Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Foster Lardner: the man on the platform

Last week I shared the exciting news that David Haversat had acquired photo albums that once belonged to Foster Lardner. For 26 years Lardner worked with the Keith's organization in Providence, Rhode Island. He can even be seen standing on the platform with Houdini during a suspended straitjacket escape in 1924.

I've done a little more research into Lardner. Turns out he had much more of a connection to the world of magic than I realized. He was a student of Al Baker and a member of the SAM. He even made the cover of The Sphinx in October 1928. In that issue, Dr. A.M. Wilson writes:

     It is with no little pleasure and pride that I present the portrait of Mr. Foster Lardner, manager of the E. F. Albee Theatre, Providence, R.I. Mr. Lardner is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, a scholar as well as a theatrical manager and magician. He has been practically interested in magic from his boyhood days. During the late World War he gave frequent magical entertainments for the soldiers in hospitals and gives frequent shows in the children's hospital of Providence. Magic has no better friend than Mr. Lardner. He knows the game from back stage to footlights. Every reputable magician, amateur or professional, has a friend and him. Mr. Lardner is too modest to write his own biography or to give me sufficient data to write it for him. [...] I consider my life richer for the friendship of Foster Lardner.

Lardner left Keith's in 1930 after it had become part of RKO. From this point on, he appears to indulge his passion for magic. In 1931, he stage-managed the SAM's "Carnival of Magic" featuring Hardeen, Cardini, and Jarrow. He also worked up a lecture, "Behind the Scenes with the Master Magicians," which you can see advertised below. You can bet Houdini was part of this talk!

Evening Bulletin, March 30, 1932.

As Wilson noted, Lardner frequently performed magic for children. Below is a nice set of photos showing Lardner entertaining tykes at the Rhode Island Hospital in 1931. He even used a rabbit named "Houdini."

Evening Bulletin, Dec. 20, 1931.

While Lardner might have been considered an amateur magician, in 1934 he joined the rarified ranks of only a handful of magicians to die onstage (literally). Below is an account of the evening and also offers a nice obituary of Lardner's life overall.

Evening Bulletin, May 18, 1934.

So there's a little primer on Foster Lardner, no longer just the man on the platform. I'm sure there's more to uncover, and maybe someone like Dean Carnegie, The Magic Detective, will do so one day. But I certainly consider Foster Lardner now part of the Houdini story.

Thanks to Joe Fox of the William Larsen Sr. Memorial Library at the Magic Castle for The Sphinx images and info.


  1. Well, interesting character. Never of heard of him until now. I will be sure to add his name to the list of upcoming investigations. I love digging into these hidden Houdini connections.

    1. Maybe not more more to say about him in regards to magic. But I figured if anyone could find more, it would be you!

  2. A wonderful story I enjoyed reading. A name from the past, brought out to the forefront with the discovery of the albums. Keep it up!