Friday, May 31, 2019

100 years ago over Santa Monica


It was 100 years ago today on May 31, 1919 that the famous plane crash occurred while filming Houdini's first Hollywood feature film, The Grim Game. Below is the Los Angeles Times account of the accident the following day.



You'll note the above account does not mention Houdini, so I believe this has been largely missed by historians. I'm especially excited that it gives the approximate location of the crash; San Vicente Blvd. and 26th Street in Santa Monica. Below is the site today.



Below are a few more links related to The Grim Game plane crash.

Related:

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Houdini exhibition in Quito, Ecuador

The traveling exhibition HOUDINI. LAS LEYES DEL ASOMBRO is now at the Espacio Fundación Telefónica in Quito, Ecuador. It opened May 17 and shows through September 14, 2019. Below are a few pics.


For more information visit the official website and Facebook.

Related:

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Houdini and the New York critics

Houdini had no shortage of good reviews. These tell us he was a popular performer, but we know that. It's those rare bad reviews--or at least reviews that offer some kind of candid assessment--that can be much more interesting and give us a better sense of Houdini at a time and place.

Recently I discovered a review of Houdini at Keith & Proctors 23rd Street Theater in New York City. It includes a paragraph that articulates sometime I've been sensing in my research. It took Houdini several years to win over audiences in his home town of New York. The review, which appeared in the May 18, 1907 Variety, states:

New York is a big town, and while Houdini is probably outside this city the best drawing card in vaudeville, he does not largely attract here through inability to secure the press work the smaller towns supply. In his line of work, however, Houdini is such and inventive genius, with unequaled daring, that it is a safe to say he will yet startle the Metropolis and have himself talked about as happens in other localities.

Houdini appears to have finally broken through the following year by offering New York audiences his Milk Can escape. A review in the April 4, 1908 Variety opens with:

Monday night settled conclusively the interesting question whether Harry Houdini would prove the same sort of success before a very sophisticated metropolitan audience that he has been on the road. A capacity house at Hammerstein's was held in at the tall end of the show as they seldom are by a closing act, and substantial applause at the finish clinched a real hit for the handcuff expert.

But there were still those New York critics who were not sold on Houdini. This review of Houdini's first appearance at the prestigious Palace Theater is from the October 24, 1914 issue of Variety.

One of the poorest night houses the Palace has had in month Monday evening didn't speak any too well for the drawing powers of either Houdini, who headlined, or Rosie Dolly and Martin Brown, the latter couple making their vaudeville debut as a team. Houdini played Hammerstein's for a month during the summer. It may have had its effect upon his powers of attraction so near by, although the truth probably remains Houdini's is not the sort of turn the Palace clientele prefers. It is not partial to freak acts.

That last line is so stinging, one wonders if this reporter had some personal grudge against Houdini. But Houdini did play only a single week, which was untypical for him, so this does suggest he didn't wow the Palace crowds. This must have been especially embarrassing for him as the Palace was the creation of Martin Beck.

Undeterred, Houdini returned to the Palace in August of 1915. Of this engagement the same Variety reviewer only sniffled:

The Palace program this week is running jerkily, but any kind of show fits the weather. Besides the Mayhew-Taylor couple there were Lopokova (New Acts) and Houdini as extra attractions, the latter closing the first part with his "Submerged Box Mystery" so often done at Hammerstein's.

This time Houdini was clearly a success. The Palace extended him for a second week, then tried for a third. (A commitment at Henderson's in Coney Island prevented him from accepting.)

From this point on, Houdini received uniformly good reviews from the New York critics. But they still sometimes offered up constructive criticism, such as the following Variety review of Houdini at the Hippodrome from January 14, 1925 (excerpts):

Houdini on the vaudeville stage "doing an act" as he is doing this week is to see Houdini wasting his time. He doesn't need magic, an escape or an illusion act for vaudeville––he has other stuff. Nothing could be better than his spiritualism expose with a Houdini lecture upon it, to be followed the same or the following week with the exposes worked out.
That's Houdini's forte in this day. The straitjacket, the substitution, even the needle trick, with the handcuffs forgotten––they all look like baby play for this Houdini.
In short, Houdini has outgrown the act that made him.
Tell 'em about the spirits, Harry, and tell 'em also, Harry, the only spirits raising the devil nowadays are those in bum booze.
Make up two acts for two weeks, one of spiritualism and its nots and the other the illustrations. That's the stuff for this Houdini, for he can do it inoffensively: it will bring a new crowd to every vaudeville house Houdini gives them in and properly exploited with those two acts Houdini can be made the best drawing card any vaudeville ever has had. He may be that anyway.

Houdini did take this reviewer's advice, working up a 41 minute act of almost pure spiritualism exposures for the remainder of his Hippodrome engagement. But the above review is so full of lavish praise--"Houdini is an intellectual, and besides that, among showmen he is the peer of all actor-showmen anywhere"-- I'm wondering if Houdini didn't have a hand in writing it expressly to set up his spiritualism transition.

I could not find a review of Houdini's "3 Shows in One" when it played on Broadway, but Variety did review it out of town in Providence, R.I. in their December 2, 1925 issue:

In all, Houdini, with his captivating and compelling stage personality, his vast knowledge and incomparable technique, shaded any exhibit of its class without going in for a huge or blinding production. The sets were pretty and artistic, but not of the circus type, running to drops and drapes, mostly.
The show is good enough to attempt Broadway, though Houdini is not believed to have that in mind for the present. In New York the spiritualism could go further as was the first intent of the venture.
In any event, it is still a certainly that Houdini has all his gifts and faculties for mystifying and amusing, besides doing probably a great human work for decency and honestly. He has given new dignity to the too-often maligned trade of "magician" and has helped bring the profession to a new estate of dignity and standing.

This appears to have been the last review of Houdini in Variety.

Related:

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

In Bessie's backyard

Here's an image sent to me by friend and formidable magic historian Diego Domingo. He says, "The daughter of vaudeville and radio crystal gazer, Mel-Roy, gave me some photos, among them was this one, which on the back read, 'Mrs. Houdini’s home, 1936.' In the photo is Mrs. Mel-Roy, holding her daughter Carolyn."


Bess and Edward Saint moved around quite a bit during their Hollywood years, but it's likely this is the backyard of 1616 N. Curson, which they did occupy in 1936. The house is still standing today.

Thanks Diego!

Related:

Monday, May 27, 2019

Master Mystery Episode 9 poster at auction in June


A poster for Houdini's The Master Mystery Episode 9 will be auction via eMoviePoster next month. The auction goes live June 2 and ends on June 9. Auctioneer Bruce Hershenson tells me:

"Posters from [The Master Mystery] were unknown until around 35 years ago, when the son of the man who produced the movie surfaced, and he had one one-sheet from each of the fifteen chapters! Those were quickly sold, and over the years, a very few of them have returned to auction (we have auctioned four different chapters, and we were later re-consigned two of them, so we have auctioned six posters, but two of them were reruns of previous sales, and each was the only example of that poster we had ever auctioned). Now, we are auctioning a chapter that we have never auctioned before, and this one shows Houdini pointing a gun at the Automaton, in a room filled with human skulls!"

Click here for a preview of all the posters coming to the June 2 auction. I will update with a link to The Master Mystery auction when it goes live.

UPDATEMaster Mystery episode 9 poster scares up $28,500.

Related:

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Where I met a man who saw Houdini

Today is the last day of business for The Pizza Cookery in Woodland Hills. Happily, their wonderful food will live on as they are just moving to a new location (landlord would not renew their lease). But they've been in this same spot for 44 years, which is pretty unique for Southern California, and this restaurant means a lot to me personally. Not only have I been going to it for all those 44 years, but it's located down the street from my High School, my first job, my first apartment. Every phase of my life I've stopped in for some pizza, salad, and their famous garlic rolls. But I have one memory in particular that will be of interest to WAH readers. This is where I met a man who saw Houdini.

It was April 1980, I was 15, and I had appeared in a local paper called the Chronicle ("Teen is wild about Houdini"). Somehow a gentlemen was able to get my contact details and got in touch. He said he had seen Houdini and could tell me about it. My mother feared this was a ploy to kidnap me, but my father thought this sounded intriguing, so he made arrangements for us to have lunch at The Pizza Cookery.

When we arrived, my father made a big deal of it. I recall him telling the restaurant staff this was "a historic meeting." The elderly gentleman arrived and he was very nice (not a kidnapper). The heart breaker is I didn't take any notes, so I don't know his name, nor the city or year he saw Houdini. But for some reason Cincinnati sticks in my head.

Over lunch, he said he vividly remembered Houdini doing the Water Torture Cell, which was a very exciting thing to hear. Of course, I wanted eyewitness details. I asked him what Houdini's voice sounded like (this was before I had heard it). I also wanted to know what the posters in the lobby looked like. Unfortunately, he said he couldn't remember these things. In fact, the Water Torture Cell was really the only standout memory he had. I recall being utterly perplexed how one could not remember every detail of an experience like this. But I often think of this gentleman now when I try to remember seeing Doug Henning in the 1980s. My memories are frighteningly dim! Heck, I'm struggling just to remember this lunch. Memories fade, kids, always take notes.

Anyway, our lunch continued and my father enjoyed talking to the man about the rest of his life, his memories of World War II, etc., which interested me less at that age. It really wasn't until later in life that I fully appreciated this experience. I've only met one other "witness" (Marie Blood). Now with Houdini dead 93 years, the possibility of meeting anyone with a clear living memory of him is almost nil. So I realize how lucky I was to meet this man, and what a very kind and generous thing it was for him to make the effort to find me and share his memory. He gave me a memory that I will never forget.

As for The Pizza Cookery, their new location will be in Thousand Oaks (follow their Facebook and Twitter). Who knows, maybe one day I will have lunch there with a young Doug Henning enthusiast and I can share with him what it was like to see the great magician. I just hope he doesn't ask me about the posters!


Related:

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Mystifier, Fourth 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 Fourth Quarter 1997 Mystifier begins with the first article by new curator Margaret A. Ehr. In it, she addresses the controversial Fox television special Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, which was running at this time. Ehr condemns it--along with the rest of the magic community--but she notes Houdini himself exposed his own secrets from time to time. She then explores two articles Houdini wrote for The Ladies Home Journal in 1918: "How I Get Out of a Strait-Jacket" and "How I Get Out of My Rope Ties". Near the end she states:

Perhaps Houdini had no fear that others, even knowing his exact techniques, could ever hope to truly challenge him. Houdini himself realized that he was physically exceptional. He understood that his short stature worked to his advantage, as did his impressive strength and flexibility. Few could match Houdini's claims of a double-dislocation at will, or six-inch chest expansion, either. Even knowing precisely what Houdini did to achieve his escapes, few if any magicians would ever be capable of Houdini's success. 

An article by Houdini scholar and regular Mystifier contributor Morris N. Young called "Defending Rabbi Weiss" follows. Young begins:

Too many attempts have been made to malign the reputation of Houdini's father, Mayer Samuel Weiss, especially regarding whether or not he was ordained as a rabbi. It is my purpose to show how unjust those accusations are.

Young goes on to explain how one went about becoming a rabbi in the days of Houdini's father, and how no official paperwork did not mean he was not a rabbi. Young doesn't name names, but this doubt was first cast by Manny Weltman in his 1993 book, Houdini: Escape into Legend, The Early Years: 1862–1900. (Rabbi Weiss's Certificate of Ordination was discovered by David Saltman in 2016.)

The museum shop announces pre-orders for four upcoming videos: Mystic Circle Murder, Houdini The Life of the Worlds Greatest Escapolgist, The Truth About Houdini, and a 2-set VHS of The Master Mystery. The announcement of The Master Mystery was a bombshell as it marked the first release of this movie. A familiar name listed in the "New Members" column is David Byron.

In his "Backstage" column, Sid Radner again sings the praises of the Goodspeed Opera House's Houdini musical. He also gives a detailed report on the Official Houdini Seance, which that year was held on the stage of the Goodspeed. A very special attendee was Anna Crankshaw (Thurlow), great-granddaughter of Margery. Also around the table were: Patrick Culliton, Tom Boldt, Gene Gamache, Larry Weeks, Geno Munari, and Susan Postal, the actress who played Margery in Goodspeed play. The medium was Elaine Kuzmeskus assisted by Barbara Dryden-Masse. Harry, as always, was a no show.

Sid concludes with a mention of a new series by Canada's Discovery TV on the history of magic set to premiere in Fall 1998. Sid says the crew spent 5 1/2 at his home shooting material for the Houdini episode.

[It's surprising this newsletter fails to mention the movie FairyTale: A True Story which was released in October '97.]

Mystifier
Volume 7, Number 4
Fourth Quarter, 1997
6 pages

Contents:
Revealing Houdini's Secrets–Again
Society of Young Magicians Program Update
Defending Rabbi Weiss
New Videos in Museum Shop
Member News
Backstage with Sid Radner


Related:

Friday, May 24, 2019

Eric Olsen on restoring the Water Torture Cell

Here's an interview with Eric Olsen who worked with John Gaughan on the two restorations of Houdini's Water Torture Cell. The first was in 1991 to refurbish it. The second was to rebuild it after the catastrophic Houdini Magical Hall of Fame fire in 1995. His first hand recollections are pretty interesting. This also touches on some of the controversy surrounding that work.



The video ends with "To Be Continued", but I cannot find Part 2. Does anyone know if it exists?

The Houdini Picture Corporation (the name of Houdini's former company) was reincorporated in 1996 by Geno Munari, owner of Houdini's Magic Shops. This is the only thing I've seen credited with the company name.

Thanks to James Criswell.

Related:

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Sorry if I've not answered your email


Just wanted to say I'm sorry if you've sent me an email and I've not responded. My real-world work is keeping me very busy, and keeping up with the blog is sometimes all I can do (and even that has been a challenge this month). I'll do my best to answer my Houdini email when I get some downtime. But the best way to get my attention is to just leave a comment on my posts.

Thanks for understanding!

Houdini en el barrio

Houdini en el barrio is a short cartoon from Chile that features Houdini working his magic alongside a group of young people. At least that's what I think is going on. There might also be time travel involved. You can watch or download the short at CNTV Infantil.


Below are links to some more Houdini animated adventures for kids.

Related:

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

When Houdini entered politics

Today it is common to hear Houdini's name used to either support or attack a political idea or candidate. Houdini's name has become a quiver in the bag of politicians and journalists around the world. That is what makes this November 5, 1916 item from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette so interesting. This appears to be the first time Houdini's name was used in the political area -- or at least the first time it garnered enough press to draw a reaction of Houdini himself.

Click to enlarge.

I'm sure this delighted Houdini. He loved this kind of free press. But even he might not have realized the greater significance here. One of the reasons Houdini remains so well known today is that his name has become part of the culture. This newspaper item documents the beginnings of that integration; the beginnings of Houdini's cultural immortality.

Bellow are a few more examples of when Houdini's name was used in politics.

Related:

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Grim Game is a hit on Terror Island


The Catalina Island Museum hosted a 100th Anniversary screening of Houdini's The Grim Game on Friday. The event was a huge success, drawing a standing room only crowd.

The original plan was to screen the movie in the museum's outdoor amphitheater, where last year they screened the Tony Curtis Houdini movie. However, the weather forecast was ominous, so the screening was moved indoors to the nearby Overlook Hall.

Overlook Hall.
As it turned out, the weather was perfect (perfect enough for me to get quite a sunburn), but the change of venue proved to be inspired. The historic 1929 hall created an old world atmosphere and was the perfect setting for a silent film. The occasion was also enhanced by many audience members coming dressed in authentic period clothing (this was the weekend of the annual Art Deco Society Ball). The building also happens to sit across from the Hotel Catalina where the Terror Island crew stayed in 1919 (and where the museum kindly housed me). So we were right in the heart of Houdini-Catalina land to watch Houdini's best film.

With the change of venue and it being a Friday, I wasn't sure how big of an audience we would draw. But as showtime neared, the hall filled to standing room only! This is the second time this month I've watched The Grim Game sell out a house. It may have taken 100 years, but Houdini seems to have finally become a movie star.

I kicked things off with a short talk about Houdini and the rediscovery and restoration of the film. Then the great Micheal Mortilla spoke briefly before sitting down at the piano and providing magnificent musical accompaniment to the film (which he improvises). The movie played like gangbusters. The audience applauded Houdini's first appearance and all his escapes. In fact, just the appearance of a straitjacket brought on applause. They also laughed at the movie's humor (the maid is always a favorite), and gasped at the plane crash, possibly the biggest reaction I've yet heard to this moment.

With magician Lee Terbosic.
A special attendee was magician Lee Terbosic, who came all the way from Pittsburgh for the event. You may recall that in 2016 Lee recreated Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape in Pittsburgh on the 100th anniversary of that feat, and this year he starred with George Hardeen in Houdini's Last Secrets. Lee came with his charming girlfriend, Jessie Marie, and after the screening, we all went to dinner where Lee shared with me the backstory of his straitjacket escape as well as some of his awesome Houdini ideas for the future. (UPDATE: Looks like Lee also used this weekend to propose to Jessie!!!)

Also on hand was Joe Notaro whose own accounts of the event you can read HERE. Of course, Joe and I had to make a pre-screening pilgrimage to the former site of the Hotel St. Catherine where Houdini stayed, and to what the museum is advocating naming "Houdini Point."

Speaking of the museum, I was excited to see their new Houdini display, which is now part of their permanent exhibition on Catalina history. It's a perfect encapsulation of Houdini's Catalina Terror Island experience. It also includes the long lost overboard box escape footage running on a continuous video loop. This footage is not in the movie and not available to see anywhere else, so just another reason to visit Catalina.

New Terror Island exhibit and the original crew hotel.

The following day was the annual Silent Film Benefit in the breathtaking Avalon Casino (where last year they screened Terror Island). There was nothing Houdini related on this day, but this year's movie, Why Be Good? (1929), starring Colleen Moore, was an absolute delight. Micheal Mortilla and his seven piece Accompanists outdid themselves with an all original score and received a standing ovation.

Joe Yranski.
I was also honored to meet and get to know Silent Film Historian Joe Yranski, who spoke about Colleen Moore before the screening. Joe is a fountain of information on silent and early film and I so enjoyed our conversations and learning about Colleen Moore (who Joe knew personally). Joe also told me he had a hand in the Kino Houdini DVD set, but somehow we never got around to talking about that!

Next year's movie will be Blood and Sand starring Rudolph Valentino and two Houdini leading ladies, Lila Lee and Nita Naldi. Hey, maybe the museum would consider a Friday screening of Terror Island as it will be that movie's 100th Anniversary next year?

But even if Houdini cedes next year to Rudy, our great friend Julie Perlin Lee, director of the Catalina Island Museum, said she believes all aspects of Houdini's career could be of interest to museum goers. So I'm thinking we might indeed see more of Houdini on the Magic Isle.

Special thanks to Kellie Costello of the Catalina Island Museum for all her help in arranging my trip and stay.

Related:

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Man From Beyond pressbook sells for $780

An original pressbook for Houdini's The Man From Beyond sold for $780 (includes buyers premium) at yesterday's Potter & Potter online magic auction.

Pressbooks for Houdini's movies are fantastically rare and desirable, especially as they contain images of all the posters and adverting for the film. A reproduction of The Man From Beyond pressbook was sold in the late 1970s by, I believe, Jim Steranko (correct me in the comments if I'm wrong). Because of this, it's the pressbook most are familiar with. But I can't recall seeing an original come up for auction in many years, so this was a nice get for someone.

For the record, I believe I may own the only complete Terror Island pressbook (it was displayed last year at the Catalina Island Museum). I believe Kevin Connolly owns the only known Haldane of the Secret Service pressbook. I recently saw The Master Mystery pressbook in the collection of Ken Trombly.

Related:

Saturday, May 18, 2019

New French edition of A Magician Among the Spirits

A new French edition of Houdini's A Magician Among the Spirits has been released by Fantaisium as Un Magicien chez les Médiums. The translation is by François Montmirel.

Earlier this year Fantaisium relaesed Houdini's The Right Way to Do Wrong as Manuel du malfaiteur: Révélations sur les criminels qui gagnent.

You can purchase Un Magicien chez les Médiums at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.fr.

Related:

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Grim Game gem

I'm off to Catalina "Terror" Island for the Catalina Island Museum's 100th Anniversary screening of The Grim Game and Silent Film Benefit. The location of the screening has been moved to Overlook Hall at 209 East Whittley in Avalon. The hall was built in 1929 and is adjacent to the Hotel Catalina where the Terror Island crew stayed in 1919 (and where I will be staying). Looks like a prefect venue for this screening.

I may not have time to update the blog while I'm away, so I thought I'd leave you with this Grim Game gem from my collection. I bought this original lobby card in the late 1970s from Larry Edmunds Bookshop on Hollywood Blvd for $75. That seemed like a lot back then. It's now hard to believe there was ever a time you could buy a Houdini treasure like this over the counter. (A Grim Game title lobby card recently sold at auction for $5,500.)


Hope to see you on Catalina!

Related:

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

When Truth came to the U.S.

It was 43 years ago today on May 15, 1976, that the great BBC documentary The Truth About Houdini first aired on American television. Along with several new books and The Great Houdinis, the airing of this first major Houdini documentary in the U.S. was part of that year's celebration of the 50th anniversary of his death. It helped fuel the "Houdini renaissance" of the 1970s, not to mention my own obsession. It's still my favorite Houdini documentary.

To mark the day, check out my post from 2017 all about:

Related links:

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Patrick Culliton launches 'Houdini The Key' forum

The great Patrick Culliton has launched a private website forum devoted to discussing Houdini's secrets, especially those revealed his seminal 2010 book, Houdini The Key. Patrick will also use the site to provide book updates and corrections. The catch is you have to own the book (click to buy) and register to get in. But secrets await!


Related:

Monday, May 13, 2019

Houdini secrecy oath sells on eBay

A handwritten Houdini oath of secrecy signed by locksmith Gilbert Dawes and witnessed by Franz Kukol sold on eBay over the weekend for $988. The oath is dated February 10, 1911 when Houdini was performing at the Empire Theater in Leeds. Below is a photo and the auction description.

Click to enlarge.

This rare and famous letter was a oath of secrecy from Harry Houdini's Locksmith; in the letter Mr. Gilbert Dawes agrees to not to disclose the secrets of Houdini. The second individual in the letter is Houdini's apprentice. We contacted the current living relatives of Gilbert to learn that the famous living magician Edwin Dawes is a relative of the late Gilbert Dawes and found records of his existence. Dated 1911. 
Henry Muller (1930 –2017), was the founder, owner and curator of the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada. Mr. Muller purchased this letter in 1967 along with other Houdini original locks, keys, illusions and paraphernalia from Joseph Dunninger. Dunninger had acquired them from Houdini’s wife Beatrice and his brother Hardeen, to whom Houdini had bequeathed the collection. The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame existed from 1967 to 1991. In 1991, a fire consumed much of the museum. This item was on display in a part of the museum that was not consumed by the flames. The keys are now is custody of the late Mr. Muller’s son David. David is offering a COA and will field any questions about the keys' chain of custody for authentication purposes. I also encourage you to do your research on the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame to validate my information. These are museum pieces of history and would be a exciting item to own! (see attached photos)

Does anyone recall seeing this letter on display at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame (because I don't)? It will be interesting to see if more Henry Muller rarities surface on eBay. Muller died in 2017

Thanks to Kevin Connolly for the alert.

Related:

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Houdini's Last Secrets repeats on Discovery UK

The 4-part series Houdini's Last Secrets will repeat on the Discovery Channel in the UK this month. The first two episodes, "The Torture Escape" and "Catching a Bullet", will air back to back on May 18. The last two episodes, "Siberian Prison Conspiracy" and "Buried Alive" will air on May 25.


Houdini's Last Secrets features George Hardeen and magician Lee Terbosic investigating select Houdini mysteries. The series originally aired on the Science Channel and can be purchased on Amazon and iTunes.

For reviews of all four episodes check out my Episode Guide below.

Related:

Saturday, May 11, 2019

'Magic and Theatre in the Time of Houdini' at The Breman Museum, May 19

The Breman Museum in Atlanta will host a special lecture by actor, author, and magician Max Howard about "Magic and Theatre in the Time of Houdini" on May 19 at 2:00pm. This is part of their Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini programing.


Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini runs through August 11. For more information visit the Breman Museum's websiteFacebook or Twitter.  I will giving a talk on Houdini in Early Cinema on July 14 at 2:00 PM.

Related:

Friday, May 10, 2019

Dorothy Dietrich among Stories for Kids Who Dare to Be Different

Legendary magician and escape artist Dorothy Dietrich appears in the new children's book, Stories for Kids Who Dare to Be Different: True Tales of Amazing People Who Stood Up and Stood Out by Ben Brooks with illustrations by Quinton Wintor.

The follow-up to Ben Brooks's New York Times bestselling Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different, this book offers more extraordinary true stories of amazing people who broke the mold and changed the world for the better. The resulting message? Be yourself, and your dreams might come true.

Dorothy is also the co-founder and curator of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, and a great friend!

Stories for Kids Who Dare to Be Different: True Tales of Amazing People Who Stood Up and Stood Out can be purchased at Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK).

Related:

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Is that Julie Karcher in The Grim Game?

While enjoying The Grim Game at the Sierra Madre Playhouse last Friday, I spotted something--or rather, someone--I've never seen before. When Houdini/Harvey Hanford is being arrested and wrestled into a police car, among the bystanders is a woman who appears to be Julie Karcher.


Julie Karcher was a fixture in the Houdinis lives. She can be spotted in many photos, and when the Houdinis has their first lunch with Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle in England, it's recorded that Julie was there as well. According to Marie Blood, Bess and "Aunt Julie" knew each other from school days. She was Bess's "companion abroad and on shopping expeditions" as well as the Houdinis housekeeper (she lived in 278). As with the rest of the family, she was fluent in German. She later joined Houdini's 3 Shows and One as an assistant and helped Bess make the costumes.

Julie did accompany the Houdinis to Hollywood for the making of The Grim Game and Terror Island, so I think it's entirely possible she got a little cameo in the film. The woman in the film has her same jaw line and she's very small in stature, just as Julie was (smaller than Bess, in fact). Alas, no Bess in sight.

So what do we think? Is the woman in The Grim Game the ever present Julie K?

Julie Karcher and Bess in Hollywood (1919).

After Houdini's death, Julie remained by Bess's side. In 1927 she moved with Bess and the family into 67 Payson Ave. But after Bess met Ed Saint and moved to Florida in 1932, Julie seems to vanish from her life. According to Marie Blood, she went to live with Julia Sawyer's mother. I'm not sure what ever become of her. But as she was intimately involved with the Houdinis for so many years, what an amazing interview subject she would have been!

UPDATE: Just a little update on the relationship of Julie to the Houdinis. In a 1920 letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Houdini refers to Julie as Bess's "cousin."

Related:

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Make a long distance call on Houdini

In 1997 the Houdini Historical Center in Appleton released a limited edition series of Houdini phone cards. They came in four sets of three cards and featured Houdini images from the HHC (which at the time housed the Sidney Radner collection). Below is Set #1.




I'm not entirely sure all four sets were produced. I've only ever seen the first set for sale online. My set #1 has a sticker on the front that reads: "These phone cards are for collectors only - no phone time is included." This appears to have been placed over another sticker showing the cards were good until 1998.

I've also never seen the "special lenticular motion card" that was sent by mail to those who collected all four sets. Is that the Mama/Harry/Bess card show above I wonder?

Would love to hear from anyone who collected all the cards. Leave a comment below. Don't call!

Related:

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Mystifier, Third 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 Third Quarter 1997 Mystifier kicks off with the news that author Kenneth Silverman has donated all his research papers from his seminal biography Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss to the HHC.

His thoughtful gift represents a significant addition to the Center's archives. The research notes themselves amount to four cubic feet of notes, papers, photocopies, and computer generated note cards. With Silverman's trademark professionalism, the contents are filed both chronologically and according to subject – and invaluable tool for future researchers.

The newsletter only runs 4 pages this time. As with the previous issue, it is largely taken up with HHC business. Margaret A. Ehr is announced as the new HHC Curator. It notes the Houdini Club of Wisconsin has made a donation of $250 to support a special special Changing display case. Once again members are reminded of the Museum Shop exclusives, including the previously announced phone cards and a new HHC t-shirt.

Sid Radner devotes his entire "Backstage" column to a review of the Goodspeed Opera House's new Houdini musical. (Include with the newsletter is a flyer for the production.) Says Sid:

In addition to the great artistic talent that went into the production, a great deal of magic expertise was involved. Audiences who see the musical will see some of Houdini's most famous escapes performed on stage, including the Upside Down Straitjacket Escape, the Metamorphosis, and the Chinese Water Torture Cell.

He concludes by announcing that the Official Houdini Seance will be held on the stage of the Goodspeed Opera House following its performance of Houdini on October 30th.

Mystifier
Volume 7, Number 3
Third Quarter, 1997
4 pages

Contents:
Silverman Donates Research Papers
Houdini Club Sponsors Exhibit Case
New Museum Shop Items
New Curator Joins HHC Staff
Backstage with Sid Radner


Related:

Monday, May 6, 2019

Lindsay Benner brings Bess to the AMA Awards

The talented Lindsay Benner shared the following on her Instagram on Sunday. Lindsay is one of my favorite Magic Castle performers with her wonderful "Book of Love" act. I also hear she does a mean straitjacket escape. Lindsay was nominated for Stage Magician of the Year at the Magic Castle's 51st AMA Awards.


Bess's royal crown brooch was owned for many years by the Larsen family (it was a gift from Bess to Gerrie Larsen). It was purchased in auction by David Copperfield in 2017. He then sold it to Randy and Kristy Pitchford, who are related to Cardini.

It's wonderful to see the Pitchfords sharing the brooch in this way. Bess helped Gerrie Larsen found the Magigals, the first magic organization exclusively for women, so she would be thrilled to see her brooch adorning talented and successful female magicians like Lindsay.

Thanks to Athena Stamos for the tip.

Related:

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Houdini sells out in Sierra Madre

He's been dead 92 years, but that doesn't mean Houdini can't still pack a house! Friday's screening of The Grim Game at the Sierra Madre Playhouse in Sierra Madre, California, was sold out and a big success.

The Playhouse, which opened in 1923 as a silent movie theater called the "Wistaria Theater", was nicely decked out with Houdini posters. I arrived early for a run-through and had great fun "helping" (meaning I stood and watched) the Playhouse's technical director, Todd McCraw, put up the theater marquee. The instructions said to just put up the name of the movie, but Todd and I agreed that "HOUDINI" had to be up there as well!

Every seat was filled and the evening kicked off at 8pm emceed by Playhouse president David Gordon. I came up first to introduce the movie and tell the story of its rediscovery and restoration. Kevin Liebson of the Catalina Island Museum, who co-sponsored the event, spoke about the museum's upcoming Silent Movie Benefit. Playhouse artistic director Christian Lebano then revealed plans to launch a series of classic film events at the Sierra Madre Playhouse.

Then came the movie with live accompaniment on the piano by the gifted Michael Mortilla. You may recall Michael provided music for last year's Silent Movie Benefit screening of Terror Island. He also provided the score for the original Bill McIlhany VHS release of The Master Mystery (which makes that version a must have). Michael's music was once again masterful. After the screening there was a Q&A panel with some great questions from the audience. The Houdini lobby posters were then raffled off.

I was thrilled by how many audience members commented on just how much they enjoyed the movie as a movie (not just a novelty). Many marveled at how surprisingly well made it was. There were even compliments on Houdini's acting! (I also spotted something new in the movie, which I plan to share in an upcoming post.)

It's a shame The Grim Game remains commercially unavailable because it really is the best representation of Houdini's film work. But that's what makes screenings like this one at the Sierra Madre Playhouse so special. What a treat it was to be part of this. My thanks to all.

Below are a few more pics for the evening.

Composer Michael Mortilla and attendee Joe Notaro (HHCE).
Ready to open the doors.
The big screen.
Who?
I'll do any job for Houdini.

The Grim Game will screen again at the Catalina Island Museum on Friday, May 17th. I will once again introduce the film (same jokes folks) and it will again be accompanied by Michael Mortilla. Click for details and tickets.

Related:

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Houdini's 278 is coming back to life

It was one year ago today that news broke of the sale of Houdini's New York home ("278"). At the time, the new owners assured the Houdini community that they planned to preserve Houdini history. Today I'm excited to share the first image of the restoration in progress.

This photo was taken from the parlor level entryway and shows a now restored doorway into what was Houdini's library. The doorway had been walled off by the previous owner. But now we see exactly what it was like to step inside 278 and find Houdini himself in his favorite space.

QUESTION: What is your idea of comfort?
HOUDINI: Seated in a large arm chair in library and hearing Mrs. Houdini call up: "Young man your lunch is ready."

Thanks to the new owners of 278 for allowing me to share this pic.

Related:

Legal Disclosure

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Translate

Receive updates via email