Wednesday, February 3, 2021

A Houdini doc you've never seen

Houdini: The Man From Beyond is a documentary made and presented by Dan Witkowski of Magiccom that aired on WCCO-TV in Minneapolis-Saint Paul on October 26, 1976 (to mark the 50th anniversary of Houdini's death). Dan sent me this himself, writing: "It is unlikely anyone else has a copy, however, I thought you should have it. You are welcome to do anything you like with it with my good wishes."

So I've decided to share this with everyone as it's really a very well done doc that truly captures a moment in time. It even has the original commercials! But probably the most notable aspect is Dan's interview with the great Walter B. Gibson.

So travel back to October 1976 and discover a Houdini documentary you've (probably) never seen.


You can see more rare documentaries like this at the WILD ABOUT HARRY YouTube Channel.

Thank you Dan!

22 comments:

  1. WALTER B GIBSON! Thanks John

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  2. Thanks for posting this John! For HH scholars it didn't give up anything new, but Dan did a nice job. Couldn't believe Gibson repeated the hole in the ice bridge jump story. This time it happened in Minneapolis! I wonder if he also believed it or was passing it down again to keep the legend going. Strange to see the Niagara Falls scene and now know HH and his leading lady weren't really there.

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    1. I know! I couldn't believe he told that story. Just goes to show knowing Houdini doesn't mean you know Houdini. Gibson also held onto the April 6 Appleton birth into the '70s.

      I'm more interested in the train track escape story he tells. That's one that appears in a few early bios but has never been nailed down. I've sort of dismissed it as mythology, but I sat up when he said it happened in Germany. That could be why we don't have a record of it. So much Germany stuff we don't know!

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    2. Silverman pointed out in his bio that HH was somewhat guarded, even with his inner circle of friends. It's possible he never told Gibson the truth about the ice story. The rope escape on the railroad tracks is definitely interesting and worthy of further research. Sounds like something HH might have tried on his first trip to Germany. It might be in the newspaper digital archives in Germany if it happened.

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    3. HH's true birth place and date didn't finally surface until the early 70s. Have to cut Gibson some slack on this one. It wasn't until that SAM committee nailed it with documents from Budapest. Correct?

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    4. It actually first came to light in 1932. And Gresham had it in his book in 1959. Check out this post. The SAM did their report in 1972, but most had fully accepted it by then. Gibson might have been the last hold out.

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  3. Fantastic! Thanks for sharing, John!

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  4. John, my name is John Lewit and I have an idea that may interest you. 2026 will be the 100th anniversary of Houdini's death. I believe a combined Houdini Club of Wisconsin, IBM, and SAM convention could be the event of the decade. I have contacted members of all 3 organizations. There seemed to be some interest, but this idea needs someone better suited to pursue it than me. You seem like the logical person to spearhead this idea.
    Thoughts???

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    1. Thanks for thinking of me, John! But I'm afraid I don't have the skills to organize an event like this. My own plan for 2026 is to get my book out. But I would certainly like to attend!

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  5. My correct email is Lewitmagic@wi.rr.com not gmaim

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  6. Thank you, Dan, and thank you, John, for sharing this documentary. I really enjoyed it! It's always interesting to see the different approaches one might take in summing up Houdini's life in a short timeframe, and I was fascinated by what was chosen here. I was also intrigued to hear the train track escape story. And I've only heard bits and pieces of "The Shadow" program through the years, but was surprised to hear that Houdini was an inspiration for it. So interesting to listen to Gibson in general, and I was struck by how different the questions might be in 2021 compared to 1976; what Houdini's personality was really like would be foremost in my mind, but of course even today a general TV audience would mostly want to hear about his most notable escapes. In any case, it's a treat to hear a first-hand account of Houdini. Another thing that struck me was the old-time piano music in different segments - it brought to mind some of the music I remember being played in the Niagara Falls Houdini museum. And I suspect Houdini himself would've enjoyed the Wagnerian music from "Die Walkure" accompanying the "fighting the rapids" footage from "The Man From Beyond"!

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    1. Houdini's nickname for Gibson was "Shadow."

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    2. John do we have a source, context, or anecdote about HH calling Walter “Shadow”? That is pretty cool, given that Walter goes on to write The Shadow. (Your book is going to be amazing BTW)

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    3. Hi Tim. You know, I can't remember where I heard this. But it looks like I discovered it in 2014 as I mention it in this post.

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    4. I wonder if the source for the "Shadow" nickname is in Gibson's Original Houdini Scrapbook. Gibson writes about his friendship with HH, driving him around, and so on.

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    5. Good suggestion. I re-read that. Nope. But some great stuff there. The Hugh Deeny story is bizarre. Why would that so unhinge him?

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  7. Didn't the shadow came out in 1931.

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  8. I kinda thrilled to see how popular this post is. It's my second most viewed post of the year, and that's just in one day! I also find I can't stop watching this. Maybe it's just a longing for a simpler past.

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