Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Houdini and Don the Talking Dog

It’s sometimes easy to forget that for most of his career Houdini was always part of a larger vaudeville show featuring a dozen other performers on the same bill. Most of those performers are now long forgotten. But looking below Houdini's name on a playbill can sometimes turn up some surprises, which is what I have today.


In July 1912 Houdini played a record seven weeks at Hammerstein's popular Roof Garden in New York City (pictured above). During this run that he featured his Double Fold Death Defying Mystery, did his first overboard box escape, and his first outdoor stunt in Times Square. This is also when asked for one week to be paid in gold coins so he could pour them into his mother's lap. Times were good!

But here's something about that famous engagement that doesn't get a mention in any biography. For five of those seven weeks Houdini shared the bill with a performer who rivaled him in popularity. A New York sensation, in fact. It was "Don the Talking Dog".


Below is a preview of Hammerstein's bill for the week of July 22, 1912. Notice who gets mentioned first.

New York Tribune, July 21, 1912.

This Hammerstein's engagement marked Don's debut in America. The dog had just come over on the SS Kronprinz Wilhelm, a ship Houdini also traveled on, and just like Houdini, he was seasick for most of his journey. Despite what the article says this was not Don's last week. Both he and Houdini were held over multiple times and both clocked a total of seven weeks on the Roof.

There's a surprising amount of information online about Don the Talking Dog, and it looks like I'm not the first to have noticed his time with Houdini. The below is from Mysterious Universe and tells the rest of Don's amazing tale.

Don became a huge success in America, at one point even sharing billing with the megastar escape artist Harry Houdini and the comedian Sophie Tucker, as well as other top acts at the time, and he went on to become a celebrity endorser for Milk-Bone dog biscuits in the process. Don the Talking Dog was starting to become a household name, and even though he only spoke German, Americans totally loved him. He was soon being called “the canine phenomenon of the century,” and adding to his allure and popularity were news headlines in August of 1913 that told of Don saving a man from drowning at Brighton Beach. Don allegedly shouted the word “Help,” before swimming out to save the man, ensuring that now he was not only an entertainment star and scientific marvel, but also a bonafide hero.

Don would spend several more years performing in America, touring around to places including Boston, San Francisco, and other cities, amazing audiences and allegedly puzzling scientists and animal experts. After this, he returned to Germany to retire until his death in 1915, his last words apparently being "Say goodbye to my old pal Loney Haskell."

Below is some artwork of Hammerstein's two headliners during their second shared week. The illustration of Houdini I've never seen and it's interesting that he appears to be being tied with strips of cloth. As for Don, well, he speaks for himself!


Below are links to a few other tales of Houdini and his fellow (human) vaudevillians. And stay tuned for a story about Houdini and the rascally Belle Baker.

5 comments:

  1. That was great!!! Thanks for another wonderful post! I've never seen a photo of the Hammerstein Roof Garden before. It looks better than I imagined it to be. Walter Gibson pointed out that HH was always a vaudeville act on the bill. Until his 3 Shows in One.

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  2. This was a really ruff read. Thanks for posting it!

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  3. A fun, light-hearted post...Lassie would be proud.

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  4. Haha. Thanks guys. It's quite the tail. ;p

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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