Thursday, September 3, 2020

More trouble for Mysto

Following up on Tuesday's post about Houdini's exposure of Carl Mysto's coffin escape in 1904, our friend Fred Pittella sends over these gems from his collection. This playbill predates the Salford exposure and is almost certainly the work of Houdini.

Click to enlarge.

Poor Mysto. Maybe it's his failed 1902 audition and Houdini calling him "a common bum and a dirty one at that", but I admit I feel sorry for him. I feel like he pulled himself together and came up with good idea with his coffin escape, especially the idea of his hands manacled through the top, and he didn't do anything to warrant its exposure.

But as said on Tuesday, Mysto's skirmishes with Houdini actually brought him publicity and bookings that he wouldn't have otherwise received, and he did go on to have a long career in English Music Halls. In 1922 he even starred in a popular musical comedy show, O.K., in which he played a magician detective named "O.K." In 1930 he renamed himself The Great Neudini.

Thanks to Fred Pittella for the share. Be sure and check out Fred's own website Houdini & Escapes Museum.


  1. Interested in the manacle that could be locked 3 times. Is there any record of what it was?

    1. I'm curious about that myself. Afraid I don't know anything about this. But it's a cool concept.

  2. There is no doubt! Houdini did NOT like competition from any other magician. He constantly "had to outdo them for his own ego as HE always wanted to be #1! We know factually, other performers would use a variation of his name to receive more jobs which we know Houdini would come after them with a vengeance. Also, contractual he would arrange with theatre owners that only HE would perform as a magician in their facilities. To capitalize on the above Harry and Hardeen would perform in the same cities at the same time to promote a rivalry which actually never existed. Indeed, my mentor Houdini took material from other performers, made it his own, claimed to be its originator and attempted to destroy any competitors. As my former friend, "Harry Blackstone(don't call me Jr.)told me at a luncheon, "Benjilini, my father and Houdini were professional rivals on stage but the best of friends off stage." This is enough evidence for me. Benjilini🎩🐰😷

    1. I'd like to see one of these contracts in which Houdini spells out a requirement that he be the only magician on a bill. It may be true, but I've seen examples of Houdini sharing the bill with another magic act, most notably Chung Ling Soo at the Alhambra. But it also doesn't seem like an usual request for a headliner.

      I think a lot of this "Houdini hated competition" lore came from Harry Blackstone (don't call me Jr.) in the documentaries of the 90s. One I recall is him saying Houdini's contract would stipulate that no magician could play a theater for six months before or after him. Again, I'd like to see one of these contracts, because I can find examples of other magicians appearing within these timeframes. And now understanding a bit more about the business of Vaudeville and the United Booking Office, it seems wildly unlikely that Houdini could or would have asked for this.

      I'm also finding occasions where Houdini turned the first act of his 3 Shows in One over to local SAM magicians. So, while, yes, Houdini hated imitators (who crossed the line) and he was highly competitive, he wasn't as unreasonable as some of the lore would have us believe.