Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Hobnobbing in Hollywood

I love finding new shots of Houdini hobnobbing with Hollywood royalty. Here's a photo of him with director Cecil B. DeMille and star Wallace Reid. This would have been taken at the time of his arrival in Hollywood to start work on The Grim Game in 1919.

Picturegoer, Sept. 25, 1920

Here's another DeMille morsel. The photo below is from the documentary The Lost City of Cecil B. Demille and shows the director with the submarine model that appears in Houdini's Terror Island. This raises the question of which came first. The model or the movie?

Below are some more Houdini-DeMille-Reid connections.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Houdini (and friend) in paper mache

Here's a work of paper mache art by Vittorio Marino that recreates Houdini's 1916 Water Torture Cell poster. I really love that he includes the big blue monster holding Houdini inside the cell. That's a first, as far as I know.

Statue inspired by a poster of the famous American magician of Hungarian origins, Harry Houdini, by the Contemporary Primitive Artist Vittorio Marino. It is realized in Paper Mache and coloured with acrylics, paint marker and pastel. The chest is in plywood with transparent plastic and polystyrene inserts.

In case you're not familiar with the original poster...

You can purchase Vittorio Marino's Houdini paper mache creation at ArtParks.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

S.A.M. Hall of Fame exhibit opens in Whittier, CA

Yesterday saw the gala opening of the S.A.M. Hall of Fame exhibit at the Whittier Historical Society & Museum in Whittier, California. The exhibit includes an impressive Houdini display with some choice rarities that haven't been seen in over ten years, including the elusive Russian Manacle.

The overall collection includes illusions, props, costumes, and memorabilia from the early 1900s to the present day. The exhibition will be on display until December 2024.

Check out the S.A.M. Hall of Fame Facebook page for photos from yesterday's ribbon cutting and magic show. I wasn't able to make it as I had hoped, but it looks like they had a standing-room-only crowd and things are off to a grand start!

The Whittier Museum is located at 6755 Newlin Avenue, Whittier, CA 90601. Admission is free. Hours are Tuesday through Friday 10 am to 4 pm. Saturday 1 to 4 pm.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Revenge of the beach boy

Remember that scene in the 2008 film Death Defying Acts that shows Houdini posed like a preening beach boy atop his Water Torture Cell at the conclusion of the escape? It's even in the trailer.

I've always seen this as an abomination of how the real Houdini would conclude the escape. By all accounts, when the tension was at its height, Houdini would come crashing through the front of the curtains out of breath as if he had just made his escape in the nick of time. That's how the real Houdini did things, Hollywood!

And then I found this illustration from Houdini's performance at the Cleveland Hippodrome in 1915 and now I need to shut up. 

Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 30, 1915.

Okay, maybe this is just the illustrator placing Harry atop the cell as his own artistic interpretation. Or maybe this is what he saw. Which would mean Hollywood can occasionally get things (accidentally) right.

"Told ya."


Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Ed Saint's dynamite

I recently discovered a lengthy obituary for Edward Saint in the Oct. 23, 1942, Hollywood Citizen. Some terrific quotes from Bess in it. But it was the following paragraph that really caught my attention:

    During the past few years Mr. Saint had been writing a book about Houdini which he planned to call "Houdini's Dynamite." It was believed nearly completed, but the manuscript has not yet been found. Mrs. Houdini said it would be placed in the hands of another prominent magician to complete.

A Houdini book by Ed Saint called "Houdini's Dynamite"? Now that's dy-no-mite! (Anyone understand that reference?)

Unfortunately, this is the first and last I've ever heard of this. Could the manuscript still be out there somewhere? The title suggests the book may have been focused on Houdini's spirit debunking.

I guess we can include Houdini's Dynamite by Edward Saint alongside The Truth About Houdini by Theo Hardeen and The Other Side of Houdini by Kreskin as a Houdini book that might have been.

Want more? You can read the full obituary as a "Scholar" member of my Patreon.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Siskel & Ebert on Houdini (1953)

Critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert talk about movies they loved as kids on a special episode of their famous television show in 1991. Guess which movie makes the list? I've cued this one up to their discussion about, yes, Houdini (1953).

Thanks to Bill Schmeelk.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Backyard History follows Houdini in the Maritimes

The podcast Backyard History recently released a two-part episode devoted to Houdini's ill-fated 1896 Maritime tour. The podcast is hosted by Andrew MacLeans and produced by Jordan Lauzier. Click the images below to listen to each part on Podbean.

The story of Houdini's Maritime tours can also be read in Bruce MacNab's excellent book, The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, available on Amazon.com.


Friday, January 19, 2024

Blackstone can't escape virtual Houdini

I recently discovered this intriguing advertisement in The Sandusky Register for March 27, 1919. An unknown suspended straitjacket escape, perhaps?

The Sandusky Register, March 27, 1919.

Turns out this was not the real Houdini but what appears to have been a free screening of The Master Mystery. The serial opened at Sandusky's Plaza Theater that week.

The Sandusky Register, April 3, 1919.

Below is the Hotel Rieger as it would have appeared at this time. The building survives today as a home for the elderly. Now, exactly how they pulled off an outdoor screening with the projection equipment that existed in 1919 is something I don't know!

But that's not the end of the story. On the same page that ran the free screening ad, you can see another magician opening in Sandusky on that very same day.

The Sandusky Register, March 27, 1919.

One wonders how Harry Blackstone felt about having to compete with a free screening of the Houdini serial on his opening night. But he went on to do well and was even held over for three extra days. The Houdini movie may have whetted the citizens' appetite for escapes, as Blackstone offered up a straitjacket and packing case escape on these extra days.

The Sandusky Register, March 30, 1919.

Blackstone then moved on to Emerson, Ohio, where he once again found himself competing with a virtual Houdini at the American Theater.

Evening Review, April 16, 1919.

This time, Blackstone did an overboard box escape from the Emerson Showboat, as you can see below.

Evening Review, April 16, 1919.

This is actually the earliest Harry Blackstone overboard box escape that I've been able to find. Some claim Blackstone did this escape first. But I've found no evidence to support that, and 1919 is a long time after Houdini's first overboard box escape in 1912. Keep trying, Blackie!

Photo from Houdini: A Pictorial Life by Milbourne Christopher.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Murray County Central Schools presents 'The Last Illusion' Feb. 2

Students at Murray County Central Schools in Slayton, Minnesota, will present The Last Illusion as part of their One Act Play series on Friday, February 2, at 7:00 PM in the MCC Auditorium. They've also created a pretty nice poster (right).

The Last Illusion by B. Dwayne Craft is a popular choice of play among drama departments. It's great to see Houdini alive and well in our schools!

UPDATE: It looks like there is yet another production of The Last Illusion currently being performed by students at the Delhi District Secondary School in Ontario, Canada. You can read about that production HERE.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

"I played parts years ago"

One of the great things about reading Houdini's letters is that he sometimes gets into a mood to reminisce. In these moments, you can find gold! An excellent example is a 1916 letter to Quincy Kilby in which Houdini remembers various plays he acted in during his early career. There's new info here, so enjoy this Patreon history exclusive.

Thanks to my patrons for supporting my research and content like this. Not a member? Feel free to join us!


Monday, January 15, 2024

Houdini liked The Bat (apparently)

The Bat is a mystery-comedy play by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood that became all the rage when it first played on Broadway in August 1920. It ran for 867 performances in New York before touring. Bob Kane claimed seeing The Bat as a child influenced his later comic book creation, Batman.

It appears Houdini was also a fan of The Bat, as evidenced by his endorsement in an advertisement for the play at the Majestic Theater in San Antonio in November 1923. Houdini had played the Majestic the previous week.

San Antonio Light, Nov. 21, 1923.

The Bat was adapted as a film three times. Below is an excellent overview of those films from one of my favorite YouTube channels Dark Corners Reviews.

If you're interested in reading the original play, an illustrated version is available on Amazon.com.


Sunday, January 14, 2024

RH Marching Band presents 'Houdini Unchained'

Houdini's story told via marching band? That's right! Last Fall, the talented students at Rock Hill High School Band of Distinction created a halftime show called "Houdini Unchained." The students were even interviewed at CN2 Today

You can watch their entire performance below.

For more, visit the Rock Hill High School Band of Distinction official website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Houdini diary book update

As we begin 2024, I thought it would be nice to give everyone an update on where things stand with the Houdini diary book. 
For those who might not know what I'm talking about, Mike Caveney's Magic Words is publishing Houdini's first known travel diary from the collection of Dr. Bruce Averbook. I have thoroughly annotated the diary and we've gathered many rare images from several major collections to illustrate it. It's going to be a Houdini book like no other!

Last month, I got my first look at the work of designer Michael Allbright, and everything about this book is going to be first-class. It will be a large-format book that could run nearly 300 pages. Michael's design and how he's laying out each and every page of the diary is really impressive. There is a title, but I want to save that for when we have a final cover to reveal (patrons will get the first look). There will also be a Deluxe edition.

Our hope is to have the book ready in time for the Magic Collector Expo in May, but we'll see. We want this to be the best Houdini book it can be, so we're not rushing it. But barring anything unforeseen, it will be a 2024 release.

That's the update. I think this is going to be a book you will all flip for!

Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Russian Manacle is returning to Whittier

The S.A.M. Hall of Fame collection will once again be exhibited at the Whittier Historical Society & Museum in Whittier, California. The exhibit includes an impressive Houdini display with three rare handcuff boards, one holding the original Russian Manacle! Below are details about the special launch day celebration on January 27.

The Whittier Museum is excited to welcome back the Society of American Magicians Hall of Fame for a one-of-a-kind exhibition on the history of magic and famous magicians! You do not want to miss this display!

Were you lucky to have seen this exhibit ten years ago? Well, it's back and BIGGER than the last time! You'll see illusions, props, costumes, and more kinds of memorabilia from the early 1900s to the present day. Including items belonging to Harry Houdini!

This exhibit will be on display till the end of December 2024, on the second floor of the Whittier Museum. We will be hosting a grand opening ceremony and show on Saturday, January 27th, beginning at 12 PM. This is a FREE grand opening for everyone to attend! The magic show will begin at 2 PM.

Several other magicians will be present throughout the exhibit to explain and demonstrate various illusions and tricks.

Mark your calendars for January 27th and tell your friends!

I'll be attending. Hope to see you there!

Check out the S.A.M. Hall of Fame Facebook page for more information and pics.

Want more? You can see an unpublished photo of Edward Saint with these three handcuff boards as a member of my Patreon.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Willem Dafoe namechecks Houdini during Walk of Fame ceremony

Actor Willem Dafoe received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Monday. During the ceremony, Defoe, who hails from Appleton, said:

"The little town that I come from, Appleton Wisconsin, it's maybe a town of 70,000 people now, someone else from that town has a star. And his name was Ehrich Weiss. You know who that is? Maybe you know him better by the name of Harry Houdini. So I'm in good company."

You can watch the entire event on YouTube. The Houdini mention comes around 15:11 and gets a nice crowd reaction. This marked the first new star of 2024.

Dafoe's star is located at 6284 Hollywood Blvd. near Vine. Houdini is at the other end of the boulevard at the corner of Hollywood and Orange. Houdini received his star in 1975.

By the way, a shoutout to Dafoe's latest film, Poor Things, starring the always amazing Emma Stone. It's excellent!


Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Houdini and the spirits in Springfield

I love finding another stop on Houdini's 1924 spirit debunking lecture tours. I also love finding a surviving Houdini theater. And when those two things happen together, it's time to post!

On Sunday, November 30, 1924, Houdini gave his lecture in Springfield, Massachusetts, under the auspices of the Springfield YMCA. His talk was preceded by an organ recital by Mrs. Dorothy Birchard Malroney. The Springfield Republican reported, "Houdini's talk was sprinkled with humorous allusions and statements that pleased the audience greatly. The story of the seance he conducted in a small town was one of the gems."

Houdini's lecture was held in what was then called the Auditorium. Built between 1911-1913, it was a popular public venue for live events in Springfield. And still is! Today, it's called Symphony Hall and looks very much as it did in Houdini's day.

Houdini's Springfield lecture was the second to last stop of his tour that year. His only other appearance in Springfield was early in his career as part of the American Gaiety Girls company. He even did one of his first police station handcuff escapes in the city. But that's another story.

Want more? You can see a collection of newspaper clippings related to this lecture and Houdini's earlier appearance in Springfield as a "Scholar" member of my Patreon.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Houdini and The Doctor share a long hot summer

It's become somewhat of a tradition for a new Doctor (Who) to namecheck Houdini. That was the case again in the Doctor Who 2023 Christmas Special: The Church on Ruby Road, which introduced Ncuti Gatwa as the 15th Doctor. 

In the episode, the Doctor and his latest companion, Ruby, are tied up in an alien ship. The Doctor quickly frees himself, and Ruby asks how he did it...

Later in the episode, Ruby figures out the Doctor is a time traveler by recalling his reference to Houdini...

Even the official Doctor Who Facebook page (below) celebrated the reference. Are they setting us up for a proper Houdini meets the Doctor episode? The summer of 1926 was a hot and wet one. Just saying.

Thanks to Whovian Athena Stamos for the tip and pics.


Saturday, January 6, 2024

Magic Collector Expo 2024 in Long Beach, CA

This year's Magic Collector Expo will be held May 7-9, 2024, on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. I've already committed to doing a Houdini talk, so our boy will be represented! The expo is small and exclusive by design, and it always sells out. So if you want to attend, I recommend acting soon. Hope to see you onboard!

Those who attend will also receive priority registration for the 2025 Expo. Click for more information and to register.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Finding Houdini in Colorado Springs

It's pretty rare these days that I find a Houdini theater engagement that I don't already have in my chronology. But that's precisely what happened over the Christmas break. Even better, it's a major city where I previously had no record of Houdini ever performing. I shared this with my patrons, so click below to read about Houdini's short stint in Colorado Springs.

Thank you to my patrons for supporting my research and content like this.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Cave treasure

Here's a wild find that speaks for itself. This was shared on the Mammoth Cave National Park Facebook page over the holidays.

Our friend Thomas Ewing of Haversat & Ewing Galleries provides some insight into the cardholder:

The S.A.M. card found in the cave belonged to Robert D. Stayton of Casey Creek, KY who died August 23, 1985 at age 82. He carried I.B.M. No. 338 since 1950 having joined first in 1924. He had been a member of Ring 1 (St. Louis, MO). He was also the 1104th member to join the S.A.M. and did so in December 1923. He was a member of the Order of Merlin. At one time he was also a member of Chicago Assembly No. 3. Stayton was an engineer by profession and is credited with having designed the first coin operated vending machine. In his early days, he appeared with a magical act as "Professor Stayton."

Below are some more tales of amazing Houdini finds.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Seth Meyers and Dua Lipa talk Houdini (and drink)

I know this is sooooo 2023, but our new friend Dua Lipa is still out there promoting her mega-hit single "Houdini." Here's a fun clip from her appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. My gosh, they drink a lot.

It's fun to hear their Houdini chatter. And at least they got the basic facts right about his death, Mr. Blaine. 🍻

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Milk Can poster sets new auction record at $180,000

Let's kick off 2024 with the big news that happened during my holiday break. 

An original Houdini Milk Can poster sold at Potter & Potter's "Select Secrets" magic auction on December 9th for $180,000 (including buyer's premium). That is a new record for a magic poster. The auction description says this poster originally came from 278 and is one of only five known to exist.

This is easily one of my favorite Houdini posters. It just perfectly captures the drama of this famous escape. In Houdini: A Mind in Chains, Bernard Meyer suggests the imagery is womb-like. Sure, I see that. What I also see are Houdini's brothers doing the locking. The man in the goatee and glasses certainly appears to be Leopold Weiss. I'm betting the other men are Nathan and Bill. Has anyone else ever noticed this?

Another auction lot of note was a copy of The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin inscribed to Terror Island director James Cruze during the production of the film. That went for a not unreasonable $3000.

Want more? You can watch video of the historic sale of this poster as a member of my Patreon below.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Back for more in '24

HAPPY NEW YEAR and welcome to another year of WILD ABOUT HARRY! 1924 was the year Houdini took the gloves off when it came to fraudulent spirit mediums. That means 2024 will see several spooky centenaries, including Houdini's spiritualism lecture tours, his famous encounters with Margery, and the publication A Magician Among the Spirits.

This year will also see the publication of several new books, including my own. There's going to be a lot to talk about and share, so let's get started!