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.
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.|
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.
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.