Showing posts with label Houdini Seance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Houdini Seance. Show all posts

Monday, May 6, 2024

Dr Edward Saint The Houdini Archivist & More


Let me ask you a question? What happens when someone dies? Beyond the funeral and that sort of thing, I'm thinking more of their legacy? The majority of people are forgotten over time. If they made substantial contributions to society sometimes their story lives on. Sometimes, they’re forgotten and it takes a historian or two to bring their story back to the masses. 

Let’s look at Houdini for a moment. He was a vaudeville performer, early motion picture star, grand escape artist, a pioneer aviator and more. But he wasn’t Charles Lindbergh? Nor was he Charlie Chaplin. Nor was he P.T. Barnum. And more to the point, he wasn’t exactly a magician. He built his career on being mostly an escape artist. He could have and probably should have been forgotten over time. Yes, remembered by the magic community, to some degree, but even then nothing is guaranteed. I do not mean to put Houdini down, in anyway. I just want to emphasis the fact that most people are forgotten a few years after they die. The reasons are many. A new generation of people are born, unfamiliar with that persons exploits. The deceased is no longer in the news.

But we come to Houdini. Thet man remained in the press nearly every day since he died. In fact, Houdini who died on Oct 31st 1926, had an article of his own published in November 1926!

Here is what William Larsen Senior had to say in the pages of Genii Magazine Oct 1936 “Somehow, seeing Mrs. Houdini as often as we do, hearing laymen speak the name HOUDINI so often, and being questioned so frequently about him, we can’t quite realize that Houdini is gone. 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…..and idol.”

His wife Bess certainly did some things to keep his memory alive. But there was a point at which even she got tired of it. 

So in walks Dr. Edward Saint. He becomes the Houdini archivist. He begins to amass volumes and volumes of newspaper clippings about Houdini. And strangely, Houdini’s name did remain in the press after he died. A great bit of it due to Saint’s own contributions and submissions. Houdini was no mere magician, no mere showman, no mere entertainer. But Edward Saint must be credited with helping to keep Houdini’s name alive until it became legend. Today, let’s look at the life of this unusual character, Dr Edward Saint.

He was born Charles David Meyers in 1891. 

His show business career began rather early. According to a piece submitted by his father in the very first issue of Genii Magazine Sept 1936, at age 9, Edward Saint produced and managed a company of twenty performers for one spectacular afternoon performance. It began with a parade in the neighborhood and then followed with a show in a barn. The price for admission was a whopping 5 cents per person. The show grossed 70 cents. In other words, there were more people IN the show than there were watching the show. That is unless all the family members were comped, then there would have been more there. The show consisted of clowns, tight rope walking, trapeze performers, juggling, a trained dog and more. Young Edward Saint wore a Chinese costume and performed three of the acts himself. He would continue this sort of back yard magic show concept throughout his youth.

Eventually Saint found his way into the carnival world, specifically the sideshow. Moving into this world also he created a new persona and look. One of his first incarnations was as Sir Edward St. Ra-Diem. You can see how easy it is to go from Sir Edward St.Ra-Diem to simple, Edward Saint. The prefix would change occasionally, Doctor, Professor, etc. whatever worked best at the time. He also changed the entire name. For a time he was Professor Sesrad. A fascinating point was the Prof. Sesrad usually wore a jeweled turban and had an appearance of a mystic. Even more fascinating, Sesrad is Sir Edward Saint Ra-Diem,,,the first letter of each name spells Sesrad.

One of his early acts was playing the part of a dead pan man. He offered money to anyone who could make him laugh, or smile. 

He worked 6 years for the Johnny J Jones show as psychic entertainer/mentalist. He performed this act under the title of Sesrad. He shaved his Van Dyke beard for the act, and wore a turban as I just mentioned. He discovered that he appeared 30 years younger after shaving and it made it slightly more difficult to sell his act. Clearly, he preferred the Van Dyke as he grew it back and wore it the rest of his life. 

In the 1930s Saint could be found in Florida and now he was presenting himself as a ghost hunter. Some sources would claim this is where he met Bess Houdini. That is not exactly correct. It’s likely that in Florida, is where Bess and Saint reconnected and he became her manager and in charge of the Houdini archives.

There is an article by Edward Saint in the September 1979 issue of MUM Magazine, and I’m assuming it appeared in another issue likely around 1938 as well. But the article is about the origins of National magic Day. And it begins with stating “I have the honor of recording the first publicized HOUDINI DAY which was celebrated in the Summer of 1927 in NYC.” Bess Houdini was present there because she gave away a Houdini Trophy to the winner of an underwater contest held at the Miramar Pool in NY. So the two met far earlier than I expected. Also in the article, Saint shows how he pushed the idea of Houdini Day and National magic Day to magic groups all over the country, until now we all recognize the date of Houdini’s Death as National Magic Day. 

There’s an interesting story about Saint working on the Houdini archives. He would gather every bit and mention of Houdini from newspapers, magazines, whatever. And he’d put them in a scrap book. Saint would do that while Mrs. Houdini usually played solitaire. On one particular evening Bess turns to Saint and said, “Edward, why do you keep saving those articles on Harry? He is dead and buried….why not leave him that way and quit digging him up all the time?” (from the Jan 1949 Conjurers Magazine)

Arnold Furst put forth the theory that Bess Houdini and Dr. Saint were secretly married. According to Furst, they acted as any married couple while at home. He certainly was her companion, and she didn't go anywhere without him. No evidence has been found that they were married, no marriage license. There is a mention of Hardeen being upset with Bess, "out in California living in sin".   But, Bess laughed it off saying that Hardeen should know better. 

It's certainly interesting if they were married, but it doesn't really change much of the narrative either way.

Did you know that Edward Saint had his own column in Genii Magazine that started way back in October of 1936? It was called Thru the Monocle. Much of the column featured magic news happening in California and the L.A. area, but it also contained a lot of Houdini stuff. for example listen to this, “colonel harry day, Member of Parliament, just in from England, is visiting Mrs. Houdini at her Hollywood home. Colonel Day was Houdini’s first manager in Europe; arranged for the Scotland Yard “break away” and booked Houdini in England, Germany, and Russia, with engagements running months at a time. Colonel Day, riding the crest of Houdini’s popularity, became himself a tremendous power in European Theatricals. To Quote Colonel Day, “”Houdini and I were so closely connected both in business and friendship, that I feel sure had it not been for the fatal accident which unfortunately resulted in his death, I would still have retained my interest in the Variety Agency for the purpose of carefully managing his interest instead of embarking on a political career when I did.””

Also, in 1936 is maybe the most iconic moment of Saint’s life, certainly his life with Bess Houdini. That would be the 10th and final Houdini Seance. Wow, 10th, if they only knew how many seances have been held since!  The event took place on the roof of the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel. Saint conducted the seance. Many notables were present for the event and within the inner circle including, Carl Fleming the President of the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians,, Judge Charles Fricke a hard nosed, no nonsense judge of the California High Court and then President of the Southern California Assembly #22 of the Society of American Magicians (SAM) , Len Oliver Gunn was an amateur magician and columnist for Genii Magazine, Hereward Carrington psychic investigator and amateur magician who worked with Houdini during the investigation of Margery the Medium for The Scientific American Magazine and you can learn more about him on Ep 51 of this podcast, William Larsen Sr. editor and publisher of Genii Magazine, Jacob Hyman original performing partner of Harry Houdini and friend since boyhood, Floyd Thayer prominent magic dealer, Gerald Kosky National Vice President for the SAM, Earl Rybolt  who was a magician and collector and President of Los Magicos, Harry Mendoza who was a stage magician and columnist for Genii, on a side note Mendoza’s father was a manager for Frederick Eugene Powell. and two none magicians included Reverend Dr. Acorn of the local association of Spiritualist Churches, and Dr Vernon Herbst, phychiatrist and student of the occult sciences. and finally of course Bess Houdini and Dr. Saint. There was a total of 300 invited guests at the event.

Two ornate high backed chairs faced the crowd. The Hollywoodland sign could be seen clearly in the background. A shrine to Houdini with his photo sat between Bess and Saint. On a table were a number of items including the Mirror Cuffs, a Spirit trumpet and various other items. Dr. Saint conducted the Seance. (If you listen to episode 100 of the Magic Detective Podcast you can hear both a portion of the seance, and later the full recording) As you may know, Houdini did not return. But the memory of the 1936 Seance lives on. 

Thayer Magic Studio put out the original recording of the Houdini Seance. it was produced in 3 twelve inch records. According to the ad copy: the Final Houdini Seance just as it was actually presented, from the very beginning to the end. You will hear, in the finest of modern recordings, the clear depiction of the locale o f the seance, the playing of "Pomp and Circumstance" just as it was used by Houdini in his last performances, the introductory remarks of Edward Saint, con- ductor of the Last seance proper and the words o f Houdini's widow.

Next, William Larsen Sr, who was present at the event, put out a publication called The Final Houdini Seance. I believe this is more a magical recreation of the Houdini Seance, rather than anything to do with the actual 1936 event. And finally, in 1975 the Houdini Seance was put out on LP which had commentary from George Boston, a recording of the Seance, and Houdini's voice recordings.

In another Genii column Saint mentions coming across a bunch of letters in the Houdini archives on Payson Ave. NY, these letters were from William Hilliar’s father to Houdini. Saint had gathered them all up to give to Hilliar, when the next morning they heard the news of Bill’s death at his own hand. Saint said, “A Showman knows when an act is finished, it takes nerve to ring down one’s own curtain, but I know Bill Hilliar  was a showman.”

In yet another column he has some very prophetic words, and I do mean VERY prophetic words to the magic community. Quote”Mr and Mrs. Magus should start NOW to prepare for television. Magi in general will get the real break in Fame and Money. It will be magic’s first real come-back since vaudeville passed out. Take Warning. Prepare! Be Ready!”

In the next issue Saint mentions he just completed a 10,000 mile motor trip around the United States. Hollywood, NY, Philadelphia, Baltimore. Savannah, Miami, Florida Keys, Tampa, Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston, Houston, El Paso, Hollywood. The he mentions later that Mrs. Houdini has made California her home, she resided at 1851 Winona Blvd. Hollywood. 

Here’s a piece for my fellow Houdini historians, in the April 1937 issue of Genii page 11, in Dr Edward Saints column, it reads and I quote, “Dr. Jack Hyman, old-time magician, recalling Houdini doing the bullet catch trick in 1893 and 94!!!!! WHOA!

And speaking of surprising, in his next column we have a trick. It’s titled Sesrad’s latest trick. Effect: A borrowed can or walking stick is held horizontally, and a bright colored ball is tossed in the air and caught by the magician. He next places the ball a few inches above the cane and lets go and it appears to hover in mid-air, even a hoop is passed over the floating ball. Finally the ball is given a slap, sending it into the audience for inspection. Interesting.

Augusts 1937 Genii, Dr Saint’s column, records that “at one time Mr. W.H. Donaldson of Billboard Magazine and Harry Houdini contemplated the financing of an American Egyptian Hall on Broadway. 

In the same column, is this gem, “A number of years ago, Sesrad froze a man alive in a 1400 lbs block of ice at Walter Reed hospital in Washington DC, before an estimated crowd of several thousand…………..Sesrad had the time clocked from the time the subject was frozen at the ice plant, miles away, to the time the subject was chopped out under hospital supervision. Time in Ice, two hours and seven seconds.

Every column featured little bits of news, much like many columns from that time period. Example, “Hardeen feature with harry Gourfain’s Jamboree Road Show, 35 people. Not a lot of detail there, but lets you know Hardeen is still working. He also mentions this, “Judge Charles W. Fricke, magician and criminologist lectures interestingly about ‘Magic in Crime vs. Crime in Magic.” now there is a lecture I’d like to hear.

By the way, the 1937 November issue of Genii Magazine features non other than Dr. Edward Saint on the cover!

January 1938, we learn that Houdini had secret marks in two places in each of his more valuable magic books. The marks are still there, according to Saint. But not sure the purpose, other than for Houdini to identify them as HIS of they were borrowed or stolen, I guess.

We also learn that, quote, ‘ a local spiritualistic medium tried to TAKE Mrs. Houdini for 40 grand recently. Part of that story went coast to coast, New York Journal ran a photo. This is Jan 1938 if you want to dig further.

There is a mention of Robert Nelson, who owned the company that sold a ton of mentalism effects and props. He apparently wrote an expose on the Fox Sisters home and how it has been turned into a sideshow at Lily Dale. The article appears in the Nov Linking Ring 1937. Saint says, “the story should be in the files of ever psychic entertainer.;’

February 1938 there is no regular column by Saint. Instead there is an article titled, ‘I CHALLENGE” and it has to do with what he refers to as the humbug of telepathy.  He mentions tests made at college campuses and such and the results showing no proof that the phenomenon is real. He is a bit harsh at time referencing Dr. Rhine at Duke University and others on the proper way to conduct their tests. It’s a fascinating article. Say what you want about Dr Saint, he sure knows his stuff when it comes to this area of magic.

Then in March 1938, he goes back to his regular column, Thru the Monocle by Dr. Edward Saint, however the entire piece seems a continuation of his article the month prior. It is not the standard Monocle column at all.  Then April 1938 we see this,”Answer to Dr. Saint” by Wallace Lee. In his ‘answer’ he goes on to point out mistakes Saint made in his assertions and point out that he believes there is esp/telepathy and it’s been proven. And then in May he writes his final article for the magazine, Magicians on Guard, which further continues his message about no proof of real telepathy and esp. and further debunking of Spirit mediums. 

John Booth shares an interesting story of a visit to Bess Houdini’s home in California. He said, “I was absent-mindedly gazing up at a heroic sized portrait photograph of Houdini, on the wall opposite, when I became aware of other voices in the room. They were coming from an indeterminate source. My friends (that would be Bess and Saint) stopped talking. We listened. It was as thought radio voices had suddenly began to penetrate the air around us. I was frankly puzzled and said so. But I noticed the trace of smiles in the expression of Mrs. Houdini and Mr. Saint. Then, I recognized my own voice. I was chatting with a woman. What? When did this happen? What was the subject? Where was the chatter originating? Then I heard myself making a date with the woman. And she accepted!!! Of course! it was the recording of my telephone conversation with Madame Houdini the previous day. They had discreetly recorded that conversation and many others. Apparently, they were making a collection of records of bess’s conversations with various leading magicians.  They had recorded seven such records by this time. After Bess passed away a short time later, John Booth attempted to get these records but they couldn’t be found. They had been lost forever.

It’s interesting to note that many assumed Bess and Dr. Saint were of the same age. His van dyke beard, his immaculate way of dressing, and the fact he walked with a can, exaggerated his age. He was only 51 when he died. Bess was 67.

The last days of Edward Saint’s life were captured in a memorial piece by William Larsen Sr. He mentions that the day Ed got sick, he was sitting in a chair directing Anna, who was Bess Houdini’s housekeeper, directing her how to iron his turban. An upcoming meeting of the local SAM Assembly was having ‘Oriental Night’ and Ed had something special in store. Apparently, he never turned down an opportunity to perform. He was known to present very original material whenever he shared some magic. Sadly, the day Ed was supposed to attend the meeting, he instead was in the hospital. And ever the trooper, he still brought magic to show the nurses and doctors. Edward Saint, carnival man, Houdini Archivist, showman, companion to Bess Houdini passed away Oct 22, 1942. I just learned there is a bit of conjecture as to how he died. The newspapers of the time say he died from pneumonia, John Cox from WildAboutHoudini, heard from Marie Blood, Houdini's niece, that his death was from tuberculosis. Both are respiratory diseases. Saint also had asthma. Im trying to find the death certificate to verify which one is correct.

In the same piece by William Larsen Sr. he mentions that all of the Saint scrapbooks where he had gathered countless stories about Houdini, were to go to the Library of Congress. On my very first visit to the Library of Congress to see the Houdini scrapbooks, the first scrapbooks brought out to me turned out to be Edward Saint's. I pointed this out to the Librarians, and they inquired how I knew and I showed them where Saint's name was written on nearly every page, plus the dates of the articles were all after 1926. I was just a teenager at the time, I think they were surprised at my knowledge. 

That concludes the story of Dr. Edward Saint.

(this is mostly a transcript of Episode 100 of the Magic Detective podcast. A few additional items were included here that did not make the podcast)

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Aftermath of Playing Houdini


The Aftermath of Playing HOUDINI

In 1998, actor Johnathon Schaech took on the role of Harry Houdini. It was his first lead role in his career. The movie debuted on the TNT network Dec 6, 1998. I remember it well. I recorded it onto a VHS tape, which I still have. I've watched the movie many many times. Though not perfect by any stretch, I thought Johnathon did a fine job as Houdini. Interestingly, a young Mark Ruffalo would play Theo Hardeen in the movie, long before becoming The Incredible Hulk.

The opening of this movie is one of my favorites of all the various Houdini movies. It opens with Houdini's 1906 escape from the Old DC Jail and the cell that once held the assassin of President Garfield, Charles Guiteau. That scene really delivers Houdini in a way that others didn't. 

There is much to like about this movie. The fact that Johnathon Schaech portrays a different side of Houdini than previous movies is to me refreshing. This Houdini is strong, ready to take on the world, much like the real man. But the movie makes one fatal error, and I'll leave it up to you to figure out if you see it. But suffice to say, it's not the fictionalized ending the movie, which I will admit I didn't mind at all. 

I recall that after his portrayal of Houdini, Johnathan got invited to attend one of the Official Houdini Seances. I'll have to see if I can dig up anything on that for my next podcast.

Recently, I stumbled upon a TV show where Johnathon talks about his experience AFTER making the movie. Specifically, the night of the movie's premier at the Austin Film Festival. Apparently, that night did not go as well as he or anyone else hoped. But rather than go into his experience, I'm going to post the video below. 

He does consult a psychic medium, and think of that what you will, but suffice to say, hearing his story and how it affected him personally is sadly emotional. I think he's carried this weight of not doing a good job in his portrayal. I can say, as a Houdini Historian, his was one of the better portrayals, and though the movie, like many, has it's fictionalized moments, I still enjoy watching it. I think he did Houdini right and if ole Harry would have anything to say, he would shake Mr. Schaech's hand and thank him for a job well done.

Please watch the video for yourselves...