Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Houdini movie book we've been waiting for

There have been many specialized Houdini books over the years. We've had books devoted to his tours of Australia, Canada, and Britain, his fiction, his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his battle with Margery. There's even an entire book about a single trick that he only did once. Yet, there has never been a book about his movies.

Earlier this month, I reported on the publication of Joe Notaro's new book, Houdini Adaptations, containing the rare magazine adaptations of two Houdini films, The Grim Game and Terror Island. But now that I have the book in hand, I can see that it is so much more.

Joe takes a deep dive into Houdini's first three films, including summaries of every episode of The Master Mystery, and offers a wealth of information and many rare photos. Joe also covers all the known treatments for unmade Houdini films, such as the bonkers "Yar The Primeval Man" and the never-before-published "Out of the Shadows." So, yes, this is the Houdini movie book we've all been waiting for!

I therefore thought I would give this important work a second shoutout. If you are into Houdini's movies or if you just like seeing Houdini photos and promotional material that you've never seen before, this book is a must-buy. Congratulations to Joe for finally filling in this gap on our Houdini bookshelves.

Houdini Adaptations is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. U.S. customers can order signed copies directly from Joe via PayPal to Joe.M.Notaro@gmail.com. The price is $40 and includes a signed book with a premium-color interior and USPS book-rate shipping.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Houdini in the April The Linking Ring

If you're a Houdini fan and an IBM member, then you will be happy with the April 2024 issue of The Linking Ring. The magazine contains three notable Houdini pieces.

The first is "The Search For The Holy Grail of Houdini Handcuffs" in which Joe Notaro outlines his discoveries regarding the elusive Tatler Mirror Handcuffs. In the second, David Haversat tells the story of Bess and magician William Harkness, "The Canadian Houdini." These are both groundbreaking articles. Finally, Larry Lipman offers a very positive review of the 2019 book, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini by Joe Posnanski.

The Linking Ring is the official magazine of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM). You can join the IBM and receive The Linking Ring via their official website.

Thanks to Joe Notaro. 

Friday, April 26, 2024

Saga of S.S. Imperator

One of my favorite YouTube channels is Oceanliner Designs with Michael Brady. This guy is wild about boats! In the video below, Michael takes a look at three German superliners, including SS Imperator. Houdini fans will recognize this as the ship Houdini was on when he met and mystified President Theodore Roosevelt with the spirit slates. It's fascinating to learn the full story of this great ship and her sisters. Enjoy.

Want more? You can see an unpublished photo of Harry and Bess Houdini aboard Imperator on my Patreon below. This comes courtesy of the Magic Castle's William Larsen Memorial Library.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

1971: Year of the Torture Cell(s)

Houdini's Water Torture Cell made its last public appearance on the night of October 11, 1926, in Albany, New York. This was the night Houdini broke his ankle. Despite plans to resume the cell in Detroit, Houdini died before that happened. After that, the famed prop remained out of sight for the next 45 years. Then, in 1971, two Water Torture Cells, both claiming to be the original, returned to public view.

In May 1971, the Water Torture Cell that Sidney Radner acquired from Hardeen in 1942 was put on permanent display at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada. Some assume the cell was in the museum from the start (the museum opened in 1968), but it was actually a later addition, as we can see below.

The Holyoke Daily Transcript and Telegram, May 29, 1971.

Later that same year, magician Abb Dickson announced that he had acquired Houdini's original Water Torture Cell and was making plans to display it. Abb claimed he found the cell in England and had even solved its secrets by having it x-rayed.

The Atlanta Journal, Sept. 6, 1971.

In October, Abb's cell was revealed alongside a collection of other alleged Houdini ratites at the Dutch Square Mall in Columbia, South Carolina.

The Columbia Record, Oct. 25, 1971.

Of course, Abb's cell was pure hokum—it was made of sheet metal with a shower drain at the bottom. One wonders if the arrival of the real cell in Canada had inspired Abb in this endeavor? Abb would tour his Houdini exhibit and cell for several years. The cell was also used in the 1976 television biopic, The Great Houdinis.

The real Water Torture Cell remained on display at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame until a fire destroyed much of the cell in 1995. Today, the restored cell is back on display at David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas.

Abb Dickson's cell also survives today in the collection of Troy Milligan. On occasion, it has been offered for sale on eBay, but I'm not sure of its current status.

Want more? I've uploaded to my Patreon a collection of photos of the original Water Torture Cell on display at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame throughout the years and what remained of it after the fire.


Monday, April 22, 2024

Houdini Periodical Bibliography Revised 3rd Edition

The mighty Arthur Moses has released Houdini Periodical Bibliography References From 1898 - 2023: Revised Third Edition. First released in 2006 and revised in 2015, this latest edition includes over 3700 citations in 40 languages.

Few legendary men, real or imagined, retain their celebrity nearly 100 years after their passing. However, Harry Houdini was one such man. Covering a time period from 1898 through December 2023, this third - revised bibliography includes more than 1400 individual title listings with over 3700 entries from 68 countries which chronicle all significant articles by or about Houdini in magazines, periodicals, journals, etc. This is an increase of citations of over one-third from the last edition ending in the year 2015. A must for any collector, historian, and researcher of "Houdiniana". There is no greater Houdini literary reference bibliography than this extensive resource. 200 Pages with 135 Black & White and Full Color images of Houdini featured covers.

Houdini Periodical Bibliography References From 1898 - 2023: Revised Third Edition
 is availible in hardcover and paperback and can be purchased now at at Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK).


Sunday, April 21, 2024

Talking Houdini with S.A.M. Virtual Assembly #1

Tonight I'll be the guest of the S.A.M. Virtual Assembly #1. We'll be talking about, what else, Houdini!

While this is something that's offered to S.A.M. members specifically, non-members can join with the Zoom info, so here it is:

Topic: Assembly V1.1
Time: April 21, 2024. 7:30 PM Eastern / 4:30 PM Pacific

Join Zoom Meeting: 
[This meeting is now over]

 Hope to see you there!

Magic mural in Wauseon, Ohio

Houdini is one of the gang on this mural depicting famous magicians in Wauseon, Ohio. The Magic Corner building is owned and operated by Dr. Kenneth P. Ladd, a magician and Ph.D. in clinical psychology. You just never know where you'll find Harry!

MAGIC IN THE MAKING … Artist Chris McDaniels – who works under the moniker “Zen Mullet” for Columbus-based business Artisan Rooms – begins putting the finishing touches on Harry Houdini during his final day of work on a Wauseon mural depicting the history of magic. Shown at the center, levitating a woman, is building owner and magician Dr. Kenneth P. Ladd.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Inside Houdini's Los Angeles Orpheum

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of touring the Palace Theater with the Los Angeles Historic Theater Foundation. Houdini appeared here in 1915 and 1923 when it was the Orpheum. It was here that he had his famous verbal fisticuffs with heavyweight champion Jess Willard. So this is a very historic Houdini theater! Today it is used primarily as a rental for movies and television, so getting a chance to not only see inside but also explore every part of the theater was an amazing opportunity. I could feel the spirit of Houdini in this amazing space.

The Orpheum was built in 1911 and remains very much the theater Houdini would have known. It's surprisingly shallow. But it was built for vaudeville before amplification, so the acoustics are such that someone on stage can be heard throughout the auditorium. This was the third Orpheum in Los Angeles (Houdini played the others in 1899 and 1907). It served the city until a new Orpheum was built down the street in 1926.

Los Angeles Evening Express, April 6, 1923.

One big change, which I learned about during the excellent presentation by LAHTF's David Saffer, is that the box seats that existed on both sides of the auditorium were removed when the theatre switched to all movies in 1929. They were replaced with two gigantic paintings by Los Angeles artist Anthony Heinsbergen. Jess Willard would have been sitting in one of those box seats.

While the boxes are gone, you can still see the outline of the doorway that led to the seats. This is where Willard would have slunk out as the audience of 2000 hissed him from the theater. Don't hit your head, Jess!

But it's where Houdini went after the performance that had me most excited. The star dressing room still survives! It's located just off stage right and up a flight of stairs. The other dressing rooms are located below the stage. This is a configuration I've not seen before, but I can appreciate the luxury of having a dressing room just steps from the stage and away from the other players, props, and animals. 

The dressing room had a "Do Not Enter" sign on the door as work was being done inside. Fortunately, there was an open vent through which I could see inside. What appears to be the original sink survives. It also has a second connecting room. This is the largest star dressing room that I've yet seen in a theatre from Houdini's time.

An "A" above the door? Is this from Houdini's day? I'd like to think so.

It's interesting to think that Houdini could have watched the other acts from just outside his dressing room. He had a great view. Thanks to fellow Houdini nut and artist Jenny Lerew for snapping this photo of me in Houdini's perch. You can check out Jenny's own photos on her Instagram @blackwingjen.

There was a lot more to see and learn. In fact, we spent three hours exploring the theater from top to bottom. I even wandered into a few places I later learned were off-limits. If you'd like to see more, I've uploaded a collection of 40+ photos to my Patreon below.

Thanks to the Los Angeles Historic Theater Foundation for this amazing day. The LAHFT regularly tours historic theaters and also offers talks via Zoom. Check out their website for more information and consider becoming a member.

Lastly, here's an unknown challenge from Houdini's 1915 Orpheum/Palace appearance.

The Los Angeles Times, Dec. 2, 1915.


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Harry and the Highwire released in the UK

The new book Harry and the Highwire by Julie Carpenter and illustrated by Laura Catalan has been released in the UK by Green Bean Books. It will be released in the U.S. on May 31.

As a young boy of seven, Harry is desperate to do something incredible – but what? A visit to the circus provides the answer when he sees the daring tightrope walker thrilling the audience. From that moment on, all Harry wants to do is to walk the tightrope. But how?

His first try, on the family clothesline, ends in disaster but Harry’s not about to give up yet. He starts practising in his every spare moment and in every location he can think of. Will he get to the other side or will he fall? (And will his pet chicken Banjoe be able to keep up?)

An inspiring tale about one of history’s most fascinating figures, Harry and the High-wire is essential reading for children, teaching them about the importance of ambition, hard work and, crucially, of believing in yourself, even when things seem impossible.

The reverse side of this fun, fully fold-out book includes a biography and illustrated timeline of Houdini’s life, along with a focus on three of his most famous tricks (and hints on how he did them).

You can purchase Harry and the Highwire now at Amazon.co.uk and pre-order at Amazon.com. You can read more about the book at the Green Bean Books website.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Houdini soars at new Diggers Rest Pavilion

A new Community Pavilion opened in Diggers Rest, Australia, last week. Inside, you can find this mural showing Houdni's Voisin biplane. Interestingly, this doesn't commemorate Houdini's famed 1910 flight but Ian Satur's model of the plane that flew during the 2010 centenary celebrations. Either way, it's good to see Houdini is still a star in Diggers Rest.

The Ian Satur model survives today and is still looking for a permanent home.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Visiting the SAM Hall of Fame in Whittier

Last week I visited the SAM Hall of Fame at the Whittier Historical Society & Museum. It's a terrific exhibit with some fantastic Houdini rarities on view. I've shared 50+ photos and some thoughts on my Patreon (part of the "Adventures in Houdiniland" Collection). Click below to go.

The Whittier Historical Society and Museum is open Tuesday through Friday. Parking and admission are free (donations are appreciated). The SAM Hall of Fame exhibit runs through December 2024.


Friday, April 12, 2024

Own a replica Steel Straitjacket from Houdini '53

One of the standout escapes in the 1953 Houdini biopic is when Houdini frees himself from a "steel straitjacket." The steel straitjacket is a one-of-a-kind piece of magic apparatus provided by Joseph Dunninger. While I've never found any account of the real Houdini doing such an escape, it has become iconic in its own right.

Now, our friend Richard Sherry of Sherry and Krall Magic has manufactured a beautiful reproduction of the Steel Straitjacket. He has produced a limited run of only TEN jackets that can be purchased gaffed or ungaffed. And, as Tony/Houdini says, I'm sure he used "only the very best steel."

If interested, you can find pricing and details on Richard's website or email him at richard@richardsherrysmagic.com

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Houdini, Ragtime, and the Valentine

This month, you'll have the opportunity to enjoy a multi-layered Houdini experience in Toledo, Ohio. On April 19 & 21, the Toledo Opera will present the musical Ragtime with Evan Fleming as Houdini. But what makes this extra special is that the venue will be the Valentine Theater, where Houdini himself performed in 1906 and 1907. 

Toledo Blade, March 11, 1907.

But it gets better! The Valentine has a stunning mural by Paul Geiger in its lobby featuring famous performers who have graced the Valentine stage. Houdini is beautifully represented, as you can see in the top image above. So that's a must-see as well.

You can get more information and buy tickets to Ragtime via the Toledo Opera website. For more information about the Valentine and details about its mural, check out their website valentinetheatre.com.

Coincidently, I recently shared on my Patreon a post about a packing case challenge at the Valentine with a photo of Houdini in front of the theater that I've never seen before. You can see that by clicking below.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Houdini's Russian pitchbook has a new home

Our friend David Haversat has revealed via his newsletter that he is now the proud owner of Houdini's ultra-rare Russian pitchbook. These were created for Houdini's tour of Russia in 1903 and pre-date his America's Sensational Preplexer! pitchbook by several months. That makes this the very first (biographical) Houdini pitchbook.

To my knowledge, there are only two Russian pitchbooks in existence. The other is in David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Houdini's eclipse

It's eclipse day! Where will you be to see (or partially see) today's total solar eclipse? Of course, my mind goes to Houdini. Did he ever see a total solar eclipse?

As it turns out, Houdini was in the right place at the right time to experience the famous total solar eclipse of January 24, 1925. The eclipse passed through New York State and through New York City just above 96th Street. Houdini was playing the New York Hippodrome at this time. It was reported that streetlights turned on, seagulls landed in the Hudson thinking it was night, and three women fainted. It was the first total eclipse to pass over New York since 1478. (The next will be in 2079.)

The wonderful image below of the 1925 eclipse was captured by photographer Adolf Fassbender in Bronx Park. This comes from the website New York Historical Society, where you can read more about the photo and photographer.

Houdini would also have experienced the eclipse of June 8, 1918 as a partial eclipse from New York City. September 10, 1923 was another total solar eclipse that Houdini would have experienced partially. He was performing in Memphis on that day.

You can watch today's eclipse track live on NASA's YouTube Channel. Remember, don't look directly at the sun!

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Houdini Adaptations by Joe M. Notaro

Our good friend Joe Notaro is on a roll. Having released two groundbreaking Houdini books, The Zanetti Mystery and Houdini's Schooldays, Joe has now released Houdini Adaptations. This new work contains the rare adaptations of The Grim Game and Terror Island and much more. Below are details.
Arthur B. Reeve and Houdini worked on three silent film stories together, The Master Mystery (1918), The Grim Game (1919), and Terror Island (1920). The Master Mystery silent film was adapted into a book in 1919. While not adapted to a book, The Grim Game was adapted to a story paper format in 1920, just like Terror Island was in 1921. 
The Grim Game and Terror Island story adaptations are featured in Joe M. Notaro’s book for the first time and illustrated with original movie stills to help tell the story. For each of the 3 films that Reeve and Houdini worked on, Notaro also shares the cast, synopsis, words of Houdini, history, advertising campaign, and missing footage information.

A 1924 newspaper article, "Houdini Breaks into Playwrighting," describes a new, previously unknown stage play that reads like the plot summary from The Grim Game. The book also features tidbits about each of his known stage plays: Challenged or Houdini Upside Down (1911), Walking Through a Brick Wall (1914), and Buried Alive (1914).

As a bonus, Notaro shares the "Out of the Shadows" film treatment from his personal collection, which has never been published. Along with that, he summarizes and shares tidbits about each of Houdini’s other film treatments: The Marvelous Adventures of Houdini (1917), The Far North or The Man From Beyond (1921), Haldane of the Secret Service or Mysterious Mr. Yu (1921), Yar, the Primeval Man (1921), Il Mistero de Osiris or The Mystery of the Jewel (1921), The Great Tontine (1992), The Monster (1992), The Vulture (1992), Floating Through Space (1992), and Blood Brothers (unpublished).

Houdini Adaptations is released today, April 6, and is available for purchase at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Special offer! U.S. customers can order signed copies (available May 2024) directly from Joe via PayPal to Joe.M.Notaro@gmail.com. Price is $40 and includes a signed book with a Premium Color Interior and USPS book-rate shipping.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Tour Houdini's Los Angeles Orpheum, April 13

Here's one that has me very excited. On Saturday, April 13, the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation (LAHTF) will tour the Palace Theater in downtown Los Angeles. The Palace was originally called the Orpheum and is where Houdini performed in 1915 and 1923. It's also where he had his famous verbal joust with then-heavyweight champ Jess Willard. So this is a fantastic Houdini location!

LAHTF is thrilled to be returning to the Palace Theatre on Broadway for our signature ALL ABOUT tour. Join us for our first event of 2024 when we go behind-the-scenes from below stage to the projection booth above and everything in between.

I've twice missed out on LAHTF Palace events, so I'm thrilled to be jumping aboard this one. It will be my first time inside Houdini's L.A. Orpheum.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Meet Houdini at Madame Tussauds Budapest

I've always loved wax museums, so this has me very excited. Madame Tussauds in Budapest, Hungary, has a breathtaking Houdini wax figure on display. The best I've ever seen. There's also a Water Torture Cell that you can go inside for a photo-op. The image below comes from the excellent website WAXIPEDIA.

Madame Tussauds Budapest opened in May 2023. According to Merlin Entertainment, over half of their 51 figures have Hungarian connections. As part of the planning phase, a large-scale survey asked the public who they would like to see included. Houdini made the cut along with Bela Lugosi (as Dracula). The majority of the figures were made "secretly" in Madame Tussauds workshop in London.

Okay, Madame Tussauds Hollywood, you're on deck! Let's get one of these gorgeous Houdini figures in LA. This was modeled from The Grim Game, so it fits into Hollywood movie history. It would also nicely complement Houdini's Walk of Fame Star just outside the museum and the Magic Castle up the street.

Thanks to Timothy Randall of WAXIPEDIA.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Trunk from The Great Houdinis sells at auction

The original Metamorphosis prop trunk used in the 1976 television biopic The Great Houdinis sold at Heritage auctions on March 20 for $2,625.00 (including Buyer's Premium). Below is the trunk and auction description.

The Great Houdini (ABC Circle, 1976), Paul Michael Glaser "Harry Houdini" Escape Trunk. Vintage original trunk made of wood and covered in painted cardboard, featuring metal latches and accents. "The Great Houdini" is hand-painted on the front in black lettering. The back of the trunk includes a panel attached with metal hinges that can be detached, enabling the illusion of an escape trunk. It measures approx. 51" x 25" x 20". This trunk appears in the early part of the film during one of Houdini's (Paul Michael Glaser) performances. Displays production wear and age. Much of the cardboard has eroded and there is paint chipped throughout. Special shipping arrangements will apply. Comes with a COA from Heritage Auctions.

Here's the scene from the movie in which you can see the trunk. The idea of Bess getting stuck in the Metamorphosis trunk comes from a real-life incident (read: Boxed Bess).

Monday, April 1, 2024

Houdini Returns with Craig Diamond

Craig Diamond will present a special evening devoted to Houdini at the historic John Harris Mansion in Harrisburg, PA, on Thursday, April 11, 2024. I had the pleasure of meeting Craig as a fellow recipient at the Milbourne Christopher Awards last year. I'm sure he will do Houdini justice!

This captivating Houdini Experience takes you back in time for 90 spellbinding minutes. It features over 165 pictures from some of the world's leading private collections.

You'll see Harry Houdini like never before. New evidence has recently come to light, possibly linking his death to his battle to expose the shady world of psychic mediums.

Award-winning, Master Magician and Houdini historian Craig Diamond will guide you through this immersive program.

This event includes a guided tour of the historic John Harris Mansion!

Click here to buy tickets via Eventbrite.

Harrisburg is a good Houdini city. He performed in Harrisburg during his Welsh Bros. tours of 1895 and 1898, played the Harrisburg Orpheum in 1912, and brought his "3 Show in One" to Harrisburg's Majestic Theater in 1926. So this is a "Return" indeed!

If you can't make it to Harrisburg, Craig will be bringing Houdini Returns to Liverpool, PA, on April 12. You can get more details and buy tickets to that event HERE.