Thursday, February 28, 2019

Jeopardy! offers up an easy one

Houdini made an appearance on Jeopardy! yesterday. Under the category "Dates" was this $1600 question, answered correctly by Team Austin. I'm assuming everyone here can get it? But don't forget the answer in the form of a question.

To see the full board, check out the J! Archive website where you can also see all mentions of Houdini on the show going back to 1986.

Thanks to Michael Mode for the image.


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Great Houdini will mop up for you! (or not)

Here are two terrific full page trade ads for Houdini's Haldane of the Secret Service (1923). Unlike The Man From Beyond, Houdini turned distribution and promotion of this final Houdini Picture Corporation production over to F.B.O. (Film Booking Office) who ballyhooed the feature to theater owners with ads like these.

F.B.O. appears to have overpromised what exhibitors were getting in regards to "extraordinary posters--extraordinary exploitation." Several theater owners complained that the 3-sheet poster, which depicts an assortment of Houdini escapes, was misleading as none of the escapes appear in the film. Below is a typical reaction from a theater owner in Middleport, New York.

Now you are probably dying to see that 3-sheet poster, right!? Unfortunately, it's never been reproduced in any book to my knowledge. The only place I've been lucky enough to see it is in the ultra-rare original Haldane of the Secret Service pressbook owned by Kevin Connolly. And even there you can't see the entire poster.

But if one of these Haldane 3-sheets ever showed up at auction, you can bet it would MOP up!


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Two new comic books spy Houdini this week

Two new comic books released this week take Houdini into the realm of master detective and international spy, because we've apparently not had enough of that! The first is a graphic novel called Houdini: International Spy by Philip Landa with art by Marco Cosentino. Here's a taste.

Houdini is enlisted by the US Ambassador to Great Britain to locate a missing American doctor and discovers a plot by a fanatical scientist hell-bent on unleashing a modern-day Black Plague on Vienna.

The book runs 64 (pen and ink) pages. At $12.99 it's a bit pricey for you get, but if you're so inclined, it can be purchased now at and

The next book is called Houdini: Master Detective by Jonathan Kendrick, Jamie Allan Nicklin and Simon Mark Wheeler, with artwork by Rafael Broseta and David Belmonte. Sounds like it could be a sequel to the above (or visa versa).

A mystery criminal is committing a rash of diabolical crimes plaguing the city, so Scotland Yard reaches out to Harry Houdini and his wife, Bess Houdini, are called upon by Scotland Yard to help figure out who the evil perpetrator is. But no sooner are they on the case then the villain kidnaps Bess!

I'm not sure how to buy Houdini: Master Detective online, but according to Previews, it will be in stores on February 27.

While I normally enjoy flights of Houdini fiction like this, I'm starting to wonder if books like these are actually doing harm. By consistently presenting Houdini as some sort of crime fighter, are they slowly undermining the facts of his real life and obscuring his true legacy? Or are they just harmless fun that only enhances his legend?


Monday, February 25, 2019

PODCAST: The Last Days of Harry Houdini

The Detroit History Podcast has an episode today devoted to Houdini and his Detroit connections. It's well done! Click the headline to have a listen.

Before radio, TV, and the internet magician Harry Houdini was described as the world's first rock star. So when he died in Detroit after a performance here in 1926, people around the world took note. We unspool Houdini's death, and his various Detroit connections. That includes his 1906 leap off the Belle Isle Bridge. Veteran newsman Joe Donovan, a serious student of history, recreates that jump in classic CKLW 20/20 new style. We also talk with magicians Ming Louie, Michael Belitsos, and Ron Carnell, pop culture expert Tim Caldwell, and reporter Steve Neavling.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Houdini portrait sells in Jim Rawlins Auction Part 1

Yesterday saw Potter & Potter's auction of The Jim Rawlins Collection, Part I. The auction included several nice Houdini lots, including this terrific original framed portrait of Houdini that sold for $2,640 (including buyers premium).

It's credited as being Russia in 1903. Intriguingly, the auction description says, "Not examined out of frame." Really? Could there be a message from Houdini on the back!? Let's crack it open!

Potter's next magic auction will be The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet on April 27. The next Jim Rawlins auction (there will be four total) is not yet listed.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

Baker beats Houdini (sorta)

It was on this day in 1967 that Steve Baker recreated Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape from the Tribune Tower in Oakland, California. Baker's boast was that he "beat" Houdini by doing the escape one floor higher. Houdini performed his escape on March 27, 1923 from the tower as it was still under construction.

The above AP image comes from the Minnesota Post Bulletin website and shows the respectable crowd that Baker gathered (reported at 10,000). Today a photo of Houdini doing the escape hangs inside the Tribune Tower's restaurant.

Steve Baker, a.k.a. "Mr. Escape", died in 2017.

UPDATE: Looks like I got the date wrong. Baker actually did the escape yesterday, February 22, 1967.


Friday, February 22, 2019

The Houdinis at Inceville

The following item appeared in the January 8, 1916 issue of Motography, an early film magazine. It features a fantastic image of Harry and Bess at a historic location as far as early cinema is concerned.

Inceville was the studio ranch of pioneering silent film producer Thomas Ince. It was located in Santa Ynez Canyon in the Santa Monica mountains and stretched all the way to Pacific Coast Highway. Here's a description of Inceville from wikimapia:

The studio was the first of its kind in that it featured stages, offices, labs, commissaries (large enough to serve lunch to hundreds of workers), dressing rooms, props houses, elaborate sets, and other necessities in one location. While the site was under construction, Ince hired the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wildwest Show, including many cowboys, horses, cattle, and a whole Sioux Indian tribe, who set up their teepees on the property. When construction was completed, the streets were lined with many types of structures, from humble cottages to mansions, mimicking the style and architecture of different countries. Extensive outdoor western sets were built and used on the site for several years.

Despite the January date of the magazine, the Houdinis would have made their visit in December 1915 when Houdini was appearing at the Orpheum in Los Angeles (for context, this was when he had his famous encounter with Jess Willard). Around this same time they also visited Universal Studios and were photographed with Charlie Chaplin, possibly at the Majestic Studios in what is today Los Feliz.

Below is a photo of Harry and Bess from the collection of John Hinson. I shared this as part of my Unpublished Houdini series in 2015. At that time, I was thought this might have been taken somewhere in the American Southwest during this 1915 tour. But the clothing the Houdinis are wearing, coupled with the description of the studio ("a whole Sioux Indian tribe"), now leads me to believe this photo was taken on the same day. So this too is Inceville!


Thursday, February 21, 2019

Houdini miniseries leaves Netflix March 2

The Houdini miniseries starring Adrien Brody will be leaving Netflix on March 2. The streaming network put up the two-part biopic in March 2015. I'm always amused when people tell me they watched "the Netflix Houdini movie" with no idea it was originally shown on HISTORY in 2014.

Netflix streams the edited U.S. broadcast version. The full unedited international version can be found on DVD and Blu-ray. You can read my review HERE.


Tom Interval introduces Blogcasts

The talented Tom Interval has come up with a clever new idea of a "Blogcast" in which he reads select posts from his Interval Magic and Houdini Museum blogs. His first Blogcast is his breakthrough 2018 post about Houdini's father:

Also check out Tom's Patreon page for special videos and content. He's a trailblazer!


    Wednesday, February 20, 2019

    Mystifier, Third 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 Third Quarter 1996 Mystifier begins with a highly critical assessment of the available Houdini biographies for children by HHC curator Benjamin Filene.

    I count 14 biographies of Houdini for young readers, a number that would make many a former president green with envy. The sheer quantity of these volumes, however, cannot compensate for their serious flaws. With only a few exceptions, these works are hopelessly sensationalized. They distort the historical record and, worse, obscure Houdini's true legacy.

    Filene's objections focus on the mythology that many of the biographies embrace, such as the "pies in the cupboard" and "handcuffed convict" episodes from Houdini's childhood. He is hardest on Houdini: Master of Escape (1973) by Lee Kendall, The Great Escaper (1979) by David Warren, and Houdini (1979) by John Norwood Fago. Alternatively, Filene recommends The Importance of Harry Houdini (1995) by Adam Woog as presenting "a far more balanced and nuanced depiction of Houdini's life."

    The newsletter continues with a look at passages in the 1960 biography, The Lincoln Collector: The Story of Oliver R. Barrett's Great Private Collection by Carl Sanberg. Barrett was friends with the Houdinis and the book contains an excerpt from a letter written to him by Bess not long after Harry's death:

    I must write to you about my beloved, I just cannot rest, he was so proud of his friendship with you, and I know you truly mourn with me. I am a mere shadow, weigh scarcely eighty-five pounds, have been confined to my bed six weeks now, long before my sweetheart went away, yet I live and he in his glorious strength died. His brilliant clear mind never left him for a moment.

    An update on the Houdini gravesite repair fund follows with news that the repairs will be completed by Fall. HHC Director Steven M. Wilson writes about "Houdini as Legend", stating: "What the HHC has done, and will continue to do, is to interpret Harry Houdini and his time." The center announces that The Man From Beyond will be screened on Halloween to mark the 70th anniversary of Houdini's death. The Museum Shop reports that a facsimile reprint of Houdini's Margery pamphlet ("a neat little book") is now available for $4.50.

    Sid Radner begins his "Backstage" column talking about his recent trip to Italy where he was hosted by magician Silvan. He reveals that Kenneth Silverman's new book will be called Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, and that Ken will be attending the Yankee Gathering in Fall. Sid also announces that Gene Gamache's new documentary, Houdini People Came to See Him Die, is available on VHS, and that it will air on the Discovery Channel in 1997 (in a shortened version). Finally, he announces that the Official Houdini Seance will be held at the Players Club of New York that year.

    The newsletter concludes with an article revealing plans for a special online conference to be hosted on AOL on Halloween called "Houdini Escapes the 20th Century" with HHC curator Benjamin Filene. Should we consider this Houdini's very first first foray on the internet?

    Volume 6, Number 3
    Third Quarter, 1996
    6 pages

    A Review of Houdini in Children's Literature
    From the Center's Director
    Halloween at HHC
    Museum Shop
    Bess' Letter Found in Memoirs
    Houdini Gravesite Repairs Update
    Backstage with Sid Radner
    'Catch' Houdini on the Net


    Tuesday, February 19, 2019

    'The Great Houdinis' on Talking Pictures, Thursday

    The Great Houdinis will air on Talking Pictures TV in the UK this Thursday, February 21, at 1:05 AM. The network appears to have put the biopic into regular rotation, having aired it twice in 2018.

    The Great Houdinis first aired on American television on October 8, 1976, but it has not aired in the U.S. for decades (to my knowledge). The movie stars Paul Michael Glaser, Sally Struthers, Ruth Gordon, Peter Cushing, Bill Bixby, Viviane Vance, and Adrienne Barbeau.

    Thanks to Karl Bartoni for the heads up.


    Monday, February 18, 2019

    Houdini gives the all clear to his imitators???

    We all know Houdini was ferociously protective of his original inventions, going to great lengths to copyright and protect them. We also know he hated imitators and would not hesitate to go after them for infringing on his act. So how on earth do we explain this!?

    Click to enlarge.

    This is a half page ad Houdini took out in Variety on October 7, 1911. As you can see, he's giving the all clear to his competition to perform his latest invention without consequences. Note that he also uses this ad to announce he's giving up his latest passion: "P.S.–I have given up Aviation, because there are so many Aviators and Only One Houdini."

    The invention he's talking about here is the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery, a dramatic improvement to his Milk Can escape. In fact, conventional thinking has always been that this was his way to deal with the many imitators who had copied his Milk Can. But here he is inviting them to copy it?

    This wasn't the only inexplicable thing Houdini did this week. He was playing Keith & Proctor's 5th Ave. Theater in New York, and for reasons that aren't clear, he took himself out of the star position, which his contract guaranteed. Instead he played sixth on the bill, and he seemed to enjoy it! Variety reported:

    "The experience is a delightful one," said Houdini. "I never imagined how 'soft' it was in the middle of the show. Monday afternoon I rushed out and commenced to talk fast, to keep them from walking out on me. But I didn't see anyone with their hats on and the audience looked so restful, I took my time."

    So what is wrong with Houdini? Was he having some sort of breakdown? Or was he crazy like a fox?

    At this time, Houdini has already developed and copyrighted (via playlet) his Water Torture Cell. But he would not debut it for another year. So maybe this was a way to get the competition to invest in Double Fold boxes and managers to book their houses full of Double Fold knocks offs. And then Houdini brings out the Torture Cell. Boom!

    I should say I don't know of any imitators who actually did copy the Double Fold Mystery. It was an expensive and complex piece of apparatuses. In fact, the Double Fold chest can still effectively hold its secrets, as I discovered last year. So maybe Houdini is simply daring his competition to try and figure it out his latest invention and this is really just a sly bit of advertising.

    Whatever was going on here, Houdini never ceases to amaze!


    Sunday, February 17, 2019

    New page: Sources & acknowledgements

    Here at WILD ABOUT HARRY I use a variety of sources in my research and blog posts (apart from my own collection). I always try to credit primary sources in the posts themselves, but there are still a wide variety of sources that I regularly pull from that don't always get credit.

    So I've now launched a standalone page that credits those databases, institutions, and individuals that have repeatedly proven invaluable.

    My new "Sources & acknowledgements" page can be found under the "About" dropdown menu above or by clicking here.

    And speaking of sources, this terrific shot of Bess with Houdini's books comes from The Magician and the Spirits by Deborah Noyes.

    Saturday, February 16, 2019

    Houdini's in Pasadena

    A revival of the musical Ragtime is currently playing at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California through March 3. The actor playing Houdini, Benjamin Schrader, has been sharing some terrific photos via his Twitter. Looks like an impressive production and Schrader makes a convincing Houdini!

    For more information and to purchase tickets visit the Pasadena Playhouse website. You can read an excellent review of the play in the L.A. Times.


    Friday, February 15, 2019

    Remembering Harry Houdini Hinson

    Here's a rare photo of Bess with her nephew Harry Houdini Hinson. Harry was the oldest child of Bess's sister Marie Hinson. He was the brother of Vincent, Ruth, and Marie (Blood). Harry was following the footsteps of his famous uncle and namesake by practicing magic. By all accounts he was quite good. Tragically, Harry was killed at age 20 in a sleighing accident 85 years ago today on February 15, 1934.

    This photo, which is the only photo I've ever seen of Harry, comes from the collection of John Hinson, who you'll remember shared many wonderful rare unpublished photos with us back in 2013. So on this sad day, here's remembering the brief life of the other Harry Houdini.

    Thanks to John Hinson and Jon Oliver.


    Thursday, February 14, 2019

    New photos reveal Houdini's Voisin

    While browsing the online archives of the National Library of Australia (via Trove), I discovered two terrific high resolution photos of Houdini and his Voisin biplane that I've not seen before. The photos reveal nice details of the plane with Houdini at the wheel. [Click all photos below to enlarge.]

    This first photo shows the plane being tended to by a ground crew.

    Here's a blowup of Houdini who appears to be calling out instructions from the cockpit. Notice how you can see the stitching on the plane.

    This blowup shows nice details of the wheels and shock absorbers. Also notice the wheel blocks.

    Below you can see Houdini's French mechanic Antonio Brassac inflating the wheel using a bicycle pump. I wonder who the man is with his hands with his pockets?

    This next image shows Houdini either preparing for takeoff or taxing in his Voisin. This is credited to the Sydney Morning Herald and Sydney Mail and is captioned: "First controlled flight in Australia, made by Harry Houdini in a Voisin biplane at Diggers Rest, Victoria." Is this the historic moment itself?

    I wonder what happened to the top of Harry's "H"? Also notice the Voisin's canvas was thin enough to be transparent in the sunlight.

    You can view and zoom into the full resolution versions HERE (photo 1) and HERE (photo 2).


    Wednesday, February 13, 2019

    Revisit my visit to the Copperfield Collection

    It was one year ago today that I had the honor of meeting David Copperfield and touring his International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas. It was an unforgettable experience. If you missed it the first time, below are links to my posts about the day and night I spent in "The Copperfield Zone."

    Tuesday, February 12, 2019

    Harry Houdini Legend & Legacy available on Lulu

    Harry Houdini Legend & Legacy by Roger Woods and Brian Lead is now available for purchase at The book runs 62 pages and was first published in 1993.

    More studies about Harry Houdini following on from the authors' first publication "Houdini The Myth Maker". This book includes accounts of the Mysto challenge, the Wilson challenge and other stories of imitators of Harry Houdini.

    One thing I really enjoy in this book is the chapter devoted to the Wilson challenge in 1903. This was at the same Blackburn theater where Houdini suffered the torturous Hodgson challenge a year before. It's a strange story that includes first hand recollections from Jack Wilson himself.

    Purchase Harry Houdini Legend & Legacy on


    New French edition of The Right Way to Do Wrong

    A new French edition of Houdini's The Right Way to Do Wrong has been released by Fantaisium as Manuel du malfaiteur: Révélations sur les criminels qui gagnent. The translation is by François Montmirel.

    The cover uses an image similar to what was seen on the new 2012 edition that included additional material from Houdini's other works and an introduction by Teller. So I'm not sure if this is that edition or the 1906 original. Maybe Arthur Moses will tell us because I think I hear him clicking Buy Now!

    You can purchase Manuel du malfaiteur at and


    Monday, February 11, 2019

    The widows deaths

    Today marks the 76th anniversary of the death of Bess Houdini on February 11, 1943. To mark the occasion, here's an article from Variety that ran shortly after her passing. I was not aware of this!

    Variety, February 17, 1943.

    Bess did know Paula Thurston, who was actually the magician's fourth wife. The widows had considered the idea of holding a joint seance in 1936 to contact both Houdini and Thurston (as well as Charles Carter). I'm shocked to learn Paula died at only age 33. But from what little is written about her in Jim Steinmeyer's excellent Thurston biography, The Last Greatest Magician in the World (where I nicked the above photo), I suspect it was related to alcoholism. 


    Sunday, February 10, 2019

    That pesky Parson's Theater program

    Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence is using his regular Sunday post to provide a great service. Many have seen at auction--and may even own--a program for Houdini's 3 Shows in One at the Parson's Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut, during the week of December 1, 1925 (right). These are commercial reproductions created sometime in the 1970s. However, nowhere on them does it say it's a reproduction, and the age of the paper can now cause people to mistake it as the real thing and pay a price in line with that belief.

    But now Joe has uncovered an original Parson's program at the McCord Museum in Montreal, and he shows how one can identify a reproduction, which actually has a notable printing error!

    So click on over to HHCE and learn the secret of that pesky Parson's Theatre program and never be fooled again!


    Saturday, February 9, 2019

    Houdini claimed he was building a "health house"

    Recently Arthur Moses uncovered a remarkable interview with Houdini in the Dec/Jan 1923-24 issue of Back To Nature magazine (right). It contains lengthy quotations from Houdini about health and fitness and, most curiously, how he is building a special "health house."

    The article kicks off with Houdini saying: "If we expect to have the health of the nation, we will have to make some radical changes in our present mode of civilization." He then describes his own health rituals.

    "I believe that I owe my tremendous strength, health and success to 'CLEAN LIVING.' I have never used tobacco, alcohol, or liquors of any kind in my life. I drink all the water I can possibly take, and particularly in the morning upon arising and at night upon retiring. I have never eaten salt or pepper, and I have always considered it a matter of common sense that condiments of all kinds would irritate the delicate membrane and tissues inside the body. I always eat whole grain bread, never white, and I have found that the eating of raw bran is especially fine for the bowels. I never eat white bread or drink coffee and a large part of my diet consists of fruits of all kinds. I always carry oranges when traveling and for my lunch in rush hours I eat bananas. I find that raw foods give me greater strength than cooked foods.

    In my home in New York, which is a four story building, I have my library and office on the top floor. I am quite a book-worm, and I do a great deal of studying. I have to walk down the four flights for my meals, and that gives me exercise which strengthens the muscles in my limbs and keeps my wind in shape. In  fact I never use and elevator when I can use the stairway. I have my desk built high so that I am obliged to stand while using it, and this prevents me from becoming stiff and sluggish from sitting down too much. I take a great deal of exercise in the form of hikes and swimming, and I am especially fond of tennis.  When I am on the road I always try and secure a room on the top floor, whenever possible, for the air is fresher and purer and I get away from the smoke and dirt. When sleeping, my windows are always wide open and I open them when I go out in order to ventilate the room while I'm away."

    After expressing his belief that all children should be taught to swim (by law) and be trained to be ambidextrous (as he claims he is), Houdini turns his attention to health and architecture.

    "Our present-day architecture is all wrong from a health standpoint. Most of the homes today get very little, if any, sunlight. The landlords of today build their houses in such a manner as to utilize every inch of space, making most, if not all rooms inside, so as to squeeze all the rent out of their tenants and the sunshine, air and health as well. If we are to have real health, we must make radical changes in the building of our homes. I am building an eight-room house for myself in the country near New York. It will be two stories, and the top of the house will be built so that it revolves, every room getting two hours of sunlight each day. The closets will be built in the center of the house on the first floor, making all rooms outside rooms. Sunlight kills microbes and germs. The Aborigines, or prehistoric savages, lived within the natural forces. They made their cures through nature's remedies--sunlight, air, water and foods in their natural state as God grew them, and I believe those things we must use if we hope to have health, strength, and I might add happiness, for one cannot be happy if he is in ill-health. When I have finished the building of my health house, I will be happy to have any of the Back To Nature readers come and see it, and if they like, pattern one after it for themselves."

    There's so much to love here!

    First, I've never heard anything about this "health house" before. I suspect it only existed in Houdini's mind. I've also seen many references to Houdini drinking coffee. His rejection of condiments seems a little wacky. But his swearing off of white bread in favor of whole grains is downright modern. So too his belief in the benefits of fruit and raw foods. One wonders how radical these ideas were back then?

    But I do think Houdini is playing a bit to his audience here. In a 1907 letter to Bess, he describes a meal in Chicago that hardly sounds like the diet of a health nut:

    "Had spaghetti dinner, roast beef and mashed potatoes, washed down with excellent coffee and lady fingers inserted in cream."

    Thanks to Arthur Moses for sharing this healthy find.


      Friday, February 8, 2019

      Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man

      Recently I was watching a documentary about strongmen such as Eugen Sandow and I was reminded of this 2001 book, Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America by John F. Kasson. It offers a study of Houdini from a different perspective and is well worth adding to your library, if you haven't already.

      In his exciting new book, John F. Kasson examines the signs of crisis in American life a century ago, signs that new forces of modernity were affecting men's sense of who and what they really were. 
      When the Prussian-born Eugene Sandow, an international vaudeville star and bodybuilder, toured the United States in the 1890s, Florenz Ziegfeld cannily presented him as the "Perfect Man," representing both an ancient ideal of manhood and a modern commodity extolling self-development and self-fulfillment. Then, when Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan swung down a vine into the public eye in 1912, the fantasy of a perfect white Anglo-Saxon male was taken further, escaping the confines of civilization but reasserting its values, beating his chest and bellowing his triumph to the world. With Harry Houdini, the dream of escape was literally embodied in spectacular performances in which he triumphed over every kind of threat to masculine integrity -- bondage, imprisonment, insanity, and death. 
      Kasson's liberally illustrated and persuasively argued study analyzes the themes linking these figures and places them in their rich historical and cultural context. Concern with the white male body--with exhibiting it and with the perils to it--reached a climax in World War I, he suggests, and continues with us today.

      Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America can be purchased from and

      Speaking of Houdini as a specimen, this weekend I will post excerpts from a remarkable 1923 Back to Nature article in which Houdini shares his sometimes peculiar views on health and fitness. It's a good one!


      Wednesday, February 6, 2019

      Whoa! Was there a Water Torture Cell movie?

      Film of Houdini doing his Chinese Water Torture Cell is high on the wish list of all Houdini nuts. But no footage is known to exist, and I've never thought it was very likely Houdini ever filmed his greatest stage escape. However, I recently found something that suggests there may have been some kind of film after all!

      The below is from a review of Houdini's show at the Palace Theater in the December 27, 1916 issue of The New York Clipper.

      "A moving picture explanatory of his Chinese water torture cell." Holy smokes! What could this have shown?

      This footage would have been silent, and because it's an "explanatory", it may have been entirely made up of text. It could be Houdini's familiar stage patter (as heard in his voice recordings) on individual text cards. But it's also possible film footage of the apparatus being explained might have been interspersed between the text. I doubt Houdini would have showed himself being raised above the cell or lowered inside, as that would spoil what was to come.

      Below is what might be a second mention when he was playing Keith's Theater in Boston in 1921.

      Variety, December 23, 1921

      Showing movies were a regular part of Houdini's act at this time. These were typically of an outdoor stunt or his 1909 short The Adventures of Houdini in Paris (or both). I've seen many mentions of these in reviews. But apart from the above, I've never read any mention of this Water Torture Cell movie. Did these reviewers get their notes scrambled? Or did other reviewers feel it not necessary to mention what was just an explanatory film?

      The possibility of any kind of Water Torture Cell film footage is exciting, so this is one to hold out hope for, if only to see it in our minds.


      Tuesday, February 5, 2019

      Adolphe Menjou was almost the first Houdini

      In 1932, RKO was going to make a movie based on Houdini's life called Now You See It, written by Houdini's friend and fellow spirit buster Fulton Oursler. It was not strictly a biopic as the main character was called Harry Pinetti. But events in Pinetti's life, such as becoming trapped under the ice of frozen lake and exposing fake spirit mediums, would leave little doubt in anyone's mind that this was the story of Houdini.

      I covered the development of Now You See It at length in 2010. In fact, it was my first real research scoop here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. But recently I found the following item in the November 12, 1932 issue of Hollywood Filmgraph that shows the movie came even closer to being made than I had thought. In that year the studio signed actor Adolphe Menjou to play Pinetti/Houdini.

      It was later reported that Menjou was being coached in magic by Walter Baker, who had originated what became the famous Tarbell Course in Magic. When the Harrisburg Telegraph picked up the news on December 28, they recalled their days with the real Houdini.

      Now You See It was never made and marked the first of many Houdini projects developed and then abandoned by Hollywood. That finally changed in 1953 when Paramount released the classic Houdini with Tony Curtis in the lead.

      Adolphe Menjou had a long career, appearing in both silent and sound films such as Valentino's The Sheik, The Front Page (in which he was nominated for an Oscar), and the original A Star Is Born with Janet Gaynor. He was also a stanch Republican who cooperated with Senator Joseph McCarthy's House on Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s. Menjou died on October 29, 1963.

      For more on Now You See It check out my two-part posts below.


      'Houdini Unlocking His Secrets' on Amazon Prime

      The 1995 television special Houdini: Unlocking His Secrets is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The only catch is that's dubbed in Spanish (but you can turn on English subtitles).

      The show featured modern magicians performing Houdini's feats intercut with biographical information. It's a well-done special with excellent performances and some nice Houdini photos and film footage. I covered the show in depth HERE.

      Houdini: Unlocking His Secrets was released on VHS in 1996, but it never made it to DVD. So this is one way to see this rare Houdini program.


      Monday, February 4, 2019

      Mystifier, Second 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 Second Quarter 1996 Mystifier is made up largely of a very fine article by Edwin A. Dawes about Houdini and The Magicians' Club in England. Houdini was president of the club from its founding in 1911 to his death. The article is a treasure trove of information about the various Magicians' Club events that Houdini attended, including this gem about a 1920 dinner honoring Houdini officiated by The Great Raymond.

      Will Goldston claimed in his book Sensational Tales of Mystery Men (1929) that Houdini detested Maurice Raymond and, when he learned that Raymond was the occupy the Chair at this particular function, at first refused to accept any presentation from him. It took Goldston's powers of persuasion to get Houdini to allow Raymond to officiate. Even then Goldston had to reprint the tickets to placate Houdini who insisted that "The Great Raymond" be replaced with "M.F. Raymond" because "he's not great at all."

      According to Milbourne Christopher in Houdini The Untold Story (1969), the antipathy had been aroused years previously when Raymond ordered a Water Can escape from Ornum, a British manufacture, without seeking Houdini's permission. However, Raymond apologized and at the dinner presumably made ample amends by declaiming in his speech, "Harry Houdini was born, as I was, under the Stars and Stripes. He saw them a little ahead of me and he had been ahead of me ever since."

      The newsletter continues with a photo of the newly installed "Harry Houdini Family" inscription on the Wall of Honor at Ellis Island in New York City. Getting Houdini's name on the wall was due to the efforts of HHC member Paul Rosen. Among the "New Members" are Lance Burton and Dean Gunnarson.

      The newsletter only runs four pages this time, but tipped into each member's issue was a letter from HHC Executive Director Steven M. Wilson announcing that the Mind Over Magic exhibition, announced in the previous issue, is being postponed (indefinitely, as it would turn out). Wilson explains that "concerns began to surface about the many directions the project could take, and whether the exhibit was right for our audiences needs."

      Sid Radner starts off his "Backstage" column with an amusing look at people he has encountered who have legally changed their names to "Harry Houdini." [We have a regular reader here named "Harry Houdini." Is he one of the folks Sid mentions?] Sid then announces that Houdini Comes To America by Ronald J. Hilgert will be the first HHC publication and will be limited to 300 signed copies.

      Sid finishes with a promise to reveal details on Ken Silverman's upcoming book and the recently completed Houdini documentary in the next issues. He signs off with: "Houdini Lives!"

      Volume 6, Number 2
      Second Quarter, 1996
      4 pages

      Houdini and the Magicians' Club
      Houdini Family Named on Wall of Honor
      Backstage with Sid Radner


      Sunday, February 3, 2019

      Houdini's last lecture

      Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence has a taken a deep dive into Houdini's final lecture at the McGill University Student Union. The topic was spiritualism and these are his last recorded words on the subject (spoiler alert: he was still a skeptic). Below are Joe's posts.

      Joe recently visited the former student union building in Montreal, which today is the McCord Museum. Coincidentally, the McCord received a large donation of Houdini material in 2015. So Houdini is still speaking to us from that space! Believe.


      Those tricky Houdini imitators

      While working on my Houdini Chronology, I rely a lot on old newspaper ads that provide many dates and places where Houdini appeared. But I've learned I have to be careful. Below is an ad for what appears to be Houdini at the Garden Theater in Buffalo during the week of May 11, 1907. I had even added this to the chronology. But then I had a closer look.

      This is actually an appearance by The Great Alexander (presumably not the Alexander). But the placement of the text and the wording deliberately encourages a misreading that this is Houdini himself. And this isn't the only example of deceptive billing that I've come across. I've also noticed some who have attempted chronologies before me have have fallen victim to one of these tricky Houdini imitators.

      Saturday, February 2, 2019

      This is Houdini on October 14, 1926

      We are all familiar with these photos of Houdini giving a radio address. To my knowledge, the location and date has never been identified. But while browsing the New York Heritage Digital Collections, I discovered these high res versions with full identification, and it's kind of a big deal!

      This is Houdini doing a radio broadcast at WGY in Schenectady, New York, on October 14, 1926. You'll even note "WGY" in the right corner, which has always been cropped out of printed versions. This is a mere 17 days before his death. That suddenly puts these images in the running as being the last photos of Houdini.

      This was the middle of a split week for Houdini. He has just completed a four day engagement at the Capitol Theater in Albany, where he had broken his ankle in the Water Torture Cell (so we can assume he's wearing a splint under the table). October 14 was the first of three days at the Van Curler Theater in Schenectady. He was then off to Montreal and his encounter with J. Gordon Whitehead, which would occur just 8 days after these photos were taken.

      The current generally accepted "last photo" of Houdini appears on page 179 of NOTES to Houdini!!! by Ken Silverman. It shows Houdini flagging the start of an auto race in Worcester, MA. But he was in Worcester a full two weeks before these photos. There's also this recent candidate, but unless this turns out to be Montreal instead of New York (as it's credited), these Schenectady photos beat that as well.

      So what do we think? With all our searching and obsessing on what could be Houdini's last photo, has it been right in front of our eyes this whole time?

      The publisher of these images is miSci - Museum of Innovation and Science and are used here for educational purposes.

      UPDATE: Here's something I just came across. In the February 23, 1942 issue of Broadcasting, WGY took out this full page ad celebrating 20 years in business. Spot a familiar photo here?

      Click to enlarge.