Thursday, December 31, 2020

December 2020 in review

Here's a rundown of posts by category that appeared on WILD ABOUT HARRY in December. 

Most Viewed Post
"Like trying to chew your way into a coconut"

Houdini History

Tomorrow kicks off another year of WILD ABOUT HARRY with a post all about 1921, a year Houdini devoted himself to movie making. So hang on tight. Houdini, Howard Hillary, and Heath Haldane are on the way!


Saturday, December 26, 2020

Fire at the Houdini Estate in Laurel Canyon

I'm taking a break from my break to share news of a fire that broke out in a shed on the Houdini Estate in Laurel Canyon on Christmas night. Luckily, it sounds like the fire did not reach the house itself. The below comes from KABC Eyewitness News.

The fire started just after 8 p.m. in a shed behind the house in the 2400 block of N. Laurel Canyon Blvd., which was once home to legendary illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini. 

Over 100 firefighters responded while helicopters performed water drops. 

Crews say they were helped by the wind which pushed the flames into a small area of brush. 

The fire was fully contained in about an hour. 

Fire in this area is no joke. In 1959 a massive brush fire destroyed the original mansion that stood on this property along with many homes. For a full history of Houdini's connection to the property check out this post.

Thanks to Mark Willoughby for the alert.

UPDATE: Below is some video of the action.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

2020 in the bag

It's time for me to take my year end break and put 2020 in the bag. While Covid made this a year most would like to forget, it was still a pretty great year for Houdini! Have a safe and happy holiday season. I will see you all in 2021 for what I expect will be a better year for the world and another WILD year for Harry.

2020 in Review:
January (29 posts)
February (25 posts)
March (27 posts)
April (29 posts)
May (29 posts)
June (25 posts)
July (29 posts)
August (23 posts)
September (30 posts)
October (31 posts)
November (27 post)

Most Viewed Post of 2020

Chronology year end update

Has it really been another year?

Well, my plans to consult some outside archives and collections in 2020 sure didn't happen! But a year of Covid-19 lockdowns did not stop progress on my Houdini Chronology, which I'm happy to report continues to grow and grow. Also expanding is my ambition as far as a future book is concerned. I'm now beginning to envision the chronology as part of a much larger work -- the Houdini book of my dreams. But there's still work to be done. 

In the meantime, I'm always happy to provide assistance to serious researchers who are looking to locate Houdini in a specific time and place. Chances are I have what you need. Contact me.

Have a safe and happy holiday season. I'll see you all in 2021!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Bess Houdini P.C.A.M. show poster

A terrific poster for "Mrs. Harry Houdini and America's Most Famous Magicians in The Greatest Magic Show Ever Presented" sold on eBay today for $261.99. If this poster looks familiar, that's because it appears in Walter B. Gibson's The Original Houdini Scrapbook (page 197). But there it's in black and white. Here we see it in glorious color!

This show was part of the 5th annual P.C.A.M. (Pacific Coast Associations of Magicians) Convention in Reno, Nevada in 1937. Bessie was a regular attendee at P.C.A.M. gatherings and typically the guest of honor. On this occasion she was presented with the keys to the city by Mayor John A. Copper and crowned "Queen of Magic" by P.C.A.M. president Caryl Fleming. Below is an excerpt from the July 19, 1937 Reno Gazette that covered her arrival in "The Biggest Little City in the World".

The Reno Gazette also covered the show, running the below photo of magician Bob Stull doing the "Shooting a Ribbon Thru Girl" illusion that would later be seen in Houdini (1953). 

According to a report in Genii, Bess didn't actually performed in the show. Instead she was introduced and gave a short speech, noting: "I did the substitution trick for your grandfathers."

Ben Affleck set to slip on Houdini's shackles?

For the second time in a week The Hollywood Reporter has revealed the existence of a (new?) Houdini project, this time with Ben Affleck attached as the Handcuff King. In a profile of Jeff Robinov, a former Warner Bros. executive turned producer, it lists his current projects: 

About six months ago, the 61-year-old Robinov started setting up scores of his Studio 8 projects around town, including Black, an adaptation of the Black Mask comic series, at Warners, the family comedy Adulting at Sony and a pair of Ben Affleck star vehicles — Houdini at Disney (with Black Mirror's Dan Trachtenberg directing) and the Robert Rodriguez-helmed thriller Hypnotic at Solstice Studios.

Last I heard Dan Trachtenberg was attached to direct the long in the works movie based on Bill Kalush's book, The Secret Life of Houdini. That project has moved from Summit to Lionsgate and now sounds like it's at Disney?

As with all the other Houdini projects percolating in Hollywood, we'll wait and see. But I'd be fine with Bendini.

UPDATE: Slashfilm reports that Affleck's role is actually not that of Houdini:
THR says this Houdini movie will be a "star vehicle" for Affleck, but we’ve heard that the actor won’t be playing Houdini himself. Instead, Affleck will play a supporting character who is some kind of agent.

10th Anniversary: Bessie on the backlot

It was 10 years ago that I embarked on a little Hollywood archeology in search of the exact spot seen in a photo of Bess Houdini at Paramount studios in the 1930s. Did I find it? Click the link below and find out.

UPDATE: The photo above surfaced in recent years and is the second taken during Bessie's visit that I've seen. I also now know the year was 1935. Of course, Paramount is still there and so is this spot. My theory of its location still holds as far as I can tell. This was among my first Houdini archeological jaunts and has become a favorite thing to do!

With this I'm closing out my year long look back at the 10th Anniversary of WILD ABOUT HARRY. I hope you've enjoyed revisiting some of these past posts.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Houdini & David Copperfield OIA Induction (video)

If you missed the livestream of the Houdini and David Copperfield induction into The National Museum of American Jewish History's Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame, don't fret! Below you can rewatch the entire event via the museum's YouTube. Enjoy.

Congratulations to David Copperfield and all participants: Brad Garrett, Lucy Darling (a.k.a. Carisa Hendrix), Asi Wind, Jeff and Debbie Blood, George Hardeen, and all the good folks at the NMAJH. And congratulations to Houdini of course!

Let me know what you thought of the show in the comments below.

UPDATE: The NMAJH sent out a final event email thanking viewers and saying the event was seen by over 42,000 people and raised more than $750,000…and counting! They also including the following:

Saturday, December 12, 2020

How to watch today's Houdini-David Copperfield event and get the poster

The National Museum of American Jewish History will simultaneously induct Houdini and David Copperfield into their Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame TODAY at 5 PM PST / 8 PM EST. Below are links where you can watch the special livestream event:

For those who have been drooling over the fantastic artwork created for the event, know you can get one of 250 limited edition posters for a donation of just $25, or a poster signed by David Copperfield for $100. Go to the Tiltify Event Page and click the "Rewards" tab for this and other special offers.

The Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame recognizes the achievements and contributions of American Jews who have significantly impacted American society and culture. Past inductees include: Golda Meir, Albert Einstein, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barbra Streisand, Irving Berlin, Emma Lazarus, and Steven Spielberg.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Hang Houdini on your Christmas tree

I recently purchased one of these 3D printed Houdini Christmas Ornaments from BurgerBearShop on Etsy. I love it! Below is a pic of the ornament it on my tree. The bow-tie comes in various colors. This is not an ad. Just a shout out from a satisfied customer. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

"Like trying to chew your way into a coconut"

Here's a wonderful letter from noted novelist William Lindsay Gresham, who we know as the author of Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls, the first major post-Harold Kellock Houdini biography. This letter comes courtesy of Jeffery Pratt Gordon who runs the website Johnny Eck Museum.

Click to enlarge.

There's a lot to like here. It's interesting, but maybe not surprising, that Gresham had not seen The Grim Game when he wrote his book. It's also interesting that he mentions the stand-in river shoot for The Man From Beyond, which was identified just this year. But my favorite part of the entire letter is this:

"But finding out the truth about a legend builder like Houdini is like trying to chew your way into a coconut. The husk of fiction is very solid and hard to penetrate."

I think this is the single best description of what all Houdini fans face, and what we've been doing here at WILD ABOUT HARRY for the past ten years. Chewing our way into the coconut! And while I sense some defeatism on the part of Gresham, I think we are now well into that coconut and tasting some of the sweet rewards within. (Okay, so I'm no William Lindsay Gresham when it comes to metaphors.)

Thanks to Jeffery Pratt Gordon for sharing this wonderful letter and to fellow coconut chewer Diego Domingo for providing the introduction.


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Johnny Depp won't be Houdini...again

For many years it's been rumored that Johnny Depp was interested in playing Houdini. He's been reported as attached to various Houdini projects, all of which have never materialized. Now The Hollywood Reporter has a lengthy profile about the actor's recent troubles, and in it it says he's been dropped from a "prestige Harry Houdini TV project" to be produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. This is the first I've heard of this project! Below are the relevant paragraphs:

In the ensuing days, Warner Bros. excised him from its Fantastic Beasts franchise — a firing that played out publicly — while sources tell THR that he is no longer involved with a prestige Harry Houdini TV project produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, his most powerful remaining ally. 

Insiders say Depp's relationship with Bruckheimer has frayed in recent months. Sources say the actor was poised to play the iconic illusionist Harry Houdini in a Bruckheimer-produced high-end production, offering a career jump-start after multiple pricey bombs [...]. The Houdini series, which had not yet found a home, would mark Depp's first foray into TV since his 21 Jump Street days.

It's been a while since we've gotten news of a new Houdini project from Hollywood. But if ten years of this blog as taught us anything, it's that the vast majority of these come to nothing. So we'll see if this Bruckheimer TV project resurrects with a new Harry. Let's just hope it's not Houdini the spy! But I bet it is.

Spooky History uncovers Houdini's Top Spy

The YouTube channel Spooky History has a terrific profile of Houdini's top spook spy Rose Mackenberg. We love Rose! Enjoy.

For more Rose check out the links below.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Linking Ring reveals Houdini's Chattanooga debacle

The December 2020 issue of The Linking Ring features an article by yours truly about "Houdini and the Chattanooga Debacle." This is the same deep dive I posted here, but with some updates and new images.

I'm honored that The Linking Ring's executive editor Sammy Smith has invited me to submit occasional Houdini-related articles from WAH to his magazine. So if you have a favorite post that you'd like to see in print, please let me know!

The Linking Ring is the official magazine of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM). You can join the IBM and receive the magazine via their official website.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Franz and Frank

For many years the great Patrick Culliton, a.k.a. Houdini's Ghost, has expressed his belief that Houdini's first chief assistant Franz Kukol did not leave Houdini's employment in 1914 to go fight for his native Austria during World War I, as was reported by newspapers at that time (some saying Houdini dismissed him because of his nationality). Patrick believes Houdini helped Franz "disappear" by fabricating the story and changing his name to Frank Williamson. As Williamson, Franz continued to assist Houdini for the remainder of his career.

As evidence, Patrick cites a letter written by Houdini in September 1924 to the Roosevelt Memorial Association. This is ten years after Kukol's supposed dismissal, yet in the letter Houdini states:

Mr. Frank Kukol will call you personally and give you further details about the group photographs in question.

This is pretty solid proof that Kukol is still around and going by the name of Frank in 1924. So he either never went to war or had returned. So this part of Pat's theory is, to my mind, confirmed.

But what evidence do we have that he became Frank Williamson? There are plenty of people named Frank in the world, and the 1924 letter still calls him Kukol. This part of Pat's theory had remained unconfirmed for me. But now a document has surfaced that that I believe provides the proof!

The above legal statement witnessed and signed by a collection of Houdini associates sold yesterday at Heritage Auctions for a healthy $718 (including buyers premium). It relates to Houdini's lawsuit with medium Arthur McNally in March 1926. The document is interesting in itself, but what caught my eye is that one of the 11 signatures is Frank Williamson (who gives his address as 38 Marcy Place, NYC).

I checked Williamson's signature against some known signatures of Franz Kukol. It you put them together, the similarities are striking! Especially the "F" and "r" in both names.

This is petty good evidence that Franz and Frank are indeed the same man. So I'm now happy to accept this second part of Patrick's theory. Franz Kukol became Frank Williamson.

The third part of Pat's theory is his identification of the man below as Frank/Franz. This man shows up in many photos assisting Houdini and is even in Haldane of the Secret Service. He's most clearly seen in the famous monk rope tie footage shot on the Haldane set in 1921. Thanks to the recently uncovered Sherman Grinberg footage, we can now see his features in detail.

I admit I'm still struggling to see Franz in this man, so I'm not yet 100% convinced of this last part of Patrick's theory. But the way things are going, I will not be surprised when we find evidence that proves Patrick correct once again. Because he's not just "Houdini's Ghost." He's also Franz!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

"A level of trickery not seen since Houdini" [fart]

You don't have to watch this too far in for the Houdini reference. But it's all pretty funny (and horrifying).

Thanks to Adam Steinfeld for the alert.

More SNL Houdini nods below.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Jade Bird describes being caught by 'Houdini'

Houdini continues to inspire musicians; the latest being Jade Bird who has just released a single called, you guessed it, Houdini. There are so many songs called "Houdini" that I normally don't cover them unless they are specifically about Houdini himself. But I just discovered the following at the website The Boot in which Jade explains her Houdini connection.

I’d stumbled across "Houdini" in a song a while ago and was obsessed with the word. My writing often revolves around words, and although I had the word, I never quite had the concept. 

A little later, when I was beginning to write my second record, I was renting a house in the mountains in upstate New York and saw this weird, framed picture with a sort of strange, upside-down man that I realised was Houdini. It really caught my imagination, and as I was writing, I came up with the idea that Houdini was a metaphor for all the people, especially the male figures, in my earlier life who came and went, without warning. 

It's interesting how she relates to Houdini as a "word" instead of a name. I'm also intrigued by this house in upstate New York with a Houdini photo hanging inside.

Anyway, here's Houdini by Jade Bird.

Houdini's Night With the Spirits?

Here's a discovery that initially had me very excited. We know Houdini did spiritualist exposure shows very early and very late in his career. But here's one from mid career, 1911!

Chester Times, December 8, 1911

Unfortunately, my Houdini chronology tells us this can't be the real Houdini. Houdini was performing at the Keith's Theater in Columbus, Ohio, all this week. On this very night, December 8, he accepted a challenge from the Lazarus Company to escaped from a packing crate. (The original challenge playbill is in the Fred Pittella collection.) 

It's 466 miles between these two cities and even today it's a 12 hour train ride. So it appears this is someone using Houdini's name, or someone using a Houdini-like name that the newspaper misconstrued. But it's still a strange coincidence that it foretells Houdini's future performances and spirit lectures. And it sounds like a good show!

And if this is Houdini performing in two places at the same time...well, we would have all the proof of the supernatural we need!

Friday, December 4, 2020

Did Houdini really escape a packing case made from Titanic's timber?

It's part of Houdini lore that he escaped from a packing case made of wood used for the construction of the ill-fated Titanic. The idea of linking these two icons of the early 20th century is irresistible. But is it true? Let's dive in and find out.

The story of the Titanic packing case challenge appears to have its origins in Harold Kellock's Houdini His Life Story (1928), which is bad start for any investigation. As we know, Kellock is notorious for pushing and creating Houdini mythology. And on page 205 we find:

One of the toughest challenges was in Belfast, Ireland, where employees of the Harland and Wolff shipyards nailed up Houdini in a chest made of the timber which was being used in the construction of the Titanic. Houdini slipped out in a few minutes, leaving the chest intact, and added Ireland to his list of conquests.

Strangely, the Titanic packing crate challenge doesn't get mentioned in most of the major Houdini biographies. This doesn't bode well for its legitimacy. Then in 2017 the old story got a fresh twist when The Irish News ran a story about the escape, saying it was made underwater!

They built a huge packing case around him, interestingly when they were building the Titanic at the time, and used wood from the Titanic to build this case. It was lowered under the water at Donegall Quay and he had to escape.

This would pre-date Houdini's first known overboard box escape in New York in 1912 (the year Titanic sank) and, if true, would be a game changer indeed! However, the article identifies the source as "his wife memories", meaning Kellock, and the idea that it was an underwater escape appears to be an assumption that all of Houdini's packing case escapes were done this way. But Houdini's challenge packing case escapes were done on stage.

Happily, the facts are not hard to nail down if we turn to primary sources, namely newspapers. It turns out Houdini did indeed accept a challenge from Harland and Wolff on January 29, 1909 during his one and only engagement in Belfast. It was billed as the "Queen’s Island Challenge" and took place on the stage of the Royal Hippodrome Theater. The challenge was well advertised and a full account of the escape appeared in the Irish News and Belfast Morning News the following day:

I love how Houdini poured on the theatrics at the close of the escape: "He attempted to speak: but his voice failed him, and he tottered rather than walked to the wings, and disappeared from view." But notice how this article doesn't say anything about the lumber coming from Titanic. But why would it? Titanic was not yet famous, and according to Wikipedia, Harland and Wolff began construction of Titanic on March 31, 1909, two months after this challenge.

Harland and Wolff had laid the keel for Titanic’s sister ship Olympic by this time. The two ships were famously built side by side. So it would seem more likely this lumber was from Olympic. That is if the lumber came from any ship at all. Again, no newspaper (that I've seen) reported this particular aspect of the escape.

But just when I thought the famous Titanic wood might be all wet, our friend Joe Fox uncovered an intriguing item in the August 1957 MUM that offers up an eyewitness to the events of January 29, 1909.

Okay, so this mystery man doesn't refute the idea that the lumber came from Titanic (although "left over" it certainly wasn't). And while we know Titanic's keel wasn't laid until March 1909, this doesn't mean the wood for the job wasn't already onsite. So, yes, I can see a scenario in which lumber earmarked for the soon to rise Titanic was sent to the Royal Hippodrome that evening. I think the above article gives us permission to believe it (with some careful qualifiers). And it just sounds so good!

What do you think? Was this wood from Titanic, Olympic, or Houdini's own workshop? Feel free to build your own case in the comments below.

Thanks to Joe Fox for kicking off this investigation and for Joe Notaro for uncovering the 2017 article.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

278 bathtub finds a home at Tannen's Magic

Last Sunday saw the final episode of the Magic Collectors' Corner (for this year). These weekly ZOOM conferences presented by David Sandy and Lance Rich have been a great gift to the magic world in these days of lockdowns. Sunday's finale a standout show all about Tannen's magic store in New York city. A highlight was the surprise participation of David Copperfield, who has a full re-creation of the original Tannen's in his Las Vegas museum.

Another surprise was the revelation that one of the bathtubs from Houdini's 278 now resides in Tannen's current store. This is the tub that went up for auction in July and is believed to have come from Bessie's bathroom. (Two other tubs are owned by David Copperfield and collector Michael Mitnick). Below is an image of the tub from Tannen's Instagram. The store also has a gigantic elephant puppet named Jennie, of course!

So when in NYC, go check out the Houdini tub! Tannen's is located at 45 W 34th St #608, New York, NY. Also visit their newly designed website at

You can rewatch all the Magic Collectors' Corner episodes on Facebook. Thanks again to David and Lance, seen below with the second most famous plane in magic.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Houdini and Copperfield 'Only in America' event December 12

The National Museum of American Jewish History is going all out in promoting their upcoming Only in America livestream event which sees Houdini and David Copperfield simultaneously inducted into their Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame. They've created beautiful original artwork for the event (above), and are sharing Houdini factoids and quotes across their social media. You can also sign up to receive the latest updates by email.

The event will be live streamed December 12 at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT on Facebook, YouTube, and the Museum's website. This event is FREE and open to the public. David will accept his honor from his Las Vegas Museum where he will also present Houdini's award. I'm proud to say I had a hand in helping shape the Houdini presentation.

So watch this page or sign up for latest updates, and I'll see you all on December 12!

The Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame recognizes the achievements and contributions of American Jews who have significantly impacted American society and culture. The inductees embody hard work and aspiration, courage and imagination, leadership and service.

WIN all three Young Houdini books

The website SATs Companion is running a competition to win all three Young Houdini books by Simon Nicholson. The series was released from 2015 to 2016. The third book, The Silent Assassin, was only released in the UK.

We’re giving you the opportunity to win all three ‘Young Houdini’ books for your class, school or home library! Filled with action and engaging storylines, this series is perfect for adventure loving readers! From mystery and puzzles to danger and tricks, Young Houdini is a great addition to your home or school library! If you’d like to win simply answer the question below and leave your details before the competition closes at 11pm on Friday 18th December.