Saturday, February 29, 2020

Hardeen's Leap Day birthday

Like his famous brother, Theo Hardeen was born in Budapest, Hungary. But also like his brother, Hardeen claimed Appleton as his birthplace and selected a new birthday to go with it.

While Houdini chose April 6 (the day his mother always wrote to him), Hardeen appears to have had a sense of humor about it and selected February 29, Leap Day, as his adopted birthday.

Houdini biographies for children often say something to the effect that "poor Theo could only celebrate his birthday once every four years." Always overshadowed by Harry! But I think what it really tells us is that Dash didn't take himself nearly as seriously as his brother.

So even though we now know he was born on March 4, 1876, lets celebrate Hardeen's adopted birthday TODAY as we only get this opportunity once every four years.

Happy Leap Day Birthday, Dash!


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Canadian Mystery Cell owners revealed

I'm taking a break from my break to bring some breaking news. The owners of the mysterious Chinese Water Torture Cell that was uncovered in Canada and revealed here last month have decided to go public. The cell was acquired by Richard Sherry and Dayle Krull of Sherry and Krall Magic. Richard posted the following on his Facebook today:

We are the proud owners of a controversial Chinese Water Torture Cell that has been appraised to be 90-120 years old. 
All we know for sure is this; it appears to have the exact measurements and operation as Houdini's original Chinese Water Torture Cell! 
We purchased this Cell simply as an addition to our collection and are wondering if maybe it is more significant than we initially understood.

Richard and Dayle are no strangers to Water Torture Cells, having created several replicas as well as modern versions (see links below).

Having lived with this mystery for a month now, I really have no idea what this cell could be. The fact that it's old doesn't mean it still couldn't be a modern creation made with old wood and aged fixtures. The answer to the mystery is known by the man who sold it to Richard and Dayle, and his refusal to provide any information is both suspicious and a disservice to the new owners and magic history. So without provenance, wider speculation, in my opinion, is pointless. This just has to stand as a Water Torture Cell replica of unknown origin. But it's a cool one.

Congratulations to Richard and Dayle.

UPDATE (2/6/21): Richard and Dayle have written a two-part guest blog showing the cell in detail (Part 1) and sharing their discoveries and theories (Part 2).


Monday, February 24, 2020

WILD ABOUT HARRY is moving headquarters

This week I bid goodbye to my Studio City apartment where I created WILD ABOUT HARRY ten years ago and have written all 4392 posts. I'll be putting the blog on pause while I pack up and move to a great little house in nearby Burbank. But a whole lot of Houdini happened here, and I will miss this magical space.


Sunday, February 23, 2020

LINK: Early Houdini trading cards

Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence has a nice post today looking at early Houdini trading cards. I don't need to tell anyone that trading cards are hot collectibles, and when you add Houdini to the mix...oh brother! However, it's not something I've ever gotten into, so I defer to Joe and also Kevin Connolly whose collection of Houdini tradings cards is second to none (a small sampling below).

Joe promises to share cards from his collection, so click the headline and begin the journey at HHCE. Below are links to some modern day Houdini cards.


Saturday, February 22, 2020

Three Houdini movies screening at AGO in March

Toronto's AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) will screen three Houdini movies in March as part of their Illusions: The Art of Magic exhibition programing.

First up will be Houdini's 1923 Haldane of the Secret Service on March 4 with live musical accompaniment by Tania Gill. Then on March 6 the gallery will screen The Man From Beyond with live musical accompaniment by Marilyn Lerner. Both films will be introduced by Alicia Fletcher.

Finally, AGO will screen the classic Paramount biopic Houdini (1953) starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh three times on March 18 at 2pm, 5pm, and 8pm.

Illusions: The Art of Magic is devoted to the Golden Age of Magic and features more than 55 colorful magic posters from the Allan Slaight Collection of the McCord Museum, Montreal, alongside photographs, films, documents and ephemera. The exhibition begins TODAY and runs through May 19, 2020.

AGO is located at 317 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario.


Friday, February 21, 2020

Houdini describes his spiritualism lecture in full

Houdini's spiritualism lecture tour of 1924 does not get much coverage in books. In fact, exactly what his lecture consisted of has never really been clearly spelled out. Yes, Arthur Moses gives a detailed description of Houdini's slide show in his book, Houdini Speaks Out. But Houdini's slide show made up only 30 minutes of what was a full evening talk. So what else went on?

On December 4, 1924, Houdini penned a letter to the Chattanooga Daily Times spelling out exactly what his lecture contained. (This was in reaction to what I called the Chattanooga debacle.) I've transcribed it as published, complete with what Ken Silverman called Houdini's "tortured gammer" and other oddities, such as calling Margery "Margie". (I suspect Houdini dictated this.) Nevertheless, it offers an excellent record of his "Can the Dead Speak to the Living?" lecture.

First and foremost, I am not doing a vaudeville or magical performance. My performance is split up in four parts. For twenty-five to thirty-five minutes I speak about my experiences with the most celebrated or notorious mediums of the world, giving detailed facts of how I as a professional medium in my younger days created sensations in several towns, and then I exposed the methods by which I obtained my information. 
I explain and expose minutely how as a passenger on board the S.S. Imperator I gave a séance in which Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and Victor Herbert participated and how I completely baffled them with a secret spirit message from W.T. Steed. 
Describing my séance with Lady Doyle in which she purported to obtain a spirit message from my sainted mother. 
How I produced two miracles in one day by the most remarkable coincidence that ever happened to a mortal man, and for which I have authentic proof. 
I issue my challenge of from $1000 to $5000 in the form of a wager to any medium who will perform three times in my presence whose feats I cannot explain, have duplicated or performed myself. 
Second, I present fifty slides in which I am photographed with mediums, the majority of them having long passed away, which shows my intimate contact with these famous miracle-mongers. This runs about thirty minutes, and as I have been investigating over thirty years, I am shown with mediums who are dead almost a quarter of a century, for at one time I was a firm believer, but when they commenced to exchange tricks with me I saw through the mockery of their pretensions. 
Part 3. I expose and give on the stage an exhibition of a number of perfection feats in legerdemain, which I have injected for the younger element, and present tricks that I have taken me years to perfect. Incidentally, also showing a mystery on which I made my reputation: the masterpiece of the yogis; the East Indian needle mystery in which I swallow fifty to one hundred needles and bring them up threaded. 
I expose the world-famous Dr. Slade's method of slate-writing and explain it to the audience. 
I call a committee on the stage and they hold my hands and feet and I show the public how bells are rung, tambourines shaken, under test conditions. 
Showing that I can make paraffin hands which the scientists of Europe claim cannot be made except by disembodied spirits. 
Showing to the public how Margie, the Boston medium, successfully hoodwinked hundreds of investigators while trying for the Scientific American prize, of which I am one of the committee, showing how she tossed the megaphones in the air while both her hands and feet were being held. 
Showing how she caused tables to float in the air, rang bells, and how I detected her fraud, and defy her to produce anything which I cannot explain or duplicate under my test conditions. Margie is the most successful as a conjuring medium of all times. 
Explaining how the Spanish nobleman’s son, Argamasilla, successfully fooled the scientists of Europe and prominent newspaper men of America, pretending that he could read through metals. 
At the finish of my performance I allow the public the right to question me, any rational question they desire. This, strange as it may appear, makes the most interesting part of my entertainment.

When Houdini refers to his "two miracles in one day by the most remarkable coincidence that ever happened to a mortal man," I believe he's talking about when he started and stopped the rain during a 4th of July party at the home of Bernard Ernst in Sea Cliff, New York in 1922.

Photos at the top from The Tao of Houdini by Patrick Culliton.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Houdini fakes are flooding online auction sites

Fake Houdini signatures have been flooding online auction sites such as Liveauctioneers and eBay lately. These all appear to be the work of the same forger whose fakes started appearing last year.

The signatures are similar enough that it may be some kind of technology in use, such as an autopen. But when the forger attempts other "Houdini" handwriting, they fall down entirely. Also, the context in which they appear--on sheets of blank stationary for example (also fake)--is suspect as this is not something Houdini was known to have signed.

But the signatures are good enough to pass, which I think now makes any standalone Houdini signature suspect. Likewise, any clipped Houdini signature in or outside a frame should be avoided. A legitimate Houdini signature should be part of something that can help authenticate it, such as a contract, letter, or part of an inscription in a book.

All these fakes come with a "Certificate of Authenticity", which, ironically, has become a red flag in itself. There appears to be no shortage of bogus or just careless authentication services out there. But there is a discernible style to these fakes, so they are not fooling experienced Houdini collectors and auctioneers. These are being made to snare novice collectors and they have been selling, sometimes for many hundreds of dollars.  So buyer beware!


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Mystifier, First Quarter 2001

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

The first quarter 2001 Mystifier features excerpts from a questionnaire Houdini filled out in Bess's autograph book in 1909. HHC curator Kimberly Louagie says, "An unusual piece of history, it gives some insight into the Handcuff King's psyche. Many of his answers revealed a man with simple tastes, a flair for sarcasm, and tongue-in-cheek comebacks." Below are a few examples:

Q. What characteristics do you most admire in a man?
A. Bashfulness.
Q. What do you consider your best quality?
A. My hatred for publicity.
Q. What gives you most annoyance?
A. Drawing my salary.
Q. Do you think women should take part in public life?
A. Yes...
Q. What is your favorite motto?
A. "Do others or they will do you."
Q. Whom do you consider the greatest magician of the present age?
A. "Rigo" the Gipsy.
Q. Whom do you consider the greatest author of the present age?
A. Modesty forbids me, writing my name!
Q. Who is your hero or heroine in life.
A. My mother-in-law.
Q. Name the composer whose music you enjoy.
A. Franz Kukol.

This is followed by a report on Sidney Radner's donation of an almost complete file of Houdini's Red Magic newspaper circular from 1924 to 1926. The newsletter also contains an except from one of the issues. Kimberly Louagie then provides a detailed overview of the 2000 Official Houdini Seance held at the Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center.

In his "Backstage" column, Sid Radner reports on some recent mentions of Houdini's name in connection with famous sports figures, such as Chuck "Hitman" Hiter and Tiger Woods. He then asks readers to clip and send any mention of Houdini in newspapers or magazines with hopes that this could help convince the post office to go ahead with their proposed Houdini stamp.

Sid also notes that the March issue of Genii contains a two page story on the new Houdini Museum at the Venetian Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. He then gives a shout out to the Houdini Club of Wisconsin and their upcoming convention at the Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton. "It's good to see Houdini's hometown welcome him back to enthusiastically," says Sid.

Volume 11, Number 1
First Quarter, 2001
6 pages

Q and A: Excerpts from an Interview with Houdini
Houdini's Red Magic
Seance Report
Backstage with Sid Radner


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Drunk History presents Houdini and Conan Doyle

The Comedy Central YouTube channel has posted the full "Houdini vs. Spiritualism" segment from Drunk History with Ken Marino as Houdini and Alfred Molina as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This originally aired on August 13, 2013.


Monday, February 17, 2020

Straitjacket plus (update)

A clipping from the April 8, 1933 Toronto Star Weekly sold for $67 on eBay over the weekend. The article, "Peril Of Working With A Magician", interviews Ruth Hathaway, who claims to have assisted Houdini and other magicians such as Thurston and Blackstone. (I've never heard of her). But the true attraction is this dynamite photo of Houdini in "a rope-bound straitjacket".

I've been finding a lot of new images of a straitjacketed Houdini in newspapers from 1923, which is when I suspect this photo was taken. But this is the first image I've ever seen of him in a straitjacket with additional ropes added. I love it!

Thanks to Kevin Connolly for the heads up.

UPDATE: I've now discovered an even better (or at least more complete) version of this same photo. This appeared in the Boston Post promoting Houdini's upcoming suspended straitjacket escape in the city on December 22, 1921.

Boston Post, Dec. 21, 1921


Sunday, February 16, 2020

Houdini Milk Can and Iron Box at auction March 6

The famous Iron Box seen in Houdini (1953) and a Milk Can that just might be the can Houdini used for his Double Fold Death Defying Mystery will be auctioned by Bonhams in New York on March 6, 2020. Both these props come with a fair amount of mystery attached, but the folks at Bonhams have done their homework, as you can see by the detailed auction descriptions below.

Magician's steel crate with hinged lid, 28 x 28 x 36 inches, sides perforated with half-inch round holes, trap bottom, exterior painted green. 
Constructed of steel with a solid lid designed to be padlocked to the body, small holes on each side, and a sliding "trap door" on the bottom through which the illusionist can make his escape, this crate boasts an amazing pedigree and history. While on exhibit at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame, the piece was identified as having been used by Houdini in his underwater escape trick, though the museum claimed it was only used twice, as the weight of the steel made it far too dangerous. We have not been able to confirm its use in performance by Houdini, unfortunately. All of the other references to Houdini's underwater trick, both in actual waterways and onstage in the Hippodrome tank, refer to the illusionist being nailed into wooden crates or packing crates (though some are reported to have been reinforced with steel or lead).

We can say with confidence that it was part of Houdini's estate (it appears on an inventory listing of property sold by Bess Houdini to Joseph Dunninger shortly after Houdini's death). 
Joseph "The Amazing" Dunninger was a popular "mentalist" who specialized in illusions and debunking mediums, also a passion of Houdini's. He was reportedly close to Houdini and his wife Bess, and purchased a quantity of property from the widow after Houdini's sudden death in 1926. As early as 1930, Dunninger published an advertisement to sell props and other material in The Linking Ring, the official publication of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, offering the steel crate for sale: 
"IRON BOX ESCAPE. Will stand lobby inspection. Used by Houdini. Worth $400. Tremendous bargain ......... $175." 
In 1938, the iron box again appears in a Dunninger ad in the same publication offering items for sale: 
"IRON BOX ESCAPE. Sensational for overboard or stage presentation. Belonged to Houdini." 
The 1938 ad also mentions the Houdini Trunk of all Nations illusion and the Houdini Lattice Cabinet (with Houdini's name mentioned in all caps) both of which made their way to the Houdini Museum in Niagara Falls along with the steel trunk in the 1960s. 
The steel crate does appear in the 1953 film Houdini starring Tony Curtis. The Amazing Dunninger was hired as creative consultant on the film, and many items from his Houdini collection made their way into the final cut, including the collection of handcuffs sold in these rooms on December 5, 2018 (lot 244). The crate is clearly visible in the overboard escape sequence in the film, the perforations on the steel crate making for a dramatic scene as the water pours out in torrents while the crate is pulled up from the bottom of the river. 

An unusual theory has been floated about the origin of this steel crate, inspired by a blind item in a 1939 issue of the magic periodical The Jinx, edited and published by Theodore Annemann from October 1934 to December 1941 (thanks to for the clue). For some backstory, Houdini and fellow illusionist Harry Blackstone, Sr. nursed a bitter feud in the early part of the 20th century which apparently dates from the introduction of the overboard box escape. Houdini always accused Blackstone of copying him, but the truth may be the opposite. From issue #68, November 25, 1939, page 468, Annemann writes: 
"Years ago there were two rival conjurors, one specializing in escape work, the other making a feature of it but not in entirety. Around 1907 there was published in Popular Mechanics an escape from a barrel after being submersed in water. By an amateur magician it was first known (as far as can be found) escape to be made under water. The barrel, its halves held together with bayonet catches, was meant to be practically kicked apart under water and let sing. H.B. then built a metal box with a sliding panel unlocked with a forked pick. He refused to sell this to H.H. so the latter did the 'overboard' box with a packing case instead. Later , H.B., seeing the psychological effect of a locally built case over a special iron box, stored the thing away in N.Y. with other illusions. Time marches on. H.B. now stands accused of under water escape larceny by H.H. We can allow that in regards to the packing case but not in priority to the general effect itself. H.B. needs the iron box to prove his point. It has disappeared! Time marches on some more. H.H. winds up a spectacular life. Into the picture comes J.D. who acquires some of the H.H. stage properties. In the cellar he finds a large iron box which no one knows anything about. Suspecting a trap, J.D. toils and finally locates a sliding panel. H.B. still has the pick for the box he found gone from the storehouse. J.D. has an iron box he found in the H.H. cellar ... on the sidelines, we suggest that H.B. and J.D. patch up their feud or declare a three hour truce while they check the finis to a truly rugged individualistic story of magicians at work and play." 
To summarize, Annemann suggests that the present steel box was actually made by Blackstone, not Houdini. Houdini wanted to buy it from Harry Blackstone, and when the latter refused, Houdini created his own underwater escape using wooden crate boxes built on site (which Blackstone then copied). An intriguing theory: is this the actual first "overboard box," designed by Blackstone and suppressed by Houdini? 
Provenance: Estate of Harry Houdini. Sold by Bess Houdini to the Amazing Dunninger [Joseph Dunninger, 1892-1975], c.1927. Loaned by Dunninger to Paramount for the production of the 1953 film Houdini, in which it appears as the "underwater crate." Sold by the Amazing Dunninger to Henry Muller in 1967. On exhibition at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada 1968-1997. Sold to Tom Thayer, 1997. Sold to the present owners, 1999. 
US$ 50,000 - 70,000
£ 38,000 - 54,000

White metal vessel, 35 inches high by 26 inches in diameter at widest, bottom 22 inches in diameter, welded "milk jug" with tapered neck, 3 (of 4) wing nut screws at bottom at north, south and east, and two faux hasps at either side of the neck. WITH: trick lid featuring domed top and four padlock hasps connecting to vessel (lid supplied later).
For nearly two decades, this vessel remained on display at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada as an example of the illusionist's famous "milk can" escape, in which he was locked inside a metal can which was then filled with water, giving him only a short time in which to escape before drowning. The blogspot Wild About Houdini theorizes that this can is actually the mate to the "Double Fold Death Defying Mystery" box sold at auction in July of 2014 at Potter & Potter in Chicago, which is plausible given the unique characteristics of this can.

The Double Fold Death Defying Water Mystery, introduced c.1911, took the milk can escape and ratcheted up the drama. In the earlier escape, Houdini was padlocked into a large milk can which was then filled with water, from which he would escape while hidden behind a screen (the milk cans had "trick lids" or necks that could only be opened from inside, allowing him to escape). In the double fold mystery, the milk can was hidden inside a larger wooden crate, making the escape that much more difficult.

The strongest argument that this milk can is the Double Fold can is the hasp on the neck. Measuring 3 1/2 by 5 inches, the hasps, which appear on either side, appear to be decorative only. In an image located in the Harry Ransom Center's Harry Houdini Papers titled "Milk Can and Box used in the Double Fold Death Defying Water Mystery" (container 13.17), the hasp is clearly visible on the neck of the can sitting inside the box. Additionally, no other Houdini milk can appears to have this decorative hasp. The hasp can also be matched to images of the can as it sits on display at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame.

Another piece of evidence: the diameter of the can's bottom is 22 inches, which will just fit inside the circular inset at the interior bottom of the Double Fold box sold in 2014. And finally, the height of the current can sans supplied lid is 35 inches, which, if the original short lid were added, would just fit inside the 38 1/2 inch ceiling of the Double Fold box. 
Though Hardeen likely acquired the Double Fold Box and its can at the same time, at some point the two were separated. The box was sold by Hardeen to Jack Lawain of Monmouth, Illinois, who used it in performance himself, before offering it at auction in 2014. The can was sold by Hardeen to Sidney Radner, who then placed it on exhibition at the Houdini Hall of Fame.  
Provenance: Estate of Harry Houdini to his brother, the Magician Hardeen; sold by Hardeen (along with other items of Houdini material) to Sidney Radner; on exhibit at the Houdini Hall of Fame, 1968-1997; sold by Radner to Tom Thayer, 1997. Sold by Thayer to the present owner. 
US$ 25,000 - 35,000
£ 19,000 - 27,000

In case it isn't clear, the lid on the can is not the original lid, nor does it resemble the original (which was said to have been "lost" at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame). The owner had this lid made. And while the neck hasp referred to in the Ransom Center's Double Fold photo is indeed the same type of hasp as seen on this can, the can itself is not an exact match.

You might recall this post from 2016 in which I reported that these were displayed in a coin shop in Santa Monica where they were treated with a fair amount of indignity (customers sat on the iron box while waiting to be served). I'm very happy to see these treasures liberated at last. Here's hoping they will land in a good home.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

LINK: 'Houdini Cliff' found in the Palisades

Sean Doran of The Mysteriarch is back with another spectacular find! This time Sean, with the help of the good folks at the Palisades Interstate Park and Barrymore Film Center/Fort Lee Film Commission, has tracked down the location of Houdini's cliff battle in The Man From Beyond. Sean explains:

"I originally set out to locate this setpiece along the Niagara gorge area and Devils Hole State Park in Niagara Falls, NY, but quickly realized the geography and river backdrop was not accurate to that shown during the scene in the film. After a few days of online research, I turned to the other known filming locations of 'The Man From Beyond', specifically Fort Lee, New Jersey."

Sean shares some great photos of the site today, which is still very recognizable. So what are you doing here? Click the headline and get a cliff full at The Mysteriarch!


Friday, February 14, 2020

On Valentine's Day, Rosabelle still believes

George Hartner shares with us today a song and video he created which is perfect for this Valentine's Day. George explains how it came about:

A couple of years ago my friend and the very talented musician, Steve Forbert was in town to perform a show in Wilmington. At that point, Steve and I had just met and he was spending the night at my house. Towards the end of the evening over a slowly fading fire in my backyard, Steve asked me the question, "Hey George, what about Houdini?" 
It seemed like a very random question, but as I was getting to know Steve better, you had better be ready to have conversations that quickly take you from one interesting topic to another. 
I told him that I knew very little about Houdini beyond the fact that he was a great magician, escape artist, and illusionist. Steve's reply was simply, "Yeah, well maybe we need to look into him a bit further." 
That simple question and follow up remark set me on a journey....I started looking into the life of Harry Houdini and what he was all about. 
What I didn't expect to find however was a beautiful love story that goes something like this: Houdini was pretty convinced that he was probably not going to outlive the love of his life, his wife Bess. After all, this business of getting tied up in chains, handcuffed inside a box and thrown into rivers has a way of potentially shortening one's lifespan. So Houdini said that he and Bess should have a code between them that only the two of them knew. That way, if Houdini died he could come back from the great beyond and deliver the code to Bess and therefore she would know he had pulled off the greatest feat of all time--to transcend death itself. 
The code was the simple phrase, "Rosabelle Believe." Sure enough, Houdini died before Bess and whether or not he delivered the code is the subject of much speculation. After all, just like his great illusions we all want to believe in the power of magic and the ability to reconnect after we are forced to say our final goodbyes to those we love. 
I wrote the song and assembled some very talented musicians to perform it along with me. It features Dorothy Papadakos on piano, Jessica Landes on violin, Roger Manning on percussion, Trent Harrison on bass, and was recorded at Hourglass Studios. And to put some icing on the cake, the company Cassian Films decided that they would like to do a film around it starring the wonderful actors Sara Lucas and Craig Woolard. 
I hope you enjoy the song, the film, and the whole mystical journey.

Thank you George. We believe!


Thursday, February 13, 2020

LINK: The Hot Bid, Harry Houdini Postcard

Here's a good interview by Sheila Gibson Stoodley of The Hot Bid with Gabe Fajuri of Potter & Potter about this postcard coming up for action February 29th. This famous image, taken in Holland in 1903, continues to fascinate.

Why might Houdini have wanted to pose for these photos? What do they do for him that a fully clothed shot does not? He posed for both, of course. He understood every aspect of what that meant in the sense that it might have been a little bit scandalous. He was definitely pushing a boundary there, and stirring up interest–he’s not just shackled, he’s basically undressed. It’s titillating, but it had the added effect of proving that he was not hiding anything and he was able to escape the chains through his ability alone.

I'd also add that this image appears to me to deliberately evoke similar photographs of popular strongmen of the era, such as Eugen Sandow. These photos where considered artist studies of the "perfect physique", recalling classical Greek and Roman sculpture. So Houdini was doing what he did so well -- mixing art forms and taking it to new level; a Grecian Ideal strongman in chains from which he escapes. Electric!

Click the headline to read the full interview at The Hot Bid. Potter & Potter's "The Magic Collection of Jim Rawlins Part III" auction can be viewed HERE.


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Houdini and the Spiritualists with Ken Trombly

Last year Houdini collector extraordinaire Ken Trombly gave talk about "Houdini and the Spiritualists" at the Connie Morella Library in Bethesda, Maryland. Now you can watch his full talk on YouTube. It's an excellent lecture highlighted by several rarities from Ken's collection.

As an aside, when Ken shows his playbill for Houdini's lecture at the White Theater, he says he doesn't know what town this was in. When I saw Ken's collection in 2018, this had me stumped as well. But I recently discovered that the White Theater was in Fresno, California. Houdini in Fresno! The theater stood until 1966.

The Fresno Morning Republican, Oct. 19, 1924.


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Bess Houdini died 77 years ago today

On this 77th anniversary of Bess Houdini's death aboard a train outside Needles, California in 1943, here's a treat recently discovered by our good friend Joe Fox at the William Larsen Sr. Memorial Library at the Magic Castle. This is a terrific unpublished photo of Bess holding a cat. (We love cats!) While Bess owned a variety of pets in her day--everything from parrots to a marmoset named Satan--I've never heard of her owning a cat. This looks to have been taken during her Hollywood days, so maybe just a neighborhood cat. But it's a beauty and so is Bess.

Below is something I shared back in 2013. If you haven't had a listen, you'll want to do so and it's a remarkably intimate account of Bess's death as remembered by her sister Marie, 77 years ago today.

Thank you Joe!


Monday, February 10, 2020

Fred Pittella follows Harry and Mama to Budapest

On a recent business trip to Germany, our great friend and Houdini collector Fred Pittella followed in the footsteps of Houdini and his mother by taking a side trip to Budapest, Hungary. Not only did Fred visit David Merlini's House of Houdini museum and the 7th district where Ehrich Weiss was born, he also stopped in at the still standing Royal Hotel (today the Corinthia Hotel). It was here in 1901 that Houdini famously rented the hotel's Palm Garden salon to hold a reception with relatives for his mother who came gowned in a dress made for Queen Victoria.

Fred sends us some photos and says, "You could just imagine Houdini walking down these stairs with his mother on his arm, all puffy chest a proud son."

"How my heart warmed to see the various friends and relatives kneel and pay homage to my mother, every inch a queen, as she sat enthroned in her heavily carved and gilded chair." - Houdini

While no photos of this famous reception survive (to my knowledge), it has been depicted in two Houdini biopics, The Great Houdinis (1976) and the Houdini Miniseries (2014).

Here's an image from Fred's collection capturing the real Harry, Mama, and Bess at this very time.

Thanks Fred!


Saturday, February 8, 2020

Ashley Drew discovers Houdini in Memphis (update)

YouTuber Ashley Drew has created a terrific video about Houdini in Memphis, Tennessee. I'm excited to see that The Commercial Appeal building, where Houdini reportedly did a suspended straitjacket escape on September 13, 1923, is still there. Enjoy this tour of Houdini's Memphis and don't be surprised if there's an Elvis sighting!

Another thing that excites me about this video is I actually did not know about Houdini's 1923 Memphis engagement, nor his suspended straitjacket escape! (I only knew about his 1899 appearance.) Ashley tells me her primary source was this 2014 article in The Commercial Appeal. I'm currently looking for confirmation--preferably an article from the time--but have so far come up short.

If anyone has or can find any accounts of Houdini in Memphis in September 1923, Ashley and I would love to see it!

UPDATE (1/4/22): I'm excited to have finally confirmed not one but TWO suspended straitjackets escapes Houdini made from The Commercial Appeal building in Memphis. The first was February 16, 1916. The second was September 13, 1923. Houdini was appearing at the Memphis Orpheum during both these weeks. Below is an image of the 1923 escape.

The Commercial Appeal, Sep. 14, 1923.


Friday, February 7, 2020

Hardeen's secret movies for the LAPD

Are there "classified" movies of Hardeen doing various escapes in Los Angeles in 1915? There are if we are to believe this November 24, 1915 story from the Los Angeles Record.

Click to enlarge.

So what do we think? The first sentence says Hardeen was "the inventor of the famous handcuff act", so we're already in the realm of hyperbole. And the claim that Hardeen "invented" what sounds like slow motion photography is pretty far fetched (and this was before the Film Developing Corp). But what of the main claim that Hardeen planned to film his escapes for the police?

This was during Hardeen's 1915 tour in which he played opposite Houdini in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Hardeen's act was very much a mirror of his brother's act, so it's entirely possible that he also showed films of his exploits as a warm up. Houdini at this time was filming his suspended straitjacket escapes. So the idea of Hardeen also building up a collection of film footage, maybe sharing the same camera equipment, is feasible. Although I don't think I buy the idea of his films being shot as as a study aid for police.

Apart from the well-known Metamorphosis footage and film of an overboard box escape in Atlantic City in the 1930s, I don't know of any surviving film of Hardeen doing escapes. So wouldn't it be a treat to see this footage and witness Hardeen in action in his prime.

On a related note, you'll see Hardeen was appearing at the Los Angeles Pantages this week. Our friend Jack Cory at Houdini & Hardeen recently did a post about Hardeen's 1917 Los Angeles engagement and points out that the Pantages building still stands at 533 S. Broadway (just down the street from Houdini's Orpheum and next door to Clune's where The Master Mystery played in 1919). It's no longer a theater, but you can still see the Pantages name on the facade.


Thursday, February 6, 2020

The great escape

Not making a statement, just sharing a timely political cartoon by Mike Thompson from the February 5, 2020 USA Today.

Political cartoonists have been using Houdini for over 100 years. Below is cartoon by Nelson Harding that was widely syndicated in 1922. This one puts Congress in the box.

Lincoln Journal Star, March 8, 1922.

Thanks to Jeff Laurent.


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Ransom Center reveals stunning Houdini 3-sheet

The magic poster exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin is now closed, but that doesn't mean there aren't still treasures to behold. Our friend Eric Colleary, Cline Curator of Theatre & Performing Arts collections, recently uncovered this stunner!

This is a three-sheet (41"x81") poster for Houdini's 1922 movie The Man From Beyond. This was created by the Otis Lithograph Co. of Cleveland, who also created many classic magic posters. I've only ever seen a small black and white unfinished image of this sheet in The Man From Beyond pressbook (below). Seeing it finished and in full color is just spectacular! The poster depicts a cliff fight between Howard Hillary (Houdini) and a villain. Guess who goes over the edge?

The Harry Ransom Center's Houdini Collections are open to the public and available to search via finding aids at their official website.

Thank you Eric for sharing this amazing poster.


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

LINK: Houdini is part of The American Story

The American Story is a podcast by Chris Flannery "about what it is that makes America beautiful, what it is that makes America good and therefore worthy of love." Today Chris gives that love to "The Great Houdini". It's well produced and worth a listen, so click the headline and go.

You can follow The American Story on Facebook and Twitter.


Monday, February 3, 2020

The Houdinis are Rogers' Orpheum Stars of 1897

During their early years, Harry and Bess Houdini joined an assortment of traveling performance troupes. Their stints with the Welsh Bros. Circus, the California Concert Co, the Marco Co. and the American Gaiety Girls are well documented. But what never gets mentioned is the "Rogers' Orpheum Stars Co." which Harry and Bess toured with in Wisconsin in March and April of 1897.

The Rogers' Orpheum Stars Co. was a self-contained traveling vaudeville show with 14 acts that ran 2 1/2 hours. The "Orpheum" in the name is not the same thing as the big time Orpheum Vaudeville circuit controlled by Martin Beck, but I'm sure the Rogers' Stars were happy for any confusion!

Below is an advertisement for the troupe at Rhode’s Opera House in Kenosha, Wisconsin. You'll note Harry and Bess appear three times on the bill. Once together as "The Houdinis" doing Metamorphosis ("Hindoo box mystery"). "La Petite Bessie" then does her "character vocalist" singing act. Finally we see "Mysterious Harry" doing magic as "the only rival to Hermann the great."

Below is a review of the show at the Belle City Opera House in Racine, Wisconsin. Notice that Houdini seems committed to "Mysterious Harry" being his solo stage name at this time. Yikes.

Here's one last thought. I have seen evidence in Ken Trombly's collection that the famous photo below, frequently misidentified as being Houdini first theatrical photo (far from it), was taken around the time of the Houdinis tour with the Rogers' Orpheum Stars in 1897. In fact, this photo might have been taken expressly for this tour. So should we stop thinking of this image as being "Houdini" and instead consider it a rare pic of "Mysterious Harry"?

Below are more links related to The Houdinis early career.


Sunday, February 2, 2020

Mystifier, Fourth Quarter 2000

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

The fourth quarter 2000 Mystifier begins with an excellent article by guest contributor Massimo Polidoro about Houdini's exposure of pellet reading medium Bert Reese. It's well researched and not a common story.

This is followed by a report on the HHC's recent children's Halloween event with a performance by member Rondini. Among the list of new members is the familiar name of Leonard Hevia.

Guest contributor Paul Rosen then provides a first hand report on the Houdini ride at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. Paul even describes his experience of standing in line and overhearing people talking about Houdini:

The group discussed how Houdini was punched in the stomach and died later that day in the "big water tank trick." They spoke of his ability to "Talk to the dead." And one gentlemen even knew that he was once married to Jamie Lee Curtis' mother!

The ride in set inside a mock up of 278. Paul describes the impressive decor inside and out. He then does his best to explain the ride itself:

The best way I can describe the ride is that we were given the sensation that we were somehow rotating, although we felt no ill effects of such travel. We never felt gravity kick in, even though we defied it while presumably upside down. Many people seemed to enjoy the ride.

In his "Backstage" column, Sid Radner reports on that year's Official Houdini Seance held at The Humphrey Scottish Rite Masons Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He then says he and his wife Helen have purchased a condo in Florida where they will spend winters. He also reports: "There are strong rumors about a Houdini stamp to be issued by the United States Postal Service in 2002. All of us at the HHC hope this turns out to be true."

Sid signs off by wishing all a happy Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year.

Volume 10, Number 4
Fourth Quarter, 2000
6 pages

The Unmasking of Bert Reese
New HHC Event a Success
Welcome New Members
Houdini Gets Taken for (or as) a Ride
Backstage with Sid Radner


Saturday, February 1, 2020

January 2020 in review

Here's a rundown of posts by category that appeared on WILD ABOUT HARRY in January. It was a wild one!

Most Viewed Post
Houdini in 1920
A Water Torture Cell has been discovered in Canada

Houdini History
Houdini in 1920
Did Houdini do the Water Torture Cell in full view of the audience?
The A&E Houdini Biography
Revisit Houdini's Conjurers Monthly Magazine No. 1
A Winchester Mystery House mystery...solved?
Sean Doran is searching for Houdini at Niagara Falls
Bahl Yahn the Strong Man. A Good Night Story by Harry Houdini
Lifting the lid on Sergeant Houdini
Happy birthday Magigal Bess
Unseen Haldane of the Secret Service
Bahl Yahn
Four photos from Houdini's Worcester YMCA test

Final weekend for 'Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini'

278 wood lath Water Torture Cell by Barry Spector
Houdini's hat floats in the 23rd Street subway

Houdini lives in 'American Dreams'
ROUGH RIDERS collected edition released

Pop culture
Houdini echoes in the canyon
Let her out!
Mystery Cell

Yarn Hub spins the story of Houdini
Appleton gets some r-e-s-p-e-c-t
No Escaping Houdini (2010)

Mystifier File
Mystifier, Third Quarter 2000

LINK: Harry Houdini and the Spirit Lover: A Tale With a Twist
LINK: Houdini - Down on the Farm

10th Anniversary
Welcome to our WILD 10th year!
Go WILD for Houdini on Facebook
10 year flashback: The Worcester YMCA pool test