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.

THE GRIM GAME Cinema Trade Promotion (Stills 298-54 and 298-63)

Last week I posted a snippet of an article by Bayard Grimshaw about THE STUDENT AND THE BLOW from Abracadabra Magazine Saturday 23rd March 1974.   This week, in honor of the Oscars, I thought I would share a Grim Game photo that was used in that same special edition of Abracadabra Magazine:

GG cinema trade photo 001

This came from a sheet issued to the Cinema Trade to promote The Grim Game Movie in 1919.

The bottom image is from still 298-54 .

Mary [Ann Forrest] is visiting Houdini at the jail to let him know that hoax is going according to plan.  The guard then gives them contrary news:  “They found the body [Cameron] in the old well – poor place to hide it.  Guess your trial will be a short one”.  Houdini smiles and voices his doubt.  The guard tells them he is not joking…Gradually the truth of the matter that Cameron is really dead is forced home on Houdini and Mary.  Houdini tells Mary to go see the others and tell them to explain the hoax and have him released. [scenes 212-225 Paraphrased from Paramount Files at Margaret Herrick Library]

And the top image is from still 298-63 and is part of the sequence where Houdini escapes from the jail after Mary leaves.  See the following earlier post for details:

What is Houdini’s Greatest Stunt on Screen?

Care to take a guess?

1920 03 20 The Picture Show Image 1

During an half an hour interview, Houdini was asked the following question:

WHAT do you consider the greatest stunt you have done for the screen?

“ Another incident in the same picture,” answered Houdini.

“ I stood in the archway of a prison, thus –“ Here he took up a crouching position, in the corner of the room, and enacted the whole thing for my benefit.  “ A heavily loaded jerry, going at twenty-two or -four miles an hour rolled by me.  I threw myself on the ground, completely rolling over between the fast revolving fore and hind wheels over and over, till I caught the transmission bar, and hung there for very dear life! Thus was I carried to the aid of the heroine.  Though my words may not convey very much, this was my greatest stunt.  It allowed of no rehearsals – I said to the camera-man, ‘Get this now or never!’  And had I made the slightest false move I should have been crippled for life, if not killed ”.  [The Picture Show, March 20, 1920 p19]

Here is another account of the incident.

Here is another great stunt from the Grim Game.


The Prison/Truck stunt(s) sound amazing, as does the Strait-Jacket/Awning/Wall stunt(s). For me, I need to see the movie to decide which one is the greatest stunt.

Special Thanks to Bill Mullins who shared with me the “Half-An-Hour with Houdini” Interview and photo from The Picture Show Magazine.

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 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

Answer: Who is the other man in Still 298-22

298-22 Kino HRHRC cap001 (L302-22)

Last year, I did a post, where I gave clues WRT who could be the other man in still 298-22.

The choices were Harry Houdini (Harvey Hanford), Thomas Jefferson (Dudley Cameron), Augustus Philips (Clifton Allison), Tully Marshall (Richard Raver), Arthur Hoyt (Dr. Tyson), or Unidentified actor (Old Servant Banks). We previously ruled out Harry Houdini, Arthur Hoyt and Tully Marshall.  So that left Thomas Jefferson, Augustus Philips and an unidentified actor.  Just solely based on the photos of the actors, it looks like it could be Augustus Philips or Thomas Jefferson; however there was no photo of the actor that played Old Banks to compare.  And if you read my blog, Thomas Jefferson Found, I made a statement: “That as far as I know, there are no movie stills of Thomas Jefferson from the Grim Game and I’ve seen and cataloged most if not all of the stills from the movie.”   So based on the above information if correct, would lead us to Augustus Philips or Old Banks.  I can tell you, it is not Augustus Philips.  So does that make it Old Banks?   Based on the circumstantial evidence previously presented, there was a strong case for Banks.  However, I have some additional evidence to present, that makes me think otherwise now:

During the scene when Cameron is scolding Houdini and telling him to get out, he seizes a large, old-fashioned revolver from top of safe and tries to get a shot at Houdini.  There is also another scene where Houdini mentions that Cameron has threatened to shoot him on sight.  And if we look at still 289-21 and 298-22, you will notice that Houdini and Ann Forrest outfits are the same in both stills; let me explain the events that led up to 289-21 and 298-22 which help make the case for Thomas Jefferson:  In an earlier scene, Cameron (Thomas Jefferson) asks Mary (Ann Forrest) if she can open a box – this is the  box seen in still 289-21; Mary is working at lock of box when Houdini unexpectedly shows up at the Cameron house. Mary and Houdini are in the library – Mary is worried that Cameron who is in the dining room might enter and discover them – Houdini opens the box – Cameron enters and sees the couple – Mary jumps in alarm at the sound of Cameron’s voice – Cameron gets gun – and voila, we have Still 298-22.  BTW, Houdini avoids the old man or disarms him and makes exit through window in comedy fashion.  [Paraphrased from Margaret Herrick Files]

The scene with Banks, Houdini and gun appears later, right after the scene depicted in still 298-80 which shows Mary (white dress) and Houdini in different outfits from still 298-22.

So based on the evidence now, I would say this is Thomas Jefferson (Dudley Cameron) as opposed to an unidentified actor (Old Banks) in still 298-22.

Case closed for the time being!

Stills L302-1 to L302-3 Aeroplane Sequence

L302-1Above is a photograph that just sold on eBay last week for $123.50.  Congratulations to the winner. This is the first time, I have seen this image with a press released still number on it; It looks like it is L302-1.

Closeup of Still NumberThis is the first image of a sequence of three that appeared together in the newspapers documenting the actual collision in mid-air.  It was also used in ads promoting “The Grim Game”. It shows Kennedy climbing down the knotted rope toward Thompson’s top wing for the plane changing stunt in the movie.

L302-2 001I have yet to see the above second image of the sequence with the still number on it.  It may be L302-2. Notice that, as the aeroplanes are buffeted by the unstable air, Kennedy lifts his feet to avoid contact with Thompson’s propeller.

L302-3 Sphinx Sept 15, 1919 v18n7Above is the third image of the sequence with still number L302-3 on it.  After the collision, you see Kennedy dangling in space at the end of the rope as the aeroplanes start to descend.

Paramount-Artcraft Pictures: Classic Houdini Publicity Poses

1920s Harry Houdini Original Paramount Pictures Photo

The above photo of a classic Houdini pose just sold on eBay February 9th for $204.70; congratulations to the winner.

Below are other classic Houdini publicity poses taken when Houdini was working for Paramount-Artcraft Pictures:

TGG PressBook Cover 001

The above image of Houdini appears on the cover of the pressbook for The Grim Game as well as the pressbook for Terror Island. This image of Houdini may have been used more than any other image of Houdini for publicity abroad; See Kevin Connolly’s blog.

Lawsons Auction Sale 7919 -Lot 1813

The signed photo above will be auctioned by Lawsons in New South Wales on Friday, February 22, 2013. See John Cox’s blog for more info on auction.

Note: All of the above images can be found on various cards. Below are some examples from eBay that as of this date are currently for sale:

Topps Hollywood Walk of Fame Card

eBay 1920 Spanish Card

eBay 1920s Card from Cuba

Still 298-80 (L302-80): Happy Valentines Day!

Let's Elope?

Let’s Elope?

This photo (Still 298-80) appeared in a Swedish Program [HHCE Collection] and a Danish Program [Arthur Moses Collection] for the Grim Game.

So what is going on in this photo?

Harvey Hanford (HH) calls at the Cameron home and finds Mary Cameron (Ann Forrest) in the garden. HH and Mary are sitting on a rustic bench. To her he explains the great newspaper scoop he hopes to put over which will make it easier for them to elope. Mary is quite enthusiastic over her lover’s attempt to land a big story and agrees with the plans.  Their plans all arranged, HH kisses Mary good night.  [Paraphrased from files at Margaret Herrick Library]

Still 298-4 Trying to wash hands in the basin

This photo (Still 298-4) is one of 5 photos that appeared in a 1920 Cinema Chat Ad for The Grim Game.

So what is going on in this photo?

Minus his hat with a mussed appearance, Harvey Hanford [Harry Houdini] confronts his land-lady and then goes up the stairs in a weak-kneed, sneaking manner.

Harvey Hanford enters his room which is the first door at head of stairs and he goes to the wash stand.

Mrs. Gates [landlady] tiptoes up the stairs and peaks thru keyhole and sees Harvey trying to wash his hands in the basin; she notices that his hands and shirt cuffs are stained.

[Scenes 162-168 paraphrased from Paramount Script]

Harry gets cozy with a young Gloria Swanson (and Ann Forrest) at Lasky Studios

Gloria Swanson

[Photoplay September 1919, page 102]

To Houdini, one rose and one smile, from Gloria Swanson. The handcuff king is making a new serial at the Lasky studios, and Gloria, the gorgeous Demille centerpiece, works there, too.

The following is an excerpt from Kalush,The Secret Life of Houdini, page 358:

Houdini was excited at the prospect of doing features. “I am drifting away from vaudeville, and with the exception of my European dates have no plans re a return”.  Where he was drifting to was Hollywood, where the temperature climate and the chance to rub elbows with other movie stars were appealing to him.  He became friendly with stars like Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle and spent time on the Lasky set with a young sultry star named Gloria Swanson.  She sent him an autographed photo (“To Mr. Houdini, Please show me some of your tricks. Most sincerely, Gloria Swanson”) that he kept in one of his scrapbooks.

See page 222 of The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare for another publicity photo (i.e., different than Photoplay photo above) of Houdini with Gloria Swanson that is from the collection of Bruce Averbook.

Ann Forrest

The photo below is misidentified on page 360 in earlier releases of The Secret Life of Houdini as Harry gets cozy with a young Gloria Swanson; this photo is actually Houdini and a young Ann Forrest (Houdini’s co-star in The Grim Game).  Houdini appears to be
wearing the same outfit (i.e., suit, tie, shoes, and strawhat) in this photo with Ann Forrest as the photos with Gloria Swanson.