How Many Times did Houdini Escape from a Giant Football?

Football 001Since today is Super Bowl Sunday, I thought I would share the two times that I am aware of that Houdini escaped from a Giant Football:

During an engagement at the Keith’s Theatre, a Boston sporting goods manufacturer had challenged Houdini to escape from a giant football.  The magician was stuffed inside and a chain was passed through the eyelets and padlocked.  After twelve minutes, Houdini reappeared, somewhat disheveled; but the ball appeared untouched, the stitching was intact.   Years later, he repeated the stunt in Pittsburgh and had the entire University of Pennsylvania football squad carry the huge pigskin up the aisle and onto the stage.

The University of Pennsylvania football team was matched against Houdini on the stage of Keith’s Chestnut Street Theater in Philadelphia on January 4, 1907.  The entire squad, in gridiron uniform, jogged down the aisle with a giant football (manufactured by the A.J. Reach Company) and lifted it up behind the footlights.  They then manacled Houdini, bent him double to fit inside the opening of the ball.  The handcuff king couldn’t turn around inside the football. The pigskin was laced with a brass chain and padlocked.  The ball and Houdini was rolled into his curtained cabinet. Harry was out in thirty-four minutes.


  • Houdini The Key by Culliton
  • Houdini The Untold Story by Christopher


The following cut sequence is from the blue pages of the 1st PRELIMINARY GREEN April 23, 1952 Philip Yordan script for the Tony Curtis Houdini movie:


On the stage at Keith’s theatre, eleven members of the Yale Football Team, wearing the football uniforms of the period, cart a giant leather football on to the stage.

H, clad only in bathing trunks and securely manacled, is put into the football through the opened lacing, then the players lace it up tightly.

A screen is put around the football.  The football players ring themselves around the screen to make sure no outside assistance can be given H in his escape.

The orchestra plays the Yale Alma Mater Song.  The audience is full of college students.

Suddenly H, wearing a Yale football uniform, comes running down the aisle from the back of the theatre, waving a pair of Yale pennants, to the amazement of the team and the audience.

On stage the football players pull away the screen revealing that the football is still tightly laced.

The audience goes wild.

Deep Sea Loot 1919

houdini-boys-cinema-rev-cropped (1)

Deep Sea Loot is listed on the back of the 1922 Boys Cinema Card.  Chief among his films are:  “The Master Mystery”, “The Grim Game”, “Deep Sea Loot” and “Terror Island”.  Notice that Deep Sea Loot appears after The Grim Game that was released in 1919 and before Terror Island which was released in 1920.

According to Picture Play Magazine [Mar-Aug 1921], some of his pictures are  “The Master Mystery,” “The Grim Game,” “The Deep-Sea Loot,” and “The Adventures of Houdini in Paris.”

According to The Lincoln Star [Sun Aug 20 1922], he has made several pictures before “The Man From Beyond,” among them are “The Master Mystery,” “The Grim Game,” “Deep Sea Loot,” “Terror Island,” and Adventures of Houdini in Paris”.

And Deep Sea Loot  for Famous Players Lasky Corp,  1919 was included in Houdini’s typewritten list of screen credits.

HRC HH Movies List 001

Credit: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

But, according to Disappearing Tricks by Matthew Solomon, during the 1910s [1917] Houdini worked with underwater filmmakers J.E. and Ernest Williamson on a never-completed film (prospectively titled Houdini and the Miracle) that promised to show Houdini’s escape from a photosphere (an observation chamber that housed a camera that was attached to the bottom of a barge by a long tube).

According to ” a full page ad in The Moving Picture World on May 5, 1917, “Houdini’s Sub-Sea Miracle” was supposed to be released in November 1917 as the Williamson Brothers second film of that year.

Moving Picture World Volume 32 Apr-Jun 1917 p731

Solomon also mentions that the Houdini and the Miracle [1917] film project was included in Houdini’s typewritten list of screen credits as Deep Sea Loot [1919] but was never made [completed].

What intrigued me was the 1917 date versus a 1919 date, the Williamson Brothers versus Famous Players Lasky Corp and the following 1919 Houdini letter from the Fred Pittella collection:

Nov 2 1919

Dear Q Kilby

We are on location and expect to return to Los Ang end of week.

I am doing under water swimming getting ready for my “Deep Sea Loot” story.

This morning I did five tests each running over two minutes which is not bad at this stage as it means 3 minutes next week.

Kindest regards,


So, in November of 1919, it is my understanding that Houdini was at Catalina Island working on submarine scenes for Terror Island [Deep Sea Loot?].   [Wid’s Daily Dec 1, 1919]

In December, the players were transferred from Catalina Island to an island off the coast of Lower California. At this island, which has a South Sea atmosphere practically all of the remaining exterior scenes were filmed. [Motion Picture News Dec 6 1919]

According to Kalush p 354 and 355:

By July of 1917, three months after signing a contract, Houdini was still hashing out the script with the Williamsons.  Both the war in Europe and a war between the Williamsons derailed the project.  Desperately trying to salvage  his film, Houdini entered into an arrangement with a company called Westart to film the opening scenes of his scenario, a manacled jump into the sea off the pier at Atlantic City.  Though Westart would in a few years produce a series of low-budget Westerns, this one-day shoot appears to be all that became of The Marvelous Adventures of Houdini.

According to Solomon’s notes:

Elements of this story [“The Marvelous Adventures of Houdini, the Justly Celebrated Elusive American”, aka “Houdini and the Miracle”], especially its focus on underwater action [“Deep Sea Loot”], found their way into “Terror Island” a few years later.

So in 1919, did Harry Houdini shoot scenes for “Deep Sea Loot” and “Terror Island” or are they one in the same?

Special Thank You to Fred Pittella for allowing me to share the contents of a letter dated Nov 2, 1919 from his personal collection.

Houdini Movie Short – The Annual Harry Houdini Seances – Sonoma County, CA

HH Seances Sonoma Documentary DVDI recently acquired a DVD on eBay of The Annual Harry Houdini Seances – Sonoma County, CA.  This is the documentary by Tom Wyrsch that first screened at the Boulevard Cinemas in downtown Petaluma on November 3, 2012 and then premiered October 30, 2014 on the PBS station KRBC in Northern California.

From 1964 to 2002 authentic Harry Houdini Seances were held each Halloween Night in Sonoma County, California.  This documentary film tells the story of how the séances started, the secret locations where they were held, the people who attended, and if contact was made.  It was a 37 year annual Halloween event not to be forgotten.  Interviews, music, photographs, film footage, and narration tell the complete story.

Special Features on the DVD included:

HH Seances Sonoma Documentary Special Features DVD backWilliam Alstrand Tribute:

According to the DVD, William Alstrand was a San Francisco area professional stage show magician.  Mrs. Houdini entrusted Bill the secret coded message she and her husband had created in order to prove whether or not Houdini was really breaking through from the afterlife.

Alstrand attended many of the Sonoma County Seances despite his Houdini Séance experience on Halloween of 1954 where he said “never again”:


Houdini Movie Short:

I was curious to see what footage from The Master Mystery made up the Houdini Movie Short and if it included any missing footage.   Although not identified as such, it was obvious to me that this was footage from Episode 15, Bound At Last.   A quick check online confirmed my suspicion, that this was indeed Episode 15 which is not missing any footage as far as I know.

The DVD has a 2012 copyright from Garfield Lane Productions.

Lovecraft, Eddy and possibly Houdini’s Last Letter

Howard_Phillips_LovecraftCM EDDY JR

Lovecraft, Eddy and possibly Houdini’s Last Letter

According to Kalush:

In Providence, the next stop of the tour [Oct 4-9], Houdini and Bess went to dinner with H.P. Lovecraft and Clifford Eddy Jr.  Both men were working on a book for Houdini called “The Cancer of Superstition” but Eddy was also an undercover operative for Houdini, filing many field reports on his visits to fraudulent mediums.

Shortly after meeting with Eddy and Lovecraft, Bess was stricken with a non-specific form of poisoning, probably from food.  Houdini immediately summoned Sophie Rosenblatt, a nurse who had worked for the family previously; but by Friday, October 8, Bess’s condition had deteriorated so badly that Houdini stayed up all night comforting her.  She improved a little the next day, which was the last day of the run, so Houdini arranged for her and Sophie to leave straight for Albany, the next tour stop, while he took a late train to New York, where he had meetings scheduled for Sunday [Oct 10].

When the meetings concluded, he checked in with Rosenblatt in Albany and decided to postpone his train back. At some point after midnight, Houdini called his friend Joe Dunninger, the mentalist [to pick him up in the car]

“I’ve seen my house for the last time, Joe. I’ll never see my house again.

According to Koval:

  • Oct 4-9: Providence Opera House, Providence, RI
  • Oct 11-13: Capital Theatre in Albany.  Houdini suffers a broken ankle [Oct 11 according to Wissner]
  • Oct 14-16: Van Curler Theatre Schenectady, NY
  • Oct 18-23: Princess Theatre, Montreal, Canada”
  • Oct 22: Houdini is struck in stomach [and sends a letter to Mr. Eddy]
  • Oct 24 (only): Garrick Theatre, Detroit, MI  Houdini collapses after his show.
  • Oct 31:  Houdini dies

According to a short letter in Fred Pittella’s collection, dated October 22 and sent from Shubert-Princess Theatre to Mr. Eddy in Providence R.I.:

My dear Eddy:

On account of accident which has laid me up, I cannot do much writing.

Will answer in detail from Detroit.

Best wishes.

Sincerely yours, Houdini.

I find it interesting he uses the word “accident” and that “on account of accident“, Houdini can’t do much writing [about the Cancer book], but feels he will be able to “answer in detail from Detroit” where he was scheduled to perform at the Shubert-Garrick Theatre the weeks of October 24 and November 2nd.

Is he talking about the accident in Albany or Montreal?

Note: Houdini’s untimely death on October 31, 1926 derailed the plans for the Cancer of Superstition book, as his widow Bess did not wish to pursue the project.  That said, parts do survive.  In 1966, Lovecraft’s detailed synopsis for “The Cancer of Superstition” and three chapters of the treatise written by Eddy was first published.  Future posts will describe these and evidence of additional parts that survive.

Special Thank You to Fred Pittella for allowing me to share the contents of a historic letter dated Oct 22, 1926 from his personal collection.


  • Kalush – The Secret Life of Houdini
  • Koval – The Illustrated Research Diary
  • Pittella Collection – Letter from Houdini to Eddy dated October 22, 1926
  • Wissner – The Houdini Correspondence File


Honey-Moon with Houdini

Honey-Moon with Houdini

Sonia Greene Photo

Sonia Greene had come into his life in the weeks after his mother passing.  Was she, therefore, no more than a replacement for his mother.  Nonetheless, they were married and life was hectic.  He was engaged on a strange ghostwriting job.  It was to write a story for the great escape artist, Harry Houdini to be published in Weird Tales.  When he discovered that there was not a shred of truth to the story, he asked the Weird Tales owner, J.C. Henneberger, to let him embellish it.  He finished it at the end of February 1924, but lost the manuscript on March 2, in Union Station in Providence when taking the train to New York the day before his wedding.  Fortunately, he had another copy and on the morning of his wedding, he was furiously re-typing it.  He had only typed half of it when it was time to head to the church.

HPLand Sonia Greene-Boston, 1921

The plan had been to go to Philadelphia after the wedding, but he and his wife were too tired and returned to her apartment.  Of course, there was still the manuscript to be finished.  On arriving in Philadelphia the following day, she read out from the copy while he banged away on a borrowed typewriter.  That was how they spent the first day and a half of their married life. ‘When that manuscript was finished, ‘she wrote, ‘we were too tired and exhausted for honey-mooning or anything else.’ The story was sent off and later that month he was paid $100 for it, the most money he had earned to-date for a story.

Of course we are talking about HP Lovecraft and “Imprisoned With The Pharaohs” which was first published in the May-June-July 1924 issue of Weird Tales magazine, the story tells of Houdini’s adventures trapped in a Egyptian tomb.


Source: HP Lovecraft  The Mysterious Man Behind The Darkness

97 Years Ago – The Master Mystery Begins Unspooling (Today Footage is missing)

The week of January 6, 1919, The Master Mystery, a fifteen-chapter serial began unspooling.

TMM Kino imageAccording to Houdini The Movie Star Film Notes by Bret Wood:

Upon its original release, The Master Mystery ran slightly longer than five-and-half hours. Several episodes are lost, or only exist in fragmentary condition.  Thus the Kino International edition runs slightly less than four hours (238.5 min).

The first episode, “The Living Death”, premiered in New York, the week of January 6, 1919.  The Moving Picture World reported, “To say that the opening was auspicious is to use terms which do not adequately describe the facts.  It was a tremendous success.”  The film packed the three thousand-seat Proctor’s Theatre in Yonkers and another estimated three thousand were turned away.

The serial opened in sixteen theaters throughout New York State.

Culliton -274x236According to Patrick Culliton:

There were two big stunts in each chapter.  Now the twelve surviving chapters don’t contain half of those stuntsCertain stunts that were in mid-chapter have been shifted to be cliff hangers at the ends of chapters.

TMM E13 imageAccording to IMDb Trivia:

13 of the original 15 episodes of this serial survive in the UCLA Film and Television Archives.

The Kino Video version contains chapters 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14 and 15 in complete form and fragments from chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, 10 and 11.


We definitely have a Master Mystery that needs to be solved.  Let’s get this puzzle back together.


23 to 25 Minutes of Terror Island is Missing

terror card disclaimer

Disclaimer at the start of the current version of Terror Island

The current version of Terror Island is approximately 55 minutes, but it is missing reels (acts) Three and Four.

missing terror

Two of several missing scenes from Terror Island

According to the Terror Island Press book it was Six Acts.

TI Press Book Cover 001

However, I have seen the original script and it was 7 acts.  Most of the ads imply it was six reels.

terror-island-the_kansas_city_sun_sat__sep_4__1920_ (1)

However documentation at the Margaret Herrick Library gave the length of each of the seven reels, which add up to 5939 feet:

Reel One:  975 feet, Reel Two: 848 feet, Reel Three: 958 feet, Reel Four: 917 feet, Reel Five: 889 feet., Reel Six: 784 feet and Reel Seven: 568 feet.

Just based on the total feet, 5939 feet could actually fit on Six reels, which might explain the Six acts mentioned in the press book and the Six reels listed in ads.  I compared the Kino DVD running time of the five reels (Acts 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7) at 55 minutes (54.19) to the footage per reel and based on my rough calculations we are missing about 25 minutes (Acts 3 and 4) played at 20 fps (75 feet a minute).  The library lists 5939 feet and many reviews such as Wid’s Daily below list it at 5813 feet.  At 20 fps, that is either 79.19 minutes or 77.51 total minutes in length.

Feel free to do the math yourself.

terror-island-wids-daily-review-php-2 (1)


Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Mr. & Mrs. Harry Houdini wish you A Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!

Merry Xmas Happy New Year to TF from HH

Image courtesy of


“Just to remind everyone, Houdini and Tom Froggatt [Mirror Cuff Maker (?)] were friends for 20 years. His first Christmas card was sent to Tom at Christmas 1904, and the last one was Christmas 1924.

If Nathanial Hart [Mirror Cuff Maker (?)] existed (and I still think he did) I think it would be inevitable that he and Tom would meet up, considering that he was interested in handcuffs, was himself a metal worker, and they lived in the same city.

I originally thought that Tom and Nathaniel were the same person, but now I’d like to think that they knew each other.”

[Michael Hanzlik quote dated November 25 2014]

Master Locksmith, Houdini historian, an authority on the Mirror Handcuff Challenge passed away on the 1st of November 2015 after a battle with Cancer.

Rest in Peace Mick Hanzlik!

HHCE Plans for the future

HHCE HomePage

In 2011, when I started (HHCE) my mission statement and purpose of this blog site was as follows:

  • Bring Harry Houdini and The Grim Game to life so that we will all feel like we have seen the movie
  • Plan to present all the evidence and research gathered to date one blog at a time
  • Evidence and research will consist of Exhibits (ads, newspaper articles, press clippings, lobby stills, lobby cards, related links, blogs, posters, eBay, books, etc…)

Well, now that just about everyone has seen The Grim Game (TGG), it’s time for a slightly modified mission statement:

  • Bring Harry Houdini and his movies to life so that we will all feel like we have seen them in their entirety with no parts missing.

I plan to focus on the following two Houdini Movies that have parts missing:

  • Terror Island (TI)
  • Master Mystery (MM)

TI MM 001Although my focus will be on TI and MM, I also have plans for the following:

  • Share parts of an Original Story and Screen Play for a Houdini Film that was never made
  • Share parts of the Original Grim Game Story by Arthur B. Reeves & John W. Grey before the screenwriter and continuity writer put their take on the story

In addition to movies, I am also planning to focus on:

  • Houdini’s connection with Lovecraft and Eddy

And whatever else sparks my interest.

A Look Back at 2015, Part II – Other Highlights

2015 was an amazing year for Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence (HHCE) because it was the year of the Grim Game, but also for the following other highlights:

Shared a couple paraphrased parts of the not widely known story treatment titled:  HOUDINI THE GREAT by Frank O’Connor and Dore Schary, dated January 3, 1936:

Buzz Saw HoudiniDo Spirits Return

Pearsons Weekly Week Ending Oct 15 1908

Discovered and shared some fascinating information on the famous Mirror Handcuff Challenge which included locating the original article with the identity of the Mirror Representative:

William Bennet the MirrorRep and HHNYPL image of Will A Bennet

Shared a not widely known story and some correspondence about Houdini and Ponzi Gwynne, the chicken that Jack Gwynne gave to Houdini, then back to Jack and finally to Hardeen:

Jack Gwynne performing the Chicken TrickRialtoTh-159x300

Shared full reports about my amazing Houdini travels and adventures to PA, NY, and SF:


Shared some evidence that Houdini set up roadshows with other magicians to promote The Man From Beyond.

Genesta and TMFB Pittella Collection AGenesta Pittella Collection A

Shared some thoughts and answers to the following questions:

Ernst houdiniEarly HH and Doyle pastiche - Arthur MosesLastTrickedSpiritPhoto

Shared information on some of Houdini’s not widely known literary work:

wideworldmagazin13londuoft_0410wideworldmagazin13londuoft_0414 (1)

Shared some thoughts on trying to date some famous Houdini Photo’s

Harry_Houdini-sitting10DCwithHoudiniPhoto_zps7986e002-1-300x234HH Postcard Around 1904HRC 1904 photoFrank Koval photo1900 Photo signed 1906

Shared some info and behind the scenes shots of where the underwater footage of the Master Mystery was filmed, as well as some amazing publicity cards:

Seeing is Believing Picture 435080989_8_l

Shared some very interesting info on Houdini’s Last Interview he gave during the week of October 18-23, 1926 when he was performing at the Princess Theatre, Montreal Canada.  The interview took place in the same dressing room where Houdini got punched in the stomach:

Houdini Last Newspaper Interview October 1926 Montreal Daily Star

Honored Mom’s, Dad’s and Veterans:


Shared some amazing photos of Houdini with his leading ladies from his movies:

HVD Leading Lady Image 1a298-82 snippetHVD Leady Lady Image 5

Last but not least, I was blessed with another beautiful granddaughter.

Baby Photo taken by Houdini

Image courtesy of Houdini and John Hinson

I look forward to 2016 where HHCE will shift its focus from The Grim Game to some other areas.

Stay tuned!