Showing posts with label SubTrunk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SubTrunk. Show all posts

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bess Houdini's Costume

The Potter and Potter Auction that is coming up on August 23rd, features a costume apparently worn by Bess Houdini. It is Lot #77. The piece has a nice description of the costume and some information on who Bess gave the costume to and how it has survived. The estimated value is $7000 & $9000.

John Cox over at wrote about the costume. And he provided a photo of Bess wearing the costume from an old postcard. However, to my knowledge, no one has given much more information than that. Until now.

This is the costume Bess wore around 1900+ when she performed the Metamorphosis with Harry. I'm not sure if that adds more value to the costume or not. She probably wore the costume throughout the whole act, but for sure she wore the costume during the Metamorphosis. And how do I know this???

In the book, Metamorphosis by Bruce MacNab, on the Table of Contents page near the front of the book is a photograph, actually a series of photos (4) of Harry and Bess presenting their Metamorphosis routine. Bess can plainly be seen wearing this incredible costume. The photos are from the Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library. Try as I might, I couldn't dig them up online.

But if you turn to the Table of Contents in this book, assuming you have a copy, you can see Bess wearing this incredible costume in action, for yourself!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Pendragon Legend

Once upon time...There were two wizards who captivated the world. Their magic spell astounded young and old alike. With magic that was ancient and new all at the same time they grew in fame and fortune. Then tragedy struck and it was all gone. They were the Pendragons.

Jonathan and Charlotte Pendragon ruled over Grand Illusion for thirty some odd years. Jonathan is even credited with reviving the term 'Grand Illusion'. When I was just learning my craft they were already established. They were the first couple of magic. There was no one out there like them. Everyone, and I mean everyone, from amateur to professionals wanted their magic.  Teenagers would fight and argue over how to do the Pendragon Sub Trunk as fast as they did. David Copperfield, asked and eventually got permission to use Jonathan's handling of the cloth during the sub trunk exchange.

I only met them once. It was at a convention in Washington D.C.. I had tried to hire them to do a lecture after the convention, but the price their manager was asking was far more than our little club could handle. But I did still meet them, and helped them unload their props. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before I was pushed aside by the crowd of fans and fellow magi and that was the end of my meeting with them.

I learned a lot about illusion magic from Jonathan. His writings that appeared in Genii Magazine were some of the most brilliant things I had ever read. Every time a Pendragon issue would come out, I would devour it, and read it over and over. Jonathan was an illusion magic genius. His thoughts and philosophies on magic were so profound to me. Sadly, his act was fodder for lesser performers who would steal his creations, techniques and even complete routines without any acknowledgement of their creator.

The Pendragons idea for an act began with three tired old illusions: The Sub-Trunk, The Sword Basket, and the Broom Suspension. The sub-trunk dates back to Houdini and the trunk trick itself dates back to Maskelyne, though not with substitution effect that Houdini added. The suspension was the creation of Robert-Houdin and the sword basket, I'm not sure of it's origins. But by the time that Jonathan and Charlotte got hold of them, they were worn out old tricks. The idea of building an act on those three things was crazy.

360 Levitation
So what did they do? They built an act on those three things! They added touches to each routine, changes and alterations to take them from standard tricks to something different. Because of the athletic abilities they both shared, they were able to add elements into the routines that no act before had ever considered let alone tried. The end result was a spectacular act and what really amounts to an education in stage magic on how to approach your art.

They had plenty of historical moments. Probably the one that is brought up the most is the In Search of Houdini Special. This was hosted by William Shatner and featured a lot of guest performers. The Pendragons were on to do a recreation of Houdini's Subtrunk, using the original trunk I think, or at least one like Houdini's (steamer trunk). They went through the routine as Harry and Bess would have in around 4 seconds. Then, they repeated the trick, this time with their own trunk and their modern presentation. With lightning speed, Charlotte seemed to turn into Jonathan! Then Jonathan opened the trunk and as Charlotte began to stand up, she stopped and inched back down. On LIVE TV she had a costume malfunction, and was unable to get out of the box. It was funny for all watching and probably a little embarrassing for the Pendragons. It was certainly not something that stopped them or slowed them down. They handled the situation gracefully and professionally. I'm not sure anyone would have known had it not been for William Shatner pointing it out.

Clearly Impossible by the Pendragons
Over the years, they introduced illusion after illusion with interesting twists or presentations. On TV in England they debuted a Jim Steinmeyer illusion called 'Permeability', which they called INTERLUDE. Everyone and their brother soon got one and copied their presentation. They performed a Cage Production Illusion with fire and soon everyone was doing it. They introduced on a Disney Magic TV Special a clever 360 Degree Levitation and later they came out with a Sawing in Half Illusion that had clear plexiglass boxes to contain Charlotte. They called it 'Clearly Impossible'. And that was getting ripped off. Clever illusionists and illusion creators are no strangers to theft. It's been happening for 100 years but it's still wrong.

All that is gone now. The Pendragons faced some personal issues, some of which were covered in the press and much of which was not. I've got no comment, it's their business and no one else's. They have gone their separate ways. The Pendragons are no more. Charlotte has created an act of her own, which I think is a mix of illusion magic and stage magic. I've not seen it so I don't know exactly what is in her act. But I wish the very best for her and hope she meets with huge success.

Jonathan is still doing magic, though not the physical kind anymore. His act is more cerebral and shows a different side of his character. But from what I hear, Jonathan is slowly getting pulled back into illusions. So perhaps, we'll yet see a new type of Pendragon Grand Illusion grace the stages of the world that we can be inspired by. And hopefully, the magic world will look at him and learn that even with the greatest obstacles in front of you, it's possible to overcome and come out better and brighter.

Finally, watch this video of the Pendragons at the height of their career. They were incredible!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Houdini's Real Magic

I’ve heard it said that Houdini was not a very good magician. It always amazes me that people can come to this conclusion. I think when he did standard tricks he might not have been a very good magician, but look at his contributions to the art:

The Metamorphosis: Here was a trick trunk invented my John Nevil Maskelyne. But Houdini did something with it that made it far more amazing than any performer before him. He added the element of speed. Even in his advertisements it says "Exchanging Places In Three Seconds". Plus in Houdini's hands this effect was truly impossible. First his hands were tied behind his back, then placed a sack was lifted over his head and tied shut, then he was put in a trunk and locked and roped that shut. It seemed totally impossible, yet three seconds later there he was and Bess was gone. She ended up in the exact position he had been in, tied up inside the sack, inside the trunk. He made that trick his own and no one today calls it the Maskelyne Trunk trick, it's always associated with Houdini.

Interestingly, the next couple to modernize the Metamorphosis, were the Pendragons. How exactly did they make it more modern? They did the same thing Houdini did and made it even faster!

The East Indian Needle Trick: Here is a small trick that takes guts to do. Forget about jumping off bridges handcuffed, in this you've got to put needles into your MOUTH! Of course, after Houdini apparently swallows the needles, he also swallows some thread. Moments later the thread is pulled from the mouth and there threaded on the thread are the previously swallowed needles. Houdini didn't invent this one either but he sure made it his own. In fact, he apparently either patented or copyrighted the routine thus preventing others from performing it. This fact was brought up to Long Tack Sam, by Houdini when Sam wanted to do the trick which he had performed many times before. Houdini stopped his competition cold on this one. 

One of the best Needle stories I've ever read comes from the book "Illusion Show" by FuManchu/David Bamberg. When David was a young boy he would often play at the Houdini's house on 278 W 113th St. in NYC. One day while playing or snooping around as it were, he discovered a packet of needles and the secret to the trick. He never told Houdini that he found them, but always remembered that moment. Fast forward a couple years and Bamberg is about to join a Magic Club (I forget exactly where, I don't have the book handy) and he decides he'll do the Needle Trick as his initiation trick. As he is getting ready he hears Houdini coming in. Holy crap! What is David Bamberg to do??? You can just imagine the thoughts going through his head. Well, Houdini heads straight for the Great Raymond, the Illusionist and the two of them get into a huge argument that broke into a fistfight. Fortunately, the two resolve their issues and everyone forgets about David's initiation, so he is off the hook! Funny Stuff.

Next we have The Milk Can Escape. This is a Houdini original, though according to the Patrick Culliton Book "Houdini-The Key" the method was invented by someone else. In 1908 Houdini was having trouble selling his Handcuff Challenge Act. All the bookers 'had seen it' or seen someone else do it. It had also been exposed in the papers. So in St. Louis Houdini debuted his latest sensation with the tag line "Failure Means A Drowing Death". The escape was promoted with a slightly deceiving poster. The locks were not down on the body of the can but on the neck. Still, that hardly mattered, the dramatic routine that Houdini presented captivated his audiences. He always escaped (and probably much sooner than most of the audience realized).

The video link above is of Dean Gunnerson the escape artist presenting the Milk Can. The actual escape begins about 2 minutes in to the video.

These are just a three of Houdini's feats. Given the fact that they are still staples of modern day performers acts, I'd say Houdini' magic was rather strong. And there is more to come...

(click the name of the trick to see it being performed)