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.

That was my idea!

GG Upside Down StraitJacketIn January 1921, Houdini’s full length film, The Grim Game, was playing at the Cinema House in Fargate, Sheffield and being watched by the man who helped Houdini.

In The Grim Game, Houdini does an upside down strait jacket escape, a big screen showing of the escape that had first been done in a small attic a couple miles away in June of 1914.

Wait, a minute, I thought, Houdini’s first suspended strait jacket escape was in Kansas City on September 8, 1915.  You see, it was in June of 1914, that Houdini was introduced to the idea of the suspended strait jacket escape:

Houdini pushed open the little gate to the house at Carrington Road.  Houdini was curious to see what his friend and fellow escapologist had come up with now.  Up in the attic, Houdini noticed a rope attached to a winch on the wall, and also to a beam in the high, gable ceiling.  What happened next would change the course of history. Houdini placed his friend in a straitjacket and helped haul him up in the air, until he was dangling from the beam. Then as the bemused Houdini watched, his friend proceeded to shed the straitjacket.

It was a simple idea, a type of escape Houdini was known for, but with a whole new twist, literally, as this time the action was done upside down, with the body bending upwards to release itself.  Houdini was impressed.  It was just what he needed – a new way to gather a large crowd – and out in the open it would be spectacular.  [Snippets from The man who helped Houdini by Ann Beedham]

It would be over a year before Houdini would perform this feat in Kansas City on September 8, 1915.

I can definitely picture Houdini’s friend watching The Grim Game in 1921 and imagining himself in Houdini’s role as he did so many times as a boy, and shouting to the fellow cinemagoers – that was my idea!

Sheffield Empire March 1920 - Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

The man who helped Houdini outside the Sheffield Empire in March 1920 – Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

BTW:  The man who helped Houdini was Randolph Douglas (aka Randini) and there is a lot more to his story.

To learn more, I highly recommend the book: RANDINI – The man who helped Houdini by Ann Beedham

Special Thanks to Narinder Chadda of the UK for making it possible for me to get a copy of the book.

Update: I received an email from Bill Mullins that he found records of Mysterio performing the stunt hanging by his feet in Buffalo in June 1913, in Gloversville in Aug 1913, again in Buffalo in Nov 1913, in Yonkers in Dec 1913 (indoors, but still suspended over the stage), and in Saratoga in Jun 1914.

Of course, I was intrigued by this, and looked him up.

Al Pitroff was an escape artist who worked under various names: “Great Pitroff”, “Great Alvin”, “Mysterio”, “Russian Mystifier” and “Levy”. [Sphinx, October, 1916, page 150].

I also found a record of him performing it at the Hartford Theatre in June 1913: He liberated himself from a straitjacket while suspended in midair by his ankles. This was performed in front of the theatre and drew quite an audience.  [July 1913 The Sphinx, page 89]

And last but not least, I found the following:  It was interesting to learn, when meeting Al Petroff, of New York, that he was the first man ever to do the straight jacket escape while hanging upside down outside a building.  Houdini, for a time, said it was too dangerous because of the head rush of blood, but later Houdini started doing it that way and made it his greatest outdoor publicity stunt.  [Jinx 1936-1937 Winter Extra, page 176]

So did Houdini get the idea from Randolph Douglas or Al Pitroff?

Over the Edge With Death Below and Imprisonment Above!

Houdini is taken to an asylum.  He breaks away.  All exits blocked, he makes his way to the roof.  He is pursued by the attendants, one of whom has seized a straight-jacket. He is overpowered.  

Picture the attendants putting the straight-jacket on him and binding his feet with a long rope.

When, they finish binding him, Houdini, with superhuman effort, rolls over, he throws himself over the edge of the roof.  The attendants catch hold of the rope and hold him just below the cornice, suspended, head downward, in midair.  The attendants on the roof tie a half hitch around the chimney to hold Houdini and he begins to sway back and forth at the end of the rope tied to his feet, which he braces against the cornice to prevent them pulling him back on the roof.

With all the strength at his command, he releases himself from the jacket.  He then bends his body upward and grabs hold of the rope which is tied to his feet.  Holding on with one hand, he unties his feet with the other, kicks off his shoes and then drops his feet down and swings from one end of the rope.  A small window below his body offers a means of escape.  He swings like a pendulum at the end of the rope and catapults his body through this small window.

The attendants on the roof feeling his weight released rush to the edge of the roof expecting to see him dashed to pieces below.  This gives Houdini the opportunity to escape.

You can guess what happens next.  That’s right, Houdini on the run, scales a wall by pulling himself up and disappears over the other side.

[Paraphrased from Paramount Files at Margaret Herrick Library]


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

Here are some others: