The Grim Game hits San Francisco

San_Francisco_Chronicle_Thu__Oct_9__1919_ (1)

Click to enlarge

Although the Grim Game was first shown privately and publicly in August 1919, it was not officially released until October 12, 1919. And that’s when it first appeared in San Francisco with live orchestra music on October 12, 1919 at the Portola Theatre located at corner of Market Street and 4th.

96 years later, December 5th at 3pm, you can see the restored film with live piano music by Donald Sosin at the San Francisco Film Festival at the Castro Theatre located at 429 Castro Street at Market Street.  You can buy a full day pass to “A Day of Silents” or an individual ticket to “The Grim Game”.


I highly recommend seeing it on big screen.  I was fortunate enough to see the TCM premier in Hollywood on a big screen with live orchestra music, as well as on a big screen at the Houdini Museum.  Two amazing experiences that I will never forget.

Check it out in S.F.!

You’ll enjoy it thoroughly.



San Francisco Chronicle Oct 13, 1919 Page 5

Private Showing of The Grim Game In New York



Last month when The Grim Game made its Television debut on TCM, I mentioned that it originally made its debut at the B.S. Moss Broadway Theatre in New York City on August 25th, 1919.  Well prior to its original debut, Houdini gave a private showing in NYC, which I promised to comment on.

The following passage is excerpted verbatim, even to the punctuation from a private letter WRT to a private showing of The Grim Game on August 18th, 1919:

Monday night 8 o’clock shapr [sic] there will be a private show of my latest picture The Grim Game which will be shown only to a few chosen magic friends before the regular trade showing and if you have desire to see same would like to have pleasure of having you attend.  Takes place at the production room of Lasky Famous Players offices, 400 [485] Fifth Ave near 42nd St. Monday August 17th [Note: Monday was really August 18th] Tried to get you twice on phone and no answer. Regards sincerely yours Houdini. [The Houdini Code Mystery by William V. Rauscher, page 106]

Note:  Koval places the private showing at 485 Fifth Avenue, which was the address of the corporate main office right across from the New York Public Library.

Aug 18 – A private showing of “The Grim Game” is given to Houdini’s chosen friends at the Lasky Famous Players Offices at 485 Fifth Avenue, New York City.

The Society of American Magicians officially endorsed The Grim Game at this private showing:

The endorsement was given at a private showing of the picture for the members of the society in New York, which was attended by Messrs. Houdini, Howard Thurston, Francis E. Werner, G.G. Laurenz, Hardeen, William J. Hilliar and about forty others.

After the showing,  Mr. Howard Thurston said: “I have always thought Houdini was a great showman, but I expected nothing like this.  It leaves nothing undone.  Houdini may now retire, confident that he has done his greatest work.  It is one of the most wonderful things I have ever seen”.  At the conclusion of Mr. Thurston’s speech, Oscar S. Teale, Secretary of the S.A.M. said:

“Gentlemen, I move that the Society of American Magicians pronounce the picture a glowing success, worthy of highest commendation, and that it go forth as officially endorsed by this society.”

[The Sphinx, September 1919]


According to a 17 September 1919 New York Clipper article, the Famous Players also had New York City offices at 428 Fifth avenue, 729 Seventh avenue and at 469 Fifth avenue, but at the termination of the leases, the company will use the entire front of the Putman Building [at Forty-Third street and Broadway] for its offices:

NY Clipper 17 Sep 1919 Putnam Bldg To Become Theatre

Houdini Stanhope Lens Viewers

HH Sustained Flight Description 001

Houdini is generally acknowledged as the first man to fly a plane in Australia. He made the historic flight just north of Melbourne in 1910. Two variants of a Stanhope miniature brass telescope were manufactured to commemorate the historic event and are quite rare.

Stanhope Lens Viewer Diggers RestHoudini Stanhope Viewer

Houdini collector, Joseph Gargano is now offering a viewer which is a reproduction of the Stanhope made to commemorate Houdini’s first flight over Australia. It comes in a beautiful wood box engraved with Houdini’s signature on the lid. This piece alone has sold for $195 and is now available for $105 which will just allow Joseph to recoup the cost of production, and get some money to The Houdini Museum in Scranton for the continued maintenance of Houdini’s grave.

Stanhope Lens Viewer Interior View

Looking through this novelty lens reveals an image of Houdini making his historic flight at Digger’s Rest in Australia. Here, he is pictured both in mid-flight in his biplane, and a separate posed close-up shows Houdini behind the controls of the plane.

For questions, purchases and shipping rates, contact Joseph Gargano at

Stanhope Lens Viewer Grim Game

Joseph also offers a quality brass mini viewer with embedded lens showing an image from The Grim Game reproduced from an original glass plate negative in the Joseph Gargano collection. It comes in a small film can with Grim Game advertising image on the lid.  While supplies last, this viewer is offered as part of a larger Commemorative Set that is released in two very limited editions (Standard and Deluxe).  See John Cox site for details of The Grim Game Commemorative Set.

Standard Edition

The Grim Game Standard Edition

Deluxe Edition

The Grim Game Deluxe Edition

Special Armistice Day Program

Armistice Day (which coincides with Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, public holidays) is commemorated every year on 11 November. The First Official Armistice Day was held on the Morning of 11th November 1919. This would set the trend for a day of Remembrance for decades to come.

Please honor and remember those who have served in the Armed Forces.


HHCE Report: The Official Houdini Séance 2015

seance 2015

The Official Houdini Séance 2015 – A day of science, history, escapes, and magic on Halloween


And I was there for it all at the Brava Theatre in San Francisco.

Robert Strong San Francisco Magician (8) (1)

In September, Robert Strong who was producing The Official Houdini Séance with William Radner and Tom Boldt contacted me to see if I was interested in attending this event and if so he would provide me a VIP ticket.  I appreciated the offer, but I had already backed the Houdini Séance for 3 VIP tickets via Kickstarter and the proceeds were going to a good cause, Wonderfest, a non-profit that usually produces free science education events and online content.

Robert Strong also contacted me 5 days before the event to see if I was available for dinner Friday night (10/30) if he got a group together.  I appreciated this offer as well, but I wasn’t going to be in San Francisco until Saturday (10/31).

I also got a nice text from Fred Pittella (who I met in person in March at the Premier of The Grim Game in Hollywood and also at his Houdini and Escapes Museum in New York) asking me when I got in on Friday so we could spend some time which I also appreciated. I told him I would see him on Saturday.

On Friday (10/30), I worked and then drove up to San Jose from Los Angeles to visit my son and daughter-in-law who were going to attend the Official Séance with me on Saturday evening.


After spending quality time with my son, I took the bullet train Saturday morning from San Jose to San Francisco.  The hotel I was staying at in SF was only a mile away so I walked to it, checked in, got ready for the day of shows, and then took a cab to the Brava Theater in San Francisco.

brava now

I arrived just in time for The Greatest Halloween Magic Show of All Time featuring Robert Strong, Paul Draper, & Justin Willman.  I sat with Fred Pittella (New York resident) and Tom Boldt (Appleton resident).

Robert Strong Magician & Comedian

Robert Strong kicked off the show with some great comedy magic routines (Bowling Ball from sketch pad, disappearing ketchup bottle, pom-pom stick and needle thru balloon).


Paul Draper then performed some great comedy mentalism which included 5 pieces of candy (1 white, 4 gold) and 5 members of the audience; a soap bubble that became solid; mind blowing revelations of two volunteer’s drawings that matched while his eyes were covered with coins and duct tape, and a beautiful Linking Rings routine he performed while singing.

Robert Strong San Francisco Magician (4) (1)

MC Robert Strong then took the stage again where he did a plastic cup gag, a twisting arm illusion, and a time travel routine where two one hundred dollar bills are placed in one of three envelopes and then one by one shredded until the bills are finally revealed inside of a twinkie.


Justin Willman then closed the show with some amazing magic with a lighter, a light appears and then disappears LoL; 2 cups filled with coke (one on top of Justin’s head and one on his protégé head) get turned over with some funny results; the empty dented coke can then magically seals itself and becomes full again right before our eyes; Siri from the iPhone teaches a magic trick with a cloth napkin and a bandana (banana) that was hilarious; a bar stool from Houdini’s dressing room floats; and then a borrowed iPhone and the calculator app along with a number of members from the audience is used in an amazing prediction, where you had to be there to “Live in the moment” on 31 October 2015 at exactly 3:15pm.


After the show, Fred Pittella asked if I saw the Grim Game Ad’s on the table for the San Francisco Film Festival on December 5, 2015.  It is another opportunity for people to see The Grim Game on a big screen with live music.


Tom Boldt then asked if I wanted to join Fred and him for some ice cream.  We walked down the street where they got ice cream and I got a bite to eat. What a privilege and honor to talk to two Houdini experts and major collectors. We sat at the counter and talked about the Potter & Potter auction, Haversat auction, Houdini’s father in Appleton, Larry Weeks, The Grim Game, and missing footage of Terror Island and The Master Mystery.  It is a conversation that I will cherish.  Fred graciously picked up the check.


Well, it was time to head back to the theater for the discussion of “Skepticism and the Supernatural” with Jamy Ian Swiss and Michael Shermer.  It was here we met up with John Cox of WildAboutHoudini and the Great David Saltman of   Earlier that morning John Cox led an expedition to find a few San Francisco Houdini sites.  See his report for full details on this.

MS and JIS

The Skepticism and Supernatural talk which I found very interesting was broken up into four parts: Part 1 – Shermer; Part 2 -Jamy Ian Swiss; Part 3 – Shermer and Swiss and Part 4 – Q&A

David Saltman

After the talk, I got a chance to talk with David Saltman before my son and daughter-in-law arrived to experience the Houdini Séance VIP treatment.  We shared our stories of how we got interested in Houdini and magic and the paths that led us to each have our own Houdini blogs.  I am only sorry I didn’t get to spend more time talking with David.

160John Cox

My son and daughter-in-law arrived and I introduced them to John Cox. We then went upstairs where they were having appetizers and wine for the VIP ticket holders.  As it turns out, my son knew the gentleman that was walking around doing magic and looked like Merlin; his name is Kim Silverman and he is the president of the Society of American Magicians in Palo Alto.

Kim Silverman

After some appetizers, we headed downstairs to the lobby to get a beer and experience the scientific experiments going on.  My son got to lie on a bed of nails.


It was now time to take our VIP seats for the show.

Robert Strong Host

Robert Strong kicked off the show with some introductions and great comedy magic routines (Bowling Ball from sketch pad, vanishing hanky, and shackle handcuff escape).

Brian Brushwood Escape Artist

Escape Artist Brian Brushwood of Austin was to perform next, but the Austin airport was closed due to flooding from a Hurricane.  Apparently Austin is the only thing Brian cannot escape.


John Cox was up next and he did not disappoint. His entertaining talk on Houdini’s background and history was well received by all. To John’s credit, he was able to share a lot of great information on Houdini (from early years to final years) in the short amount of time he was allotted. This also included information on Houdini’s four appearances (June 1899, September 1907, November 1915, and March 1923) in San Francisco. He left quite the impression with my son.


Next up was the Earnest Séance.  While they were setting up the table on the stage for that, Robert Strong entertained the audience with a card prediction that had everyone in the audience think of a card, and then change their mind to another card.  He then randomly had a member of the audience (my son) selected to come up on stage and his thought of card was the only one reversed in the deck.

Robert then introduced the members of the inner circle: William Radner, Tom Boldt, Bruce Averbook, John Cox, Midge Markey, Fred Pittella, Robert Somerdin, and two guest attendees (John Michael Zorko and Sophia Liu’s 11 year old son) from San Francisco.


Medium Terri Huberman then tried her best to summon Houdini and the spirits which included references to a mother and a brother that appeared to resonate with one of the members of the inner circle, but ultimately this spirit was not Houdini and the medium had to end the Earnest Séance because her time was up.


Next up was the Psychology part of the show with Melina Uncapher, a UCSF Neuroscientist.


This was followed by Magician/Skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss who made a strong psychic connection (LoL) with the audience by asking for a show of hands how many people in the audience have a mother and then asked how many of them had a brother.  He also played a recording of Harry Houdini’s voice introducing the water torture cell; talked about Houdini’s connection with Conan Doyle and Margery, discussed Randi’s million dollar challenge; and played a recording of Bess Houdini at the Final Houdini Séance.

Justin Willman as Houdini

Next up was Justin Willman who I met at a Houdini Historical Roast in Los Angeles earlier this year where he played Houdini.

Justin Willman

He stole the show IMHO.  He performed some mind-blowing routines with a lighter, soup ladle, wireless printer, and borrowed iPhones.  He closed his part of the show with an amazing prediction where you had to be there to “Live in the moment” on 31 October 2015 at exactly 9:48 pm.

Michael Shermer Skeptic

This was followed by Skeptic Michael Shermer who spoke on skepticism, science and doubt.


Next up was the Magical Séance part of the show with Mentalist Paul Draper, who was born on Halloween and sang “Asleep in the Deep” which the orchestra used to play when Harry Houdini was performing the Water Torture Cell.   The solo was a big hit.  He followed his solo with some spoon bending, ESP cards and slate writing.  The lights were then turned off.  When the lights were turned back on, the randomly selected audience members sitting around the séance table holding hands said they felt the table rise.

Seance Table

Robert Strong then thanked everyone for attending the 2015 Official Houdini Séance and hoped everyone had a great time.  We did!


The next day, my daughter-in-law planned a surprise Birthday and Sunday Football Watching Party for my son and all his friends at the Firehouse Gastropub in San Jose.  It was nice to see everyone before I had to drive back to Los Angeles.

All in all, it was a great trip.

Houdini’s Last Interview

The week of October 18-23, 1926 Houdini was at the Princess Theatre, Montreal Canada.  It was on October 22, 1926 that Houdini got punched in the dressing room of the theatre.  According to Silverman, the dressing room was small, about eight feet by ten.  What follows is a Montreal Daily Star newspaper ad from my personal collection that is reported to be Houdini’s last interview in October 1926.  This interview by Viola Cameron would have taken place in the dressing room at the Princess Theatre during the week Houdini was there.

Houdini Last Newspaper Interview October 1926 Montreal Daily StarViola Cameron interviews him in his dressing room with folks coming and going:  “three secretaries” with reports on his investigations and “three assistants” awaiting  his orders.There was also mention of him, “helping in an unbelievable measure those who visit him hourly with woeful tales of fraud through the medium, the fortune teller and the magician. Houdini is their friend and their voluntary advisor”.

The opening quote by Houdini is also of interest: “no man is great while he is alive because the last day before his death he might do something that would discount all else of greatness in his career”.

Houdini died shortly after this interview on October 31, 1926.


Attending The Official Houdini Seance in San Francisco on Halloween

I attended The Official Houdini Seance in 2012 and now have the pleasure of attending the 2015 Official Houdini Seance in San Francisco.  I plan to do a full report of all the shows and activities going on October 31st.  See below for details.  Hope to see you there.


Get your tickets to all three before they disappear!

Sat, Oct 31, 2015 at 2pmThe Greatest Halloween Magic Show of All Time!, with Robert Strong, Paul Draper, Brian Brushwood, & Justin Willman ($10)
Get your tickets here.

Magic Show

Sat, Oct 31, 2015 at 5pmSkepticism & the Supernatural, with Michael Shermer & Jamy Ian Swiss ($15)
Get your tickets here.

MS and JIS

Sat, Oct 31, 2015 at 8pmThe Official Houdini Seance ($39 to $69)
Welcome – Robert Strong, MC/Moderator
Escape Artist – Brian Brushwood, Scam Scool Creator
Background – John Cox, Houdini Historian
Earnest Séance – Terrie Huberman
Psychology – Melina Uncapher, UCSF Neuroscientist
Doubt – Michael Shermer, Skeptics Society Founder
Magic – Justin Willman, Magician
More Doubt – Jamy Ian Swiss, Magician/Skeptic
Magical Séance – Paul Draper, Mentalist

Get your tickets here.


More info here.

Thank you to all the generous sponsors!
Wonderfest – The Bay Area Beacon of Science
Robert Strong – The Comedy Magician
Bay Area Science Festival
Bay Area Skeptics
100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE)
The Great Houdini Escape Room
California Academy of Sciences NightLife
Champions of Magic Live!
The Mac King Comedy Magic Show
Clean Comedians
Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
Rostami Magic – The World’s Most Creative Magic Apps
After Dark – Exploratorium


Houdini is struck in the stomach by Smiley.  What?

smiley yearbook

Samuel J. Smilovitz a.k.a “Smiley” was the art student who sketched Houdini during his lecture at McGill’s Union Hall on October 19, 1926. Houdini was so impressed with the sketch that he invited Smiley to come see him backstage at the Princess Theater and do another for him. Smiley invited a friend, Jacques Price, and together they visited Houdini on October 22. It was during this visit that a third student, J. Gordon Whitehead, who was unknown to both Smiley and Price, joined the gathering. The rest is Houdini history or is it.

According to Frank Koval in the Illustrated Houdini Research Diary, Houdini is struck in the stomach by Smiley on October 22nd.  What?

And according to Walter B. Gibson in The Master Magicians, all three students delivered punches, which would have included Smiley.  What?

During the week of October 17, 1926, Houdini appeared in Montreal, and one morning toward the end of his engagement, a group of college students [Smiley, Price, Whitehead] stopped at the theater to interview him.  Houdini talked about the physical fitness needed in his escapes acts, and demonstrated how he could brace the muscles of his abdomen to offset heavy blows.  One student, then another, delivered punches at Houdini’s invitation.

As a third hesitated, Houdini relaxed, thinking the youth had given up the idea.  Instead, the student made a belated swing.  Houdini received the punch off guard, and it nearly crumpled him, but he managed to brush it off as if had not hurt him.

That night, he complained of a pain in his side, which grew steadily worse.  When the show reached Detroit, he was running a fever, but still insisted upon giving his performance when he learned that the theater was sold out.  That was Houdini’s last show.  He collapsed at the finish and was rushed to hospital, suffering from an acute case of appendicitis.  Surgeons operated immediately, but peritonitis was so far advanced that they were unable to save the patient’s life.  He died on Halloween, 1926.

All of this said, the full story of the events leading to Houdini’s death was first told, to the best of my knowledge, in a well-written, detailed article by Stanley Handman which appeared in the Canadian Weekend Picture Magazine for 12th September, 1953.

But wait a minute!  Sam J. Smiley is the source of the article.  It is believed that Stanley Handman gave his column that week to Smiley.

As far as I know, Smiley’s 1953 article is the first time that Whitehead’s name was first publically mentioned as the one that struck Houdini in the stomach.  What?

And a letter from Ernst, Fox and Cane to Smilowitz says:

“we understand you and your friends were in Houdini’s room, and one of your friends struck the blows, and so forth, we understand it was purely accidental. Our sole interest is in collecting on a double indemnity accident insurance policy for Mrs. Houdini.  Would you help by telling us what happened?”

Notice the only name they have is Smilowitz because he had given Houdini the sketch and his address.  We know Jacques Price was Smiley’s friend, but what about Whitehead?

So who punched Houdini in the dressing room at the theatre?  Smiley, Price, Whitehead or some other young man?

Wallace Irvin Whitehead 1926_0051

According to Silverman’s book,

[Smiley] identified the young man as Whitehead, a first-year student at McGill, and some biographers of Houdini have identified him further as J. Gordon Whitehead, but the only freshman  with that surname, according to the school’s yearbook, was named Wallace (Wallie) Whitehead, a good-looking twenty-two-year-old with slicked-down hair, manager of the class hockey league.


Believed to be J. Gordon Whitehead at McGill

Since Silverman’s book, both Wallie and Gordon Whitehead have been found at McGill and they may have been brothers. What?

Whitehead, Smiley and Price were the only ones besides Houdini who knew what happened in the dressing room.

While anyone of the three students could have punched Houdini in the dressing room, the only real evidence that it was only J. Gordon Whitehead (30 years old) and not Wallace I Whitehead (22 years old), Smiley or Price is the affidavit from a J. Gordon Whitehead that has recently been made available.

According to the affidavit from J. Gordon Whitehead (3/16/1927),

I struck Houdini quite moderately and he smiled and laughingly said – “Why! Hit me.” I hesitated and he repeated – “Hit me”; I struck him a second blow slightly harder than the first, he gave not the slightest indication of any discomfort at either of the blows.  Both blows were struck on the left side of his body and above the navel.

The first affidavits from Samuel  Smilovitz (2/10/1927) and Jacques Price (2/14/1927) don’t mention Whitehead by name, they refer to him (“about 25 years of age“) as the Third McGill Student and first year student of McGill in Arts.  Interestingly, their second affidavits (SM 4/19/1927 JP 4/16/1927) do mention his name was Whitehead.  The affidavit (11/26/1926) from Houdini’s First Assistant, James Collins, mentions that Houdini was in the company with one Smilovitz and two other students (no names given) of McGill University, Montreal…On such occasion one of the said students struck Houdini with two blows in his stomach merely for the purpose of showing his resistance to blows.  Other affidavits from Sophie Rosenblatt (2/15/1927), Julia Karchere (5/7/1927), Julia Sauer (5/7/1927) mention that Houdini stated he had been violently struck a number of times by a student (no name given) of McGill University.

Based on the evidence, I think it is obvious, who punched Houdini?

Tonight, TCM welcomes Houdini and “The Grim Game” to Television!

“The Grim Game” makes its Television debut tonight on TCM:

TCM TGG on TV Oct 18

Originally, The Grim Game made its debut at the B.S. Moss Broadway Theatre on August 25th, 1919.  Below is the front and back of a program from the opening:


I hope everyone enjoys the restored 1919 thriller that will keep you guessing from start to finish.  The question is –who did it?  Watch as the screen unfolds the secret!


New Grim Game Glass Slides and DVD info

imageI recently did a post, 3 video Grim Game Clips with new piano music, that had a link to Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Videos for The Grim Game Webpage:

If you click on the same link above, you will find they have made some additions which include a couple of glass slides for the film.

Glass slides were used by many theaters to promote coming attractions during slide shows between coming screenings.

You can also vote for The Grim Game to be released on DVD.image