What is Houdini hiding behind his straw hat?

Arbuckle-Houdini-Group (1)

Image courtesy of Kevin Connolly

The photo above has most of the cast from “Back Stage”: In the front row, we have Fatty Arbuckle, Molly Malone, Bess and Harry Houdini and in the back row, we have Buster Keaton and Al St. John.


Image courtesy of Kevin Connolly

Fatty performing his version of “The Needles”.

The above two photos were taken at the Lasky Studiios where Houdini was making “The Grim Game” and Fatty Arbuckle and company were making “Back Stage”.

Prior to these photos with Arbuckle, Houdini risked his life and sustained injury in making “The Grim Game”.

Marc Wanamaker Bison Archives Grim Game Image

Image courtesy of Marc Wanamaker, Bison Archives

So that means, he is hiding the cast behind his straw hat in the pictures with Arbuckle.

Arbuckle and Houdini with Cast

Image courtesy of Kevin Connolly

Houdini showing off even with a cast on his left wrist.

Special thanks to Leo Hevia for giving me the idea for this post.

Houdini Arrives at Lasky Studio

Harry Houdini monarch of mystery, arrived at Hollywood, Cal. where he started work immediately at the Lasky Studio under the direction of Irvin Willat on the big six-reel mystery [The Grim Game] written specially for him by Arthur B. Reeve, author of “Craig Kennedy” stories, and John Gray.

Sante Fe Station in Los Angeles May 1919

Houdini was met at the Santa Fe station in Los Angeles by Studio Manager Fred Kley and others, including a number of newspaper and publicity men who had been lying in wait for him with a number of stunts of extrication which they figured he would be unable to perform.  They wasted no time In setting the famous escape artist to work and in a few minutes they had chained and roped him to one of the big wheels of a locomotive.  When they believed he was secure they told him he might release himself if he could.  He did so in less than a minute.

Source: Motion Picture News May 17, 1919



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.


Famous Players-Lasky Backlot

Houdini came to Hollywood, California in 1919 to film his two features (The Grim Game and Terror Island) for the Famous Players Lasky. The Famous Players-Lasky Backlot sat on the corner of Vine Street and Selma Avenue in Hollywood.  Click here to see other photos of the backlot.  See below for images of Houdini on the backlot.

The photo above is from my copy of the Magical Bulletin (April 1921 Vol. 9, No. 4). It shows Mr. Harry Houdini in the act of entertaining some of his associates at the Hollywood Studios during the filming of his famous pictures.

The photo above sold on eBay back in July. It shows Houdini standing on what is most likely the Famous Players-Lasky studio backlot.

To see another fantastic photo of Houdini on the Famous Players Lasky backlot, check out John’s blog at WildAboutHoudini.com titled, Houdini in HOLLYWOOD; the image on the blog is from Arthur Moses Collection.