LINK: The Grim Game Review by Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz

Grim Game Lobby Card eBayOur friends, Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA did a nice review of The Grim Game that they were fortunate enough to see several times in NYC, when they were living and performing in New York City, shown by collector Larry Weeks.

MUM New York, August 1919 page 20Check it out:

You will also find some other nice Grim Game links at their website:

Is 2015 the year of The Grim Game?

Related Posts:

The Grim Game forced into exhibition by the Block-booking System

American Silent Film by William K EversonLast Week, by sure coincidence (after seeing “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone movie”), I ended up at a used book store that was going out of business on March 24, 2013 (Houdini’s 139th Birthday).

While I didn’t find any books on Houdini, I did a find an interesting book (American Silent Film by William K. Everson) that had a brief mention of The Grim Game on pages 109 and 110 that I found very interesting.  Below are some snippets from these pages:

The block-booking system – This was a system by which the distributor sold an exhibitor an entire season’s product en masse, often sight unseen, since when the contract was signed, many of the films had not yet been made.  In order to get the films he wanted, the exhibitor also had to take many he did not want – in his eyes, the “bad” films. While the exhibitor’s resentment of his lack of freedom of choice was understandable, so was the distributor’s position.  As a group, exhibitors have always tended to prefer the safe and the tried-and-true over the off-beat and experimental.  Given total freedom of choice, most exhibitors would obviously book only the kinds of films and the star vehicles that they knew were box office.  The distributor, admittedly, used the block-booking system to salvage, the mistakes and the bad films.  On the other hand, many of a distributor’s best films might wind up on an exhibitor’s “reject” list, and would have had sparse showings indeed, had they not been forced into exhibition via the block-booking system. For example, exhibitors dealing with Paramount in 1918 and 1919 would have been clamoring for the latest releases of Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, and Mary Pickford but, left to their own devices, would probably have by-passed The Grim Game (an unusually well-done melodrama starring Harry Houdini and directed by Irving Willat).  Forcing unwanted pictures onto a contract in a sense by-passed the exhibitor, bringing to the public a kind of film that the distributor thought it would buy if only it had the chance.

Paramount’s Wallace Reid vehicles were enormously popular, mainly because of Reid’s unique appeal.  Knowing this, Paramount literally ground them out, economically, quickly, and with so little imagination that they all seemed cut from an identical mold. Had they not had the Reid name to sell them, they would certainly have been on an exhibiter’s reject list. Films like The Grim Game, might not have attracted audiences on the same scale as the Reid films, but once in the theatre, it satisfied and surprised them, and told them that the movies were still capable of something fresh.

Thanks to the Block-booking System, audiences got to see an unusually well-done melodrama.

And is saved by an Awning?

According to Ruth Brandon and Milbourne Christopher, Houdini frees himself from a strait-jacket, falls into an awning, rolls into the street under the wheels of a moving truck, grasps its underside and rides away:

  • He was captured after a fight and, as one might expect, taken up to the roof of the building, strapped into a strait-jacket and suspended head down over the street below.  (He freed himself, fell into an awning, rolled into the street under the wheels of a moving truck, grasped its underside and rode away). [Ruth Brandon, The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini, page 207]
  • Captured after a fight, Houdini was taken to a rooftop, strapped in a straitjacket and suspended head down over the side.  He released himself, fell into an awning, then dropped to the ground.  Then he rolled under the wheels of a moving truck, grasped the underside and rode away beneath it. [Milbourne Christopher, Houdini The Untold Story, page 163]


According to the Paramount Script, Houdini frees himself from a strait-jacket, swings like a pendulum at the end of the rope, catapults his body through a small window; and then scales a wall and disappears over the other side.

According to the Paramount Script, Houdini leaps down into an alley-way and makes a dive under a fast moving truck after he escapes from a jail cell, not after he escapes from the strait-jacket as Ruth Brandon and Milbourne Christopher suggest.


So which sequence is correct?

  • (A) Strait-Jacket,  Awning, Truck
  • (B) Strait-Jacket, Window, Wall
  • (C) Jail, Truck
  • (D) B and C
  • (E) None of the above

I believe the answer can be found in the following:

This insert appears to be in chronological order and follows the Paramount Script with the exception, that there is was no scene that mentions an awning in the Paramount Script.

So based on all of the circumstantial evidence, I believe the following:

  • Answer A is incorrect because it includes the Truck and not the Wall
  • Answer B is incorrect because it includes the Window and not the Awning
  • Answer C is correct because it follows Paramount script and chronological insert
  • Answer D is incorrect because B is incorrect
  • Answer E is incorrect because C is correct

That is, I believe that the Awning scene (lobby card L302-75) did happen as part of the strait-jacket escape and appears in the movie.  However, I believe the truck scene happened as part of the jail escape not the strait-jacket escape.

Hopefully, one day I will know for sure.  What do you think?

Patrick Culliton — The Key

Yesterday, I got to meet The Great Patrick Culliton (aka Houdini’s Ghost) in person at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California.  It was a great experience:

Patrick Culliton is the author of Houdini –the Key (published date October 31, 2010) which has a limited edition of 278 (Note: Houdini had a New York home at 278 West 113th Street in Harlem).

Houdini — the Key is intended as a reference book on the secrets of Houdini’s magic and escapes and I was fortunate enough to receive copy# 222 from Patrick on Friday the 22nd of June (which I was reminded was Harry and Bess’ anniversary).  

In fact the only reason, this book has not sold out a long time a go, is because Patrick is maintaining a one per customer policy which I admire and appreciate. Earlier in the week, I emailed Patrick to see if he still had any copies left. He did and instead of mailing it to me, he offered to bring it to me or have me meet him at the Magic Castle to pick it up; we agreed to meet at the Castle for lunch on Friday, June 22nd.

Patrick believes that this book is a key because the notes and references, not to mention the 940 illustrations, will unlock a thousand doors for anyone researching Houdini and his methods.  The book is incredible and I am going to have fun unlocking the doors.

Patrick signed my book on top of the milk can (willed to the Magic Castle as an original Houdini prop) in the Houdini Séance Room.  He was also gracious enough to sign my copy of Houdini’s Strange Tales that I purchased in Appleton Wisconsin in the 90’s.

After signing the books, we went to the close-up room to catch a performance by Henok Negash.  While waiting for the show to start, I learned that Patrick once owned 2 different sets of lobby cards for “The Grim Game” before he sold them.

After we saw the outstanding close-up show, we went upstairs to have lunch in the transformed Dante Room. Milt Larsen transformed the Dante room into a kind of big square round table where you never know who will show up.  Patrick introduced me to a number of people, which I appreciated.

I learned that Patrick once owned an authentic substitution metamorphosis trunk before he sold it for quite a large amount of money.

Patrick asked me if I had ever heard of the Witch’s house (aka The Spadena House) in Beverly Hills.  He proceeded to tell me that it was originally built in 1921 to serve as the offices and dressing rooms for Irvin Willat’s film studio in Culver City, and was moved to its present location in 1934.  I learned that Billie Love was married to Irvin Willat but divorced him when she met Howard Hughes; Howard and Billie made 2 films together.  Note:  Irvin Willat directed The Grim Game.

During lunch, I asked Patrick if he thought I would ever get to see The Grim Game; he told me that it used to be rented out and shown at magic clubs way back in the day.  He confirmed that Larry Weeks (supposedly, Houdini’s biggest fan) is in a convalescent home and will not release his print.  He mentioned that David Copperfield was interested in acquiring a print; this is not surprising that David who has one of largest Houdini Collections would be interested, but I don’t believe he has been successful. I would love to have a copy of the print, but I would settle for just seeing the film.  I have been told by a few people now, that one day, I will get to see The Grim Game; I am looking forward to that day.

After lunch, I got a nice tour of the library and spent about a half-hour in the Houdini section looking through some booklets.

I then thanked Patrick for making my day and left with my treasures. 

I am now ready to start unlocking the treasures found in Houdini — the Key!

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!

Have you seen Ann Forrest in The Grim Game?

John Cox launched a blog post today featuring a look back at the leading ladies who starred the bill with Houdini in his silent movies.  He started off with Ann Forrest who co-starred with Houdini in “The Grim Game”.  This inspired me to do this post on “Have you seen Ann Forrest in The Grim Game?”:

How many photos of Ann Forrest from “The Grim Game” have you seen?

So far, I have seen the following:

This photo above also appears on page 360 of The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush with the caption: “Harry gets cozy with a young Gloria Swanson”.  Note: This is an error: it is really Ann Forrest.


The above photo also appears on page 148 of The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Walter B. Gibson with the following caption: “Agile and acrobatic as well as physically powerful, Houdini stages a heroic film rescue”.


The photo above is identified as being from the movie “Haldane of the Secret Service” more times than not, but it is actually from “The Grim Game”.

Click on the links below to see other photos of Ann Forrest:

Also, in Milborne Christopher’s, Houdini A Pictorial Life, on page 96 there is a rarely seen photo of Houdini and Ann Forrest with the following caption next to it: Only the heroine believed he was innocent, not guilty of an alleged murder.

American Heritage April 1972 Houdini’s High-flying Hoax by Art Ronnie on Page 108 has a picture of Ann Forrest posing with the principals of the air collision after the accident.   Robert Kennedy seems to be thinking more about film star Ann Forrest than about his brush with death.

Have you seen any others?

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.