Houdini Stanhope Lens Viewers

HH Sustained Flight Description 001

Houdini is generally acknowledged as the first man to fly a plane in Australia. He made the historic flight just north of Melbourne in 1910. Two variants of a Stanhope miniature brass telescope were manufactured to commemorate the historic event and are quite rare.

Stanhope Lens Viewer Diggers RestHoudini Stanhope Viewer

Houdini collector, Joseph Gargano is now offering a viewer which is a reproduction of the Stanhope made to commemorate Houdini’s first flight over Australia. It comes in a beautiful wood box engraved with Houdini’s signature on the lid. This piece alone has sold for $195 and is now available for $105 which will just allow Joseph to recoup the cost of production, and get some money to The Houdini Museum in Scranton for the continued maintenance of Houdini’s grave.

Stanhope Lens Viewer Interior View

Looking through this novelty lens reveals an image of Houdini making his historic flight at Digger’s Rest in Australia. Here, he is pictured both in mid-flight in his biplane, and a separate posed close-up shows Houdini behind the controls of the plane.

For questions, purchases and shipping rates, contact Joseph Gargano at conjuringhh@optonline.net.

Stanhope Lens Viewer Grim Game

Joseph also offers a quality brass mini viewer with embedded lens showing an image from The Grim Game reproduced from an original glass plate negative in the Joseph Gargano collection. It comes in a small film can with Grim Game advertising image on the lid.  While supplies last, this viewer is offered as part of a larger Commemorative Set that is released in two very limited editions (Standard and Deluxe).  See John Cox site for details of The Grim Game Commemorative Set.

Standard Edition

The Grim Game Standard Edition

Deluxe Edition

The Grim Game Deluxe Edition

What happened to Christopher Pickup from The Grim Game

Pickup Thompson Kennedy HoudiniWell, I previously did posts on what happened to Robert Kennedy and Frank Thompson, after “The Grim Game” respectively.  So, it is probably only fair that I share some info on Christopher Pickup, who flew the drop plane.  The below information is from an Aviation Autograph Collector selling items on eBay:

PICKUP, Christopher Vern.  PILOT IN A 1919 HOUDINI MOVIE AND U. S. AIR MAIL SERVICE PILOT.  (1896- ). SGT, 4th Cavalry (1913-14); USAS flight instruction (1916); Langley Field VA (1917); 2nd LT and flight instructor (1918-19); Durant Aircraft Co.; pilot for Cecil B. DeMille films (1919-20); flew in the Harry Houdini movie The Grim Game, colliding with David E. Thompson while Robert E. Kennedy hung suspended on a rope below Pickup’s aircraft. The props of both planes were shattered in a collision and both pilots were able to land their damaged planes, Kennedy, miraculously, suffering only bruises and abrasions being dragged along the ground during the landing (1919); U. S. Air Mail Service pilot (1920-21); appointed 8-25-1920 and assigned at Cheyenne WY (1920-21); he was apparently separated for not returning from leave (1921); Mercury Aviation, Los Angeles; Mexican Aerial Transport Corp. (1921-22); his request for reinstatement in the U. S. Air Mail Service was declined at the suggestion of the USAMS chief pilot (1924); FBO at Hoover Field Washington DC (1925-26); flew air mail for Clifford Ball, CAM 11 and Thompson Aeronautical Corp. on CAM 27 (1928); Transport Pilot rating no. 735 (1928); USMCR; air mail pilot for Boeing Air Transport (1927-40); his plane caught fire on an emergency landing at Elm Creek NE while flying CAM 18, Chicago-San Francisco (1929); member of the “Caterpillar Club” after abandoning an aircraft over Pittsburgh PA (1930); United Air Lines captain (1940- ).

Kennedy Forrest Thompson Pickup Wilson WillatBonus:

COPY of the pilot’s original Post Office Department “AIR MAIL PILOTS APPLICATION”, Form 2707 dated 5/16/1928 for his Contract Air Mail pilot service with CLIFFORD BALL

Pickup Application Form Page 1Pickup Application Form Page 2

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.



What happened to Robert E Kennedy after the plane incident?

Robert Kennedy After Collision

Credit: Cecil B. DeMille Trust

Above is the scene immediately after planes hit the earth.  Note crowd rushing forward to greet pilots.  Robert E. Kennedy (Houdini’s Stunt Double) is in the center with back to camera being congratulated on his narrow escape by fellow pilots (or according to another account, he was he being blamed by fellow pilots for the accident).

Houdini never saw or spoke to him again.  According to Tommy [David E. Thompson], who flew the pickup plane, he got up and ran away and was never seen again. Shortly after the spectacular crash, Kennedy and Bill Hahnel, a fellow flying officer in the service, made exhibition flights throughout the country, billing themselves as The Flying Tramps. Later, Kennedy became a noted test pilot, pioneer airplane pilot and inventor of navigation instruments. After several barnstorming tours of Texas, Robert E. Kennedy joined with members of Los Angeles based bus company, Pickwick transportation, in the formation of Pickwick Airways. Flying tri-motors, the new airline pioneered air routes into Mexico until Pickwick was absorbed by a larger airline. Kennedy continued flying until he went to work for Douglas Aircraft in 1934.  After retirement, he lived in Anaheim until his death in 1973. But perhaps he can best be remembered for adding one more legend to the folklore of Harry Houdini.

Next related post will look into what happened to David E. Thompson, whose plane flipped over?


  • Taped interview with Robert E. Kennedy conducted by Arch C. Wallen, and Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1966
  • Locklear The Man Who Walked on Wings by Art Ronnie 1973

LINK: L.A. Daily Mirror pinpoints Houdini’s plane crash


John Cox at Wild About Houdini just did a short post titled, L.A. Daily Mirror pinpoints Houdini’s plane crash,that shares a well-researched article by Mary Mallory about Houdini’s The Grim Game.

John also shares the following information from the TCM film festival which was news to me as well when I heard it:

At last Sunday’s premiere of The Grim Game restoration, the sons of director Irvin Willat told me their father said the camera plane, which he was in, was also struck and “went down” with the others. This is the first I’d ever heard of the crash involving three planes.

This needs some more research.  Hopefully the sons of director Irvin Willat can elaborate some more.

Other Related Posts:

First Biopic to Acknowledge Film Career

Was Tony Curtis’ 1953 Houdini or Adrien Brody’s 2014 Houdini miniseries the first biopic to acknowledge Houdini’s film career? Let’s look at the evidence: GG6

The Tony Curtis film originally was going to feature a recreation of Houdini’s death defying plane to plane mid-air transfer and wing walk from his 1919 film, The Grim Game. This is significant in that all the movies so far made about Houdini’s life and career have ignored his stint as a silent movie star in Hollywood. But here is evidence that the 1953 film did not ignore this aspect of Houdini’s life. It just wound up on the cutting room floor.  My question is, where is this footage today?  [John Cox]

In 2012, I went in search of the lost plane to plane transfer and discovered some interesting things about the Tony Curtis movie. Click on the link above.GG5 Well in the Houdini miniseries, the footage did not end up on the cutting room floor.  We see Houdini (Adrien Brody) and Bess (Kristen Connolly) sitting in a theater watching actual clips from the 1919 movie, The Grim Game, along with some shots of Adrien Brody hanging from a rope of one of the planes. Brody as HH in Grim Game Brody makes the following comment: “I’m on the ground the whole time; it’s fake.  It’s all Hollywood”.   Connolly says: “Look at the bright side Harry, it’s good publicity for the real thing”. Brody as HH in Hollywood As it turns out, Houdini was on the ground the whole time, while his stunt double, Lieutenant Robert E. Kennedy, hung from a rope and attempted to perform the plane-to plane descent before the planes collided in mid-air and came crashing down to the ground. 1920 03 20 The Picture Show Image 1The 1953 Houdini movie did not ignore this aspect of Houdini’s career, but the 2014 History’s Houdini miniseries is the first to actually portray it on the final product.

The Master Mystery Aeroplane Accident?


Grim Game Image – Courtesy of Bio4Kids


Harry Houdini, whose business is to get out of things, got into trouble yesterday in a motion picture studio in Yonkers by clinging to a wall in a parachute descent indoors.  He broke his left wrist and suffered several bruises, but he doesn’t believe his injuries will prevent his appearance in “Everything” at the reopening of the Hippodrome on August 22. Mr. Houdini is appearing in a twenty reel motion picture serial soon to be released, in which he is supposed to put a flat wheel in the grim reaper’s best chariot.  He got out of an aeroplane in the studio, and something went wrong with the parachute he caught himself just in time.  As the camera was “grinding,” several hundred feet of film not in the scenario will add an extra chapter to the serial. [Page Eight New York Herald, Tuesday August 13, 1918]

Unlike the Grim Game Aeroplane accident, I don’t believe the several hundred feet of film ever made it on screen.

Ormer Locklear (Locke) connection to Houdini and The Grim Game

Ormer Locklear Flying Circus, 1919 Newspaper Ad

A newspaper advertisement for Ormer Locklear’s Flying Circus, 1919.

How does Houdini know Ormer Locklear and what was his connection to The Grim Game?

Houdini went to the Trav Daniel Sporting Goods Store during his week [January 1916] in Fort Worth.  He asked for a pair of Spaulding track shorts that he wanted to use as underwear.  James Locklear was in the store and recognized Houdini.  He told Houdini that he had enjoyed his act at the Majestic and had also seen Houdini free himself from the straight jacket at the Star-Telegram Building.  During the conversation, Locklear mentioned to Houdini that his brother Ormer did tricks while riding a motorcycle.  After meeting Ormer, Houdini suggested that Ormer drag Houdini handcuffed behind his motorcycle.  Houdini also stated that Ormer would receive publicity from the stunt as well as Houdini and that perhaps Ormer would become a daredevil one day; The event took place on Main Street, because it was the first paved street in Fort Worth.  Houdini wore thick overalls and a hood for the stunt.  His hands were tied behind his back and a rope was attached to Houdini from the motorcycle.  With a crowd looking on, Houdini was pulled slowly behind the motorcycle.  Before Ormer could get any speed, the event was over. Houdini freed himself.  {Paraphrased from Locklear Walks on Wings by Art Ronnie}

Ormer did become a daredevil and was the first to walk the wings of planes in flight. He became well known during the 1920’s and became a star in Hollywood.  Houdini used the idea of a transfer from one plane to another in his film, The Grim Game.  It was at this time, that a tragic accident involving Houdini’s double occurred, and Houdini took the credit for the filmed transfer.  Houdini later claimed that it was he that was the first to be photographed in a plane transfer, but he always gave credit to Locklear as the first to actually make the transfer.

[Houdini’s Texas Tours 1916 & 1923 by Ron Cartlidge]


Ormer Locklear poses for a publicity still for The Skywayman

Ormer Locklear poses for a publicity still for “The Skywayman”

Addendum: Houdini played a character with the last name of Locke in “The Master Mystery” and Ormer Locklear played a character with the last name of Locke in “The Skywayman”.  “The Skywayman” and “The Grim Game” both used Jenny airplanes with rope ladders on the bottom wing to perform their stunts.

Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon

Last Sunday, some of my Houdini colleagues and I went on “The Haunted Houdini Tour” of Los Angeles conducted by Richard Carradine, a renowned ghost hunter.   See John Cox blog at Wild About Harry for a full report of the places we visited.

Lookout MountainWhile discussing Houdini’s movie career, Richard Carradine showed a photograph of the site of the former Lookout Mountain Inn, that is just West of Laurel Canyon.  On October 26, l9l8, disaster struck the Lookout Mountain and Laurel Canyon area when a fire, fanned by strong winds, burned about two hundred acres and totally destroyed the famous Lookout Mountain Inn.

Richard then displayed a movie still from the 1919 movie, The Grim Game, and compared it to the photograph above of Lookout Mountain.

HHC L302-84 Postcard

Based on his familiarity with the area and the photographic evidence, Richard suspects that the Grim Game still was taken at the site of the former Lookout Mountain Inn.

On the tour, I confirmed his suspicion. That is, a plane had been positioned on the brow of Lookout Mountain so that, once inside, Houdini could be photographed against the sky as if in flight.

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.