Popular Mechanics – Aeroplanes Crash in Mid-Air as Camera Man Turns Crank


Click to enlarge.

Above is an ad, that I came across from The Morning Tulsa Daily World, dated Oct 14, 1919 that mentions on page 642 November issue of Popular Mechanics you will find a description (illustrated) of the hair-raising aeroplane accident recorded in “The Grim Game”.  So of course, I had to find a copy of this November 1919 issue.

Popular Mechanics Nov 1919 coverAnd below is page 642 of the November 1919 issue.

Popular Mechanics Nov 1919 page 642

Click to enlarge.

The “camera man” was none other than the director, Irvin Willat.  And you got to love the “acrobat” references, which of course was Robert E. Kennedy (stuntman for Harry Houdini).  However, the photo of the guy standing by the upside down aeroplane is misidentified as the “acrobat”.  It is actually David E. Thompson, who flew the pickup plane.

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.

An Amazing Magical Work of Art

The following amazing magical work of art that was estimated to sell between $1,200/$1,500 just sold yesterday at Potter & Potter Auctions for the starting bid of $600.00.  Congratulations to the winner.  BTW, I was the winner.

Houdini Grim Game Limited Edition 1 of 10

366. Houdini, Harry. Grim Game Dimensional Giclée Print. American, 2006. By Dave Avanzino. Number 1 from a signed and numbered edition of 10. Recreating a three-dimensional version of the color lithograph advertising Houdini’s silent film, The Grim Game. Handsomely framed to an overall size of 18 ¼ x 24 ¼”. Signed and numbered by the artist. Fine condition.

This artwork originally debuted at the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History in November of 2007 with remaining pieces offered to the rest of the magic community via ads in magic magazines like Genii (e.g., Vol 71 Issue 3 and 5). The listing price in the ads was $1200 each.

Mixed Media and famed Disney Artist David Avanzino used this beautiful rich piece to create a unique dimensional scene where the characters seem to come alive and float in space.  Each element has been hand cut by the artist and, after painting the edges of each piece, he assembled them in a shadow box of amazing dimensionality.

The classic poster image was reproduced from the library of Nielson Magic Posters with their permission.  All of their posters are scanned directly on 1:1 proportion from the original.

Feature is not up to Expectations but Photography is Excellent

A couple weeks ago I did a blog on what is wrong with these pictures, “The Man From Beyond” and “Haldane of the Secret Service”.

This week, I thought I would share a mixed review from Variety magazine that said “The Grim Game” feature isn’t up to expectations:

 variety55-1919-08_0176_GGVariety Friday August 29, 1919 page 66

At least the review ended on a positive note saying the photography was excellent.

See “The Grim Game” at the Hinson House on Saturday

Nitrate Film Canister 1Now that I have your attention,

While going thru my Houdini magazines, I came across an article, titled, “Houdini” by Marie Hinson Blood as told to Robert Olson.  This 25-page article illustrated with photos, clippings and other memorabilia gives some Houdini inside facts from an interview with Marie Hinson Blood, the niece of Houdini.

I thought I would share one of the inside facts in this blog:

Houdini made several movies and Marie can rattle them off just like that. “The Grim Game”, “Terror Island”, “The Man From Beyond”   and “The Master Mystery”. Her father had all of these movies.  Every Saturday friends would try and get into the Hinson house to see one of the films they would show. They could only take a certain number of people, others having to wait until the next Saturday evening. They were all on reels in big tin can with covers.  One day a fire inspector came and found these films stored in the basement.  Because of their extreme danger of being highly flammable, the inspector said they would suspend all of their fire insurance if they did not get rid of these films. So, her father threw them away. [The New Tops, September 1985]

I find the order of the movies that Marie could rattle off interesting, “The Grim Game” is first and “Haldane” is not listed.

If we could only turn back the clock.

I hope I am invited to the next Saturday evening’s showing of “The Grim Game”.

1922 Boys Cinema Card – Deep Sea Loot


Lately, we have seen a number of these cards for sale.   I have seen them sell anywhere from $67.66 to $400 and I have seen them listed as high as $1,499.99 on eBay.   Check out Kevin Connolly’s blog (Buy Me Now Before I Cost $3000) and the comments section for a discussion we had regarding price, condition, and grading.

Now, let’s focus on the card itself.  The card with Houdini was number 4 of a set of 24 famous heroes that was issued in England by Boys Cinema as an insert in their magazine March 25th, 1922.  It measures 2 1/16″ x 3 1/16″.

The image on the front is from still 298-63 of the Grim Game.

The bottom of the front of the card only lists Artcraft as opposed to Paramount-Artcraft; Paramount and Artcraft Motion pictures were part of the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation; In January 1918 Artcraft became a subsidiary of Paramount and in 1921, Paramount was part of a Federal monopoly investigation that caused Artcraft to be closed.


Now for the image on the back, it shows his birthplace as Appleton, Wisconsin which is not at all surprising.  But what is surprising is that “Deep Sea Loot” is listed as chief among his films.  So what was Deep Sea Loot?

During the 1910s, Houdini worked with underwater filmmakers J.E. and Ernest Williamson on a never-completed film (prospectively titled Houdini and the Miracle) that promised to show Houdini’s escape from a photosphere (an observation chamber that housed a camera that was attached to the bottom of a barge by a long tube). This film project was included in Houdini’s typewritten list of screen credits as Deep Sea Loot but was never made. [Disappearing Tricks by Matthew Solomon, pages 95, 98-99]

See the Movie Picture World, April 28, 1917, “Houdini For Pictures” article on page 622 and John Cox’s blog (Houdini’s Underwater Epic that wasn’t ) for more details on this Deep Sea Thrill.

Review of G&G and its connection with the GG

castleghostsI finally received my long awaited copy of Magicol January 2013.  I was not disappointed. My primary interest in this issue was the Magicol article that John Cox at Wild About Harry did on the Guests & Ghosts (G&G) of 278.  You see, I was fortunate enough to meet the Guest & Ghosts of 278 at the Magic Castle on Wednesday, July 18, 2012.  That is, I got to meet John Cox at the Magic Castle in Hollywood for the first time and hear his abbreviated version of the G&G talk he gave at the Magic Collectors Weekend in Chicago; it was quite the honor.

I have to agree with Magicana blog, that “John does a beautiful job highlighting some of the more famous and arcane visitors.

John starts his article and presentation with a connection to the Grim Game (GG) which of course I found fascinating.

Apparently, Houdini added the Family Guest Book to his Harlem home right after making the GG.  John mentions that Houdini, Bess, and Hardeen “christened the book with their signatures on August 1, 1919”.  He also mentions that Larry Weeks (magician and Houdini collector) signed the guest book on April 22, 1956; Is it possible that Larry acquired what is said to be the only surviving print of the GG on this day?

Props to John for doing an outstanding job researching and presenting the Houdini Family Guest book from 278 W 113th Street.

Still 298-7 Lock Him In The Strongest Cell!

This photo (Still 298-7) is one of 5 photos that appeared in a 1920 Cinema Chat Ad for The Grim Game. It is also the image that was used to make the following 11×14 lobby card which one sold for $956 at 2010 November Beverly Hills Movie Poster Auction #7029.

So what is going on in this photo?  The description for the lobby card at auction read as follows:

Harry Houdini is manacled and about to be thrown in “the strongest cell.” But everyone who followed the top escapologist career, knew what was coming next! Note that Houdini, ever the alert showman has pulled his coat sleeves up to reveal the cuffs clearly and visibly outlined against his bare skin, so as to preclude any “trickery.” This is exactly as he performed it many times on stages throughout the world.

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.


What a Variety: 9 + 19 + 1919 = 52

Below is an original Grim Game ad from a rare Variety Magazine that I just acquired. Variety was established in 1905 when it was launched as a weekly periodical covering vaudeville with its headquarters in New York City.

The picture that is one long thrill!

For dramatic entertainment of universal appeal, “The Grim Game” is in a class by itself.  The aeroplane collision in midair – an accident wholly unexpected but caught in its entirety by the camera – is only one of a long succession of thrills.

These six reels of thrill-entertainment may now be seen at any Famous Players-Lasky Exchange.

Story by Arthur B. Reeve and John W. Gray Directed by Irvin Willat

What makes this ad so cool is the following:

  • The date of the Magazine is September 19, 1919 (9 19 1919)
  • The page number that this ad appears on his page 52
  • It has an image of Houdini and his pet “Abraham Lincoln”
  • It has 4 roundel pictures of scenes from the film