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 I shared this as part of my Unpublished Houdini series in 2015.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!



  1. It's great to discover more information that clarifies a Houdini photograph. The date and location of that Harry and Dash photo posing on the car in Gibson's book cleared up once you posted that Circumnavigation story.

  2. I never heard of this early film studio and it's amazing to hear how extensive it was. Houdini was at the forefront as always; no wonder he was such a voracious and obsessive reader. Great photo, too - thanks for sharing this awesome information.

  3. It didn't fit in with the above, but I wanted to point out that an un-cropped version of the top photo is at the Houdini Museum of New York. I show it in this post.

    1. Thank you! I thought it looked somewhat familiar but I didn't connect it with the museum.

    2. It was up in the old location, but I'm not sure it's up in the new. I believe it may have moved into Roger's office.