A Look Back at 2016, Part 1 – The Year of The Master Mystery

2016 was an amazing year for Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence (HHCE) because it was the year of the Master Mystery (MM).

master mystery episodes 1 to 9master mystery episodes 10 to 15

Part I will cover movie highlights from HHCE and Part II will cover the other highlights from HHCE.

The year started out with a post about the Master Mystery opening in the State of New York the week of January 6, 1919 and that today footage is missing

TMM Kino

Well, it became my mission to find the missing footage and as much information as I could about the movie. 

So what did HHCE find?

Found out that the Master Mystery, opened in other states (e.g., Massachusetts, Pennsylvania) before New York, although it was shown at a special trade show on November 7, 1918 at the Strand Theatre in New York City, before it officially premiered in Boston on November 18, 1918


Found a DVD that contained a movie short from the Master Mystery.

HH Seances Sonoma Documentary Special Features DVD back

Found evidence of four films based on The Master Mystery.  Reviewed them all and launched a series of posts that took a close look at each one and end with a post that summed up the mystery of all of these movies.


Found that several versions of the 1918 serial exist on DVD, VHS, and in film archives. Reviewed them all and launched a series of posts that took a close look at each version, clarifying exactly what is missing and what is included.

TheMiracleFactoryMasterMysteryDVDTMM Kino imageMaster Mystery 1918 VHS McIlhany 1998 001

Although all versions by themselves are incomplete, we can now piece together a complete 15-episode Master Mystery serial as it first appeared in 1918, and I can now say that I have seen all of the Master Mystery.

In addition to the Master Mystery, HHCE undertook the task of sharing/restoring what is missing from Houdini’s Terror Island.

terror card disclaimer

While Terror Island is missing two full reels (3 & 4), HHCE (in 2016) just tackled restoring the missing Reel 3 scenes by using photos and script excerpts.

318-1 wmc318-20 wmc318-5 wmc

Hopefully one day, we will get to see the complete Terror Island


2015 was the year of The Grim Game and 2016 the year of The Master Mystery.


Is 2017, the year of Terror Island?

amazing-under-water-scenesterror-island-motion-picture-news-5-2 (1)


Terror Island:

TI Lobby Card of 318-24 StillTI Posters 001Catalina Rescue from Tao p153 Top

Terror Island/Grim Game:


The Grim Game:

GG 24 sheet Moving Picture World p 1327 June 5 1920Lot 120 PP June 25

Master Mystery:


You now have the oppportunity to play him in your house

In my last post, I shared a color ad for The Master Mystery, breaking all house records at the St. James Theatre in Boston where it premiered:


I thought, I would share the flip-side of the ad that gives theatres the opportunity to play him in their house:


These are just a couple of a large collection of color ads that were used to try get theatres to book The Master Mystery.

Premiere of The Master Mystery in Boston


The Master Mystery was released on the open market plan in November of 1918 and made its premier 98 years ago today [November 18th, 1918] in the Saint James Theatre in Boston.


On November 17th, the Boston Post reported that:

“Houdini,” the famous handcuff king, will appear in person on the stage of the St. James Theatre tomorrow afternoon and evening for the purpose of introducing his new serial, “The Master Mystery,” which will be shown for the first time.  Mr. Houdini will be accompanied by his leading lady, Marguerite Marsh.


On, November 18th, the Boston Post reported that:

Harry Houdini is a visitor to town. The famous handcuff king, who for a number of years appeared as headliner on the vaudeville stage, arrived in Boston late last night. He was accompanied by his manager.  Houdini who has escaped from many of the most noted prisons of the world and has baffled the cleverest police officials in this and other countries, made the visit for the purpose of seeing the opening installment of “The Master Mystery,” at the St. James Theatre.

According to a Motion Picture News ad, all house records were broken at the St. James Theatre:


Stone Lithograph and Missing Scene from Episode Three of The Master Mystery


The beautiful Otis Litho-one sheet poster (Lot 95) above just sold at the November 2016 Haversat & Ewing Auction for $28,080. It came from the collection of Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, which I was fortunate enough to see in person. Congratulations to the winner!

The Episode 3 scene depicted in the poster is missing from the current Kino DVD release of the film.  Below is a description from my personal notes that may help put the scene in context:

Zita Dane tells Herbert Balcom “Before Brent went mad he made a list of inventions which we have suppressed.”  Herbert says “That list would put me behind bars.”

Locke [Houdini] has combo to safe that Eva is about to open when Herbert and Zita walk in.

32935_medEva opens safe and Herbert oversees numbers and writes them down.  Eva hands Herbert a Letter:

Board of Directors

Internantional Patents, Inc

New York City.



In view of the Government’s anti-trust investigation I have prepared this list of inventions we have suppressed.  I think we should discuss at our annual meeting the advisability of surrendering our rights to these inventions, no matter what may happen to the corporations we have been protecting.


Very truly yours,

Peter Brent


Herbert says “Should that letter reach the Department of Justice we are ruined.”

Eva puts letter and money back in safe and everyone leaves except Locke and Eva.

Locke [Houdini] tells Eva, “This electrical device will notify me, as well as hold anyone who attempts to open the safe.  In this way I hope to discover who is in the automation.”


In fact most of Episode 3 is missing from the Kino DVD release, but is available on the print at the UCLA Film Archives:

Balcom and Brent, owners of International Patents, a firm that has made a fortune by keeping patented inventions off the market, quarrel, the outcome of which leaves Brent stricken by the “Madagascar (or laughing) madness.” A giant automaton whose secret retreat is under the Brent house is responsible for the crimes committed and Quentin Locke, the newly engaged head of the laboratories endeavors to aid Eva, daughter of Brent, in solving the mystery. In attempting to find an antidote to restore Eva’s father to sanity, Locke has been thrown from a dock by the emissaries of the automaton. Miraculously he escapes. One of the emissaries is captured and put in jail, and Locke impersonates him in order to get to the automaton at the acid mills. Eva is coerced into going to the acid mills to meet Locke, but instead is abducted by the automaton. Locke is left suspended over a seething vat of acid, with Eva unwittingly the key to his demise should she open the door to where Locke has been shackled.


Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – Mystery Solved

As promised, here is a post that sums up the mystery of all of the movies, we discussed in the previous four posts:

Well, it is pretty obvious, that The Master Mystery was re-cut into these four new attractions, which according to John Cox at Wild About Houdini was a practice that went on in the days of silent films.

With that said, I believe the following ad that appeared in the Moving Picture World on January 8, 1921 and January 15, 1921 pretty much sums up the mystery of the four movies:


Now, we just need to find prints of these pirated movies.

Possibly Depicting a Scene From The Master Mystery?


The very nice publicity illustration above just sold ($1600) at the Potter & Potter Auction for the Magic Collection of David Baldwin.  Congratulations to the winner!

Below is the auction description:


[Houdini, Harry (Ehrich Weiss)] Ogle, R.B. Original Publicity Illustration of Houdini. Circa 1920s. Pen and ink on paper, possibly depicting a scene from The Master Mystery (1920), in which Houdini is shown climbing through an open window into a bedroom at night and bearing down on a man wielding a dagger. “Kinema Comic” annotated in pencil in lower margin, with scattered printer’s annotations and stamps. Artist’s name identified on verso. 10 x 13″. Old central vertical fold.

The description mentions that it is “Possibly Depicting a Scene from The Master Mystery”.

Well, we know the artist R.B. Ogle has created Aeroplane sketches for Kinema Comic that depict scenes from The Grim Game.  The originals (seen below) are now in the Arthur Moses Collection which I was fortunate enough to see in person.


Since I have finally seen all of The Master Mystery, plus studied the script, synopsis, and book, I feel that I am qualified to answer the question if the publicity illustration sold by Potter & Potter auction depicts a scene from The Master Mystery.  The short answer is, No.

That said, Episode 11 of The Master Mystery has an incredible scene in a deserted shack,where the Madagascan Strangler attempts to stab Houdini that I would like to describe.

The following are two title cards from Episode 11:


At Paul’s instigation, Eva has

been abducted; and one of his

followers disguised as a minister,

attempts to perform a false mar-

riage ceremony.


—while Quentin Locke has been

bound and placed under the

coverings of a sofa, where he

is left to the tender mercies

of the Madagascan.

While Eva is being married to Paul against her will, the Madagascan Strangler thrusts a knife into the form of Locke (Houdini) laying on the sofa.  To his surprise, the Madagascan is caught at his ankles and thrown to the floor.  Houdini had shifted his position to meet the expected attack and ironically “strangles” the Madagascan Strangler.

A little later in Episode 11, they flashback and reveal exactly how Houdini caught the Madagascan off guard:

  • Houdini all tied up is seen rolling out from the sheet in the back of the sofa where he escapes his bonds.  He then rolls underneath the sofa as the Strangler approaches with the knife.

Note: This scene only appears in the movie, it does not appear in The Master Mystery Novel.

Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Doctor’s Vengeance

As promised in my last post, here is evidence of another one of the four films based on The Master Mystery – The Doctor’s Vengeance.

The first ads that I could find are from January, 1921:


[The Public Ledger (Maysville, Kentucky)]

I also found some ads from March 1921:


[Witchita Daily Times (Wichita Falls, Texas)]

May 1921 is the last time I could find an ad for the picture.


[The Houston Post (Houston, Texas)]

Next week:

  • Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – Mystery Solved

Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Law Pirates

As promised in my last post, here is evidence of another one of the four films based on The Master Mystery – The Law Pirates.

The first ads that I could find are from October 31, 1920.  Below are a couple of them.


[The Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania]

So what was the gist of The Law Pirates.

According to an ad for the Colonial Theatre, dated Nov 17, 1920, it was:

“Reaiizing the menace that the future wars will bring by the deadly submarine the government has placed a premium on all devices that will overcome it.  A poor inventor has perfected a wonderful submarine suit and in seeking aid in his experiments interests Houdini. A band of ‘law pirates’ headed by a clever but unscrupulous lawyer try to steal the invention.”

[The Daily Gate City and Constitution Democrat, (Keokuk, Iowa)]


[The Journal News, (Hamilton, Ohio)]

And from ads for the Grand Theatre, dated Nov 19, 1920, we know that Houdini is Very Pleasing in “The Law Pirates”:

“Houdini is just as mysterious an ever in ‘The Law Pirates’ in which he is now being seen at the Grand theatre.  Houdini is just naturally a man of mystery and in ‘The Law Pirates’ he does all kinds of thrilling mysterious things.  Big houses saw the initial presentation of this picture last night and everyone was pleased.  It remains the attraction at the Grand today and tomorrow with ‘The Water Plug’, a clever comedy as the added feature.”

[Hamilton Evening Journal (Hamilton, Ohio)]

“Unusually large houses greeted Houdini in ‘The Law Pirates’ at the Grand last night.  Houdini is becoming quite a screen favorite in Hamilton especially among those who like mystery and action and Houdini is not anything if he is not mysterious.”

[Hamilton Evening Journal (Hamilton, Ohio)]

And from ads, dated Dec 13 and 14, 1920, we learn the following:

“Supported by Ruth Stonehouse in this great picture Houdini will be seen as an inventor of a device for the government to overcome the deadly submarine and a band of parties seek to steal it.  If you have seen Houdini in ‘Terror Island’ you know him as the man of mystery.”

[The Gettysburg Times, (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)]

And from an ad, dated March 10, 1921:


[The Public Ledger, (Maysville, Kentucky)]

October 1921 is the last time I could find an ad for the picture.


[The Des Moines Register, (Des Moines, Iowa)]

Next week:

  • Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Doctor’s Vengeance

Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Lure Of Power

As promised in my last post, here is evidence of another one of the four films based on The Master Mystery – The Lure Of Power.

Based on the date of the ads, The Lure of Power appears to be the first of the four films that showed up in theatres in early October 1920.


[Fitchburg Sentinel, Fri, Oct 1, 1920]


[Fitchburg Sentinel, Fri, Oct 2, 1920]

February 1921, is the last time I could find any ads for the picture.


[The Public Ledger Wed Feb 2, 1921]

Next week:

  • Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Law Pirates

Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Marked Woman

Well, back in May 2013, Bill Mullins, over at the Genii Forum shared two December 1920 advertisements for Houdini appearing in the film “The Marked Woman”.  And John Cox over at Wild About Harry followed up with a post about the ads titled, A Houdini movie mystery.


[The Bristol Daily Courier, Nov 30, 1920]

Well, not only have I found additional ads (see above for one) for The Marked Woman, but I have found evidence for three other films based on The Master Mystery.

  • The Lure of Power
  • The Law Pirates
  • The Doctor’s Vengeance

In the coming weeks, I will do separate posts for each of these other three films and end with a post that sums up the mystery of all of these movies.

Meanwhile, let’s take a closer look at The Marked Woman:

The first ads that I could find are from November 1920.  Below are from the Princess Theatre in San Antonio, Texas:


[San Antonio Evening News Nov. 13, 1920]


[San Antonio Evening News Nov. 15 and 16]

So what was the gist of the mystery drama, titled The Marked Woman.  According to an ad for the New Colonial Theatre, dated Nov 30, 1920, it was:

“One of those gripping stories in which two women fight for an immense fortune.  One uses fair means — the other foul.  Everything seems to work against the rightful heir and clever band of crooks operating with perfect accord seems to have the fortune within their grasp many times only to be frustrated by Houdini.”  [The Bristol Daily Courier, Bristol, PA]

And from December 1920 ads, we know that the “hand-cuff King Houdini the man of mystery is supported by Ruth Stonehouse and an all star cast [Charles E. Graham, Marguerite Marsh, Wm. Pike]”.

The Gettysburg times ad from Dec 27, 1920 lists the price for Adults as 20 cents and 15 cents for Children, but the next day ad for Dec 28 lists the price for Children as 10 cents, not 15 cents.

We also know from the ads that the picture is “not a serial, but a five reel drama of mystery by the world’s greatest magician”.


July 1921 is the last time I could find any ads for the picture.


[The Des Moines Register Jul 13 and Jul 14, 1921]

Next week:

  • Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Lure Of Power