Showing posts with label 30 days. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 30 days. Show all posts

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The 30 Days of Houdini Celebration is Now Complete

Well, looks like I pulled it off. 30 Days of articles on Houdini. And actually, there were more than 30
articles. Sure, some were fairly light fair, but I also gave some meat in the mix. It sure was fun and it sure put my Houdini skills to the test, both as a researcher and actually as an escape artist. You see, there was something you didn't get to see. During the filming of The Magic Detective, I did a multi-handcuff escape. There were 8 pair of cuffs on my wrists and a pair of thumbscrews clamping my thumbs down. I have not done an actual escape for several years because I had an unusual injury (not related to escaping) that resulted in me being on blood thinning medication. So escapes were out.

But I picked it back up for this one time. I must tell you it felt pretty good and was also a little painful. The darbies I have are really too small for me now and dug into my wrists. The escape went really well. Later in the evening when I went to edit the footage I discovered the handcuff escape was not there. In fact, more than half of the video footage I shot was missing. I apparently must have forgotten to shut off the camera after one of the sequences and then every time I went to shoot a new one, I was actually turning the camera OFF! ARRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGH!!!

I would have reshot it, but instead chose to let you see the Steel Straitjacket routine from my old Underground Magic Theatre. I'm going to save the handcuff escape for a later date. You see, this is not the last of my Houdini Marathons. I have had plans for some time to do a number of them. The next one will begin sometime in the Spring and will be VERY different from this one. So keep your eyes and ears open for news.

To complete the month, below is the 4 minute trailer for tomorrow's History Channel 2 Part HOUDINI Miniseries. Thank you for reading my 30 Days of HOUDINI and enjoy the trailer and tomorrow, let's all hope for a Fantastic Night of HOUDINI MOVIE MAGIC!!!!

To check out all the 30 Days of Houdini articles, follow this link

The Magic Detective Show Season 2 Ep 2

A special treat for the 30 Days of Houdini is a new episode of The Magic Detective. The show is a semi-regular weekly video blog on magic history, typically the episodes run about 5 minutes. This episode has two Houdini items and then finishes with an ESCAPE.

My interest in magic began with the Tony Curtis Houdini movie and one of the things that always stuck out to me in that movie was his Steel Straitjacket. I thought it was such a cool looking prop and a little over ten years ago I had to opportunity to have one made. My jacket routine evolved over time from the type of routine done in the movie to more of a true escape. The current version, is more intense than the one on this video, but I thought you might like to see it just the same. Enjoy!

HOUDINI In Washington D.C. 1906

The Sunday Star, Washington D.C. Sept 16, 1906
I have spent a lot of time following Houdini's footsteps while he was in the Nation's Capital, mainly
because I live in this area and can occasionally go down and check out sites for myself. Houdini was in town in January 1906 and had a very successful run. It looks as though demand for Houdini was pretty high because he was back in September for two weeks.

This time performing at Chase's Polite Vaudeville Theatre. Search as I have, I've been unable to turn up a photo of Chase's theatre. However, to the right is a program from Chases. The building has long been torn down. However, it was a very popular location during Houdini's time and he was in town doing his Straitjacket, Handcuff and challenge escapes.

Houdini began his run on Sunday September 16, 1906 featuring a standard stuff from his repitiore, but let's face it, his standard material was quite exciting. In one escape demonstration he was handcuffed with a half dozen pair of wrist and leg irons. During another sequence he was tied to a chair with several yards of rope by members of the audience. The final demonstration was his first challenge of the week. This is what the Evening Star Newspaper reported, "Possibly the most pleasing of his demonstrations was the simple manner in which he opened a pair of antique handcuffs from Greece, furnished by Andrew Alexaids, a local Greek interpreter, and an old-time pair of slave handcuffs. He freed himself from these manacles in full view of the audience, the slave-era handcuffs yielding when simply tapped on the floor."

September 17, 1906 the newspaper ad for Chase's says "Houdini-The World's Handcuff King and Prison Breaker, IN NEW AND SENSATIONAL ESCAPE FEATS AT EVERY PERFORMANCE. Police and Public Challenged to Test His Never Defeated Power." Also at the bottom of the ad it says that Houdini has been re-engaged for next week, so he'll be staying over an extra week.

September 18, 1906 the newspaper ad reads "Houdini Challenged! TONIGHT HE WILL ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE FROM A MURDEROUS MANIAC'S STRAIT-JACKET ...... CAN   HE  DO  IT?

September 19, 1906 the newspaper ad reads "Houdini's Greatest. Tonight he will attempt the most difficult handcuffs ever used to challenge him. Will he free himself???

September 20, 1906 the newspaper ad reads "HOUDINI IN A BAG! Challenged by Killian & Co., paper box manufacturers, Houdini will tonight try to escape from a big paper bag. Can he?" So far the week has been fairly normal material for Houdini. The Paper Bag Escape is something he would repeat in other cities.

September 21, 1906 the newspaper ad reads "HOUDINI BOXED UP Tonight he will attempt to escape from a packing case made by the packers of S. Kann, Sons & Co., Will he succeed?"

September 22, 1906 Houdini offers a twist on an earlier escape. Here is what the newspaper ad read, "HOUDINI IN A BAG No.2 Tonight he will try to get out of a paper bag tied at both ends. Will he do it? Come and See!"

September 23, 1906 marks the beginning of the second week. An interesting thing takes place. Because Houdini has been drawing so many people to his shows, the theatre has decided to open up the wings on the stage and ad chairs there! These seats come at a premium. In addition the newspaper ad for Sunday Sept 23, changes it's look at lists all of the weeks challenges.

There are articles in two different papers featuring Houdini in addition to the newspaper ads. One of the articles mentions that there will be a challenge escape at every performance in addition to Houdini's usual program of handcuff releases.

September 24, 1906 the newspaper ad reads, "HOUDINI's ORDEAL. Tonight he will attempt to escape from a maniac murderer's strait-jacket in full view of the audience. A thrilling event. Can he get out?" The following day another paper ads this report about the Sept 24 performance, "Last night he submitted to the demands of an insistent challenger who presented a manacle different from the regulation pattern required in the act. It took some minutes longer than the usual for Houdini's performance, but when he emerged from his cabinet, both hands were free."

September 25, 1906 the newspaper ad reads, "HOUDINI IN A CASE. Tonight he will attempt to escape from the Saks & Co., packing case, which will be constructed on the stage in full view of the audience."

September 26, 1906 the newspaper ad reads, "HOUDINI JACKETED Tonight he will attempt to escape from a Blackwell's Island insane asylum homicidal lunatic's strait-jacket, with leg bag and ropes upon him."

On September 27th there is an unusual change in the ads that appear in the Washington Time and The Evening Star papers. One of them prints an ad that reads, "HOUDINI IN ROPES Tonight he will make a sensational effort to escape from rope imprisonment in a chair." But the other paper has an ad that lists a whole bunch of challenges. That ad reads, "HOUDINI, The Mysteriarch of Manacles and Prisons. TWELVE CHALLENGE ESCAPE ATTEMPTS. Every Matinee and Every Evening Night. Houdini will make different Thrilling Tests of His Powers. Lunatic's Crib Escape. The Door Transfixion. The Ladder-of-death Suspension. The Witches' Pillory Confinement. The Invincible Paper Bag Release. The Iron Crate Incarceration. The Mammoth Football. The Greater Packing Case Tests. The Padlocked Leather Bag Escape. The Thrilling Hindoo Needle Feats, &c. &c. &c." There is one more article from the 27th, but I'm saving it for the end.

On September 28th he had a clever challenge put forth that reads like this, "HOUDINI'S ZINC CASE
Tonight he will attempt to escape from the Knabe & Co. Piano Export Packing Case, Lined with Zinc and Screw-Fastened, etc."

September 29th, 1906 was his final night of the two week run. Here is what the ad says, "HOUDINI'S FAREWELL Tonight he will conclude his engagement with a grand display of his power of manacles and strait-jackets."

That concludes his two week run at Chase's Polite Vaudeville Theatre. However, I wanted to reprint the newspaper article that appeared on Sept 27th, 1906. It's a little too long to just retype, so I am putting it below so you can read the entire thing yourself.

A Unique Houdini Music Video

Here is something cool, a music video featuring HOUDINI. Justin LaBlond is the musician who created this and I'm assuming he also wrote and sings in the video. One of my pieces of Houdini Art is also in the video.  Check it out!

Houdini's Needles in 1899

When I was doing the research for the piece on Houdini's Needle Trick, I came across a reference in HOUDINI-The Key by Patrick Culliton where Houdini was doing the Needle Trick as early as 1899. I just found an article from The San Francisco Call Newspaper dated June 25th 1899 and the title of the article is, Houdini in His Weirdest Trick of Chewing Needles. This is probably Patrick's source as well. The paper goes into great detail describing his routine. It's clear that Houdini was doing the Needles in 1899, and very likely earlier than that because he already has this piece turned into an amazing routine. If you've ever tried the Needles, it does take a bit of time to get used to placing the needles in your mouth as it is a bit unnerving for the performer let alone the audience.

Below is the complete article and notice the photo at the end of the young Houdini doing the Needle Trick!

Houdini's Cannon Challenge

Mutineers tied to cannons in the same manner that Houdini was tied to a cannon. They were about to be executed.

In February of 1911, Houdini was faced with an unusual challenge, one that was more dangerous than normal. The challenge reads as follows:

Chatham, Feb 14, 1911

Mr. Harry Houdini,
Dear Sir-We challenge you to stand in front of a loaded Government 8 cwt. steel gun, to which we will secure you, insert a fuse which will burn for twenty minutes, and if you fail to release yourself within that time you will be blown to Kingdom Come.

In lashing you to the muzzle of the gun we will place a rifle barrel between your arms behind your back, bringing your hands on your breast where we will securely lash them. Your feet we will tie to an iron ring which we will nail into the floor. Your body we will lash against the muzzle of the gun in such a manner that we believe it will be impossible for you to free yourself.

Test must take place in full view of the public

Signed by four petty officers of the Royal Navy.

According to the book, The Original Houdini Scrapbook, by Walter Gibson, Houdini accepted the challenge and found it to be very difficult. In Houdini's own words, "The situation required quick action. I struggled and worked at my best. I lived up to my reputation, and free myself in twelve minutes!"

There is a small wrinkle in the historical record however, according to the William Kalush biography, The Secret Life of Houdini, he says that the chief of police reluctantly allowed the demonstration to go forward and even allowed the cannon to be loaded, however, he did not allow them to light the fuse. But the story in the Walter Gibson book says that they did light the fuse. I don't have a newspaper account to refer to to find which story is correct.


Fast forward to October 12, 1919, The Washington Times Newspaper reported that while Houdini was filming The Grim Game, he had accepted the challenge of four naval officers to be strapped to the mouth of a cannon in Pershing Square, Los Angeles. The Times reported, "The weapon was loaded and a fuse attached, but the police interfered before the trigger lanyard could be pulled."  The newspaper further reported "Houdini extricated himself from the ropes, which it had taken six minutes to tie, in exactly two minutes and a half."

I'm wondering if this is the cannon escape that Kalush was referencing but connected it to the Chaltham Cannon Escape. I have no problem believing that Houdini presented this escape two different times. He often repeated challenges in different cities. But the best proof would be newspaper accounts and so far I only have the one from The Washington Times. Eventually, I hope to find one from an L.A. paper.

I did some checking and discovered that Pershing Square during World Ward 1 was often the scene of militia receptions and was named after General Pershing, so it seems highly likely that there were cannons present for Houdini to actually do this escape.

The upcoming HOUDINI-Miniseries will feature Adrien Brody escaping from the mouth of a cannon. I saw a still image, and it looks like an older Houdini, so my guess it was 1919 Cannon escape.

Finally, Steve Baker, who was known as Mr. Escape during his performing career, presented a Cannon Escape as well in the early 1970s. His version was called 'The Human Target and a photo collage can be seen below. Steve's version had no cannonball, but did include gunpowder and the fuse. This was during a period of time when Steve was trying to duplicate all of Houdini's escapes.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Houdini's Life Changing Event In St. Paul That You Haven't Heard

7th St. St. Paul-The Palm Garden is down this street.

According to the history books, in March of 1899, Harry Houdini was playing at a beer hall in St. Paul Minnesota called The Palm Garden*. We know that at some point prior to March 14th, Martin Beck arrived at the beer hall with a group of other theatre owners. Beck witnessed Houdini's act of escaping handcuffs, but thought they must be faked. So Beck challenged Houdini to escape from some handcuffs that he would bring. The following night Beck brings with him three pairs of handcuffs and Houdini escapes from all three. That's the story we are all familiar with. It's the same story in Kenneth Silverman's bio on Houdini, and basically similar story to the Kalush Bio. In the William Kalush biography, The Secret Life of Houdini, he adds a story that took place before the Beck meeting which really had nothing to do with performing.

On March 14th, Houdini gets a telegram from Martin Beck in Chicago. The telegram says, "You can open Omaha, March 26th, at $60, will see act, probably make proposition for all next season." Houdini records in his journal "This wire changed my whole life's journey."

That's what we know to be the historical record of the day Houdini's life changed forever. However, there is something else, and I do not know if it happened before Beck's arrival or after. It could have even been the thing that lured Beck to the Palm Garden, that is IF it happened before. If it happened after the Beck encounter, then Houdini was making the most of this encounter by pulling out all the stops.

The St. Paul Globe Newspaper, March 7th, 1899 edition. This records an event that happened one week before Houdini got the telegram from Martin Beck. So somewhere in between is when likely when they met. Here is the story....

Houdini was performing at the Palm Garden, and part of his act was the challenge handcuff routine, where anyone can bring cuffs and he will escape from them. A member of the audience suggests he let the police try. So between acts, Houdini and the Manager of the Palm Garden head to the Central Police Station in St. Paul and ask Chief Schweitzer if they would challenge Houdini with a pair of their police cuffs. The Chief comes out with an unusual pair. According to the newspaper the Chief is quoted as saying "I'll fix him, I've got a pair that would defy Mephistopheles himself." They put the cuffs on Houdini and then add a more up to date pair of cuffs on him as well. Then Houdini is taken to another room to attempt his escape in private.

Two minutes later, Houdini came back into the room with the cuffs not only removed, but locked together. The locking together is a subtle way of showing that he didn't simply 'slip' the cuffs of his wrists, but rather had to open them in order to put lock them together. The feat made the newspaper.

To add to this, I checked the complete newspaper for a day or so before and after and the Palm Garden never ran any ads for Houdini's appearance. So this blurb on March 7th is the only recorded historical record of his St. Paul visit. As I mentioned before, if it happened before the Beck meeting, it could have been what drew Beck to the Palm Garden. If it happened after, then it was Houdini doing what he did best, getting publicity. And it's the last article that would be written on him before he went off under Martin Beck's direction.

*The Palm Garden was a type of indoor beer garden that became very popular in the 1890s. I don't know how many there were, but it appears that many major cities had one. Some of them offered entertainment, usually orchestras or smaller bands. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bess Houdini's Love Triangle

Well well well. What do we have here? Turns out Bess Houdini has been secretly meeting with John Cox and Tom Interval behind ole Harry's back! Shameful. What would Harry say if he found out? I'm really disappointed in....well you the fact I didn't get invited to the freaking party! Oh, wait, I'm TOO BUSY! Hey Bess, don't call me, I want nothing to do with this love triangle you've created. This is just sick. This is why in the Victorian Times people looked down upon Show People! Theo was right, Bess is a bad influence!

Ok, now that I've got this out of my system, Congratulations to John Cox and Tom Interval for their connection to Bess Houdini, played by actress Kristen Connolly, and the new HOUDINI Miniseries. It's really exciting to see these guys have their talents and knowledge recognized. The following link is to an interview with Kristen where she mentions both Tom and John as sources of her research on Bess. I really couldn't be happier for you guys!!!!!

However...............if the movie sucks, now I know to who to blame! :)

Just kidding! Bravo to John and Tom, and to Kristen for seeking out two of the smartest Houdini Guys alive today!!!!

The Houdini Soundtrack is Available NOW on iTunes

Is this possibly the first Houdini Soundtrack ever available from any of the movies? Actually, one of the lesser known Houdini movies Fairy Tale-A True Story, has a sound track and a very hard to get one too. The music in that movie is fantastic...but as I said, hard to get.

Here is the link to the iTunes Houdini Soundtrack...

You can check out ALL the various articles on the 30 Days of Houdini
by clicking here,

The Houdini Tramp Chairs

In the photo above, is an unusual item from the Salon De Magie, the collection of Ken Klosterman. I'm not sure of the origins, as far as where Ken got this, but he is very thorough in his documenting items that he puts in his collection, so I have no doubt it's authentic. My guess is that it's a challenge that Houdini received. I do know it's featured in his book Salon De Magie, unfortunately, it's one of the few books I do not have. In the photo above, you'll need to excuse the leather device underneath the chair and the orange/red box sitting on the chair, as they are not part of the Tramp Chair.

I did some general research on this type of chair and they were basically made in small jails when there was no space for extra prisoners. These could sit in a hallway or outside the cells and still contain a prisoner because they would be handcuffed to the chair. I have a feeling the neck collar was added just for Houdini, and for all I know, it may have been added BY Houdini.

The was this would look in performance or in challenge performance is Houdini would have both wrists handcuffed to the chair section and his neck would be put in the neck collar and locked up. This would prevent Houdini from bending down, so he couldn't use a key in his teeth. He also would be unable to lift a hand to help undo either the neck collar or the other hand. At least this is how it would appear by the audience. Whether he did this in full view or behind a cabinet I do not know, though my guess is with this particular device he probably presented it behind some sort of curtain.

His brother Hardeen also encountered a Tramp Chair which was dubbed the Maine Tramp Chair. This is a very different device. The Maine Tramp Chair is like a portable jail cell, or a chair on wheels surrounded by a jail cell. It's a very strange relic from the 19th Century. Hardeen successfully escaped from one of these at the Bijou Theatre in Bangor Maine, in 11 minutes 54 seconds.

Houdini also claimed to have escaped from a Maine Tramp Chair in Boston, but he called his a 'Witches Chair'. For historical purposes, there was something called a 'witches chair' but it was not the same as the Maine Tramp Chair, it was a wooden chair with spikes embedded in the seat and back cushion so as to cause the sitter extreme pain. I think that Houdini's Witches Chair however, was not this, but in fact was another Maine Tramp Chair or one similar. The description of the Maine Tramp Chair can be found in Houdini's Magic & Escapes by Walter Gibson.

Maine Tramp Chair
You can check out ALL the various articles from 30 Days of Houdini HERE!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Little Unintentioned Houdini Duplication

David Saltman is the writer who runs He is also a writer, producer and director of quite a few documentaries and he is a well established author who has a book coming out on Houdini very soon. Plus, David is a nice guy. I was fortunate enough to meet him last year at the Washington D.C. Symposium on Magic History.

I was looking at his site which always has very unique articles on Houdini and magic, and which sadly I don't look at enough. I say that because I noticed on May 22 he posted a piece on Houdini having issues with his luggage. He put the actual newspaper article in the piece as well. Fast forward to August and yours truly puts the same article, though a different headline from a different paper on this blog as part of the 30 Days of Houdini. Ugggh, I hate duplicating stuff other people have done, though sometimes it's unavoidable.

Speaking of duplication, yesterday I put up the details on where to find the HOUDINI-Miniseries DVDs. I am very aware that John Cox was the first to put this up, but as I recall he pointed people to whereas I pointed them right to A small detail, but this is more of a service to help you (the readers) find these great Houdini items that you can add to your collections.

I have to stop for a minute and mention, I have NOT seen the Houdini Miniseries yet. I have not even seen the first night, as some folks have. I've been so busy, I've hardly seen the trailers, lol. I have pretty mixed feelings from what I've seen and from some things I've heard. But I'm hoping for the best and trying not to past judgement too early. If memory serves, I was quite excited about the last Houdini movie, which was called Death Defying Acts with Guy Pierce and Catherine Zeta Jones. I truly did not think any movie could be bad that had Catherine Zeta Jones in it, but I was wrong. That movie was awful and had nothing to do with Houdini.

I don't expect this version created by The History Channel to be perfect, but as I mentioned I'm hoping for something good. The Tony Curtis/Houdini movie is filled with fictional stuff and that movie did more to bring new people into magic and get people interested in Houdini than anything I can think of in my lifetime. So a bit of artistic liscence I guess is ok. But there are some things I've seen in still images that are causing me great concern. I'm going to hold my tongue for the moment.....BUT, I know someone who has already put his opinion out there, David Saltman. And David, has done a very good job of backing up why he thinks the way he does. So I'm adding the link to one of David's articles on the new movie. There are three I think. You may wish to wait until you've seen the movie in case you are afraid of forming an opinion before seeing the movie. Or, you can just read what he has to say, all of which I tend to agree with, and then watch the movie and judge for yourself.

Forget the Movie for a Moment, The History Channel Stumbled On Something Bigger!

I still am shocked this slipped by me. But now that it's over and I've had a chance to look at the 'home
marketing' efforts used by the History Channel, I realize that they stumbled upon a stroke of genius.
Let me explain. The History Channel had some sort of contest which culminated in a Viewing Party for the new HOUDINI Miniseries. Those who participated received a packet of pretty cool stuff,  in the words of John Cox, "The party pack included a DVD of Night One, a poster, coasters, a Houdini cocktail shaker, a red carpet, and other nifty Houdini tie-in swag."

So basically, they had a HOUDINI PARTY and the highlight was the movie. Great Idea. My question is, WHY DIDN'T WE THINK OF THAT????? Here magicians have been doing a few scattered Seances once a year for the past 50+ years. Why don't we have a HOUDINI PARTY and really do it up?!!!

I propose that we (the magic community) start having Houdini Parties either the week of Halloween or the week after. The reason I say the week after is due to the fact that a lot of magicians may be doing gigs during the week of Halloween. I'm going to blatantly steal ideas from this Houdini House Party event, because they are so good. Party Favors should include big handlebar mustaches, handcuffs, or similar restraint devices, bowlers and top hats. If you really wanted to do it up right, everyone should come in period costume. Cosplay, which is an abbreviation for Costume Play, is HUGE right now and the Victorian Era, thanks to Steampunk, is equally huge. There are places you can go to find the perfect costumes. And hey, why not come as your favorite period magicians, like Kellar, Herrmann, Blackstone, Malini, Hardeen, Houdini and others. How cool would that be? If nothing else, the guys should have some sort of period hat, and the ladies can wear period hats or bowlers and top hats too! It would be up to those organizing it.

The highlight of the night doesn't have to be a movie, though it could be. Or it could be a show put on by some of the magicians. And I wouldn't make this a magicians only event. Wives, Girlfriends, Family, Neighbors should all participate. Spread the 'Magic Good Will' or the 'Houdini Good Will'!

I'll tell you something I did years ago with the local SAM Assembly. We had a Handcuff Escape Contest. I supplied the cuffs, many different varieties and I put out a bowl of assorted keys. The first one to find the right key and escape won a prize. It was a big hit. Something else you could do is take a page out of the Tony Curtis Movie and have a Straitjacket Escape Contest with a prize going to the first one to get free!!!! (be careful with this one that no one falls over and gets the movie again to get an idea of what can potentially happen)

I really think this is a better way to keep the spirit of Houdini alive, better than a Seance. Let's face reality, Houdini ain't coming back. He had his chance and he's obviously either doesn't want too or he's all tied up. :)  So why not have fun, celebrate, share some magic and then watch a Houdini movie or put on a show.

What do you think? I would really like some comments on this one!

I think I'm going to put together a downloadable brochure on this with ideas and tips and sites you can go visit to find costumes, hats, and other fun stuff. Please send me your ideas, but I'm also going to proceed with this right now and add suggestions along the way.

By the way,  to see all the various articles on the 30 Days of Houdini, go here,

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Movie Isn't Out Yet, But Look At This!!!!

I will say that the folks doing the Houdini-Miniseries sure have their marketing caps on straight. They are tackling this thing with a targeted precision that Houdini would be proud of. I do think they've dropped the ball in a few areas, but I could be wrong about that because there are still a few days before the movie airs.

The DVD is already available for pre-orders on the History website. I have a sneaking feeling this movie is going to do wonders for boosting the numbers of young folks interested in magic. I hope the magic clubs are ready for the influx of young people. In fact, every magic club in the country should be actively promoting their club in the hope of pulling in new members. This is the ideal recruiting tool.

The Latest Movie Houdini

The latest actor to play the part of Houdini is Adrien Brody. Mr. Brody was born April 14, 1973 in Queens, NY. His mother was Hungarian and Jewish, so here is a connection that Adrien has to Houdini. Also, both the real Houdini and the movie Houdini are both Aries.

Adrien's interest in magic began as a kid. I'm not sure what the inspiration was to get into magic, but he actually presented magic shows at children's birthday parties as The Amazing Adrien. That's a tough one because I don't think Houdini ever did birthday parties.....but they both were into magic!!!

At about the age of 11 Adrien attended the prestigious Tannen's Magic Camp. Other past notables who attended the camp include Television Sensation David Blaine, The Prolific and Talented Joshua Jay and the Millionaire's Magician, Steve Cohen. The Camp has been running every summer since 1974 and brings in 130 students every summer to learn about magic. Someone on Facebook mentioned that Adrien was a big fan of Johnny Ace Palmer from back in his Magic Camp days and ran into him at a gig. Imagine having an Oscar Winning Actor as your biggest fan!

There are other connections to Houdini. In 2008, Adrien Brody starred in a movie called The Brothers Bloom with Mark Ruffalo. Mark played Theo Hardeen in the TNT Movie HOUDINI back in 1998. By he way, the co-star in The Brothers Bloom was Rachel Weisz who is reported to be an ancestor of the real Houdini.

The first time I recall hearing about Adrien Brody being into magic was during the promotional tour for his movie The Pianist. Apparently, he claimed that the dexterity he developed during his magic show days came in handy when having to learn to play the piano for that movie.

Monday on The Today Show, Brody even demonstrated a piece of magic. An impromptu stunt of taking a dollar bill and breaking a pencil with it....proving that a simple trick well executed goes over well on TV. Watch this interview and at the end Brody does his magic! By the way, take a look at the background animations on the set, the name HOUDINI appears in the background numerous times with chains and locks under the name that are swaying back and forth. Very cool! 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Houdini Bronze on EBAY NOW!

On ebay right now, is this bronze statue of Houdini created by Jack Taves. It is 7.5 inches tall and weighs 2.5 lbs. I remember when these first hit the market back in the late 1990s. I failed to get one back then. But I just got one and I am very happy. Another one is available on ebay right now. There is still a little over 4 days left on the auction, so get it while you can!

Another Look At Houdini's Needles

I recently wrote a short piece in which I mentioned Houdini and his Needle Trick. However, today, I came across a curious reference that sort of throws a wrench into the origins of the trick. And yet, it could very well be, that the person who came forward with the information is full of it. Which is it? Read on...

In the book, Of Legierdermaine and Diverse Juggling Knacks by John Braun & Ken Klosterman, there is an interesting story related about Houdini and who taught the Needle Trick to him. The story came from Dai Vernon and he related the story of meeting a gentleman by the name of Howard Hall. Mr. Hall was a play director and script writer and actor. He told Vernon that he taught the Needle Swallowing trick to Houdini and he claims Houdini had a heck of a time learning it. That's very interesting because I never heard that version of the origin story before. I know that Vernon certainly was no fan of Houdini, but he did apparently like Houdini's presentation of the Needle Trick.

As I mentioned in a previous article, according to Patrick Culliton in his book HOUDINI-The Key, Houdini said the trick dated back to a magician in London, Ramo Sami,  who debuted the trick in the early 1800s. Then the trick was reintroduced to audiences in the later 19th Century by Maxey The Needle King.

John Mulholland in his book Quicker Than The Eye, again mentions Ramo Samee (spelled differently) who he said was a Hindu magician who visited America in 1820 and that's how the trick arrived here. In the book, The Secrets of Houdini by J.C. Cannell, he claims that Houdini said the trick was first brought to Europe by K. Kraus and then does mention Maxey The Human Sewing Machine. Houdini claims Maxey was the first person he actually saw perform the trick.

Then there is Long Tack Sams recollection of the Needles. He learned the trick in China and performed it in his Vaudeville act for years until Houdini took out a U.S. Copyright on the trick and that prevented everyone in Vaudeville from doing the trick. This information comes from the documentary The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam.

So which story is correct? The trick is commonly known as The East Indian Needle Trick, and perhaps it was Ramo Sami or Samee who gave it that title. I think Jean Hugard, writing in his magazine Hugard's Magic Monthly, said it best, "...the name of the actual inventor will probably remain unknown forever..." And though I'm a little skeptical, it could be Howard Hall who taught the trick to Houdini because Houdini never says who taught him, only where he first saw it performed. But, according to HOUDINI-The Key, the earliest record of Houdini presenting the Needle Trick is 1899 and I get the impression that this was long before he ever encountered Howard Hall. So that part of the mystery continues. One thing is for sure, there is no denying that Houdini gave new life to the trick and it's due to his amazing presentations that the trick survives and thrives into the 21st Century.

UPDATE: Here is an interesting image, provided by my friends at the Houdini Museum. It comes from the December 1891 Scribners Magazine featuring Jugglers performing the Needle Trick on the verandah of the Shepeard's Hotel in Cairo Egypt. It doesn't really help figure out who created the trick, but it does show the trick was around and well known during that time period.

To see all the various articles on the 30 Days of Houdini, click here

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Secret Houdini Education From a Genii

Genii the International Conjurers Magazine has been around since 1936. The second issue of the magazine had Houdini on the cover. I would like to draw your attention to the column 'The Genii Speaks' which is written by William Larsen Sr.. He spends some time discussing the fact that Houdini had been dead now for ten years. Read what he had to say,

"Surely, ten years should reconcile us to his departure. But, it hasn't. When he went, magic lost something; an intangible something which it has never regained. Perhaps it was prestige that we lost, or a leader-or, an idol."

That is a telling statement by someone quite involved in the world of magic. Most any magician, who has been dead ten years, is all but forgotten, sadly. But Houdini's name was being spoken so often it was almost as if he had never left. Mr. Larsen goes on to say that had Houdini lived he no doubt would be involved in theatre, radio and getting himself ready for television. Imagine HOUDINI being an early television pioneer. Wow.

The last half of the article is the part I refer to as 'the secret education'. Mr. Larsen shares his insights on the escape act, the concepts and how to present one properly in 1936. I can tell you, as someone who has performed escapes, he is right on the money. The one area though that I seem to part company with my fellow magi is in the area of the 'fast escapes'. I do believe a quicker pace is helpful in the 21st Century, but I can also tell you from personal experience that a long drawn out escape will also play today, IF structured properly, contrary to popular opinion.

I can also say that being shackled, chained, roped, straitjacketed and so on, gives one a unique insight into Houdini that the non-performer doesn't have. I'm not saying it makes you smarter, I'm just saying it does make you understand some of the things he went through and makes a lot of these challenges really come to life more so than someone who has never been nailed into a packing crate or coffin or some other crazy device.

I can just see Houdini laughing at our modern day expression "Thinking Outside the Box." For him it would have had a double meaning. In truth, that is the escape artists greatest tool, is being able to think outside the box and think under pressure. In the world of the magician we have something called 'outs'. These are preplanned schemes to use in case a trick goes wrong and we can adjust and bring about a successful conclusion regardless of some aspect not going properly. Well, in the world of escapes, if something goes wrong, you can be in serious trouble. You can be facing injury and even possible death. No matter if you are using specialized equipment or things totally 100% legitimate, if something goes wrong you step into the danger zone.  In a great article by Chuck Romano over at his site, My Magic Uncle, he mentions an incident when Hardeen was stuck inside the MilkCan and DoubleFold Death Defying Mystery Box.  This was potentially deadly, but thankfully Hardeen did not panic and had a preplanned out (please go read the article to find out what Hardeen did).

I have had things go wrong with escapes on more than one occasion and let me tell you, your brain shoots into overdrive. You begin thinking so fast it hardly makes sense until suddenly your brain 'clicks' on the right solution and everything comes back into focus. And that is not a panic mode, it's just what happens when you are faced with a potential failure and you need to turn it around.

If you ever get the chance to read The Genii Speaks from Vol 1 Issue 2 of Genii, you'll get a better understanding of the mind of the escape artist once you finish the article.  And despite the fact that there were other people who did escapes before, during, and after Houdini, he was without question the archetype of the grand escapologist.

Oh, if you are a Genii Subscriber, you can go use the digital version of Genii to access this issue.

BY THE WAY, We are now on the final week of the 30 Days of Houdini. So far I have successfully put up an article each day this month of Houdini. The Final Week, MIGHT, have a few surprises...MIGHT, lol. Or they may have to wait until the next 30 Days of Houdini, which will be very different trust me. Keep watching and thanks for being faithful readers of my blog.

To check out the previous articles

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Revelation of Houdini's Tricks in the Movie is a Load of Crap

How is that for a headline?! And it's TRUE, by the way. Yes, there suddenly is a lot of controversy surrounding the Houdini Miniseries by the HISTORY Channel, because the star of the movie, Adrien Brody has let it be known they reveal how Houdini did his tricks.


That's from Houdini's own mouth. You might be able to figure out one thing or two, but he used multiple methods. So my issue with the idea they are going to reveal his tricks is, how exactly? You can't really do it. Harry Handcuff Houdini didn't have one
Darby Handcuffs
method to escape from handcuffs. First, there are a lot of different types of handcuffs and that means you're open to quite a few methods of escape. Take the handcuff known as Darbys for example. With this one style of cuff, I can think of five different methods off the top of my head that can be used to escape from this cuff and not one includes using a duplicate key. You could spend over an hour just discussing methods for handcuff escapes and you still wouldn't cover all of them.

You see, unless Houdini had only ONE method for escaping, then I don't see how you can actually reveal anything. You can reveal one technique, maybe two, but that's about it. And a skilled escape artist like Houdini was known for revealing these techniques as the methods used by his imitators and then using different techniques himself. This is how he stayed one step ahead of his competitors.

Here is another example, The Milk Can escape. The method for this has been revealed in magazines, books and newspapers for years. But did you know the inventor of the Milk Can, Montraville Wood, actually created 8 different methods for escaping the can. There is a supposed method that is fairly well known. However, consider how impractical this method becomes when Houdini introduced the wooden box, known as the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery. This is where the Milk Can was first placed inside a wooden crate, then Houdini would get inside, the lid would be locked on the Milk Can and then an outer wooden lid would be locked on the box. Houdini couldn't escape even IF the lid hadn't been locked because the wooden lid of the box prevents the top of the Milk Can from being removed. So that secret is worthless. And the modern versions of the Milk Can used by a very select few escape artists today, use a method that is totally different from Houdini's real secret.

Hollywood sadly, has tried again and again to reveal the secrets to Houdini's tricks thinking that this is what audiences want to see. But Hollywood, HELLO, you're wrong again. Houdini was more than his tricks. His life story is what is fascinating, and the magic and escapes are part of that, but the secrets to the tricks are irrelevant. In fact, what you do by exposing the methods is cheapen the mystery that surrounds the man. What you should focus on is the mind of the man who could come up with countless methods to present his unbelievable escapes. Competitors and imitators would try and expose Houdini in the press and yet Houdini would go out and fool people with the very same effects and generally make his competition look foolish. Why? Because the real secret to his tricks was HOUDINI the man. HE was what audiences clamored to see. His charisma, his magnetism, his unfathomable presentations. This is why he could present an effect as small as the East Indian Needle Trick on the largest stages and blow away audiences. This is why he could walk through a brick wall and leave people speechless. Because HE was the MAGIC, he surpassed the tricks and became larger than life regardless of what he was doing. Further proof of that can be found in the number of magicians who present his effects and yet have not come anywhere close to attaining the fame and fortune that Houdini did. Read what Houdini himself had to say on this exact topic...

"Mere novelty and mastery are not enough- the emphatic personal equation must be there- the audience must be impressed not only with the wonder of the illusion, but also with the charm or novelty of the performer's personality." Houdini from The Billboard, Oct 1, 1921*

In the big picture, I don't think it really hurts or helps to expose Houdini's methods. As a magician,
we might find them interesting, some might find them archaic, others just boring. Lay people might think that the method is ingenious or so simple it's amazing no one could figure it out. Tony Curtis picks a jail lock with a piece of wire around his toe.......really? You think this is what Houdini did? Paul Michael Glaser secretly puts a key on the back of a policeman while he is being searched and then later retrieves it and escapes. Stories circulate that Houdini escaped from the Mirror Cuffs by having Bess pass Houdini the key in a kiss.......A key that is over 6 inches long, really??? Are these really his secrets? I don't think so.

As long as the movie's story is compelling, I don't think lay audiences will retain the secrets to the methods because at the end of the day, they are only important to magicians. And we'll just keep creating new methods if older ones are revealed....this is the same thing HOUDINI did and would still do today! And now, I'll let Houdini have the final word on his secrets...

"Some Say I do it this way, others say I do it that way, but I say I do it the other way." HOUDINI The Pittsburgh Leader, March 1, 1908*

*Though both of these quotes are from different periodicals, I found them both referenced in the fantastic book HOUDINI-The Key by Patrick Culliton, and wanted to be sure to credit his book as the true source in my case.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lot #39, Double Fold Death Defying Water Mystery SOLD and More

The auction is still going on. But for those who are interested, the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery which was expected to get around $20,000, well it just sold for $55,000.00!!!!!!

Lot 48, Houdini Punishment Suit Sold for $11,000

Lot 60, Houdini's German Slander Trial Archive from 1902, which is one of the true hidden treasures of this auction, went for $26,000

Lot 66, Houdini's Notes on Morrit's Black and White Illusion sold for $10,000

Lot 67, The Lost Witchcraft Manuscript sold for $15,000

Lot 69 A Scrapbook by Marie Blood went for  $4,400

Lot 71 The Spiritualism Scrapbook recently discovered sold for$36,000

Lot 77 Bess Houdini's Costumes sold for$9500.00 Considerably less than I expected.

Lot81 Film of Hardeen's Overboard Packing Crate Escape sold for $1300.00 Someone got a bargain!

Lot139 Anna Eva Fay and Houdini photo sold for $650

Lot 141 Houdini and Ching Ling Foo photo sold for $500

So far, for the record, I've not won anything I've bid on...

Correction...I won Lot 150, the BF Keith's Program from Washington D.C.with Harry Houdini on the cover.

Lot 161Houdini Picture Corp Stock Certificate sold for $3600. Wow if Harry Kellar only knew! lol

Lot193 German Art Nouveau 1905 Houdini Poster sold for $8500

Lot 194 Buried Alive Poster sold for $8000, that is a deal. These usually go for $12,000

Lot 195 Houdini Lobby Board sold for....this lot PASSED. First one.

Lot 200 King of Cards Litho sold for $17,000

Those were the highlights of the auction. I did win one thing, which I'll post when it arrives.

It sure was an exciting auction....and a long one, lol.

Potter & Potter Houdiniana Auction TODAY!!!!

The day has arrived for the Potter & Potter Auction of rare Houdini items, Hardeen items and other magic collectables. The auction begins 10am Central Standard Time. Be sure to register online so that you can bid on this auction. You'll need to do that prior to the auction starting. To bid online you'll need to go here

I will have another Houdini article later in the day. We are heading down to the final week of the 30 Days of Houdini and there are some fun things in store.