October 1954 releases (programs) of Houdini

Houdini was first released July 1953 in the United States. In October 1954, “Houdini” starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, was released in Denmark and Austria.

Below is a Danish Program from my personal collection:

Joe M. Notaro Collection

Joe M. Notaro Collection

Joe M. Notaro Collection

Joe M. Notaro Collection

To be continued next week with another program from my collection.


Janet Leigh Straitjacket Photos on eBay

img_0184These photos are currently available on eBay as a buy it now for $14.99 plus $4.50 shipping:

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Four years ago, I was fortunate enough to see all of the Special Collection Photographs for Paramount’s 1953 Movie “Houdini” (starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh) at the Margaret Herrick Library.  These included similar photographs from the Janet Leigh Collection, but different than those offered on eBay.

There are also some similarly priced eBay photographs of Tony Curtis in a milk can that I haven’t seen before:

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Straitjacket Escape to Promote “Houdini” Opening

Below is an original 1953 Press Photo I recently acquired of a magician performing a straitjacket escape to promote the release of the Tony Curtis Houdini movie in front of the Paramount theater.


Click on the link below to find out who the magician is and to read the published text that went with the press photo.

While I wasn’t born yet for the opening in 1953, the movie did change my life when I saw it as a kid in the 70’s.  Below is a Oct 2, 1977 TV guide promotion for the movie, which shows Houdini hanging from a Straitjacket.


The movie also had a big effect on me in 2015, when the TCM Film Festival screened a rare 35mm print from the Paramount archive.  I felt like I was able to experience the movie like it appeared back in the day.   And to promote the movie, my friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, introduced it and Dorothy performed one of the best straitjacket and handcuff escapes I have seen, which received a standing ovation.


On November 15, Houdini (1953) is due to be released on a new DVD and Blu-ray with a Straitjacket on the cover.


How Many Times did Houdini Escape from a Giant Football?

Football 001Since today is Super Bowl Sunday, I thought I would share the two times that I am aware of that Houdini escaped from a Giant Football:

During an engagement at the Keith’s Theatre, a Boston sporting goods manufacturer had challenged Houdini to escape from a giant football.  The magician was stuffed inside and a chain was passed through the eyelets and padlocked.  After twelve minutes, Houdini reappeared, somewhat disheveled; but the ball appeared untouched, the stitching was intact.   Years later, he repeated the stunt in Pittsburgh and had the entire University of Pennsylvania football squad carry the huge pigskin up the aisle and onto the stage.

The University of Pennsylvania football team was matched against Houdini on the stage of Keith’s Chestnut Street Theater in Philadelphia on January 4, 1907.  The entire squad, in gridiron uniform, jogged down the aisle with a giant football (manufactured by the A.J. Reach Company) and lifted it up behind the footlights.  They then manacled Houdini, bent him double to fit inside the opening of the ball.  The handcuff king couldn’t turn around inside the football. The pigskin was laced with a brass chain and padlocked.  The ball and Houdini was rolled into his curtained cabinet. Harry was out in thirty-four minutes.


  • Houdini The Key by Culliton
  • Houdini The Untold Story by Christopher


The following cut sequence is from the blue pages of the 1st PRELIMINARY GREEN April 23, 1952 Philip Yordan script for the Tony Curtis Houdini movie:


On the stage at Keith’s theatre, eleven members of the Yale Football Team, wearing the football uniforms of the period, cart a giant leather football on to the stage.

H, clad only in bathing trunks and securely manacled, is put into the football through the opened lacing, then the players lace it up tightly.

A screen is put around the football.  The football players ring themselves around the screen to make sure no outside assistance can be given H in his escape.

The orchestra plays the Yale Alma Mater Song.  The audience is full of college students.

Suddenly H, wearing a Yale football uniform, comes running down the aisle from the back of the theatre, waving a pair of Yale pennants, to the amazement of the team and the audience.

On stage the football players pull away the screen revealing that the football is still tightly laced.

The audience goes wild.

Another Ending to the Tony Curtis Houdini Movie

TC JL Flower

Paramount Picture Corporation

Kevin Connolly over at Houdini Himself replied to my post that described two different endings with the following comment:

I haven’t read the script in a very, very long time, but I seem to remember that there was a third ending. As I try to remember it, I think it was just Bess (Janet Leigh) at the end by herself and Houdini has been dead for a while. I think she was doing something with a flower setting.

As promised, I said that I would do a blog about the third ending that Kevin mentioned.

The second draft screenplay (Yellow) dated August 5, 1952 ends as follows:

After Otto smashes the glass front of the cell with his axe, there is a close shot of a crystal vase of red roses on a table before a half-opened window.  A gust of wind whips the curtains back against the vase.  The vase topples to the floor and crashes.

We then see Bess dressed for traveling, packing a wardrobe trunk.  She crosses the broken vase, gathers up the red roses, and sees a small note twined around the stem of one of the roses.  She lays the roses on the table and curiously unwinds the note from the one red rose.  The wind whips the lace curtain across her face, shrouding it like a mourning veil.  As she brushes the curtain aside from her eyes to read the note:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Even after I’m dead

I’ll still love you.

As tears well in her eyes she glances up from the red rose to a faded yellow poster on the wall.  The music of the Dime Museum comes softly over the poster of Houdini at the age of twenty, wearing his ill-fitting dress suit and pulling a rabbit out of a silk hat, the age old symbol of the magician.

The End.

Part 2: Is this really how it went down?

TC Dressing Room Punch Water Cell

If we are referring to the first preliminary green screenplay (4-23-52) for the movie “Houdini” starring Tony Curtis, then the answer is, YES.  

As a result of the blow (i.e., punch) described in Part 1, Houdini is in bad shape when he goes on stage a little later that evening to do his most hazardous escape — the water  cell:

As he is placed in the water cell upside down, he sees the grotesque Halloween costumes and masks of some of the children in the packed audience and his face shows fear as he realizes it is Halloween night.

The curtains are drawn across the cell at the regularly allotted time.  Bess apprehensively signals Otto who whips the curtain aside, discovers Houdini lying unconscious, and quickly smashes the glass with an axe…

Bess is beside the dying Houdini in ambulance.  His voice is barely audible as he says, “I’ll come back, Bess — I’ll find a way — “  Bess nods through her tears…

It is Halloween night, 1936, and Bess and Sydney arrive at the abandoned Houdini house.  For the past nine years on the anniversary of Houdini’s death, Bess has come here to see if he could contact her.  She promised him to try for ten years before giving up and tonight is to be the last attempt.

Bess and Sydney wait patiently in Houdini’s study which has kept intact. Midnight comes and again nothing has happened.  Sydney is urging the intense Bess to leave when suddenly she hears the Hungarian waltz. A beatific look comes over her face, and Sydney, hearing nothing is puzzled.  Bess sways to the music and moves over to a faded poster.  It reads Schultz Dime Museum and shows a picture of Houdini at the age of twenty, wearing is ill-fitting dress suit and pulling a rabbit out of a silk hat.  The music swells to a crescendo….  [Screenplay read and summarized by Dorothy Harrington, 4-30-52]


If we are referring to the final version of the Tony Curtis movie (1953), then the answer is NO.

It went down like this:

Houdini is lying down in his dressing room, and winces, when Otto touches his stomach.

Otto: “Still hurts you there doesn’t?”

Houdini: “It’s alright.”

Otto: “You should have had that taken care of a long time ago.”

Houdini: “It’s nothing, it comes and goes.”

Otto: “I think it is your appendix”

Houdini: “Since when have you been practicing medicine?”

Otto: “You don’t have to be a doctor to know that something is wrong”

Houdini: “Alright I will have it looked at as soon as we finish the tour”

Later that evening, Houdini performs the Barrel Escape and the Steel Strait-Jacket Escape, but the audience wants more; they want the Torture Cell.

Houdini goes into his dressing room to prepare for the Torture Cell when he accidentally bumps his stomach against the handle of a sword protruded from a sword box illusion.  He is in obvious pain.

He enters the Pagoda Torture Cell. Houdini passes the time-limit and the cabinet is broken open, flooding the stage.  Houdini is still hanging in the cabinet, unconscious.

Bess is then seen beside the dying Houdini on stage.   He regains consciousness long enough to promise her that he will come back to her, he will find a way somehow.

We then hear the Hungarian Waltz and fade to a poster that reads Schultz Dime Museum and shows a picture of Houdini at the age of twenty, wearing is ill-fitting dress suit and pulling a rabbit out of a silk hat.  The music swells to a crescendo…  The End

According to the man (Jon Oliver) that currently sleeps in Houdini’s bed: It is believed that they changed the movies ending from Houdini getting punched to him dying in the cell because the lawyers at Paramount did not want to get a law suit since the students were still alive.  For another reason the ending could have changed, check out A New Twist on The End of Houdini by Tony Curtis.

If we are referring to how Houdini died in real life WRT the Houdini death blow (i.e., punch), then you will need to talk to Houdini’s Ghost (Patrick Culliton) or The Female Houdini (Dorothy Dietrich) for an answer and rethink the rethinking on the Houdini punch.

What are some things Harry Houdini and Tony Curtis have in common?

Young Tony Curtis and Young Houdini performing Magic [German Newspaper clipping from Janet Leigh Collection at Margaret Herrick Library]

Both performed most of their own tricks/stunts in their respective films:

  • Tony Curtis performs many of the tricks of the master himself in “H o u d i n i,” the Paramount picture…This accomplishment is probably worth noting, since the illusions could so easily be faked in a medium that itself used to be known as “the magic lantern.” [Newspaper clipping from Janet Leigh Collection]  In fact, George Boston (magic instructor) and Joe Dunninger (magician who inherited some of Houdini tricks and books) were technical advisors on the magic and escapes.
  • Harry performed most of his own stunts in “The Grim Game”, despite the fact that they could easily be faked by movie magic editing and using a stunt double (e.g., plane to plane transfer).

Both performed magic tricks on the set of their respective movies:

Both got injured making their respective movies:

Both are Kings of Cards:

  • Tony Curtis King of Cards Still [Paramount Pictures Corporation]

In Search of Original Houdini Material for 1953 Houdini Movie, Part 2 of 2

While looking through the production 11495 department records (In Search of the Lost Plane to Plane Transfer) at the Margaret Herrick Library Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I came across some very interesting correspondence WRT to Paramount trying to locate some original Houdini material for use in the 1953 movie starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.  Part 1 focused on the Milk Can and Part 2 will focus on Houdini’s Water Torture Cell(s).

Below is the text from a letter dated May 6, 1952 from Gordon Cole of Paramount Pictures, Inc to Mr. Sam Frey (Paramount Executive):


Will you please include in the night wire to New York the following message:

I have been advised that Julian B. Proskauer, 148 Lafayette, Canal 64450, may have or know the where-abouts of the original Chinese Water Torcher Cell, used by Houdini.

Could this be checked and advise us if the cell is available to us, condition and cost.

Gordon Cole

Below is the text from a letter dated May 8, 1952 from Gordon Cole of Paramount Pictures, Inc to Hillar:

Dear Hillar:

Herewith two photographs of the Chinese Water Torture Cell. You will note that they are apparently two different cells in construction and I do not know which one you have located in New York.

As I explained to you by telephone, we will undoubtedly have to fake the cell as far as our actor is concerned.  It may be necessary to put a double glass in the front with water between the two glasses so that our actor in the back doesn’t drown.  We estimate the cost of construction here of the cell at roughly Fifteen Hundred Dollars ($1500.00), and it may prove in the final analysis, better that we build it here for picture purposes, rather than use the original but we cannot afford to overlook the one in New York for the moment.  It may be that the cost of getting the cell from Massachusetts, shipping it to the Coast, reshipping it to you, working it over, etc. can be more costly than starting from scratch.

If you do not think it favorable to attempt to ship the cell from New York here, and it does match either one of the photographs, it would be a great help to us if you could give us detailed dimensions, as we have nothing but photographs from which to construct the cell.

Thanks for all your trouble and hope to see you out here this summer. Best regards,

Gordon Cole

Below are pictures of Houdini’s water torture cells: