Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The photo Houdini thought would fool Conan Doyle

On January 6, 1922, Houdini wrote a peculiar letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which, as far as I know, has never been discussed in the many books and articles written about the famous friends. The letter itself is reproduced in full in the 1932 book, Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of a Strange Friendship. Here it is in full:

My dear Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:--
        Along with this letter I am sending you a photograph which I think will interest you.
        This photograph was secured about four months ago, while my new photoplay called "Haldane of the Secret Service" was in the making. In this photoplay I portrayed the son of a murder high police official, and, in one of the scenes, but on my way from the Club, I meet a young lady who is running madly down the street before pursuing thugs. She runs in my arms for protection.
        We had a cameraman on the scene, to make an instantaneous photograph of the action, and the result was the picture I am sending to you. This is not a trick picture, that I know. It is not a double exposure, how would you explain it? Does it look like ectoplasm?
         The gentleman with the straw hat is your good friend Houdini. The girl, whose face is unfortunately turned away from the camera, is Miss Gladys Leslie. She also cannot account for the picture.
         You will note that the figures of the persons making up the crowd on the sidewalk are sharply defined. They are watching the action and, as you can see, were greatly interested. I should like to have your opinion regarding the picture.
          I am playing a brief tour, but letters directed to my home address will always reach me.
          Very best regards and with hardest greetings for the new year,
                                                                 Sincerely yours,

Conan Doyle did not take the bait, writing back:

The effect is certainly produced by the whisk of lady's dress as she rushed into your protective arms. It then wrapped itself 'round her legs. It is certainly not ectoplasm!

It's likely the reason this exchange doesn't get attention is no one had seen the photo in question. But in 2017 I had the great pleasure of visiting the collection of Fred Pittella, and among his photos is the one I've shared at the top of this post. This is almost certainly the photo Houdini is talking about as it is a perfect match in all regards.

But ectoplasm?

There is no way Houdini was confused by this effect, which is a photographic blur exactly as Doyle describes. There's also a double exposure in this photo. The faint figure of Houdini in his straw hat can been seen to the right of Houdini and Gladys Leslie. Is this "ghostly" image what Houdini is talking about in the letter to Doyle? It's not entirely clear.

Whether it be the double exposure or the photographic burr, all I can think is Houdini is testing the famously gullible Doyle. It could be Houdini wanted to entrap the great man; have his very own Cottingley Fairies photo that he could later hold up and an example of Doyle's naiveté. But this doesn't seem like a terrible friendly thing to do, and I can't help but think Doyle recognized the trap. Maybe it's telling that later that same the year Doyle would attempt to snare Houdini with the Atlantic City seance. If anything, it shows the men were playing mind games well before their famous split.

Years earlier Houdini had given Doyle something that was certainly more to his liking. This is also in Fred's collection. It's a copy of the book After Death–What? Spiritistic Phenomena and Their Interpretation by Cesare Lombroso. Houdini inscribed book (below), and Doyle added on the cover page, "One of the Classics on the subject."

Thank you Fred!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Too sexy for this blog

I wasn't going to post anything today, but then this happened.

This is the creation of our awesome friend Lisa aka HoudiniFan. I'd also recommend checking out her video My Drowning Love.


Monday, July 27, 2020

Hocus Pocus #2 conjures Houdini and Rose (and me)

The second issue of Richard Wiseman's best-selling UK comic Hocus Pocus is devoted to spiritualism and features the exploits of Houdini's real life "spook spy" Rose Mackenberg.

The comic that communes with the dead! 
Richard Wiseman's best-selling Hocus Pocus is back and this time we delve into the strange world of spirit communication! Join Houdini’s chief investigator, Rose Mackenberg, as she uncovers the secrets of the seance room. Travel through time to discover the trickery used by Fox sisters and the Davenport brothers to fool the world. Uncover the scientists and scoundrels behind the strange history of the Ouija Board. Beautifully illustrated, printed in full colour on heavy card stock, and limited edition. 
Illustrated by Jordan Collver, written by Rik Worth and coloured by Owen Watts.

The issue also contains a surprise treat for me personally. Artist Jordan Collver has drawn me in as a cameo getting punched by Houdini during his Washington, D.C. melee. I love it!

You can buy a printed edition of Hocus Pocus or download a FREE copy at


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Ectoplasm watch

Here's a little tease for this week. If you have the book Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of a Strange Friendship by Bernard Ernst and Hereward Carrington, pop it open to page 100 and read Houdini's letter there. The mysterious photo he discusses is one that has never been identified or published. But thanks to Fred Pittella, that's about to change!

For those that don't have the book, don't worry, I will explain everything in an upcoming post. So get in contact with your spirit guide and get ready for a grand revelation.

UPDATEThe photo Houdini thought would fool Conan Doyle

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Houdini's wagon wheel rolls away with $4,200

The wagon wheel that came from the basement of Houdini's 278 sold today at Potter & Potter's Magic Collection of Jim Rawlins Part IV auction for $4,200 (not including the buyer's premium). This was the only 278 artifact to sell in today's auction. The two sinks, wine press, and bathtub received no bids.

The medicine chest from 278 did sell for $1,600 in Haversat & Ewing's auction last week.

Some other Houdini standouts in today's Potter auction was a photo of Houdini hog-tied in chains ($3,200); five behind the scenes photos from The Grim Game plane accident ($2,200); a unique autograph album ($4,200); a pair of Cummings handcuffs ($4,200); a German Bell Padlock ($3,400); a photograph of Houdini and Ching Ling Foo ($2,200); and a curious postcard written the day before the Mirror Challenge in which Houdini expresses his wish to one day become a Mason ($900).

A magnificent photo of Houdini emerging from a safe sold for $1,400. I was the unbidder on that one.

In other auction news, a Mastery Mystery Episode 10 poster sold for a reported $43,200 in a recent online Heritage Auction.

Congrats to all the buyers and sellers!


The Tatler Mirror Cuff mystery deepens (update)

Our friend Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence has devoted two new posts to the ongoing mystery of the "Tatler Cuff." As a refresher, back in 2014 a page from a 1904 issue of Tatler magazine appeared on eBay that featured a photo of Houdini's Mirror Handcuff. Except the cuff and key depicted in that photo was noticeably different from the Mirror Handcuff that we know today! This mystery cuff has come to be called the "Tatler Cuff."

Joe is continuing the investigation with some interesting new findings and observations. This is wild stuff, so I encourage you to click the links below and read the posts and comments.


Friday, July 24, 2020

First public image of Houdini's Milk Can?

The below appeared in The Pittsburgh Press on March 17, 1908 and offers might be the very first public image of Houdini's Milk Can escape. This is a mere six weeks after he introduced the effect in St. Louis. In fact, Houdini didn't even have a name for it yet, and during this run at the Grand Theater he offered $25 to the anyone who could come up with the best name. (I've found no account of the prize being awarded.)

This illustration pre-dates the famous series of photos Houdini took with the can in June of 1908. Those photos are, incredibly, the only known images of Houdini with his Milk Can. I don't know exactly when Houdini created his famous Milk Can poster.

Below is an ad for Houdini's week in Pittsburgh referencing his "unprecedented and hitherto unknown and unnamed mystery."

UPDATE: Fred Pittella has shared a program from the Columbia Theatre in St. Louis during the first week Houdini presented his Milk Can and it shows he offered the $25 award for the best name during that engagement as well. By the way, it doesn't appear he ever actually found a name. While we call it "the Milk Can" today, Houdini's advertising continued to refer to it only as the "Galvanized Iron Can filled with water and secured by six padlocks."


Thursday, July 23, 2020

10th Anniversary: Wild about Danny

It was ten years ago today that I landed a "scoop" (of sorts) by attending a panel at the San Diego Comic Con featuring Danny Elfman. At that time Elfman was working on a big budget Broadway musical about Houdini with Hugh Jackman earmarked for the lead. Click the link to see what Elfman had to tell us Comic Conners.

TEN YEAR UPDATE: The Houdini Broadway musical went through a long and rocky development. Elfman was eventually replaced by Stephen Schwartz and Aaron Zorkin was brought on to re-write the book. The musical was finally announced for the 2013/14 season. But Zorkin's script did not conjurer magic, and Jackman and Schwartz left the project which was put on indefinite hold in 2014.

I would still love to hear the music Elfman created for Houdini.


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Pssst... Wanna buy The Grim Game on DVD?

If you've listened to my interviews on the Transatlantic History Ramblings podcast you will have heard co-host Lauren say that The Film Collectors Society of America is offering Houdini's The Grim Game on DVD. This is likely a recording made from the one and only broadcast of the film on TCM in 2015.

While this may be considered a bootleg, it doesn't appear TCM is ever going to release a DVD themselves. I've also failed to interest other companies such as Kino in doing a release. So we gotta do what we gotta do! The Grim Game is too important to become a lost film once again.

The website also offers the 1976 biopic The Great Houdinis, which has also never been released to DVD. So if you want to grab that one too you can make it a Houdini double feature.

Thanks to Lauren for this hot tip.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Transatlantic History Ramblings go Wild for Houdini

Over the past week I've had the pleasure of discussing Houdini on the podcast Transatlantic History Ramblings. This is a long form history podcast hosted on both sides of the Atlantic by Lauren Davies in Wales and Brian Young in New York (who is a Houdini buff himself). We quickly discovered Houdini is too big a topic to cover in a single show, so we've done two podcasts with a third still to come.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 NEW

I'll update this post when Part 3 is available. It also sounds like I might be making a guest appearance for a Part 4 (of sorts) that continues the discussion of spiritualism and the paranormal with another guest.

You can listen and subscribe to Transatlantic History Ramblings on Apple, Spotify, Google, Anchor, or your favorite podcatcher. You can also follow them on Twitter @HistoryTA.


Monday, July 20, 2020

Houdini fiction blowout

Over the years I've accumulated a great deal of Houdini Fiction (novels featuring Houdini as a major or minor character). Too much, in fact! So I'm listing an assortment of Houdini fiction on eBay at "blowout" prices. So if you enjoy Houdini fiction, or need a particular book for your collection, look over my auctions and feel free to bid. All auctions end Saturday. Thanks!

Houdini Heart by Ki Longfellow SOLD
Resurrecting Harry by Constance Phillips - SOLD
The Man Who Killed by Fraser Nixion - SOLD
Escape Artist: An Edna Ferber Mystery by Ed Ifkovic - SOLD
Sherlock Holmes and the Escape Artist by Fred Thursfield - SOLD
Danger in the Dark by Tom Lalicki
The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler
The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer
Sherlock Holmes and the Houdini Birthright by Val Andrews
Born of Illusion by Teri Brown
The Seance by Iain Lawrence
The Carnival of Lost Souls by Laura Quimby - SOLD
Escapade by Walter Satterthwait
El Gran Truco de Houdini by Ana Campoy - SOLD
Houdini by Charlotte L. R. Kane - SOLD
The Swami Deheftnet by Robert Steven Goldstein - SOLD

Sunday, July 19, 2020

"His cheek bled considerably"

Here's something I found the other day that I haven't been able to stop thinking about. So I figured I'd share it today and make this a Bloody Sunday.

On May 2, 1908 Houdini accepted an invitation to perform for members of the Boston Press Club at 2 Beacon St. An item in that day's paper reported: "Just what he will do Mr. Houdini refused to state, but he promises to give the newspaper men an exhibition of his skill very different from anything he has yet shown."

This was at the height of Houdini's challenge escape days, so this "different" performance turned out to be a straight magic act. But not everything went right, as reported in the following day's Boston Globe:

Pushing a needle trough his cheek was something Houdini continued to do his entire career. In fact, it's reported he did this for the students at McGill University--including one J. Gordon Whitehead--during his fateful lecture there in October 1926.

Click below for more stories of when things didn't go quite right for Houdini.


Saturday, July 18, 2020

Houdini joins the Bold and Fearless

Looks like we have another new Houdini book for 2020! The Great Harry Houdini by Claire Golding is released by Heinemann as part of their "Bold and Fearless Series." It runs 24 pages and is nicely illustrated by Ron Mazellan.

One thing I enjoy about books for young people are when the illustrations provide an image of something that has no photographic record. Here we have two good examples with the sea monster challenge and Houdini's ice bath (which I've shared on my Houdini Illustrated Facebook page). The text consists of simple summations of Houdini's greatest feats. Only error I spotted was dating the Harvard Bridge jump as 1907 instead of 1908.

This is not listed for sale on Amazon nor at the publisher's website. It's possible this is for schools only. But Arthur Moses is selling copies on eBay, which is where I nabbed mine!


Thursday, July 16, 2020

Dissecting Quincy's 'The Death Challenge'

Recently our friend Janet Davis drew my attention to an episode of Quincy, M.E. with a magic and escape plot. I have the original TV Guide ad for this in my scrapbook, so I suspect I saw it when it first aired on March 24, 1979 (yes, Houdini's birthday). But I don't remember a thing about it.

Happily, I was able to find the episode, called "The Death Challenge," on YouTube. It's great fun and contains several nods to Houdini. Don Ameche plays a magician named Harry Whitehead, which can't be a coincidence, can it? Houdini is name checked several times as being Whitehead's mentor. We even get to see a (sky blue?) Milk Can with Houdini's name written on it in groovy '70s script sitting below what I suspect is a Lee Jacobs reproduction King of Cards poster. There are also several scenes filmed inside the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

Finally, I'm pretty certain that's Houdini historian and collector Manny Weltman as an extra in the audience calling out for the magician's release. This is right around the time I first met Manny, which is a story I've yet to share.

So who done it? That you'll have to discover that for yourselves!

For an excellent overview of this episode and it's guest stars Don Ameche and Ann Blyth check out Another Old Movie Blog.

Thanks to Janet for the pics and tip.


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

"The escape artist is the hero. Full stop."

I don't typically report on feats by modern escape artists unless there is a very direct connection to Houdini (such as Lee Terbosic's "Houdini 100"). But I felt compelled to share this clip of Miranda Allen on Penn & Teller's Fool Us as it's just such a superbly staged classic escape using elements both old and new. And there is a key Houdini idea at play here.

A female escape artist doing a barrel escape should instantly bring Minerva Vano to mind. In fact, Miranda Allen played Minerva in a recent stage play. So this works as an unspoken tribute to that pioneering female escape artist. I also love that she is using wine instead of water. This, of course, is a Houdini idea. He would regularly have his Milk Can filled with beer by a local brewery. But I love the idea of wine and I like how Miranda plays up the added danger of the darkness and "sting" in the eyes.

I'm still not sure how I feel about seeing this kind of escape play out in full view of the audience, which is now common among modern escapists. But every moment of this is tense and entertaining, works! And you gotta love Penn's comment: "This is what an escape should be––what Houdini always did––which is; the escape artist is the hero. Full stop."

Thanks to Gene Franklin Smith for the alert.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Houdini the book collector in The Book Collector

The Summer 2020 issue of the English journal The Book Collector features an article by Troy Downs about "Harry Houdini's Library" (pages 251-265). Houdini's name even makes the cover.

The Summer 2020 issue can be purchased from The Book Collector website.


Monday, July 13, 2020

Relics from Houdini's 278 at auction

Genuine relics from Houdini's former New York brownstone (278) will be auctioned by Potter & Potter on July 25 and by Haversat & Ewing Galleries on July 17-18. Here's a full rundown of all the 278 items at auction this month.

First up from Potter & Potter is a wagon wheel that has long been stored in the basement of 278. I discussed this wheel at length in this post, and I'm excited to see it finally come up for sale. While we're still not able to prove it, I do think there's a strong possibility this is the last Houdini escape prop to have remained in the house. "Houdini’s Wooden Wagon Wheel" is Lot 384. The auction estimate is $4,000 - $8,000.

Houdini's Wagon Wheel - P&P Lot 384.

Potter & Potter is also offering an original bathtub from 278. This is one of three original tubs that, while no longer in place, remained in the house. David Copperfield owns the clawfoot bathtub that most likely came from Houdini's own bathroom. (It's unclear where former owner Fred Thomas stored this tub.) Michael Mitnick bought a second clawfoot tub from Fred Thomas shortly after the open house in 2017. That tub was stored in the front of the house in the garden level foray. Which bathroom it came from is not clear.

This last tub spent several years in the backyard used as a planter. It is the smallest of the tubs and the only one that is sunken. The owners of 278 believe it may have come from Bessie's top floor bathroom. "Houdini’s Bathtub" is Lot 380. It has a $8,000 - $12,000 estimate.

Houdini's Bathtub - P&P Lot 380.

Potter & Potter are also offering two porcelain sinks from Houdini's time. "Houdini’s Garden Sink" came from the backyard and was still in use until recently. The owners believe it may have been 278's original kitchen sink. It's Lot 382 with a $3,000 - $5,000 estimate.

Houdini's Garden Sink - P&P Lot 382.

The second sink was discovered stored in the basement and is listed as "Houdini’s Laundry Sink." However, the owners now believe this sink was part of Dr. Leopold Weiss's "operating room," which was off the back of the house. I had deemed this a "mystery room" in my 2017 blog post about the house. But during renovation it was discovered this room was at one time a tiled "wet room." This sink is Lot 381 and has an estimate of $3,000 - $5,000.

Houdini's Laundry Sink - P&P Lot 381.

Finally, Potter & Potter is offering "Houdini’s Fruit or Wine Press" which, like the wagon wheel, has long been stored in the basement of 278. This is Lot 383 with an estimate of $4,000 - $8,000.

Houdini's Fruit or Wine Press - P&P Lot 383.

But the first piece of 278 to go up for auction will be "Houdini's Medicine Chest" from Haversat & Ewing Galleries. The cabinet is made of painted metal with a mirror. Inside it has three shelves and inner cabinet with a lock (no key). While this came from Houdini's bathroom, it may not have been original to the bathroom as the owners have a wooden cabinet in storage that pre-dates it. It may have even originated in the surgery! Houdini's Medicine Chest is Lot 155 and has a $2500+ estimate.

Houdini's Medicine Chest - H&E Lot 155.

Haversat & Ewing Galleries "More from the Gary Darwin Magic Museum" auction will be held July 17-18 and can be viewed online HERE.

Potter & Potter Auctions "Magic Collection of Jim Rawlins Part IV" will be held on July 25 and can be viewed HERE.

Good luck to all!


Sunday, July 12, 2020

Mystifier, Winter 2002

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

The now single color Mystifier for Winter 2002 begins with what would appear to be great news; a major expansion of the Houdini exhibit and new displays coming in 2004. In reality this was the beginning of the end for the "Houdini Historical Center" and the Mystifier under the new leadership of Executive Director Terry Bergen. (I've found it's never a good sign when a museum announces its displays will become "interactive.")

In addition to Bergen's opening article, which is largely a plea for donations for her vision, the cover of the newsletter features a nice photo of Houdini and Harry Kellar with the "Psycho" automaton. The caption says the HHC acquired the original photo at the recent Manny Weltman Swann Auction with funds provided by Richard Heinzkill.

Inside the newsletter is an obituary of Dr. Morris N. Young, who passed away on November 20, 2002 on his way to a magic convention in which he was the honoree. As a child Young saw Houdini perform and even shook his hand! He later co-authored the book Houdini Fabulous Magic with Walter B. Gibson. Young was also on the HHC board and regular contributor to the Mystifier.

The newsletter also contains an insert questionnaire asking members what aspects of Houdini's life should be highlighted in the new exhibits. The insert is meant to be mailed back to the HHC (which technically makes this a 4-page newsletter). Ominously, one question asks: "Would you like information on how Houdini performed his tricks?" This is followed by a full page ad for the HHC's new Houdini envelopes.

Sid Radner devotes his entire "Backstage" column to the 2002 Official Houdini Seance held in the Brooklyn Room of the New York, New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The seance was conducted by the "famous" Reverend Ray Fraser and his daughter Wendy Fraser-Baily from Detroit. The famous Houdini stayed away.

Sid then asks readers for suggestions about where future seances should be held, saying they are seeking "some special location at which he previously entertained." He then lists his Holyoke and Palm Beach addresses. He also announces (again) that he will soon acquire a computer to make communication easier.

Volume 12, Number 4
Winter 2002
6 pages

New Houdini Exhibit Opening in 2004
R.I.P. Dr. Morris N. Young
Survey on a New Houdini Exhibit
Houdini Envelopes Available To Members
Backstage with Sid Radner


Saturday, July 11, 2020

Houdini on The UnXplained tonight at 9/8c

Houdini will be featured on the Season 2 opening episode of The UnXplained which airs tonight at 9/8c on HISTORY. Below is a preview clip from "The Greatest Escapes" tweeted out by HISTORY. Yep, that's me in the distinguished company of Jim Steinmeyer and Dean Gunnarson. I did this interview last year at Brookledge.

Episodes of The UnXplained are also available to stream on the HISTORY website.


Thursday, July 9, 2020

Houdini in the mosh pit

Here are two vintage club ads from the Los Angeles and San Fransisco punk rock music scenes of the early 1980s. As you can see, Houdini is a representative image. I'm not sure why, but maybe that's what makes it punk!

The Starwood was a popular nightclub and music venue in West Hollywood from 1973 to 1981. The headline band, The Gears, actually broke up after a performance the Starwood in 1981. Could it have been this very night?

Built in 1839, the "Temple Beautiful" has a long and storied history, including becoming a punk club in 1979 where The Clash performed their first show in San Fransisco. It was a building old enough that maybe Houdini himself once entered that space.

Thanks to our friend Bullet Valmont for these.


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Raymund Fitzsimons play

In the early 1990s a Houdini play ran in the UK called Houdini's Death Defying Mystery written by Raymund Fitzsimons. That name should sound familiar. Fitzsimons also wrote the 1981 Houdini biography, Death and the Magician, which has the distinction of being the only new Houdini biography published in the 1980s. For the longest time I knew nothing about this play, other than that it existed because I had found a poster online (right).

But now John Lovick (aka Handsome Jack) has shared with me an article penned by Fitzsimons himself for a 1992 Magic Circular that finally provided some details. It begins:

Last January I was commissioned by Pocket Theater, Cumbria to write a play about Houdini. Pocket Theater is a small professional touring company, with a national reputation for innovative productions. Their interest has been aroused reading my biography of Houdini, Death and the Magician
I had told Karen Gillespie, the artistic director, that I had no wish to dramatize my book. I had in mind an original play, an imaginative interpretation of Houdini's life, in which the natural and supernatural would intermingle. I wanted to write an enchanted play, a magical play about a man of mystery, a man of secrets.
In the play I portray Houdini as the bravest and most conceited man in the world. He is also one of the most ambitious, expecting everyone who loves him – his wife, his mother, his brother – to play their part in helping him become the highest paid entertainer in vaudeville. 
He succeeds in this ambition, and, in doing so, he becomes a legend, a symbol, a myth. Success excites him, but it haunts him too. He is haunted by the fear that his escape techniques could be of supernatural origin.

Houdini was played by Peter Gerald (seen right striking THE pose). Of his lead Fitzsimons says, "I believe Peter was destined to play this role, for an addition to the physical likeness there is a spiritual infinity. In rumpled evening dress or bathing suit, he is the personification of Houdini." Bess was played by Amanda Macdonald.

Pocket Theater was limited to four actors, so some of the performers played multiple roles. Sophy Ackroyd played Houdini's mother and Margery. Fitzsimons says, "The dual personality gives the seduction scene between Margery and Houdini an intriguing psychological twist." David Cole played Margery's spirit guide Walter and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The play was directed by Keiran Gillespie with a score by Scottish composer Glenn Plukett. David De-Val was the escapology consultant.

I don't know how long the production ran. But I do know that it played at the Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria in October and November 1992. It also played the Rudolf Steiner Theatre in London in February 1993.

Thanks Handsome Jack!


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Houdini on Mars

While Houdini has battled Martians in fiction before, I don't believe he's ever actually been to the red planet itself. But now Harry Houdini And The Great Worlds' War! by Daniel T. Foster appears to deliver just that.

Mars: A world under siege by an invading force.
Jupiter: A sinister foe bent on domination of the Solar System.
Earth: Torn between helping an ally or making themselves a target.
It would take a magic trick to save the Etherverse. Luckily, we've got just the man to pull it off: Harry Houdini!
War and intrigue on the planet Mars in 1919 come together in "Harry Houdini and the Great Worlds' War," the thrilling fourth chapter of The Etherverse! Features a special bonus story on "The Klank Korps," the Earth's attempt at a mechanical 1917!

A 24 page comic book made in "Dime Novel" style. Written by Daniel T. Foster, and illustrated by Michael J. King

Purchase Harry Houdini And The Great Worlds' War! at Etsy.

Thanks to Arthur Moses for the alert.


Monday, July 6, 2020

Shooting stops for a famous visitor

I mentioned this clip in my recent post about the documentary Days of Thrills and Laughter. But in my attempt to coax Antonia Carlotta of Universally Me to do a video about Houdini and Universal, I've uploaded the full clip to my YouTube channel. I'm a bit unsure about copyright, so have a watch while it's still around!

As I've said in earlier posts, this shows Houdini and Bess visiting the set of an Al Christie comedy at Universal Studios on December 13, 1915. Houdini is "trapped" by the Christie Girls. He's then freed on Bess's command. It's a rarely seen, wonderful piece of film credited as coming from the Larry Weeks collection.

For more on Universal history, I highly recommend Antonia Carlotta's YouTube Channel Universally Me. Her great uncle was Universal's founder, Carl Laemmle. Antonia also appeared in the 1997 Goodspeed Opera House's play, Houdini, which she mentions in her video, Why'd the World Forget Rosabelle Laemmle?


Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Magic Castle conjures The Houdini Box

The Magic Castle in Hollywood is still closed due to Covid-19, but the AMA have been coming up with creative ways to still offer a Magic Castle experience. In addition to their "Behind the Bookcase" virtual events, they've now launched a way to dine.

Individual meals cooked by the Magic Castle chef are available for curbside pickup. Or you can get a box of ingredients and cook your own Castle meals at home. It's called "The Houdini Box", of course!

They are also offering The Blackstone Box for $60. That comes from Houdini's basement.

(Does anyone besides Mike Caveney get that joke?)

The Magic Castle's "Curbside Cuisine" is available to everyone (not just members) via the Magic Castle website.


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Houdini's fabulous 4ths

The Weiss family landed in America on July 3, 1878, passing through the Castle Garden Emigrant Landing Depot in New York City (Ellis Island was not yet built). Yes, this means the first full day in America for the 4-year-old Ehrich Weiss was, appropriately enough, Independence Day.

There's no record of how the family spent the day, although it's likely they initially stayed at the home of Cecelia's sisters, Rose and Sally, who had immigrated to America in 1865-66 and lived in New York City. So there's little doubt young Ehrich got to experience some kind of Fourth of July celebrations on that day in 1878.

Ironically, the first record of how Houdini spent a Fourth of July comes from Russia. In 1903 Houdini and Bess traveled to Moscow where he famously escaped from the Siberian Transport Prison Van among other feats. They happened to be in Russia during the Fourth of July. So how did they celebrate this most American of all holidays in the land of the Czar? Houdini himself told readers in his New York Dramatic Mirror column:

Although yesterday was the Fourth of July in America, it is only June 21 here in Russia, but just the same our American Consul, Smith, invited all the American performers who were in Moscow to a celebration on the grounds of the consulate, over which waved a large American flag, while the Russians looked over the fence and wondered what the "always-in-a-hurry Americans" were up to. Among the guests were the Manhattan Quartette, Smith and Doretto, Weston of loop the hoopology, four of the Florida Girls, Miss Walcott, Mrs. Harry Houdini and myself. There were many speeches, but not a single firecracker or report of a gun was heard, and without these it did not seem at all like the Glorious Fourth to me.

The photo above shows that very celebration, and is the only photo of Houdini in Russia that I'm aware. (He can be seen leaning in smiling mid table on the right.)

A more traditional Independence Day celebration for Houdini was July 4, 1922. Harry and Bess attended a party at the home of Houdini's lawyer Bernard Ernst in Sea Cliff, Long Island. What happened that day Houdini would call "the most remarkable coincidence that ever happened to a mortal man", and he would share the story during his lectures on Spiritualism. In his 1924 book, A Magician Among the Spirits, he related the story in full.

[...] Not only are mediums alert to embrace every advantage offered by auto-suggestion but they also take advantage of every accidental occurrence. For instance, my greatest feat of mystery was performed in 1922 at Seacliffe, L. I., on the Fourth of July, at the home of Mr. B. M. L. Ernest. The children were waiting to set off their display of fireworks when it started to rain. The heavens fairly tore loose. Little Richard in his dismay turned to me and said:
    "Can’t you make the rain stop?"
    "Why certainly," I replied and raising my hands said appealingly, "Rain and Storm, I command you to stop."
     This I repeated three times and, as if by miracle, within the next two minutes the rain stopped and the skies became clear. Toward the end of the display of fireworks the little fellow turned to me and with a peculiar gleam in his eyes said:
     "Why, Mr. Houdini, it would have stopped raining anyway."
     I knew I was risking my whole life's reputation with the youngster but I said:
    "Is that so? I will show you."
Houdini and Ernst in Sea Cliff.
    Walking out in front I raised my hands suppliantly toward the heavens and with all the command and force I had in me called:
    "Listen to my voice, great Commander of the rain, and once more let the water flow to earth and allow the flowers and trees to bloom."
     A chill came over me for as if in response to my command or the prayer of my words another downpour started, but despite the pleading of the children I refused to make it stop again. I was not taking any more chances.

May you have a rain free fabulous Fourth!


Friday, July 3, 2020

Houdini on race equality

We are living in a time of a serious re-examination of how historical figures may have helped or hindered the struggle for rights and equality for all, regardless of sex or race. So where did Houdini stand on this?

In Houdini's day the great struggle was that of women seeking equality in society and especially the right to vote. The "Suffrage" movement sparked demonstrations and even violence. When asked if he approved of "women participating in everyday life" (code for equal rights), Houdini's answer was an unequivocal, "Yes."

But he largely led by example–such as inviting Suffragettes onstage to challenge him in 1908–and avoided the mire of politics, stating: "I hope to keep out of politics, for that is a game in which most of us are defeated before we even get into."

But what about racial equality?

Being Jewish and an immigrant, Houdini certainly understood the sting of institutional discrimination. And while he wasn't perfect (his films and fiction trade on racial stereotypes), he had a strong sense of justice and did express a tolerance uncharacteristic for that time. For instance, he was impressed with the racial equality he witnessed in British Music Halls, and wrote about it in his New York Dramatic Mirror column on November 12, 1904.

In this remarkable paragraph, written in England for American readers, one may infer of his own feelings on race equality. And while Houdini's use of the word "colored" is considered offensive today, it was the most respectful language he could have used at that time.

Just a few lines referring to your article appearing Sept. 24, in which you reproduce a cut of a team called Cline and Clark, in which a white woman is doing a sketch with a colored man. That is nothing unusual on this side of the pond, and were I a colored man I would never leave this country. They are all looked upon here just as amicably as if they were white. The color line is unknown here, and many a team I've seen in which the man is colored and his partner white. The colored race over here has made a great big hit, and certainly are making good with their ability. I have been on the bill with several American colored acts that have "made good" without question. I may mention Brown and Navarro, Grant and Grant, La Belle Morcschania, Johnson and Dean, White and Black, the Four Black Troubadours, Eph Thompson, George Jackson, etc., and all have done well.
I trust that these few lines will not open any controversy, as I simply write for general information and nothing else.

Wishing everyone a safe and united Fourth of July weekend.