Rare Houdini Poster

This poster is an awsome find in the world of Houdini collectibles – a fantastic photo of a classic Houdini pose (L302-60). These were made around the late 1970s and are rare enough to be collectible but not so rare that that they break your bank account.  I was fortunate enough to pick one up for $29.99 and that included shipping.  It measures 16×20 and is on a high grade semi-gloss paper.  It is proudly displayed in my Houdini room.

Houdini’s “Strange Power Over Locks”

Above all, the performer must give the impression that he possesses some mysterious power over locks.” [Burling Hull, the Challenge Handcuff Act]

According to Patrick Cullington [Houdini the Key], Burling Hull added this text to the written instructions that went with Houdini’s Defiance Handcuff act when he republished them under his own name. Hull didn’t steal that idea from Houdini’s writings, he stole it from Houdini’s act.

Houdini’s “strange power over locks” was demonstrated in every performance of his handcuff act and it was definately demonstrated in his movies as evidenced by The Grim Game movie stills depicted in this blog. 

Everything about Houdini’s expression indicates that he is exercising a “power”. [Patrick Cullington, Houdini the Key]


Stone Walls and Chains Do Not Make a Prison – For Houdini

Picture Houdini pacing up and down in the cell and then suddenly he stops, looks at his handcuffs and goes to the cell door. He peers out and sees the guard is not near.  He then sits down and begins removing his shackles. He succeeds in liberating his hands and now turns his attention to the leg irons.  He gets rid of the leg irons, runs to the door, peers out again and then sits back down on to the cot. He removes his shoe and takes the handcuffs and pries a portion of the sole of shoe revealing a steel shank in the instep.  This he pulls out.  He stands on the cot, reaches bars of window; puts cuffs on bars and using leg iron as lever begins to bend them. 

Finding that his head will now fit through the opening, he pulls himself up and wriggles his way through the bars and stands on window ledge many stories above ground.  Standing here, on the ledge, he reaches out and secures the rope of a flag pole.  He ties rope to bars of window, cuts rope with steel shank taken from shoe and begins lowering himself down to the window ledge below. Arriving on this ledge, he cuts off the end of the rope, ties it to the cell bar on this window and lowers himself again.  At each story, the rope gets shorter until finally, he is within one story of the ground. 

You can guess what happens next.  That’s right, he leaps down into the alleyway and makes a dive under a fast moving truck.  Houdini is seen clinging to bars underneath the truck as he makes his getaway.

[Paraphrased from Paramount Files at Margaret Herrick Library]


This is just one of the exciting escape sequences from the “The Grim Game”.

Here is another:

The Grim Game Core Experience

I decided to go for it.  That is, I took a day off from work and drove to the Margaret Herrick Library with the hope of making a future appointment to finally see The Grim Game, Master File 681 Paramount Script Collection and Archive of photos (original stills).

I showed up at the Margaret Herrick Library with a notepad, pencil and driver’s license.  The guard at the front greeted me, took my drivers license and had me fill out some paper-work.  After signing in, he told me to take the elevator to the second floor and check in at the desk.

My heart was pounding as I got off the elevator.  I was given a library card that was good for the day; I was then directed to go discuss my research project with the librarian.

Within moments, the librarian filled out a card for me to see the core collection for The Grim Game and the core collection for Terror Island.

The Grim Game core collection consisted of three envelopes:

Contents of Envelope 1 (1 card)

Contents of Envelope 2 (4 pages)

  • Copy of November 1919, Photoplay article (Page 112 and Page 115)
  • Copy of New School , program notes by Wm. K. Everson, “3/1/1974” (1 page)
  • B&W Copy of Page 19 from MUM Society of Americans Magicians Monthly Magazine August 1919 (Click here to see it in color)

Contents of Envelope 3 (Six stills): The two in bold (298-19 and 298-51), I had never seen before

  • 289-19 (Note:  prod#  is mis-labeled on still, should be 298 not 289)  Harry Houdini and Ann Forrest reading The Daily Call Illustrated Magazine
  • 298-51 (similar to this Library of Congress image) minus the chains and cuffs
  • L302-64 (same as this Lot 271 image that sold at Potter and Potter auction)
  • 298-16 (same as image found in MAGIC April 2001 magazine on page 106) Harry Houdini risks his life to escape by leaping out of moving car
  • 298-53 (same as this Kevin Connolly’s L302-53 image but with 298-53 prod# on it)
  • 298-87 (same as image in Grim Game Press Book  and image in The Adventurous Life of Versatile Artist) Harry Houdini lying down on the top wing of an airplane


After reviewing the core files, the librarians showed me how to use the library computers and helped me locate some other references on Houdini.

While I was there reviewing other Houdini references, I also had the opportunity to discuss my research project with Barbara Hall, Special Collections Research Archivist and Faye Thompson, Photograph Department Coordinator.  And schedule an appointment to see The Grim Game, Master File 681 Paramount Script Collection and Archive of photos (original stills).   Stay tuned!

L302-55 versus L302-60 Part II

My previous blog, L302-55 versus L302-60, which we will call Part I showed two famous images of Houdini standing shackled in a Jail Cell with cuffs and ball & chains that are similar but slightly different images.

This blog which we will call Part II presents some physical evidence of where these images have shown up.

In the Los Angeles Times, The Book Review Section, on Sunday, January 22, 1978, the L302-55 image appeared in the article that Ricky Jay did on the book Houdini: His Legend and His Magic by Doug Henning with Charles Reynolds.  The funny thing is that in the actual book, the L302-60 image is the image that appears in the book on page 147.

Also, there was a seller on E-Bay who was selling an item titled, Famous HOUDINI with chains photograph-Antique NegativeOne of the better quality portraits of Houdini extant that had a picture of the actual negative for sale and a picture of what it would supposedly look like developed.  On closer inspection, the negative was of L302-60 and the developed picture was of L302-55; note both pictures on E-Bay had the L302 numbers cropped off.

See below for more evidence.



L302-55 versus L302-60


Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center


New York Public Library

Just about everyone of us has seen a famous image of Houdini standing in a jail cell with cuffs and chains.

But which one did you see?

  • L302-55 or L302-60

And where?

  • Television, VHS, DVD, Book, Baseball Card, Magazine, Newpaper, TV Guide, Ebay

How do you tell them apart?

  • Look at location of Houdini’s right thumb
  • Look at location of the top of Houdini’s hair

Which is your favorite and why?

  • L302-55 or L302-60

Next week’s post will include other evidence of where these images have appeared.