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.


  1. Oh, darn... the film was right in the middle of showing Kellar doing his famous rope tie. It's too bad it doesn't show the entire routine.

    What a great find John. I love those old films.

    1. I know! But I've never seen that clip go beyond that point, even in the lessor quality versions online.

    2. Still want to see the full routine? NOW YOU CAN!. Not the same quality, but complete. :)

  2. This post solved another HH mystery. I wondered where and when that short clip of HH bowing left and right in front of the tall hedges was taken. Must have been in the yard of Hardeen's house when Kellar visited that day. The clothing and hair are a perfect match.

    1. Yep, it make sense it's the same day. But, remember, that's the suit of clothes he wore for four years straight!

    2. He's also wearing some kind of medal on his suit jacket. You can also see it in the Kellar clip.

    3. The quality in the Kellar footage is so good you can almost see what that it. It might be a locket with his mother's photo. Or maybe his SAM pin. In the movie FairyTale they recreate this look and use a small watch. Could be that.

  3. This is a first. YouTube temporality blocked the video because of a copyright claim.

    Copyrighted content: Magic and Beyond | Season 1 | Episode 4 | Michael York | Kristi Sindt
    Claimed by: Lasso Group

    Fortunately, it was just a couple seconds from The Master Mystery clip, which is nothing we haven't seen, and YouTube has a feature where they will trim out the clip for you, which is what I did. Still, not sure their claim was valid.

    1. It's not. Anything before 1926 is indisputably in the public domain.

  4. Thank you John, for this wonderful look back into the past!!