Monday, August 15, 2011

Houdini and the Funeral Films


Sometime ago I was reading one of the Houdini Biographies and something jumped off the page at me. Houdini had made arrangements to have the Funeral of Harry Kellar FILMED. Then a while later I discovered that Houdini also had his friend Sigmund Neuberger's (The Great Lafayette) funeral filmed as well.

I had never heard or read that before and I wondered what happened to the footage. To that end, I have no answer. But I did uncover proof that not only were the funerals filmed but Houdini had the footage in his possession. In the May 1923 edition of The Sphinx Magazine, it records a visit by Houdini to the Los Angeles Society of Magicians. During his visit he put on a 'special entertainment' for the club by showing the films of the funerals of Harry Kellar and Lafayette. Also in 1923, Houdini showed the film of Harry Kellar's Funeral to the Parent Assembly in NY.

If my memory is correct, Theo Hardeen offered Sid Radner a rather large box of films but he was unable to take them. Could the funeral films have been in this box? Maybe, or maybe not...

GET THIS, On July 25th, 1935 the film resurfaced and was shown at the PCAM Convention in Hollywood! So I believe this film was NOT part of the box of films that Theo offered Sid Radner and in fact may still be somewhere in California! Bess Houdini lived in California in the 1930s, so perhaps the film footage was in her possession. The big question is, where is it now? I checked the listings at the SAM DVD Library and it does not show up there. Any ideas?

ON a slightly different note, I was watching the History Channel recently and they were discussing Thomas Edison and his inventions. They did a demonstration of one of his early wax recording devices. I was quite surprised to hear that the recorded voice was 'higher' in tone than the actual mans voice when he recorded it. I instantly thought of Houdini's wax recording and how it always struck me as somewhat odd that Houdini had such a high pitched voice. But I think it's safe to say that his voice may have been slightly lower than what was recorded. Those early recording devices though amazing were not perfect by any means. However, a high pitched Houdini recording is certainly better than NO recording.

3 comments:

  1. Nice find about the '35 PCAM screening!

    Trouble with the idea that this film still exists is that it was nitrate film, which would have decayed or exploded in someone's face by now. I've always worried that the batch of Houdini film that Marie Blood's father had to to throw out contained more than just his silents, but maybe other footage such as these funerals.

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  2. I know the chance of this stuff still existing is extremely rare. However, the Grim Game still exists and was transferred over, right? It's a SUPER long shot that the funeral footage is there, but how cool would it be for it to show up!?

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  3. I can confirm our friend John Cox's comment. Marie Blood was a dear friend of mine. Marie very much enjoyed speaking about Houdini, and unlike most people, she was a natural stage "performer," having absolutely no "stage fright" at all. Recognizing this, and though she'd already done a few media spots, I helped her expand her "audience," by booking her on several television, radio and live public appearances. This began in 1988; I can recall the date so vividly because my wife was over seven months pregnant with Alex, our now 22 year old son," and I was concerned about her travelling at the time. Trooper that she is, my wife was there when Marie appeared at her first magic convention - "Magic By The Sea." I conducted the publicity for the convention, promoting it on local media (though I didn't live in the city where the convention was held).

    Marie's dad, John Hinson, was (contrary to what some believe) primarily responsible for removing all of Houdini's property when the latter died. Among the furniture, papers, ephemera, magic tricks, clothing, photographs and related items he removed were, in fact, a large box of Houdini films.

    It's entirely possible, of course, that Hardeen also had some of this old nitrate footage, but I've never been made aware of the fact. In the late 1920's and early 1930's, to reside in the New York metropolitan area, it was necessary (if you wanted your home insured) to allow the local fire marshall to visit at least annually. When the latter discovered the dozens of nitrate film cartridges in the basement of the Hinson home, he immediately told John and Marie (Bess's sister) that their insurance was cancelled if they "didn't get rid of this fire hazard which could," according to Marie Blood, " blow up the entire neighborhood."

    As a consequence of this statement, Marie's father, John, immediately put all of the films on the curb in front of their home, where the local garbage removal service took it away.

    This incident is indeed very sad, as many of Houdini's other films -- including those in which he appeared as an actor -- were lost for all eternity. Marie Blood told me that she thought these films, if located in the modern era, would be worth a fortune. I agreed.

    Because of some serious neuromuscular issues, typing and (in this case, book) design has become a daunting task for me. Consequently, the book I've been working on, "Harry and Bess - Marie Hinson Blood's life with The Great Houdini's" has been very slow going. I do hope, however, to privately publish a limited hardbound edition of the book in the next year or two, and to then offer the work to a large publishing house.

    I just today stumbled upon your site, Dean. You're doing a marvelous (there's a word you don't hear much any more) job here. Here's hoping you'll have continued success in your efforts to film and restore magician's graves.

    Greg Edmonds

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