William Pack's self-published lecture companion book, The Essential Houdini, is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
- Houdini's Movies
- Les merveilleux exploits de Houdini à Paris (1909)
- The Master Mystery (1918)
- The Grim Game (1919)
- Terror Island (1920)
- The Man From Beyond (1922)
- Haldane of the Secret Service (1923)
- Velvet Fingers (1925-26)
- Medium Well Done (1937)
- Religious Racketeers (1938)
- Houdini Picture Corp.
- Film Developing Corp.
- Filming locations
- Unmade Movies
- Deconstructing Houdini '53
- Beatrice Houdini
- Theo Hardeen
- Cecelia Weiss
- Mayer Samuel Weiss
- Jim Collins
- Franz Kukol
- Martin Beck
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- J. Gordon Whitehead
- Edward Saint
- Jacob Hyman
- Leopold Weiss
- Carrie Gladys Weiss
- Bernard M.L. Ernst
- Charmian London
- Jess Willard
- H.P. Lovecraft
- Sherlock Holmes
- Other magicians
- Full Bibliography
- By Houdini
- For Kids
- Wild About Harry Bookshelf
- Houdini His Life Story (1928)
- Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls (1959)
- Houdini The Untold Story (1969)
- The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini (1993)
- Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (1997)
- The Secret Life of Houdini (2006)
- The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini (2012)
- The Witch of Lime Street (2015)
- The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini (2019)
Thursday, August 31, 2023
William Pack has announced that he will be retiring his popular talk "The Essential Houdini" at the end of this year. Pack has given his talk at libraries, schools, and community centers for the past 15 years. Below is a list of the remaining dates.
Tuesday, August 29, 2023
The original spirit message from Houdini's mother delivered via "automatic writing" by Lady Doyle during the famous Atlantic City seance has been unearthed in David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts. The 17-page message survives complete, along with a cover page written by Houdini. While never lost, the message has remained largely unseen, and its existence was not generally known.
As detailed in this post, the Doyles believed Houdini had been wholly convinced by the message. But Houdini was troubled by the lack of specifics and that the pages were written in English. He and his mother only communicated in German. He eventually told the Doyles that he did not believe the message had come from his mother.
Nevertheless, Houdini appears to have kept the message for the rest of his life. The first two pages were reproduced in the 1932 book Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of Strange Friendship by Bernard M.L. Ernst and Hereward Carrington. But after that, the original message seemed to vanish and only transcriptions survived.
I now think it's possible these pages passed from Bernard Ernst to magician and collector John Mulholland. David Copperfield acquired the Mulholland Collection in 1991, which seeded the magnificent museum he has today. So Mama has been home the entire time!
Thanks to Bruce Averbook for making this find and David Copperfield for allowing me to share. You can watch video of the discovery on my Patreon.
Monday, August 28, 2023
Green Bean Books in the UK has announced the 2024 release of Harry and the Highwire by Julie Carpenter illustrated by Laura Catalan. While the book is still a ways off, they've created a nice promo video below.
You can read more about Harry and the Highwire at the Green Bean Books website.
Saturday, August 26, 2023
Every auction has its surprises, and in today's Potter & Potter auction of Vintage & Modern Magic, the Houdini surprise was this program from his 1926 run at the Princess Theatre in Chicago. The lot had a $150-$300 estimate. But when the hammer fell after 48 bids, it sold for $7,800 (including buyer's premium).
This is a beauty and a nice artifact from the longest engagement of Houdini's 3 Shows in One (eight weeks), but I have no idea why it reached such heights! Perhaps the excellent condition or the association to magician George Schulte had something to do with this. Whatever the reason, I'm sure it will be loved!
If you're wild about this Chicago engagement, check out my related links below.
Congrats to all the sellers and winners in today's auction.
Thursday, August 24, 2023
Dalshire International of Carrollton, Texas, is selling via LiveAuctioneers a signed copy of Houdini's Book of Magic and Party Pastimes with an estimate of $16,800 - $18,200. The auction already has one bid.
Here's the problem. This book was published in December 1927, more than a year after Houdini's death. So while the book might be authentic, the signature is unquestionably fake.
Over the past few years, Dalshire and LiveAuctioneers have sold other Houdini items with this same fake signature. Some for a great deal of money. I really don't know if they are complicit or dupes in all this. It's not for me to judge. I also don't make it a practice of flagging each and every one of these.
However, this particular fake is instructive. No one can argue for this being authentic, and the signature is the same (autopen?) that has shown up on all these fakes. Even if this auction is taken down, save these photos and use them as a reference. If you ever see this signature on any Houdini item, don't touch it!
Be careful out there!
UPDATE: It appears this auction has now been removed. But Dalshire still has two live auctions with this same signature, one on a photo reproduction from the 1960s. All this has inspired me to create a Houdini "Fraud Pack," a collection of images of irrefutable Houdini fakes. You can download it FREE via this public post on my Patreon.
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Here's another gem discovered by our friend Whitt Smith in an old issue of The Sphinx magazine.
|Click to enlarge|
This occurred on Saturday, April 21, 1923, at the Golden Gate Theater in San Fransisco. Houdini and his good friend Hattie Mooser arranged the special matinee performance. The children all received the below Good Luck "Houdini Mascot."
|McCord Stewart Museum|
Speaking of good luck, the Golden Gate Theater still stands today!
In Houdini's time, the Golden Gate was a Junior Orpheum that featured three shows a day and a movie on the bill. As you can see below, the movie this week was Look Your Best starring Colleen Moore. You can also see this special children's matinee advertised.
|The San Francisco Examiner, April 21, 1923.|
Thank you, Whitt!
Tuesday, August 22, 2023
I'm wrapping up my search for photos to illustrate the diary book. I'm happy to report that many generous collectors have provided fantastic images. This book should be the most complete collection of Houdini artifacts from the 1890s yet published.
However, I've failed to locate the owner of the below. This ticket was sold on eBay back in 2018. It's a remarkable survivor from the 1890s that I would love to include in the book. What a shame for it to have survived all these years only to vanish now.
If you are the lucky owner of this magic ticket, please get in touch!
Thank you. 🙏
UPDATE: Some trusted collectors have expressed their concerns that this might be a fake. Apparently, this sold at a time when there were similar fakes on eBay. I admit the $1000 Challenge gives me pause. That should be $100. But apart from this, it comports well with Houdini history. But if there's doubt, it's probably best to leave this out of the book. Thanks all!
Monday, August 21, 2023
In 2020, Joe Notaro acquired Houdini's own bound volume of the serialized story Houdini's Schooldays from the Houdini family. Now Joe has published those stories, complete with the original illustrations and his own research. It's another groundbreaking work from Joe and a must for any Houdini collection.
Joe M. Notaro brought Houdini’s full novella, The Zanetti Mystery into print and now he tackles Houdini’s Schooldays. Houdini’s Schooldays was serialized over 30 weeks (9/18/1920 to 4/2/1921) in the Merry and Bright comics and has never been published in book form until now. Herbert Allingham was the author and Harry Houdini owned the dramatic and screen rights.
This is a BIG story. An extremely fine production in all respects. Don’t miss this amazing yarn.A MAN LIKE HOUDINI could not fail to have had a wonderful early life, and this story tells of his adventures while still at school. In addition to sharing Houdini’s Schooldays with original illustrations, Joe. M. Notaro shares his research on the history of the story, along with photos of rare items (from various collections). Research includes other Allingham stories with Houdini’s name attached, Copperfield’s Merry and Bright books, Houdini and Allingham correspondence, Houdini’s education (Appleton, Milwaukee), and a look at possible illustrators for the story.
You can purchase Houdini's Schooldays as a hardcover or paperback from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. However, if you buy directly from Joe, you can get the book signed and a limited edition bonus card. Just click over to Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence for details.
Thank you to Joe for sharing this rare treasure.
Saturday, August 19, 2023
The historic Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, which is also celebrating its centennial this year, will screen Haldane of the Secret Service on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 6 PM. Live musical accompaniment will be provided by silent movie specialist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $12.
The Leavitt Theatre is located at 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine. For more info and to buy tickets visit their official website.
Thursday, August 17, 2023
This challenge is covered in most Houdini biographies. Houdini went back and forth with the challengers, refusing certain aspects of the restraint, such as having his feet nailed to the floor. He also insisted on having two doctors present during the test. Houdini made his escape but vowed he'd never take on the dreaded Sangaw again.
However, magic history buff Whitt Smith recently sent me a detailed account of a special S.A.M. "Houdini Night" at the Palace Theatre from The Sphinx (January 1922) that reveals the sangaw was not a one-off escape after all. And more! The key excerpt is below:
Houdini then went on to say that while traveling through China in 1908, the natives challenged him to escape (privately and under their own conditions) from a Chinese sangaw--a wooden contraption similar in form to a horizontal bar on uprights, but being furnished also with a lower crosspiece. Houdini accepted their challenge, and had secretly introduced a movie man and his camera that the outcome of the challenge might be seen by the outside world. And so, on The S.A.M's. "Houdini Night," there was flashed upon the screen Houdini's escape from the sangaw of the Orient. In the picture the Chinese are seen binding Houdini securely and in the most businesses-like manner. First, securing each wrist to the central portions of the uprights, then securely binding the feet to the floor-piece, and lastly running a loop under the front part of the neck, thence around the head in such a manner that the head may not the lowered; then remainder of the rope is then securely fastened to the central part of the upper most cross-piece. At the conclusion of the picture, Houdini repeats his escape in real life before the audience, using a genuine Chinese sangaw and extracting himself with lightning-like rapidity from bonds identical to those used by the Orientals.
Not only is it exciting to learn Houdini did the sangaw at this event, but it's even more exciting to discover there was film of the escape! The idea that it was shot secretly in China in 1908 is pure hokum. It was almost certainly something Houdini staged himself. But how I'd love to see this! No matter how many descriptions I've read of the sangaw, I still don't understand exactly how this contraption worked. Alas, this film might be long lost.
Want more? You can read the full Sphinx article, which includes a terrific description of Houdini's Water Torture Cell, as well as the 1908 newspaper accounts of the original sangaw escape as a "Scholar" member of my Patreon by clicking below.
Wednesday, August 16, 2023
One of my favorite YouTube channels is Hollywood Graveyard with the enigmatic Arthur Dark. In fact, I now watch these instead of the news when I'm having dinner. Graveyards are far less depressing! The other night I was watching a video from Arthur's visit to New York when who should appear but Bess! Below is the video. Bessie shows up around 15:10.
As mentioned in the video, Houdini has also appeared on Hollywood Graveyard. He shows up around 07:10 in the below video from 2018.
While the channel is called "Hollywood Graveyard," Arthur travels the country and even the world. I have my fingers crossed that one day he might do an all-magicians episode at the cemetery in Colon, Michigan.
Monday, August 14, 2023
Anna Thurlow, great-granddaughter of Mina "Margery" Crandon, shared with me some letters written to Dr. Le Roi Crandon during the famous Margery-Houdini seances. One letter written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on August 27, 1924, contains this surprisingly dark sentiment:
"Something will happen to that man H. You mark my words. Better to get between the metals when an express is due, than block the way of the spirit."
We tend to think of Doyle as the creator of the virtuous Sherlock Holmes, but he was also the creator of all the dastardly murderers from those stories. He could go there! It's hard not to see this as a veiled wish that harm come to Houdini, if for no other reason than to prove this existence of avenging spirits. Although the idea of Houdini being pushed in front of an express train seems more like a tactic a person would employ than a spirit.
Dark Doyle indeed.
Want more? You can read the full letter as a member of my Patreon.
Sunday, August 13, 2023
Magician and lecturer Paul Draper has written a thoughtful article about collecting magic for Anthropology News magazine. Paul includes his memories of The Great Houdini Auction in Las Vegas and talks about a particular piece of cherished Houdini history:
Click the headline to read the full article at Anthropology News. The print edition includes illustrations by Charlotte Corden.
Friday, August 11, 2023
I admit I always cringe when I hear someone call Houdini "the first superhero." It just feels too much like a pander to Hollywood's current obsession with superhero movies, etc. But, gosh darn-it, there are times when it appears people really did think of Houdini as a superhero! This is a case in point.
The below comes from when Houdini was playing Keith's Garden Pier Theater in Atlantic City during the week of July 26, 1915. For context, the U.S. had not yet entered the war in Europe, but there was plenty of news about German U-boats lurking in the Atlantic. So in this environment of war nerves, I'll let these two stories speak for themselves.
|Atlantic City Review, July 27, 1915.|
You gotta love that the frightened vacationers thought Houdini might be the only man who could get the bottom of this. And as it turns out, that's exactly what happened! Check out the follow-up story below. (Sorry this one's a little hard to read.)
|Atlantic City Daily Press, July 30, 1915.|
So was Houdini a dupe or part of this publicity stunt? It's hard to tell from the story. But we can imagine what would have happened had this turned out to be a real German sub!
Houdini clocked a lot of stunt time on the Garden Pier. He did an overboard box escape during this same engagement in 1915 (post on that coming soon); a suspended straitjacket escape from the pier tower in 1916; and a manacled leap in 1917. No wonder he was seen as [*cringe*] a superhero.
Thursday, August 10, 2023
I've shared to Patreon today a photo of Houdini like you've never seen him before. Click below and gobble it up!
Wednesday, August 9, 2023
If you're at MAGIC Live this week in Las Vegas be sure and stop by the Mystique Dining hospitality lounge and check out this terrific mural depicting famous magicians. There's Houdini in the position one would expect to find him!
You can follow all the MAGIC Live happenings via our friend Scott Wells at The Magic Word Podcast.
Thanks to Richard Hatch and Terry Commons for letting me crash the party.
Tuesday, August 8, 2023
I don't know if AI really generated the below "list of Houdini's famous underwater escapes." But I don't know how any human could get so much so bizarrely wrong. This accompanied an article published last month at poolmagazine.com. Enjoy!
|Click to enlarge.|
Here's the depressing part. If you Google "Houdini," this article will show up in your news feed before any post here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. In fact, none of my posts will ever show up in Google's news feed. Maybe because the algorithm knows I'm human.
Or am I?
UPDATE: The good folks at Pool Magazine reached out for some help and the article has now been updated with, if I say so myself, a darn good list of Houdini's underwater escapes. Score one for humans! Check it out here.
Monday, August 7, 2023
The other night I popped in The Mummy's Hand and I was surprised to hear Houdini get a name check when the character of Steve Banning says, "This hopeless Houdini is Babe Jenson." (In the the script he says "fumbling Houdini".)
Normally this wouldn't warrant a post as Houdini gets name checked in many movies. However, it struck me that this is the earliest mention I've yet encountered in a film made after Houdini's death (Cops would be the earliest movie overall). I also tend to think of the 1940s as a decade in which Houdini went into a bit of cultural eclipse, so that made this reference all the more surprising.
Friday, August 4, 2023
Chapter 12: Mirror images
Houdini became famous throughout Europe in the early 1900s as "The Handcuff King and World Champion Jailbreaker." In the next two scenes of Houdini '53, we see him earn these titles with two spectacular challenge escapes. One challenge builds on a foundation of myth while the other builds on fact. But you might be surprised which is which.
In the preceding sequence. Houdini was challenged to escape from a Scotland Yard jail. Now he arrives onsite and meets the warden (Malcolm Lee Beggs). The warden performs a search of his new "prisoner." This is not a strip search that the real Houdini would endure. Bess is not present, which seems like a missed opportunity, but it may be accurate. Despite what we see in other biopics, I've never heard of Bess attending any jailbreak, and it's possible women would not be allowed in a cellblock. (So much for passing the key in a kiss.)
Houdini is handcuffed and the door is locked. He instantly escapes the cuffs and hands them to the warden who blusters, "We'll see who has the last laugh, Mr. Houdini!"
Once the men are gone, Houdini retrieves a length of wire from his waistband and goes to work on the lock that extends outside the cell, a complication he learned about only after he had agreed to the challenge. Across from him a prisoner (Ralph Peters) watches with fascination and begins to mirror Houdini's actions with a bent spoon. But it isn't going well and Harry even drops the wire. The prisoner likewise drops his spoon.
Houdini's all-or-nothing escape from Scotland Yard is told in almost every major biography. In these colorful accounts, it's a handcuff escape in the lobby of Scotland Yard with the man doing the cuffing none other than Superintendent William Melville himself. So the movie is basing this on fact. Or is it?
HERE.) So while the filmmakers might think they are drawing on real Houdini history here, they're actually building upon a myth, and it won't be for the last time. But I don't fault them as the Scotland Yard escape has long been considered fact.
While Houdini continues to struggle we fade away to the next day at the Alhambra Theater. The audience is chanting "We want Houdini!" as Bess tries to placate them with magic. The warden is sitting smugly beside Inspector Marlick (Barry Bernard). It's clear Houdini has not escaped.
Bess then enacts an improbable plan. She announces to the audience that while Houdini is unable to appear in person, "He will send his alter ego from the spirit world." She backs into the cabinet, the movie's version of Houdini's "ghost house," and quickly dons a tuxedo and Houdini mask (or many I should say a Tony Curtis mask). She then steps from the cabinet as "Houdini," much to the astonishment of the audience.
This is the third time we've seen disguise used in this movie. That could be why this doesn't seem as improbable as it should. But what I especially love here is the mention of "the spirit world." It nicely foreshadows what's to come and pulls from reality. The Houdinis performed a spiritualism act early in their careers. While this was never established in the film, we can still imagine Bess, in desperation, reaching back to her knowledge of spirit trickery to once again deceive an audience. It's also the second time in this sequence that we've seen someone "mirroring" the real Houdini. And speaking of mirrors...
A man in the audience suddenly stands and challenges "Houdini" with a special pair of handcuffs that he made himself. He marches on stage and manacles the magician, saying the only way to get the cuffs off is to saw them off. The audience laughs heartily as the disguised Bess tumbles back into the cabinet and a new struggle commences. Handcuffs rigged to never open were something the real Houdini had to contend with.
That's when we see the real Houdini, finally free of the jail, arriving backstage. He sneaks inside the cabinet and helps the handcuffed Bess get free of her disguise and tuxedo. Houdini himself then emerges from the cabinet, torn jacket in hand, having apparently escaped the inescapable handcuffs. When the challenger asks what happened to his cuffs, Houdini shows they are now on Bess. Metamorphosis!
Some might view all this as pure Hollywood fiction. But I see a conscious echo of Houdini's very real escape from the Mirror Handcuffs in London in 1904. Think about it. It's a custom-made super cuff brought on stage by an aggressive challenger. Houdini's coat is sacrificed in the course of the drama. And one of the many stories about the Mirror challenge is that Bess saved Houdini by securing the key. What did we just witness but Bess saving her husband? So this super cuff challenge mirrors the Mirror!
With these two triumphs, we've reached the halfway point in Houdini '53. It seems the only question now is how high can The Great Houdini climb?
I feel a montage coming on...
Wednesday, August 2, 2023
Tickets are now available for the new play, Bess - The Other Houdini, written by Christine Foster, directed by James Weisz, and starring Pip Henderson. Paul Zenon is the Magic Consultant. If you'll be in the UK in October or November, you might want to grab a seat!
Tuesday, August 1, 2023
Today is the one year anniversary of my Patreon. To mark the occasion, I'm offering a special 7-day FREE trial for the next 10 new sign ups. That means you'll be able to view some of the great content I've posted over the past year and get this month's reward all for FREE. You'll have access to the site for 7 days, after which time you'll be billed $5 for another month unless you cancel.
Just head on over to my membership page and click "Start 7-day free trial" under the Handcuff King level. But once we hit 10 people, the free option will vanish like Jennie the elephant!
A very big THANK YOU to my current patrons for supporting all that I do here on Wild About Harry and my upcoming Houdini projects.
Houdini Tour, Museum, & Magic Show
David Merlini - The House of Houdini
Jessica Jane Peterson
Ronald P Armstrong
Juli Crockett (of the Evangenitals)
Robert B Kirkpatrick
Gary F Kriss
Joe M Notaro
Allan James Taylor
Tony the Magician
Come hang with us!
- Announcing WILD ABOUT HARRY on Patreon
- What Is Patreon, and How Does It Work?
- Patreon updates subscription billing