Saturday, June 12, 2021

Hardeen dies at Doctors Hospital in 1945

We spend endless amounts of time going over every detail of Houdini's death. But the death of Hardeen rarely gets discussed. I admit I don't know many of the details. But we all love Dash, so here is the death announcement that ran in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 76 years ago today.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 12, 1945

I believe the operation Dash underwent on May 30 was for his ulcers and his death was the result of an infection. Although I'm not positive of that.

Doctors Hospital was located at 170 East End Avenue, between 87th and 88th Streets on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was razed in 2005 and today is the site of a condominium building. The hospital's Wikipedia page notes Hardeen as one of its famous patients.

Friday, June 11, 2021

A warning from Houdini

When Houdini returned to the UK at the start of 1913 his new feature was The Water Torture Cell (which he had debuted in Germany the year before). He was proud and protective of his new sensation, as this notice in the February 15, 1913 issue of The Era illustrates.

Click to enlarge.

The "Special Licence" Houdini is referring to is the license he received in 1911 when he first presented the Water Torture Cell as part of a play called Challenged. The mention of the two "Copyists" being fined in Germany is interesting. One is certainly Miss Undina. But who was the other?


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Who Is Houdini? (Photoplay, June 1920)

Last night I stumbled on The1920sChannel on YouTube, and by coincidence they had just uploaded a video related to Houdini. In it they read a profile of Houdini in the June 1920 Photoplay magazine. I like how the reporter talks about meeting Houdini at the Mission Inn in Riverside, CA. As we know, Houdini stayed there in November 1919 while filming the underwater scenes for Terror Island at nearby La Elliotta Springs. (The Mission Inn is still there and even has a drink named after Houdini.)

Houdini certainly dishes out the mythology here, putting fresh spins on some of his old origin stories. Notice how the convict in cuffs is now "the son of a prominent banker" (just another reason to doubt the whole locksmith episode). And I've lost count of how many versions there are of how he and Bess met. But the idea of Houdini, Hollywood Star, spouting this stuff while sitting in the sunshine at the Mission's just so good.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Houdini certifiable?

This is one of Houdini's standard press kit stories that is likely more entertaining than true. But I still wanted to share as I've never seen this image of Houdini struggling in a straitjacket (which I believe is a photo heavily retouched). And the story is kinda fun. Enjoy.

Los Angeles Record, September 25, 1907

Below are links to a few more uncommon shots of Houdini in straitjackets.


Monday, June 7, 2021

Houdini invites you to TAOM 2021

The Texas Association of Magicians (TAOM) will hold their next convention in Austin, September 3-6, 2021. Here's Houdini to tell you about it himself! (This is well done.)

As Harry said, the convention will include a special tour of the Houdini collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. For more details and to register, visit the TAOM 2021 website.

Friday, June 4, 2021

The Houdini footage you were never supposed to see (2/2)

In 2018, two remarkable reels of Houdini film footage were discovered in the vaults of the Sherman Grinberg Film Library in Los Angeles. I had the great pleasure of debuting this footage alongside Lance Watsky, Manager of Media Archives & Licensing at Sherman Grinberg, during a special Magic Castle "Behind the Bookcase" event last year. Now I'm thrilled to be able to share this film with everyone.

Reel One contained footage that is generally known, but in such great first generation quality that much of it seemed new. Today I bring you REEL TWO which really is all new. In fact, it's the Houdini film you were never supposed to see. But I'll get to that.

While I've embedded it below for convenience, this is HD quality so I encourage you to watch it on YouTube where you can enlarge it for best results.

Okay, you might be asking yourself, "What the heck was that?" That's what we were all asking when we first saw this reel at the Magic Castle back in 2018. My first thought was that this might be part of the film Houdini shot during his 1920 European tour. But the point of those street shoots were to showcase European locations and landmarks, and there's nothing like that here. It's also striking that this footage reveals the use of an obvious stuntman on safety wires.

So is there anything in the footage itself that can help us explain it? The warehouse location could be anywhere and there's nothing distinctive about Houdini's appearance. But the footage does contain periodic flash frames with strange markings on them.

Or maybe not so strange. Because when I turned this image upside down and held it up to a mirror, I saw the following:


While the writing itself doesn't really tell us much, these identification frames do match similar frames on the Reel One footage of Haldane of the Secret Service and The Man from Beyond. So that suggests this footage is from the Houdini Picture Corporation era and was likely shot in 1921.

Then Joe Notaro made a breakthrough observation that The Man From Beyond features a scene of Houdini's Howard Hillary using bedsheets to climb down the side of a large stone wall (a location that's yet to be identified, by the way). This also shows Houdini using bedsheets as a rope. So could this be an unused version of that same stunt? 

I took a good look at the scene in the movie and what clinched it for me was the matching wardrobe, right down to his bow-tie being undone. So, yes, I believe what we are seeing here is the complete and uncut footage for an unused version of this same stunt from The Man From Beyond. And the idea here is actually superior! I love how Houdini/Hillary uses the window shutters as a means to swing his way across the length of the building in order to reach the drain pipe. That's an idea that would hold up today.

However, it just doesn't work here. It is clearly a stuntman on visible wires who is never able to sell the window shutters idea. None of this could be cut together to make a convincing scene. So it's likely Houdini screened this footage and realized they had to do the entire thing over again, dropping the shutter idea, changing the location, and shooting from a greater distance to better conceal the stuntman and safety lines.

So think about it. This is footage Houdini probably only ever viewed once, and might have even ordered it destroyed. Not only was it unusable, but it clearly reveals that he did not always do his own stunts, and we don't want that! Yet somehow this reel of film survived in pristine condition for 100 years and here we are able to watch it today thanks to our friends at the Sherman Grinberg Film Library. Fantastic.

This footage is available to license for use. If interested, contact Lance Watsky via the Sherman Grinberg Film Library website

Additional thanks to Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence (where you can see a timecode breakdown of both reels) and the Houdini Museum in Scranton.


    Wednesday, June 2, 2021

    Watch Sherman Grinberg's Houdini found footage (1/2)

    In 2018, two remarkable reels of Houdini film footage were discovered in the Sherman Grinberg Film Library in Los Angeles. Last year I had the pleasure of debuting this footage alongside Lance Watsky, Manager of Media Archives & Licensing at Sherman Grinberg, as a special Magic Castle "Behind the Bookcase" event. Those who saw it agreed it was wild stuff!

    Today I'm thrilled to finally be able to share this footage with everyone. This comes courtesy of Lance Watsky and the Sherman Grinberg Film Library. I'm starting with REEL ONE. While I've embedded it below for convenience, this is HD quality so I encourage you to watch it on YouTube where you can enlarge it for best results.

    This first reel is made up of footage that will be familiar to some. But the quality is what makes it so remarkable. For comparison, check out the way this footage is normally seen compared to the Sherman Grinberg footage (below). Yes, this is the same shot! This is just an example of how much quality matters and how it can reveal details we never knew were there.

    The quality also helps us identify and date some of these clips for the first time. Mostly notably is the footage of Houdini and magician Harry Kellar. From the now visible landmarks, this appears to be New York's Times Square in November 1917. Kellar was in town to participate in a benefit that Houdini was producing at the New York Hippodrome.

    In the photo below you can see the landmarks that appear in the footage, such as the Variety office, Loews New York, and even the subway construction crane Houdini would use for a suspended straitjacket escape on November 5, 1917, to promote the Hippodrome show. Houdini and Kellar are exiting the front door of the Hotel Astor (red arrow). 

    It's only a single frame, but there's the crane!

    The Kellar footage continues at Hardeen's home in Flatbush, where the Houdinis were living at this time. How do we know this is Hardeen's house? Check out the now very visible address on the steps behind them!

    Below is a full breakdown of Reel One with some insights this footage provides.

    00:00:13 - Houdini is tied to a table by monks. Shot in 1921 on the set of Haldane of the Secret Service (Houdini Picture Corp., 1923). Not part of the movie. One of the monks is Houdini's chief assistant, Jim Collins.
    00:02:00 - Houdini and magician Harry Kellar exit the Astor Hotel in Time Square, New York, and get into a car being driven by Houdini’s brother, Theo Hardeen. November 1917.
    00:02:26 - Harry Houdini taking bows in 1917.
    00:02:35 - Close shot of magician Harry Kellar in 1917. Notice his vanishing eye glasses.
    00:02:41 - Houdini, Bess Houdini, and Harry Kellar greeting each other in front Theo Hardeen’s home at 394 East 21st Street, Flatbush, New York (the Houdinis were living with the Hardeens at this time). 1917. 
    00:02:45 - Harry Kellar shows Houdini how to tie a knot. Filmed at 394 East 21st Street, Flatbush, NY. 1917.
    00:03:11 - Houdini, Theo Hardeen, and Harry Kellar in front of Hardeen’s Flatbush home performing the Kellar Rope Tie. 1917. Dog seen in background is Houdini’s dog, Bobby.
    00:03:34 - Houdini performs a stunt on the set of The Man From Beyond (Houdini Picture Corp., 1922). Filmed in 1921. This does not appear in the final movie. 
    00:04:32 - Houdini and director Burton King review the script on the set of The Man From Beyond (Houdini Picture Corp., 1922). Filmed in 1921. Note the cameraman writes scene number 54 on the slate.
    00:04:49 - Bess touches up Houdini's makeup on the set of The Man From Beyond (Houdini Picture Corp., 1922). They share a shy kiss. Filmed in 1921.
    00:05:15 - Overboard box escape from The Master Mystery (Octagon Films, 1918). This footage appears in Episode 5. [Trimmed by YouTube due to a copyright claim.]
    00:05:33 - Close shot of Houdini’s handcuffed hands. Date unknown. This shot is sometimes seen inserted into Houdini’s short film, The Merveilleux Exploits du Célébre Houdini à Paris (Films Lux, 1909). 
    00:05:43 - Houdini in water holding handcuffs. Red bathing suit. Date unknown. Likely filmed to be inserted into existing footage of past bridge jumps.
    00:06:12 - Houdini in water holding handcuffs. White bathing trunks. Date unknown. Likely filmed to be inserted into existing footage of past bridge jumps.

    Next up is REEL TWO which contains footage that has never appeared anywhere before. It's "the Houdini film you weren't supposed to see."

    Thanks again to Lance Watsky. This footage is available to license for use. If interested, you can contact Lance via the Sherman Grinberg Film Library website.

    Additional thanks to Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence and the Houdini Museum in Scranton.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2021

    Margery pamphlet original vs. reproduction

    We are all aware of that pesky Parson's Theater reproduction program from the 1970s that will sometimes appear at auction as an original. Now it looks like that has a successor. 

    Yesterday a reproduction of Houdini's Margery pamphlet, which were sold by the Houdini Historical Center in 1996 for $4.50, sold in an online Invaluable auction for $649 (including premium). Unless the buyer has a thing for reproductions, I've gotta think they believed it was an original. Wittingly or unwittingly, the auction did not clarify this.

    Like the Parson's program, this booklet does not identify itself as a reproduction. But it's pretty obvious when you put it side by side with an original. The yellow cover and the lack of "Price, One Dollar" are instant tells, as is the smaller dimension. So bidders beware!

    Original (left) and reproduction (right).

    Speaking of sketchy auction items, check out this Houdini photo on eBay "signed" two weeks after he died. So Houdini did come back! It currently has eight bids.

    Monday, May 31, 2021

    Houdini planned to resume the Water Torture Cell in Detroit

    Here is a remarkable letter from the collection of Wayne Wissner dated October 19, 1926. Houdini is writing from Montreal to George Atkinson, manager of the Garrick Theater in Detroit, with suggestions on how to heat the water for his Water Torture Cell.

    Houdini explains in detail how he's heated the water in the past, which is interesting in itself. (The backstage Bunsen burners sound fantastically dangerous considering the number of theatre fires during this era.) But what I find most exciting is this letter pretty much confirms that Houdini planned to resume doing the Water Torture Cell in Detroit. This would be a mere two weeks after breaking his ankle while doing the escape in Albany.

    Houdini's Detroit engagement was to be two weeks, so possibly he planned to resume it during his second week, giving the ankle a little more time to mend. Of course, fate intervened.

    Click to enlarge.

    Wayne has been sharing his letters on Kevin Connolly's CONJURING HISTORY Facebook Group. He previously published them in a collection called The Houdini Correspondence File.

    Sunday, May 30, 2021

    'Houdini Unbound' live stream performance today

    This is super late notice, but the Don't Go Into The Cellar! Theatre Company will live stream their production of HOUDINI UNBOUND today at 9PM UK time on Facebook Live. The performance is free to view, but they also have a Go Fund Me page where you can donate the cost of a ticket. 

    For more details and to link to the performance check out the Houdini Unbound EVENT PAGE on Facebook. 


    Saturday, May 29, 2021

    278 mystery fragment

    Our friends at Houdini's 278 have discovered this mysterious fragment in the basement of the house. Similar fragments were also found in the floors between the basement and kitchen. It's very thick, so it's unclear if this is a poster fragment or from some sort of prop. But it's a fun little mystery, so I thought I'd share. If you have any guesses or recognize this pattern, sound off in the comments!

    Below are links to more 278 finds.

    Friday, May 28, 2021

    Merlin McFly's stained glass Houdini window

    In the 1980s there was a popular "singles bar" in Venice Beach, California, called Merlin McFly's. The decor was magic themed and included nine large stained glass widows featuring images of famous magicians, including Houdini! I lived right down the road in neighboring Marina del Rey, but somehow I never went inside and never got a photo. Then one day the windows were gone.

    My memory of what the Houdini window looked like has dimmed, so I was excited to find this photo on the website of custom finisher Pat Barrow, who did the woodwork for Merlin McFly's. It's even better than I remember!

    The windows were created in 1979 by the Bonny Doon Studio in Santa Cruz, CA. Along with Houdini there was Harry Kellar, Blackstone, Merlin, Aladdin, a fire eater and more. According to the Los Angeles Times, McFly's became not just "a magnet for Westside singles, soon also began drawing stained glass enthusiasts from throughout the country."

    When the bar closed in 1992 (a casualty of the AIDS epidemic), the windows were offered for sale for $325,000. According to the blog Gourmet Ghosts, Steve Spill at the nearby Magicopolis magic theater bought them. Two years later he sold them to a collector who put them in a stained glass museum in Washington, D.C. So, presumably, the Houdini stained glass window survives today.

    Here's a little side note. The 1977 movie Looking for Mr. Goodbar is about a woman's odyssey in the world of singles bars, much like Merlin McFly's. In one scene she's in a bar that has a Houdini poster on the wall. In fact, it's the same poster that the stained glass window was partially modeled on. The movie was made before the window so this can only be a coincidence. But I guess Harry is conducive to hooking up!

    Below are links to some other bars and eateries with Houdini decor.

    Thursday, May 27, 2021

    'Houdini' by AViVA (video)

    Seems like every year we get a new pop single called "Houdini." This year's entry is by Australian born, LA-based emo pop artist AViVA. Enjoy.

    Wednesday, May 26, 2021

    The Great Grey Mystery mystery

    Here's a page from the December 1918 issue of Film Fun, a New York based movie magazine. Some nice shots here of Q the Automaton from Houdini's The Master Mystery. But what's odd is they refer to the title of the serial as "The Great Grey Mystery."

    Click to enlarge.

    By December 1918 the first chapters of The Master Mystery had been released to theaters, so I don't know why the magazine uses this title, nor where it came from. As it says; "It's a Mystery."

    Speaking of the Automaton, last year some side panels from the 2017 Houdini Pinball machine sold on eBay. On one side you can see the Automaton and his...Automawoman?

    Below are a few more links for the Automaton aficionado.


    Tuesday, May 25, 2021

    David Copperfield receives S.A.M. "Alliance of Harry Houdini" award

    Society of American Magician's President Joel Zaritsky recently presented David Copperfield with the "Alliance of Harry Houdini Gold Tier" award commemorating his 50 year of membership in the S.A.M. As you can see in the video, the honors were bestowed in the Houdini section of David's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas.