Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Was there a ghostly occurrence during the live 1987 Houdini seance?

Continuing my special Halloween week of resurrected GHOST POSTS, here's a post from November 16, 2012 that explores a strange claim that Houdini at least tried to come back from the grave in 1987, and on live television.

In 1987 The Official Houdini Seance was incorporated into a live television special hosted by William Shatner called, The Search for Houdini. Essentially, it was a magic variety show featuring performers like The Pendragons and Penn & Teller, with the conclusion of the show being that year's Official Seance held by Sidney Radner. As always, Houdini failed to appear.

Or did he?

Mark Alberto Holt, who worked behind the scenes doing lighting effects, has come forward with a remarkable story. Mark posted the following comment on my blog about the Seance back in February and has allowed me to repost it here. Here's Mark's story:

"I was there doing the special lighting effects. One such effect was lighting inlaid into the seance table with plexi glass over the top for dramatic effect on each person around the table. During rehearsals it was determined to bring the levels of the lights down from 70% full to 25%. Just perfect for that glow effect up the faces. So starts the seance. I was told that the people around the table were relatives of Houdini and seance experts. This part of the show was not scripted. (I still have Shatner's script). Towards the end of the seance, one end of the plexi glass started to warp, Live on TV. This must have raised 6 inches above the table. It could not have been from the heat of the lights under. They were barely on. Producers screamed to go to commercial. The people at the table wanted to continue do to the fact there was a sign. Mr. Shatner had no choice other than to listen to the producers and go to commercial. I left the lighting board that was in the audience and dashed on stage. There was shear Chaos on the stage. The plexi was cool but it was lifted. The crew started clearing the stage and the screams from Houdini's family rang through the theater to continue the seance. That was the last anyone spoke of this. I was there and so was Harry."

I recorded the seance and still have the VHS in my collection. Below is the moment during the seance when they abruptly went to commercial. While I can't see any phenomena myself, you can see that Sidney Radner starts to look to the left end of the table as they cut to Shatner at 0:44.

When the show returned from commercial, the seance had wrapped up with each Inner Circle member expressing their doubt that Houdini would or could return.

The inner circle that year was made up of: Sidney Radner, Marie Blood, James Randi, John Gaughan, Henry Mueller, Todd Everett (L.A. Herald Examiner reporter), and William Shatner. The medium was Bob Steiner.

Maybe someone can come forward and corroborate Mark's strange tale?

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  1. WOW! This is great. I remember more now. They did go to commercial as scripted that nothing happened and the seance continued. As soon as Bill finished his line and cameras cut from LIVE, that's the exact time it rose. I'm sorry about the placement also, it was camera left, stage right end that lifted. Talk to Sidney Radner. It was in commercial this took place. Sidney was insisting to continue. They wanted to go back in live after commercial but couldn't because of the scripted program. [maybe that was Houdini's way of being alive to the live audience who cared about him, not meant for the entertaining of the TV masses] It all comes back now once I see it and not just a 25 year old memory. - MAH

    1. You know, after watching this, I was thinking it might have happened during the commercial break. Thanks for the extra info. This is wild stuff. I really wish they would have at least addressed it during the wrap-up after the commercial -- maybe show the warp. Not sure the show's director had instincts for live TV.

      Unfortunately, Sidney Radner has passed away. Marie Blood as well.

  2. I talked with Marie Blood at the magic table at the Edison Hotelin 1990 about this show and she said that someone left a message in her hotel room saying "Houdini did return."

  3. I acted as Marie Blood's agent during this period (from 1983 until she was hospitalized the final time over 20 years later). The only "family member" of Houdini's in the audience would have been Marie's husband, Forrest Blood, so someone else must have done the "screaming." :)

    Strange things do happen, though. I had heard the recording of the "final Houdini séance," held back in 1936, but Marie wanted to listen to it again (she had the LP album containing the proceedings), when Lyle Brite and I were visiting her home in late 1983. We would visit almost monthly, and I sometimes stayed over.

    On this occasion, we had all just finished a large meal, expertly prepared by Marie. Marie asked us to stack our plates on the edge of the sink, in her kitchen.

    About 20 minutes later (if memory serves), Forrest brought a portable phonograph into the room, and started playing the record. We all set, silently, listening. At the crescendo of the séance, Edward Saint raised his voice, imploring the late Houdini to join [them].

    Just as he did, the plates we had stacked on the corner of the sink suddenly fell into waiting dish water, with a very loud crash. We all, of course, literally jumped from our seats, looked around for a few seconds, then burst into laughter.

    Had Houdini come through? I tend to doubt it, but then again, who knows?

    I'll have a couple of other anecdotes about the "Search For Houdini" broadcast, in Marie's book, which (believe it or not), is actually going to a publisher late this year.

    Parenthetically, for those interested, I'd like to explain what's taken so long with the book project.

    After having undergone nine spinal surgeries at various times over the years (most of them to remove ruptured discs, and fuse vertebrae), I found I was unable to sit and type for a period of several years. I started losing the use of my legs about two years ago, and saw a neurosurgeon who, then, performed a procedure called a "complete lumbar decompression." In essence, the back of each vertebrae is literally chopped off to allow the spinal chord to expand into the vacant space. The procedure was very painful, as you might imagine, but after a period of about four months, I found I was able to walk more easily, but also to sit and type again, if only for a couple of hours at at time.

    Fast-forward to May of this year (2016); I decided to upgrade the RAM on my iMac. After inserting the new RAM, the computer repeatedly crashed. I took it in to the nearest Apple Store, and the techs there told me the fan and the hard drive were now "bad."

    Apple replaced the fan, and installed a new hard drive. Luckily (I thought), I had saved all of my work from the previous dozen or so years on the Apple "Time Capsule."

    Not so luckily, however, after repeated attempts by both me and the folks at Apple, we could not get the 47 gigs of data on the Time Capsule to transfer over the new hard drive. So, of course, I lost everything on Marie's book, another book (with illustrations) I was well into working on, and several Web sites I was hosting. Bummer.

    So, I started on Marie's book (and the other) again last month. I'm speaking with a couple of publishers, and hope to have "Harry & Bess - Marie Hinson Blood's Life With The Great Houdinis," in the hands of one of them before the end of this year.

  4. Alas, that mysterious note was probably left by Dean Gunarson, the then-young escape artist who also appeared in the studio portion of the program. Dean entered Marie Blood's hotel room by picking the lock, attempting to impress Marie (I don't fault him, my show-biz partner Lyle Brite and I once did the same thing). On this occasion, though, Marie became very upset. She didn't know Dean, and told him so in no uncertain terms. If he reads this, perhaps he can comment on the note in question.

    1. Loving these stories from the inside, Greg. Thanks. Can't wait for the book!

  5. That Marie Blood book hasn't been published yet to my knowledge.

  6. Any ideas on the status of the book