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.

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10 comments:

  1. Wow! A big thanks to you, Diego, and Jeffery for this letter! The best metaphor I've ever heard for cracking thru the tough shell created by Harry. The last line in the letter had me laughing hard.

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  2. Coconuts are hard to crack! I remember the late Manny Weltman saying after a lifetime of research, he constantly was finding new information.

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  3. I have had this letter for roughly 25yrs. Thank you John Cox for finally bringing it out in the open for others to read. Thank you Diego for making the introduction.

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  4. Wow! I love everything about that letter.
    It also confirms the following:
    Page 119 of “Silverman Notes” mentions: “William Lindsay Gresham was told that HH’s swim was shot in the rapids of some other river. Information supplied to me by Jerome Beatty Jr.”
    Thank you for sharing this treasure.

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    1. Great catch Joe! Nobody can peel off those Houdini onion layers like you. How's that for another metaphor?

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    2. Jefferey and Diego also sent me the letter Beatty sent to Silverman and Silverman's reply. But I decided to just focus on the original Gresham letter here. One cool thing Beatty says is that, as a boy, he "went backstage and met Houdini's elephant, Lucy."

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    3. That's an absolutely fascinating postscript but it was a good idea to post just the Gresham letter. I'm guessing Beatty visited backstage during one of HH's promotional performances for his film The Man From Beyond.

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  5. William Lindsay Gresham's life and writings are a fascinating/enigmatic study. The Lund Museum has fascinating letters he wrote to his friend Robert Lund. If others have Gresham letters they could share, on this website or to us privately, please do. I know there have been relatives of Gresham who read this website, so please share your memories/letters, etc., as well.

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  6. Thanks for sharing this letter! The coconut metaphor is spot on. Can you imagine writing that book back then with such limited research materials and options to go on? He hadn't seen The Grim Game at the time wow!

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    Replies
    1. Yes--Gresham did a good job on his bio given the time period he was born in and the limitations that hampered him. The Grim Game was only seen by a limited few until TCM got it from Larry Weeks.

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