Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Did Houdini ever see the Hollywood(land) sign?

Los Angeles Evening Express, Dec. 8, 1923.

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the famous HOLLYWOOD sign. The sign originally read "Hollywoodland" and was made to advertise a housing development. Houdini enjoyed Hollywood and even named it his favorite "holiday resort." But did he ever see this famous landmark himself?

When Houdini made his two films in Hollywood in 1919, The Grim Game and Terror Island, there was yet no sign. But Houdini returned to Los Angeles in April 1923, the very month the Hollywoodland housing development was announced. No one seems to know exactly when construction began on the sign. The first evidence of a completed sign comes in December 1923 via the Houdini-friendly Los Angeles Express (above). The City of Los Angeles officially celebrated the sign's 100th anniversary on Halloween this year.

Nevertheless, the excellent 2011 graphic novel The Edge of the Unknown picks up on the idea that the sign could have been under construction while Houdini was in town. They even feature it on their cover art (right). So here we have Houdini and the Hollywood sign joined in fiction at least.

But there's still one more chance Houdini could have seen the sign. It's not generally known that Houdini returned to Los Angeles for two days in October 1924 to give his spiritualism lecture at the Philharmonic Auditorium downtown. So he might have seen the sign in the distance, especially as he was staying at the new Biltmore Hotel which afforded views of the city. The sign was also illuminated back then, so it would have been even easier to see at night.

If Houdini did see the Hollywoodland sign, what might he have thought about it? Would he have seen it as a blight on his beloved Hollywood, a sign of overdevelopment? Or would he have admired it as a clever advertising scheme worthy of himself...

Bess would have been the Houdini who was most familiar with the Hollywoodland sign as it was very much part of the landscape during her years living in Los Angeles in the 1930s and early '40s. In fact, the sign can be seen from the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in a photo from the Final Houdini Seance.

You can enjoy more photos and history at the Hollywood Sign website, and more tales of the Houdinis in Hollywood below.

Houdini sign image created by Tom Interval. Vintage filter by PhotoFunia.



  1. If you watch the movie The Rocketeer, you'll see how the LAND part of the sign was removed. ;-)

    1. Remember that scene in the film Argo? A CGI depiction of the Hollywood sign in 1979. Falling apart, decaying, and in need of restoration.

    2. I do. I also remember that sign! That was the sign that hovered over the city when I was finding my first Houdini books on the boulevard.

    3. I took them a while to finally restore the sign. All that wealth floating around there, and the sign was falling apart. A real photo of HH with the sign in the background would be mondo.

    4. I think the wealth was all going up their noses. :)

      In a weird way, it was a better time and place before the money came back into Hollywood. A very creative time.