Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Get ready for a Grim (Game) May

May marks the 100th anniversary of Houdini filming The Grim Game in Los Angeles in 1919. In celebration, the month will see two special screenings of the movie. The first will be this Friday, May 3, at the Sierra Madre Playhouse. The second will be May 17 at the Catalina Island Museum. Both screenings will have musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. I'll also be on hand to introduce the film and talk about its rediscovery and restoration.


If you make it to the Catalina screening, you might want to stay an extra day for a special Silent Film Benefit special screening of Colleen Moore's Why Be Good? at the famous Avalon Casino. No direct Houdini connection, apart form the fact that flappers were wild about Harry.

The Grim Game is the only Houdini movie never made available on any home format, so a screening of the movie is currently the only way to see what is Houdini's best film. Hope to see you at one or both screenings!

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Monday, April 29, 2019

Lost Foote Photos - Houdini in Winnipeg

The website Lost Foote Photos has a terrific press photo of Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape in Winnipeg, Canada, on February 21, 1923. I've never seen this shot. Notice that snow can be seen on the rooftops and streets. I can't recall another image of Houdini doing an outdoor stunt in the snow.


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Sunday, April 28, 2019

The spirit voice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

Here's an interesting tweet and link from the Baker Street Journal. This is the purported spirit voice of Sir Arthur Conan Coyle recored on this day in 1934. Curiously, he appears to have lost his thick Scottish burr in the afterword. Enjoy!


Speaking of spirits, our good friend Misty Lee will be talking about Spiritualism and séances today at the Homestead Museum's Victorian Fair at 1:30, 2:30, 3:30, and 4:30 p.m.

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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Houdini "Challenged" poster sells for $18,000

An ultra rare poster for Houdini's 1911 playlet, "Challenged" or "Houdini Upside Down" sold today for $18,000 (including 20% buyers premium) at Potter & Potter's auction of "The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet. The auction estimate was $15,000 - $25,000.

This was a short play Houdini performed only one time for the purpose of licensing his yet-to-be-revealed Water Torture Cell. The poster is signed by Houdini to magician John Mulholland.

I admit I'm surprised this didn't go higher. It's of extreme historical significance, signed, and the only known copy (maybe the only one ever made). But maybe because it doesn't feature any kind of image is what kept the price in check.

Another rarity was a playbill for Houdini's appearance at the Melbourne Opera House during the week of February 26, 1910. Items from Houdini's one time tour of Australia are exceedingly scarce. It sold for $3,360 (including premium) on a $2,500 - $3,500 estimate.

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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Houdini in 1905

For Houdini, the year 1905 was split into two distinct halves. The first half saw him as an established superstar in Europe. But the second half found him back in America, where in some ways he had to prove himself all over again. It was a fascinating transitional year, and one of his most combative.

Part I: Europe

Houdini began the year in the UK at Barnard's Theater in Woolwich. On January 7th, he traveled to the offices of the Weekly Dispatch in London to be present at a magic face-off between Chung Ling Soo and Ching Ling Foo. For the occasion, Houdini had taught his friend Soo (actually American William Robinson) his Needles trick. Foo never appeared, and that night Robinson sent Houdini a telegram reading: "Houdini, God bless you, all I can say. R."

Houdini closed out the month with a two week engagement in Glasgow where crowds broke through the doors of the Palace Theater to see him escape from a locally made hamper. The following month saw him escape from a jail cell at the Rochester Police Station on Castle Hill in Chatham. He then played a week at George's Hall in Bradford where his percentage of the house earned him "$2,150 clear salary", the highest he had ever received.

In March, Houdini returned to France and played the Alhambra Theater in Paris for the entire month. Once again the police refused to allow him to do a jail break. But it was here (according to Milbourne Christopher) that he first presented his straitjacket escape in full view of the audience instead of inside a cabinet. It was actually his brother Hardeen who had discovered this dramatic new presentation while performing at the Swansea Empire in Wales. It proved a sensation, and was forever how Houdini would present the escape. It was then back to the UK and the Alexandra Theater in Sheffield where he celebrated his 31st birthday.

The previous year Houdini had won a legal battle with the Moss and Thornton circuit. In retaliation, they hired Frank Hilbert to tour England with an imitation and exposure of Houdini's Metamorphosis and handcuff act. "In plain English, they are trying to ruin my reputation and future career," said Houdini. Now when he arrived in Cardiff to play the King's Theater, he found Hilbert booked in direct opposition at the Empire. It was time for a showdown.

On April 10, Houdini attended Hilbert's performance disguised as an old man. The Empire's manager had been warned that Houdini might cause trouble, and when Houdini revealed himself and challenged Hilbert, he was set upon by seven men and thrown down a flight of steps into a back alley. When Hardeen found him, Houdini believed his leg was broken. But Bess and sister Gladys had been strategically placed in the audience, and now they leapt to their feet waving their own challenge handcuffs for Hilbert. They too were removed from the theatre "screaming loudly." All the participants wound up in court four days later where Houdini's assault complaint against the theater manager was dismissed.

The following week Houdini and Hilbert were again booked in direct opposition in Newport. When both asked permission to escape from the local jail, Chief Constable Sinclair proposed a jail breaking contest between the rivals (shades of the Soo/Foo challenge). But Hilbert failed to appear at the appointed time, and Houdini performed his escape solo. He then led the curious crowd that had gathered outside the station house to his Lyceum Theater.

Cunning The Jail Breaker
While Houdini was keeping an eye on Hilbert in England, he was also turning his attention to his American imitators. One of the best known was Robert M. Cunningham from Provo, Utah, who performed as "Cunning The Jail Breaker". On May 16, Houdini dispatched his brother Bill with a pair of handcuffs to challenge Cunning at Hurtig and Seamon's Music Hall in Harlem. Cunning only managed to free himself from one hand. When Bill demanded his handcuffs back, Cunning refused and walked off the stage. A Hilbert-like fracas ensued with Bill being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct (later dismissed).

In late May, Houdini "Introduced" his Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery at the Argyle Theatre of Varieties in Birkenhead ("This is an old contract and I could not get out of it very well"). Houdini had first presented the effect in Salford the previous year. But now it became a regular part of his act, effectively replacing Metamorphosis. The following month Houdini performed for the first time in Blackpool ("the Coney Island of England") where he escaped from a jail cell at the South King Street police station. He also accepted a challenge from Boro Saw Mills to escape a packing case made of "One Inch Deal".

While performing at the Hippodrome in Wigan, Houdini learned that his friend Henry Evanion was dying. Houdini quickly traveled to London to see him. Over the past year Houdini had purchased many treasures from the retired magician and collector. Now Evanion presented him with a final treasure trove, a collection of Robert-Houdin's London playbills. Houdini called it "the central jewel in my collection." When Evanion died on June 17, Houdini paid for his funeral. He also supported Evanion's widow until her own death not long after.

When Frank Hilbert opened his exposure show at Moss's Empire in Edinburgh, Houdini, who was playing in nearby Leith, rented out a storefront next door to the Empire and had his assistants Franz Kukol and George (James?) Vickery present their own handcuff exposé show every half hour. The men posed as "the celebrated illusionist of Vienna" and "the magician of London." The poster advertising the show contained a revealing addendum:

"These gentleman confess they do not know how Harry Houdini, who is engaged at the Gaiety Theater, Leith, this week, performs his tricks. If they did they would not travel as exposers."

It was in Leith that Houdini concluded his European tour on July 8. In his closing night speech he announced he would be returning to America. After the show, a crowd greeted him at the stage door and carried him to the train station singing, "And when ye go, will ye nae come back?" The demonstration moved Houdini to tears.

Houdini had come to Europe in May 1900 for what was supposed to have been a tour of a few months. It became five years. But now it was time to go home, and on July 20th, Houdini and Bess boarded the Kronprinz Wilhelm bound for New York.

Part II: America

The U.S. papers announced Houdini's return, reporting that he would rest until October 1st and then tour the Keith-Orpheum circuit at a star salary of $1000 per week. Keith's had originally only offered half that, arguing that, unlike in Europe, he would not be able to secure permission for his outdoor stunts and would therefore not draw the free publicity and extra business to their houses. Houdini held out, saying "I have no desire at all to play America, unless I'm worth that money to the managers." Eventually the circuit met his price.

While he didn't perform during the summer months, he didn't rest. On his Connecticut farm, now dubbed "Weiss Hill", he cut down twenty trees to clear a road and moved several three-hundred pound boulders "unassisted", or so he told reporters. He was also thrilled to be home with his mother, now 65 and comfortably ensconced in 278 with sons Bill, Leopold, and a German servant named Anna Aulbach. Houdini delighted in accompanying his mother to the market "to buy up all the goose grease" and bringing her to the drugstore for hot chocolate.

Houdini prepared for his upcoming America tour by having the Russell-Morgan U.S. Lithograph Co. create a series of colorful posters proclaiming him "Europe's Eclipsing Sensation". But the idea that he would be a similar sensation in America was not guaranteed. The vexing issue remained the other "Handcuff Kings" who has flourished in his absence, some of whom were more familiar to American audiences than Houdini. He decided to take preemptive action.

Houdini vs. Boudini
On September 11, Hardeen caused a "small riot" trying to challenge Cunning at Hyde & Behman's Theater in Brooklyn. Newspapers reported the the audience sided with Cunning against the "foreign looking individual" (the papers offer conflicting reports on whether Houdini was present). Leaving the stage, Hardeen was sucker punched by an audience member and arrested. Houdini tried to post bond for his brother, but it was refused and Hardeen spent the night in jail. He was freed the following day on a suspended sentence, the judge convinced the whole matter had been a publicity stunt.

Nine days later, Houdini challenged another rival, Jacques Boudini, to an underwater handcuff escape contest off Battery Park. Houdini easily escaped his handcuffs while Boudini nearly drowned. But the savvy New York newspaper men sensed the stunt was staged and reported as much in their papers. Houdini's U.S. return was not off to a great start.

Houdini then did a curious thing. Instead of making his debut on the Keith's circuit as announced, he booked himself into the independently run Colonial Theater at Broadway and 62nd St. The theater had developed a reputation for being a rough house, with audiences fond of driving performers off the stage with the rhythmic "Colonial clap." But Houdini's own rough and tumble style went over extremely well with the Colonial crowd, and he was extended for a second week.

Houdini then began his tour with two weeks at the Orpheum in Brooklyn. There he escaped a packing case made by Abraham and Straus. Engagements in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Cleveland took him into December. He then finished the year with appearances Rochester (where he set a house record), Buffalo, and Baltimore. Proving Keith's wrong, in each city he was able to arrange a jail break and benefit from the free publicity.

On December 23, Houdini took out an ad in the New York Clipper trumpeting his American success:

"I TOLD YOU SO!"
When it became known that
HOUDINI, The Jail Expert
Was Booked Back in America at a $1000 Weekly Salary, all the Wisenheimers and Society of Know-It-All, explained why he would be a Gold Brick,
---BUT---
It has been Proven Positively that HOUDINI is worth MORE than what he is booked for, and as a Drawing Card he never had an equal.

After filling the ad with praiseful press notices, he decided to end it with...

Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To All.

Houdini's ad might have been as much about assuring himself as the "Wisenheimers" it appeared to be targeting. While there's no doubt he did good business, his American debut up to this point could not really compare to the sensation he caused during his first few months in Europe.

That would come in the new year.

Frank Hilbert poster comes from the New York Library and is sourced from The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush. Houdini-Boudini photo is from Houdini The Key by Patrick Culliton.

Back to 1904 | All Years | Continue to 1906

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Talking Houdini on Dark Sun Rising

In January I was a guest on the "Dark Sun Rising" podcast hosted by Erick Bee and Vicki Valencourt broadcast over Para X Radio. The subject was Houdini, of course! They had some great questions and we covered a lot of ground. Now the full podcast has been uploaded Podomatic where it can be downloaded or listened to below. Enjoy.


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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Hardeen in New York

Recently I discovered details of Hardeen's first appearance (at least as "Hardeen") in New York City. He played the New York Theater's "Christmas Vaudeville Festival" during the week of December 23, 1907. (You may recall it was at the New York that Bess became trapped in the Metamorphosis trunk.) Below is an ad for that week showing Dash billed as "Wizard of the Handcuffs."


Variety reviewed Hardeen's appearance in their December 28, 1907 issue. There's a lot to like here. I especially like the mention of his voice having "just a hint of the same uncertain and halting delivery" as his brother. Here's the review in full:


New York City was a tough town to win over, even for Houdini (watch for an upcoming post about that). I don't know how often Hardeen played Manhattan, but he seemed more at home in Brooklyn and New Jersey, which he played often. As far as I know, he never attempted any kind of outdoor stunt in the city.

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Monday, April 22, 2019

Houdini fiction in 'Today Tomorrow Always'

Houdini and Bess appear in a new collection of ten short stories, Today Tomorrow Always from Margery de Brus LLC. The Houdini story is called "Aufmachen" and is written by Cheryl Wollner.

Today Tomorrow Always: Volume One is an eclectic, entertaining, and thought-provoking mix of short stories. Readers will meet a lone robot mourning the loss of her creators as she continues to tend their gardens; Harry and Bessie Houdini as they navigate pre-WWII Budapest; a 70-year-old Dr. Dre who reinvents performance art, and many more unique but genuine characters. In our first anthology, we bring you a literary-scifi-speculative fiction mashup at its finest. Images of war and robots, Catholic Cardinals and queer lovers, Nazi occupation and forced marches throughout history live side-by-side in this intriguing and page turning collection. You’ll put down the book and question everything you think is real, only to pick up the stories and read them again. Three reading group discussion questions follow each story.

Purchase Today Tomorrow Always at Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK). Below are links to a few more Houdini adventures in the sci-fi realm.

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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Happy Easter from Bess Houdini

This needle point was made by Bess Houdini and today hangs in the home of her great-nephew, John C. Hinson. It depicts...well, you know who that is! (No, not him.)


Bess was raised in a strict Roman Catholic family. Her going into show business and marrying a Jewish magician estranged her from her mother who was convinced Houdini was the devil. But fame and wealth seemed to soothe Mrs. Rahner's religious objections, and she even came to live with the Houdinis in 278.

Bess maintained her religious beliefs and, like her mother, was highly superstitious (it's said she never wore yellow because it was bad luck and refused to enter a room if someone had whistled in it). Based on her letters, she appears to have re-embraced her Catholic faith later in life when this needle point was made. Although she was not so devout that she didn't find fun in naming her pet marmoset "Satan."

Happy Easter Sunday.

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Saturday, April 20, 2019

LINK: The Hopewell professor and Houdini’s mysterious death

Below are links to a well-researched two-part article by John Ashton about the days leading up to Houdini's death and the role played by the head of the psychology department at McGill University, Professor William Dunlop Tait.


Professor William Dunlop Tait.

The photo seen in part 2 is credited as being Houdini at the Princess Theater in Montreal. But it's actually a still frame from his card manipulation movie Velvet Fingers. To discover why the photo is mistakenly captioned, check out THIS POST at Joe Notaro's HHCE.

Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz at the Houdini Museum in Scranton.

Related:

Friday, April 19, 2019

Houdini play in Valencia, Spain

A new Houdini play is running at the Teatro Talía in Valencia, Spain, through April 22. The title translates to The Mysterious Case of Houdini and the Closed Room. Houdini is portrayed by Nacho Diago.

You can find more information and buy tickets at the Teatro Talía website.

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Wood lath from Houdini's 278 for sale

Attention Houdini fans and entrepreneurs! As part of the renovation of Houdini's New York brownstone, original wood lath has been removed to make way for new plumbing and HVAC. Before this goes into the dumpster, the new owners wanted to reach out to the Houdini community to see if anyone would be interested in buying it. You can "name your price", but they would like you to take away a minimum of 20 pieces to make it worth the trouble. Or you can take it all! All proceeds will go back into the renovation of the house.


Below is a pic of the lath before its removal.


I think these pieces could be cut up, heat stamped "Houdini's 278", and sold individually. If I lived in NYC, I would absolutely do this. But I'll leave it to others. You will need to go pick it up. But as a bonus, you'll get to see inside the house!

If interested, please contact me and I will put you in touch.

UPDATE: The lath is now gone, but this was a big success for fans and the home owners. And check this out.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Magic of Houdini with Alan Davies on Amazon

The 2014 documentary The Magic of Houdini with Alan Davies is now available for streaming and purchase via Amazon Prime.


In The Magic of Houdini, Alan Davies, a UK comedian and personality, travels to various Houdini locations in the UK and U.S. Along the way he talks with: Roger Dreyer, David Copperfield, Ruth Brandon, Ken Silverman, Kevin Connolly, Richard Sherry and Dayle Krall, and 93-year-old Larry Weeks (his last interview). As I wrote in my original review, it offers up a nice time capsule of the Houdini world in 2014.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Grim Game screening at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, May 3


Houdini's The Grim Game will screen at the historic Sierra Madre Playhouse in Sierra Madre, California on May 3 at 8:00pm. The film will have musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla and violinist Nicole Garcia. I will introduce the film. Below are details.

In collaboration with the Catalina Island Museum and in celebration of its own beginnings as a silent movie house, the Sierra Madre Playhouse is proud to present a screening of the recently rediscovered Houdini silent film, The Grim Game!

Everyone is invited to step back into 1919 -- one hundred years ago -- and see this lost classic as it was meant to be seen, with live accompaniment by the doyen of silent film musicians, Michael Mortilla, and violinist Nicole Garcia. This exciting event will be introduced by Houdini expert John Cox (www.wildabouthoudini.com). Michael will talk about the importance of music in the silent era.

The Grim Game is a silent drama that showcases Houdini's astonishing, world-famous talents as an escapologist, stunt performer and aviator. The film presents a series of Houdini's trademark stunts and escapes and builds to an airplane pursuit climaxed by a mid-air collision.

The film was considered lost for decades until it was rediscovered, restored and shown in 2015. It’s a fascinating cinematic record, revealing the reason that Houdini was one of the biggest stars of the early 20th century.

Now, for one night only, travel in time with us back in the Playhouse's history and see this recently rediscovered classic at Sierra Madre Playhouse!

Michael Mortilla made Terror Island soar last year. I can only imagine how well The Grim Game is going to play with his music. I'd encourage everyone who can make this or the Catalina screening on the 17th to do so. This is the way to see Houdini's best film.

The Sierra Madre Playhouse is located at 87 W Sierra Madre Blvd, Sierra Madre, California 91024. Click here to purchase advance tickets.



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Monday, April 15, 2019

A horrible day

By now everyone knows that the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has burned. This building was beloved by the world, and it appears to have been a favorite landmark of Houdini's as well. He used the Cathedral as a backdrop in his 1909 The Marvelous Exploits of Houdini in Paris, and also took photos in front of the famous doors. Below is a well-known photo. Here he again used Notre Dame as a backdrop while filming random action scenes in the streets of Paris in 1920 (later to be worked into Haldane of the Secret Service). A terrible tragedy and a horrible day.


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Mystifier, Second Quarter 1997

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 1997 Mystifier continues coverage of the Rabbi Weiss documents recently acquired by the HHC. This time curator Benjamin Filene examines a prayer Rabbi Weiss delivered at the opening of the first Appleton Temple on the corner of College Avenue and Oneida Street on October 28, 1878.

A synagogue, Rabbi Weiss emphasizes further, is built not for God, but for the Jewish community itself. The first temple, then, was an essential step in forging strong bonds among the Jewish residents.
Rabbi Weiss's emphasis on community only underscores the extent to which his dismissal by the Appleton congregation in 1882 must have been a personal tragedy. Only months before his dismissal, the congregation moved into a beautiful new building of its own -- a place that offered even greater opportunities for forging community -- Rabbi Weiss was cut off form the community he had hoped to build and thrive within.

The remainder of the issue is largely taken up with HHC business, including the announcement that curator Filene will be leaving the center for a new job at the Minnesota State Historical Society. It also notes that Ken Silverman has been awarded the Milbourne Christopher prize, and that he will speak at the HHC on September 20 as the keynote speaker for the Wisconsin Council for Local History Regional Convention.

The museum store announces the arrival of Houdini pre-paid phones cards. The cards come in sets of three (12 total) and feature images of Houdini from the HHC collection. Phone cards were popular in the 1990s. Each card allows for 30 minutes of long distance calls inside the U.S. (I have a set of these and will share in a future post.)

In his "Backstage" column, Sid Radner reports that Gene Gamache's documentary Houdini: People Came to See Him Die has won a TELLY award. He says he recently visited Geno Munari's new Houdini's Magic Shop in the New York New York Hotel in Las Vegas. Sid writes, apparently without irony, that, "Foreign visitors or those from the west coast need not go east to see New York City anymore--the flavor and landmarks of the Big Apple are recreated vividly and thoroughly at the hotel." Good to know!

Sid continues by saying that he and Houdini Magical Hall of Fame owner Henry Muller attended a performance of the new musical Ragtime in Toronto. "The show has a prominent Houdini presence," reports Sid. He notes the Silverman book will be published in Japan at the end of the year. He also once again gives a shout-out to the Goodspeed Opera House's Houdini musical, and again says he wishes the U.S. postal service would honor Houdini with a stamp.

Mystifier
Volume 7, Number 2
Second Quarter, 1997
6 pages

Contents:
Filene's Farewell
Rabbi Weiss Dedicates Temple
Membership News
Houdini Phone Cards Now Available
Backstage with Sid Radner


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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Houdini arrives in Atlanta today


Today sees the opening of Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini at The Breman Museum in Atlanta Georgia. The exhibition will be on show until August 11.

Harry Houdini wasn’t born. He was invented.

The world’s most famous magician began life as Erik Weisz, the son of a Hungarian rabbi. In 1878 immigration to the U.S. transformed Erik Weisz into Ehrich Weiss. It was the first of many transformations for the man who would become the first international superstar.

Inescapable, curated by performer and magician David London, tells the story of how Ehrich Weiss became Harry Houdini and investigates the technologies, marketing prowess and entertainment trends that transformed him into a superstar. On one level, the exhibit is pure fun – incorporating magic, escapes, seances, films, rare artifacts and hands-on illusions. On a deeper level, the exhibit pulls back the curtain, revealing the story of the man behind the image.​

The museum has announced their lineup of related events, including my own talk on Houdini in Early Cinema on July 14 at 2:00 PM. Hope to see you there!

For more details on Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini visit the Breman Museum website or follow them at Facebook and Twitter.

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Saturday, April 13, 2019

Paul Zenon's Linking Rings available on DVD

Paul Zenon's one man show Linking Rings is available as a DVD or download from Murphy's Magic Supplies. In the acclaimed play Paul portrays Houdini's chief assistant Jim Collins.

Bigblindmedia and Stranger Media presents
Paul Zenon in Linking Rings

A self-penned, semi-autobiographical theater piece marking a distinct change of direction for Paul Zenon, award-winning magician, comedian and actor who, in a career spanning four decades, has performed in around forty countries and made literally hundreds of network TV appearances. By far his most personal work to date.

About the show - 'Houdini's right-hand man deals with the death of his boss. A half century later, a Blackpool joke shop proprietor takes on a wide-eyed young protege. An affectionate look at a misspent youth and unsung heroes. Not a magic show, but magical nonetheless.'

Running time: 1 hour 7 minutes.

Purchase Linking Rings at Murphy's Magic Supplies.

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Friday, April 12, 2019

David Copperfield conjures Houdini's library in Las Vegas

It appears David Copperfield has finished restoring Houdini's bookcase from 278 and has installed it inside his International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas. I've been seeing pics on social media of various magic friends standing in the magic spot, but this one from Scott Wells of The Magic Word Podcast gives us the best look yet.


David acquired the lone surviving bookcase from 278 and had a matching one made to recreate the two side by side cases that once stood in Houdini's library. The books David has put inside also belonged to Houdini. There are a few other goodies one can spot in the above pic (which you can click to enlarge). There's a blowup of the photo of Houdini himself in his library that guest are able to recreate. You can also see a portrait of Houdini that recently sold in auction just behind Scott's head. Also notice the original straitjacket lithograph to the far right (David's big one).

Below is a photo of me with the bookcase as it last appeared inside 278 (moved from the back library to the front parlor). It was fun to recreate the famous pic there and then. But leave it to David Copperfield to conjure up the illusion of Houdini's actual library.


Thanks to Scott Wells for allowing me to share his pic. CLICK HERE to listen to podcast I did with Scott back in 2007.

UPDATE: Magician Steve Cohen has shared an even clearer pic on his Twitter.


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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Houdini and Margery rarities at the Wellcome Collection

Today sees the opening of Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic at the Wellcome Collection in London. The exhibition includes some spectacular Houdini and Margery rarities, such as the famous bell box, Margery's seance chairs, and a loving cup given to Margery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (seen right).

What can magic and conjuring tell us about the human mind? Our new exhibition brings together the worlds of psychology and entertainment in search of the truth about deception. 
Explore how our biases affect our perception and whether our senses can be hacked. Discover spirit photography, magic props and psychology experiments to see how magic works on – and in – the mind of the spectator.
Artefacts on display from the world of magic include the head of the gorilla costume worn by Derren Brown, Harry Houdini’s ‘Bell Box’, Tommy Cooper’s fez, and Paul Daniels’s sawing-in-half box. 
An accompanying live performance programme explores what magic reveals about the nature of perception and how psychologists have used conjuring to understand the appeal of the ‘supernatural’.

The Margery items come from the private Libbet Crandon de Malamud Collection and Margery's great granddaughter Anna Thurlow, who's in London for the opening. She tells us:

"The Wellcome Trust show was fantastic. Really beautifully curated - it celebrated the artistry of magic, the joy of allowing oneself to be willingly deceived but also encouraged critical thinking. Somehow they avoided all the pastiche and common conventions in achieving that goal, so very fresh and engaging."

Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic runs through September 15, 2019. Galleries are open Tuesday–Sunday. Admission is free. Visit the Wellcome Collection website for more details.


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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Houdini's Liberty Island "mystification"


Here's an excerpt from a profile of Houdini in the October 10, 1926 issue of The Buffalo Times ("Things Never Told About Harry Houdini" by William H. Crawford). This is the first I've ever heard of this Liberty Island feat. I've kept the lead-in paragraph for its revelation that Houdini didn't like the word "trick".


So did this really happen? Seems fishy. Again, I've never heard of this, and if this was performed expressly to give newspaper men a story, where are those contemporaneous stories? Or even one from this reporter?

Still, it's a nifty story, and the only Houdini Statue of Liberty connection that I'm aware of, so I'm happy to let it ride.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Houdini adult coloring book

For the Houdini nut who has it all, here's a Harry Houdini Adult Coloring Book by Skyler Rankin.

HARRY HOUDINI: AN ADULT COLORING BOOK: A Harry Houdini Coloring Book For Adults 
*An awesome collection of Harry Houdini coloring patterns
*Perfect for relaxation and stress relief
*2 copies of each image, for two chances to color!
*Rad original designs, from Scribble Press!

This actually isn't the first Houdini coloring book. Houdini's Magic Shop released one in the early 2000s (see related link). But this is the first that I'm aware of for adults, which I guess is now a thing as there are a huge assortment of these on Amazon.

You can purchase the Harry Houdini Adult Coloring Book at Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK).

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Monday, April 8, 2019

'Inescapable' opening day event at The Breman


Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini opens this Sunday, April 14, at The Breman Museum in Atlanta with a special opening day event. Details below:

Opening Event: Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini
Apr 14 2019 | 2:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Curator and Magician David London will share Insights and observations from the process of developing the exhibition, as he traveled around the country searching for keys to Houdini's passion, vision, and spirit. He will highlight aspects of the Houdini story, with a focus on Houdini's early life and Jewish heritage. Various themes of the exhibition will be punctuated with magic tricks from David's performance "Houdini's Trunk." As a special treat, David will give a personal tour, revealing hidden gems and stories that lie just below the surface. 
Non-Members
2 PM - 5 PM - Exhibition open to the public
2 PM - 3:15 PM - Lecture by David London, curator and magician.
3:30 PM - 4:30 PM - Public Tour 
Members
10 AM - 2 PM - Members Preview
12 PM - 1 PM - Members Tour
1 PM - 2 PM - Members Reception
2 PM - 3:15 PM - Lecture by David London, curator and magician. 
Not a member? Join today!

The museum has also announced their lineup of related events, including my own talk on Houdini in Early Cinema on July 14 at 2:00 PM.

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini will run April 14 to August 11. For more details visit Breman Museum website or follow them at Facebook and Twitter.


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Sunday, April 7, 2019

LINK: Where was the Checker Flag Photo taken?

Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence has taken a much needed deep dive into the famous checkered flag photo of Houdini starting an auto race, which is credited somewhat mysteriously on the back as being the last of the magician. But is it?

Joe has gone in search of possible auto races in Worcester, Montreal, and even Detroit. He also shares his recent discovery that an auto company solicited Houdini for an ad while he was in Montreal ("It would probably simply mean a picture in [by] the car"). Is there a connection?

To find out all, GO TO JOE!

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ETHER: The Strange Afterlife of Harry Houdini & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

There will be a free staged reading of a new play, ETHER: The Strange Afterlife of Harry Houdini & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Susan Weinstein on April 12, 2019 at Dixon Place in New York City. Geoff Moonen will read Houdini and Owen Hayden reads Conan Doyle. Admission is free.

Act 1 of a 2-act play: Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s rivalry continues in the afterlife where they and their wives are stuck in their versions of life after death. The play is based on letters they exchanged after Houdini asked Doyle to find him a genuine medium. They explored the space between life and death together. They ended at opposite ends of a spectrum that here must find a resolution.

For more information visit the Dixon Place website or the Facebook event page.

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Saturday, April 6, 2019

A gift for Houdini's preferred birthday

While we now know Houdini was born on March 24, today is the day he chose to celebrated his birthday. You can deep dive into the reasons for this in the related links below. Or you can just have some cake and enjoy this magnificent gift from the private collection of our good friend Mark Willoughby. I've never seen this image before.


Thank you Mark!

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Friday, April 5, 2019

Houdini's lost breakfront has been found!

While we've been focused on bathtubs and bookcases from 278, our friend Eric Colleary at the Harry Ransom Center has been quietly searching for another important piece of lost Houdini furniture. This was the large antique breakfront that once resided inside 278 and held many of Houdini's important books. The newspaper clipping below tells the story of the breakfront, and Eric's tweets from Monday offers the exciting update.


The breakfront has had a very interesting journey, including residing for many years in Governor’s Reception Room at the Texas State Capitol. Eric will be writing up the full story for the Harry Ransom Center website and magazine.


The Harry Ransom Center's Houdini Collections are open to the public and available via finding aids at the Ransom Center website.

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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Two new Houdini books released in the UK

Today sees the release of two new Houdini books in the UK. First up is a children's biography Harry (Houdini) by Kjartan Poskitt with illustrations by Geraint Ford. This is part of the "First Names" series.

True life stories of the most amazing people EVER! Meet HARRY HOUDINI, the brilliant escape artist who thrilled the world with his death-defying stunts and awesome showmanship. Find out how he was inspired by a man with no head, why he kept asking to be put in jail (and how he got out again) and why he dangled upside down from a crane 120 feet up in the air. Get to know HARRY on first name terms. 

Purchase Harry (Houdini) at Amazon.co.uk. A U.S. edition will be released in August.

The next a follow up to last year's The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault by Tim Dedopulos. This time Dedopulos is back with The Sensational Houdini's Puzzle Safe.

The Sensational Houdini's Puzzle Safe contains 50 exciting puzzles inspired by the greatest escapologist to have ever lived. With puzzle chains where one wrong answer can leave you locked in a never-ending circle of puzzles, and logic problems designed to confound the minds of the unworthy, this puzzle book is an enjoyable test for all. Unlock your brain and see if you can escape the challenges inside. 

Purchase The Sensational Houdini's Puzzle Safe at Amzon.co.uk.

UPDATE: It appears The Sensational Houdini's Puzzle Safe might actually be the same book as The Sensational Houdini's Puzzle Vault, just with the puzzles reordered and a new cover and name. Sneaky. On the other hand, the First Names book is extremely well done. Very nicely illustrated and well researched. A cut above other Houdini bios for kids. Recommended.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Poster for Houdini's Water Torture Cell play to be auctioned

Potter & Potter's upcoming auction of "The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet" will include a likely one-of-a-kind Houdini rarity. It's a broadside for his 1911 playlet, "Challenged" or "Houdini Upside Down". This was the short play Houdini performed only one time for the purpose of licensing his yet-to-be-revealed Water Torture Cell. The poster, which I've never seen before, reveals some fresh details about the play, including that Houdini's assistants and brother Leopold were part of the cast. And it's signed! Below is an image and the full auction description.

A SIGNED HOUDINI RARITY

Houdini, Harry (Ehrich Weisz). Hippodrome Southampton. Houdini “Challenged”. Southampton: What’s On in Southampton, [1911]. Letterpress poster advertises a matinee performance of “Challenged” or “Houdini Upside Down” at the Southampton Hippodrome. Inscribed and signed by Houdini in the central right blank space: “To my friend John Mulholland/Houdini.” 30 x 20”. Browning, restored losses at folds affecting parts of the text, a few chips and creases. Laid down to Japan. The only known example of this broadside. 
Houdini devised and wrote the script for “Challenged” with the goal of protection in mind – that is protecting his Water Torture Cell from infringement by copycat escape artists. Under British law, theatrical productions appropriately staged, scripted, registered, and performed before a live audience could be protected from infringement by imitators. Consequently, after assembling his cast (enumerated in details on this poster and including his three trusted assistants, James Vickery, Jim Collins, and Franz Kukol), the props, and booking the theatre in which to perform, Houdini staged the “playlet,” just once, on April 29th, 1911 in Southampton. 
According to Houdini scholar Patrick Culliton, the show may have been staged for an audience of just one, as the one guinea price of admission was an outrageous sum at the time. Interestingly, the Water Torture Cell is here described as an “aquarium,” and part of the poster suggests that Houdini will also be locked in a rubber bag which will then be tossed in the tank, from which he will escape. In his regular vaudeville and music hall turns, the bag was not part of the act. 
The broadside is inscribed and signed by Houdini to the scholarly magician and editor of The Sphinx magazine, John Mulholland, a fellow New Yorker, dedicated magic collector, and a sometime visitor to Houdini’s home as a young man, where he undoubtedly learned to appreciate the value of rare and precious magical artifacts.

The auction estimate is $15,000 - $25,000. But for something this unique and important to Houdini history, the sky could be the limit.

"The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet" will take place on April 27, 2019. For more details visit Potter & Potter Auctions.

UPDATEHoudini "Challenged" poster sells for $18,000.

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