Thursday, August 22, 2019

Houdini and The Master Mystery at Clune's

While Houdini was filming The Grim Game in Hollywood in the summer of 1919, his serial The Master Mystery began playing at Clune's Broadway Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Over the course of five months Clune's showed all 15 episodes paired with a different feature attraction. Here's the ad for opening week.

On Wednesday, June 25th, Houdini made a personal appearance at Clune's during the 9:30 show, as reported in the Los Angeles Evening Herald.

Houdini, the famous “Handcuff King” whose thrilling serial of romance, mystery and intrigue, "The Master Mystery,” is at Clune's Broadway, will make a personal appearance at the theater Wednesday evening at the 9:30 show, following immediately at the conclusion of the first thrilling episode in which he makes his screen debut. The Houdini feature augments the regular film attraction at Clune’s Broadway which this week will be Wallace Reid in “You’re Fired.”

Clune's was located at 528 S. Broadway, just down the street from the Los Angeles Orpheum Theater where Houdini headlined in 1915 and 1923. Clune's opened in 1910 and was state of the art. It became famous for the large electric sign that stood on its roof. It was renamed the Cameo Theatre in 1924. Later operators included Fox West Coast, Pacific, and Metropolitan. It closed as a theater in 1991.

Today the building still stands and is still recognizable. It's now occupied by retailers. But according to the excellent Los Angeles Theaters blog, the auditorium and screen still survive in the back. Here's hoping one day it might be restored and reopen as a theater.

Below are all the features that Clune's paired with The Master Mystery during its 1919 run:

June 22: You're Fired starring Wallace Reid / with Episode 1.
June 29: True-Heart Susie starring Lillian Gish / with Episode 2.
July 6: True-Heart Susie starring Lillian Gish / with Episode 3.
July 13: The Spoilers (extended version) starring Rex Beach / No Houdini serial.
July 20: The Love Burglar starring Wallace Reid / with Episode 4.
July 27: Nugget Nell starring Dorothy Gish / with Episode 5.
Aug. 3: The Peace of Roaring River starring Pauline Frederick / with Episode 6.
Aug. 10: The Man Who Stayed at Home starring King Baggot / with Episode 7.
Aug. 17: A Sporting Chance starring Ethel Clayton / with Episode 8.
Aug. 24: The Gray Horizon starring Sessue Hayakawa / with Episode 9.
Aug. 31: The Valley of the Giants starring Wallace Reid / with Episode 10.
Sept. 7: Nobody Home starring Dorothy Gish / with Episode 11.
Sept 14: Stepping Out starring Enid Bennett / with Episode 12.
Sept. 21: The Market of Souls starring Dorothy Dalton / with Episode 13
Sept. 28: The Dragon Painter starring Sessue Hayakawa / with Episode 14.
Oct. 5: The Other Half starring Zasu Pitts / with Episode 15.

You can read more about the history of Clune's at Los Angeles Theaters.

UPDATE: I found Clune's review of The Master Mystery performance in the Exhibitors Herald.



  1. Great story about the Clune, later Cameo theater. I remember the Cameo, for decades showing "4 Hit Movies" (Four!) for $1.50/$2.00. It was a grind house where people went, (and slept, it was open 24 hours) when they had no place to go, or didn't know what to do with themselves, or couldn't afford more for entertainment. It mostly showed old action and later ex/black/sex ploitation movies, but occasionally some quality films got in as well. Watching blacksploitation films, and hear the audience shout their approval when Pam Grier or Fred Williamson, "stuck it to THE MAN", was an experience! They also had a Keno game each night. If the number on your ticket was called, you came on stage and they had a giant punch-board that you would put your hand in to get a prize.
    By the 1970's, there were still over a dozen movie theaters on Broadway, from the beautiful Los Angeles theater, (still there) to the grind houses like the Cameo. A fun, funky, and sometimes scary place, knowing Houdini was there before is great!

    1. A recent photo of the interior of the theater, now used by the retailer for storage, etc. While no longer a theater inside, that the building has been preserved is a plus.

  2. Clunes was also were Birth Of A Nation premiered. Rick Schmidlin

  3. I also love the connection to the Pickwick Theatre in San Diego, where the serial was also booked for the summer months, but unlike his personal appearance at Clune’s on June 25th, Houdini couldn’t make his original scheduled personal appearance due to fracturing his wrist on June 28th during the making of The Grim Game.

    1. BTW: Fantastic work. Very exciting to know that the building, auditorium and screen still survive.

    2. I've yet to read anything that describes exactly what Houdini did during these personal appearances.

    3. You might have forgotten this blog entry by Joe. HH discussed the stunts in the Grim Game in this personal appearance:

    4. Oh, fantastic. I had forgotten about that. Thanks.

      So with GG we know he talked about the airplane crash. With TMFB he did magic or talked about spiritualism. Now we just need to find some description of what he did during these MM appearances.

  4. Very interesting. I just looked up the theater and it looks like it had a huge auditorium and seating capacity.

    1. Also check out some of those links to the Los Angeles Theaters blog. It was a real state of the art theater with a huge projection booth. Built in 1910, but clearly looking ahead.

  5. BTW, I took that pic above on the same day I was downtown researching and taking pics of the 1915 straitjacket escape location. I went in hoping to maybe get a look at the back. But I got no love.

    1. Those people in there were immune to your charms. :(

      The summer of 1919 had to be the apex of Houdini's brush with Hollywood glamour: Shooting a major motion picture while promoting his serial. Those were the good times, but alas, the action/adventure crown would go to Douglas Fairbanks.

  6. I found this today in my feed. Scroll down to #21 and see a drawing someone did on the Automaton back in 1918. As soon as I saw this I knew where it was from.