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!


  1. Nice catch on that Heritage Auctions legal statement! Important information can flow thru auction papers. Don't think the guy in the Haldane still photo is Kukol. Franz had a prominent nose that hooks at the bottom, and a long chin a bit like Jay Leno. This Haldane fellow has neither of those features. Kukol is definitely in HH's inner circle by 1924, I'd love to see a photo of Franz at this juncture but so far nothing definitive yet.

    1. Until the Sherman-Grinberg footage, I thought he looked too young. But now not so much so. Pat says to study his movements. He also notes he's always to the right of Houdini, which was Franz's place. He makes a case.

    2. Look at THIS GUY. This is from the 1926 Worcester pool test pics. I feel like he's a good match for the older Franz. And he does appear to be assisting HH. I don't know.

    3. Yup--THAT GUY does look like a good match for the older Kukol. The nose and chin and shape of his face are a close match.

  2. This is absolutely fantastic!

  3. I'm not so convinced about the signature. The F in the first one looks like it is was drawn in 3 strokes: vertical line, upper crossbar, lower crossbar. The F in the second one looks like 2 stokes: upper crossbar looping down into the vertical, then the lower crossbar. Also, his "a" and "n" are quite different--notice how open the top of "a" in "Frank" is, and how much more spread out Franz's "n" is.

    1. dang, the "preview" function didn't work, so I failed to catch my superfluous verb before posting.

    2. Or that I typed "stokes" instead of "strokes" in one case!


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