Showing posts with label Tony Curtis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tony Curtis. Show all posts

Monday, June 3, 2024

Happy Birthday Tony Curtis


Born June 3rd, 1925 as Bernard Schwartz. He became known as Hollywood Actor Tony Curtis. And to those in the magic world, he was HOUDINI. He starred in the 1953 Paramount Production of HOUDINI along with Janet Leigh, Angela Clarke, Torin Hatcher and others. Joe Dunninger was listed as technical advisor, though George Boston did more work directly with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

The movie went on to inspire a lot of people to get into magic...(myself included). To many, Curtis's portrayal was our first exposure to Houdini. Though highly fictionalized, it still does a good job capturing many details from Houdini's life

If you'd like to hear more about The Other Houdini, check out my podcast on this very subject. Until then, Happy Birthday Tony!

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Houdini 1953 A Strange Edit


I love the movie, HOUDINI, with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. It's a very fictionalized version of Houdini's life. Yet, even the fictional stuff has a grain of truth to it. But my one single issue with the movie, comes early on. It's very bad edit in the movie, and the only one of it's kind in the whole film.

Houdini and Bess are in bed, it's their wedding night. Houdini is working on a new trick. He gets Bess to climb inside a box. She sticks HER legs out one her face and hands out the other side. Houdini closes the lid. The camera doesn't cut away. He steps out of the room and back in carrying a large saw for cutting lumber. Keep in mind the camera doesn't cut away. . Tony Curtis lifts the saw and begins to cut, he is about HALF WAY DOWN. Janet Leigh screams! The saw is about to her waist. She screams! THEN 

there is a very abupt edit.....And now the blade is apparently through Bess/Janet light.

Now, one of the reason's I love this movie is that Tony Curtis preforms most of the magic himself. In the opening scene, he performs a vanishing Milk pitcher routine. He follows with an ashes routine. Later he does an escape from some Hamburg 8 cuffs. He and Janet Leigh actually present the Metamorphosis routine. They do a broom suspension routine. There is a clip of Tony levitating a woman, another clip of Tony shooting a ribbon through Bess. Tony does a wonderful Steel Straight jacket escape, there are other routines that were filmed but that got cut from the movie. There are still photos of Tony doing effects that never made it into the movie. Surprisingly, there is even a still photo of Tony making an Elephant Disappear. It appears as a photo from the cover of a newspaper. 

Some of the routines are presented straight through. Some routines have multiple edits. But ONLY the Sawing routine has a very abrupt edit. I often wondered if something happened during the filming and maybe that was why they cut. I also wondered if the reason for edit was they faked the scene. But as it turns out, the only thing that happened visually was the blade moves upwards suddenly and then back down. Perhaps there was an audio issue which was it was cut the way it was. 

And then the solution or the answer. It was found in the trailer for the movie. The entire cutting/sawing scene is there, with no abrupt edits. And you can see for yourself there is nothing unusual that happens except for the sawing going high and then back down. It's clearly the same shot as the movie because a dark section of the front board, matches the one from the scene. BUT it wasn't the only time they shot the scene apparently. The promo photo at the top of the page is from the scene, but a different take. On this take, the front panel that Tony saws through is different. This is the sign that the scene was reshot or that there were multiple shots. 

Check out the video below...

The exact spot is at 40seconds into the video...

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Me and Houdini 1953

I have a personal annual tradition, on Halloween each year I watch the 1953 HOUDINI movie starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. This was the movie that first inspired me to get into magic and search out the life and world of Houdini. IF you're new to The Magic Detective, my name is Dean Carnegie and I'm a full time magician and have been for nearly 20 years. Let me tell you about my early days and how this movie played a role in my magic life.

The movie starts with a fun scene with a young Houdini performing as part of a side show. Among the tricks he does is vanishing some milk and turning it into evaporated milk. Seeing this tonight sparked a great deal of memories that I had long forgotten. The memory of a young 7 year old boy pouring milk into a paper cone, only to have it gush all over the kitchen floor. Then only a couple years later to add the Vanishing Milk to my early shows....doing it the correct way at that point.

I remembered my fondness for Hamburg 8 handcuffs, and that was due to the scene in the movie where Houdini is short some money and his wife questions him and he says he had a chance to get 'a bargain' and produces the cuffs. A moment later he escapes from them and I remember being quite struck with the way that escape was done. Tonight as I was watching the movie and recalling my first set of Hamburg 8s it occurred to me that my cuffs may have been stolen about a year ago today. When I say stolen, it's more likely that I forgot them and someone picked them up and they're gone now. I've searched a number of times for them and I can't find them anywhere...though my storage unit is a nightmare so they might still be there.

I remember the scene with someone I always looked up to and actually used to correspond with fairly
often, Bill Larsen. This is the very same Mr. Larsen who would later go on to run Genii Magazine and along with his brother Milt, the Magic Castle. Bill appears in the movie during the scene where Harry and Bess attend a dinner which turns out to be a Halloween Magicians Dinner.

That also triggered the memory of meeting Mr. Larsen for the first time. Not at the Magic Castle however. It turns out that the very first time I went to see Le Grand David in Beverly Mass, that Bill and his wife Irene were also attending for the very first time. I saw Mrs. Larsen standing by herself in the back of the theatre and I looked around and sure enough there was Bill Larsen. I went up and introduced myself and got to speak with him for several minutes. Sadly, that was the only time I would ever get to meet Bill. But his kindness and all his advice he had given me through his letters have always meant a lot.

One of the many wonderful things about this movie is that Tony and Janet actually do perform a lot of the magic. There is a scene were the are performing the Houdini-Metamorphosis trick, also known as The Substitution Trunk or Sub Trunk. It's a great scene and if you watch closely you'll see Janet Leigh struggling to catch her breath during the shot. The whole scene is shot with one camera I believe, no cut-aways. 

Now as strange as it is, I never really added the Sub Trunk to my show. I did perform it a couple times, but I think because so many other acts were doing the sub trunk I just left it out. That didn't stop a young 8 year old magic fan from doing escapes from trunks. That's right, my first magic show that I ever did featured and escape from a large blue box, which was actually my toy box that my Dad had built. I had my brother and best friend Billy wrap the outside with ropes and chains and locks and I escaped at the end of the show from this trunk. I didn't have handcuffs at the time, so my hands were wrapped in a bicycle chain and I got out of those as well. I was a daring 8 year old.

Years later I actually built a sub trunk with my Dad. But again, rather than use it as the regular Substitution Trunk routine, I used it as a packing box escape. I would leave the box and the lid at a venue for examination. We'd put a big poster on the box promoting the show. Then at showtime I would climb inside that thing and get out. I still remember the reaction from a friend who had hired me to do this very thing. I knew he had spent a good deal of time with the box and the lid and he was dumbfounded when I got out. Come to think of it, that was a Halloween gig too.

Another scene that always stuck with me was a brief scene just before Houdini attempts the escape
from the Pagoda Torture Cell. In the scene two gentlemen come up with a challenge restraint, a Steel Straight Jacket. Oh my God, that was the coolest thing I had ever seen! All my life I always wanted one of those. Then...I got one. I was no longer 8 years old, lol. The first routines I did with the Steel Straight Jacket were similar to what was done in the movie. I did that for a while until I realized there was more that could be done. In one show, I presented the SSJ kind of like the sub trunk, in that I was in the jacket first, and then a few moments later, I was free and the jacket was on a friend of mine.

Still later, as my mind moved from thoughts of magic and into escapes, I saw the potential for even stronger routines. I used the SSJ to close the show at my Underground Magic Theatre for one season. That was also the year that I met Steve Baker the famous escape artist known as Mr. Escape. I sent him a video of the routine and we talked about ways to improve it further. He had so many fantastic ideas and there was no way to include them all. But the key ones I did eventually use. The last time I performed the SSJ was at the National Theatre in Washington D.C.. I performed it two times and during the first show wanted to test out an idea. I had always heard that modern audiences would not sit through long drawn out escapes like they did in the time of Houdini. But I always heard this from folks who didn't do escapes. So I figured, why not test the theory. I struggled and struggles and even tore my shirt and did some very unorthodox things to get out of the jacket. The audience sat there spellbound. In the show that followed I did the SSJ again, but this time without all the lengthy drama. There were people present who had seen both shows and they immediately asked about the difference in the performances when it was over. They were very intrigued and frankly, I was thrilled with their interest.

At the conclusion of the movie, Tony Curtis as Houdini dies trying to attempt the Pagoda Torture Cell or what we know as the Water Torture Cell. This scene and an earlier scene where Houdini is trapped under the frozen Detroit River after doing a packing box escape, made me very aware of the dangers of escapes and water. But it didn't stop me, I was just careful. I used to practice several times a week escaping from handcuffs underwater. My method was quite ingenious. At the time, we lived on a farm. I would clean out the water troughs that were used for the horses and fill them full of clean water and work on the escapes underwater. My chosen method of escape was picking the cuffs underwater. At the time I was unaware of something called 'bridge jumpers'. But it was still good training.

Here is an interesting thing I had also forgotten. When the movie opens up, this picture is the first
thing you see. Houdini's name written in Black and Red bold faced letters. Don't ask me why this stuck in my brain, but it did. Not long after I had decided to do magic full time, I had a huge banner made with my name written just like that, in black and red letters. It was to promote a series of theatre shows and it looked very cool.

It's amazing to think just how much that movie inspired and even shaped my magic career. A lot of it I really didn't pay much attention to, but now that I look back, it's quite ironic. And to think, most of that movie was fiction! What kind of trouble could have I gotten into if they had made a truthful movie??? Well, they did eventually with Paul Michael Glaser. That movie was called The Great Houdinis. And yes, that movie also played a part in my early magic years, but that's a story for another time.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A New Twist on the End of HOUDINI by Tony Curtis

 In the world of Houdini, one of the most beloved movies is the Paramount 1953 version with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. It also happens to be one of the most frustrating because of the ending. Magicians know that Houdini died from Peritonitis after having been punched in the stomach by J. Gordon Whitehead.

The HOUDINI movie with Tony Curtis shows a different end to Houdini's life. In the movie, he dies attempting the Pagoda Torture Cell Escape. So iconic was this ending that for many years lay people thought that was the way Houdini actually died.

That brings me to this little story. A close friend related the story of meeting Tony Curtis during one of his Art Gallery showings a few years before he died. They struck up a conversation and as is probably the case, the talk turned to his movies. My friend brought up the ending of the Houdini movie and why they chose to go with a fictitious ending.

Before I tell you what he said, I have heard many reasons. One, is that the students involved in the incident (when he was punched) were still alive and the studio feared being sued.  Another was that the studio wanted a more dramatic ending to the movie.

What I never heard is what Tony Curtis told my friend. He said "We shot the ending with the punch and it didn't play very strong for test audiences. So we shot the alternate ending where I die in the attempt of escaping from the big tank of water." I have never heard that before. I totally believe that he said it, but I'm not sure if I believe that it's true. IF it is true, that means that the movie many of us came to love had the potential to be a very different movie. In fact, still shots from other scenes have surfaced over the years, like the Milk Can, and the Airpline Transfer from the Grim Game.

Again, I must say I do believe Tony Curtis said it, but I'm not sure I believe it. I'm wondering if anyone else has heard this story?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Other Houdini Grave

photo from LIFE magazine
For many of my fellow magic & Houdini fans, our initial exposure to the are was through a movie by actor Tony Curtis called simply, HOUDINI. Though, the actual Harry Houdini died back in 1926, the loss of Mr. Curtis in 2010 was truly like loosing Houdini all over again.

Tony's real name was Bernard Schwartz and he was born on June 3, 1925. His parents were from Hungary and I can't help but wonder how interesting it would have been if the real Houdini had bumped into or even known the Schwartz family at some point.

Tony got into acting after a stint in the Navy during WWII. He made many classic movies, among them: Some Like It Hot with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, Spartacus with Kirk Douglas, and of course my favorite HOUDINI which he made in 1953 with his wife Janet Leigh.

Tony retained an interest in magic after making the fictional movie on Houdini's life. He appeared on a number of TV Magic Specials, among them NBC's Stars of Magic in which he performed a Costume Trunk Illusion, HBO World's Greatest Escape Artist in which he was the host,  and I believe he also did some hosting work with Dean Gunnarson during an underwater escape performed by Gunnarson. About a year or so before he passed away, Tony did an interview with Dodd Vickers of The Magic Newswire which can be heard here

This Houdini movie was one of the inspirations for my career as a magician, and Tony also was instrumental in another area of my life. Besides acting, he was an artist, a painter. Seeing some of his work, along with the works of Red Skelton and Anthony Quinn in an art gallery years ago, rekindled my interest in art and specifically painting. I figured if the famous could have a career in entertainment and also paint, then so could I! Some of his artwork can be found on his website, but a search on the internet will reveal quite a broad look at his many paintings.

Tony died on September 29th, 2010 and is buried in the Palm Eastern Memorial Park in 7600 S. Eastern Ave. Las Vegas, NV. Plot: Legacy, Space PG10, Row 3

Place a Stone:

If you cannot be there in person and wish to show your respect, you are welcome to mail a small stone. Your stone will be personally placed on Tony's marker by his wife, Jill. In the Jewish Faith, stones are placed to show that someone visited and that their love is as enduring as a rock.

Stones can be mailed to:

Jill Curtis
2598 Forest City Drive
Henderson, NV 89052

photo used with permission of Jill Curtis & Curtis Enterprises