Which city did Martin Beck first meet Houdini?

martin_beckWhich city did Martin Beck first meet Houdini?

  • [A] Woodstock, Illinois
  • [B] St Paul, Minnesota
  • [C] Kansas City, Kansas
  • [D] None of the above

Let’s explore each of the possible answers.

[A] At one point, the Wikipedia article on Harry Houdini included the following claim:

“Houdini’s big break came in 1899, when he met manager Martin Beck in rural Woodstock, Illinois.”

However no source was cited.


FWIW:   The Postcard above sent by twelve-year old Ehrich Weiss to his parents after he ran away from his Milwaulkee home in 1886, directs his family to write in care of “Mead Bros Woodstock Ill.”

[B] The Wikipedia article on Houdini now claims:

“Houdini’s big break came in 1899 when he met manager Martin Beck in St. Paul, Minnesota.”

And every major Houdini biographer recounts the story of Houdini and Beck meeting in St. Paul;

So what is their source? It is from an article by Harry Houdini in The Magician Annual, No. 3 (1909-10) page 17:

When working at a small hall in St. Paul, a party of managers, while sight-seeing, happened to come in.  They saw my performance, became impressed with the manner in which I presented it, and one of them, Mr. Martin Beck, perhaps more in a joke than sincerity, challenged me to escape from one of his handcuffs.  He had none with him, but the next day purchased a few pairs and sent them on stage. I escaped! He then booked me for one week, and it was the first chance I ever had, and my act in a first-class theatre created a sensation.

[C] According to Hardeen, Martin Beck finally caught Harry’s act in a beer garden in Kansas City, became his manager and booked him to the Coast.  FWIW:  Houdini performed at the Orpheum Theatre, Kansas City, KA after he performed at the Palm Garden, St. Paul, MN and Creighton-Orpheum Theatre, Omaha Nebraska.

Or is it [D] none of the above. That is, Is the story of Beck challenging Houdini in a Beer Hall/Garden fiction?


John Cox, in a well-researched post on Houdini in 1899, mentions this possibility:

But on March 14, Houdini received a telegram from Beck that changed his life:

Beck’s statement that he would “see his act” in Omaha makes me wonder if the story of Beck challenging Houdini with cuffs at the Palm Garden might be mythology. It always struck him a little odd that a man like Beck would be trolling beer halls for acts.  Perhaps it was a scout who saw Houdini and alerted Beck.  Or maybe Beck had learned of Houdini via the “strolling magician” article a few months earlier.

According to Houdini’s account, a party of managers (which included Martin Beck) was sight-seeing and just happened to stop in the beer hall and catch his act.

My vote is none of the above, and that their first meeting was in Beck’s Omaha, NE theatre.  Do you agree?

Janet Leigh Straitjacket Photos on eBay

img_0184These photos are currently available on eBay as a buy it now for $14.99 plus $4.50 shipping:

img_0176 img_0177

Four years ago, I was fortunate enough to see all of the Special Collection Photographs for Paramount’s 1953 Movie “Houdini” (starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh) at the Margaret Herrick Library.  These included similar photographs from the Janet Leigh Collection, but different than those offered on eBay.

There are also some similarly priced eBay photographs of Tony Curtis in a milk can that I haven’t seen before:

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Where did Houdini spend his Last Thanksgiving?

Since Houdini died on October 31st, 1926, his last Thanksgiving was Thursday November 26th, 1925.  So where did he spend it?

I first checked Koval’s Illustrated Houdini Research Diary:

  • And it doesn’t show him performing during the week of Thanksgiving, but it does show him performing at Parson’s Theatre, in Hartford, Connecticut the week after.


I then checked newspaper and magazine websites:

  • And found a Billboard listing that mentioned that he gave a Thanksgiving performance at the jail while performing in Hartford CT;  “Throw that bird here,” yelled the prisoners when he produced a turkey in one of his numbers.

Finally, I did an internet image search, and found the following image at WildAboutHoudini.com, where it was identified as a clipping coming from a collection that sold on eBay in February 2012.


So, the answer is he spent it in Providence Rhode Island performing a special matinee of his 3 shows in 1.

H A P P Y  T H A N K S G I V I N G !!!

You now have the oppportunity to play him in your house

In my last post, I shared a color ad for The Master Mystery, breaking all house records at the St. James Theatre in Boston where it premiered:


I thought, I would share the flip-side of the ad that gives theatres the opportunity to play him in their house:


These are just a couple of a large collection of color ads that were used to try get theatres to book The Master Mystery.

Premiere of The Master Mystery in Boston


The Master Mystery was released on the open market plan in November of 1918 and made its premier 98 years ago today [November 18th, 1918] in the Saint James Theatre in Boston.


On November 17th, the Boston Post reported that:

“Houdini,” the famous handcuff king, will appear in person on the stage of the St. James Theatre tomorrow afternoon and evening for the purpose of introducing his new serial, “The Master Mystery,” which will be shown for the first time.  Mr. Houdini will be accompanied by his leading lady, Marguerite Marsh.


On, November 18th, the Boston Post reported that:

Harry Houdini is a visitor to town. The famous handcuff king, who for a number of years appeared as headliner on the vaudeville stage, arrived in Boston late last night. He was accompanied by his manager.  Houdini who has escaped from many of the most noted prisons of the world and has baffled the cleverest police officials in this and other countries, made the visit for the purpose of seeing the opening installment of “The Master Mystery,” at the St. James Theatre.

According to a Motion Picture News ad, all house records were broken at the St. James Theatre:


Stone Lithograph and Missing Scene from Episode Three of The Master Mystery


The beautiful Otis Litho-one sheet poster (Lot 95) above just sold at the November 2016 Haversat & Ewing Auction for $28,080. It came from the collection of Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, which I was fortunate enough to see in person. Congratulations to the winner!

The Episode 3 scene depicted in the poster is missing from the current Kino DVD release of the film.  Below is a description from my personal notes that may help put the scene in context:

Zita Dane tells Herbert Balcom “Before Brent went mad he made a list of inventions which we have suppressed.”  Herbert says “That list would put me behind bars.”

Locke [Houdini] has combo to safe that Eva is about to open when Herbert and Zita walk in.

32935_medEva opens safe and Herbert oversees numbers and writes them down.  Eva hands Herbert a Letter:

Board of Directors

Internantional Patents, Inc

New York City.



In view of the Government’s anti-trust investigation I have prepared this list of inventions we have suppressed.  I think we should discuss at our annual meeting the advisability of surrendering our rights to these inventions, no matter what may happen to the corporations we have been protecting.


Very truly yours,

Peter Brent


Herbert says “Should that letter reach the Department of Justice we are ruined.”

Eva puts letter and money back in safe and everyone leaves except Locke and Eva.

Locke [Houdini] tells Eva, “This electrical device will notify me, as well as hold anyone who attempts to open the safe.  In this way I hope to discover who is in the automation.”


In fact most of Episode 3 is missing from the Kino DVD release, but is available on the print at the UCLA Film Archives:

Balcom and Brent, owners of International Patents, a firm that has made a fortune by keeping patented inventions off the market, quarrel, the outcome of which leaves Brent stricken by the “Madagascar (or laughing) madness.” A giant automaton whose secret retreat is under the Brent house is responsible for the crimes committed and Quentin Locke, the newly engaged head of the laboratories endeavors to aid Eva, daughter of Brent, in solving the mystery. In attempting to find an antidote to restore Eva’s father to sanity, Locke has been thrown from a dock by the emissaries of the automaton. Miraculously he escapes. One of the emissaries is captured and put in jail, and Locke impersonates him in order to get to the automaton at the acid mills. Eva is coerced into going to the acid mills to meet Locke, but instead is abducted by the automaton. Locke is left suspended over a seething vat of acid, with Eva unwittingly the key to his demise should she open the door to where Locke has been shackled.


Houdini Secrets For U.S. Soldiers


Harry Houdini with doughboys (From the collection of Kenneth M. Trombly)

In honor of Veteran’s Day, a public holiday held on the anniversary of the end of World War I (November 11) to honor US veterans and victims of all wars, I thought I would share parts of an article that appeared in the Evening Star February 26, 1918:

Houdini is going to give away some of his secrets for patriotic reasons.  He is going to show American soldiers and sailors just how he extricates himself from the tight fixes that are a feature of the Houdini acts at vaudeville performances.


The demonstrations are to be given to men in uniform during the intermission of “Cheer Up” at the Hippodrome, where a room has been fitted up on the promenade floor.

Officers who wish to make special arrangements to bring groups of men to these demonstrations can arrange to so by telephoning the Hippodrome and making appointments for the intermissions on any desired date.

Houdini has also offered to teach soldiers and sailors how to escape from sinking vessels and has received a letter from the Secretary of War thanking him for the suggestion.

Thank You for serving our country & protecting our freedoms.

Original Halloween Séance covered worldwide, plus Straitjacket Escape

In my last post, I mentioned Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz promoting the movie “Houdini “by introducing it and Dorothy performing one of the best straitjacket straitjacket and handcuff escapes I have ever seen.  Well, one week ago, at the Original Halloween Séance, Dorothy and Dick were at it again.  Enjoy!

And speaking of promotion, the séance got worldwide coverage as evidenced by the following links:


The Guardian’s print edition had an average daily circulation of 189,000 copies. The newspaper’s online edition was the FIFTH most widely read in the world as of October 2014, with over 42.6 million readers.[6] In the UK, its combined print and online editions reach nearly 9 million readers.[7]










Halloween Séance Calls for Harry Houdini at Home
This year’s event on the anniversary of the famed magician’s death will be at the building where he once lived


The annual event to summon Harry Houdini’s spirit this year will be at Sojourn restaurant on the Upper East Side, located in the space where a young Houdini practiced tricks. Above, Houdini performed a rope escape, left, and a card trick in these undated photos. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
It was to be the final escape.
Before Harry Houdini died on Oct. 31, 1926, he asked his wife to hold annual séances—and gave her a secret code so that she could verify his return.
“He said if anyone can come back, he would,” said George Schindler, the 87-year-old dean of the Society of American Magicians, where Houdini served as president for nine years.
This Halloween marks the 90th anniversary of the famed magician’s death, and at least the 90th séance trying to summon his spirit.
The séances are now hosted by the Harry Houdini Museum, based in Scranton, Pa., but this year museum officials selected an out-of-town spot for the event: the Upper East Side building where Houdini once lived.
A young Houdini practiced tricks in the space that is now Sojourn restaurant and lived with his family in the boardinghouse upstairs. Last week, the restaurant erected a plaque to Houdini’s memory.
“He kind of inspired me growing up,” said restaurant owner Sammy Musovic, a magic fan. Neighborhood old-timers had approached him for years about the site’s history, he said, prompting him to research it further and host the séance at the restaurant.

George Schindler, dean of the Society of American Magicians, speaks at Sojourn restaurant on E 79th St. about the séance on the 90th anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death. PHOTO: PETER SAMELSON
Even though he called for a séance, Houdini was skeptical.
“That would be the final test,” said the museum’s co-director Dorothy Dietrich. “He was looking for some kind of proof.”
During his life, he never found any. Houdini scorned the spiritualists of his era as scam artists.
The promise to contact a lost loved one “would be worth anything to anybody,” said Ms. Dietrich, making the grieving particularly vulnerable to swindlers. “Houdini spent pretty much his whole life exposing them where ever he went.”
At the Society of American Magicians, Houdini even founded a “debunking” committee that still exists today, although it has been more than a decade since it received any requests, Mr. Schindler said.
According to Ms. Dietrich, the code he gave his wife was a way of protecting her from being scammed, since nobody else knew it.
Still, the séances, which are free and open to the public, have seen some odd moments, said Ms. Dietrich, who has been leading them for more than 30 years. There was the time when a Houdini picture fell off the wall just as attendees asked for his spirit or when a candelabra started flickering despite no wind or air-conditioning drafts.
This year’s event begins at noon on Monday, just before the time of his death at 1:26 p.m. The code has since been revealed: It combines the words “ Rosa Bell,” a nod to the couple’s favorite ballad, with an encrypted spelling of “believe” that his wife understood.
Mr. Musovic said he was slightly nervous to be hosting a séance in his restaurant.
“The hocus-pocus thing you always got to worry about, you know?” he said. “I don’t want to disappear.”
Story Source: CLICK HERE

Straitjacket Escape to Promote “Houdini” Opening

Below is an original 1953 Press Photo I recently acquired of a magician performing a straitjacket escape to promote the release of the Tony Curtis Houdini movie in front of the Paramount theater.


Click on the link below to find out who the magician is and to read the published text that went with the press photo.

While I wasn’t born yet for the opening in 1953, the movie did change my life when I saw it as a kid in the 70’s.  Below is a Oct 2, 1977 TV guide promotion for the movie, which shows Houdini hanging from a Straitjacket.


The movie also had a big effect on me in 2015, when the TCM Film Festival screened a rare 35mm print from the Paramount archive.  I felt like I was able to experience the movie like it appeared back in the day.   And to promote the movie, my friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, introduced it and Dorothy performed one of the best straitjacket and handcuff escapes I have seen, which received a standing ovation.


On November 15, Houdini (1953) is due to be released on a new DVD and Blu-ray with a Straitjacket on the cover.


“How Houdini Died” and “Was Houdini Killed?”


Houdini died 90 years ago, today. What led to his death and was he killed?

The following snippet from an article written by Bayard Grimshaw gives a clue:

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.

[Abracadabra Magazine Saturday 23rd March 1974  page 230]

For years, I thought this article referenced by Bayard Grimshaw was the same article that Patrick Culliton posted the text for on his houdinighost.com website, which was titled:

That was, until I was finally able to get a copy of the Canadian Weekend Picture article, which was titled:

It turns out the source for the 12th September 1953 article in the Canadian Weekend Picture article was the undated file (“Was Houdini Killed?” by S. J. Smiley) from the Fulton Oursler collection, currently in the Georgetown University Library.

FWIW: Fulton Oursler, aka Samri Frikell and Anthony Abbot, was an American journalist, playwright, editor and writer, who aided Harry Houdini in his crusade against fraudulent mediumship, and died May 24, 1952. Writing as Anthony Abbot, he was a notable author of mysteries and detective fiction. He also wrote under his own name on Christian themes.

With that, I leave you with a snippet from Was Houdini Killed? article to ponder:

While Houdini was thus discoursing and I drawing, there was a rap at the door, and Houdini’s secretary ushered in a rather tall individual – he must have been at least six foot two – wearing a blue gabardine coat that seemed much too small for him, and carrying three or four books under his arm. The newcomer appeared to have known Houdini and had, in fact, come that day to return a book Houdini had loaned him a few days before; his name was Whitehead, and he was the theological student at McGill University.
Whitehead was an oldish looking young man about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years of age. He impressed one as being the very genteel type of student. His face was ruddy, his hair very thin on top; his frame was powerful though loosely-knit, and his neck was inordinately long. He spoke softly with an exaggerated Oxford accent.
With the advent of Whitehead the conversation continued anew, and though I was disturbed from time to time by the fact that Houdini had to turn his head to answer Whitehead’s numerous queries (for he was an enthusiastic talker) I found a good deal of interest in what was said…
It seems that Houdini had been a detective for many years and had aided in unraveling so many mysteries and had read so many detective stories, that he boasted of being able to piece together any detective story, unknown to him of course, by hearing three or four paragraphs from different sections of such story. Whitehead, who had a mystery book with him, tried the experiment; he read excerpts from three or four different sections of the book, and Houdini apparently was able to give the gist of the story. At this juncture Houdini made an observation which I shall always remember, “think of the trouble I might have caused if I had used my talents for ill.”
More conversation and then Whitehead asked Houdini another question. “What is your opinion of the miracles mentioned in the Bible?”
Houdini tactfully replied, “I prefer not to discuss or to comment on matters of this nature. I would make one observation, however, – what would succeeding generations said of Houdini’s feats had he performed them in Biblical times? Would they have been referred to as ‘miracles’?”
Whitehead appeared to be somewhat taken aback at this statement.
It was at this point that Whitehead began to manifest what seem to me an astonishing interest in Houdini’s physical strength. Then, out of a clear sky, Whitehead asked, “is it true, Mr. Houdini, that you can resist the hardest blows struck to the abdomen?”