Saturday, August 29, 2020

Chadwick Boseman at the Houdini Estate

Yesterday came the shocking news that Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman passed away at age 43 of colon cancer. In 2018 Boseman did a photo shoot at the Houdini Estate in Laurel Canyon, which he shared in a tweet (below). R.I.P. Chadwick.


You can read his full obituary at Deadline Hollywood.

Related:

Monday, August 24, 2020

Taking a break

I'm going to take a short summer break from the blog so I can tend to some real-world whatnot and also mine as much as I can from my one month subscription to The British Newspapers Archive. But don't worry, I won't let any "breaking" Houdini news get past. So here's your chance to catch up on some old posts. It may be a bad year in just about every aspect of life, but it's been a great year for Houdini news. I'll see you in a bit.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Two reels of Houdini film “Lost and Found”

Last Thursday I had the great pleasure of going "Behind the Bookcase" with Lance Watsky of the Sherman Grinberg Film Library to share with members of the Academy of Magical Arts two remarkable reels of hitherto unknown Houdini footage. Apart from our host Shoot Ogawa getting accidentally booted offline at the start, leaving me alone to vamp for several minutes, the presentation went really well, and I think the members enjoyed seeing this remarkable film and hearing our findings. You can rewatch it by clicking "Behind the Bookcase" in the Members Only section on the official Magic Castle website. The title is "Houdini Lost & Found."


But how can non-AMA members see this film? The good news is Lance is open to posting the footage online, but we are still deciding how to do that in a way that works best for the Sherman Grinberg Film Library. But it will come. In the meantime, our good friend Joe Notaro, who was involved in the discovery and research of this footage from day one, has posted a full breakdown of both reels on his website Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence. Check it out!

The Sherman Grinberg Film Library is the world’s oldest and biggest privately held film archive with over 40 moving image libraries, serving Hollywood and the world film community for more than 75 years.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Mystifier, Summer 2003

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


The Summer 2003 Mystifier is largely made up of an article by Curator Kimberly Louagie describing what to expect from the museum's new "AKA Houdini" exhibit set to open on June 1, 2004.

The approach taken to the new exhibit is based in part on front-end surveys of the Museum's membership (including Houdini Historical Center and Outagamie County Historical Society members). Respondents to the surveys rated their interest in Houdini's escapes, his stages of life, his personal relationships, and historical forces affecting his life and career. A majority of respondents favored a heavy use of interactives and wanted to know how Houdini performed his tricks. The most popular description of Houdini was a "showman" and the most common reason for remembering Houdini was his contributions to magic.

The newsletter also contains an obituary for Lee Jacobs, who passed away on April 18, 2003. Jacobs specialized in reproductions and is responsible for several well-known Houdini posters, most famously his "King of Cards" which hung on everyone's bedroom wall (including mine).

In what would be his last "Backstage" column, Sid discusses the book Lily Dale by Christine Wicker about the famous spiritualist community. Sid talks about his own visit and how the resident medium employed a cold reading technique, but was still unable to divine a single correct deal about Sid or his wife. "No more comment is needed," says Sid.

The newsletter concludes with an announcement of Appleton's "Houdini Day" on August 29 & 30, and a humorous story called "The Magician and the Parrot."

Mystifier
Volume 13, Number 2
Summer 2003
4 pages

Contents:
Not un a Museum?
Lee Jacobs R.I.P.
Backstage with Sid Radner
Houdini Day
The Magician and the Parrot


Related:

Friday, August 21, 2020

Houdini gets FACT checked

I recently had the pleasure of appearing on the terrific GO FACT YOURSELF podcast hosted by J. Keith van Straaten and Helen Hong. On the show celebrities are quizzed on a topic in which they say they have special knowledge. In this episode singer, songwriter and Gilmore Girls actor Grant-Lee Phillips selected Houdini. How did he do? Click the link below and have a listen!


Thanks to everyone at GO FACT YOURSELF for letting me be part of the fun. Below are related links to some of the questions tackled in the show.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Houdini and the New Britain mystery stunt (update)


Recently reader Brittany Hart reached out to see if I has any information on a stunt Houdini is said to have performed in her hometown of New Britain, Connecticut. While she could find no information in the local newspaper archives, she points out there's a plaque on the historic Andrews Building commemorating the feat. She was kind enough to send over this image.


It certainly sounds like what Houdini did here was a suspended straitjacket escape. However, I can find no record of an outdoor stunt in New Britain. In fact, the only appearance I have for Houdini in New Britain is a two day stint with the American Gaiety Girls in early March 1896. This was long before Houdini was famous and well before his suspended straitjacket days (not to mention before the Andrews was built). But he did do a handcuff escape at the local New Britain police station.

Houdini performed in nearby Hartford in 1906 and 1926. He also gave charity performances in Westport in 1917 and Southport in 1924. But it doesn't make much sense for him to promote these appearance in New Britain.

However, I did discover that Houdini's The Master Mystery played at the Lyceum Theater in New Britain in December of 1918. This was among the first theaters to show the serial and this was during a time Houdini was on the road making personal appearances. Is it possible he promoted the movie with a suspended straitjacket escape from New Britain's famous 5-story landmark?

Hartford Courant, Dec. 22, 1918

I'm afraid this one has me stumped, so I'm throwing it out there. Can anyone help crack the case of Houdini and the New Britain mystery stunt?

UPDATE: Thanks to our friends Jim Klodzen and Joe Fox, it appears the mystery may be solved, and it's not good news for New Britain nor the Andrews Building.

In 1919 an escape artist calling himself "The Great Luther" toured New England in the wake of Houdini's The Master Mystery, playing theaters that had shown or were showing the serial. Luther advertised himself as a "former assistant to Houdini," but Houdini told Billboard that he had never heard of him.

In February, Luther appeared at the Lyceum Theater in New Britain, which had just played The Master Mystery. On February 23, 1919, he performed a suspended straitjacket escape from the New Britain National Bank Building at 272 Main Street. This is not the same as the Andrews Building which stands at 132 Main Street. But they are on the same block with the Lyceum between them, and as Luther seemed to be doing all he could to be confused with Houdini, it not hard to believe that over time Luther became Houdini in the minds of the citizens of New Britain. At least I think this is the best explanation that we have so far.

Thanks to Brittany Hart for bringing this to our attention in the first place!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

A new and greater hero has arisen

Houdini had an affinity for newsboys, having sold papers himself on the streets of Milwaukee in his youth. He frequently put on free shows for an audience made up entirely of local newsboys. Now, one could be cynical and believe this was just another way he greased the wheels of the press, right down to the boys handing out newspapers on the street. But it's clear from the article below that he greatly enjoyed these shows.

Click to enlarge

This is an account of his performance at Teller's Shubert Theater in Brooklyn on January 30, 1926. As you can see, it features a photo as that's as messianic as the headline. It's rare to see a pic of Houdini inside a theater with his audience. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen a photo quite like this. But what's this about Houdini "learning his famous disappearing girl trick from the celebrated Chinese magician Moo Lo"?

I wonder if any of these these young boys are living centenarians today? If so, please tell us about the day you saw your "new and greater hero."

Related:

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Sherman Grinberg Film Library has something exciting to show us

The Sherman Grinberg Film Library, located in Los Angeles, is the world’s oldest and biggest privately held film archive with over 40 moving image libraries, serving Hollywood and the world film community for more than 75 years. Not long ago Lance Watsky, Manager of Media Archives & Licensing, appeared at the Magic Castle Library with something extraordinary. He had discovered in their collection two reels of high quality 35mm film of Houdini. He was hoping the Castle could help identify exactly what this footage was and whether it would be of interest to magic historians. On the night of the last Houdini Seance, librarian Bill Goodwin showed us "Houdini Nuts" the footage. And what we saw blew our minds!

One reel contains an assemblage of footage that is largely known, but the first generation quality is spectacular! The footage is so clear it actually reveals details that have never been visible before, and allows for precise identification that was never before possible. The second reel contains footage that has NEVER been seen and is truly wild! But I won't reveal what that is just yet.

The original plan was to debut this footage, along with our findings, during a special Magic Castle perk last April called "Houdini Lost & Found." This would have been done in conjunction with the reopening of the Castle's new Houdini Seance Experience. But Covid hit and everything was cancelled. With the prospect of the Castle being closed for the rest of the year, we've decided to make "Houdini Lost & Found" an online "Behind the Bookcase" perk for AMA members. This will happen on Thursday, August 20 at 7:00 PM. Behind the Bookcase can be viewed by AMA members on the Magic Castle website.

The footage will eventually be made available to view online, but details are still being worked out.

So get ready to see something very exciting from Lance Watsky and our friends at the Sherman Grinberg Film Library! Harry can't wait.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Souvenir needles

Recently I had an exchange on YouTube with "Brian H" whose grandfather saw Houdini. I love this kind of stuff! This would have been at Keith's Theater the week of December 11, 1916.

Click to enlarge.

I love the detail that Houdini gave his grandfather two needles. This is the first I've ever heard of Houdini handing out his needles as souvenirs, but what a great idea. And, yes, I told Brian H that if he cared to dig those needles out of his father's box, I'd love to share images here on WILD ABOUT HARRY.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Zabrecky in the Seance Room

This Sunday's Academy of Magical Arts "Behind the Bookcase" will feature the masterful and always spooky Rob Zabrecky with a history of the famous Magic Castle Houdini Seance. We'll also learn details about the NEW Houdini Seance Experience (the launch of which has been delayed by Covid).

SUDDENLY, SUNDAY IS SPOOOOKY 
There’s no question that Rob Zabrecky is versatile. He’s won six AMA awards (did we mention that the Awards Show is coming up on August 23rd?), and performs all over the place. But perhaps the best fit for him has been the Magic Castle® Houdini Séance. Since 2010, Rob has been one of the regular séance mediums, doing hundreds of mesmerizing performances for AMA members and their guests in his ghoulish guise as the "Ghost Host." 

On Sunday, August 16th, at 7:00 p.m. PT, Mr. Z will lift the veil on the Castle’s famous attraction. He’ll discuss the history of the room, regale you with tales of the handful of mediums who have also performed in that strange, dark chamber, and also present a conversation with the longtime resident medium, Leo Kostka. Plus, you’ll learn about the future plans for the room. Hosted by Trustee Jonathan Levit, it will be a fun and memorable evening. Open to all members, by going to www.magiccastle.com, entering the Members Only area, and then clicking into "Live! Behind The Bookcase."

Heads up that this Thursday, August 20, I will be going "Behind the Bookcase" with a VERY special Houdini presentation. I'll post full details soon. (If you follow me on Twitter, you've already seen a tease).

Related:

Friday, August 14, 2020

Burnley Empire rewrites Houdini history

Here's a video of magician and actor Paul Zenon (you might remember Paul from his acclaimed one-man show Linking Rings) discussing this post from last Sunday about Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt. One thing I didn't mention in that post is that the Burnley Empire building still stands!

 

As Paul mentioned, the Burnley Empire Trust is working to preserve this historic theater. To support their efforts and help make a new history for the Burnley Empire, please consider donating to their crowdfunding campaign HERE.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Westminster Bridge jump that wasn't


This is a fantastic photo of Houdini that first appeared online. In fact, I don't believe it has yet to be published in any book. But it's also a somewhat perplexing shot. Have you ever wondered why Houdini is wearing shorts, leg irons, and what look like slippers? It certainly isn't like any other photo of Houdini in a straitjacket. But I recently made a discovery that I believe explains this image, and it's one wild what if!

In August of 1908 Houdini returned to tour Europe after an absence of three years. He was bringing with him new escapes, such as the Milk Can, and his new practice of jumping from bridges handcuffed. He opened in Germany where he drew headlines by jumping off the Friedrichs Bridge in Berlin. When he arrived in London to play the Oxford Music Hall in November, he sought permission to jump from the famous Westminster Bridge. However, the night before the feat, permission was denied by the city commissioner. Furthermore, the police warned that if he "even attempted to carry out the project it would mean imprisonment." Just like New York, London was not a city that was going to allow traffic to be brought to a standstill so Houdini could gain publicity.


Here's where things start to get curious. When the feat was first announced, it was reported that Houdini would be "heavily manacled and encased in a straitjacket." Doing a bridge jump in a straitjacket was not something Houdini ever did. This would have been extremely dangerous. At first I thought the papers had simply gotten this wrong; that Houdini would have done the jump in handcuffs as he did all others. But this is where the above photo comes into play.

Houdini being denied permission to do the jump was also reported in the papers, and all the accounts said he was to have bound in a straitjacket. The Alderley & Wilmslow Advertiser even ran a photo (below). As you can see, this photo was clearly taken at the same time as the more familiar image. So this is why Houdini is in shorts. He's in his standard bridge jump attire!


So was Houdini really going to jump from the Westminster Bridge in a straitjacket? I still find this unlikely. Not only because of the added hazard, but if this was his new concept for bridge jumps, why did he never do it elsewhere? He did a jump in Liverpool just one month later in handcuffs only.

I'm wondering if it's possible that Houdini knew full well London officials would never allow him to jump from the Westminster Bridge, so he exaggerated what he planned to do. Or maybe the newspapers just got it wrong. Ether way, Houdini took advantage of the situation and had photos taken showing him in the impossible manner in which he "intended" to do the stunt. And it worked! With some photos as a sweetener, the papers widely reported the cancelled stunt, and Houdini was able to gain publicity for a stunt he didn't even do.

Pretty smart, Harry.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

10th Anniversary: The Marie Blood book

Ten years ago Greg Edmonds shared with us details of a book he was writing about Marie Blood and her experiences with her uncle Harry and aunt Bess. Greg was very close to Marie in the last years of her life and is well suited to tell her story. You can revisit what Greg had to say below:


TEN YEAR UPDATE: Unfortunately, Greg suffered technical setbacks when his computer crashed, not once but twice, and he lost the manuscript both times. After encountering more obstacles, such as being unable to secure key photos for the book, Greg set the project aside.

Here's hoping Greg picks it back up someday because Marie memories are wonderful and her story is a part of Houdini history that deserves documentation.


Related: 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The best Houdini movie without Houdini


I can't believe I've never blogged about the 1982 movie Death Trap starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve. Based on a hit play by Ira Levin, it features a major nod to Houdini having to do with a pair of handcuffs. In fact, the cuffs are integral to the plot. But I won't say anything more because if you've never seen Death Trap, don't Google it! Just sit down and enjoy one of my all time favorite twisty thrillers. It's the best Houdini movie without Houdini.

Related: 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Confirmed: 'Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt' did exist!


Back in 2010 I went wild for the new book Disappearing Tricks: Silent Film, Houdini, and the New Magic of the Twentieth Century by Matthew Solomon. This excellent book contained several revelations about Houdini's film work, foremost of which was the discovery that something called Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt was shown during Houdini’s March 1906 engagement at Keith’s Theater in Boston. This is significant as it pre-dates his 1907 Rochester bridge jump footage, which Houdini claimed to be his first appearance on film. Also, the idea of film of Houdini and the famous Russian wrestler George Hackenschmidt, a.k.a. "the Russian Lion", was incredibly intriguing. Unfortunately, Solomon was unable to provide any further details.

For ten years I've searched in vain for more information on Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt. I've also searched for confirmation of the Boston screening. Solomon's source was a single notation in an unpublished managers report for the week of March 26, 1906, housed in the Keith/Albee Collection at the University of Iowa Library. Houdini's Boston engagements were very well covered in the newspapers, but I've never been able to find a single mention of any film in any notice for that or any other week.

Doubts began to set in. Was it even a film? Could it have just been a lantern slide? Or maybe it was a parody that had nothing to do with the real Houdini or Hackenschmidt? As the years wore on, evidence for Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt became as nonexistent as evidence of Houdini's "spy work" (ahem). I began to suspect that it never existed, at least not as we imagined. I even cut it from my recent talks on Houdini in cinema.

But all that changed yesterday when I made one of those accidental discoveries that researchers live for!

On March 22, 1905, the Burnley Express reviewed a variety show at the Empire Music Hall in Burnley, England. This was not a show featuring Houdini, who was performing in Paris at this time. The headliner was "Herr Fritz, Illusionist and conjurer," who delighted the audience with tricks that included "the flying lamp" and "catching of gold fish in the audience."

But at the very end of the review is this bombshell:

 
The performance is closed by the Empire Biograph, by which are reproduced "An office boy's revenge" and Houdini extricating himself from manacles placed on him by Hackenschmidt, who appears to enjoy the fun immensely.

There can be no doubt that this is the same film that played in Boston, here playing a year earlier in England. This confirms that it existed, that it was indeed a film, and, most excitingly, it featured Houdini doing an escape at the hands of challenger George Hackenschmidt. Wow!

This also tells us the footage is older than first thought. But how much older? The companion film on the bill, "An Office Boy's Revenge", is from 1903 (it actually has an IMDb page), so the "Empire Biograph" was not exhibiting new films. It's unclear when Houdini first came to know Hackenschmidt, but there are reports of them together in London in 1904. This means Houdini could be in his 20s in this footage. Again, wow!

So it's time to once again get excited about Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt. This is currently the earliest known film footage of Houdini (and likely of George Hackenschmidt). Maybe within the next ten years we can uncover a photo or the film itself. That would be the biggest "wow" of all!

UPDATE: Looks like this post has made news in Burnley!

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Houdini & Doyle streaming free on Crackle

All ten episodes of Houdini & Doyle are now available to stream for FREE on Crackle. The series originally aired in 2016 and stars Michael Weston as Houdini and Stephen Mangan as Conan Doyle.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Houdini and the Omro possession


In March 1926 newspapers reported that an 11-year-old girl name Marie Maybourne from Omro, Wisconsin, appeared to be possessed. In what sounds weirdly similar to the events of The Exorcist (which itself was inspired by a 1949 case), furniture was said to move on its own and voices were heard emanating from the walls. Omro's marshal, James Stead, was unable to explain the strange happenings. A local priest, Rev. William Grace, claimed he heard more than one voice when Marie spoke and sang. On March 29 The Brainerd Daily Dispatch reported:

Houdini, renowned as a ghost chaser, has been asked to come here to look expertly into the mystery and detect, if possible, any hoax.

Houdini was performing his "3 Shows in One" at the Princess Theater in Chicago at this time and had his own spirits to deal with on stage. But he did offer his assessment of the case to reporters. The following appeared in the Kenosha Evening News on April 2, 1926:


Houdini never came to Omro, and a general skepticism seemed to settle over the affair, with Marshall Stead telling the United Press, "These people are carrying this thing too far." After a while the case vanished from the papers and no more was heard about the Omro possession.

Related:

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Escape Quest Houdini

Here's a new French book called Escape Quest: Houdini face au synode by Manuel Rozoy and Willy Dupont. At least I think it's a book! It appears to be some sort of role-playing adventure with Houdini. Whatever it is, I think the cover art is très magnifique.

Purchase Escape Quest: Houdini face au synode at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Related:

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Houdini on The Alienist

Houdini appeared on the TNT original series The Alienist doing a suspended straitjacket escape at the start of season 2, episode 6 ("Memento Mori"). I've not been able to discover who played Houdini. The series is set in New York but shoots in Budapest, as did the Houdini Miniseries. Here are some images.


Let's hope we'll see more Houdini in future episodes! 

The Alienist is available via the TNT app. But if you don't have cable you can see the Houdini scene within the 5 minute episode preview at the TNT website.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Mystifier, Spring 2003

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


The Winter 2003 Mystifier contains only a single article, but it's a good one! Ethel Cohn Schatz, the widow of Dr. Daniel E. Cohn, writes about her husband's memories of treating Houdini during his final illness (Cohn was the hotel doctor at the Statler). It was Cohn who famously brought Houdini Farmers Chop Suey, as Ethel remembers:

Every evening Daniel sat at Houdini's bedside listening to his halting sentences as he reminisced mostly about his childhood. [...] Though he had no appetite for food, he said to Daniel one evening, "I have a yen for Farmers Chop Suey." Farmers Chop Suey is a favorite dish in Jewish homes, consisting of raw vegetables combined with sour cream. Daniel walked over to a nearby delicatessen on Woodward Avenue and bought two portions. As they were eating, Houdini said, "If I die, don't be surprised if phony spiritualists declare a national holiday."

The newsletter also contains a pitch for contributions to the new Houdini exhibit, noting that for a mere $50,000 your name can be added to a marquee beside the Water Torture Cell. I wonder what cell the museum planned to display? If that's too rich, you can get on the Milk Can marquee for a measly $10,000.

Sid Radner writes his "Backstage" column from his home in Florida, saying a magician with the name Hare E. Houdini is performing locally. He also notes that the city of Appleton has issued a 2nd Day cover of the Houdini Stamp. He then solicits ideas for where to hold the 2003 Official Houdini Seance.

In what might be a sign of the growing friction between Sid and the HHC (namely its director Terry Bergen), there is an "Editors Note" at the end of his column informing readers that the Official Houdini Seance is not affiliated with the HHC.

Finally, the newsletter reports that the Michigan Historical Museum displayed the HHC's Magician Among the Spirits exhibit from September 21, 2002 to January 26, 2003 and drew 49,509 visitors.

Mystifier
Volume 13, Number 1
Spring 2003
4 pages

Contents:
Houdini's Last Hours
Backstage with Sid Radner
Michigan Historical Museum


Related:

Monday, August 3, 2020

Houdini fiction blowout II

I'm continuing to thin out my accumulation of Houdini Fiction (novels featuring Houdini as a major or minor character). Below is list of auctions I've posted on eBay. Some of these are new and some are from my first round with a price reduction. So if you enjoy Houdini fiction or need a particular book for your collection, look these over and feel free to bid. Thanks!

Escapade by Walter Satterthwait
NEW The Man From Beyond (proof) by Gabriel Brownstein - SOLD
NEW The Houdini Specter (hardcover) by Daniel Stashower
NEW The Confabulist by Steven Galloway
NEW Nevermore by William Hjortsberg
NEW The Last Illusion by Rhys Bowen
NEW From Death He Departs by Dixie Dooley - SOLD
NEW Coffeyville by C.E.L. Welsh - SOLD

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Five original Houdini glass negatives sell on eBay

A remarkable set of original Houdini glass negatives sold on eBay yesterday. They show Houdini being bound to a chair by young girls ($781.00); Houdini and trumpet medium Annie Benninghofen ($1,150.00); and two photos of Houdini at the South Clark Street courthouse in Chicago ($402.00 and $159.50). The look on Houdini's face in the last photo is priceless! All the images are from 1926 and taken by noted photojournalist Henry Schaefer of Acme Newspictures for the Chicago Herald-Examiner.


But there was actually a fifth negative that the seller had mistakenly identified as being Annie Benninghofen. Nope, that's Houdini! The auction was at only $2 with ten seconds to go and I was hoping to get a bargin. But in the last seconds it shot up to $187.50, so it appears not everyone was fooled.


Don't believe this is Houdini? Check out the below from The Tao of Houdini by Patrick Culliton. This appeared in the Chicago Herald-Examiner.


Related:

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