Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Stuart Damon dies at age 84

Actor Stuart Damon has died at age 84. While Damon is best known for his roles on TV's General Hospital and The Champions, we know him as Houdini in the 1966 London stage musical Man of Magic.

You can read more about the life and career of Stuart Damon HERE. Check out the below links for more about Man of Magic.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Jim Steranko shares his early Houdini comic strip

The website The Drawings of Steranko has shared a series of biographical Houdini comic strips that artist, writer, and one time escape artist Jim Steranko created for his high school newspaper in 1955. These are really terrific. Click the link below and enjoy.

Thanks to Genii publisher Richard Kaufman for the alert.


Monday, June 28, 2021

The auto chassis challenge

Here's a little-known challenge that Houdini accepted at Keith's Theater in Philadelphia on January 18, 1912. This was part of "Challenge Week" at Keith's in which Houdini accepted a different challenge every night. I'll let this clipping tell the tale.

Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 19, 1912.

Thanks to our friend David Charvet (who knows vintage cars as well and he knows magic), here's a look at a Marmon "Thirty-Two" motorcar. Now if could only see a photo from this challenge!

Below are some more Houdini automotive adventures.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Houdini Kitchen Laboratory in Queens is no more

It appears the Houdini Kitchen Laboratory in Ridgwood, Queens, has closed permanently. According to Bushwick Daily, a new pizzeria called Pan will take its place. 

Houdini Kitchen Laboratory opened in 2013 not far from the site of Houdini's grave. Having lunch their before or after a visit to the cemetery made for a nice day in Queens, which is what I did with fellow Houdini nuts Colleen Bak, Fred Pittella, and David Jaher during my visit in 2017.

I'm sad to see it go. However, the second Houdini Pizza Laboratory in still going strong in Fanwood, New Jersey.


Friday, June 25, 2021

Large '3 Shows in One' poster sells at Potter auction

A large banner poster for Houdini's "3 Shows in One" sold in Potter & Potter's latest magic auction over the weekend for $3,360.00 (including premium). The poster measures 42 ¼ x 108 ¾ and dates to 1925. This is a poster I have seen before. But I'm unsure if this is that same one or a second example. Hey, if you have the space!

The auction had many Houdini ratites all of which sold for high prices. Despite being heavily restored, this untypical playbill for Houdini in Harrisburg beat the $500-$1000 estimate and sold for $5,040.00. I was a surprised to see this fetch more than the 3 Shows in One poster!

Two standouts for me were a 1907 Hardeen Christmas card ($450) and a Houdini luggage label ($1,440), both of which I've not seen before. The auction dated the label as 1920, but the reference to locks makes me wonder if it could be earlier.

As always, congrats to the winners!

Below you can see a few more examples of "3 Shows in One" posters.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

LINK: Hou do you mean?

Okay, this is a non story from tabloid rag The Sun, but...Houdini. And not to be dragged into this, but I think it's fine Ferdinand used Houdini's name instead of Nostradamus. I predict more people will recognize Houdini. Anyway, click below if you dare.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Meet George Hardeen this Friday in Page, Arizona

Houdini's grandnephew George Hardeen will be speaking at the Canyon Club Friday Night Community Social in Page, Arizona, this Friday, June 25 at 6:00 PM. George will share knowledge of his Uncle Harry and grandfather Theo Hardeen. The event will be held at the Courtyard by Marriott at 600 Clubhouse Dr. and is free.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

"Sherlock Holmes Eclipsed"

Here's an advertisement for Houdini at the People's Palace in Halifax (UK) on October 16, 1902. It's a standard basket challenge announcement. But what I find interesting is the tag-line: "Sherlock Holmes Eclipsed."

I'm not sure how to interpret this. Is this saying Houdini is like Sherlock Holmes only better? Or is it saying that Houdini would fool even Sherlock Holmes? Whichever the case, this is nice reflection on the popularity for Sherlock Holmes at this time. Conan Doyle's classic The Hound of the Baskervilles had been released in book form that year and marked a return after an eight year hiatus for the great detective. Holmes was hot. And so was Harry!

Halifax Evening Courier, October 16, 1902.

If you're wondering, Houdini escaped the basket in three minutes. Elementary.


Monday, June 21, 2021

The last Houdini poster

Today I'm thrilled to reveal my original Houdini window card. This advertises his "3 Shows in One" in Providence for the week of October 4, 1926, just three weeks before his death on Halloween. To the best of my knowledge this is the latest and therefore last known piece of Houdini street advertising. The fact that it uses Halloween imagery has always struck me as eerily prophetic.

This window card is one of several that were discovered inside the walls of a house in Warwick, Rhode Island, late last year. It was restored by Poster Mountain and framed by Allan Jeffries Framing. What a journey!


Saturday, June 19, 2021

Deconstructing Houdini '53: Buzz Saw

Today I continue my scene by scene dissection of Paramount's 1953 biopic Houdini, in which I'll attempt to make the case that it's much more historically accurate than it is given credit. And anything else that comes to mind. Last time we met Harry and Bess at a New York Dime Museum. We now DISSOLVE TO...

Chapter 3: Buzz Saw

It doesn't take Houdini '53 long to give us an iconic death defying escape. The idea that Houdini would do such an escape this early in his career is inaccurate. But it is true that he performed in Coney Island and this is a highly effective and entertaining scene. In fact, this was probably my favorite scene as a kid. It's also true that Coney Island played a key role in the courtship of Harry and Bess Houdini.

We start with Bess and the unfortunate Fred (Peter Baldwin) strolling the boardwalk of Coney Island. The large fair-like rides in the background are anachronistic to be certain, but we've already seen how Houdini forgoes historical accuracy and instead uses a blend of modern and period that might be more agreeable to a general audience. 

Fred asks Bess why she felt like coming to Coney Island tonight. Bess answers, "Oh, I don't know, I just wanted to come." But she seems distracted, looking around, as if she has a very clear idea why she wanted to come and what she is looking for. And then she spots it: HOUDINI THE GREAT.

I'm not entirely clear on Bess's motivations here. She appears to have had a sudden change of heart and engineered this visit to Coney Island expressly to see the man from the Dime Museum, as if she has been tipped off to his presence. But another way to have played this would have been to have had Bess surprised to see Houdini there. This might have even been the writer's original intention, playing on the idea of fate pulling the two together. But the way it is staged, Bess seems to know exactly what she is after. By the way, how cool is that poster!

This time Bess doesn't see a tuxedoed magician. Instead she sees a shirtless death-defier. It's as if, having been fired from the Dime Museum, Houdini has sunk even lower down the ranks of show-business, now risking his life in a dingy sideshow (or as dingy as this movie allows anything to be).

As for the escape itself; Houdini never did such a buzz saw escape in his career. But he did take a famous photograph roped to a buzz saw table in 1919. This was part of series of staged publicity photos that Houdini took in Hollywood while making his first feature film, The Grim Game. This photo appears in the Harold Kellock book and was certainly the inspiration for the escape we see in Houdini.

"Will Houdini survive? Or will he become a chip off the old block?" The uncredited carnival barker here is Oliver Blake, just one of many wonderful character actors from Hollywood's Golden Age that festoon Houdini '53. After offering a comically brief silent prayer, he throws the switch and Houdini begins to slowly inch towards the spinning blade.

But Houdini has spotted Bess in the crowd and is so bewitched by her presence that he seems to forget all about the escape at hand. This is fantastic stuff. There's also some good humor as the sideshow barker continues with the established script ("Five feet! He's in trouble now!") while under his breath he urges Houdini to hurry up. Among the horrified spectators is Maxine Gates.

Bess finally breaks the spell when she realizes Houdini is in danger. She screams for the saw to be turned off (recalling her protection of the Wild Man). This snaps Harry into action and he frees himself moments before he reaches the spinning blade. Notice how the sound of the buzz saw fully takes over the soundtrack in these final moments, as if we ourselves are inches from the blade. Also notice how the sideshow barker has his eyes covered at this point.

This establishes a pattern that will repeat during their marriage. Houdini both thrills and terrifies Bess. She also seems to be the only person in the audience who know when Houdini is in true danger. This also mirrors the final scene when she screams out during the performance of the Pagoda Torture Cell...too late.

Bess is thrilled by his escape, but Fred quickly pulls her away, and when Harry emerges from the tent, she has once again vanished into the crowd.

Ok, sure, none of this happend. But the real Houdini and Bess met in Coney Island and would return on their anniversary. It was a special place for them. So staging a key scene of their courtship in Coney Island is a great nod to their real love story. And the idea of Houdini facing off with a buzz saw is not a whole cloth invention.

But what about our heroes? Once again they have been separated. Could a third time be the charm?


Friday, June 18, 2021

Harry Houdini VS Dracula (Spooky History)

Spooky History is back with another well-researched Houdini-themed episode. This time Ash Pryce takes a look at Houdini's fiction, namely his three short stories: Imprisoned With The Pharaohs, The Spirit Fakers of Hermannstadt, and The Hoax of the Spirit Lover. Weird tales indeed! Enjoy.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Houdini's tie-cutter manual and other rarities sell at Bonhams

A nice selection of Houdini rarities sold today in Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts auction. While an original annotated typescript for A Magician Among the Spirits was promoted as the auction highlight  (it even made the catalog cover), the item that struck me as the true gem was Houdini's very own 1891 union employee manual from his days as a New York tie-cutter.

HOUDINI'S OWN COPY OF THE TIE-CUTTER'S MANUAL. [HOUDINI, HARRY. 1874 – 1926.] Constitution and By-Laws of the Neckwear Cutters Association of the City of New-York. New York: Wm. B. Bromell, 1891. 32mo (124 x 78 mm). Publisher's printed wrappers, center fold to front cover, two paragraphs bracketed in the margins, possibly in Houdini's hand, pencil note "HOUDINI" to upper cover, portrait of Houdini pasted to rear cover. Provenance: Harry Houdini (letter of provenance from Charles Reynolds, dated May 26, 1999, addressed to:) Doug Edwards; John A. McKinven (sold his sale, Potter & Potter, Chicago, May 13, 2012, lot 240).

HOUDINI'S OWN COPY OF THE REGULATIONS OF THE NECKWEAR CUTTERS ASSOCIATION. From the letter of provenance from Charles Reynolds: "[this manual] was Harry Houdini's own manual when he worked as a tie-cutter for H. Richter's Sons at 502 Broadway, New York City. A page of this manual is picture in the book Houdini, His Legend and His Magic that I co-authored with Doug Henning in 1977. Houdini took special interest in the union's protection of secrecy—an attitude that later affected his outlook on magic." Henning and Reynold's book was heavily illustrated with items from a collection given to Henning by Ruth Kavanaugh, Houdini's niece.

The manual sold for $3,187 including premium.

The annotated A Magician Among the Spirits manuscript sold for $20,312 (inc. premium). A facsimile edition of this manuscript was published in 1996 by Kaufman and Greenberg.

A copperplate for what may be the first illustrated advertisement for "The Houdinis" sold for $5,737 (inc. premium). Bookending that is Houdini's last known full color poster, "Buried Alive!", which sold for $7,650 (inc. premium). 

Congrats to the winners!


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Houdini's last stop

Here's an item from the October 17, 1926 Detroit Free Press announcing Houdini's upcoming appearance at the Garrick Theater. Nothing revelatory or unusual here. Just another stop on the tour. But it's spooky to know this would be the last such news item to ever appear.

Detroit Free Press, Oct. 17, 1926

Below is an advertisement for the Garrick from that same issue of the Free Press. Note that Houdini's show was succeeding the play Abie's Irish Rose (which makes for a good trivia question). Opening day, Sunday, October 24, was the only day Houdini would perform.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Roger Dreyer's Houdini Revealed, Parts 4-6

Last year The Houdini Museum of New York moved to New Jersey and owner Roger Dreyer launched a new website called Houdini Revealed. He has also created a multi-part series of biographical Houdini videos. I shared parts 1-3 HERE. Now Roger continues the series below. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Hardeen dies at Doctors Hospital in 1945

We spend endless amounts of time going over every detail of Houdini's death. But the death of Hardeen rarely gets discussed. I admit I don't know many of the details. But we all love Dash, so here is the death announcement that ran in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 76 years ago today.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 12, 1945

I believe the operation Dash underwent on May 30 was for his ulcers and his death was the result of an infection. Although I'm not positive of that.

Doctors Hospital was located at 170 East End Avenue, between 87th and 88th Streets on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was razed in 2005 and today is the site of a condominium building. The hospital's Wikipedia page notes Hardeen as one of its famous patients.

Friday, June 11, 2021

A warning from Houdini

When Houdini returned to the UK at the start of 1913 his new feature was The Water Torture Cell (which he had debuted in Germany the year before). He was proud and protective of his new sensation, as this notice in the February 15, 1913 issue of The Era illustrates.

Click to enlarge.

The "Special Licence" Houdini is referring to is the license he received in 1911 when he first presented the Water Torture Cell as part of a play called Challenged. The mention of the two "Copyists" being fined in Germany is interesting. One is certainly Miss Undina. But who was the other?


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Who Is Houdini? (Photoplay, June 1920)

Last night I stumbled on The1920sChannel on YouTube, and by coincidence they had just uploaded a video related to Houdini. In it they read a profile of Houdini in the June 1920 Photoplay magazine. I like how the reporter talks about meeting Houdini at the Mission Inn in Riverside, CA. As we know, Houdini stayed there in November 1919 while filming the underwater scenes for Terror Island at nearby La Elliotta Springs. (The Mission Inn is still there and even has a drink named after Houdini.)

Houdini certainly dishes out the mythology here, putting fresh spins on some of his old origin stories. Notice how the convict in cuffs is now "the son of a prominent banker" (just another reason to doubt the whole locksmith episode). And I've lost count of how many versions there are of how he and Bess met. But the idea of Houdini, Hollywood Star, spouting this stuff while sitting in the sunshine at the Mission's just so good.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Houdini certifiable?

This is one of Houdini's standard press kit stories that is likely more entertaining than true. But I still wanted to share as I've never seen this image of Houdini struggling in a straitjacket (which I believe is a photo heavily retouched). And the story is kinda fun. Enjoy.

Los Angeles Record, September 25, 1907

Below are links to a few more uncommon shots of Houdini in straitjackets.


Monday, June 7, 2021

Houdini invites you to TAOM 2021

The Texas Association of Magicians (TAOM) will hold their next convention in Austin, September 3-6, 2021. Here's Houdini to tell you about it himself! (This is well done.)

As Harry said, the convention will include a special tour of the Houdini collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. For more details and to register, visit the TAOM 2021 website.

Friday, June 4, 2021

The Houdini footage you were never supposed to see (2/2)

In 2018, two remarkable reels of Houdini film footage were discovered in the vaults of the Sherman Grinberg Film Library in Los Angeles. I had the great pleasure of debuting this footage alongside Lance Watsky, Manager of Media Archives & Licensing at Sherman Grinberg, during a special Magic Castle "Behind the Bookcase" event last year. Now I'm thrilled to be able to share this film with everyone.

Reel One contained footage that is generally known, but in such great first generation quality that much of it seemed new. Today I bring you REEL TWO which really is all new. In fact, it's the Houdini film you were never supposed to see. But I'll get to that.

While I've embedded it below for convenience, this is HD quality so I encourage you to watch it on YouTube where you can enlarge it for best results.

Okay, you might be asking yourself, "What the heck was that?" That's what we were all asking when we first saw this reel at the Magic Castle back in 2018. My first thought was that this might be part of the film Houdini shot during his 1920 European tour. But the point of those street shoots were to showcase European locations and landmarks, and there's nothing like that here. It's also striking that this footage reveals the use of an obvious stuntman on safety wires.

So is there anything in the footage itself that can help us explain it? The warehouse location could be anywhere and there's nothing distinctive about Houdini's appearance. But the footage does contain periodic flash frames with strange markings on them.

Or maybe not so strange. Because when I turned this image upside down and held it up to a mirror, I saw the following:


While the writing itself doesn't really tell us much, these identification frames do match similar frames on the Reel One footage of Haldane of the Secret Service and The Man from Beyond. So that suggests this footage is from the Houdini Picture Corporation era and was likely shot in 1921.

Then Joe Notaro made a breakthrough observation that The Man From Beyond features a scene of Houdini's Howard Hillary using bedsheets to climb down the side of a large stone wall (a location that's yet to be identified, by the way). This also shows Houdini using bedsheets as a rope. So could this be an unused version of that same stunt? 

I took a good look at the scene in the movie and what clinched it for me was the matching wardrobe, right down to his bow-tie being undone. So, yes, I believe what we are seeing here is the complete and uncut footage for an unused version of this same stunt from The Man From Beyond. And the idea here is actually superior! I love how Houdini/Hillary uses the window shutters as a means to swing his way across the length of the building in order to reach the drain pipe. That's an idea that would hold up today.

However, it just doesn't work here. It is clearly a stuntman on visible wires who is never able to sell the window shutters idea. None of this could be cut together to make a convincing scene. So it's likely Houdini screened this footage and realized they had to do the entire thing over again, dropping the shutter idea, changing the location, and shooting from a greater distance to better conceal the stuntman and safety lines.

So think about it. This is footage Houdini probably only ever viewed once, and might have even ordered it destroyed. Not only was it unusable, but it clearly reveals that he did not always do his own stunts, and we don't want that! Yet somehow this reel of film survived in pristine condition for 100 years and here we are able to watch it today thanks to our friends at the Sherman Grinberg Film Library. Fantastic.

This footage is available to license for use. If interested, contact Lance Watsky via the Sherman Grinberg Film Library website

Additional thanks to Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence (where you can see a timecode breakdown of both reels) and the Houdini Museum in Scranton.


    Wednesday, June 2, 2021

    Watch Sherman Grinberg's Houdini found footage (1/2)

    In 2018, two remarkable reels of Houdini film footage were discovered in the Sherman Grinberg Film Library in Los Angeles. Last year I had the pleasure of debuting this footage alongside Lance Watsky, Manager of Media Archives & Licensing at Sherman Grinberg, as a special Magic Castle "Behind the Bookcase" event. Those who saw it agreed it was wild stuff!

    Today I'm thrilled to finally be able to share this footage with everyone. This comes courtesy of Lance Watsky and the Sherman Grinberg Film Library. I'm starting with REEL ONE. While I've embedded it below for convenience, this is HD quality so I encourage you to watch it on YouTube where you can enlarge it for best results.

    This first reel is made up of footage that will be familiar to some. But the quality is what makes it so remarkable. For comparison, check out the way this footage is normally seen compared to the Sherman Grinberg footage (below). Yes, this is the same shot! This is just an example of how much quality matters and how it can reveal details we never knew were there.

    The quality also helps us identify and date some of these clips for the first time. Mostly notably is the footage of Houdini and magician Harry Kellar. From the now visible landmarks, this appears to be New York's Times Square in November 1917. Kellar was in town to participate in a benefit that Houdini was producing at the New York Hippodrome.

    In the photo below you can see the landmarks that appear in the footage, such as the Variety office, Loews New York, and even the subway construction crane Houdini would use for a suspended straitjacket escape on November 5, 1917, to promote the Hippodrome show. Houdini and Kellar are exiting the front door of the Hotel Astor (red arrow). 

    It's only a single frame, but there's the crane!

    The Kellar footage continues at Hardeen's home in Flatbush, where the Houdinis were living at this time. How do we know this is Hardeen's house? Check out the now very visible address on the steps behind them!

    Below is a full breakdown of Reel One with some insights this footage provides.

    00:00:13 - Houdini is tied to a table by monks. Shot in 1921 on the set of Haldane of the Secret Service (Houdini Picture Corp., 1923). Not part of the movie. One of the monks is Houdini's chief assistant, Jim Collins.
    00:02:00 - Houdini and magician Harry Kellar exit the Astor Hotel in Time Square, New York, and get into a car being driven by Houdini’s brother, Theo Hardeen. November 1917.
    00:02:26 - Harry Houdini taking bows in 1917.
    00:02:35 - Close shot of magician Harry Kellar in 1917. Notice his vanishing eye glasses.
    00:02:41 - Houdini, Bess Houdini, and Harry Kellar greeting each other in front Theo Hardeen’s home at 394 East 21st Street, Flatbush, New York (the Houdinis were living with the Hardeens at this time). 1917. 
    00:02:45 - Harry Kellar shows Houdini how to tie a knot. Filmed at 394 East 21st Street, Flatbush, NY. 1917.
    00:03:11 - Houdini, Theo Hardeen, and Harry Kellar in front of Hardeen’s Flatbush home performing the Kellar Rope Tie. 1917. Dog seen in background is Houdini’s dog, Bobby.
    00:03:34 - Houdini performs a stunt on the set of The Man From Beyond (Houdini Picture Corp., 1922). Filmed in 1921. This does not appear in the final movie. 
    00:04:32 - Houdini and director Burton King review the script on the set of The Man From Beyond (Houdini Picture Corp., 1922). Filmed in 1921. Note the cameraman writes scene number 54 on the slate.
    00:04:49 - Bess touches up Houdini's makeup on the set of The Man From Beyond (Houdini Picture Corp., 1922). They share a shy kiss. Filmed in 1921.
    00:05:15 - Overboard box escape from The Master Mystery (Octagon Films, 1918). This footage appears in Episode 5. [Trimmed by YouTube due to a copyright claim.]
    00:05:33 - Close shot of Houdini’s handcuffed hands. Date unknown. This shot is sometimes seen inserted into Houdini’s short film, The Merveilleux Exploits du Célébre Houdini à Paris (Films Lux, 1909). 
    00:05:43 - Houdini in water holding handcuffs. Red bathing suit. Date unknown. Likely filmed to be inserted into existing footage of past bridge jumps.
    00:06:12 - Houdini in water holding handcuffs. White bathing trunks. Date unknown. Likely filmed to be inserted into existing footage of past bridge jumps.

    Next up is REEL TWO which contains footage that has never appeared anywhere before. It's "the Houdini film you weren't supposed to see."

    Thanks again to Lance Watsky. This footage is available to license for use. If interested, you can contact Lance via the Sherman Grinberg Film Library website.

    Additional thanks to Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence and the Houdini Museum in Scranton.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2021

    Margery pamphlet original vs. reproduction

    We are all aware of that pesky Parson's Theater reproduction program from the 1970s that will sometimes appear at auction as an original. Now it looks like that has a successor. 

    Yesterday a reproduction of Houdini's Margery pamphlet, which were sold by the Houdini Historical Center in 1996 for $4.50, sold in an online Invaluable auction for $649 (including premium). Unless the buyer has a thing for reproductions, I've gotta think they believed it was an original. Wittingly or unwittingly, the auction did not clarify this.

    Like the Parson's program, this booklet does not identify itself as a reproduction. But it's pretty obvious when you put it side by side with an original. The yellow cover and the lack of "Price, One Dollar" are instant tells, as is the smaller dimension. So bidders beware!

    Original (left) and reproduction (right).

    Speaking of sketchy auction items, check out this Houdini photo on eBay "signed" two weeks after he died. So Houdini did come back! It currently has eight bids.