Saturday, June 29, 2019

Mystifier, Second Quarter 1998

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 1998 Mystifier kicks off with the news that The Master Mystery will be released on VHS for the first time, and that the HHC will have a special exhibit devoted to the film called Houdini's Master Mystery. Curator Margaret Ehr explains how the VHS project was spearheaded by HHC charter member Bill McIlhany:

His experience as a collector, author, and video producer led McIlhany to explore the idea of making Master Mystery, originally released in 1919 [sic], available on video. He began by contacting the Douris Corporation in Los Angeles, which owns the best existing copies of the films. McIlhany made a direct appeal to the corporation: "I expressed to them how dearly I wanted to see Master Mystery released on video, challenged them to to do it or have a video publisher do it, or I would like to do it." With Douris' permission, McIlhany began work in earnest in early 1997.

The newsletter continues with the museum shop announcing they now have a reproduction of Houdini's 1913 Hull Palace playbill depicting the Water Torture Cell. Also that the sale of their exclusive phone cards is extended to the end of the year. The newsletter announces the launch of the HHC's official Houdini website at (no longer active.) Among the New Members is the familiar name of Joseph Hanosek.

Sid Radner devotes most of his "Backstage" column to debunking the idea that Houdini left no money to Bess after his death. Sid cites the various life insurance policies Houdini had taken out totaling $160,000.

In 1926, $160,000 was a lot of money. Many young workers dreamed of earning $5000 per year in those days. Mrs. Houdini was, unfortunately, a bad money manager and became the victim of many bad investments and unscrupulous people.

Sid then announces that HHC board member Dr. Morris Young recently received honors for a donation of rare books on mnemonics to the government of San Marino. He also teases: "There is much activity concerning Houdini in television and movies–more about this in the next issue."

Volume 8, Number 2
Second Quarter, 1998
4 pages

New Videos, HHC Exhibit Resurrect Houdini's Master Mystery Films
Museum Shop Features Exclusive Poster
Member News
HHC Website Premieres
Backstage with Sid Radner


Friday, June 28, 2019

Houdini (Himself) in Nashville

The historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville has posted to their official website a list of 5 Surprising Events That Have Happened at Ryman Auditorium. One those surprising events was an appearance by Houdini (Himself).

The last word you might use to describe Harry Houdini, one of history’s best-known magicians, is “skeptic.” But sure enough, his Ryman appearance on March 11, 1924 featured not only illusions and escape tricks but also a campaign against spiritualism during which Houdini debunked phony mediums and Tennessee’s own Bell Witch legend. The show closed with Houdini’s “Milk Can Escape.” Newspapers originally advertised that Houdini would perform his infamous “Chinese Water Torture Cell” escape trick, in which he would’ve been submerged upside down, his feet locked in stocks. However, it was scrapped from the evening’s program, likely due to the weight of the tank. Surprisingly, the show didn’t sell well. It was reported that Houdini could have done “… almost everything with his black magic but warm up the big old auditorium, which was insufficiently heated.”

This was near the start of Houdini's 1924 spiritualism lecture tour when he still included magic and escapes. (How I'd love to see a photo of this older Houdini doing the Milk Can.) But notice how the Ryman ad doesn't mention a lecture. This kind of advertising led to audience confusion, as expressed in some early reviews. Although Houdini's bigger challenge this evening seems to have been the lack of heating.

Below is the Ryman Auditorium today, still going strong, and now heated!


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Meet HoudiniFan

Today I wanted to give a shout-out to a relatively new blog, HoudiniFan, launched in April by webmiss Lisa. It has a lot of energy and creativity. Give it a visit:

A blog dedicated to Harry Houdini, the amazing illusionist, escapologist, magician, & actor! A collection of my fave pix, gifs, footage & more! Stuff we've all seen before with my occasional crazy commentary. ;) Track: HoudiniFan

You can also follow Lisa and HoudiniFan on Twitter @Houdini1926.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

LINK: When Harry Met Larry

Our friend Tom Interval has an epic takedown today of Larry Lewis (right) who for years claimed to have been Houdini's assistant. When Larry died in 1974, it was reported he was 106-years-old. But can we believe any of it?

Click the headline and have a read at Interval Magic.

Also check out Tom's Patreon page for special videos and content.


    Tuesday, June 25, 2019

    Houdini combats "fake news"

    Fraudulent spirit mediums tried many ways to derail Houdini's campaign of exposing their tricks, even spreading rumors of his own conversation. Here's an article from the March 8, 1925 Pittsburgh Post Gazette in which Houdini disputes such a claim.

    Of course, Houdini had his own tactics, and it not impossible he invented rumors just to debunk them and garner the press. Houdini hated J. Malcom Bird, and this offered him a nice platform to publicly criticize him. This was what Margery claimed when stories surfaced that she had put a "curse" on Houdini.

    So is Houdini combating or creating "fake news" here? Only the spirits know.


    Monday, June 24, 2019

    Houdini is hiring

    How would you like to open your August 8, 1925 issue of Variety and see this?

    This was when Houdini was preparing the first season of his "3 Shows in One." It appears he's looking to augment his core team of Jim Collins, James Vickery, and Frank Williamson (aka Franz Kukol?). I have heard the show included an assistant named Jack Arden. Was he one of the winning applicants, I wonder?

    Dorothy Young says she answered a similar ad for dancers.


    Saturday, June 22, 2019

    Visiting the site of the Houdinis Silver Wedding Anniversary

    It was 100 years ago today that Harry and Bess Houdini celebrated their Silver Wedding Anniversary with a gala dinner at the Alexandria Hotel in Los Angeles. The event was attended by 200 guests, including luminaries such as Roscoe Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille, Jesse Lasky, and Will Rogers. On making her entrance to the ballroom, Bess was so overcome she swooned. Houdini had to dash to get her a glass of wine to brace her up. He joked that it reminded him of "my old running days." After dinner the guests danced until midnight.

    While I knew the Alexandria still stood downtown (today it's apartments), what I didn't know was that The King Edward ballroom where the Houdinis had their dinner also survives. So on this 100th anniversary, I paid a visit to The Alexandria Ballrooms and was given a tour by the very friendly and helpful Charlene Bustos. As you can see, it has remained remarkably unchanged! All the distinctive crown moldings remain and even the floor is still the original hardwood.

    Below is a shot from other side of the room. Note the fireplace and original doorways. Through which did the Houdinis make their entrance, I wonder?

    Today the ballroom was being prepared for a Quinceanera. It was fun to think that, exactly 100 years ago, tables and chairs were being arranged for the Houdinis dinner. And somewhere upstairs Houdini was writing the following note for Bess to find after dinner along with diamonds in a silver setting.

    My Soulmate Wife:
    Our silver wedding today. No, dear Heart, we have had twenty-five silver weddings. You have been truly my wife, my all in life. If only my sainted mother were here now she would nod her head with pride.
    We have starved and starred together. We have had our little tiffs, but your sunny smile and my good sense(?) always robbed them of bitterness. I love you, love you, dearest, and I know you love me. Your very touch, your care of me, dearest, and the laughter in my heart when you put your arms around me prove it. Think, dear Heart, twenty-five years! The years have flown. It seems only yesterday that I carried you away to take you for myself.
    Sweetheart, I will give you this letter after the reception tonight. I am writing this whilst you and Jule are busy at the mirror making up, and as I glance at you and see the happiness in your eyes I bow my head in silent thanks to Almighty God that I am the lucky man to make you happy. May God keep you long for me my Precious Love.
    Yours to the end of life and ever after.

    One revelation is that the ballroom is located on the second floor, which is something I never gathered from the famous photo. Below is a photo from the outside of the building showing the four ballroom windows that look out over Spring Street.

    It was also a treat to see the inside of the Alexandria itself. Built in 1906, it was the most luxurious hotel in Los Angeles for many years. In fact, I'm wondering if Houdini stayed at the Alexandria when he performed at the Orpheum just a few blocks away. The Alexandria also has a rich Hollywood history. Charlie Chaplin not only got married in The Palm Court ballroom, but in the lobby (below) he had a fight with MGM head Louis B. Mayer. It was also on the hotel's exterior that Harold Loyd shot his famous human fly sequence for Safety Last.

    While today the hotel has been renovated, many beautiful original features remain, such as a grand stairway that would have been familiar to the Houdinis.

    It's surprising that such an important and unchanged Houdini location seems to have flown under the radar for so many years. The good news is The Alexandria Ballrooms are available to rent. While they remain a popular venue for weddings and receptions, I'm thinking this famous space would be a desirable location for future Houdini documentaries, and, of course, an ideal setting for an Official Houdini Seance.

    So while I might have been 100 years late to the party, I'm thrilled to have made it today, and to have experienced this unchanged space that still seems to hold the loving energy of Harry and Bess Houdini.

    Thank you to Charlene Bustos for allowing me this special visit on this special day.


    Friday, June 21, 2019

    'Houdini in Early Cinema' at The Breman Museum

    On July 14th I will be at The Breman Museum in Atlanta giving a talk on "Houdini in Early Cinema". This is part of their Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini programing. My talk starts at 2:00PM and is free with museum admission. Hope to see you there!

    Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini runs through August 11. For more information visit the Breman Museum's websiteFacebook or Twitter.


    Thursday, June 20, 2019

    The 1950 Houdini multimedia project

    It took Hollywood 30 years to make the first Houdini biopic. But this was not for a lack of effort. The idea for a Houdini movie travelled from RKO to Columbia to Paramount to David O' Selznick and then back to Paramount. However, there was another stop on this journey that has been largely forgotten.

    In 1950 a former drug store operator, Joseph Raboff, and a real estate man, Earl Cohen, formed a company called, Film Producers, Inc. They acquired the film, radio, and TV rights to Houdini, reportedly "from the late magician's estate." It's unclear who that would be in 1950, but their rights included the Kellock book, so possibly the estate of Bernard Ernst.

    Teaming with a former Paramount executive, Endre Bohem, the producers commissioned a screenplay by Stephen Longstreet (The Jolsen Story) and announced production of The Life Story of Harry Houdini for October 1950. The project would star either John Garfield or Lee Cobb in the lead role. There was also talk of a half-hour TV series following the film's release, which might be the most intriguing part of all this. What would a Houdini TV series have looked like in 1950?

    It's unclear what happened to Film Producers, Inc. ambitious project, but it's likely the Raboff and Cohen realized they had bitten off more than they could chew. The Longstreet script, as far as I know, has never surfaced.

    In September 1951, Paramount reacquired the rights to the Kellock book from Cohen and Raboff when producer George Pal expressed interest in doing a Houdini movie. This time the result was the classic Houdini with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh in 1953. The idea of a Houdini TV series would have to wait until 2016 with Houdini & Doyle.

    UPDATESummary of 1950 Houdini Screenplay (Property of Film Producers)


    Wednesday, June 19, 2019

    Indian magician drowns during "Houdini" stunt

    The Washington Post reports that an Indian magician has drowned while attempting a "Houdini-inspired" escape from locks and chains in the Hooghly River in West Bengal. Chanchal Lahiri, whose stage name was Jadugar Mandrake, failed to surface. His body was later found a half mile from where he performed the stunt.

    "He was a great stunt artist and this is a big loss for the Indian magic community," said Madan Bharti, a historian of Indian magic.


    Tuesday, June 18, 2019

    The Mama message

    It was 97 years ago today on June 18, 1922, that one of most famous seances of all time took place at the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City.

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had invited Harry and Bess Houdini to join his family for a weekend vacation. The Houdinis arrived on Saturday and took a suite beside the Doyles in the Ambassador. While on the beach the following day, Sir Arthur told Houdini that Lady Doyle would like to give him a seance in which she would attempt to contact his mother. It was requested Bess not attend as "two people of the same mind" might inhibit the spirits.

    Lady Doyle's preferred method of spirit communication was "automatic writing", in which she sat with paper and pencil and quickly transcribed the words of the spirit. Below is the full text of Mama's message from the Great Beyond. The cross at the top of the page, Sir Arthur later explained, was made by Lady Doyle, not the Jewish Mrs. Weiss, to "guard against lower influences."

    "Oh, my darling, thank God, thank God, at last I'm through— I've tried, oh so often—now I am happy. Why, of course, I want to talk to my boy—my own beloved boy— Friends, thank you, with all my heart for this.
    You have answered the cry of my heart—and of his— God bless him—a thousand fold, for all his life for me—never had a mother such a son—tell him not to grieve, soon he'll get all the evidence he is so anxious for—Yes, we know—tell him I want him to try to write in his own home. It will be far better so.
    I will work with him—he is so, so dear to me—I am preparing so sweet a home for him which one day in God's good time he will come to—it is one of my great joys pre- paring it for our future—
    I am so happy in this life—it is so full and joyous— my only shadow has been that my beloved one hasn't known how often I have been with him all the while, all the while— here away from my heart's darling—combining my work thus in this life of mine.
    It is so different over here, so much larger and bigger and more beautiful—so lofty—all sweetness around one— nothing that hurts and we see our beloved ones on earth— that is such a joy and comfort to us— Tell him I love him more than ever—the years only increase it—and his goodness fills my soul with gladness and thankfulness. Oh, just this, it is me. I want him only to know that—that—I have bridged the gulf—That is what I wanted, oh so much—Now I can rest in peace— How soon—"

    At this point Sir Arthur interrupted and asked Houdini if he would like to ask his mother a question. Normally Houdini would ask something only his mother would know, but he "purposely evaded asking anything which might embarrass the medium" and instead went with a question suggested by Sir Arthur, "Can my mother read my mind?"

    "I always read my beloved son's mind—his dear mind—there is so much I want to say to him—but—I am almost overwhelmed by this joy of talking to him once more—it is almost too much to get through—the joy of it—thank you, thank you, thank you, friend, with all my heart for what you have done for me this day—God bless you, too, Sir Arthur, for what you are doing for us—for us over here—who so need to get in touch with our beloved ones on the earth plane—
    If only the world knew this great truth—how different —life would be for men and women— Go on, let nothing stop you—great will be your reward hereafter—Goodbye —I brought you, Sir Arthur, and my darling son together— I felt you were the one man who might help us to pierce the veil—and I was right— Bless him, bless him, bless him, I say from the depths of my soul—he fills my heart and later we shall be together—oh, so happy—a happiness awaits him that he has never dreamed of—tell him I am with him— just tell him that I'll soon make him know how close I am all the while—his eyes will soon be opened—Goodbye again—God's blessing be on you all—"

    Houdini thanked the Doyles for the seance, but kept his true thoughts to himself. The Doyles believed he was "greatly moved" by the experience. But as Houdini continued to denounce spiritualism, Doyle wrote and asked how he could continue his campaign after he had been given proof of spirit communication by his own mother? On December 15, 1922, Houdini finally wrote to Sir Arthur:

    "I know you are honorable and sincere, and think I owe you an explanation regarding the letter I received through the hands of Lady Doyle.
    I was heartily in accord and sympathy at that seance, but the letter was written entirely in English, and my sainted mother could not read, write or speak the English language. I did not care to discuss it at the time because my emotions, in trying to sense the presence of my mother, if there was such a thing possible, kept me quiet until time passed and I could give it the proper deduction.
    I trust my clearing up the seance from my point of view is satisfactory, and that you do not harbor any ill feeling, because I hold both Lady Doyle and yourself in the highest esteem. I know you treat this as a religion, but personally I cannot do so for, up to the present time, and with all my experiences, I have never seen or heard anything that could really convert me."

    While Houdini would continue to cite the language as the reason he rejected the message, I believe this was just another way for him to spare the Doyles. Reading the message in full, one can't help but see what Houdini must have seen on that day. It's transparently bogus. Gresham describes it as "precisely what the subconscious mind of a well-brought-up Englishwoman of the upper middle class would write if she subconsciously wanted to console a bereaved son." The message lacks any evidentiary specifics, and its endorsement of the Doyles and request that Houdini attempt his own communication feels decidedly manipulative.

    The real mystery remains the Doyles themselves. Were they out and out frauds? Was Sir Arthur being duped by Lady Doyle? Or were they both so swept up in religious devotion that they truly believed they possessed supernatural powers?

    The Atlantic City seance dramatized in the 2014 play Flim Flam.

    The Atlantic City seance has been dramatized on stage and screen many times. Most depict it as ending the friendship of Houdini and Conan Doyle on the spot. But this was not the case. While the seance remained a sore spot, the men kept in contact until the publication of Houdini's A Magician Among the Spirits in early 1924, at which point Doyle severed communication.

    The site of the seance, the Ambassador Hotel, remained in business until the 1970s. In 1978, Ramada purchased the derelict building and reused the steel framework for a new development. It was expanded in 1988. Many more owners and more expansions followed. Today the location of Mama's earthly touchdown sits somewhere within the sprawling Tropicana Casino & Resort Atlantic City.


    Additional Note: On December 19, 1922, Houdini wrote and had witnessed an official statement: THE TRUTH REGARDING SPIRITUALISTIC SEANCE GIVEN TO HOUDINI BY LADY DOYLE. In it he misdates the seance as taking place on June 17. Therefore, many Houdini biographies list this as the date. However, Houdini's own detailed notes clearly show that the seance took place on Sunday, June 18, and that is the date most current biographies now cite.

    Monday, June 17, 2019

    Inside 'Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic'

    Our friend Narinder Chadda recently visited Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic at the Wellcome Collection in London. Below are some of his photos of the spectacular Houdini and Margery rarities on display.

    The Bell Box used during the Margery seances from the collection of Ken Klosterman/Salon de Magie.

    Loving cup given to Margery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from the Libbet Crandon de Malamud Collection.

    Reproduction of the infamous "Margie Box" made by Houdini and Jim Collins.

    Original Water Torture Cell poster from the Museums Sheffield.

    Letters written by Houdini to Margery from the Libbet Crandon de Malamud Collection.

    Margery's seance kimono and chair from the Libbet Crandon de Malamud Collection.

    Wax thumbprint allegedly made by the spirit of Walter from the Cambridge University Library and the Society for Psychical Research.

    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.

    Thank you Narinder!


    Saturday, June 15, 2019

    A close call in Atlantic City

    It was on this day in 1908 that Houdini suffered a mishap while doing a handcuffed dive from "Young's Pier" in Atlantic City. The clipping below is from the June 16, 1908 Wilmington Delaware News Journal.

    News Journal, June 16, 1908

    The only other mention of this accident I can find is in The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. That book dates it as having happened on June 17, but the News Journal clipping shows that can't be correct. It also lays the blame for his injury on the ocean floor rather than a post:

    "On June 17 [sic], 1908, Houdini, heavily manacled, dove off Young’s Pier at Atlantic City, New Jersey, before a crowd of more than twenty thousand. He usually jumped feetfirst into waters that he was unfamiliar with, but on this day, he decided to dive, despite being warned against that by the lifeguards. He knifed through the water perfectly but then struck his head on the bottom of the ocean floor. Dazed and bleeding, he somehow managed to remove his handcuffs."

    The below photo of Houdini and Harry Kellar, who had recently retired to Atlantic City, was taken by Franz Kukol three days after the jump. Houdini doesn't appear to be any worse for wear from his mishap.

    Houdini was appearing at Young's Ocean Pier Theatre this week. It's not entirely clear if Houdini's jump was made from Young's Ocean Pier built in 1891 or Young's Million Dollar Pier built in 1906. But I think the newspapers would have specified if it was the newer pier, so I'm guessing it was the original (below).

    This is an updated post that first appeared on Sept. 25, 2016. Thanks to Bill Mullins for additional info.

    UPDATE: You can see a photo of Houdini's jump along with other research material related to Houdini's eventful 1908 Atlantic City engagement as a "Scholar" member of my Patreon below.

    Friday, June 14, 2019

    Magic Castle Houdini Seance is coming back to life

    Last Tuesday I had the great pleasure of recording a short "radio ad" for Houdini at the Garrick Theater to be used at part of the Magic Castle's new Houdini Seance. (If I was actor enough to make the final cut, that is.)

    As you'll recall, the original and long running Houdini Seance was retired last year so it could be retooled under the guidance of Academy of Magical Arts President, Jim Steinmeyer. Jim kindly invited me to make this little audio cameo. He also gave me a preview of the new seance.

    The seance will remain centered on Houdini (even more so than the original) and Jim is taking pains to make sure all the history is correct. The original seance was always fun--if a little hokey. This new seance--which also sees a completely refurbished Houdini Seance Chamber--is going to be a high end experience for guests from start to finish. I'm not going to spill the details here, but know that it's going to be a vastly expanded evening with some pretty good scares. I can't wait!

    I don't yet know the date of the new seance launch, but it's coming together quickly. Stay tuned.

    Below is a pic of me recording my segment with Benjamin Schrader, who is working with Jim on the production. Ben recently played Houdini in a revival of Ragtime at the Pasadena Playhouse.


    Wednesday, June 12, 2019

    "Your loving son Ehrichovitz" (updated)

    Ruth Brandon's 1993 biography, The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini, is not a book I reference often. Silverman and Christopher are my usual go-to sources. But maybe this is a mistake. Because recently while thumbing through the Brandon book, I spotted something I don't believe has appeared in any other biography. And it's quite a significant piece of early Houdini history!

    On page 20-21 (of the U.S. hardcover), Brandon quotes an undated letter written by Ehrich Weiss to his mother when he was "ten or eleven." This is not the well-known "dear Ma" postcard. This is something else entirely, and would be only the second known letter between Houdini and his mother (Houdini was buried with all their correspondence).

    I was excited to see Brandon sourced the letter to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. So I reached out to our good friend Eric Colleary, who was kind enough to provide an image of the letter for me to share here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. Drink it in!

    darling mother at last time time has arrived when I am allowed to write you a few lines how slowly the time passess but still my term will soon be over and we shall be united in happiness again. your loving son Ehrichovitz.

    Okay, let's unpack this one!

    As this letter is undated, I first wanted to satisfy myself that it was actually written by the young Houdini and not as an adult. The fact that he signs it "Ehrich" doesn't really tell us much as it's likely he signed all letters to his mother with his real name. The handwriting is the key, and it does nicely match the familiar "Dear Ma" postcard (see below). He's writing more slowly and carefully on this one, but it still shows the uncertain and cautious penmanship of a young person. (Brandon calls it "scrawled", which it certainly is not.) Houdini's handwriting because worse with age, so this does appear to be written by the young Ehrich Weiss.

    But the real intriguing thing here is his use of the word "term." On the face of it, "term" would imply a school of some kind. This is why Brandon quotes the letter, concluding, "at some point there seems to have been an interval of enforced study."

    But there's precious little known about Ehrich Weiss's eduction. There's a photo (in the collection of Dr. Bruce Averbook) of Ehrich and classmates in front of an Appleton schoolhouse. Manny Weltman in Houdini: Escape into Legend says he and his brothers where enrolled at the Humbolt Avenue School in Milwaukee ("but they were always playing hooky, preferring to roam the streets, get acquainted with the kids, and join the gang"). It's also said he would study at various pop-up schools run by his father. But this letter suggests a boarding school of some kind, distant and removed from his family and mother. So none of his known schooling seems to fit this.

    It's maybe worth reconsidering the word "term." Should we automatically assume a school? His reference to being "allowed to write" suggests strictness in whatever institution he is writing from. Would a school discourage letter writing?

    Is it possible the young Ehrich Weiss did a stint in a reformatory? The adult Houdini did reminisce about stealing eggs from stores in Milwaukee, and he was a lifelong brawler. So maybe at some point he got himself into enough trouble to receive some institutional punishment? Of course, this would never make it into his official biography, whereas you'd think a boarding school education would as Houdini was always eager to showcase his intellect.

    The last thing is the signature, Ehrichovitz. The addition of "ovitz" is curious, but it's likely just an affectionate or playful sign off. He'd sometimes sign love letters to Bess, "Houdinisky."

    But this letter reveals one thing I think we can all agree on. This boy loved his mama!

    Thanks to Eric Colleary for sharing this remarkable artifact. The Houdini Collections are open to the public and available to search via finding aids at the Ransom Center website.

    UPDATE: Our friend and crack librarian at the Magic Castle, Joe Fox, has solved the mystery. And it looks like I have serious egg on my face. This letter is a fabrication created by Houdini to illustrate an article about code breaking in the April 1908 issue of his Conjures Monthly Magazine. See below:

    Guess this is why it was among Houdini's personal papers and not in his casket.

    Thank you Joe!


    Tuesday, June 11, 2019

    Oversized Houdini family photo sells on eBay

    This remarkable oversized photo of Houdini, Bess, and Cecelia Weiss recently sold on eBay for $2,399.50. While a familiar image, this photo, said to be original, is annotated with a date: "May 1901, Essen Rhur, Germany." This was when Cecelia first came to Europe after Harry's breakout fame. It was during the trip that Harry and Mama traveled to Budapest.

    This photo comes from the collection of Henry Muller and the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame. Items from Henry's collection are being sold on eBay by a seller named printreaders64. There have been some interesting items at unconventional prices.


    Monday, June 10, 2019

    Mystifier, First Quarter 1998

    Continuing my issue by issue look back at the Mystifier, the newsletter of the Houdini Historical Center that ran from 1991-2003.

    The controversial "Masked Magician" television specials continued to stir up the magic world at the start of 1998. This inspired the HHC to create a special display, as curator Margaret Ehr explains in the First Quarter Mystifier:

    The ongoing discussion about revealing the secrets behind magic effects provides a focus for the latest installation in the Houdini exhibit's document case. Fueled by the Fox television network's two recent magic expose programs, the latest wave of controversy prompted the Houdini Historical Center to explore Houdini's own revelations during his career.

    The display includes Houdini's Ladies Home Journal article on "How I Get Out of A Strait-Jacket" as well as excerpts from his book Handcuff Secrets beside various shackles. While the display sounds interesting, eventually Sid Radner and the HHC would have a falling out over exposure displays. One wonders if the seeds of that conflict were first planted here?

    Speaking of handcuffs, this newsletter contains a true gem. It's a very well researched article by Mark Lundblad and Bill Liles that dissects Houdini's famous 1906 "Europe's Eclipsing Sensation" poster, identifying the various makes of handcuffs depicted on it.

    The images included in the "Handcuff King" poster range from a very simple, single handcuff (Left 1) to a complex combination of multiple handcuffs (Left 3, Right 2 and Right 4). These cuffs may have been selected just for an appealing artistic balance or for other reasons. Perhaps Houdini intended this poster to be not only a sensational advertisement for upcoming performances, but also a personal commemoration of events from the many stages of his long and varied career.

    The newsletter continues with the museum shop announcing it now has straitjackets in stock. (!) There's the announcement that Sidney Radner will give a lecture about "Jeanette Chapman: Houdini's Undercover Girl" on April 27. Chapman worked with Houdini in 1925 as one of his spiritualist agents. Intriguingly, it says the lecture will include an 18 minute video interview with Chapman. I've never seen this video, but I would love to share it here!

    Sid kicks off his "Backstage" column by noting that a clip from The Man From Beyond was shown on the Academy Awards during a segment celebrating 70 years of special effects. He also reveals that a new Houdini biopic will be produced by cable network TNT starring Johnathon Schaech. This bit of news, Sid notes, was sent in by John Cox "who always forwards Houdini news from Variety and other entertainment publications." Indeed I did!

    Sid then announces that in the next issue of the Mystifier he will expose a man who calls himself "Harry Houdini Hardeen." The man is not a member of the family and is using a social security number of a deceased family member. "Let Houdini fans and historians be warned," says Sid. This would not appear in the following issue, nor do I recall it ever appearing. But I believe I encountered this character still working his con at the Houdini Walk of Fame Star ceremony in 2008.

    Sid concludes with the "scoop" that Tom Thayer of Universal is planning to produce a movie about Houdini and Margery from a script by Edithe Swenson with "some very interesting new material involved." This project never surfaced, but I've met Tom and he still aspires to make his Houdini/Margery movie.

    Volume 8, Number 1
    First Quarter, 1998
    6 pages

    Tools of the Trade
    Member News
    The Labors of Houdini
    From the Museum Shop
    Backstage with Sid Radner


    Sunday, June 9, 2019

    Master Mystery episode 9 poster scares up $28,500

    A poster for Houdini's The Master Mystery episode 9 fetched $28,500 in auction at today. This set what appears to be a new record for a Master Mystery poster by squeaking past an episode 3 that sold for $28,080 in 2016. The auction started at $1.00 (believe it or not) and received 32 bids.

    The value of Master Mystery posters vary depending on whether the artwork features escape imagery or The Automaton. As you see here, this poster has a wonderful image of The Automaton (said to be cinema's first movie robot), and those skulls are pretty sweet too! The auction listing also included this interesting nugget of info:

    The fact that this is 2019 is also significant! That is because this is no longer a "collectible movie poster", but it is now an "antique movie poster", because just about everybody defines an "antique" as being a century old, and this poster now is a full 100 years old.

    In 2013 eMoviePoster auctioned a one sheet from The Grim Game for a whopping $67,166.