In Search of Original Houdini Material for 1953 Houdini Movie, Part I 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. Below is the text from a letter dated May 22, 1952 from Julien J. Proskauer (Theo Hardeen’s closest friend, past publisher of Conjurors Magazine and co-founder of Magicians Guild) to Mr. Gordon Cole of Paramount Pictures, Inc:

Dear Mr. Cole:

I am sorry that I did not get this issue of Conjurors’ Magazine off to you earlier.  It was very difficult to find a copy which was not defaced too much.

You will find on page 8 a copy of the only picture made with Hardeen and Houdini in an early model Winton motor car. On Page 13 is the story of the Milk Can which I referred.

You may recall that I mentioned the “Book of Life.” On pages 20 and 21 is the story of this illusion, and on page 35 is the complete working diagram showing the girl inside of the binding of the “Book.” Houdini and Hardeen had discussed this illusion as early as 1920 but nothing was done with it until a few months before Hardeen’s death, when we took the original working diagram from Houdini’s confidential books (found in a trunk at Hardeen’s home) and all of us doped out that which you see here.

Incidentally on page 23 is an accurate photograph of the original “overboard box.” This was the so-called “break away”which for many years was used by both Houdini and Hardeen.

Of great interest in the same issue is the picture of Houdini on page 22 in the Milk Can Escape pictured in full detail on page 1 of the book. This was the Milk Can Escape that Houdini made famous.  The original can is for sale at this date.

My interest, as I explained to you, is solely that of insuring that the picture is correct. On page 12 of this issue are the handcuffs that Hardeen inherited from Houdini and are now in the possession of members of the Magicians’ Guild. Mr. Dunninger is not a member of the Guild and does not own any of these handcuffs.

I trust that this letter is quite explanatory both as to the existence of Houdini material as shown on page 40 and throughout this entire issue.  I shall be glad to put you in touch with Douglas Geoffrey “Hardeen, Jr.”who owns all rights and titles to the “Houdini-Hardeen Show.”


Julien J. Proskauer

Note: During Houdini’s life, no one ever escaped, or was permitted to escape, from the Houdini milk can. Hardeen built a second milk can which was gimmicked in 1928. No one ever used this can or knew the secret beside Jim Collins until in 1930, Theo Hardeen taught the escape to Julien J. Proskauer, who in later years became a co-founder with Hardeen of the Magicians Guild. Mr. Proskauer made the escape countless times using Jim Collins as his Assistant. [Page 13 Conjurors Magazine No. 6 July 1945]

The photograph above shows,- Hardeen making the escape with Douglas Geoffrey and Jim Vickery as his Assistants.

In Search of Original Houdini Material for 1953 Houdini Movie, Part 2 of 2 will include correspondence WRT obtaining Houdini’s original Water Torture Cell(s).

1953 Houdini: In Search of the Lost Plane to Plane Transfer

For some time now, I have been intrigued by John’s blog at Wild About Harry titled: LIFE photos reveal cut wing walking sequence in 1953 Houdini biopic.  So last year, I decided to go to the Margaret Herrick Library Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in search of the Lost Plane to Plane Transfer.  I got to look at the press book, stills, newspaper clippings, and a number of different versions of scripts for the 1953 movie starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

Unfortunately, there were no plane photos/footage, nor any mention of the plane to plane transfer in any of the versions of the script that I read.

However, I did discover the mention of the plane transfer buried in some production 11495 department records:

Apparently, on October 21, 1952, it was listed as Montage number 5 of 6 montages:

  1. Needle Trick
  2. Levitation
  3. Bullet through Woman
  4. Cremation
  5. Plane Transfer (Crank at 16)
  6. Shot of Canon Close up Tony

Note: Montages 4, 5 and 6 did not make the cut, but montages 1, 2, and 3 did appear in the movie.

It was still listed as a Plane Transfer montage on a production call sheet dated: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 31st, 1952, along with the Needle Trick, Levitation, Bullet thru Woman, and Cremation montage. Also, the Milk Can shows up for the first time on this call sheet as a montage, but the canon montage is missing on the call sheet. Note: The Milk Can did not make the cut, either.

Also, on a RETAKES AND MONTAGES sheet dated 10/31/52 there is a brief description of a plane transfer shot taken on 10/31/52 that read as follows:

  • MED. LONG SHOT – Houdini on rope swings to wing of plane – MOVES DOWN as he lands – releases rope – climbs down (BLACK & WHITE).

The RETAKES AND MONTAGES sheet also included a brief description of montage shots for the Canon, Cremation, Milk Can and others (e.g., Bullet thru Woman, needle trick, levitation, card tricks).

In reading the scripts and shooting schedule for the movie, discovered some other illusions/routines that did not make the final cut: IRON MAIDEN ILLUSION, ELEPHANT ROUTINE, PAPER BAG ESCAPE, WINDMILL ESCAPE, CARETTE ESCAPE, FOOTBALL ESCAPE, and BURIED ALIVE ESCAPE.

Although there were no photos of the plane transfer, there were some LIFE photos of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis performing the Cremation Illusion and the Bullet thru Woman Illusion. Also, there were a couple LIFE photos of Janet Leigh escaping from a
see-thru lace straight jacket which unfortunately didn’t make it in the movie. And, there were two official Paramount Picture Corporation stills, 11495-43 and 11495-78 that showed the cremation illusion and the milk can escape respectively.

In future related blogs, I plan to describe some correspondence WRT trying to locate original Houdini material (e.g. handcuffs, Milk Can, Overboard box, Book of Life illusion, and Water Torture Cell) for use in the 1953 movie.  As well as describe in more detail some of the montage escapes and illusion sequences that didn’t make the cut.  I also plan to do a blog on what Harry Houdini and Tony Curtis have in common?