Showing posts with label houdini book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label houdini book. Show all posts

Monday, November 1, 2021

How Houdini Became Famous- Marketing Podcast Interview


Once Upon A Time, I wrote a book about the methods Houdini used to become famous. Actually, I wrote it, but didn't finish the last chapter. Then I was about to finish it a few years ago, when my Dad died, followed soon after by my Mom. In other words, LIFE got in the way, and those things are more important.

But now it appears I'm back on track with the book. Not only is the last chapter finished, but the entire book is getting a re-write, or perhaps update is a better word.  

The book deals with the Marketing Methods used by Houdini to become famous, AND how you can use those same techniques to find fame in your own career, life, etc.. No, you're not likely to become AS famous as Houdini. But if you apply some of these concepts you may find it helps you to get that promotion you were looking for, or become more famous in your own little part of the world.

My friend and marketing genius, Billy Diamond, recently interviewed me about the book and about HOUDINI. It's a great interview and I know you'll find something interesting here. It's part history, part marketing and all Houdini. 

For the Houdini buffs, I believe I borrowed a story from either Blackstone Jr or Pat Culliton about Houdini and the Milk Can. At the time I meant to credit the story, and the way the interview ran, I didn't get it done. There is also reference to an odd escape from a horse, which comes from the book, Metamorphosis by Bruce MacNAB. 

Here is a link to the podcast. Enjoy.

To get a free Chapter Excerpt From my Book:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Witch of Lime Street -Book Review

The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher is a book about the life of Margery the Medium. The subtitle of the book is ‘Séance, Seduction and HOUDINI in the Spirit World’. Houdini plays a part, but he is a secondary character even though his image and name appears on the cover of the book. Speaking of the cover, it might be the coolest book cover of ANY book with Houdini because this book cover GLOWS IN THE DARK! It’s very subtle, but I think the glowing in the dark cover and spine add to the already spooky subject matter.

When I heard that a first time author was writing this book, I had my doubts about the quality of the content. But having read the book AND listened to the audio version as well, I can tell you that Mr. Jaher did an outstanding job of research. The book is well written, entertaining and filled with history.

I had never been that big a fan of Margery until fairly recently. I think for me my interest began when I saw the actual Bell Box that was used in the Margery/Houdini Séances. I also got to see the so-called spirit-fingerprints that Walter, Margery’s spirit guide and brother, apparently created during a Séance. Shortly after this, I started to correspond frequently with the late escape artist and Houdini historian Norman Bigelow, about Margery. I wish Norm had lived long enough to read this book, I know he would have enjoyed it.

David Jaher does a great job of laying out the details for the reader of Margery’s character before becoming a medium and after and then during the last days of her life. It would seem that Mina Crandon was a fun loving individual. When she became Margery she developed a seductive air about her. She was overly flirtatious with many men on the  investigative committee. No doubt her suggestive behavior helped to take many of them off their game. Despite this she still had standards of behavior that can be seen when Malcolm Bird tried to bring a prostitute to Margery’s Lime Street home and he was abruptly chastised by Margery and turned away.

Margery was a complex woman. Early in the book, it’s apparent that she doesn’t believe in any of this ‘spirit nonsense’. Though skeptical, she still attends a séance with a friend and encounters a medium who shares a revelation with her that she has a future in the spirit business. Sure enough, she eventually becomes the best-known spirit medium in the country. Oddly, though she likes presenting séances she claimed she didn’t want publicity. She doesn’t even use her real name Mina; rather she uses a form of her middle name Margery. And though she doesn’t want the publicity, she is competing for the top prize in country, to be examined and proven to be genuine by a committee of investigators from The Scientific American Magazine. Yes, she was a complex woman.

Houdini is in the book because he plays a major part in the investigation of spirit mediums during the 1920s and he is an important player in the investigation of Margery. The author shares Houdini’s encounters with Conan Doyle and their early friendship as well as their eventual parting of ways. This helps to set-up Houdini  as an authority on fake mediums, for the reader. Even one of Houdini’s spirit debunking co-workers, Rose Mackenberg, gets featured in the book.

There really is no better person to spot a spirit faker than a knowledgeable magician. I preface that with ‘knowledgeable’ because if the magician doesn’t know anything about fake spirit work, they’ll likely be as taken in as anyone else. Houdini was not the first to expose mediums though he was arguably the most famous debunker. Magicians were involved with exposing mediums since the very early days of Spiritualism. John Wyman, known as Wyman the Wizard at one point helped to investigate the Fox Sisters. John Nevil Maskelyne, in England, went after the Davenport Brothers. So magicians have been at the forefront of investigating fake mediums from the start.

One thing that puzzles me is where Margery learned her tricks of the trade? It’s clear that she used deception. But she was creating manifestations that no one else was doing. And she continued to evolve over time adding more and more unique effects to her Séances. A great example would be the ectoplasmic arms and hands that would mysteriously protrude from her body yet no trace of them could be found after the Séance.

I really enjoyed The Witch of Lime Street. I’m not the only one, as the movie rights to the book have already been picked up. Will we see a Houdini/Margery movie? Time will tell. But what a fascinating movie it could be. It’s a very unique chapter in history and frankly I think we owe it all to Houdini. Without him, I don’t think there would have been as much press exposure.  I also think this unique confrontation would have likely been forgotten over time without Houdini’s participation.

Friday, August 22, 2014


If you look around you'll see Houdini everywhere. Tomorrow there is the Potter & Potter Houdiniana Auction. A little over a week away on Sept 1-2 is the History Channels HOUDINI Miniseries. I want to give you some resources that you can explore to learn more about the life of Harry Houdini. If you look on the internet you'll see numerous amazing sites devoted to Houdini like: run by John Cox run by Kevin Connolly, by Tom Interval by David Saltman
Oh, and then there is my site

The History Channel has delved into the world of Houdini before. In fact, the last time they did it was via the Sid Radner Houdini Auction. They produced a special called Houdini-Unlocking the Mystery. This was hosted by magician Lance Burton and was a fun look at the world of Houdini through the historical artifacts that were being auctioned off.

The last time Houdini was featured on TV in a movie was via the TNT produced movie HOUDINI starring Jonathan Schaech. This movie first came out in 1998 and was a mixture of truth and fiction. I suppose this is not unlike Houdini's actual life which was a mix of truth and fiction orchestrated by Houdini himself. This movie was finally released on DVD in 2013.

As far as theatrical release, Houdini's last appearance on the big screen (and it was VERY short lived) was Houdini's Death Defying Acts starring Guy Pierce and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Frankly, I didn't care for this movie at all. Apparently, that was the case with theatre goers as well because it barely made a splash in the cinemas and basically went straight to DVD after a very short release.

There have been countless documentaries on Houdini, but not all are available. One that is however, is from PBS called American Experience: Houdini.  This is hosted by David McCullough and features interviews with prominent modern day magicians as well as rare footage of Houdini. It's an hour long and a very decent biographical documentary.

The Granddaddy of Houdini movies, HOUDINI starring Tony Curtis & Janet Leigh, is thankfully still available. This movie started the careers of countless modern day magicians, myself included. It's a mix of fiction and truth, but it's a lot of fun.

Finally, if you'd like to  check out Houdini the movie star, yes, he made movies. You can get the Kino box set called Houdini-The Movie Star, which is a three box set featuring Haldane of the Secret Service, Terror Island, The Man From Beyond, and The Master Mystery as well as some special features. The one movie I'm dying to see, and we might never ever see is The Grim Game. This movie is not available on DVD, VHS or anything. The only known copy, which was in a private collection, is not being released for reasons unknown.

Now for an honorable mention. If you'd like to see a movie with Houdini in it as one of the characters, then you want to check out Fairy Tale-A True Story.
Harvey Keitel plays Houdini and his portrayal is pretty much spot on. The movie is loosely based on something that really happened, but the producers have actually taken the true story and fictionalized it, which makes the title of the movie kind of ironic. Still, it's a fun movie and very well done.

If you're new to Houdini, you would be stunned at the number of books that have been written about him. Most are out of print and yet many are still available on eBay and used book stores. Here are a three selections to get you started.

Houdini-The Untold Story by Milbourne Christopher
Houdini-The Career of Erich Weiss by Kenneth Silverman
The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman

If you are a magician and you really want to find out more about Houdini, one of the best books written on his magic and escapes is Houdini-The Key by Patrick Culliton. This is not a book for the novice or just the curious. This is a book for the serious Houdini researcher. There are a few of these books still available so get them while you can. 

There you go, now if you want to find out more about Houdini, you can look online, in books, and through videos to learn more about him. OH Wait, there is a bonus....The Adrian Brody HOUDINI Movie that will be on the History Channel Sept 1-2 will be coming out on DVD and BlueRay on October 7th, and Amazon is now taking pre-orders!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lost Manuscript of Houdini's Found!!!!

I recall reading in one of the biographies of Houdini (though I don't recall which one) that he had plans to write the definitive book on magic history and also books on witchcraft and other topics. Well, his book on magic history took a slightly different turn and became the book known as The UnMasking of Robert-Houdin. Sadly, had Houdini not decided to attack his namesake, this book might have held a loftier place in the libraries of magicians.

But the book on witchcraft seems to have never been written. Or was it? Actually, as it turns out the book was written but was only in manuscript form and had yet to be published. The Potter & Potter Auction, which takes place this Saturday August 23rd, features this very document. It's Lot#67 and is 62 numbered pages and also a letter from Houdini describing his work on the manuscript is also included. This could still be Houdini's final published work, if someone chooses to purchase it and then have the manuscript published. Quite an exciting prospect. This lot has the estimated price of $6000-$9000. 

The Potter & Potter Houdiniana Auction features another manuscript, this time for his book A Magician Among the Spirits which was originally published in 1924. This document is hundreds of pages and filled with corrections. This is Lot#68 and carries an estimated price of $7000-$9000

Be sure to register for the auction as it is only three days away!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Robert Heller's Magnifecent Peacock

Robert Heller and his Peacock Automaton

As fascinated as I am by Heller, I must now admit, I also have an odd fascination for the so-called Peacock Automaton. I had seen one in the collection of Ken Klosterman (Salon de Magie) and assumed it was Robert-Houdin's Peacock. In his book 'The Memoirs of Robet-Houdin', the author mentions seeing the 'magic peacock' in a show presented by Phillipe. Researching this unusual creature I found that according to Harry Houdini, Robert-Houdin claimed to have created it. But Houdini, in his book 'The UnMasking of Robert-Houdin' makes the claim that Houdin did not create it but rather ripped it off.

Actually, it appears that though there were Automaton Peacocks prior to the Houdin version, his was different in operation and mechanics, so Houdini got that one wrong. I actually assumed, like Houdini, that all these birds were the same. But their appearance is deceiving. They do share a few attributes, one being the realistic look of a peacock and the ability to take the tail feathers and raise them and spread the giant plumage for display. But that is where the similarities stop.

from 1815
There is a playbill from 'The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin' that belongs to Mr. Louis's Royal, Mechanical, and Optical Exhibition. The bird figures prominently on the playbill with the following description. "A Superb Mechanical Peacock-As Large as Life, In it's Natural Plumage! Which imitates, so closely, the Cries, Actions, and Attitudes of that stately and beautiful Bird, that it is not infrequently supposed to be an absolute Animal properly trained to act as an Amusing Deception."The playbill dates to 1815, certainly before Robert-Houdin was born, as Houdini points out.

An even earlier playbill from 1803, belonging to a performer named de Philipsthal, also from 'The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin' reads as follows, "The MECHANICAL PEACOCK, which exactly imitates the Actions of that flately Bird, that is has frequently been thought Alive. It eats, drinks & at command, unfold its Tail in a brilliant circle, and in every respect seems endowed with an intuitive Power of attending to the Thoughts of the Company." Frankly, that sounds pretty amazing to me.

I believe the Robert-Houdin bird was different from the above automatons and I base this on the illustration used by Heller and a similar illustration used by another Robert-Houdin imitator. Let me point out that Robert Heller began his career by doing an act which was essentially a duplication or imitation of Robert-Houdin.

Heller obtained his props from a mechanic named LeGrand who worked for Robert-Houdin. This is the same man who sold props to John Henry Anderson as well. This duplication of props was going on behind the back of Robert-Houdin, and when he found out he called the authorities and LeGrand faced prison time because of his theft. But the damage had already been done and untold props from the Houdin show were now out and being used by his competitors. These included: The Ethereal Suspension, The Fantastic Orange Tree, the Peacock, and numerous other automaton.

Other performers of the time had Automaton Peacocks in their shows which can be seen in their advertisements. I think some of these were like the automatons listed above, true actual automatons, clock-work mechanical devices that could imitate a few actions of the bird. But the Robert-Houdin automaton appears to not be a true automaton, but rather what is referred to as a false automaton. This means it was partly mechanical but also relied upon human aid to perform it's functions. If the Heller illustration is any indication, the bird sat upon a raised platform and was able to grab selected playing cards with it's beak. It probably also moved it's head and raised it's plumage, but the action of grabbing a selected card may have been the work of a hidden assistant. That doesn't lesson the impact of the effect and to my way of thinking, is just as much a mechanical marvel as the others. Houdin was known to use both true automaton and false automaton in his show, so it makes possible that the Peacock was a false automaton. And Heller, who had purchased duplicate props of Houdin, was using The Harlequin as well as the Peacock, and the Harlequin was also a false automaton.

While doing research online for this article I came across a photo for an item listed as The
Magnificent Peacock. I found this same image on several sites, including Pinterest. The first place I found it was All of the pages are unsure of it's origins and they only speculate as to the date of manufacture. One website in particular has a different photo but it's very blurry. It shows that the red base in the photo is actually on an ornate raised wooden or medal pedestal. What is amazing to me is, this looks exactly like an image I saw on one of the Robert-Houdin imitator's posters. So this image to the right could actually be a piece out of a magic show.

For those who might be curious, in the late 1800s, a company called Roulette & Decamps out of Paris France was producing the Peacock Automaton for the general public. They made three versions of the Peacock, a small, a medium and a larger version with a music box inside. All three of their Peacocks had the ability to walk, moves its head and raise it's plumage. One of the Roulette & Decamps Automatons can be seen in the video below. By the way, the Peacock in the Klosterman collection is one of these Roulette & Decamps Automatons. It is identical to the bird in the video, so my initial assumption that it was Robert-Houdin's was incorrect.

*I don't have access to all of the Robert-Houdin books on magic, so I'm unsure if his Peacock and it's workings were listed in a book I missed. If anyone knows and can enlighten me, please do. I make an assumption that Houdin's automaton was a false one, which I also found similar statements online. But with Houdin's knowledge of clockworks, it's just as possible the bird was 100% mechanical. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: The Metamorphosis - The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini by Bruce MacNab

I just finished reading Bruce MacNab's book The Metamophosis last night. I bought the book from Bruce almost a year ago and it's taken me this long to finish. But the reason it took so long is not because of the content of the book but because of my performing schedule and an eye site issue that was making it harder for me to read for long stretches.

But I'm happy to say the book has been read, cover to cover. I have to say this book was an eye opener. Very different from any other Houdini biography I've ever read. This is maybe the first bio of Houdini where he isn't 'the greatest'. In fact, he is a struggling performer during the months in 1896 that are covered in this book. He stumbles upon things that will later be iconic parts of his act in years later, but during these early days they are so new that he is testing the waters to see what works and what doesn't.

A great example is an outdoor stunt that he was promoting where he would be tied to a horse and would free himself. The stunt quickly got out of hand when the horse took off running and Houdini could do nothing but hold on for dear life until the animal tired. Eventually, it did and Houdini was able to free himself. Unfortunately, the crowd of spectators also tired and had left before Houdini was free. He learned a huge lesson this day about staying in control of his challenges. The only thing hurt was his pride thankfully.

I loved the chapters with Samri Baldwin. I had written a bit about Samri Baldwin recently and was so excited at what I thought was a real 'find'. Then one of my readers pointed at that this info and more was in the Metamorphosis book. Indeed it was and it's great to read. Apparently, Houdini and Baldwin were going to team up on a tour at one point, but sadly it never came to pass.

The book does a great job at pointing out what a real grind show business can be. From renting the hall or theatre, to promoting and then waiting to see if your hard work has paid off. Often, things beyond your control come into play to prevent a crowd from attending. Houdini faced more small crowd venues on this Canadian tour than he did large crowds. And yet, in three short years Houdini would meet a man who would help Houdini become famous. That man was Martin Beck, who told Houdini to drop the magic and stick to escapes.

Yet, during the Canadian run in 1896, Houdini was doing every kind of magic imaginable, even a levitation and mind reading! Along the journey, we get to meet other performers and artists, some famous, some not so well known. It's not often that this much new information comes out on a performer who has already been written about in dozens of biographies.  The author Bruce MacNab really did his homework and researched this topic and dug up information that no one else had seen. He even describes situations where he searched and searched for documentation on a particular event but none could be found. My hat goes off to Bruce for such a fine job.

I know by now, most of my readers have probably read this book. But if not, please get yourself a copy and enjoy the journey of Houdini and Bess on Tour in Canada in 1896. Wonderfully done! Click the link at the top of the page to order the book from Amazon!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Houdini Book Debuts Nov 22

The book is called Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini and it's set for release from Palgrave Macmillan on Tuesday, November 22. This is the same book that was released in the UK in October. The book is written by Christopher Sanford, who in the past has penned biographies on Kurt Cobain, Steve McQueen, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen and Roman Polanski.

According to John Cox over at Christopher Sandford will be signing copies of his new book, Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, at Books Inc. in Berkeley, California, on Monday, December 5, 2011 at 7:00pm. So if you are in the area, you'll want to go by and get your book signed by the author!

You can pre-order the book right now on It's available in hardcover and a Kindle edition.  By the way, the UK version of the book has a slightly different title and cover. See below.

I wrote a very short blog on the hotel where Conan Doyle and Houdini had their final seance, you can see that here: 

Monday, August 22, 2011

NEW Houdini Book

The books on Houdini just keep on coming. I had an enjoyable conversation with a fellow performer tonight who is working on a Houdini book and then I got off the phone and noticed yet ANOTHER performer has written a book on Houdini. This time Dixie Dooley, the Las Vegas magician, escape artist has written a book called "Houdini Question Reality".

The book is 146 pages and is self published through Self publishing is a great way for a first time author to get their words out there. Plus with the up and down (mostly down) book market, it might also be a safer way to go. You can order the book through and if you prefer you can actually download it straight to your computer!

To order

UPDATE: I decided to order the download version of the book. It takes a good 30 pages before you really get into Houdini stories and some of them are a little out of left field. Though Dixie makes no claim that they are true, just that he was told these stories. My favorite part of the book had to be Dixie describing his visit to the Houdini house in NYC. He is one of the few who got to go inside. It's a fascinating story to say the least. One downer though are the crude drawings of the interior that follow the story. I think perhaps having someone draft quality drawings of the floor plan might have been in order, or even doing it with a computer program. The hand drawn sketches are not the best.
Overall, it's an interesting book. A lot of things you've heard before, a couple things you might not have. It suffers from a number of grammatical and spelling errors and the photos leave a bit to be desired. But it's a quick read and proof that the Houdini stories just continue and continue!

SECOND UPDATE: I just heard from Dixie and he told me that the grammatical/spelling mistakes have been corrected. And he also said he added more photos! As a Houdini fan I enjoyed the book and honestly the story of his visit to the house alone is worth the price of the book.  If you haven't gotten it, please consider it. You can still get it as a soft cover book or as a .pdf download.