Saturday, January 30, 2021

Set of Houdini printing blocks sell (quickly!) on eBay

On Monday there was some excitement on eBay when six original Houdini wood printing blocks appeared from a seller in Florida with relatively low Buy It Now prices (which quickly shot up as they started selling fast!). When the dust settled, I was thrilled to come away with the below.


Wood blocks like these were used in the printing of newspapers and other print media and can be one of a kind. The seller says she found the entire set at an estate sale of a 90+ year-old man. Three of the blocks are etched plates like the above and three are photos on copper. The largest of these is the well-known "Houdini at Different Ages of His Career" page from his pitchbook. Below are the auction images.


While I recognize all these blocks from their newspaper appearances, my own block is a bit of a mystery. While I suspect it was also used in newspapers, the only image I've found so far is the below print in the McCord Museum. Is this the original drawing from which this block was made? You'll notice it has the artist signature. Unfortunately, I can't make it out. [See UPDATES.]

McCord Museum

I would love to more more about printing blocks in general. Were they all one of a kind? How did newspapers acquire them? Would Houdini have provided them himself? If you have any answers, please let me know in the Comments.

Thanks to Todd Karr of The Miracle Factory for giving me the heads up on these!

UPDATE: Chuck Romano of My Magic Uncle tells me the artist here appears to be Howard K. Elcock, an English pen and ink illustrator who did a lot of artwork for Will Goldston's publications. The following is from The Magazine of Magic, February 1915:


UPDATE: Another development. I've just discovered this illustration appears in the "Revised 1920" edition of Houdini's The Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist pitchbook (below). Curiously, the illustration is not in the later "Revised 1922" edition. Instead, the original photograph appears in its place. Maybe he lost the block!


UPDATE: I've now learned these plates came out of the famous 1980 278 estate sale. Also, what the seller told me about these coming from the estate of a 90+ year old man may not be accurate.

Friday, January 29, 2021

'Hurry Up, Houdini' french paperback refresh

Attention completists. A new French edition of 2013's Hurry Up, Houdini by Mary Pope Osborne has been released by Bayard jeunesse. While the French translation was first released in 2014, this refreshed paperback sports new cover art and a slightly different title. Illustrations are by Philippe Masson.

The fictional book tells the story of two kids who set out to discover the secret of Houdini greatness via some time travel magic.

La Cabane Magique, Spectacle de magie avec Houdini can be purchased on Amazon.com or Amazon.fr.

Related:

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Harry Houdini's top hat

Inspired by Andrew Basso's recent acquisition of Houdini's tuxedo collar (my most visited new post of the year so far), here's another cherished piece of Houdini apparel; his top hat! This comes from the collection of John Hinson, the great nephew of Harry and Bess Houdini. The label shows it was made in London.



Despite the classic image of a magician in a top hat, as far as I know Houdini never wore or used a top hat on stage. Looks like his was for use in regular life. Below are two photos of Houdini in a top hat, the first being Paris in 1901 and the second from his movie Haldane of the Secret Service (made in 1921). Could one or both of these be this hat?


So as far as surviving Houdini clothing goes (and not counting straitjackets), I'm currently aware of the tuxedo collar, this top hat, his pajama pocket, and his baby shoes. If you know of anything else, please let us know in the comments below.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Scottish Rite Journal reveals Houdini the Mason

The January-February 2021 issue of Scottish Rite Journal, a magazine devoted to Freemasonry, has a cover story about Houdini's involvement with the Order. "The Sorcerer's Entered Apprentice" is written by Maynard Edwards and is well researched.

I'm not sure where one gets Scottish Rite Journal, but you can read the issue in full at the Scottish Rite website. Just keep it secret!

UPDATE: The author of this article has provided a revised and updated version as a Guest Blog HERE.

HISTORY This Week: Houdini Defies Death

The "HISTORY This Week" podcast celebrates the debut of Houdini's Milk Can escape on January 25, 1908 with an episode about...Houdini! Our pal Joe Posnanski, author of The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini, is the guest. HISTORY hasn't always been kind to Houdini (or history in general), but this is very well done. Enjoy.


Monday, January 25, 2021

The ship(s) from Haldane of the Secret Service

The "Carvania" as seen in Haldane of the Secret Service.

In Houdini's 1923 film, Haldane of the Secret Service, Gladys Leslie's Adele Ormsby travels to Europe via the ocean liner Carvania. Houdini's Heath Haldane, after dealing with some thugs in a warehouse, literally "catches" the ship by grabbing hold of a tow cable and being hoisted aboard. Several scenes then play out on the ship itself.

So what do know we about the Carvania? Well, for starters, it didn't exist. In the movie we get several establishing shots of the ship at a distance. But those shots appear to be the RMS Aquitania

RMS Aquitania (Wikipedia)

The RMS Aquitania was a British ocean liner launched in 1914. Aquitania was the third in Cunard Line's grand trio of express liners and the last surviving four-funnelled ocean liner. After being used as a troop transport and a hospital ship in World War I, she was returned to transatlantic passenger service in 1920, earning the nickname "the Ship Beautiful" from passengers. Houdini captured his shots of the "Ship Beautiful" in 1921.


The Aquitania was retired from service in 1949 as was scrapped the following year. Houdini never sailed on the Aquitania. But he did sail on her sister ship Mauretania in 1920.

While the Aquitania may be the ship we see in Haldane, I recently I found evidence that Houdini used a different vessel to film the scenes aboard the ship itself. The below is from the August 12, 1921 Variety.


This makes it pretty clear Houdini shot his scenes aboard the America. In fact, it appears to be the final "CA" in the name AMERICA can be glimpsed on the lifeboat in this shot from the film.

USS America (Wikipedia)

The SS Amerika was launched in 1905 as part of the Hamburg America Line of Germany. She sailed primarily between Hamburg and New York. On the night of April 14, 1912, Amerika transmitted a wireless message warning about icebergs near the same spot where RMS Titanic would sink less than three hours later. 


At the outset of the war, the Amerika was seized by the United States Shipping Board and became a Navy troop transport with her name Anglicized to America. In 1920, the ship was assigned to the United States Mail Steamship Company and returned to passenger service. Houdini filmed his scenes aboard the ship in August 1921. The America remained in service until 1949. She was sold for scrap in 1957. 

This means we now know the famous photo that Marie Blood used to sign and give out to fans (including yours truly) was taken aboard the America. I wonder if Marie recalled the name of the ship as those years later? If not, it would have been fun to have been able to share it with her. Alas, Marie passed away in 2004.


Finally, I don't know which vessel was used for the stunt in which Heath Haldane is dragged along the side. It certainly appears to be a real stunt using a real ship, but I find it hard to believe any in-use passenger ship would allow this. So it's possible this may have been a third yet identified Haldane ship.


Below are some more locations from Haldane of the Secret Service.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Simon Carmel reveals the story of Houdini and the deaf

You just never know when a whole new area of Houdini's life will be uncovered by some magic historian, and that's exactly what we have in the new book Out of the Magic Cloak by Dr. Simon J. Carmel.

Dr. Carmel is a biographer-historian of 230 deaf magicians from 43 countries. He has produced two earlier works, Silent Magic and Invisible Magic (which includes the biography of deaf escape artist, John Livingston McManima).

In this new book, Dr. Carmel devotes a chapter to "Harry Houdini and the Deaf Magicians." In it he reveals that not only did Houdini perform special shows for the deaf, but he had mastered the British two-handed alphabet for conversing with the deaf. He also met and corresponded with deaf magicians in England, Scotland, and the United States from 1904 through 1920. All new to me!

Dr. Carmel's previous two books are available on Amazon (linked above), but to get Out of the Magic Cloak you'll need to reach out to him at simoncarmel13@aol.com. He is also offering all three books for a discount of $85 (postage included), signed if desired.

"It is my ultimate goal to make sure that deaf magicians will not be overlooked, neglected or forgotten in the history of magic," says Simon.

Related:

Meet Madame Blanche Corelli

Those interested in Houdini's extended family will be interested in the new book, Madame Blanche Corelli: Correspondence with Hall Lippincott January 1931–September 1939 by Cindy Lippincott.

Blanche Corelli (real name Maria Dorothea Herrmann) was the only child of Compars Herrmann of the famous Herrmann magic family. She was also related to Houdini via his father's first marriage (Mayer Samuel's first wife was a first cousin to Blanche's mother, Rosa Csillag.) Like her mother, Blanche had a successful career as an opera singer. She later became a music teacher in Germany.

The book contains correspondence between Blanche and the author's father, Hall Lippincott. While the focuses here is on Blanche's later years in Berlin, the introduction does mention her Houdini connection with a nod to Dean Carnegie's groundbreaking 2011 post at The Magic Detective. Unfortunately, Blanche only makes a few passing mentions of her famous cousin in the letters themselves.

I own a copy of A Magician Among the Spirits that Houdini inscribed to Blanche in 1924. She in turn gave it to Dante in 1939. So I'm excited to add this book to my shelf.

You can add Madame Blanche Corelli to your shelf via Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Related:

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Smitten with Bess


Today is Bess Houdini's birthday. She was born Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner in Brooklyn on January 23, 1876. For the occasion, I thought I'd share this review from the January 7, 1898 Galena Daily Republican. Clearly this reviewer was smitten with Bess! This is when the Houdinis were touring with the California Concert Company medicine show in Kansas. In these early years, Bess did a solo singing act in addition to her role in The Houdinis. Enjoy.


A bonus here is we learn Olivette was one of the songs she would sing.


Happy 145th birthday Bess!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Houdini's final show program at auction

Potter & Potter have posted their February 27 magic auction listings and among the Houdini rarities is a true bombshell! It's an original program for Houdini's "3 Shows in One" at the Garrick Theater in Detroit for the week of October 24, 1926. Of course, this was the final engagement of Houdini's life and October 24 his last show. I've never seen a program for his appearance at the Garrick, so this is pretty wild.


Inside the program there is an ad announcing the week of October 31 as Houdini's final week (confirming Detroit was scheduled as two week run). It's a bit eerie to have the two days, October 24 and October 31, both mentioned prominently in the program.

Other notable lots include: "Houdini's Production Baby" (companion to the doll seen in this photo maybe?), a copy of The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin inscribed by Houdini to his friend Chung Ling Soo (found at last), and Dai Vernon's own mementos of the night he fooled Houdini.

Potter & Potter's Select Secrets: Rare & Important Magicana auction will be held Saturday, February 27, 2021 at 10 AM CST. You can view the full online catalog HERE.

UPDATE: The program sold for $7,200 (including 20% commission) in what was a red hot auction.

Mark Wilson, 1929-2021

Yesterday saw the passing of yet another magic legend, Mark Wilson. Mark Wilson was a big part of my early discovery of magic, appearing in just about every magic magazine I purchased and always on television. In my mind he was the model magician.

Wilson was no stranger to the Magic Castle's Houdini Room. He also created the "Aquarian Illusion," a cross between Houdini's Water Torture Cell and Metamorphosis. You can watch him perform it on the 1981 HBO special Mumbo Jumbo. It's Magic! on YouTube.

It was always a thrill to see Mark, his wife Nani, and son Greg at Magic Castle functions. I never got over the fact that I was in the same room with a legend.

R.I.P. Mark Wilson. One of the greats!

Photo from 'The Original Houdini Scrapbook' by Walter B. Gibson.

Virtual lecture by David Jaher, January 25

David Jaher, author of the superb book, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, will be giving an illustrated virtual lecture this Monday, January 25 at 7pm EST. The event is being hosted by Morbid Anatomy and will be held on Zoom. Cost is $8.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The American Museum of Magic has a fabric King of Cards poster (update)

Magician Franz Harary recently live streamed a tour of the American Museum of Magic's Research Center with Curator Jeffrey Alan. This part of the museum is not open to the general public. Inside are some true treasures, including many Houdini items. You can rewatch the video in full on Facebook.

One thing that stood out for me was an original King of Cards poster made of "fabric". I've never heard of a poster from this era printed on fabric (and would love to be educated). But I can see how it makes sense, especially for a traveling show. This has a Welsh Bros. circus header which dates it as 1898. I'm wondering if this is the same poster that was uncovered by Edward Saint and featured on the cover of Genii in October 1941? As far as surviving King of Cards posters go, this has to be one of the most intriguing.



Several other interesting Houdini items are shown, including the brass pails used to fill the Water Torture Cell with hot water. (I'd love to see these reunited with the cell some day.) Also a file said to have belonged to Bess containing an inscribed cabinet photo of the teenage Ehrich Weiss. The photo was sent to a relative in Budapest who gave it back to the adult Houdini during his visit in 1901.


The American Museum of Magic of located in Marshall, Michigan. The museum is currently open by appointment only. Visit their website for more info.

UPDATE: David Haversat, who certainly knows a thing or two about Houdini posters, provides the following:

This lithograph is not actually printed on cloth. This is a very early preservation of the poster being mounted on a cloth material. It’s much thinner than the linen used today. Depending how they adhered the poster to the material, the poster can appear to become part of the cloth. Some old time preservation materials included an item called Chartex, it utilized heat to bond the poster the this type of gauze. It’s a terrible material in today’s standards, but worked back then. 
There have been recent reproductions of the King of Cards printed on “oil cloth” or silk material on eBay. Those are reproductions. The one in the Lund Museum is authentic, and mounted to old preservation material.

Thank you David!

Related:

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Transatlantic History Ramblings discovers Rose

Our friends at the Transatlantic History Ramblings podcast have devoted an episode to Houdini's favorite spook spy Rose Mackenberg. Joining Lauren Davies and Brian Young is YouTuber Ash Pryce who recently posted a video about Rose on his channel Spooky History. I also join the gang for the discussion...with oranges! So click here and enjoy the fun.

Related:

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

I'm starting to think Houdini isn't always honest with us


There are many examples of Houdini stretching the truth. Claiming to be born in Appleton, being trapped under the ice of a frozen river, etc. But many of Houdini tall tales are in the service of publicity or myth-building and seem somewhat justifiable. But there's no justifying what Houdini is asking us to swallow below!

Boston Globe, October 8, 1922.

Is it at all possible Houdini really didn't notice that his movie characters all share the initials HH? That seems to stretch all credulity. I also never thought Houdini came up with the names himself. I figured it was the screenwriters who initiated the idea with The Grim Game and carried it over to Terror Island. (The Grim Game script actually just calls the character "Houdini" throughout.) Houdini then continued the tradition with his own movies because it is a great wink to the audience.

His audacity here is kind of amusing, but... Come on, Harry. It's us!

Related:

Monday, January 18, 2021

The outlier

Harry Houdini Boy Magician by Kathryn Kilby Borland and Helen Ross Speicher is a book that seems like an outlier in the world of Houdini juvenile biography. Released in 1969, it offered something both familiar and unique. Stylistically it falls somewhere between Scholastic's popular The Great Houdini by Williams & Epstein and Houdini Master of Escape by Lace Kendall. Clocking in at 200 pages, it's a legitimate biography like Epstein. But with its focus on Houdini's early years and narrative style, it offers a Kendall-like reading experience. On top of this are illustrations by Fred. M. Irvin that are as vivid as those soon to appear in illustrated gems like Harry Houdini Master of Magic.

But this could be just be my own personal perception and I discovered this book relatively late in my Houdini education and I remember having trouble reconciling how there could be be yet another Houdini biography? Ha!

Harry Houdini Boy Magician was first published as a hardcover by the Indianapolis-based Bobbs-Merrill Company in November 1969 as part of their popular Childhood of Famous Americans series. The first edition (above) featured a yellow cover with a selection of Fred M. Irvin's artwork. The front boards mirror this same art. The first paperback edition (below), featured the same artwork, but without the color.

First paperback edition back and front.

Harry Houdini Boy Magician went through multiple printings and several different cover designs over the next few years. Below are several of these, some library bound, with variant cover art. Frustratingly, all their copyright pages show the original 1969 publication date, so one can't tell when they were actually released.


Notice the last book features a new title: Harry Houdini Young Magician. This book appears to be from 1974. Until I discovered this, I would have told you the title change came much later. Ironically, the cover nows features a portrait of the old Houdini.

In 1991 Aladdin Books reprinted the Childhood of Famous Americans series including Harry Houdini Young Magician. The Aladdin paperback retains the Fred Irvin illustrations, but now only in black and white. The Aladdin editions also drop the timeline and study aid found in the back of the original hardcovers.


There have been many Aladdin editions and subtle changes in cover art over the years. But, once again, the copyright pages only show the 1991 first paperback printing date, so exactly when each of these variants appeared isn't clear. Oddly, later editions credit the illustrations to co-author Helen Ross Speicher on the cover while still acknowledging Fred M. Irvin inside.


Eh?

Today Harry Houdini Young Magician can still be found in bookstores while Epstein and Kendell have long ago gone out of print. So what started out as an outlier is today the oldest juvenile Houdini biography still available to young readers. So maybe we should call it The Survivor!

Thanks to Arthur Moses for his help and sharing images from his collection.

Other selections from the WILD ABOUT HARRY bookshelf:

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Houdini House Spirit Sets at Fantasma Magic

Roger Dreyer's Fantasma Magic is offering a "Houdini House Spirit Set" by Hektor and Barry Spector. This is the latest creation made from Barry's stock of 278 wood. The sets come in regular and mini sizes. Supplies are limited.


These look well done, but I'm not sure how Houdini would feel about this. He was not a fan of Ouija boards, saying they were "the first step to the insane asylum." If you buy one, maybe you can ask him!

LINK: Memories of George Goebel

There has been a lot of sad news out of the magic world this month with the passing of Las Vegas magic legend Siegfried Fischbacher and sleight of hand master David Roth. But I was not aware that magician and Houdini collector George Goebel also passed away on January 4th. I never had the pleasure of meeting George, but Joe Notaro did in 2018.

Today Joe shares his memories of George on his site Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence. You get a good taste of George's many Houdini treasures and his generosity.

Click here or on the headline to have a read.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Hidden Houdini in Creed II

Last night I was watching Creed II and was excited to spot a hidden Houdini! It happens when Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) comes to see Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) at his bar. As Drago leaves, he motions to the wall and says, "Is good picture." We then cut to this shot at 00:24:17.


We can assume Drago is talking about the photo of Carl Weathers' Apollo Creed, which is in sharp focus. But right beside Apollo is a photo of Houdini! Even out of focus you can see this is the well-known photo of Houdini being playfully restrained by lightweight champion Benny Leonard while heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey winds back for a punch. (Another photo taken at this time shows Houdini refereeing a "bout" between Leonard and Dempsey.) I'm still not sure what this photo is all about nor when it was taken (I've seen 1920), but it's likely this was some kind of a war benefit as we see armed doughboys watching the antics.


Of course, Houdini was a boxer in his youth, so you might say there are three famous boxers in this photo! Worthy of Rocky's wall of fame.

Click the related links below for more hidden Houdinis.

UPDATE: It appears this photo is related to the 1920 New York City Police Field Day Games held on August 21 & 29. Houdini, Dempsey, and Leonard were all present at the event (Houdini did a suspended straitjacket). I also think the men may have served on the games "Athletic Committee", and that is what we are seeing in the photo below. There is still some discrepancy as to the exact day the photos were taken. It's possible they were taken before the games to help promote the event.
 

Thanks to Joe Fox for helping crack the case!
 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Go inside Houdini's 278 via Facebook Live

Andrew Basso's chat today with 278 homeowner Vincent T. was an enormous treat for Houdini fans! We got a great look inside magic's most famous residence, and I think everyone can see for themselves that Houdini's house is in good hands. You can rewatch the stream via the link below.


Can you believe that Vincent and his wife met at Sojourn, which in 1887 was Mrs. Loeffler's boarding house where the Weiss family first lived when they arrived in New York? From Houdini's first home to his last. Now that's wild!

Houdini and Evatima Tardo

The Wellcome Collection website has a fascinating article by Bess Lovejoy about Evatima Tardo, a dime museum performer who allowed herself to be bitten by venomous snakes and appeared impervious to all pain. Houdini gets a nice mention as he once worked "within twelve feet from her" and wrote in Miracle Mongers and Their Methods that he believed Tardo's secret lay in a strategic consumption of milk!

I did some extra digging and discovered Houdini and Tardo worked together at Middleton's Clark Street dime museum in Chicago during the week of March 14, 1898. In addition to the snakes, her act at that time was to be nailed to a cross!

Her story is pretty interesting, so check out The extraordinary body of Evatima Tardo at the Wellcome Collection.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Andrew Basso and 278 homeowner Vincent T. on Facebook Live tomorrow

Andrew Basso, World Champion Escape Artist and proud new owner of Houdini's tuxedo collar, continues his Facebook Live Houdini odyssey tomorrow, January 15, by chatting with 278 homeowner Vincent T. Their talk starts at 9:30 AM PST and questions are welcome.


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