Friday, September 24, 2021

'Houdini's Lost Diaries' will be revealed Tuesday


This Tuesday, September 28, a major new BBC produced Houdini documentary by award winning filmmaker Simon George will debut as part of History's Great Mysteries on the HISTORY channel. It's called Houdini's Lost Diaries. As the title implies, the filmmakers were granted unique access to the diaries still held and tightly controlled by the descendants of Houdini's lawyer Bernard Ernst.

I was involved with this as an occasional consultant and will be appearing onscreen along with heavyweights such as Mike Caveney and Patrick Culliton (yes, "Houdini's Ghost" appeared for this one!). I've not seen the finished film, but I did see various incarnations of the script. So I know they did mine gold from the diaries! While I interpreted some entries differently from the filmmakers, I'm optimistic they will temper the sensationalism that HISTORY requires (and their promo suggests) and we'll finally get a Houdini doc that breaks new ground and provides fresh insight. Guess we'll find out together!

Houdini's Lost Diaries airs this Tuesday on HISTORY. I believe it will stream free on the website for a week. You'll also be able to buy the episode via Amazon Prime.

Below is a behind the scenes photo courtesy of actor and magician Paul Zenon who participated in several of the reenactments. What the heck is going on here? It's all in the diaries!


UPDATE: My review and where to watch: Opening up 'Houdini's Lost Diaries'.

19 comments:

  1. I wonder how Ernst wound up with the diaries. He was their attorney and friend, but not family. Did she just hand them to him? We're they loaned out to Ernst but not returned? should have been kept by Bess along with the Mirror Cuffs and other remaining keepsakes and passed to the Hinsons.

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    1. Bess appears to have had them long enough to use them for the Kellock book. She then probably passed them to Bernard Ernst for use in his own Houdini and Conan Doyle book and he just held onto them. In his own way he was family.

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    2. I kinda suspected she loaned them out to Ernst for his Houdini/Doyle correspondence book. I'm on the fence about the Ernst family keeping the diaries. They took good care of the books over the generations, and preserved them well. On the other hand they kept the contents a secret with a few exceptions like allowing Silverman limited time with them. It would be great if they hired a transcriber and publish it with Conjuring Arts, Squash, or Magicana. We would all get to read it and the diaries would generate a nice revenue for them. Everyone wins.

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    3. That sounds like an excellent idea as a release for the 100th anniversary of his death. Waiting any longer to make this information publically available takes us (it seems to me) into Weeksian territory.

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    4. Oh, very well put Lisa!

      I have no idea what is going to happen, but I'm hoping this doc is essentially advertising for the diaries and the next shoe will drop soon. Either they go to auction or they appear on Conjuring Arts. Bill Kalush is involved with this.

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    5. Hear, hear Lisa! Saltman in Facebook already tossed us a table scrap from the diaries: Kukol was in Russia in 1913 with some kind of Houdini show!

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    6. If Kukol did go to Russia in 1913 working a Houdini show, this sounds like an early version of the performing troupes HH sent out to advertise his film The Man From Beyond.

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    7. When we discussed this back in 2013 we wondered if Houdini himself had somehow returned to Russia in 1913. But I now have every week of Houdini's European tour in 1913 firmly documented and no Russia. However, there is a mysterious open month from November 18 to December 15, 1912 for which I have nothing.

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  2. Really looking forward to this one. I was supposed to appear in it but unfortunately got very sick just as we were about to film. The BBC team is quite competent. I've seen the diaries and spent quite a bit of time reading them and they are full of amazing details.

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  3. Thanks for the heads-up, John. Wouldn't want to miss this.

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  4. Not sure I saw any bombshell revelations. It was more of another bio documentary, albeit a good one. The payouts to bring on challengers was new to me but not unexpected. Harry had plants in the audience with handcuffs now and then when he presented the challenge handcuff act.

    I don't think the bridge jumps came about to lift sagging ticket sales. That was the Milk Can in 1908. I can now see that Silverman gave us a lot out of the limited time he had with those diaries.

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  5. I found it well done (especially the talking heads -- and they guy who played the back of HH's head ...), but not exactly enlightening. I was hoping for some of the amazing details David mentions above, but got a lot of "Ma saw me jump" stuff that we more or less knew or suspected.

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    1. "Ma saw me jump" is in the Silverman bio. A new piece of information was HH's diary confession of being ashamed when he dropped down in the theater billing. He didn't want his mother to see that. His fake birthplace diary entry of Appleton, Wisconsin was also a revelation. He lied to himself in his own personal diary! Very weird.

      The talking heads didn't give me anything new. Penn's insistence that the mediums were like a drug cartel making money hand over fist was great. John looked telegenic like a spiffy newscaster. Houdini newbies derived the most out of this program. Veterans only got a few small appetizers.

      I stopped watching HH documentaries cuz it's the same information repeated again and again: Erich Weiss, Budapest, Hungary, publicity genius, punched in stomach, fixation with death, devoted to his mother, egotistical, grew up in poverty...The diaries roped me back in, but the bites were too small.

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    2. The being ashamed for his mother to see him entry is from 1912 when Houdini was playing the Gayety in Washington. This was NOT a lowly theater and he was not down the bill. It was the newest and most popular theater in D.C. and they paid him a fortune. But they also featured Burlesque. THAT is what Houdini didn't want his mother to see. They didn't understand the context of this and other entries. I clarified this for them, but they still conflated it with the entries about not being featured, which are actually from 1908.

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    3. You cleared that up! Thanks for that! I thought it was strange to be ashamed of a dropped billing. Mama probably wouldn't have even noticed it walking into the theater lobby. I think the bridge jumps were conflated with the Milk Can to explain HH's fight to capture sagging public interested.

      Why was Bill Kalush mentioned as the custodian of the diaries? What did that mean? Perhaps the Ernst family are willing to let him publish them? Silverman gave us a lot from those diaries. After watching this last night I value his bio even more.

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  6. Oh, man! Definitely wouldn't want to miss this out. Thanks for the update.

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