Friday, December 31, 2021

Ron Cartlidge has passed away

We end the year with some sad news. Ron Cartlidge, who wrote the groundbreaking 2002 book, Houdini’s Texas Tours 1916 & 1923, passed away on December 12 at age 82.

Ron was a member of the I.B.M., The Magic Circle, and a Life Member of the S.A.M. He was Past President of S.A.M. Assembly #206 and served as the Chairman of the Austin World Famous Magic Auctions for 11 years.

I was happy to have met Ron at the Midwest Magic History Weekend in Marshall in 2015 (where the photo on the right was taken). I always looked to him as the go-to guy when it came to Houdini in Texas. It's even said that fellow Texan George W. Bush kept a copy of Ron's Houdini book in the White House.

Ron self-published two follow-ups to his Texas book: Houdini and the Ku Klux Klan (2005) and Houdini's Final Texas Tour (2010).

Ron is survived by his children, Justin and Jennifer. You can read his full obituary at the Austin-American Statesman.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Packing in 2021

It's time for me to take my year end break and put the final nail into 2021. Hopefully this year was better for folks than 2020. At least it was another great year for Houdini! Have a safe and happy holiday season. I will see you all in 2022.

2021 in Review:
January (34 posts)
February (24 posts)
March (27 posts)
April (29 posts)
May (28 posts)
June (22 posts)
July (22 posts)
August (22 posts)
September (25 posts)
October (31 posts)
November (26 posts)
December (14 posts)

Most Viewed New Post of 2021

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Houdini's "Triumphant Return" and farewell

I love captured images of Houdini street advertising. Not only do we sometimes get a look at Houdini posters that are long gone, but it's also fun to nail down the exact engagement and see where it might fit into the larger Houdini story. Below is a great example of both from the collection of Kevin Connolly.

This photo was taken on the streets of New York and the posters are advertising Houdini at the New York Hippodrome starting the week of June 1, 1925. Houdini had done a popular six-week run at the Hippodrome at the start of the year. Hence this is being promoted as his "Triumphant Return."

But this would also mark a farewell. This two-week run at the Hippodrome would be Houdini's very last engagement in vaudeville. The following season he would launch his own full evening show in legitimate theaters. It's also worth noting that Houdini (1953) star Tony Curtis was born in Brooklyn this very same week (on June 3). So this photo captures a lot!

Finally, the great old truck in this photo reminds me of the this set of toy cars released by Oxford Diecast to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of Houdini's death in 2001. In fact, it looks like the red truck might actually be the same make.

Thanks to Kevin Connolly.


Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Magic Castle unveils their new Houdini Séance

The Magic Castle in Hollywood has officially relaunched their popular Houdini seance as The Houdini Séance Experience. The seance shut down in 2018 for a total retooling which is now complete. Member reservations are now being accepted for 2022. They've also offered a first look at the completely redesigned Houdini Seance Room (below).

The Academy of Magical Arts is proud to present “The Houdini Séance” - Hollywood’s most famous and immersive theater experience, a Milt Larsen original, one-of-a-kind evening in the astonishing Houdini séance room at the Magic Castle®. We’ve prepared a sensational dining experience for you and your guests, and we’ve invited a world-class medium to sit at the table and conduct a special séance, an attempt to contact the great magician, Harry Houdini, who died on Halloween in 1926. You’ll witness dazzling artifacts from his amazing career; hear the story of his battles with fraud mediums, and enjoy an evening of magical mysteries with weird surprises that you’ll never forget.

I was lucky enough to get a preview of the new seance last month. I'm happy to report that it's a terrific overhaul with a wonderful new script by Jim Steinmeyer. There are some startling new high tech effects engineered by Spectral Motion. But the best old effects are also still in action. There are several celebrity voices worked into the new audio. I'm even part of the show announcing Houdini's appearance the Garrick Theater. The resident mediums have all worked up new "soft seance" pre-shows, and the entire evening is still very Houdini-centric, maybe even more so than the old seance.

I admit the new room will take me some time to warm up to. I've just had too many special experiences in the old room to not feel its loss. Some key artifacts have vanished. But others remain; including a set of three postcards Houdini sent to his sister from Europe. Yes, portraits of Houdini's arch foes, Walter, Margery, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle now share the space. But that's all part of the show.

You can get full details and pricing for The Houdini Séance Experience at the Academy of Magical Arts website.


Monday, December 13, 2021

Houdini's lost top hat is found

Our friend Roger Dreyer from Houdini Revealed (formally the Houdini Museum of New York) shares with us a remarkable new acquisition with a great story behind it. Gaze below at Houdini's top hat!

Roger purchased this hat from James F. Green (aka Mr. G The Magician) who bought it from magician and author Burling Hull in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Hull told Green a curious story of how he acquired it. He was at an S.A.M. banquet in New York with Houdini also in attendance (he did not provide the year). Hull asked Bess Houdini to dance with him, which she did. Hull was a handsome man...too much so for Houdini. The jealous Houdini marched out and retrieved Bess and left the event in a huff. In doing so, he left his top hat behind. Hull chased after them to return the hat, but he failed to catch up to them so he kept the hat for himself.

The dancing with Bess episode was written up by Bev Bergeron in the March 2007 Linking Ring ("A Dance with Bess: The Tricks, Tales, and Trials of Burling Hull"). According to Bergeron, Houdini later apologized when he leaned who Hull was and offered up Bess as a dancing partner at their next S.A.M. gathering. But it appears Hull did not offer up the hat!

Hearing this story I was immediately reminded of the below item from Motion Picture News about, yes, Houdini losing his hat at an S.A.M. banquet in 1922.

This is Boston, not New York, so this could be another S.A.M. event and another hat. But this is all great stuff and another terrific addition to Roger Dreyer's amazing collection.

William Lindsay Gresham's 'Nightmare Alley'

This Friday Searchlight Pictures releases a new film adaptation of Nightmare Alley starring Bradley Cooper. What's this have to do with Houdini? If you don't know, I'll tell you after the trailer.

Nightmare Alley was a bestselling novel written by William Lindsay Gresham in 1946. Gresham also penned Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls in 1959. In fact, Nightmare Alley is mentioned on the cover of the first U.S. hardcover edition (below).

Is this enough of a Houdini connection to see the movie? I don't know, but it looks pretty good!

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Coney Island's oldest building demolished

A distressing report from our friends at Coney Island History Project. No doubt Harry and Bess Houdini would have known this building well.

The responsible party is Joe Sitt's Thor Equities who also demolished the historic Henderson Theater building where Houdini performed in 1915. It's heartbreaking to see Houdini's Coney Island being wiped away by developers who don't seem to care about history.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Deconstructing Houdini '53: Wedding night

Today I continue my scene by scene dissection of Paramount's 1953 biopic Houdini, in which I 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 Harry and Bess finally connected at Tony Pastor's. Today we join them on their...

Chapter 5: Wedding Night

Just as in real life, the courtship of Harry and Bess in Houdini (1953) is a short one. Whereas the real Houdinis dated for around four days before tying the knot, in the movie it appears to happen all in one night! But they are meant to be and we got a lot of life to cover, so...

The wedding night sequence starts off with a nice visual beat in which Harry guides his new bride to his family home. Bess assumes they will be ascending the stairs of a handsome brownstone. But Harry shakes his head and guides her down to a basement level dwelling. Rich he ain't!

Not wanting to wake his mother, Harry attempts to sneak Bess into his bedroom. But it doesn't work. Mama, played by Angela Clarke, catches the young couple who then scramble, unsuccessfully, to explain themselves. Clarke was only 44 when she starred in Houdini. The real Cecelia Weiss was 53 when her son got married. Clark is actually a better age match than some succeeding mamas who tended to be portrayed as elderly from the start (most notably Ruth Gordon in The Great Houdinis). Clarke's mama is welcoming of her new daughter-in-law, which is also true of the real Cecelia Weiss.

One of the most interesting aspects of this scene is what can be seen in the background. Look closely and one can spot no less than two Menorahs, thus establishing Harry as Jewish. We've already discussed how Bess's introduction suggests a Catholic school (which is again mentioned here), so the mixed faith marriage of the Houdinis is indeed part of this film...if you look hard enough.

After mama gives her blessing, we dissolve to Harry's bedroom where a sleeping Bess is startled awake by Harry, in pajamas, bringing out a large box. He insists that Bess climb into it. Both actors are exceptional in this moment, almost seeming to ad lib some of their playful dialogue. Once Bess is locked inside, Harry retrieves a large saw and announces, "I'm going to saw you in half."

The famous Sawing in a Woman in Half illusion, as presented here, was first performed by Horace Goldin in 1921. It caused a sensation and ignited controversy over who invented the effect (which is covered in Mike Caveney's acclaimed new book, 100 Years of Sawing). Putting this in the hands of Harry Houdini in the 1890s is a howling anachronism, although Houdini would eventually perform his own version of this effect in 1926 called "Slicing a Girl in Eight."

However, the idea of showing a nascent Houdini working on an effect that would become a classic of magic is entirely accurate. That trick was Metamorphosis. But the Sawing works great here to terrify Bess, which is also true of their early life. In Houdini His Life Story Bess relates at least two stories about how her new husband frightened her with his magic tricks and strange behaviors. He would then soothe her by showing her the secrets, which is exactly what we see play out here in the movie.

While there is no account of what the real Harry and Bess did on their wedding night (I can make a guess), this classic scene became a template for later biopics with events playing out in a very similar manner. In The Great Houdinis (1976) Sally Struthers ends up handcuffed to Harry. In the Houdini Miniseries (2014) Kristen Connolly finds herself locked in a trunk.

Harry: Was it so awful?
Bess: No, but I expected something different on my wedding night.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Meet Paul Michael Glaser in Anaheim, Dec. 18

Paul Michael Glaser will be appearing at the MUZEO Museum and Cultural Center in Anaheim, California, on December 18. He will be reading from his Christmas-themed family novel, Chrystallia and the Source of Light, and exhibiting a collection of his artwork.

Of course, we know PMG as Houdini from the 1976 television biopic The Great Houdinis!

Tickets are $60 and can be purchased at the MUZEO website. A percentage of all ticket, book and art sales will benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Houdini's great wall

While browsing photos at the online archive IMAGO, I spotted this shot of Houdini in Los Angeles that I've never seen before. 

You may recognize this as Houdini atop a large wall that appears in several stills from The Grim Game. The wall does not appear in the movie itself, so it's unclear if this was a cut scene or if the wall was just used to stage these "action" shots.

You'll notice Houdini is having his feet tied in this new image (is that Jim Collins doing the tying?). I'm wondering if this is how he pulled off the shot that shows him holding co-star Ann Forrest.

In 2015 the great Los Angeles locations sleuth John Bengtson identified this as being the retaining wall that fronted the old County Court House on what was then New High Street in downtown L.A. If there was any doubt about this, this new pic confirms it as you can see the court house behind Harry.

The old court house is long gone, but John did point out that some people believe part of the retaining wall remains on current corner of Temple and Spring. You can see that below. Thinking back on those times I've done jury duty in this building, I never knew I was passing in front of Houdini's great wall!

Thanks to John Bengtson.

UPDATE: Another photo mystery solved at this same site. Check out Locating Houdini's lion.

Monday, December 6, 2021

LINK: Magic in the Walls of 502 Broadway

The website
SoHo Broadway Initiative takes a look Houdini's connection to the building at 502-504 Broadway in SoHo, New York. Don't know what that connection is? Click the headline link and find out! 

Saturday, December 4, 2021

All business

Here's a portrait photo of Houdini you don't see too often. There is a more famous photo taken during this same session that shows Houdini smiling. But here he is all business. This comes from the January 1927 Spanish movie magazine, Cine-Mundial.

While most associate these photos with Houdini's Hollywood days and date them as 1919, I recently found this image used in a 1918 movie magazine. So it appears these were taken in New York and mark some of the first portraits taken of Houdini with his cut and dyed hair and without his mourning suit (yes, I still believe my theory). 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Cypress Lakes High School presents The Last Illusion

The theater department of Cypress Lakes High School in Katy, Texas, is putting on the popular Houdini play, The Last Illusion. The students debuted the show last night. There are three performances left on December 3 and 4. Break a leg, kids!

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Overshadowed shines on Hardeen

Overshadowed is a comedy podcast that looks at "the siblings of people who changed the world." Guess who's the subject of Episode 5?

NYC comics Zach Russell and Charles Engle talk about Houdini's thick-dicked brother, Theo, try to start a viral conspiracy about Charles' foot, and debate whether Houdini was the Chris Angel "Mindfreak" of the 1900's. 
Click to listen on PodBean or YouTube

Below are links to a few topics the guys riff on.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Title card for Houdini's Merveilleux Exploits (1909)

Recently while scanning through some video tapes from the Manny Weltman collection, I spotted this image. The quality is poor and it only lasted a few frames, but it still knocked me out! That's because this appears to be the original title card for Houdini's 1909 film The Marvelous Exploits of Houdini in Paris. I've never seen this among any of the surviving fragments of that film. I love that it features the Statue of Liberty.

Houdini made Marvelous Exploits for Cinema Lux in Paris in 1909. This was his first foray into narrative film and it shows Houdini in his prime. With the discovery of this title card, I can now say with confidence that the complete film does exist; but in disassembled fragments of varying quality. Still, a restoration is possible.