Houdini began the "Roaring 20s" with a return to the country that had given him his first great success at the turn of the century. But what he didn't realize was this trip would also seed his next great career metamorphosis.
This post is now retired.
But you will still be able to enjoy the story of Houdini in 1920 with the publication of my upcoming book.
John you are absolutely amazing ! The level of detail here sets the standard. Thank youReplyDelete
Thank you, Tim. I can't tell you how much I enjoy researching these and writing them. I really think this is the way to tell Houdini's story. Year by year and chronologically. You get context that you just don't get in normal biographies. I always come away from these with an entirely new understanding and appreciation of that respective year.Delete
The pic at the top of HH performing the water torture cell is one of my favorite pictures. I didn't know he announced he would shift all focus on movies and writing. Very bold of him to announce this at a Magicians dinner. Great work John!ReplyDelete
Thanks Jack. The Magicians Club dinner is mentioned elsewhere (I got it from Kalush or Silverman). But as I said above, out of context, it really doesn't resonate. But here we see where Houdini's head is at, so it suddenly has new meaning.Delete
BTW, the mention of HH then destroying props is also very telling in this context. However, that is from Kalush and unsourced. I normally wouldn't included something that I've not been able to independently confirm, but I was kinda seduced by this one. But I would like to know the source.
Oh, and yes, that pic of HH and USD is amazing. I sometimes struggle with what image to use on these as THE representative image of that particular year. But I had no problem with 1920!Delete
Great stuff John! An absolutely amazing amount of information here! I quickly went to Silverman to criss reference some of the material:ReplyDelete
1. Silverman also noted the $25,000 impulsive prop destroying before HH left England. It's on page 263. With that in mind, you can look thru Silverman's Notes to Houdini to find the source. My copy is in storage.
2. According to Silverman, HH had decided to break away from Hollywood and make his own films before his British venture. That's on page 261. If true, then HH saw the writing on the wall with Hollywood and made a preemptive strike filming his own material while in Europe.
1. Thanks! Looks like his source was Christopher's Untold Story, page 311. But there is no page 311 in Christopher and I couldn't find a reference in the book itself. Odd.Delete
2. I had a feeling you'd bring this up. :) I did see this reference on page 261 and I did seek out Silverman's source. It was an interview with HH in the July 31, 1920 issue of Billboard. This is after he returned from Europe. No where in it does it say he decided to break with Hollywood before his tour. Or after. It doesn't mention Hollywood at all! All it says is while in Europe he shot footage for a film on counterfeiting called The Dupe (which is the first and only appearance of that title that I'm aware).
I think Silverman made an assumption that if HH was filming what appeared to him to be an independent production, he must have decided to go his own way. Not an unreasonable assumption and still a possibility. BUT I have found numerous articles from throughout 1919 that say HH planned to film footage during his world tours to be used in his future films. This idea even pre-dates Terror Island. So the fact that he's shooting film in Europe does not automatically mean he's gone indie. It was always part of the plan.
Also, there are numerous references to Hollywood during his UK tour. It even appears on a poster (expressly saying he would “return to Hollywood”). And as far as know (and I will do deeper research on this when I hit the Ransom Center someday), he did not begin to seek investors for his own film company until Fall 1920, and it seems to be a wholly new idea at this time. He hadn't even come up with the final name.
So based on all this, I reached the opposite conclusion as Silverman. The break came after. For me the real question remains who broke with who? But my feeling is Hollywood broke off with Harry.
Thanks for the clear ups John! I was wondering how you settled on the thought that HH was still believing his relationship with Hollywood had not hit the skids yet. Your approach makes sense.Delete
There is also the longer version of Untold Story that contains letters written by HH. Could this be the edition Silverman referenced on page 311?
HH's letter to Zukor on July 16, 1921 suggests wasn't quite done with Hollywood:Delete
Ah, yes, you are amazing! There is indeed a page 311 in the expanded edition and that is what Silverman is referencing. However, I was wrong. It's not the source for the props destruction. The Notes book just says "Illusions" and I assumed it was that. But it's something else.Delete
Exactly, the Zukor letter. Houdini clearly wanted to remain in business with Hollywood and hoped he could win them back with TMFB. That's more evidence that it was Hollywood who rejected him.Delete
WRT Zukor, I find it interesting that in the Monk Table Tie Escape on the set of Haldane of Secret Service (HOSS), you see the following: HOUDINI Pro. 2 ZUKOR TAKE "1" SCENE “LIBRARY” KING. And in the July 16, 1921 Houdini Picture Corporation (HPC) Letter to Zukor, Houdini says: Am starting my second super special (HOSS), My first production TMFB is finished…Delete
That gave me pause as well. But the slate actually says "Zuker" (with an "e" instead of an "o") and I believe that's Frank Zucker the cameraman. King is Burton King the director.Delete
You're the chief researcher here, I'm just the paralegal. There has to be a source somewhere for that $25,000 prop destruction.ReplyDelete
Zukor wasn't returning HH's phone calls, so it definitively appears Hollywood had given him the cold shoulder. Punishment for failing at the box office.
In his book The Houdini Code Mystery, Rauscher walloped Harry on his claim of having attended 100 seances. Having spent 180 days abroad doesn't leave much time for 100 seances. Silverman also zinged him on that.
Haha, yes, the 100 seances claim. Well that's just Houdini math. :)Delete
What intrigues me more about that sentence is his claim that he went to seances in France. He wasn't in France long. I'd be interested to know what seances he attended. In fact, I'd love to be able to work ALL the seances Houdini ever attended into my chronology. Certainly he must have keep a detailed record. Maybe that's something that's just waiting to be discovered at the Harry Ransom Center.
I wonder if HH documented any of the seances he attended in A Magician Among the Spirits.Delete
He does, but the trick is finding the precise dates.Delete
Seance dates are not going to be found on newspapers.com. HH left behind a newspaper trail wherever he went--but not for the seances he attended. It's probably best found in HH's diaries, but we know the difficulties in accessing them.Delete
Letters can be very good as well.Delete
Yes they can be a great source, and any scrap of information that helps is fair game.Delete
Thanks for this extraordinary post. Great start to 2020; filled with fascinating information. Well done, John (yourself)!ReplyDelete
The Houdini-Doyle Correspondence book is goldmine of seance dates straight out of HH's personal diaries from Ernst's collection. On page 56 HH writes a letter to Doyle on June 22, 1920 that he attended a seance the night before. So we have a June 21 seance. Then on pages 57 and 58 we get a motherload of more seances straight from the diary:ReplyDelete
June 18, 20, 23, 24, and 25. You can glean more details about those stances in those pages.
Indeed! I mined that gold already. :)Delete
Okay--you already panned that river. It's a great book to revisit. Those old books have thick paper and archaic typesetting. Reading them is like going back in time.Delete
It really is a great book to revisit. It's more like reading through an organized archive than a book. And that's exactly what I want these days! As soon as I finished I started reading again.Delete
For me those old books are time capsules as are the letters and diaries. I suspect HH didn't attend many seances before that 1920 British tour. Then he binged. Doyle may have had something to do with it.Delete
John--do you know what page Kalush mentions the $25,000 prop destruction in the bio? Nothing written about it in the British tour chapter.ReplyDelete
Hmm, maybe I didn't see it in Kalush. Or maybe it's in the Laid Bare book?Delete