Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Mysterious Houdini Girlfriend

Minnie and Hattie Mooser
Over the years, there has been speculation that Houdini might not have been so faithful to Bess as the legend tried to portray him. First revelation was Daisy White back in the 1970s. Then Kenneth Silverman revealed Charmian London, the widow of writer Jack London. John Cox wrote the definitive blog on Houdini and his 'girlfriends'. He revealed quite a few that I had not heard of. I knew of one that had not been mentioned and held onto it thinking I had a big revelation. But I have since discovered that this one was revealed in The Secret Life of Houdini by Bill Kalush. The reason I'm writing about it though is because both Mr. Kalush and I got the information from the same sources, a newspaper article and a first hand account from escape artist Steve Baker, and I have something to share at the end that wasn't covered in the Secret Life of Houdini.

Hattie Mooser was the 'mysterious girlfriend' I wish to share with you. She was born in 1878 in Nevada but grew up in Sacramento CA. For a number of years, Hattie and her sister Minnie ran a restaurant called the Aladdin Studio Tiffin Room in the Chinatown section of San Fransisco.  This was a popular hang out for folks in the theatrical business. According to Hattie, when the Houdini's were in town they made the place their headquarters.

Hattie was kind of vague about her relationship to Houdini when she spoke to the press, referring to Houdini as an adopted brother. But she revealed to Steve Baker that he was far more than a brother! More like, kissing cousins! There is an article that appeared in the Feb 17th, 1967 edition of the Oakland Tribune Newspaper. It's an interesting interview with Hattie and her sister Minnie. In the article Hattie claims to have met Houdini through her brother Leon. But I'm skeptical of the story she relates. She said that it was her brother that booked Houdini to work at the Palace Theatre in NYC. She also went on to say that Houdini didn't even own a tuxedo and her brother loaned him one of his. Further, she goes on to state that Houdini almost didn't go on stage to perform and her brother had to shove him onto the stage.

There exist photos of a very young Houdini wearing a tuxedo, so that part of the story doesn't ring true to me. And the notion that Houdini was too frightened to go out on the stage of the Palace Theatre really strikes me as untrue. No date is given when this took place, but if it happened earlier in Houdini's career, then who knows, maybe it did. One thing is for certain, Houdini knew the Moosers.

Tower of Jewels
In the article, Hattie mentions that Houdini took her to see his movie, 'The Man From Beyond'. She actually told him afterwards that she thought it was awful and was shocked someone could convince him to invest in such a thing! She also mentions in the article going with Houdini to the 1915 San Fransisco Worlds Fair. She was able to get them into the Tower of Jewels, which was a large Italianate main tower adorned with 102,000 glass gems that sparkled when swayed by the wind. Hattie said "We went to dinner afterwards and he asked when my sister and I would observe our birthdays. I asked him why and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of jewels. You know, nobody took their eyes off of him when he was in the tower and I have no idea how he got them." But don't take that to assume Houdini was a thief, as I have discovered that the Fair sold jeweled souvineers and I'll bet thats what he gave to Hattie and her sister.

Hattie also claims to have substituted for Bess in the show. She very well may have acted as one of the female assistants.  Then there is the revelation that Houdini shared with her one of the secrets to his jail escapes. This did not appear in the newspaper. She shared this information with Steve Baker during a private visit he had with the sisters. She swore Steve to secrecy and to my knowledge he has only shared that information with one individual.

Hattie and Minnie both lived a long life. Hattie lived to be 92 and her sister Minnie lived to be 98. While doing additional research on the Moosers I discovered that The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the Bancroft Library University of California Berkley has a collection of scrapbooks and other documents belonging to the Moosers. There is memorabilia from the 1915 Worlds Fair, which are probably the jewels given to them by Houdini. This is the information on that collection: Collection #: WJHC 1968.012 AR1

There just might be a whole new chapter in the Houdini saga sitting in the pages of those scrapbooks. The photo of Houdini that can be seen in the background of the picture at the top of the blog is not among the collection. That 20x36 photo was auctioned off in 2004 and went for over $10,000. Houdini had signed it to Hattie, "To my good friend Hattie Mooser, 'My brain is the key that sets me free' Houdini, 3/23/23."

5 comments:

  1. There are a few stories about Hattie in "Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini" by Sid Fleischman.

    I wonder if this is the same scrapbook. From Fleishman's article "THE HOUDINI-MOOSER CONNECTION" in Magicol No. 129 (November 1998) he writes "Steve [Mooser] made me a gift of a scrapbook of original Houdini letters and photographs ... that had been kept in San Francisco by Leon's sisters, Hattie and Minnie Mooser."

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  2. Oh wow. I did not know about this! The only problem with that is, Sid Fleischman died recently. Any ideas where that scrapbook might be now?

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  3. I can get to Berkley in five hours...

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  4. Well hold off, because apparently the scrapbooks with Houdini stuff may be elsewhere. I didn't know this when I first posted. Now we've got to figure out where they went after Sid Fleishman....they might still be with his family.

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