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.

Volume 6, Number 1
First Quarter, 1996
6 pages

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



  1. Just read your article on Stark's Houdini pic journey - great research on your part. I had no idea all of that was going on. Amazing talents involved; one can only imagine what might have been if one of those approaches had become reality. I have a feeling that today, the only approach to a big screen pic with Houdini in the lead that Hollywood might consider bankable would indeed be a fictional Houdini adventure (though I'm not sure it would've been the right approach in Stark's time). And it would probably have to be a very fantastical, CGI-laden approach. To the public, it's far more about Houdini's myth than his magic and escapes. But again, you'd need just the right script and a ton of money for it to happen.


    1. I've kinda lost hope in Hollywood being able to do justice to Houdini's story. I think we missed the window in time in which that could have happened. I have one of the '90s screenplays by Rivele and Wilkinson (the one that would have starred Tom Cruise) and I thought it was excellent. Not a straight biopic. It mixed fictional Margery action with flashbacks, but I think it worked. It's still doable, but I'm just not sure Hollywood makes movies like this anymore. At least the big studios don't. And the "spy" whatnot has really poisoned the well. Producers can't get past this and think that's the only thing audiences want to see.

      I have more hope for some kind of Broadway musical, but that best chance might have slipped past us as well.

    2. It's really tough. Maybe there are TOO many story possibilities when it comes to Houdini. I was approached some years ago about writing a book for a Broadway-bound Houdini musical, but then it passed to someone else and in the end, that didn't work out either. So I just don't know. Something seems to keep it from happening.