Friday, June 30, 2023

Houdini '53 at 70: Star power

Concluding our 70th Anniversary celebration of Paramount's classic Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

For many members of the audience in June 1953, the true appeal of Houdini was its two stars: Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. The actors were married in real life and darlings of the fan magazines at this time. Houdini was the first movie in which they starred together. In fact, this bit of stunt casting went along way to convincing the studio to make the movie. So we have a lot of reasons to like Tony and Janet!

I thought it would be fun to share a typical fan magazine story from the time. This comes from the August 1953 Screenland and dares to ask the question; are Tony and Janet overexposed? Horror! See, fake controversy was around even back then. Enjoy.

Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh went on to have long and successful carers. Janet took the most famous shower in cinema history in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, winning a Golden Globe. Tony appeared in the Billy Wilder's classic Some Like It Hot (with former girlfriend Marilyn Monroe) and was nominated for an Oscar for The Defiant Ones. Their daughter, Jamie Leigh Curtis, went on to stardom herself. 

Unfortunately, their marriage didn't last. The couple divorced in 1962. Both actors penned autobiographies; There Really Was a Hollywood (1984) and American Prince (2008). Janet died in 2004 at age 77 and Tony in 2010 at age 85.

For me, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh will forever be the first and still the best cinematic incarnations of Harry and Bess Houdini.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Houdini '53 at 70: Cut scenes

Continuing our 70th Anniversary celebration of Paramount's classic Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

Not everything shot for Houdini '53 made it to the screen. Two notable cuts scenes showed recreations of Houdini's famous Milk Can escape and his plane to plane transfer from The Grim Game. Here's a peek at both.

Photos of the Milk Can escape did circulate among the publicity material and the Milk Can even appeared on at least one poster. It's a shame The Grim Game scene didn't make it into the film as it was a nice nod to Houdini's movie career in film made by the same studio.

But these weren't the only cuts. One cut scene that doesn't get much mention showed the Houdinis performing a cremation illusion beginning to end. As with the above scenes, this was to have been part of in the first "success montage."

You can see 20 photos showing the entirety of the cut cremation scene as a member of my Pateron by clicking the image below. Non-members can buy the photos at my new digital store HERE.

I would sure love to see these cut scenes. But I think the chances of that are about a good as the chances of Houdini coming back!

UPDATE: I've now added 25 photos from the cut Milk Can scene to my digital store. Patrons can download these free. Non-patrons can buy for $3. Just click below.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Houdini '53 at 70: The competition

Continuing our 70th Anniversary celebration of Paramount's classic Houdini biopic starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

Besides Houdini, what else could you have seen 70 years ago this week? Here are several newspaper ads showing the competition for your perusal.

Choices, choices! You can see a list of all movies released in 1953 as well as the top grossing HERE.


Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Houdini '53 at 70: Peer promotion

Continuing our 70th Anniversary celebration of Paramount's classic Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

For the release of Houdini in June 1953, the Paramount marketing department aligned with magic clubs and magicians to boost the movie with various tie-in publicity stunts and screenings. Below is a page from the Motion Picture Herald showing some of those Houdini happenings around the country.

Click to enlarge.

Here's another promotional item about a special screening of Houdini at the IBM's Silver Anniversary convention in Philadelphia.

Even Genii The Conjuror's Magazine featured the movie on its June 1953 cover. 

However, Houdini did come in for some criticism from members of the magic community for its inaccuracies. Milbourne Christopher led the charge with this item in Variety.

Click to enlarge.

I think it's clear today that Houdini was a legit boost to magic by inspiring a new generation of magicians and magic enthusiasts. As far as its inaccuracies... If only they knew what was to come!


Monday, June 26, 2023

Houdini '53 at 70: Variety review

Continuing our 70th Anniversary celebration of Paramount's classic Houdini biopic starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

Here is the original review of Houdini that appeared in Variety. This ran in their May 20, 1953 issue.

Not a rave. But also not a pan. It's interesting to read that Paramount screened it in a 1:66 aspect ratio. Projecting a 1:33 film in "widescreen" could lead to problems, as you can read below from the August 1st Decatur Daily.


Sunday, June 25, 2023

Houdini '53 at 70: Premiere day

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the release of the Paramount's classic biopic HOUDINI starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Seeing this move at age 10 is what ignited my interest in Houdini, and I know I'm not alone in this. It's a magical movie that inspired more than one generation. I still love it. That's why I'm going to devote this entire week to Houdini '53.

Today I'm sending you back to the beginning, the premiere at the Des Moines Theater in Des Moines, Iowa, on June 25, 1953. Just click the image below to see the show!

I've got my poster out and will be watching it tonight. How about you?

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Get ready for Houdini '53 at 70

We're fast approaching the 70th anniversary of the classic Paramount biopic Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. I have a lot of love for this movie and I'm planning something special for its anniversary. So watch out for Houdini '53 in '23!

Friday, June 23, 2023

Discover Houdini the Mason online event

I'm excited to have been added to the panel for this Masons of California online event celebrating Houdini the Mason next Wednesday, June 28. This event is free and open to the public, all you need to do is register HERE.

On June 28, in observance of the the 100th anniversary of Houdini’s being raised as a Master Mason with St. Cecile Lodge No. 568 in New York, the California Masonic Symposium turns its attention to the renowned magician, mystic, and Mason. The discussion will be led by Grand Master of California Randall L. Brill.

Hope to see you there!

Walter's story

The current issue of The Magazine of the Society for Psychical Research (Issue 7, 2022) contains two groundbreaking articles about the life, death, and afterlife of Walter Stinson, brother of Mina "Margery" Crandon and her seance room spirit guide.

"More Famous Dead Than Alive: The Story of Walter Stuart Stinson" and "Phenomena of the Walter Personality" are co-authored by Walter Meyer zu Erpen and Anna Thurlow, the great-granddaughter of Margery. They contain a wealth of new information and feature many unique images from the Libbet Crandon de Malamud Collection, one of which graces the cover (right).

The Magazine of the Society for Psychical Research is sent to all SPR members. Non-members can buy individual issues via SPR website.


Thursday, June 22, 2023

Anniversary day

I'm marking Harry and Bess Houdini's 129th anniversary on my Patreon today with a very special rarity from the Harry Ransom Center. It's a single page that will both warm and break your heart. Click below to share in the love.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Accident at the Hippodrome

On April 18, 1918, a terrible accident occurred on the stage of the New York Hippodrome during a performance of Cheer Up. While Houdini wasn't involved in the accident, he was in the theater at the time. Below is a report from the New York Sun.

The New York Sun, April 19, 1918.

The day after the accident, Houdini wrote to Harry Kellar describing what he saw and also the panic backstage, which was not covered in the newspapers. This letter is housed at David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts and reads in part:

I was out in Mark Lueschers office when I heard awful screaming. Mark and I rushed out into the auditorium, and what an awful site. We arrived when the damage in sight of the audience has been done, then two fool firemen passing me rushed downstairs and they must have lost their head. 

Houdini goes on to explain, with a fair measure of disgust, that the firemen panicked the chorus men who then "stampeded" the chorus girls waiting in the wings. "Then there was a hellavu time," says Houdini.

Houdini volunteered to go onstage to fill the gap in the show, but "things were in too disturbed a state" and his offer was not accepted. He did express relief that the flying car did not go into the audience.

According to Houdini, the stagehand, Henry Casey, died on the way to the hospital. This was not reported in the papers. In fact, it hard to find any followup on the accident. But Axel Mirano survived and the brothers were back performing their "Flying Torpedo" act by the end of the year. The advert below from the Palace shows what their apparatus looked like.

The timing of this accident is interesting. This was within a month of the accidental shooting of magician Chung Ling Soo on the stage at the Empire Theater in London. This was also the very week Houdini planned to perform his own version of Soo's bullet catch at the Hippodrome. 

As I covered in this post, the Hippodrome management requested Houdini cancel the dangerous trick and he did. I wonder if this accident had anything to do with that? I also wonder if being in such close proximity to two stage tragedies might have spooked Houdini. He didn't want to be number three!

Want more? You can read more details about the Hippodrome accident as a "Scholar" member of my Patreon.

Thanks to David Copperfield.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Todd Aydelotte runs to Huber's

Ultrarunner Todd Aydelotte has made another historic Houdini run in New York City. This time he's at the site of Huber's dime museum where The Houdinis performed in their early careers.

As Todd explained in this post, he's following a path of Houdini history leading up to an all-day ultrarun. You can follow his progress on Instagram @toddaydelotte.

Monday, June 19, 2023

LINK: Houdini's favorite casket maker

Here's a well-researched post about the Boyertown Burial Casket Company on the blog MarkerQuest by Laura Klotz. Boyertown made the caskets for Houdini's final buried alive tests and, presumably, he's in a Boyertown casket today! So click below or on the headline to read all about Houdini's favorite casket maker.

Friday, June 16, 2023

There's a Houdiniesque David Copperfield poster out there (update)

On my last visit to the Magic Castle, I was excited to see a new addition to their dining room. Framed on the wall is a huge new David Copperfield poster styled after Houdini's famous 1911 Strobridge lithograph, sometimes called the "Houdini for President" poster. Yes, it's David Copperfield by way of Houdini and that's pretty wild!

I don't know when this poster was created, but this was my third sighting. I first saw it inside David's own International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas and again at Bruce Averbook's Magic Art Museum and Library in Cleveland. But I've only seen it inside these three temples of magic where no photos are allowed. So all I can do is share news that it exists and that it works beautifully as a tribute to two masters of magic.

Have you seen the "Copperfield for President" poster? Let us know in the comments below.

UPDATE: Thanks to Ray Anderson and our friends at Esther's Follies in Austin, we can see the poster!

Thursday, June 15, 2023

'Bess - The Other Houdini' is coming to the UK

I'm excited to share news today of a new play, Bess - The Other Houdini, written by Christine Foster and directed by James Weisz. The show will have previews at two venues in South East England, Eastbourne and Lewes in September and October before opening at Upstairs at the Gatehouse in London, October 23-November 12, 2023.

Escape Artists Theatre Company presents the Mystery and Magic of Bess - The Other Houdini
Will Houdini contact Bess from the Afterlife? And if he doesn't, can there be Life After Harry?

Two years after Houdini’s death, his widow Bess, eager for cash, is accused of rigging a séance. Hounded by the Press, she flees to a sanitarium to battle not only with her own demons, but with her terror that their perfect marriage may have been the greatest illusion of all.

Three performers play multiple parts in this fast-paced play which employs creative stage illusions, confrontations, surprises, and a climatic Séance. The magic consultant and supervisor of special effects is Paul Zenon, Gold Star Member of the Inner Magic Circle.

Tickets are not yet available, but you can follow the official Facebook page for news and updates.

A play about Bess. I love it!

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Houdini's long "jumps"

Recently I found a remarkable article written by Houdini in the May 11, 1923 issue of The Vaudeville News. In it he discusses some of the "long jumps" he's made throughout his career. A "jump" refers to the distance traveled between bookings. As a rule, the shorter a jump the better, especially if a performer is paying their own traveling expenses. (You'll see many references to "jumps" in the upcoming diary book.)

There's one jump mentioned here that has me particularly intrigued, but I'll come back to that after you've enjoyed the article.

The jump I want to discuss is his jump from Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, to Chicago in 1903. This is the first I've heard any trip back to the America in 1903!

Unfortunately, I can find no confirmation that Houdini was in Chicago at this time. Our friend Bill Mullins reminds me that the Russian dates of Houdini's Dramatic Mirror column, when adjusted to the Gregorian calendar, show he was in Russia within a week of opening in Holland. In that same column Houdini writes that he spent time in Berlin after Russia. So there doesn't appear to be enough time for him to travel to America and back. A diary could solve the mystery, but no diary from 1903 is known to exist.

Still, I don't know why Houdini would make something like this up? The other jumps he discusses check out (more or less). And Dordrecht did follow Nizhny Novgorod. So I'm not sure what to make of this one.

If anyone can find any evidence of Houdini aboard a ship or in Chicago in late August or early September 1903, I'd love to hear about it!

Thanks to Bill Kalush and Bill Mullins for their help. Top photo from The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Walter B. Gibson.


Monday, June 12, 2023

Secrets revealed

I promise I'm not going to relentlessly tease the upcoming Houdini diary book that I'm working on with Mike Caveney and Bruce Averbook, especially as we don't even have a release date yet. But, dang-it, some days I'm just too exciting to not share, as I did over the weekend on Instagram.

Truth be told, in my first draft I made an educated guess at what this said based on the context. Over the weekend I found confirmation that I was correct. So I've reworked that annotation. Not that it's anything all the revelatory. But I love being able to nail down the meaning behind every entry and bringing a new Houdini fact into the world.

What did it say? You'll have to wait for the book to find out!

Oh what a tease.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Masons of California remember Bro. Houdini, June 28

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Houdini becoming a Mason. On June 28, the Masons of California with celebrate Brother Houdini with a special online event. Below are details.

There is nothing more captivating than the illusion of magic. From daring disappearing acts to death-defying escapes, magic has always been a profound spectacle that entertains and enthralls.

No one mastered that art better than Harry Houdini (1891–1926). An American-Hungarian immigrant, his humble beginnings and captivation with escapism inspired him to become the most famous and influential magician of all time.

On June 28, in observance of the the 100th anniversary of Houdini’s being raised as a Master Mason with St. Cecile Lodge No. 568 in New York, the California Masonic Symposium turns its attention to the renowned magician, mystic, and Mason. The discussion will be led by Grand Master of California Randall L. Brill.

In addition to exploring the life and Masonic career of Bro. Houdini, the symposium will include a panel discussion of experts diving into a litany of ties between magic and Masonry. What is magic’s relevance to Freemasonry today? How important is showmanship in our ritual What is the magical connection between Freemasonry and the ritual? Certainly the connections are more than just passing: The Grand Lodge of California recently formed a new lodge made up entirely of magicians, in Ye Olde Cup & Ball No. 880. Additionally, the Invisible Lodge is an international group of magician-Masons. But how are the practices of magic and Masonry related—and what philosophical ideas underpin them both?

This online event is free and open to everyone. For more information and to register visit

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Houdini's retirement plan

Houdini frequently announced his imminent retirement. This was especially true during the first decade of his success. It's possible Houdini might have considered retiring early. His work was strenuous. But I've always suspected these retirement announcements were more about drawing in an audience. See me now or never! (Reminds me of Penn & Teller's current tour billed as "The First Final UK Tour.")

Like I said, Houdini's retirement announcements tended to be from his earlier years. But here's one from 1923! This time it's much more specific and his retirement plan is pretty unexpected.

Seattle Union Record, March 10, 1923.

Needless to say, Houdini didn't retire. But this was his final appearance in Seattle and he did leave vaudeville in 1925. But that was to start his own full evening show.

I would love to know Houdini's mind at this point in time. Could he really have been considering opening "a children's theater of magic in New York"? He had toyed with the idea of opening a magic theater in New York in 1918 and did enjoy performing for children, so...

Speaking of Houdini and children, I recently shared on Patreon a photo I've never seen of Houdini performing for a group of children backstage at the New York Hippodrome on his last day in vaudeville. You can see it by clicking below:

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Todd Aydelotte runs in Coney Island

Ultrarunner Todd Aydelotte has clocked another in his series of historic Houdini runs in New York City. This time he's in Coney Island.

As Todd explained in this post, he's following a path of Houdini history leading up to an all-day ultrarun. You can follow his progress on Instagram @toddaydelotte.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Flashback: Houdini vs. Success

I've always felt like Houdini's escape from the famed prison ship Success on June 4, 1913 doesn't get enough attention as one of his greatest escapes. But it really was! It's also, I believe, his last official "jailbreak."

So on this 110th anniversary, why not click back to my deep dive from 2018 and give it some love:

The Grim Game serialized in 'Pictures and Picturegoer'

Our friend Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence has made a fantastic discovery in the October 16, 1920 issue of Pictures and Picturegoer. The magazine contains a story adaptation of Houdini's 1919 movie The Grim Game written by John Fleming. Below are links to each installment:

Friday, June 2, 2023

Houdini takes the lid off Fleischmann’s Yeast

Ever hear the one about Harry Houdini and Fleischmann’s Yeast? Sounds like the start of a joke, doesn't it? But it's not. Houdini's family connection to Fleischmann’s Yeast is something Patrick Culliton has always talked about. But when I was at the Harry Ransom Center last year, I finally heard it from Houdini himself.

In a letter dated June 8, 1925 to Albert Davis of 351 Bridge Street in Brooklyn, Houdini writes:

    I noticed you live on Bridge Street. Many years ago my uncle, Simon Newman, he brought compressed yeast into this country and he taught the older Fleischman the business, in fact Fleischman was only one of a number of helpers and managed to get financing – my uncle having refused to form a corporation. His place was at 28 Jay Street and many a happy swim I had off the J Street Dock. By the way, the Fleischman people paid my uncle $200. a month all the rest of his life after having practically put him out of business and some how or other I attribute it has conscience money. Will tell you the whole story in person.

    It seems strange to hear that an unknown man brought compressed yeast to this country but he sold it for years and is now entirely forgotten.

Fleischmann’s Yeast is still around today. Unsurprisingly, the official company history doesn't mention Houdini's Uncle Newman. I'm also excited to learn the location of swimming spot for young Ehrich Weiss. Any Brooklyn residents want to try and track down the Jay Street Dock?

Now let's work out the rest of that joke.

Want more? You can see and read the entire original letter as a Scholar member of my Patreon.