What happened to David Thompson, whose plane flipped over?


Thompson Upside Down Plane 001a

Credit: Cecil B. DeMille Trust


Our friend Bill Mullins alerts John Cox and I about an article in the Rockford Register-Republic dated Wednesday, January 16, 1957 about David Thompson who had just become a fledgling member of the National Real Estate flyer’s association at the time, but of course he was no newcomer to aviation:

He was an army test pilot for 20 months in 1917-19, and was called to Hollywood by Paramount Pictures after he left the air service signal corps (ancestor of today’s U.S. Air Force).  His first movie stunt flight in Paramount’s, “The Grim Game”, was nearly Thompson’s last and ended with his plane flipping over.  Thompson helped found the Mercury Aviation company in Hollywood, with Cecil B. DeMille as president. And was one of the earliest airline pilots.  He holds the distinction of making the first flight from the U.S. to Mexico City.

You can read the full article below for this and more about David Thompson.

1957 01 16 Rockford IL Register Republic p 12 b (2).pdf

Click on article to enlarge for reading


Thanks Bill!


Some years after the movie was released, Houdini used the final sequence (AKA “Desperate Chances”) in a vaudeville act.  One night Tommy (aka David Thompson) took his wife to see the act and found that after running the clip in which the stunt man faltered and the planes locked, Houdini referred to this as his narrowest escape.  He then invited members of the audience on stage.  Wondering what Houdini’s reaction to him would be, Tommy joined the group.  The great escapist recognized him at once and, without the flicker of a lash, identified him to the audience as “the hero who saved my life in The Grim Game.”   [Hollywood When Silents Were Golden]

Of course it was really Christopher V. Pickup in the upper plane who saved Robert E. Kennedy (Houdini’s stunt double) as he hung from the rope. Tommy actually flew the lower plane.



Houdini Museum owners behind effort to restore, share rare film

Here is an image that I was given permission to post.  It contains the first part of a Scranton article that appeared today in their lifestyles section of the Sunday Times Tribune.


The entire article can be found here at thetimes-tribune.com.

Related Posts:

Houdini in “The Grim Game” – aka Houdini Believes in Reincarnation (Ad 4 of 4)

Yesterday, I posted ad 3 of 4 from page 5 of a local newspaper in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Here is ad number 4:

Fort Wayne Indiana 19 Oct 1919 Ad 4Double-click image above to enlarge for easier reading..

For More Information on Houdini’s beliefs in reincarnation, I recommend the following:

4 Days Starting Today – Something New Under the Sun (Ad 1 of 4)

On this day, October 19, 1919, The Grim Game appeared at the Strand in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Fort Wayne Indiana 19 Oct 1919 Ad 1

This is just one of 4 ads that appeared on page 5 of the local newspaper Ninety Four Years ago.

I will share the rest of the ads in the coming days. Below are the titles for each day:

  • 4 Days Starting Today – Something New Under the Sun (Ad 1 of 4)
  • Many Film Thrills at the Strand – Houdini in the Grim Game (Ad 2 of 4)
  • A Rhyme Dedicated to Houdini the Wonder Man – The Grim Game Houdini (Ad 3 of 4)
  • Houdini in “The Grim Game” – aka Houdini Believes in Reincarnation (Ad 4 of 4)

The Grim Game last seen in Allentown sixty years after Houdini’s Last Message to the American Public

Grim Game Lobby Card eBay

Thanks to John Cox at Wild About Harry doing some research at the Margaret Herrick Library, we have evidence that the Grim Game screened in 1974.  I was also fortunate enough to see this evidence at the library as part of my Grim Game research.

The Morning Call Logo

My latest research has uncovered the showing of the silent movie, “The Grim Game” at a 1986 magicians convention in Allentown PA.  Below is text from the Article by Bill Gernerd, that appeared in The Morning Call on September 05, 1986:

A magicians convention in Allentown this week may discuss a rumor that an unknown magician is planning to disclose the secrets of some illusions – such as sawing a person in half – on a videotape to be sold to the general public.

An estimated 250 members of the Magicians Alliance of Eastern States, a fraternal organization of magicians from Maine to Florida, are meeting in the Allentown Hilton.

Joseph Keppel, a Bethlehem magician handling public relations for the convention, said yesterday the subject could be raised during one of the convention’s business sessions. But he also indicated there’s a strong possibility “it won’t be mentioned” amid feelings “the less said, the better.”

He said thus far, no one knows the identity of the magician who’s going to make the disclosure. And he said he understands that the magician will be promoting his disclosure of magical secrets on some national television talk- show programs.

But that concern aside, Keppel looks forward to another successful convention, noting it’s the fifth time the Eastern States group will be meeting in the Lehigh Valley area. The group last met in this area in 1978 in Reading “because there were no good convention facilities here in Allentown.”

The Eastern States group grew out of an organization of four Pennsylvania magic groups, those in Allentown, Lancaster, Harrisburg and York, to initially form the Keystone Federation of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in 1931.

The late William Endlich, a Macungie dentist, founded both the state organization and the Eastern States group and served as the latter’s executive director to the time of his death in the 1960s, according to Keppel.

The group actually hosting this year’s convention is the Allentown Society of Magicians.

Keppel, incidentally, will be leaving in about three weeks for a European tour with one of the nation’s premier magicians, Harry Blackstone Jr.

And in conjunction with the convention of the magicians, the Lehigh County Historical Society has opened a display of magician’s “tools” in the museum in the Old Lehigh County Courthouse.

The society also will host a performance and lecture on the history of magic at 2 p.m. Sept. 14 and will sponsor a magic workshop for children, ages 7 through 12, Sept. 20 at 11 a.m. in the Gold Courtroom of the old courthouse.

The History of Hocus Pocus display will be available for public inspection until Jan. 7, 1987.

Meanwhile, the convention will close tomorrow with an all-star show, open to the public, at 8 p.m. in Trexler Middle School, 15th and Greenleaf streets, Allentown.

Among features for that show will be the illusions of Joe Eddie and Betty, who will be bringing with them a leopard and a 250-pound Burmese python. They will share the spotlight with Slap Happy, who recently appeared on a televised young comedians special; Harry Maurer, voted best opening act in Atlantic City, and Scott Drucker.

Other performers for convention activities will come in from Texas, New York, Washington and Ohio.

Another convention highlight will be the showing of the silent movie featuring Houdini, “The Grim Game.”

Most of the convention activities will be closed to the general public because performing magicians “will be explaining their tricks as they work them,” according to Keppel.


Houdini’s Last Message to the American Public appeared in The Morning Call, Allentown PA as part of an editorial about him the day after he died:

It is true, most unfortunately, that experience is a hard school but we must all learn in it, and no other.

The light of another’s experience will not illuminate the path of youth very much.  It is only after he has had his own hard knocks that he can profit by them.

Starting out thirty years ago as a magician, I have passed hundreds who did not know that success was just another name for hard work.  Those in the arrogance of their youth rarely listen to their elders.  Nevertheless, I say that inspiration plays little part in success and chance plays less.  What little success I may have had has come from making up my mind in early youth to be the best in my line no matter what is cost in hard work, and never to deviate from the course.

People often commend me for my courage; often say, indeed, that I am a performer of miracles of courage. This is far from true. I do nothing anyone else could not do with equal practice and years of toil.  When I train to jump from a high bridge, don’t think I jump from the great height all at once. It is all by gradual stages.  I get a ladder, and each day jump from one rung higher than the day before.  When I scaled a 7-story building in a certain motion picture, I started by climbing up one story and coming down, etc., till I had gone the seven. This is the whole secret of getting to the top of anything.

It is the same training under water.  I started by holding my breath 10 seconds, increasing it gradually (in a swimming tank) until eventually I could remain under for two minutes.  When I was half my present age I did four minutes in a tank.

Many scientists and students of psychic phenomena say I have supernatural power.  This obviously is absurd.

No one possesses supernatural power.  No supernatural power is manifested in this world. Do not, therefore, be superstitious.  Don’t be afraid of spirits or spooks! There are none. Don’t dash by graveyards. Don’t fear the dark. I have slept in haunted houses and cemeteries, and the only thing I ever caught was a cold.

UPDATE: Also, in 1986, after a broken wand ceremony conducted at Houdini’s grave at Machpelah Cemetery in New York, on October 31st, Larry Weeks gave a lecture on Houdini and showed “The Grim Game” at the Glendale Public Library which is a short distance from the cemetery. [The Magic Circular Vol. 80 1986]


Police Reporter is West Point’s own Edward H Martin

GG Pressbook CastAs a result of last week’s blog, In search of the Police Reporter, I received an answer as to why one thinks that the actor Ed Martin from the Grim Game is none other than West Point’s own Edward H. Martin, USMA 1898:

I think “Ed Martin” is West Point’s own Edward H. Martin, USMA 1898 for two reasons:

1) Years ago the USMA Library was fortunate enough to have a collection of files about graduates from the nineteenth and early twentieth cents. that had been compiled by the USMA Association of Graduates (we still have them but they are in remote storage right now)- I looked in the file for EHM and found a card that stated that EHM late in life had become a movie actor, but did not offer much more than that (sometimes “information cards” were submitted by graduates who had knowledge of the activities o fother grads)

2) I recently did a search in the Ancestry.com Library Edition database and found an image of a WWI draft registration card filled out by someone named Edward H. Martin that gave his date of birth as July 2, 1874,his occupation as actor, and his employer as the “Lasky Film Co.”

[Paul Nergelovic, Reference Librarian, United States Military Academy Library]

I then asked Paul, if it would be possible to get an image of the WWI draft registration card:


Not only did Paul send me the WWI draft registration card image above, he also sent me links to some Oregon newspapers (scanned by University of Oregon] that have photos of Edward H. Martin.

A photo of Edward H. Martin from 1908:

EdwardHMartin Photo 1908


A sketch, same year:

EdwardHMartin Sketch 1908


If I compare the photos from 1908 with the 1919 stills from the Grim Game, the reporter on the right with the straw hat in the still below could be our man.

298-7 ebay What do you think?

Last but not least, Paul also got the Special Collections and Archives Division to kindly pull the file on Edward H. Martin from remote storage.  It actually contained a carbon copy of a letter dated  January 25th, 1936 from J.S. Murphy, Chief Clerk of the Oregon State Penitentiary to Mr. Quincy Scott, (of the)The Oregonian, Portland, OR. about the activities of Edward H. Martin after his release from the penitentiary; here is an extract of relevant content:

“…in March 1916, he went to work for the Thanhouser Film Corporation.  He remained there until October, 1916, when he moved to Los Angeles, Cal.  His address there being 827 Green Ave.  He was still working for the Thanhouser Film Corporation.  On November 13, 1916, he went to work for the Jesse L.Lasky Feature Play Co. …”

Based on all the evidence above, I think it is safe to say that the police reporter from The Grim Game is West Point’s own Edward H. Martin.

Special Thank You to Paul Nergelovic, Reference Librarian, United States Military Academy Library