Showing posts with label Hammersteins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hammersteins. Show all posts

Thursday, June 5, 2014

An Inside View of Hammersteins Victoria Rooftop Theatre

A reader to my blog, posted a link to his article on Hammersteins Theatre in NYC. The photos are really fantastic and his blog article is quite interesting. As this was a favorite stop for Houdini, I thought you might enjoy checking it out.

Back in 2011, I wrote a piece on Hammerstein's as well. Here is the link to my article

Here is the link to the new article at the Hatching Cat Blog

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hammerstein's Victoria and Rooftop Garden

Hammerstein's Victoria and Roof Garden. The Republic Theatre is to the left.
Houdini performed at Hammerstein's many times. I decided recently to try and dig up information on this historic location. I discovered that Hammerstein's Victoria opened in 1899 as a legit theatre. However, it did not have a single broadway hit, so in 1904 it was turned into a variety theatre and became the leading Vaudeville house in NYC until the Palace Theatre was built.

Hammerstein's was unique in that it had an indoor theatre and a roof top theatre that allowed for summer performances. Back at the turn of the century there was no air conditioning and the theatres would often close during the summer months.  Others that tried to remain open would get brutally hot inside. Hammerstein's Roof Garden encompassed the roof of his theatre and the Republic Theatre next door. Incidentally, Oscar Hammerstein built the Republic Theatre as well but leased it out.

The theatre was at the corner of West 42nd St. and 7th Avenue. During Matinees at Hammersteins the ticket prices were .25 and .50 cents. In the evenings the prices ranged from .25 cents to $1.00. There were around 1000 seats, and I'm not sure what the roof garden held. A few of the acts that graced the stages at Hammersteins include; Eva Fay (daughter of Anna Eva Fay), Mae West, W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Eva Tanguay, Evelyn Nesbitt, the Four Cohans, and of course Houdini.

Location of Heidelberg Building
Hammerstein's plays an important roll in the career of Houdini. In 1912, Houdini was the headliner on the bill. Also on that same bill from Jan 29-Feb 3rd was comedy/satirist Will Rogers. A few months later in July 1912 Houdini was back. To promote his appearance he presented an outdoor escape. Reports say he was tied to the tower of the Heidelberg Building in Times Square. The New York Times says that after the escape he tossed the rope down to the crowd. However, other reports say he was placed in a straight jacket and hung upside down over the edge of the Heidelberg Building. He was going to repeat one of these stunts from the fire escape of the Victoria, but the police intervened. The Heidelberg Building stood at 1459 Broadway and was renamed the Crossroads Building and eventually torn down in 1984. Today the Times Square Tower stands in the same location. (see photo left) One other thing of note in regards to this stunt on the Heidelberg Building, the New York Times reported there was a movie camera there. Ifs this footage exists today, we would know for sure exactly what he did, and we'd also have more valuable film footage of Houdini.

Also in July 1912 (he must have been driving the police crazy) Houdini was using his overboard packing case escape from the East River to excite people about his appearances at Hammersteins Victoria. He also did the feat in the theatre. A previous act had a large tank of water in the theatre and Houdini used it to recreate the underwater packing escape, it was just as big a hit indoors as it was outdoors.

In 1914 Houdini debuted is Walking Through a Brick Wall Illusion at Hammersteins. There is an interesting write-up in Variety Newspaper July 18, 1914 that says "some of the acts here have worn out the welcome mat. Houdini, however, proves an exception to the rule, and this P.T. Barnum of vaudeville is still a factor." They were were referring to his brand new Walking Through a Brick Wall Illusion and even go on to report an incident that took place between Houdini and Brick Layers Union.
Apparently the union brick layers had taken issue with Houdini because he was using a 'dry brick' system on his brick wall, meaning there was no mortar. The brick layers challenged Houdini to allow them to use mortar on the wall and then see if he could pass through, they did and he did.

There are precious few photos of Houdini and his Brick Wall. I find it hard to believe that he did not create a poster for this. To my knowledge no poster exists for this nor the Vanishing Elephant. But unlike the Vanishing Elephant which was presented as part of another show, this was Houdini's appearance at the Hippodrome and it also wasn't the only place he performed the Walking Through a Brick Wall Illusion. So maybe out there somewhere is a Walking Through a Brick Wall poster! One can only hope.

Houdini must have been one of the last big named acts to play Hammersteins Victoria because in 1915 the theatre was torn down. The competition from the new Palace Theatre down the street was too much for them.

It was not easy locating Hammersteins today. For one, it's right near Times Square and I was very confused trying to figure out which building was which. But then I discovered a clue. In the photo at the top of the page you'll see Hammersteins sitting on the corner. Then to the left of Hammersteins is a smaller theatre called The Republic. Well, I know Hammerstein's was torn down in 1915. The Republic was renamed The New Victory Theatre. The New Victory, which once was the Republic Theatre and had part of the Roof Garden Theatre on it's rooftop is still there. Of course, after all this searching I found that the address was WEST 42nd St. and that would have been a big help at the start.

Monday, December 13, 2010

More Houdini's Real Magic

To dispell the rumor that Houdini wasn't a very good magician, I'm showcasing some of Houdini's greatest effects and posting videos of them being performed. Most of the videos are modern day performers doing the effects however. But this also goes to show the solid entertainment value in the routines and how they stand the test of time.

Walking Through a Brick Wall. This is clearly not an escape. For the time it's also more than a magic trick. It seems to be an impossible feat of super human ability. The brick wall is built on the stage by brick layers. Members of the audience check out the brick wall themselves to be sure it's legit.  The audience members stand in the back and around the sides. Houdini stands against one side of the wall and a partition or cover is placed over him and over the exact same area on the opposite side of the wall.
A short time later, Houdini steps out from the partition and is on the other side! Billboard Magazine said that the audience was often so spellbound that sat silent for two whole minutes, they were so astonished they forgot to applaud! This was one Houdini effect that warranted it's own poster but never got one.

The Walking Through a Brick Wall was not without controversy. Houdini purchased the rights to it from Sidney Josolyne. But P.T. Selbit claimed the trick was his and was stolen by Josolyne and Houdini. In "Houdini-The Key" by Patrick Culliton this story is brought to light in a way I've never heard before. It's fantastic. Regardless of the controversy, it's now history and Houdini did Walk Through A Brick Wall!

The video above of Walking Through A Brick Wall is done by the Spensers who are fantastic. However, it is VERY different from Houdini's version.  Both Doug Henning and David Copperfield presented versions of this effect on their TV Specials. Copperfield walked through the ultimate brick wall, The Great Wall of China.

The Vanishing Elephant. An incredible illusion that not many people saw, even those in the audience. But what a reputation maker! Houdini appeared in the newspapers with this elephant saying he would make it vanish on the enormous stage of the Hippodrome Theatre. The elephant stepped inside a very large box. The magic words were spoken (probably) and the front door and back door were opened to show that the elephant was GONE! From what I understand it was a killer effect if you were in the middle of the audience! The people on the sides were unable to see inside the box.

Since then, a number of methods have been developed to make an elephant vanish, but Houdini was the first. The video is of Doug Henning making an elephant vanish on Broadway. I think the best version was done by Siegfried and Roy and their method was created by Guy Jarrett.

As you can see, these effects made popular by Houdini, still hold up today. Magicians know the publicity value of these effects, which again shows that Houdini too knew which was why he used them. Still think he was a bad magician? More to come...