On Brad Meltzer’s Decoded, Patrick Culliton was interviewed and asked the following question:
Why do you think Houdini started to engage in anti-spiritual diatribe or became part of anti-spiritualism movement?
His chief assistant, a guy named James Collins said he first turned on spiritualists when he was a teenager.
His father died when he was 19 and there was some important insurance papers that they couldn’t find and Houdini pawned the watch his father had left him and paid a spiritualist to give him a reading and tell him where these papers were. And the papers weren’t there and the money was just gone and the watch was gone and that was sort of a pivotal event in Houdini’s life and kind of soured him on it.
H A P P Y F A T H E R ‘ S DAY ! ! !
We are very familiar with the above Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery Poster, which can be found in many Houdini books.
I recently just read a 2011 post that John Cox at Wild About Houdini did on the lost posters of Harry Houdini that referenced a 2010 post that Dean Carnegie did on the Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery
Both posts included the above photo of a Houdini theater display in Salem, Massachusetts, and commented about the poster on the right behind the packing crate possibly being a second Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery poster. Well, I knew I had seen a frontal image of that poster in a photograph when I visited Fred Pittella’s Houdini & Escapes museum during my special visit to NY in 2015. And that is absolutely a second Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery Poster. Below are two images I took during my visit that Fred has given permission to share.
Special Thanks to Fred Pittella
To kick off June, thought I would share a Pharmaceutical Calendar Ad from 1977, I recently acquired about Houdini escaping from prison when manacled in handcuffs and irons:
Before attempting one of his jailbreaks. Houdini had a committee of men thoroughly search him for keys, lock-picking devices or other implements that might help him escape.
He insisted that his escapes were authentic and had police certificates to prove that.
Before actually escaping from his prison cell, Houdini had to free his wrists and ankles from handcuffs and leg-irons.
[The ad goes on to describe various methods he would use to escape depending on if the handcuffs were regulation or not and whether he could reach the lock with his hand or not.]
Once his hands were freed, it was a simple enough to remove the chains and leg-irons. Only one step remained – opening the cell door.
[The ad goes on to say that Houdini was never very specific about how he performed this part of the jailbreak].
To get the real secret of the Cell Escape, highly recommend the David De-Val book
In honor of Memorial Day in May and Flag Day coming up in June, I thought I would do a quick post on Houdini’s “Whirlwind of Colors”.
This is the effect where Houdini turned a massive production of silks into a patriotic, get-on-your-feet extravaganza.
He performed it during the patriotic review show “Everything” at the Hippodrome during the 1918-19 season. Houdini did the silks from fishbowl production and produced a tame American eagle named “Abraham Lincoln” from the folds of a giant American flag. In reality, it was actually a red-tailed hawk passed off as an eagle that he trained himself.
This was also the last trick that Houdini performed onstage in 1926. That is for a finale, he drew from a small crystal bowl of colored water hundreds of yards of silken streamers and lastly a string of flags of all nations. Houdini collapsed at the end of the first act and this trick was actually finished by his assistants when Houdini was rushed to the hospital.
Source: John Cox, Patrick Culliton and Roger Dreyer
UPDATE: Fred Pittella just let me know that Houdini’s Whirlwind of Color is safe with him. This is how it looked when Bessie, Hardeen and Jimmy Collins performed it.
Image from Patrick Culliton’s The Key
And this is how it looks today in Fred’s Houdini & Escapes museum.
Special Thanks to Fred Pittella for allowing me to share.
According to the Exhibitors Herald and Motography May 3, 1919:
An advertising novelty that has caught the fancy of the theatre-goer and has therefore been the means of gaining no little amount of attention in behalf of the production it exploits is the invisible ink herald manufactured as an accessory to advertise the appearance of Houdini, the handcuff king, in “The Master Mystery,” the super-serial produced by B.A. Rolfe for Octagon Films, Inc.
A sheet of paper but four or five inches in size, this novelty herald contains no visible ink advertising copy beyond the question, “Can you solve the mystery?” printed at the top of the sheet, and a footnote printed at the bottom instructing the processor to hold the sheet over the heat for a short while. When these instructions are carried out the heat brings to the surface a scene from “The Master Mystery”, picturing Houdini caught in the coils of the villians of the story, together with the following reading matter: “How does he escape? See Houdini in B. A. Rolfe’s super-serial, ‘The Master Mystery.’”
On August 12, 2016 Chuck Romano did an excellent blog, Houdini – Movie Marketing – Part 2, where he noted:
- Motion Pictures News also mentioned this clever novelty
- Collectors can only dream if one of these rare pieces of Houdini ephemera still exists
At the time, I commented that A Master Mystery Hold-to-Light Mystery sheet does exist. One (Lot 131) sold at Potter & Potter Auction on April 9th 2016 Auction for $325.
131. Houdini, Harry. The Master Mystery Hold-to-Light Mystery Sheet. New York: B.A. Rolfe, . Promotional novelty advertisement (4 1/8″ x 5 1/4”) for the Houdini serial, revealing an illustration of Houdini held captive by two men, upside-down in chains, and captioned “How Does He Escape?” when held over a heat source. Creases, corner tear upper left.
Well, apparently another one of these rare pieces (seen at top of this post) has surfaced and was part of a lot of Houdini Memorabilia on eBay that sold for $45. Congratulations to the winner.
Photo Credit: Images courtesy of Harry Ransom Center
The following is a snippet from an article by B.G. Henne that appeared on January 23, 2015
“It’s probably a good thing that Weeks waited so long to part with the film, if he handed over the reels in the ‘80s when TCM was bonkers for colorizing everything, it could have wound up looking like this:”
Click link below to read full article and see full still in color
In part 1, I asked the following question:
- So, if you asked Houdini what was the worst fix he had ever been in, what would he say?
Well Charles F. Oursler caught up with him one day in Baltimore Maryland while he was lunching and asked him that very question:
“They had contrived a trap from a bent sapling, to which I was bound, and the devilish feature about it was that if I made one false move, I would dislodge the lowered end of the sapling, send it flying high into the air, and probably tear myself almost in half.
But I got out. I dislocated my ankle in doing so, but I got out. Yes, that was about the worst fix I ever was in. I don’t want any more like it. “
Source: The Eagle Magician Volume 1 No. 11 September 12, 1916
So, if you asked Houdini what was the worst fix he had ever been in, what would he say?
“I was performing in a portion of the west where there were a great number of Indians. They were vastly interested in my performances, and when the sweeping challenges which I had issued were translated to them, they were deeply moved at what they regarded as my arrogance and effrontery. They determined to test my powers. Forthwith one of the big-wigs of the tribe sent me a messenger, who demanded to know if I would submit to be bound as they dictated, and agree to escape from their toils. At first, I was tempted to stipulate that the nature of the test be explained to me beforehand, an invariable rule in my challenges. But here was an unusual case. The teasing uncertainty of it; the advertising possibilities; and many other features about it; appealed to my imagination. I did not know what I was doing, but I told the Indians to ahead and do their worst.
The theater was crowded with Indians the next evening. I invited their committee on the stage, and told them to proceed, I was then at their disposal, and made the most of their opportunity. They bound me with thongs, and twisted the fetters until I could have struck them in my pain, but I let them go on. I got out in less time than they required to bind me.
Would you believe it, they were not satisfied? They wanted still further proofs of my prowess. The next day a committee of red-skins called upon me and begged me to come to their land, where they gave me, then and there, about the worst test to which I have ever been subjected.”
Care to guess before I reveal the details in my next post?