Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Mystifier, Fourth 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 bulk of the Fourth Quarter 1998 Mystifier is taken up with a delightful Q&A interview with Houdini's niece Marie Hinson Blood. In it Marie shares many memories of her Uncle Harry and Aunt Bess. Some of the stories are familiar ones, but at the start she reveals some biographical details about Bess and the Rahner family that I don't believe have appeared elsewhere.

Marie: Well, there were eight children, one boy. The father died when Bess was twelve years old, and my mother was 8 months old. The oldest child in the family was engaged to a young man that was a tailor. They married, and luckily he had a big tailor shop. All the girls, when they were old enough, worked in the tailor shop. Aunt Bess hated this. She hated sewing... it was to her advantage, because she made patterns and she designed them, and she was very, very good. Aunt Bess designed the clothes that [she and Houdini] had in the show. So it did help them. At the beginning she sewed the costumes, but later she had other people sew them.

There's also this interesting exchange:

Mystifier: What kind of person was your Aunt Bess? Was she optimistic and positive, or moody? Could you describe her? 
Marie: Never moody. Oh, no. Very vivacious. In fact, he [Houdini] was the one who was quiet. I don't think I ever heard him tell a joke in his life.

It's interesting how Marie and Dorothy Young, who both experienced the private Houdini, describe him as "quiet."

The newsletter also contains an article by Mick Hanzlik describing his work on a half-scale replica of the Water Torture Cell that's part a new Houdini display at The Magic Circle headquarters in London. The model was created by art design student Andrew White as a school project and purchased by The Magic Circle. Mick added special lighting effects and a motor that allows the feet of a figure of Houdini inside to move. Mick says the straitjacket Tony Curtis wore in Houdini (1953) is also part of the new display. Is that display still there, I wonder?

The museum shop then announces the arrival of new Houdini mouse pads and a 80-piece puzzle depicting the Water Torture Cell.

Sid Radner begins his "Backstage" column with a reproduction of a poem about Houdini by Sharon Olds. It's called "My Son the Man" and appears in the book The Wellspring (1996). Sid says it was brought to his attention by Ken Silverman.

Sid then reports on that year's Official Houdini Seance held in Las Vegas. Attendees included actor Johnathan Schaech and director Pen Densham who premiered their new TNT Houdini biopic at the seance. Sid says it was "very well received." As always, Sid is proud of the publicity the seance generated, noting that it got an "exceptional story in USA Today."

Sid closes with the news that a new play, The Great Houdini, is set to open at the Stella Adler Theater in Hollywood in April 1999. Sid reports that playwright Alan London spent 12 years writing the play. [!]

Volume 8, Number 4
Fourth Quarter, 1998
6 pages

A Conversation With Houdini's Niece, Marie Hinson Blood
The Houdini Exhibit at the Magic Circle, London
Museum Shop News
Backstage with Sid Radner



  1. I think you have a small typo above and are in fact referring to the poet Sharon Olds :)

    1. Ah! Thank you for catching that, Colleen. Fixed. :)

  2. Thanks; I love the photograph on the front cover of this issue with Bess and the Hinsons. And a great excerpt from Marie's interview. I suppose Houdini limited his jokes to the stage and was always more quiet and contemplative in real life. It did surprise me that Bess hated sewing (since she did so much of it). These first-hand accounts of the Houdinis, particularly from relatives, are priceless. Thanks again for sharing.

    1. The interviewee followed up on the sewing question as they also found this a surprise. Bess did a lot of embroidery, as we know, and Marie said this was because she was a "terrible smoker" and HH objected to smoking, so she did embroidery to keep her hands busy while backstage.

    2. Oh, very interesting. Thanks, John.

  3. I can envision Bess sitting at her sewing table with one of those heavy iron Singer sewing machines and hand cranking the costumes.

    I really wish these issues of Mystifier were published in book form. Bill Kalush at Conjuring Arts in NYC might be able to do this.