Thursday, November 26, 2020

Illustrated gems

Harry Houdini Master of Magic by Robert Kraske was released in 1973 by Garrard Publishing Company as part of their "Americans All" series. Aimed at young readers, it's a serviceable biography running 94 pages. When I first discovered this book in my Junior High school library, I had already read Kellock, Epstein, Gresham, and Christopher. So I knew the story. But this book still captivated me as it offered up an electric new experience. Illustrations!


Thanks to the artwork by Victor Mays, here I could finally see seminal moments of Houdini's life (and mythology) that I had only read about in other books. Here was Ehrich Prince of the Air on his backyard trapeze; the Brothers Houdini performing metamorphosis on a side show platform; young Ehrich pouring coins into his mother's lap; Houdini tied to horse; and the infamous dressing room punch, accurately depicted with Houdini laying on his cot. And that beautiful frontispiece! I was obsessed with this book, and I can't tell you how many times I checked it out, or just ducked into the library during lunch to soak in these images once again. 


The Garrard edition of Harry Houdini Master of Magic was only available to school libraries, which made it all the more precious. A paperback edition was released by Scholastic and remains in print today. But it lacks the Victor Mays illustrations! It was not until the 1990s and the coming of eBay that I was finally able to land a copy of the hardcover for myself. 

The non-illustrated paperback editions of Kraske.

Another book that gave me the same jolt as Kraske was Escape King: The Story of Harry Houdini (1975) by John Ernst with illustrations by Ray Abel. The author is the grandson of Bernard M.L. Ernst, Houdini personal lawyer, and according to the jacket blurb, he grew up "hearing many stories about the magician." So that in itself makes this is a pretty interesting piece of Houdniana!


Escape King's illustrations are pen and ink, so a very different style from the more realistic images in Kraske. But they still pack the same wallop. Here we see the vanishing elephant and the Siberian Transport Prison Van. And finally someone had to nerve to draw Houdini in the nude! Escape King was released in hardcover and paperback by Prentice-Hall.


Two more standouts from this era are The Great Houdini (1977) by Anne Edwards with illustrations by Joseph Ciardiello, and the harder to find The Great Escaper (1978) by David Warren with illustrations by Annabel Large. Large's illustration are full color beauties! Ciardiello's illustrations are pen and ink similar to Escape King. While most are taken from actual photos, the final two-page image of Houdini in all his full evening show glory is a joy.


[If you're wondering why I'm not including The Great Houdini by Williams & Epstein, it's because I consider that a text biography rather than a book driven by illustrations. Likewise with Harry Houdini Boy Magician by Borland & Speicher, which I plan to devote a standalone post.]

The 1990s and 2000s saw many new illustrated Houdini books featuring the artwork of Allan Eitzen, Anne Reas, Leonid Gore, Rick Geary, Eric Valasque, Nick Bertozzi, Matt Collins, John Mantha, Chris Lane, Pat Kinsell, Betty Raskin, Bill Farnsworth, and more. I suspect some of these books packed the same visual punch that the books of '70s did for me.


Did you have a favorite illustrated Houdini book? Let us know in the comments below.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

Other selections from the WILD ABOUT HARRY bookshelf:

13 comments:

  1. Happy Thanksgiving John! The 1989 book, Great Mysteries HOUDINI by Laura Alden illustrated by Betty Raskin also has some great B&W and color illustrations.

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    1. Oh, gosh, you're right. I could have added that one to my pic. There's also a very slim little booklet called "Houdini Master of Escape" by Michael Teitelbaum with illustrations by Bill Farnsworth that I forgot (but I didn't want to redo the photo).

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    2. I'm so tempted to redo it now with those two missing books. But once I take these off the shelf they are so hard to put back. I don't know their dates at a glance the way I do others!

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  2. I have a small (4" x 7") soft-cover Houdini booklet on my shelf, that is entirely illustrated in black & white comic-book fashion.

    Divided into 4 chapters. Also includes a 6 page Houdini QUIZ.

    Simply titled: "Houdini".

    Academic Industries, Inc. 1984.
    Pocket Classics Biography #B3.

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    1. That's actually in the photo above -- green cover, middle row, far right. It was reprinted in 2008 and that's the one I snatched down from the shelf, although I have the small '84 edition as well. Great illustrations, btw.

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  3. The cover shows Houdini with a dove.
    Was he a dove worker too? Are there any performance photographs of a Houdini dove act?

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    1. There is a late publicity photo of Houdini holding a rooster, two rabbits, and three doves perched on his shoulders and head. I don't if this means he worked with doves in his 3 Shows in One, but the pic suggests that he may have.

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    2. The dove act was created around the late 1930s to early 40s by a Mexican magician named Cantu. Channing Pollock followed his act a few years later with his own dove productions. The illustrator of that book took a creative liberty for the cover and presented Harry as a dove worker who produced the birds from silk scarves as Pollock and Lance Burton did. That never happened.

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  4. We know Houdini used the "🐓" handed down to him from Jack Gwynne and later used by Hardeen. This "Rooster" had a long life and lived if my memory serves me correctly about 30-35years🤗

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  5. John, I wonder what you think about my book, "Benjilini on Houdini" which was published in 1994 and was sold out as a limited editon of 300 copies back in 1994? Benjilini🎩🐰😷

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    1. Oh, I love it! I often turn to my "Benjilini on Houdini" (#0151) when seeking specific info on the family. It was from your book that I first learned Gladys and Leo were buried in the Machpelah plot. It's also a gem. :)

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  6. fyi - The first magician credited with doing a "Dove Act" (i.e. magically producing doves - as depicted on the original book's cover)...is credited to (Abraham J.) "CANTU", circa 1930's.

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