Thursday, March 31, 2022

The letter of apology

In 1976 the S.A.M.'s annual wand-breaking ceremony for Houdini was held inside Room 401 at Grace Hospital where Houdini died. I recently saw some video from that event, and during it magician Jay Marshall said an incredible thing:

"One of the interesting things is J. Stuart Whitehead wrote a letter of apology to the family, and they destroyed that. But he had apologized for having struck Houdini."

Marshall didn't elaborate and I don't have any other information on this letter, but how I would love to have read it! By the way, Marshall really did say "Stuart" Whitehead instead of Gordon. But I think that was just an honest mistake.

If anyone has any more information on this letter, or remembers Jay talking about it in more detail, please let us know in the Comments below.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Houdini used to demo new AI tool LiveStory

Last year MyHeritage developed an AI tool that brought old photographs to life. It's was wild tech that allowed us some fun with Houdini images. Now the site is back with an enhanced version called LiveStory, and they've used Houdini to demo it!


"Houdini" makes more than a few mistakes about his life here. Of course, the real Houdini did as well, so maybe that makes this all the more real! The idea that Harry and Bess met in 1893 and were married a year later is an error I keep seeing repeated. Were is this coming from, I wonder?

You can read more about LiveStory at New Atlas.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Judy Carter makes "A Death-Defying Escape!"

Magician and comedian Judy Carter has created a new autobiographical play, A Death-Defying Escape! I had the great pleasure of attending a preview last Saturday and loved it. It's funny, moving, and filled with magic. It's also heavily Houdini-themed. There are even Houdini trivia questions that play on a projection screen before the show. Full disclosure: I wrote the questions. So let me know if you get them all correct!


A Death-Defying Escape! plays at The Hudson Guild Theatre in Hollywood April 2 to May 8, 2022. Tickets can be purchased at deathdefyingescape.com.

Related:

Monday, March 28, 2022

The World Wide Houdini Birthday Celebration was a mega success


Yesterday's online World Wide Houdini Birthday Celebration was a mega success! An average of 150 people from more than 20 countries remained online for the full 13 hours...and it was still going strong when I left after hour 15! A huge congratulations to The Society of American Magician's Most Illustrious President Tom Gentile, Joel Zaritsky, and Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton for pulling off this amazing tribute to Houdini on his 148th birthday. 

The only question that remains; how the heck are we going to top this for his 150th?

Thanks to everyone who participated!

Jeff and Debbie Blood sharing some of their Houdini family treasures.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

The World Wide Houdini Birthday Celebration - Full Schedule

Tomorrow, March 27, Tom Gentile and The Society of American Magicians is throwing a world wide birthday party for their Most Illustrious President, Harry Houdini. The online mega event kicks off at 12 Noon Eastern and will travel the world for the next 12+ hours. The day will include greetings and presentations by magicians and Houdini luminaries and will conclude with a rare screening of The Grim Game courtesy the Houdini Museum and Theater in Scranton, PA.

The event FREE for all to attend on Zoom!

World Wide Houdini Birthday Celebration
Meeting ID: 849 0044 7443 
Passcode: 573909 

SEE THE SCHEDULE BELOW


Hope to see you there!

Friday, March 25, 2022

Paul Michael Glaser on the Mike Douglas show

Today is actor Paul Michael Glaser's 79th birthday. Yes, PMG's birthday is the day after Houdini's! To celebrate the day, here's a terrific interview with the actor not long after he starred in The Great Houdinis. Much of the conversation has to do with his hit series at that time, Starsky & Hutch, but The Great Houdinis is discussed near the end. Not only is it great to hear Paul's thoughts on acting and Houdini, but it's a reminder of how network talk shows were once real, thoughtful conversations. Enjoy.


Happy birthday PMG! You remain one of the greatest Great Houdinis.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Houdini turns 148

Today is Houdini's 148th birthday. But this year the real celebration will be held on Sunday, March 27, with a 12-hour World Wide Houdini Birthday Celebration on Zoom. The event is being hosted by The Society of American Magicians in coordination with the Houdini Museum in Scranton and will culminate with a screening of The Grim Game.

So let's save the cake until Sunday. For today, I'll just say, Happy Birthday Harry!

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A new Houdini-Chaplin encounter


While there are several stories about Houdini and Hollywood luminaries like Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, and Gloria Swanson, his only encounter with Charlie Chaplin, as far as I know, are a handful of photos taken in 1915. That's why I was very excited to find the below. 

This is from a January 16, 1916 article in The Weekly Dispatch in which a London theatrical agent, Mr. A. Braff, talks about meeting Chaplin in Los Angeles. Part of that involved a trip to the Orpheum...

The Weekly Dispatch, Jan. 16, 1916.

What makes this especially interesting is this would have been during Houdini's December 1915 run at the Los Angeles Orpheum. During that same engagement he spotted heavyweight champ Jess Willard in the audience and also invited him onstage. Of course, Willard was famously far less cooperative than Charlie.

Clipping: Newspapers.com
Photo: Houdini His Legend and His Magic.

Monday, March 21, 2022

'Of Monsters and Magic' in Scary Monsters #121

Houdini gets a nod in Michael Mezmer's article, "Of Monsters and Magic," in SCARY MONSTERS magazine #121. The article is an overview or magicians and charlatans in horror films and has been nominated for a Rondo Award.

This issue was released in May of 2021. I don't see it among the back issues on the SCARY MONSTERS website, but I'm sure it can be found via speciality shops or anywhere monsters can be found!

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Roger Dreyer talks Houdini, March 22

Our friend Roger Dreyer of Houdini Revealed will give a virtual talk for the Union Public Library this Tuesday, March 22 at 7 PM EST. Below are details.

How Harry Houdini, “The King Of Handcuffs,” created a persona so dynamic his name is still spoken daily despite passing almost 100 years ago. Houdini’s compelling story as a young immigrant, from being unknown to world wonder, is filled with remarkable lessons about business and personal growth. Join Roger Dreyer, CEO of Fantasma Magic and Houdini Revealed, to learn the secrets behind Houdini’s magical success.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Bess clowning around?


Above is the famous photo of the Welsh Bros Circus troupe in 1895. You can see a young Houdini standing on the far right (labeled #6). But where is Bess?

I've always wondered if Bess is the clown standing in the center of the photo (#4). The clown looks to be Bessie's size, and why else would she be absent? There is also evidence that supports this. On page 78 of the Harold Kellock biography, Houdini His Life Story, Bess talks about this first tour with the Welsh Bros. and remembers:

"We had only two clowns with the circus, two serious- minded middle-aged men. The tragedy of their lives was that they could not sing, for they had the songbook privilege for the show, and, with no one to sing the songs, they could not sell the books. They were overjoyed when they found that I could make a stab at singing. They dressed me as a clown, put me on a chair, and I sang verses of all the more catching songs, for which I received the large sum of two dollars for fourteen shows. My, but I was proud of that money! I felt that I earned it all myself."

So what do we think? Does this photo capture Bess the singing clown? I think it does!

Speaking of the Welsh Bros., the next issue of BANDWAGON, the quarterly publication of the Circus Historical Society, will feature an article by Greg Parkinson about The Houdinis days with the Welsh Bros. that promises "new and surprising details."

Visit the Circus Historical Society website for details on how to join. You'll need to be a member by Monday to receive this issue of BANDWAGON.

Thanks to Diego Domingo and Chris Berry.

UPDATE: Chris Berry checks in with evidence that the Welsh Bros. Circus did have three (male) clowns at this time. The New York Clipper for May 5, 1895 identifies them as Charles O'Brien, Josesph Kearney and Billy Ashton. So it's possible they are the three pictured here and Bess, for whatever reason, is absent.

Friday, March 18, 2022

A lost purse in Huddersfield

Here's something I just stumbled upon that is too fun to not share right away. This  appeared in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner during Houdini's engagement in that city the week of April 3, 1911.


So what do we think? Is this legit, or a clever and inexpensive piece of Houdini advertising? If legit, was the purse ever found? Were the seats ever occupied???

Just another Houdini mystery. Happy Friday!

Houdini's Australian flight inspires 'Waypoints'

It was 112 years ago today that Houdini made his historic first flight in Australia, so what better day to release a new work of fiction inspired by that history.

Waypoints by Adam Ouston follows Bernard Cripp, the world-weary scion of an ailing family circus, as he tries to unearth every detail of Houdini's flight in order to re-enact it. As his testimony unspools, his story takes on a darker tone: he is, in fact, in mourning for a wife and child he has lost to the skies, and paralysed by an uncertainty surrounding their deaths.

Waypoints by Adam Ouston can be purchased from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. You can listen to an interview with the author HERE.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Muriel Rukeyser Houdini webinar this Sunday


A webinar discussing Muriel Rukeyser's Houdini: A Musical will be held this Sunday, March 20, at 11AM EST on Zoom. The speakers will be:
Jan Freeman will discuss her discovery of Houdini: A Musical, the decision to publish the verse drama through Paris Press, the journey of transforming the manuscript housed at the Library of Congress into a published book, and bringing the text to the attention of readers. 

Stefania Heim will present archival traces of Rukeyser’s process, drawing from her proposals, plans, correspondence, research, and drafts from the 1940s through the mid 1970s. She will also explore Rukeyser’s incorporation of language from the 1926 Congressional Judiciary Subcommittee hearings on fortune telling.

Matthew Solomon, author of Disappearing Tricks: Silent Film, Houdini, and the New Magic of the Twentieth Century, will discuss Houdini himself.
The webinar is free to join online but registration is required

The webinar will be followed by a reading of Rukeyser's Houdini at Eastern Michigan University at 2 PM EST. That event will be live streamed. Visit the Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive for details and more upcoming readings.

Related:

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

New candidate for Houdini's last suspended straitjacket escape

In 2014 I did a post about Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape in Indianapolis on April 2, 1925. At the time I said it was his last known such escape, and it has held that distinction all these years. But that changes today!

In December 1925 Houdini brought his "3 Shows in One" to Worcester, Massachusetts. On December 9th he did a suspended straitjacket escape from the C.T. Sherer Co. building on Front Street. This is not only the last suspended straitjacket escape that I've found, but it's also the only one during his "3 Shows in One" tours. Before this I would have told you the iconic outdoor stunt belonged solely to his vaudeville days. But Houdini surprises again!

Worcester Evening Gazette, Dec. 9, 1925.

The C.T. Sherer Co. was located at 50 Front Street. While the store is long gone, the building, know as the Winsor Building, remains. So is this where Houdini last hung? It is until we find another.


It's worth noting that Worcester is currently the site of Houdini's first known police station test on November 14, 1895. And when Houdini returned to Worcester in 1926, he did an air-tight casket test at the Summerfield's Department store. That is his last known outdoor stunt of any kind. So Worcester is full of Houdini milestones!

Thanks to Bill Mullins for the clipping.

Related:

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Young Harry Houdini turns 35

It was 35 years ago today that Young Harry Houdini starring Wil Wheaton aired on ABC as The Disney Sunday Movie. On this anniversary, why not take a look back at my 2010 overview of this little-known biopic by clicking the image below.

Click for overview

Hey Disney, how about bringing this to Disney+?

If you have memories of seeing Young Harry Houdini, please share in the Comments below. 

Monday, March 14, 2022

'Houdini's Fabulous Magic' returns in 2023

Here's some great news. The excellent 1961 book Houdini's Fabulous Magic by Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young will be reprinted in 2023. This new edition will include a Forward by Gabe Fajuri and be published by Vine Leaves Press.

I came across this news via the website of Charles and Cheryl Young. Charles is the son of Morris N. Young. The couple are also co-authoring a work of fiction, Houdini's Last Handcuffs, for release in 2024.

I've always loved Houdini's Fabulous Magic and I'm excited to see it return to print. You can check out my overview of the book and its publishing history via the top link below.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Magic Castle offers special "Houdini Week" séances

Seems like everyone is getting into the spirit of Houdini's birthday this year! The Magic Castle in Hollywood has announced that it will celebrate "Houdini Week" by offering several Non-Dining Houdini Séances March 21st through 27th, 2022. A non-dining séance offers a substantial savings in price.

Harry Houdini's birthday is March 24th (happy 148th, Harry!), and to celebrate, we are having a full week of Non-Dining Houdini Séances! 
The Houdini Séance Experience has been revised, revamped, and refurbished for 2022. This is your chance to take part in this newly updated tradition without having to book the full fine dining event. Parties of 1 to 10 can participate in this hourlong adventure with our mystical medium - Zabrecky. 
 
One late-night séance per evening Monday, March 21st through Sunday, March 29th. Starting at 10:00 pm Mon-Thurs & Sunday. 11:00 pm on Friday & Saturday. 
Houdini Séances are for members and their invited guests only. You can book one of these special non-dining séances HERE.

Related:

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Houdini's Brighton Beach Memoirs


Recently I came across a terrific 1927 interview with George Robinson, the salty managing director of the New Brighton Theatre in Brighton Beach, Coney Island. It appeared in the Brooklyn Times Union and is headlined, "Where Weather is the Real Headliner," and begins with some magnificent scene setting:
This is the season when Gotham comes to Brighton. Pleasure parks blaze at night like beacon fires along the beaches, while the lights grow dimmer and dimmer on Broadway. This is the season of shore diners, hadball [sic?], hot dogs, one-piece bathing suits, open taxie, ice cream cones, beach chairs and vaudeville – summer vaudeville.

The sea-green walls of the New Brighton Theatre are freshly painted. Plaster mermaids disport in shell pediments over the boxes. Sloops unfurl their delft blue sails on placques above the doors. Actresses in rompers play medicine ball on the campus; tenors and golf enthusiasts are practicing "form"; a soubrette is doing the Charleston.
What does this have to do with Houdini, you ask? Well, Robinson does mention the magician in the course of the interview, and it's pretty amusing. Here's the excerpt:
"Who was the biggest drawing card you ever had?"

"Lillian Russell. She packed the house, but when we brought her back the next season at $3000 a week – although she was just as good – the fickle public weren't interested. Annette Kellerman was a good drawing card because of her figure not her stunts. [...] Stunts don't interest Brighton crowds. Houdini was annoyed because we didn't get excited when he offered to jump off a pier and drown himself. He did jump off but nobody paid any particular attention to him."
So did Houdini really play the New Brighton? Not a single biography mentions this engagement. To the chronology!

Sure enough, Houdini played the New Brighton theatre the week of July 24, 1916. It was his first appearance there and a rare summer engagement for him. (He had played Henderson's in Coney Island the year before.) The Brooklyn Times Union announced his upcoming appearance in their July 22 issue, explaining:
"Because of the exacting nature of his offering, Mr. Houdini has always been averse to making public appearances in the heated term. However, as he recently purchased a home in Flatbush in a location adjacent to the beach, he has agreed to interrupt his vacation for a single week."
(Houdini hadn't actually "purchased" a home in Flatbush. He and Bess had moved in with the Hardeens in 1914.)

As you can see below, Houdini shared top billing that week with Adele Rowland, a popular stage actress and singer who specialized in "story songs". She was also making her first appearance at the New Brighton.

Brooklyn Times Union, July 22, 1916

Houdini did do an outdoor stunt this week. Robinson seems to recall it as a pier jump, but the newspapers described an overboard box escape. And despite what Robinson says about no one paying attention, Houdini drew a good crowd, despite the rain.

The Chat, July 29, 1916.

As far as I know, this was the only time Houdini played the New Brighton and the last time he played Coney Island.

In 1920 the New Brighton began screening movies during the winter months. It was renamed just the Brighton Theatre in 1936 when it became a legitimate house and part of the subway circuit. It was closed and demolished in 1954. Today an apartment complex stands on the site.



UPDATE: Here is a broadside advertising Houdini's overboard box escape in Brighton from the collection of the McCord Museum. Notice the prominent mention of George Robinson. Heck, he seems to be making this all about himself! Funny.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Save the date! Houdini online mega event, March 27

On Sunday, March 27, The Society of American Magicians in coordination with the Houdini Museum in Scranton will be throwing a 12-hour "World Wide Houdini Birthday Celebration" on Zoom. Yes, 12 hours! Details are still being finalized, but the day will culminate with a screening of The Grim Game.

Sunday March 27, S.A.M. President Tom Gentile is throwing a world wide birthday party for the one and only Harry Houdini. The event is kicking off at noon Eastern and then spending the next 12 hours going around the world "Doing More Together." 

We will be sharing Houdini stories, your magic and other fun events. The night will wrap up with S.A.M. 1st VP John Sturk providing original music over the Houdini silent film, The Grim Game. Link and more details will be following soon.

Join the Facebook event page here.


Thursday, March 10, 2022

The Handcuff King, King of Pop, and Heavyweight Champ walk into a theater...

Here's a nice video from Michael and Jessica of The Grimm Life Collective. Is this our first Houdini-Michael Jackson connection? I think so! Enjoy.


I appreciate this YouTuber's acknowledgment that there is a discrepancy in the date of the Jess Willard encounter. While every book says November 30, I've proposed it was actually November 29 (and made my case HERE). Happy to see I've broken through.

It worth noting that Houdini played this Los Angeles Orpheum again in 1923. No heavyweight champ takedowns that time, but I'm sure it was another...thriller.

Thanks to Carl Morano for the alert.

Related:

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Jim Steinmeyer on Houdini’s North Pole mystery

Recently I was having a conversation with the great Jim Steinmeyer who brought up Houdini's "Walking Through the North Pole" illusion. I had to admit I had never heard of this! So Jim wrote up a terrific overview of this mysterious Houdini effect, which I'm excited to share today. Enjoy!

IS THIS HOUDINI’S LAST ILLUSION?
by Jim Steinmeyer

In the June 1926 Sphinx, Max Holden described the Banquet of the Society of American Magicians which had been held on June 4, 1926, at the McAlpin Hotel in New York City.

In it, he described a trick that, it seems, was Houdini’s last creation, an unusual illusion. Houdini called it Walking Through the North Pole.

Here is Holden’s description:

"Harry Houdini next presented an illusion with two bare wood tables in the routh [“rough"?], and a piece of pole. He said it represents the North Pole. A dainty little miss was placed on one table, a screen placed round table; likewise a screen was placed around other table, and on screens being removed there was the dainty miss on the other table. After seeing Rubini, nothing is impossible, and how that dainty miss traveled invisibly through the air over that North Pole is beyond me. Miss Horwitz is the dainty miss, a daughter of my friend Sam. Maybe he will satisfy my curiosity."

(Rubini was a mindreader who had just appeared on the show and impressed the magicians with his feats. Sam Horowitz produced the S.A.M. shows, so presumably Houdini recruited his daughter to help.)

Not everyone was as complimentary as Holden. Two other reviewers added sparse details. The MUM publication for July 1926 noted the illusion very briefly:

"[Next on the show was] Houdini, presenting his new illusion, ‘Walking through the North Pole.’”

An article in Billboard described the performance this way:

"Houdini’s latest illusion [is] called * “Walking Thru the North Pole”. In full view of the audience he somehow man­aged to transfer a little girl from a table at one end of the log, which represented the North Pole, to a table at the other end.”

Notice that Billboard’s reviewer categorized the pole as more of a log.

But the most definitive judgment may have been years later. Writing about his friend and associate Harry Houdini, the great magician, Servais LeRoy, used the North Pole trick as an example of Houdini’s poor judgment with illusions.

From LeRoy:

“[Houdini] had a pleasing stage presence but was in no sense a finished magician, although this detail never seemed to trouble him. His dexterity was out of the ordinary but never reached great heights. As an illusionist he never left the common place; his illusions were anything but subtle. His escapes were incomparable. I frequently wondered at the indifference of the one and the perfection of the other, and finally was forced to the conclusion that his want of originality was the answer. Using other men’s ideas, he was unable to improve on the original and was forced to let it go at that, or produce something still weaker. His illusion of the North Pole (shown at the meeting of the Society of American Magicians Annual Banquet, 1926) was an example. The Vanishing Elephant was another. Both were perfect in their utter weakness. On the other hand, the problems and stunts he was fond of showing in private or semi-privately were perfectly done; the whole informality and apparent impromptu performance suited his unusual style."

As a fan of both LeRoy and Houdini, allow me to make a few observations about this criticism. LeRoy was legendary as an artistic illusionist, someone whose performances were perfect and mystifying, and he should be remembered as one of the greatest inventors of illusions in our history. He also writes honestly and insightfully, giving us a look at his taste and understanding of magic. But, like a lot of his contemporaries, he seemed to be frustrated by Houdini.

Still, LeRoy was wrong about dismissing Houdini’s innovations, for Houdini distinguished himself by inventing an entirely new class of illusions, called escapes. And, as LeRoy wrote, “His escapes were incomparable.” Houdini was not the finished, classical magician that LeRoy idealized, and he did not share LeRoy’s taste for stage illusions or innovative techniques. This really is an example of two incredible innovators—so very different—who couldn’t understand each other.

So where does that leave the Walking through the North Pole illusion?

Holden seems to describe a pole that connects the tables horizontally, as the lady supposedly travels “over it, invisibly.” But the action of the trick isn’t clear. The MUM and Billboard describe that the idea was a girl walking “through” the pole, and Billboard suggests that it was more like a long log. Presumably, the pole was used to connect the tables, either from tabletop to tabletop, or along the floor.

I have my own theories about it, and would hope, at some point, to try those out in a demonstration or a recreation. But the premise of the lady traveling invisibly over the pole, or through the pole, isn’t really a clear, interesting, or magical image. The North Pole would have been a topical effect in 1926, with recent headlines about Byrd and other explorers. But even that doesn’t quite work. The legendary North Pole suggests, of course, some sort of fanciful pole standing upright in the frozen tundra, not Houdini’s horizontal pole between two tables.

It’s worth noting that in England, Devant had briefly presented another North Pole illusion years earlier, tying it to topical explorations. He used an upright pole and the illusion was the transformation of a man to a polar bear!

And so, Houdini’s last illusion, given a topical name but a muddled plot, was exactly the sort of thing that inspired LeRoy’s criticism. Still, we have to admit, Houdini has us with a real mystery. With the apparatus long gone, with most in the audience shrugging off the mystery, it’s unlikely we’ll ever fully understand Houdini’s North Pole mystery. 

Thank you Jim!

UPDATE: Jim continues his investigation of this effect at his own blog. Check out: WHAT WE HIDE: HOUDINI’S FINAL ILLUSION.

Related:

Monday, March 7, 2022

Chasing Ghosts by Marc Hartzman

Chasing Ghosts: A Tour of Our Fascination with Spirits and the Supernatural by Marc Hartzman is a well researched, profusely illustrated deep dive into the world of the paranormal. While not part of the book's official description (below), I'm happy to report that Houdini and Margery are both well represented.

Ghosts are everywhere—whether you believe in them or not. Every town has its local legends, and countless books, movies, and TV shows are haunted by their presence. But our obsession with ghosts runs deeper than we know—and is embedded in the very fabric of American history. 

Writer and historian Marc Hartzman dons the mantle of tour guide, taking readers on a fascinating journey through supernatural history, including:  
  • The Fox Sisters and the rise of Spiritualism 
  • The supernatural obsessions of famous figures like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
  • Famous haunted sites like the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia and the LaLaurie House in New Orleans 
  • Famous ghosts like the Bell Witch of Tennessee and the Greenbrier Ghost of West Virginia 
  • Paranormal investigators like Ed and Lorraine Warren
Deeply researched and highly entertaining, with archival images and black and white illustrations, Chasing Ghosts will satisfy believers and skeptics alike. 

Purchase Chasing Ghosts: A Tour of Our Fascination with Spirits and the Supernatural on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

FLASHBACK: When Houdini met (The) Batman

I saw The Batman this weekend and really enjoyed it. No hidden Houdinis, but I was reminded that Houdini and a similarly dark and realistic version of Batman met up in 1993 graphic novel, The Devil's Workshop

I figured this was a good time to re-share my 2012 post about that book. So click the headline to have a read, Bat-fans.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Rally at Houdini Plaza to support Ukraine

The Appleton Post Crescent reports that citizens gathered in Appleton's Houdini Plaza yesterday to show support and collect supplies for the Ukrainian people currently under siege by Russian troops. Organizer Johnathan Pylypiv said: "We're so grateful for the Fox Cities, Appleton, all of our communities coming together, stand with Ukrainian families all over northeast Wisconsin and beyond."


Located in the center of Houdini's adopted hometown, Houdini Plaza is a popular gathering place for civic events and rallies. Yesterday's donation drive was in coordination with Wisconsin Ukrainians.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Hardeen: The Man Who Walked Through Walls

Let's celebrate Dash's 146th birthday today with a bit of forgotten Hardeen history.


We are all familiar with Houdini's famous Walking Through a Brick Wall illusion. It's one of the tricks that has become iconically associated with him -- "The Man Who Walked Through Walls". However, not many people realize Houdini only did the effect for a single week at Hammerstein's Victoria theater in New York in July 1914. And that was it! For Houdini, at least.

Houdini passed the effect to his brother, Hardeen, who appears to have first performed it at the Bowdoin Square Theatre in Boston in January 1915. He then continued to periodically feature it on his 1915 tour. Hardeen penetrated walls in: Hartford, Connecticut; Bridgeport, Rhode Island; Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; Spokane, Washington; Calgary, Alberta; and Victoria, British Columbia. The last performance I can find was in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in March 1916. This means Hardeen did Walking Through a Brick Wall many more times than Houdini!

Below is a nice ad for Hardeen's performance of the effect in Calgary. I love the headline: "BRICKS and MORTAR vs. FLESH and MUSCLE."

Morning Albertan, Sept. 22, 1915

Below is the best overall description of the effect as Hardeen performed it. It's pretty much exactly as Houdini did it, right down to the two rug coverings. Wonder if he also wore the white duster? Unfortunately, I don't know of any photo showing Hardeen and his wall.

The Spokesman Review, Oct. 1, 1915.

Here's some evidence showing how Hardeen became independently associated with the effect.

Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, Feb. 23, 1915.

Walking Through a Brick Wall was not without controversy. Houdini had purchased the secret from magician Sidney Josolyne in England. However, P.T. Selbit claimed to have invented it and accused Joselyne and Houdini of theft. Along with the wall Hardeen inherited the controversy and continued to exchange barbs with Selbit into the 1920s. I'm not aware of Hardeen performing the effect after Houdini's death, but Sidney Radner recalls seeing the apparatus among Hardeen's belongings in the 1940s.

In 1939 Hardeen appeared as a guest on WNYC's "Voice of the Theatre" radio program (which you can listen to HERE). The interview begins with Hardeen seeming to make a mysterious appearance in the studio. Host Ezra Macintosh asks how he got in with the door being closed the whole time. Hardeen's answer: "Why I'm the man who walked through brick walls."

Indeed!



Related:

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Paramount puts Houdini movie into development


Deadline reports that a new Houdini movie is gestating at Paramount. Below are the key details:

EXCLUSIVE: Transformers duo Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian are producing a movie about iconic escape artist and illusionist Harry Houdini for Paramount. 

Plot details are being kept under wraps on the untitled development project but we understand it will be set of its time in the early 20th Century and have a Sherlock Holmes tone, dealing as it does with a human superhero type. 

Script is being written by Neil Widener and Gavin James who are also working with the studio on Jerry Bruckheimer’s Beyblade project. 

Always great to hear about a new Houdini project. But before we get too excited (or upset), know that there have been dozens of announced Houdini movies that fail to escape from development. But I wish everyone involved in this latest project the best of luck.

UPDATE: I enjoyed this comment on the original Deadline story.

Houdini hangs in Omaha

Recently I was excited to confirm Houdini's 1923 appearance and suspended straitjacket escape in Omaha, Nebraska. The clipping below from the Omaha Daily News isn't much, but it gets the job done!

The Omaha Daily News, Sept. 5, 1923.

I don't know of any photos or film of this escape, but according to this clipping it was performed at the intersection of 15th and Farnam streets. Today there exists a set of historic buildings at this site which are earmarked for redevelopment. Could one of these be the building?


This week Houdini was appearing at the Orpheum (formally the Creighton Theatre) located at 409 South 16th Street. The theater was demolished in 1926 and a new Orpheum was built on the site which still stands today.

The original Orpheum/Creighton Theatre.
The Omaha Morning Bee, Sept. 3, 1923.

For the record, Houdini played Omaha in 1899, 1900, 1915, and this final engagement in 1923.


UPDATE: The great Bill Mullins has come through again and located images of Houdini's escape. Houdini did the escape from the Omaha World Herald building which is not one of the standing structures we see today. That building stood across the street and is long gone. Thanks Bill!

Omaha World Herald, Sept. 5, 1923

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Four staged readings of Muriel Rukeyser's 'Houdini' in March

The Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive has organized four staged readings this month of Rukeyser’s 1973 musical play, Houdini. Elisabeth Daumer, professor of English and women's and gender studies at EMU, says she hopes this will offer a way for people to rediscover Rukeyser's work.

"I believe this is the right play for the pandemic and for what's happening in our country," Daumer says. "The question of, 'What is freedom?' is so fundamental right now."

Below is the schedule of readings. For more information visit the official website.

March 20, 2pm. Sponberg Theatre, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI. 
This event will be live streamed, preceded by a webinar, at 11am, featuring Rukeyser experts Jan Freeman and Stefania Heim and Houdini expert Matthew Solomon. Registration.

March 24, 7pm. Riverside Arts Center, Ypsilanti, MI. 
In collaboration with YpsiWrites, a writing-focused non-profit serving the Ypsilanti area, this event will be accompanied by a Poetry Wall and other activities geared toward a younger Southeast Michigan audience.

March 26, 8pm, and March 27, 3pm. Matrix Theatre, Detroit, MI. 
These events will be followed by conversations between the director, actors, and audience. Directed by EMU Theatre Professor Lee Stille, Rukeyser’s Houdini will be performed by the talented actors of EMU’s Theatre Program. 

Houdini by Muriel Rukeyser was originally published by Paris Press and is currently available from Wesleyan University Press

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