailer purposely left the door unlocked, perhaps to deliver the boastful Houdini this important life lesson.

    As to the message itself... In general, I'm not a fan of motivation speaking and its tendency to eschew practical advice in favor of magical thinking. The fact is 99% of the doors Houdini encountered were locked, and he opened those with hard work and study. "My brain is the key that sets me free," he was fond of saying.

    However, as I watched this, I remembered a clipping from the April 11, 1924 Asbury Park Press, which suggests Houdini did share a belief in the power of thought, so...


    Below are a few more links to Houdini-themed motivational works.

    Related:

    Wednesday, January 23, 2019

    Bess leaves the act in 1908

    Today is Bess Houdini's birthday. She was born January 23, 1876 in Brooklyn, New York. For the occasion, I thought I'd share a piece of information I only recently discovered. I've always wondered when Bess officially left the act. This clipping from the June 13, 1908 issue of Variety finally provided the answer.

    Variety June 13, 1908

    Bess made a brief comeback in 1914 doing Metamorphosis in the short-lived Grand Magical Revue. Houdini wrote in his diary that she was "magnificent" and "working as though she never retired." Bess would then periodically return to assist her husband on special occasions, such as a 1922 S.A.M. banquet attended by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle where the Houdinis used his coat during Metamorphosis.

    In 1925, Bess returned and became a full-time part of Houdini's 3 Shows in One. In fact, she was so much a part of the show, she even had her own poster.


    Happy birthday Bess!

    Related:

    Tuesday, January 22, 2019

    Was Houdini a chauvinist?

    In the new play, Minerva–Queen of the Handcuffs, Houdini, played by Richard Lee Hsi (right), is portrayed as the villain; representative of the chauvinistic attitudes toward women at the time. Playwright Ron Pearson says: "It gave me an opportunity to cast him as the symbol for all of the barriers and inequality that women had to endure at the turn of the twentieth century, particularly female performers."

    The play has received positive reviews, and I think Minerva is an inspired choice of subject and a great symbol for the ongoing struggle for women's equality in all fields. But is it fair to characterize the real Houdini as an impediment in this struggle?

    Houdini was a man of his time and I think we can assume he possessed a certain level of male chauvinism that was endemic in society. And there was the crack he made at the male only Circumnavigators Club that he gave up aviation "when women took it up." So he's not without fault.

    But Houdini also worked alongside women his entire career. Vaudeville had as many female performers as male. And remember that Bess was an equal part of the act for many years. In fact, it was Bess who suggested they change the name from "The Houdinis" to just "Houdini" because she felt they'd do better. And far from being aghast at the idea of a female escape artist, in reality, Houdini backed his own, Miss Trixy (Wanda Timm). Of course, this was done to undermine another female escapist, Miss Undina, who was doing an imitation of his Water Torture Cell. But women in magic did not surprise or offend him. In fact, he revered the reigning female magician of the day, Adelaide Herrmann.

    Coincidentally, here's something I discovered just this week that suggests Houdini may have been very progressive in how his saw women in business. He had a female agent. It was the trailblazing Jenie Jacobs, said to have been one of only two female vaudeville booking agents in the world at that time (the other being in Russia). Heck, Jenie Jacobs might make an interesting subject of a play herself! (I'll have more on Jenie and Houdini in a future post.)

    Finally, I'm always drawn to Houdini accepting a challenge from Suffragettes in England in 1908 (the playbill to the right is from my own collection). Make no mistake, this was a political statement at this time. There were street battles with police and bombings in the name of women's suffrage (the right to vote). Many characterized the Suffragettes as dangerous radicals. Houdini accepting their challenge, advertising them, and bringing them on stage, along with a committee of 30 women, was showing a measure of solidarity. He was presenting them as equals to the police, military officers, or tradesmen who normally stepped onto his stage to challenge him. It's maybe telling that Variety warned, "This portion of the show would not be enjoyed by a New York audience."

    Now, I think it fine for playwrights to employ dramatic license and use Houdini in whatever symbolic way they want. Houdini has even been portrayed as a serial killer! But we're in an era when people take their facts from fiction, and we've seen how fictions can catch fire. So I think it's worth pointing out that the real Houdini was no enemy or barrier to women. And in the cases of Jenie Jacobs and the Suffragettes, it could be said he was an aid to their empowerment.

    As for his hostility toward Minerva... Hey, he was treating her just as he did the many male escape artists that infringed on his act. An equal offender.


    Minerva–Queen of the Handcuffs is now playing at Theatre Network in Edmonton, Canada, through January 27. For more information and to buy tickets visit the Theatre Network website.

    Photos by Marc J. Chalifoux.

    Related:

      Monday, January 21, 2019

      4000 posts

      Just a quick time out to say that I've now clocked 4000 posts here on WILD ABOUT HARRY (well, 4001 with this). You might think I'd be tired? Nope! At the moment, I'm working on so many cool posts (43 in draft form) and have so many avenues of research I've yet to explore, I'm actually overwhelmed. I truly feel that I'm still just at the beginning of this amazing journey through Houdini history.

       Thanks to everyone for the support!

      Houdini's Last Secrets episode 3 unlocks the Carette


      The third episode of Houdini's Last Secrets investigates the Siberian Transport Prison Van escape in Moscow in 1903. This is an ideal subject for this type of series, and it was the episode I was most looking forward to.

      Unfortunately, the history in this episode is as misleading as its title: "Siberian Prison Conspiracy." It's a jumble of fact, fiction, and speculation, all twisted together in support of the central idea that Houdini was in Russia working as a spy. Yes, we're back to that. This is a heart breaker after the very good episode 2 which stuck to the facts and showed what this series can be.

      But if we set the pseudohistory aside, there are aspects of this episode that are very enjoyable, and it may have even helped settle a controversy about the carette escape that has lingered for decades.

      Once again, a highlight are several fine interviews with fresh faces. We get to visit Ken Trombly who shares a rare original Russian playbill from his incredible collection. David Saltman talks about Houdini in Russia and offers some speculation about spy work. It's especially nice to see Rebecca Taylor, whose father, David De-Val, repeated many of Houdini's jail breaks. I love how they teased but didn't show her father's all-important "Gimmick X". And master locksmith Steve Sharp provides some interesting insight into lock picking. Getting into the mechanics of lock picking was one of the aspects of this episode I enjoyed the most.

      Meanwhile, Steve Wolf at Stunt Ranch reconstructs a carette for Lee Terbosic to attempt an escape. It's exciting to see this legendary vehicle take form, although I would have expected there to have been some debate about the window size, which is key to the escape and a controversial aspect of the famous poster. In fact, there are a several things the show sidesteps to make their theories work, but that's fine.

      In the end, Lee attempts the escape, and here's where the show might have provided a service to Houdini history. Houdini himself admitted that he picked the lock on the carette door. But the 1931 book, The Secrets of Houdini, claimed he actually cut through the zinc floor. This dramatic escape method became popular with biographers and appears in many books, although it was always doubted by the best, such as Milbourne Christopher, Ken Silverman, and Pat Culliton.

      Now here we get to see the theory put to the test as Lee attempts to cut through the same zinc floor with his smuggled tool. He quickly discovers it's impossible in the allotted time. It would take hours or maybe days to accomplish. So at least this episode puts one myth to rest. Houdini did not cut his way out of the carette.

      But how then does Lee escape? Or did he escape? I will leave that for you to discover.


      Houdini's Last Secrets airs on the Science Channel and the SciGO app. You can also stream episodes at their website or purchase the series at Amazon and iTunes.

      If you're interested in more information on Houdini's Siberian Transport Van escape and other topics touched on in this episode, check out the below links:

        Saturday, January 19, 2019

        Houdini's Berlin bridge jump footage described


        On September 5, 1908, Houdini jumped manacled from Friedrichs Bridge (Friedrichsbrücke) in Berlin, Germany. Like other bridge jumps, it was filmed. Like other films, it has been lost.

        The Friedrichs Bridge jump is not one of Houdini better documented escapes. There are no photos or news clippings that I'm aware. That's what makes the below so special. This is an advertisement from a German film magazine, Der Kinematograph, placed by the company that filmed the escape. In it they provide a description of exactly what the footage shows.

        "The world-famous breakout king and escape artist Houdini, who performa his amazing tricks, was cinematographically recorded by us with colossal success at Circus Busch in Berlin. This unique recording shows Houdini as he is carefully tied up before representatives of the Berlin press, supervised by the a special committee, then— laden with chains—running from the Circus Busch into the street and plunging from the parapet of nearby Friedrich’s Bridge, in the presence of a large crowd of spectators, into the River Spree. He dives under and appears again after barely a minute, completely unbound, on the surface, where a boat picks him up."

        Thanks to David Byron of Baroque Potion for providing the above translation. Now if we could only find the film!

        Below is Friedrichs Bridge today.


        UPDATE: Our friend Perry from New Jersey sends over the below photo which shows the Circus Busch (the rounded domed building) and its relation to Friedrichs Bridge. A long run in shackles!


        Related:

        Friday, January 18, 2019

        Jewish Museum of Maryland's farewell to Houdini

        We are in the final days of Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore. The museum is saying goodbye to the exhibition with a special event on Sunday and a generous offer on Monday.

        A Fantastical Farewell to Houdini
        Sunday, January 20, 2019 at 1pm
        Performer: Brian Curry, magician
        Get Tickets Now
        Magician Brian Curry is as sharp as the tack he put on your chair. Part Magician, part mentalist, and part conman, Brian will leave you baffled. Like Houdini himself, Brian blurs the line between hype, skill and deception. Come see what has been called “The World’s Most Difficult Card Trick”, along with the Mind Reading Fortune Cookie in this fun farewell performance to our beloved Houdini exhibit, Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini

        If you arrive at the museum at 11:30am on Sunday, you'll be able to enjoy a special tour of the Houdini exhibition conducted by curator David London.

        On Monday, January 21, the last day of the exhibition, the museum will offer FREE admission to all federal employees and their families (2 adults & children under 18). You'll just need to show a valid, government-issued ID at the welcome desk to take advantage of the free admission.

        Visit the JMM website for more information.

        Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini will travel next to The Breman Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, opening April 14, 2019.

        Related:

        George Hardeen talks Houdini and television

        George Hardeen has written a terrific article about his magical family and his experience making the TV series Houdini's Last Secrets for his weekly employee magazine Pulse. As you can see, George and his Great Uncle Harry made the cover.

        The magazine is distributed to SRP employees, but you can read and save a PDF via THIS LINK good for a week.


        Houdini's Last Secrets airs on the Science Channel. The third episode, which looks at the Siberian Transport Prison Van escape, airs this Sunday at 10 PM EST. The series is also available on Amazon and iTunes.

        Related:

          Thursday, January 17, 2019

          There's a skilled Houdini forger out there

          Last week I posted about a Houdini fake being sold by High End Memorabilia of Gardena, CA via Liveauctioneers. That auction was removed. Today High End came back with another obvious fake, this time openly showing it to be from a book published seven years after Houdini's death. The auction was also removed.


          This would be comical if it wasn't for the signature. It's looks pretty darn good. It's not perfect (and I won't say how, and please don't either), but if this were on something from Houdini's time, it could pass. That's frightening.

          In fact, I'm starting to wonder if this is really all about the forger showcasing their skills?

          Be careful out there!

          Related:

          Houdini plays Atlanta in 1912...and 2019!

          On New Year's Day 1912 Houdini opened at the Forsyth Theater in Atlanta, Georgia. It was his first appearance in Atlanta and one of his rare appearances in the deep South. Below is an ad for his "New Year's Big Show" from The Atlanta Constitution.

          .

          The exciting news is this year Houdini will return to Atlanta! That's because the popular exhibition Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini will appear at The Breman Museum in Atlanta, April 14 to August 11, 2019.


          You can find more details at the Breman Museum website, Facebook and Twitter. I will also keep us updated with all the related programs and events.

          Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini was created by magician David London and the Jewish Museum of Maryland. This Monday (January 21) will be the last day to see it in Baltimore before it closes in preparation for its move to Atlanta.

          Related:

          Wednesday, January 16, 2019

          LINK: Unknown Houdini Illusion for the 1927 tour

          Yesterday I posted a rare still from Hardeen's Medium Well Done which I thought might show Harry Kellar's Spirit Cabinet (given to Houdini in 1917). But Dean Carnegie chimes in with a different idea. Dean suspects what we are seeing is Maro's The Mystery of Aryan Illusion, which Houdini acquired shortly before his death and would have passed to Hardeen. I think The Magic Detective has solved another case!

          Dean did a post about the illusion in 2015 that I had forgotten about. But Houdini's magic and what could have been is always of interest, so click the headline and have a read at...


          Related:

          Tuesday, January 15, 2019

          A new photo from Hardeen's Medium Well Done

          In 2016 collector Thomas Ewing shared with us the only known photo from Hardeen's 1937 Vitaphone short, Medium Well Done. Now Tom is back with a new image that's even more exciting!


          This photo shows Hardeen giving spiritualist demonstrations before members of the cast, including Gertrude Mudge, Margaret Breen, and Paul E. Burns. Of note is what appears to be a large spirit cabinet. What's interesting is we know Harry Kellar gave Houdini his spirit cabinet in 1917. Presumably, Hardeen inherited it along with Houdini's other apparatus. So are we seeing Kellar's own spirit cabinet being performed here? Also, is that Jim Collins holding the door?

          Medium Well Done features Hardeen as a detective exposing the tricks of a bogus medium. It was shot at the Brooklyn Vitaphone Studios in January 1936 and released March 6, 1937. At the moment, it is considered a lost film. But the good folks at The Vitaphone Project have made it their mission to find lost Vitaphone shorts, so here's hoping one day they might uncover this important piece of movie and magic history.

          Thanks to Tom Ewing for letting me share this treasure here.

          UPDATE: According to Ron Hutchinson at The Vitaphone Project Facebook group, Medium Well Done is NOT lost. He says it "exists in 35mm at Library of Congress." This is great news, and it gives me hope we might one day see it released via the Warner Archive Collection.

          Related:

          Sunday, January 13, 2019

          Houdini's Last Secrets episode 2 hits the mark


          The Bullet Catch is the subject of the second episode of Houdini's Last Secrets. This might seem odd as the Bullet Catch is known as the one trick Houdini didn't do. (He announced he would in 1918 after the death of Chung Ling Soo, but was talked out of it by Harry Kellar.) However, there is some evidence that he might have done the trick very early in his career, and that leads the team into their investigation.

          I think this second episode, "To Catch A Bullet", is a big improvement over episode one. This time the focus remains on the Bullet Catch--no nonsense about Houdini being a spy--and the show does a nice job investigating its history in interviews with Ben Robinson, author of Twelve Have Died, and Stephen Fenton, a Chung Ling Soo collector and expert. We also get to see the great Kevin Connolly surrounded by his magnificent Houdini collection.

          I also pop up again (last time, I promise!) to "reveal" Houdini's own account of doing the Bullet Catch in the October 1936 issue of The Sphinx. This appears to corroborate a mention by Jack Hyman as related by Edward Saint in the April 1937 Genii. And then there's that "horse pistol", just as Houdini describes, clearly visible in a famous early photo of him with his magic apparatus (right).

          What didn't make the cut was me saying that I wouldn't conclude Houdini did the Bullet Catch based on just this. I'd need to see something independent of Saint and Houdini, such as a newspaper account from the time. So we're not there yet.

          But the show kinda used my interview to tip the scales toward the idea that Houdini did in fact do it, and that's fine. I think they did a good job of presenting the evidence and making it seem plausible. In this way, I think they've captured the real fun of investigating the puzzle that is Houdini's life, and it makes me look forward to upcoming episodes on the Carette and Buried Alive, of which there is much more to chew on.

          Structurally the show is split between two investigative paths. As George Hardeen looks into the history of the Bullet Catch, Steve Wolf at Stunt Ranch tries to engineer his own version for magician Lee Terbosic to perform. It's all very Mythbusters-like. They even have their own Kari Byron in Salina Cram.

          I confess I don't know how the Bullet Catch is done (apart from Chung Ling Soo's method, which the show does explain), so I'm not sure what lines if any they cross in regards to exposure. But this episode makes it clear they are engineering their own methods, and apart from the pig cadaver silliness, I found the these sections pretty captivating. I'm especially surprised to learn how deadly blanks can be even from a distance.

          Everything about this episode works, including having genuine tension at the end when Lee does the deadly trick himself. Does he survive? I'll leave that for you to discover.


          Houdini's Last Secrets airs on the Science Channel and the SciGO app. You can also stream episodes at their website, or purchase the series via Amazon and iTunes.

          If you're interested in more information on Houdini and the Bullet Catch, check out the below links:

          Houdini's Last Secrets available for purchase online

          Goods news for those (like myself) who do not get the Science Channel and have been unable to watch or stream Houdini's Last Secrets. You can now buy individual episodes or subscribe to the full season via Amazon or iTunes (and maybe other services I'm not aware).


          Houdini's Last Secrets is a 4-part series featuring George Hardeen that investigates several of Houdini's most baffling mysteries. The first episode, which looked the Water Torture Cell, is available now. Episode 2, which covers the Bullet Catch, airs tonight on the Science Channel at 10PM EST. It will presumably be available for purchase shortly after.

          While my review of Episode 1 was mixed, I very much enjoyed Episode 2. I will be posting a full review later today.

          Related:

          Saturday, January 12, 2019

          A gift between Circumnavigators

          One of my last (and most popular) posts of 2018 was about Houdini's little discussed membership in the Circumnavigators Club. Now club president David Mink has sent over another terrific Houdini related find from the November 5, 1922 issue of the club journal, The Log.


          This is pretty fantastic. Not only does it provide an exact date for this famous gift (this is when Houdini was in Los Angeles filming The Grim Game), but I didn't know Harry Kellar was also a member of the Circumnavigators Club. And I've not seen that particular photo before.

          After Houdini's death, "Circumpsycho" traveled to Joseph Dunninger. Henry Muller then acquired him for his Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls. There the automaton suffered neglect, vandalism, and fell into disrepair. In 1986 John Gaughan rescued him from the museum. Today the fully restored and operational Psycho resides in John's collection.


          You can see film of Psycho in action HERE on The Paul Daniels Magic Show in 1988. Is it just coincide that his "random" number selection begins with 278?

          Thanks to David Mink. For details on the still very active Circumnavigators Club visit their official website.

          Related:

          Friday, January 11, 2019

          Minerva vs. Houdini in new play

          A new play about real-life escape artist Minerva and her rivalry with Houdini will have its World Premiere at Theatre Network in Edmonton, January 17-27. Previews begin January 15.

          Ghost Writer Theatre presents
          The World Premiere of
          Minerva – Queen of the Handcuffs
          By Ron Pearson 
          No binds can hold her! No box can contain her! She can escape from anything… anything but the clutches of the master himself! Minerva – Queen of the Handcuffs is the true story of the world’s most famous female escape artist and her rivalry with Harry Houdini. This world premiere production features Edmonton’s own master escape artist, Miranda Allen. 
          Featuring: Miranda Allen (Minerva) & Richard Lee Hsi (Houdini)
          Director: Bradley Moss

          Author Ron Pearson shared some details about the play at Dean Carnegie's Magic Detective. Ron says, "I very much liked the idea of portraying Houdini as the bad guy, as he is traditionally seen as the archetypal hero. It gave me the opportunity to cast him as the symbol for all of the barriers and inequality that women had to endure at the turn of the twentieth century, particularly female performers."

          For more information and to buy tickets visit the Theatre Network website. You can also follow the production's progress on their Facebook page.

          UPDATE: Check out this review of the real Minerva I just found in an April 1907 issue of Variety. I've not heard that "former assistant" claim before.


          Related:

          Facebook Live chat with George Hardeen today

          The Science Channel will host a Facebook Live chat with George Hardeen today at 2pm EST/ 11am PST. Presumably this can be accessed via the Science Channel's Facebook Page (I'm never quite sure how to find these).

          George Hardeen is Harry Houdini's Great Nephew and he's joining us for a Facebook Live at 2p EST/ 11a PST. He's been on a journey to learn more about his Great Uncle so he'll have many stories and can answer YOUR questions about Houdini

          George is currently starring in the Science Channel's series Houdini's Last Secrets. Episode 2, which focases on the Bullet Catch, airs this Sunday.

          Related:

          Thursday, January 10, 2019

          Mystifier, First Quarter 1996

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


          The First Quarter 1996 Mystifier kicks off with the announcement of a special exhibit called Mind Over Magic set to open in Fall.

          Mind Over Magic represents a fresh approach to Houdini in both its interpretive content and its exhibition techniques. Interpretively the exhibit will place Houdini's career in the broader context of the master magicians who preceded him. Whereas the Houdini! exhibit surveys Houdini life and career, Mind Over Magic will examine how Houdini came out of and transformed the classical magic tradition.

          [Mind Over Magic would ultimately be shelved in favor of an exhibition devoted to The Master Mystery.]

          The newsletter continues with an article by Dr. Morris N. Young about Houdini's "haunted" bust in the collection of the HHC. The museum's bust is a clay copy of the original acquired by Sidney Radner from Hardeen. Young notes the mysterious destruction of other Houdini busts and asks: "Will it share the same fate as others? Or is there a supernatural element that is now content with its current location?"

          This newsletter also contains an article by myself chronicling the many attempts by producer Ray Stark to mount a Houdini biopic. At the time this on-again off-again project was on-again. I was excited to have something published in Mystifier, which I now see as a forerunner and inspiration for my blog. The article was later published in MAGIC Magazine. I posted an updated version HERE.

          The museum shop reports that a new book, The Importance of Harry Houdini by Adam Woog, is now in stock. So too are a set of 12 new Houdini postcards. Among the New Members are the familiar names of Ian McColl and Joseph M. Notaro.

          In his "Backstage" column, Sid Radner talks about his recent trip to Las Vegas where he saw both David Copperfield and Lance Burton. He was also able to visit the early Copperfield collection. Sid writes:

          A real highlight of our trip was being guests of David Copperfield at his "wearhouse," which houses his magic collection, offices, living quarters, exercise rooms, rehearsal rooms, etc. David has what must be the most complete collection of magic memorabilia in the world. He has an especially fine Houdini collection which includes some great posters.

          Sid then reveals a scoop ("only in the Mystifier do you get information like this!") that the Houdini Picture Corporation is back in business and collectors will be able to acquire stock certificates in their names. While Sid doesn't detail it here, the company was reincorporated by Geno Munari who was establishing his "Houdini Magic Shop" chain in Las Vegas at this time.

          Sid concludes with the news that Ken Silverman's still untitled Houdini biography is due for an October release from Harper Collins.

          Mystifier
          Volume 6, Number 1
          First Quarter, 1996
          6 pages

          Contents:
          New Exhibit Opens Oct. 25
          'Haunted' Statue Taunts Skeptics
          New Book at Museum Shop
          Hollywood Still Looking for Houdini
          Backstage with Sid Radner


          Related:

          Wednesday, January 9, 2019

          What's wrong with this picture?

          This "Harry Houdini Signed Photo Sheet" is up for auction by High End Memorabilia in Gardena, California. It is being offered on Liveauctioneers and comes with a certificate of authenticity from Stephen Rocchi GFA. Estimate is $1,000 - $1,375.

          But there's something very, very wrong here. Do you know what it is?


          This page is from Houdini His Life Story by Harold Kellock, first published in 1928, two years after Houdini's death! So this is an out and out fake. What troubles me is the signature looks pretty good, so that tells us there is a skillful forger out there.

          I tried to notify the auction house. Here's their reply:

          "Thank you for letting us know and we will look into this we do our normal steps and provide two different COA's with each of our items: one that is a third party authenticator, and the other that comes from us as a LuxeWest 100% lifetime guarantee. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to reach out again. Please remember if you do a direct buy I can take off the 25% buyers premium for you and even give you a discount code."

          Bidder beware.

          Thanks to Kevin Connolly.

          UPDATE. Here we go again. Also a page from Life Story.

          Related:

          Hanging with Houdini

          I recently posted to my dedicated New Houdini Chronology page a list of ALL of Houdini's suspended straitjacket escapes that I've so far been able to uncover (52). When I eventually produce a printed version of the chronology, listings such as this will appear as an appendix. But I know this list can't be complete, so if anyone knows of an escape that slipped past me, please give a shout! Click below to view:



          Related:

          Tuesday, January 8, 2019

          Bill Rauscher on Arthur Ford and the Houdini Code

          Today marks the 90th anniversary of the infamous Arthur Ford seance in which he revealed the coded Houdini message before Bess and assembled press at 67 Payson Ave. in New York.

          I've never really tackled the Houdini Code and its controversy here on WILD ABOUT HARRY, but I wanted to put up something for this anniversary, so below is a full lecture by William V. Rauscher who wrote the book The Houdini Code Mystery and knew Arthur Ford personally. Rauscher has never spoken highly of Houdini, and he doesn't here, but he's a good man and an important magic historian, and what he has to say about Ford and events of 1929 is pretty interesting. Enjoy.


          Related:

          Monday, January 7, 2019

          Listen to me on Dark Sun Rising tonight at 10 EST

          I know this is late notice, but tonight I will be the guest on "Dark Sun Rising" hosted by Erick Bee & Vicki Valencourt. The show is broadcast live over Para-X Radio Network and is described as "tearing back the veil of hype, misconception, misinformation, and ignorance to examine the balance between the light and the dark in the paranormal world." Our subject will be...what else? Houdini!

          Sunday, January 6, 2019

          No, that's NOT the secret of Houdini's Water Torture Cell


          The first episode of Houdini's Last Secrets aired tonight on the Science Channel. Based on what it offered, it looks like this 4-part series might be a mixed bag. While there are some good interviews and peeks inside some nice collections, there's also the typical reality TV hokum about spy work and murder theories. But the real hot button is the show's promise to reveal Houdini's secrets. So do they?

          This first episode, "The Torture Escape", investigates Houdini's Water Torture Cell, and in the end you are led to believe that they've discovered and exposed the secret of Houdini's most famous escape. But they actually did no such thing. They created their own luxuriously large cell and their own means of release which is not how Houdini's cell looked or worked. And as far as learning the secret from David Haversat's two page Houdini design (an incredible artifact!), know that the production had already built their cell and filmed their escape sequence before they ever saw that document, which doesn't reveal the real secret anyway.

          So this is really a faux exposure of the Water Torture Cell in the tradition of R.D. Adams and others. Does that make it okay? That's something to debate, but I admit I'm relieved. I knew the production had Patrick Culliton's book Houdini The Key, so they could have gone all the way and didn't. For that I'm thankful.

          For me the greater offense was devoting a good chuck of the episode to the notion that Houdini was a spy. You may have even gotten the impression from my own interview that I'm somewhat onboard with this idea, which I am absolutely NOT. In fact, I recall giving a very clear and strong repudiation of the entire theory, but that hit the cutting room floor. It's a shame to see this pseudohistory once again getting attention, but Hollywood just can't resist a spy story.

          Speaking of inaccuracies, in my interview I said Houdini never did a diving suit escape. This is not strictly true. He did once accept a non-submerged diving suit challenge, and he escaped from a diving suit in The Master Mystery. So I'm sorry I said that.

          On the upside, the series has a cool title sequence, George Hardeen is a natural (must run in the family), and seeing John Magic's museum and his excellent Water Torture Cell replica was a treat. And who knew former CIA Director John McLaughlin was a Houdini buff? I also liked the swimming pool test when they were working with dimensions similar to Houdini's cell, which shows just how constricting it really was. Of course, they don't mention the inner cage Houdini used that constricted the inside of the cell even more, and would have made turning around in the way magician Lee Terbosic did so impossible.

          So it looks like this series will ride an ethical razors edge. While not revealing Houdini's actual methods, they are technically still doing exposures, so I can see them getting some heat for this. But at least the first episode is behind us and the secret of the Water Torture Cell is safe. We'll see what comes next!


          Houdini's Last Secrets airs on the Science Channel and the SciGO app. You can also stream the episodes at their website. I've launched an Episode Guide HERE.

          If you're interested in more information on Houdini's Water Torture Cell, check out these links:

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