Friday, September 2, 2011

Houdini & The Herrmann Connection

Houdini and Compars Herrmann
I had heard speculation that Houdini and the Herrmann Family (Compars and Alexander) were related but I always thought it was more of a myth. As it turns out, the Kalush biography does spell it out a bit more and explains they were first cousins through marriage. However, here is the family connection in Houdini's own words.

"Knew Blanche Corelli very well, and it may surprise you to know that my father's first wife
was a first cousin to Compars Herrmann's first wife. Rose Szchlig. My dear old Dad and Compars Herrmann were great companions and for business reasons have never given out the facts, because they might think that at one time I was seeking publicity."
The last line of this is priceless, Houdini fearing someone might think he was just out to seek publicity! lol. This is from a letter Houdini wrote to Frederick Eugene Powell.

In his day, Compars Herrmann was enormously successful in Europe and very well known. Compars had one child by the name of Maria Dorothea Herrmann. She was named after the daughter of the Belgian Archduke Josef Palatin and his wife whose name was Dorothea. Maria would grow up to become a fairly well known opera singer and change her name to Blanche Corelli. My article here centers on Herrmann's daughter, Houdini's cousin, Blanche Corelli. Incidentally, Blanche herself would often tell people that she and Houdini were related. To make it easy, I'll refer to Compars daughter from here on out by her stage name Blanche Corelli.


Compar's daughter
I honestly had never heard her name before. She is mentioned in a single sentence in the Herrmann biography by H. Burlingame. She does appear in a few magic periodicals, but again, mentioned briefly as attending German magic society meetings. I found her by stumbling upon an extremely interesting website devoted to a man named Hall Lippincott, http://www.halllippincott.info/. If you've heard of the famous Lippincott Box which was created by Jack Lippincott, well Hall was Jack's first cousin. Hall's daughter Cindy put together an incredible website about her father and his exploits traveling around the world. The information was taken from her father's journals and from letters he had written. One of the people that Hall Lippincott encountered on his journey was Madam Blanche Corelli. Hall and Blanche exchanged so many letters that Cindy Lippincott created a separate site for Ms. Corelli.

Postcard showing the students of Blanche Corelli
It's hard to know where to begin. So let's just start with what I know. Blanche was born Feb 4, 1853 in Odessa Russia. She was the daughter of Compars Herrmann and his first wife Rose.  Rose Szchlig (as Houdini spelled it) sang in the Imperial Opera of Vienna. Her daughter Blanche would follow in her mothers shoes and one day became an operetta vocalist.  One book I found says that 'Blanche Corelli' was actually a stage name and her real name was Blanche Crillae, though her actual real name was Maria Dorothea. She would one day live in America and have her own opera company. Eventually Blanche returned to Germany and started a family. She changed from singing in the opera to becoming one of the most well known and sought after music teachers in all of Germany.
An online search for Blanche Corelli brings up several pages where her name is mentioned either in conjunction with her Opera Company or as a music teacher. But the only place that I could find that really reveals who this woman really was is the site created by Cindy Lippincott.


Houdini was aware of the family connection and he knew and corresponded with Blanche. In one letter he wrote to Blanche he signs his name 'Harry Houdini-ski". In another letter he begins with "My Dear Dear Blanche Corelli, You note that I call  you dear dear, that means I want something from  you." which is a very funny line to start the letter.

Another line of interest reads "PLEASE dont refuse, for if you do, when I play a return to Berlin, I will tell Ike Rose." This line makes no sense to me today, so I tried to research who 'Ike Rose' was. Turns out there was an Ike Rose who managed a troupe of midgets. So I take it that the line was written in jest, again showing the friendly terms that Houdini and Blanche Corelli were on.

On a different note, I found the red/white/blue Houdini sticker at the top of the letter to be quite interesting. The very same sticker was placed over the back of the envelope that the letter was sent in. Take a closer look.

Getting back to Blanche, when she met Hall Lippincott she was 75 years old and living in Berlin. They stayed in touch through letters all the way into 1939. The letters are revealing in many ways. From a historical perspective, remember in 1933 Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and it was that same year that the first Concentration Camp was opened. But her letters describe the conditions in Germany as being bad as early as 1931.

It's clear that Blanche is not a wealthy woman and money is an issue at this time of her life. She tried unsuccessfully to obtain money from her fathers estate. When Adelaide Herrmann died Blanche tried to obtain something from her Aunt's Adelaide's estate. Blanche reveals that she was the one who kept after Alexander Herrmann, her Uncle, to marry Adelaide. Sadly, Adelaide gambled away her money and left pretty much nothing when she died. And to make matters worse, poor Blanche ended up getting into a battle of words with Herrmann family members here in the U.S..

What eventually happened to Blanche Corelli is unknown. Her last letter to Hall Lippincott was in 1939 when she would have been 86 years old. I can't help but hope she died quietly of old age in her home and not suffered the fate of many Jewish residents of Berlin Germany in the 1930s.

I have a personal interest in the Houdini/Herrmann connection, because I too have a Herrmann in my family tree. I've not been able to dig deep enough to discover if there is a connection to Compars & Alexander & Blanche, but even if there is, my connection is via marriage and regardless I would not be a blood relation only related through marriage.

If you'd like to read the letters that Compars Herrmann's daughter wrote you can read them by going to  http://corelli.halllippincott.info/?s=corelli

I want to extend a huge thank you to Cindy Lippincott for letting me use the photos on this blog and for creating the site that records such incredible information about not only Blanche Corelli but also her father Hall Lippincott, one very amazing individual.

6 comments:

  1. Holy cats!!!

    Not only is this a terrific post (yet another), but this is highly interesting to me personally. See, I happen to own a copy of 'A Magician Among the Spirits' that Houdini has inscribed to Blanche Corelli in 1924. She then gives the book to Dante in 1939 with a long inscription in which she mentions Hermann (although I can't quite make out what she's written there). Dante than annotates and signs a particular paragraph in the book.

    I always knew this was a pretty nice item. You've made it all the better! :)

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  2. BTW, that letter is sensational. I've never seen that letterhead. Also cool that he says he may give up flying.

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  3. FYI. The Lippincott Box (http://geniimagazine.com/magicpedia/Lippincott_Box) may have been created by a Mal Lippincott (not Jack): http://geniimagazine.com/magicpedia/Mal_Lippincott

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  4. Do you know if Jack and Mal are related? My searches keep showing Jack as the creator. But this ad you show clearly says 'Routine by Mal Lippincott'. Interesting twist.

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  5. Haven't seen anything mentioning them as related and all sources I've seen which state Jack are second hand.

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  6. it will be great if you could get an image of Samuel Herrmann, the father of Carl and Alex Herrmann.

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