Friday, June 17, 2022

Finding Houdini's 278 at Paramount


Recently my buddy and former co-worker Sterling Silva altered me to the possibility that the exterior of Houdini's house from the 1953 Houdini biopic starring Tony Curtis still stands on the Paramount backlot. Yesterday I joined him for lunch and a little studio exploration and, sure enough, the block of homes as seen in the movie is still there!


Known as Washington Square, the block consists of five "upscale Georgian style facades". There have been cosmetic changes over the past 70 years, but it's all still very recognizable. Three of the facades match the film. Try as we might, we couldn't establish conclusively which of the three was the house. But the one I'm standing in above pic seemed to line up in our camera lens the best. And if you're wondering what the inside looks like, here you go. A little less square footage than the real thing, but that's movie magic for you!


In the movie the filmmakers elected to renumber the house as 273 W. 113th Street (as opposed to the real 278). This can be spotted on an invitation that immediately precedes this shot. The house interiors were shot on a Paramount soundstage along with the rest of the film. One day I hope to identify exactly which stages were used in the production. Paramount now lists on the outside of their stages which famous movies were made within, so it would be great to see Houdini (1953) added to one of those historic markers.

Our exploration also turned up a couple other Houdini connections. Adolph Zukor and Jesse Laksy both have buildings names after them. A large bust of Zukor sits in the lobby of his building. These men worked with the real Houdini to produce his two Paramount movies, The Grim Game (1919) and Terror Island (1920). Although Zukor may have ghosted Houdini when it came to the possibility of a third.


Unfortunately, the real Houdini never walked on the existing Paramount lot. His two films were shot at the now long gone Famous Players-Lasky studio in Hollywood. But Bess did! I didn't snap any pics of that spot on this visit, but I thought of her as we walked that same path.

Believe it or not, this is now the second standing 278 in Hollywood. The brownstone facade used in The Great Houdinis also still stands on the Fox Studio Lot in Century City.

What a joy to discover this piece of Houdini (1953) history is still around and is still in use. Paramount does offer studio tours, so you can always check it out for yourself.

Thank you Sterling!

11 comments:

  1. I was not aware that there was any backlot anymore after the fire in the late 1980s. I saw that fire as I worked there at the time. I was under the assumption that the rest of the backlot was gone. Good to know that Houdini's home still stands.

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    1. Still there. It's not big, but it's very cool. It struck me that the exterior of the Hotel Astor might also be there, but I didn't have a picture reference on me.

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  2. I don't know why this came out as anonymous as it never has before.

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    1. Blogger has been tinkering with how the comments work and display. I've found they don't work well with Safari. When I comment I have to use Chrome.

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  3. Having literally written the book about the Paramount lot (its called "Paramount: City of Dreams," and thank you for asking) I can attest that except for a few outer walls, the Paramount backlot did burn in 1983. That said, the replacement set that is there now was largely built on the bones of, and also copied, sometimes exactly, the original sets. So, maybe I'm being romantic, but I like to think that the ghost of Tony Curtis, if not of Houdini himself, haunts that hallowed spot still.
    -Steve Bingen

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    1. Thank you Steve, I should have reached out to you! I'm sad to learn that it's not the exact same structure, but I'll take a reconstruction on the same spot. It's like the famed Universal Monster village at Universal. Hasn't that burned down a few times? But as long as it's on the same spot and built to the same specs, I consider it sacred ground.

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  4. Zukor was one of the honorary pallbearers at Houdini's funeral. Guilt for ghosting Harry like that? Turned his back on him.

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    1. It might not be fair of me to say Zukor ghosted him. He may have ultimately responded. The fact that he was a pallbearer shows they stayed close. My big surprise here was learning that Zukor lived to 103!

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    2. I for one would love to find out what happened. Harry was in Zukor's inner circle of associates. He shouldn't have experienced a hard time getting hold of him. Unless Zukor wasn't interested in Houdini's independent films. And that's what it appears to be.

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  5. A little research for a Houdini movie career book perhaps?!!

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    1. For sure! That's a book that's long overdue and it's on my to do list. :)

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