Houdini Tries Some Hollywood Magic with Wanda Hawley

As promised from my post last week, here is a photo of Houdini sweeping a Hollywood starlet off her feet.

TMPW June 14 1919 WH HH

At the time this levitation photo was created, Wanda Hawley, was working on the production of “Told in the HIlls” at the Famous Players-Lasky studio in Hollywood, while Houdini was working on “The Grim Game” in Stage 4.

Wanda Hawley (a.k.a. Wanda Petit), (July 30, 1895 – March 18, 1963) was a veteran of the silent screen films era. She entered the theatrical profession with an amateur group in Seattle, and later toured the U.S. and Canada as a singer. She co-starred with Rudolph Valentino in the 1922′s The Young Rajah, and rose to stardom in a number of Cecil B. DeMille and director Sam Wood’s films.

Hawley was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, but together with her family moved to Seattle, Washington, when she was a child. She received her education in Seattle.

Hawley made her screen debut with the Fox Film Corporation and after playing with them for eight months joined Famous Players-Lasky and appeared as leading lady for Douglas Fairbanks, in Mr. Fix-It (1918)

She had also appeared opposite William S. Hart, Charlie Ray, Bryant Washburn, Wally Reid and others. She was five feet three inches high, weighed a hundred and ten pounds, and had blond hair and greyish blue eyes. She was an able sportswoman.

With the advent of sound, Hawley’s career ended, and she reportedly was working as a call girl in San Francisco by the early 1930s. She is interred in the Abbey of Psalms in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, CA.


  • The Moving Picture World
  • Wikipedia.org

Harry gets cozy with the ladies at Lasky Studios

During the making of the Grim Game, Houdini has been photographed at Lasky Studios getting cozy with:

Gloria Swanson,

Houdini and Gloria Swanson Photo from Photoplay September 1919 p102

Ann Forrest,

Ann Forrest 10x8

and the young lady pictured below.

Guess Who I Am

Care to guess who that young lady is?  Next week, I will reveal who that is, along with a very rare photo of the Hollywood starlet being swept off her feet by Houdini at Lasky Studios. You won’t want to miss it.

Houdini Performs Brick Wall 100 years ago today and then Passes It Along to Hardeen

color wall

Houdini first performed the Brick Wall on July 13, 1914 at Hammerstein’s Roof, a summer theatre located atop Willie Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre in New York City.

After the engagement at Hammerstein’s, Houdini never performed the illusion again.  Instead he passed it along to his brother, Hardeen, who toured with it and enjoyed some success.


Hardeen Brick Wall Ad

Below is an account of Hardeen performing the effect:

Hardeen, the man of mystery, whose engagement at Proctor’s has been extended for the entire week, again baffled the spectators last night by appearing to walk through a solid brick wall.  How did he do it, you ask?  Well ask Hardeen. All that those in front of the footlights know is that saw him on one side of the solid brick wall and the next minute he was on the other side without apparently having crawled under or over or gone around the barrier.

The wall was about 8 feet high and half again as long, built in an iron frame, so heavy that it required several men to wheel it on the stage.  So as to make assurance doubly sure that he did not go through any trap doors, the theatre management laid a heavy mat on the floor and then Hardeen placed on top of this a large piece of linen.  A committee of seven went on the stage, examined the floor covering both before and after it was laid and assured themselves that it was not a trick arrangement.  The linen was held up in full view of the audience, the lights in the theatre were dimmed and reflectors were turned on behind the cloth to show it was all in one piece.

The wall was wheeled into place. Two green baize compartments, each about the size of an ordinary telephone booth were affixed in each side of the wall neither reaching quite to the top of the wall. Into one these Hardeen stepped.  It was closed by an assistant.  There was a full minute’s pause and then Hardeen made his appearance in the box on the opposite side of the wall. The committee tested the wall and found it still as solid as before.

The committeemen watched the act closely and were convinced that Hardeen didn’t crawl over the wall, the top of which was in plain view all the time, neither did he crawl underneath, which was a physical impossibility.  It being less than four inches from the stage, and he didn’t walk around either end. The audience watched one end, while the committeemen kept their eyes on the other.  Just how he got through that wall is a secret, of course.

[Mount Vernon NY Daily Argus 1915 Friday March 26 1915]


Buried Alive in Boston: Eye Witness

MCPL Shubert Theatre Boston 001

Courtesy of Milbourne Christopher Houdini A Pictorial Life

While two ads (see related posts) and a program (above) have been found advertising Houdini’s Buried Alive (aka The Secret of the Sphinx) in Boston on stage, I have been unable to find an eye-witness account or article to corroborate this until Houdini Expert, Patrick Culliton, shared the following snippet with me.

From Magic magazine December, 1999 Centennial issue, Jay Marshall talks about readers picks for the top-ten magicians of the 20th century:

Magic: As you know, Houdini received, by far, the most votes, placing him number one on the top 10 list. We guessed that, less than 1% of those voting had ever seen Houdini. How do you account for that enduring fame?

Jay: I don’t know, because the things I saw him do, at the time, did not impress me.

Magic: What do you recall of his show?

Jay: It was at the Majestic theater in Boston. I remember Houdini sitting on the stage across from someone at a table, which you could see underneath, and they were switching slates.

Magic: Was this (in the) Spiritualism segment of his final touring show?

Jay: Yes, and Houdini talked a lot. It didn’t seem like magic, and it didn’t mean shit to me as a kid. However, for the second act, they tied him up with a rope, handcuffed him, and put him in a thing that looked like a coffin my father told me he was going to get out of it. Now that got my interest. I listened as the music played, and the next thing I knew, when I woke up, Houdini was taking bows.

Magic: Dozing off during bad magic shows started at an early age?

Jay: I was seven, and that was in 1926, the year Houdini died. I was intrigued with him being tied up and escaping, but as far as Houdini being the magician of the century, I would not say so.

Magic: But the readers who voted did.

Jay: That’s right. He was a remarkable man. Look at the number of books he wrote. He didn’t have a formal education, and he edited the conjurers monthly magazine (1906 – 1908).

The question “what do you have on Houdini?” Is constantly heard by Elaine Lund at the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan. She’s got the “Milk Can Escape” that everybody wants to see. And they asked to see Houdini posters and all the literature on Houdini.

So much for the magic and spiritualism part impressing him.  At least the escape part got his interest and we finally have an eye witness account of the show, although be it as one remembers it as a 7 year old. The advertisement did say to “bring the kiddies“.  Jay Marshall was born August 29, 1919 so he was definitely seven in September 1926 when Houdini performed at the Majestic Theatre in Boston.

Special Thanks to Patrick Culliton for sharing this evidence.

Related Posts:


The Master Mystery Aeroplane Accident?


Grim Game Image – Courtesy of Bio4Kids


Harry Houdini, whose business is to get out of things, got into trouble yesterday in a motion picture studio in Yonkers by clinging to a wall in a parachute descent indoors.  He broke his left wrist and suffered several bruises, but he doesn’t believe his injuries will prevent his appearance in “Everything” at the reopening of the Hippodrome on August 22. Mr. Houdini is appearing in a twenty reel motion picture serial soon to be released, in which he is supposed to put a flat wheel in the grim reaper’s best chariot.  He got out of an aeroplane in the studio, and something went wrong with the parachute he caught himself just in time.  As the camera was “grinding,” several hundred feet of film not in the scenario will add an extra chapter to the serial. [Page Eight New York Herald, Tuesday August 18, 1918]

Unlike the Grim Game Aeroplane accident, I don’t believe the several hundred feet of film ever made it on screen.

Aeroplane Accidents: Hamburg Germany

HH in Cockpit at Hamburg before first flying attempt

Houdini in the cockpit of his Voisin, at Hamburg before his first flying attempt. Image courtesy of Gywnn-Jones Collection

In 1909, while performing at theatres in Germany, Houdini purchased a French-built Voisin biplane.

Houdini then rented a building to serve as a hangar, and imported a French mechanic, M. Brassac, to teach him how to fly.  The German government even let him use a parade ground as an airfield on condition that he would instruct the regiment stationed there to fly.  He had many pictures taken with himself seated in the machine, the name HOUDINI painted proudly on the rudder, also photos with German army officers grouped around it.  After the war with Germany in 1917, Houdini destroyed these, saying “I taught those fellows to fly and they may have killed Americans”.

Early each morning Houdini would be at the hangar with Brassac, going over the plane.  Soon he was ready for his solo, but gusty winds kept him on the ground.  Finally after two weeks the wind died and he took off, rose a few feet and dived into the earth.

In his diary, he wrote: “I smashed the machine.  Broke propeller all to hell!”

Undeterred, Houdini arranged to have the plane repaired quickly so that the Voisin could accompany him on tour in Australia.

After two weeks for repairs, he managed a successful take-off and landing [November 26, 1909], staying in the air for a couple of minutes.

Life Insurance Policy of HH 1909

1909 Life Insurance Policy – Gywnn-Jones Collection

On November 29, 1909, in Hamburg, Houdini cautiously took out a 100,000 mark ($2500) life insurance policy with the Albingia Company of Hamburg prior to his tour in Australia and record breaking flight on March 18, 1910 at Diggers Rest. Displaying a fine sense of history, he wrote on the back of the policy: “This is the first insurance policy ever taken out re accident in an aeroplane. I had to pay 10 marks (about 25 cents) every time I made a flight.”

After making 18 flights in Australia, Houdini had the Voisin crated and shipped back to England.  He planned to fly the aeroplane to each of his performances during his next U.K. tour, as a publicity stunt. But Houdini never flew that aeroplane again.

In future weeks, we will examine some other Aeroplane accidents that Houdini was involved in.


  • Aviation January 1994, Houdini’s Historic Flight by Terry Gywnn-Jones
  • Air Classics April 1968, Hedgehopping with Houdini By Manny Weltman

Houdini’s promise to his Father!


The story goes as follows:

  • Before dying, the rabbi asked his promising young son to swear that he would take care of his mother.

Did Houdini’s father really make him swear to take care of Cecilia? Houdini said he did and lived accordingly.  In that light, I regard the story as true.

Last month on Mother’s Day, I asked you treat your mother like a Queen; so today please treat your father like a King.  Promise me.

Happy Father’s Day!

Ormer Locklear (Locke) connection to Houdini and The Grim Game

Ormer Locklear Flying Circus, 1919 Newspaper Ad

A newspaper advertisement for Ormer Locklear’s Flying Circus, 1919.

How does Houdini know Ormer Locklear and what was his connection to The Grim Game?

Houdini went to the Trav Daniel Sporting Goods Store during his week [January 1916] in Fort Worth.  He asked for a pair of Spaulding track shorts that he wanted to use as underwear.  James Locklear was in the store and recognized Houdini.  He told Houdini that he had enjoyed his act at the Majestic and had also seen Houdini free himself from the straight jacket at the Star-Telegram Building.  During the conversation, Locklear mentioned to Houdini that his brother Ormer did tricks while riding a motorcycle.  After meeting Ormer, Houdini suggested that Ormer drag Houdini handcuffed behind his motorcycle.  Houdini also stated that Ormer would receive publicity from the stunt as well as Houdini and that perhaps Ormer would become a daredevil one day; The event took place on Main Street, because it was the first paved street in Fort Worth.  Houdini wore thick overalls and a hood for the stunt.  His hands were tied behind his back and a rope was attached to Houdini from the motorcycle.  With a crowd looking on, Houdini was pulled slowly behind the motorcycle.  Before Ormer could get any speed, the event was over. Houdini freed himself.  {Paraphrased from Locklear Walks on Wings by Art Ronnie}

Ormer did become a daredevil and was the first to walk the wings of planes in flight. He became well known during the 1920’s and became a star in Hollywood.  Houdini used the idea of a transfer from one plane to another in his film, The Grim Game.  It was at this time, that a tragic accident involving Houdini’s double occurred, and Houdini took the credit for the filmed transfer.  Houdini later claimed that it was he that was the first to be photographed in a plane transfer, but he always gave credit to Locklear as the first to actually make the transfer.

[Houdini’s Texas Tours 1916 & 1923 by Ron Cartlidge]


Ormer Locklear poses for a publicity still for The Skywayman

Ormer Locklear poses for a publicity still for “The Skywayman”

Addendum: Houdini played a character with the last name of Locke in “The Master Mystery” and Ormer Locklear played a character with the last name of Locke in “The Skywayman”.  “The Skywayman” and “The Grim Game” both used Jenny airplanes with rope ladders on the bottom wing to perform their stunts.

Irvin Willat


Irvin Willat was born on November 18, 1890 in Stamford, Connecticut, USA. He was a director and writer, known for The Grim Game (1919), The False Faces (1919) and Down Home (1920). He was married to Billie Dove. He died on April 17, 1976 in Santa Monica, California, USA.

NYPL Image 21665 GG HH AF IW

Candid Grim Game photo of Harry Houdini, Ann Forrest and Irvin Willat (Courtesy of NYPL, Image 21665)


Irvin Willat was the only man who could do better tricks and more tricks than Houdini.

He knew a good action scene when he saw one, and was the one cranking away steadily from a third plane, that caught the entire collision and the start of what looked like a fatal crash as the two Canucks spun earthward with Houdini’s stunt double, Robert E Kennedy, flying at the end of the rope like the tail on a doomed kite. Willat saw to it that the movie script was rewritten to take in the collision, and The Grim Game was finished accordingly.

houdini_movieIn a telegram to Willat, Houdini wrote, with some degree of exaggeration, “Grim Game opened today Broadway Theatre. Scored sensational success.  Its [sic] the talk of New York.  I am appearing in person and in my speech yours is the only name I mention.  Am giving you the biggest boost you ever had but you earned it.”


  • Houdini’s High-Flying Hoax, by Art Ronnie, American Heritage April 1972
  • Irvin V. Willat, “Conversations with Irvin V. Willat,” interview by Robert S. Birchard, Film History 12, no. 1 (2000):38, paraphrasing a letter from Houdini.
  • Telegram from Houdini to Willat, August 26, 1919, Houdini biography file, Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Smoking in Australia

Is it true that Houdini never smoked?

houdini smoking

While I don’t have a real photo of Houdini smoking, I do have some circumstantial evidence that he did:

On Monday 18th April, it was a cold and windless morning.  As Houdini waited for final preparation to be made, he smoked a cigarette.  This was highly unusual for Houdini and it indicated that he was nervous.  He gave orders in a ‘quiet yet incisive manner’ and watched with a ‘critical though quite unmoved eye.’

At approximately 8 am he took off and made a flight lasting between three to four minutes which covered a few hundred meters.  This marked the first officially recorded successful powered, controlled flight in New South Wales [Australia]. [Houdini’s Tour of Australia by Leann Richards]

After reading the above account, I searched for more evidence and was able to find a newspaper that documented this:

Houdini himself seemed the least perturbed of the party. Cooling smoking a cigarette, he watched preparations with a critical though quite unmoved eye. That he was taking an interest in the proceedings could be observed from the quiet yet incisive manner in which he ordered minor defects to be remedied. [The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 19 April 1910, page 8.]

I also found the following:

Though personally frugal, and except on their anniversary, rarely known to join Bess in a glass of champagne, Houdini may have explored other mood-altering substances around the time he went to Hollywood.  Will Goldston believed he sometimes partook of a ‘nip of opium’ of the kind widely available in Edwardian music-hall circles, if only for its analgesic properties.  The drug may have numbed the pain of a damaged kidney and other health-related issues collected over the years, but, as with Bess’s drinking, it didn’t always produce a felicitous state.  [Masters of Mystery by Christopher Sandford]

Does anyone else have knowledge or evidence of Houdini smoking or exploring mood-altering substances.?