Drifting Away From Vaudeville

airplane-collision-in-the-clouds

amazing-under-water-scenesBefore relocating to Hollywood to fulfill a contract with Famous Players-Lasky, Houdini wrote: “I am drifting away from vaudeville, and with the exception of my European dates have no plans re[garding] a return

Scenes-From-Photoplays-30Scenes-From-Photoplays-31Once he had filled these European dates [Sailed Dec 30, 1919 from New York City to Britain] and returned to the United States [July 12, 1920], Houdini stopped performing in theatres for more than a year-and-a-half while attempting to launch his own independent film production company, the Houdini Picture Corporation

Source:

  • Magicians and the Magic of Hollywood Cinema during the 1920s by Matthew Solomon
  • The Career of Ehrich Weiss by Kenneth Silverman pages 243, 262-263

Houdini Goes Over The Edge

This is positively a photographic reproduction of a genuine frame cut-out from the film, The Man From Beyond. MFB_exhibitorstrad00newy_1138 [Exhibitor’s Trade Review Volume 11 Number 17]

These are stunt dummies going over the falls, possibly shot as part of an alternative ending in case of disaster.

In the actual ending of the movie, the shots of the canoe going over the falls are dummy-free.

The Man From Beyond is a great heart-throb, mystery, love story in which Houdini is shown going to the edge of Niagara Falls to rescue the girl.

Related Posts with some amazing photos from the John C. Hinson Collection and Kevin Connolly Collection:

First Biopic to Acknowledge Film Career

Was Tony Curtis’ 1953 Houdini or Adrien Brody’s 2014 Houdini miniseries the first biopic to acknowledge Houdini’s film career? Let’s look at the evidence: GG6

The Tony Curtis film originally was going to feature a recreation of Houdini’s death defying plane to plane mid-air transfer and wing walk from his 1919 film, The Grim Game. This is significant in that all the movies so far made about Houdini’s life and career have ignored his stint as a silent movie star in Hollywood. But here is evidence that the 1953 film did not ignore this aspect of Houdini’s life. It just wound up on the cutting room floor.  My question is, where is this footage today?  [John Cox]

In 2012, I went in search of the lost plane to plane transfer and discovered some interesting things about the Tony Curtis movie. Click on the link above.GG5 Well in the Houdini miniseries, the footage did not end up on the cutting room floor.  We see Houdini (Adrien Brody) and Bess (Kristen Connolly) sitting in a theater watching actual clips from the 1919 movie, The Grim Game, along with some shots of Adrien Brody hanging from a rope of one of the planes. Brody as HH in Grim Game Brody makes the following comment: “I’m on the ground the whole time; it’s fake.  It’s all Hollywood”.   Connolly says: “Look at the bright side Harry, it’s good publicity for the real thing”. Brody as HH in Hollywood As it turns out, Houdini was on the ground the whole time, while his stunt double, Lieutenant Robert E. Kennedy, hung from a rope and attempted to perform the plane-to plane descent before the planes collided in mid-air and came crashing down to the ground. 1920 03 20 The Picture Show Image 1The 1953 Houdini movie did not ignore this aspect of Houdini’s career, but the 2014 History’s Houdini miniseries is the first to actually portray it on the final product.

Burton King to be Houdini’s Director

First Production Which Will Be Made Is From An Original Story

HH Burton King exhibitorsherald12exhi_0_0281

The choice of director for Houdini in his first picture for his own producing company, Houdini Picture Corporation, has fallen to Burton King, a director with a noteworthy record.

Mr. King began directing ten years ago when, for Thomas H. Ince, he produced, “The Battle of Gettysburg,” “A Southern Cinderella,” “The Pride of the South” and a number of other Ince pictures. Since then he has directed for Famous Players, Metro, World Film Corporation, Vitagraph, Universal, Lubin, Selig, B.A. Rolfe and for his own company, Burton King Production.

Among his better known later day pictures are “The Spell of the Yukon,” “The Last Battalion,” “The Master Mystery,” in which Houdini made his film debut; “The Soul of a Magdalene” and “Silence Sellers”

His first picture for the Houdini Picture Corporation will be made from an original story by Houdini bearing the working title of “The Far North.” [AKA The Man From Beyond]

Source: April 16, 1921 Exhibitor’s Herald

Atlantic City Miracle Fallacy

 

Conan Doyle (Far Left) and Family, Houdini (Center) and Lady Doyle (Far Right)

Conan Doyle (Far Left) and Family, Houdini Center and Lady Doyle (Far Right)

On June 17, 1922, Houdini and Bess joined Conan Doyle and his family for a weekend break at the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City, a then popular family resort some 125 miles down the coast from New York.

During the weekend, Lady Doyle gave Houdini a private sitting, where she endeavored to obtain for him a message from his beloved mother, by means of automatic writing.

According to Sir Arthur’s account, Houdini himself requested this sitting; according to Houdini’s, it was volunteered by Lady Doyle. Whatever may be the truth concerning this, the fact remains that Lady Doyle gave Houdini a sitting, in which “messages” were obtained, claiming to come from his deceased, or, as he would say, “sainted” mother.

What mistake(s) did Lady Doyle make when she supposedly contacted Houdini’s mother during their Atlantic City séance in 1922?

A. Lady Doyle made the sign of the Cross

B. Lady Doyle wrote in English

C. Lady Doyle failed to mention the fact that it was Houdini’s mother’s birthday

D. A and B

E. A, B and C

Let’s look at the evidence for the answer.

Below is a reproduction of the first two pages of the “automatic message written by Lady Doyle at the sitting which she gave for Houdini in an effort to communicate with his mother that clearly shows the sign of the Cross and that she wrote in English.

Lady Doyle Automatic Message First two pages cropped

When, he saw the Cross on the top of the paper, and the lengthy message in English which followed, he at once became convinced, in his own mind, that it certainly did not emanate from his mother, but rather from the subconsciousness of Lady Doyle herself.

That’s two mistakes in Houdini’s mind, but what about not mentioning mama’s birthday. Describing the Atlantic City “miracle” in A Magician among the Spirits (1924), Houdini said:

“I especially wanted to speak to my Mother, because that day, June 17, 1922 was her birthday.  If it had been my Dear Mother’s Spirit communicating a message, she knowing her birthday was my most holy holiday, surely would have commented on it.”

Sounds reasonable, except for the fact that the séance took place on the eighteenth of the month and her birthday was really on June 16th, so the answer is D (Lady Doyle made the sign of the Cross and wrote in English).

grave marker cecilia weiss

Sources:

  • A Magician Among The Spirits (1924)
  • Houdini and Conan Doyle (1932)

Houdini and the Olympics

On Monday, August 11th, John Cox at Wild About Harry informed us that the official website for HISTORY’s Houdini miniseries had launched an online quiz testing your knowledge of Houdini.

QUIZ logo

I was intrigued by the comments on the following quiz question:

Houdini competed in the Olympics?  FACT or FICTION
ANSWER: FICTION – A talented amateur athlete, Houdini unsuccessfully tried out for the U.S. swim team.

Okay, FICTION, he did not compete in the Olympics, but did he really try out for the Olympics and if so, was it for the U.S. swim team, track team, or boxing team?

The excellent biography on Wild About Harry mentions that at one point he tried out for the U.S. Olympic team, but doesn’t mention what sport.

Another houdiniphile, recalls that Houdini was asked to try-out for the Olympic track team, but turned it down because there was no money in it.

And yet another houdiniphile, recalls that Houdini didn’t try out for the first modern Olympics in swimming or track. He tried to make the boxing team but he got the flu and couldn’t compete in the final trials and a boy he had previously beaten went in his weight class.

teen_houdiniA quick search of the internet reveals the following:

Houdini For Kids:

Ehrich joined an athletic club, the Pastime Athletic Club, where he could make friends and enter competitions. He became so good that he tried out for the U.S. Olympic swim team, but he didn’t make it. At age 16 he won a prize in the American Amateur Athletic Union one mile race, and at 18 he set a record for a run around Central Park and defeated an English champion in a 20-mile race. Ehrich also enjoyed gymnastics, and in New York he began learning to box. By age 17 he was good enough to compete in amateur boxing matches, aiming for the 115-pound championship, which could have launched him in a boxing career. He became ill, however, and couldn’t complete the finals. The boy who won the championship had already lost to Ehrich in an earlier bout, so Ehrich might have won the match.

Kalush:

In New York, Harry expanded his athletic interests.  Besides gymnastics, he began to box, and by the time he was seventeen, he was tough enough to compete for the 115-pound boxing championship of the Amateur Athletic Union, oftentimes a segue to a professional boxing career.  Illness intervened and knocked him out of the finals, but he had already defeated the boy would go on to win the medal.  He also took up long-distance running, and when he was eighteen, he set the record for the run around Central Park.  Around the same time, he defeated Sidney Thomas, an English champion, in a twenty-mile race.  Thomas would later set world records for ten-, fifteen-, and twenty-mile races.

The first source above, along with some random internet references are the only ones I could find that mention the U.S. Olympic swim team. Neither Silverman nor Kalush mention anything about the Olympics.

The above two sources along with others confirm the fact that he couldn’t compete in the finals of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Boxing Championship in 1891.   So who won the 115 pound championship in 1891 that Houdini had once beat?

Boxers who have won the National AAU (United States) Amateur Bantamweight Championship. The weight class was contested at 115 pounds between 1889 and 1921. It was then contested at 118 pounds between 1922 and 1951, before moving to 119 pounds in 1952. In 2010, it was moved to 114 pounds, as as the Light flyweight class was eliminated, and the flyweight cost was shifted to a lower weight.

  • 1888 – W. Rocap, Philadelphia, PA
  • 1889 – W. Rocap, Philadelphia, PA (spring), W. Kenny, NJAC (winter
  • 1890 – B. Weldon, New York, NY
  • 1891 – G.F. Connolly, Boston, MA
  • 1892 – Not held
  • 1893 – Michael J. Hallihan, Philadelphia, PA
  • 1894 – R. McVeigh, SAC
  • 1895 – E. Horen, Pittsburgh, PA
  • 1896 – J.J. Gross, New York, NY
  • 1897 – Charles Fahey, Rochester, NY
  • 1898 – Not held

The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) worked closely with the Olympic movement to prepare athletes for the Olympic Games. However, there were no Olympics in 1892. 1892 is when the idea to start the Olympic Games again was first brought up.  In 1894, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded and began planning. The first modern Olympics did not take place until 1896 on a very special day.

Today in History, April 6th:  First modern Olympics opens in Athens; This is also the day that Harry Houdini celebrated his birthday.

Ironically, when the modern-day Olympic Games resumed in 1896, the Athens committee didn’t include boxing as the sport was deemed too dangerous. Boxing was welcomed back to the Olympics in 1904 in St. Louis, as the sport had become very popular in America. The U.S. won all the medals that year, as it was the only country to enter a boxing team. In 1912, in Sweden, boxing was omitted again, since that country’s national law banned it. By 1920, boxing was here to stay.

However, swimming and bicycling was part of the first modern Olympic games in 1896 for the first time.

So, FACT or FICTION (Legend),

Did Houdini try out for the Olympics?

If you have any additional information on this, please comment or send me an email.

 

What is Houdini hiding behind his straw hat?

Arbuckle-Houdini-Group (1)

Image courtesy of Kevin Connolly

The photo above has most of the cast from “Back Stage”: In the front row, we have Fatty Arbuckle, Molly Malone, Bess and Harry Houdini and in the back row, we have Buster Keaton and Al St. John.

Arbuckle-Needles-300x237

Image courtesy of Kevin Connolly

Fatty performing his version of “The Needles”.

The above two photos were taken at the Lasky Studiios where Houdini was making “The Grim Game” and Fatty Arbuckle and company were making “Back Stage”.

Prior to these photos with Arbuckle, Houdini risked his life and sustained injury in making “The Grim Game”.

Marc Wanamaker Bison Archives Grim Game Image

Image courtesy of Marc Wanamaker, Bison Archives

So that means, he is hiding the cast behind his straw hat in the pictures with Arbuckle.

Arbuckle and Houdini with Cast

Image courtesy of Kevin Connolly

Houdini showing off even with a cast on his left wrist.

Special thanks to Leo Hevia for giving me the idea for this post.

Houdini Arrives at Lasky Studio

Harry Houdini monarch of mystery, arrived at Hollywood, Cal. where he started work immediately at the Lasky Studio under the direction of Irvin Willat on the big six-reel mystery [The Grim Game] written specially for him by Arthur B. Reeve, author of “Craig Kennedy” stories, and John Gray.

Sante Fe Station in Los Angeles May 1919

Houdini was met at the Santa Fe station in Los Angeles by Studio Manager Fred Kley and others, including a number of newspaper and publicity men who had been lying in wait for him with a number of stunts of extrication which they figured he would be unable to perform.  They wasted no time In setting the famous escape artist to work and in a few minutes they had chained and roped him to one of the big wheels of a locomotive.  When they believed he was secure they told him he might release himself if he could.  He did so in less than a minute.

Source: Motion Picture News May 17, 1919

 

 

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.

Sources:

  • 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.