Harry Houdini Mysteries & Scandals 1998 Documentary PLUS Grim Game Fragments

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Thought today I would share a E documentary that was hosted by AJ Benza. It was released 26 October 1998.

It contains fragments (0:08-11:00; 18:54-19:00; 28:32-28:36) from the Grim Game that also appeared on History’s Lost and Found (episode #22) that aired in 2000.

On Wednesday, December 8, 2010 John Cox at WildAboutHoudini first shared these fresh fragments from the Grim Game:

These clips come from History’s Lost and Found (episode #22) which showcased Houdini’s Water Torture Cell and first aired in 2000. In the introductory montage we see a collection of Houdini footage. Much of it is familiar — but then pops up three (two) distinct fragments from, yes, The Grim Game!
So where did these fragments come from, and how much footage was trimmed away? Is it possible these full sequences exist somewhere outside the infamous Larry Weeks print?
The show credits still and stock footage from all the segments together, but within the list we see a handful of suspects who could have supplied the clips: Houdini Historical Society, Sidney H. Radner Collection, Houdini Tribute.com, John Gaughan, Morris Young Collection, Archive Film and Photos, Budget Films/eFootage, Hot Shots Cool Cuts, Steamline Stock Footage, and WPA Film Library.
Okay, fess up! Who (else) is squatting on footage from The Grim Game?

Photos & Footage on the 1998 documentary are credited as follows:

So based on the documentary credits, that narrows these Grim Game footage fragments to:

  • Sidney H. Radner Collection Houdini Historical Center, Appleton WI Outgamie County Historical Society
  • Hot Shots/Cool Cuts

That said, as far as I can tell these fragments still exist (as flipped or reversed images) on the Larry Weeks (now TCM) print.

Anyhow, enjoy the documentary that includes some interesting comments from the late great Ken Silverman:

One of the stunts he done was stand on top of Bi-plane and jump into Lake Michigan handcuffed. (18:04-18:08)

Ruptured appendix caused peritonitis to set in. Peritonitis comes from bacterium and appendicitis comes from the bacterium and he couldn’t have got that from a punch in the stomach so he must have had it before. (20:17- 20:24)

Houdini’s Connections with the Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity House

Thanks to Chuck Romano, who recently commented on John Cox excellent post on the owners and occupants of 278, we learned that Houdini’s House at 278 W 113th Street in New York City was a Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house at one time:

278 was definitely rented to students in 1917-18. Several students belonging to the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity were listed in “Banta’s Greek exchange: published in the interest of the college fraternity world” with the address of 278 W. 113th St. The founders of Sigma Alpha Mu were all of the Jewish faith, and the fraternity naturally attracted men of the similar background.

 

This made me recall another Houdini connection to the “Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house” that Patrick Culliton (aka Houdini’s Ghost) shared on the magic cafe:

I hate to quote this much from Don Bell. Everyone who is interested in this subject should buy his book.

Sam Smiley:

A month or so later they tell me there’s a letter for me in the Dean’s office. It’s from Ernst, Fox and Cane, the New York attorneys. They said, we understand you and your friends were in Houdini’s room, and one of your friends struck the blows, and so forth, we understand it was purely accidental. Our sole interest is in collecting on a double indemnity accident insurance policy for Mrs. Houdini. Would you help by telling us what happened?

I showed the letter to Harry Cohen, a lawyer who was living at the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house with us on Shuter (now Aylmer) Street. He said I should write it right down. I did. But I said, before recounting what occurred I want to make two observations: there were three persons in the room when the blows were struck, and the blows were struck by the third person, not by my friend or myself. The New York attorneys wanted to put it into affidavit form and I recommended Harry: and he was very grateful.

And he gets in touch with this fellow Whitehead. Cohen had had a peritonitis operation himself and he had this band around his waist and some of the bad matter was still oozing out of the wound. He tells me that when Whitehead came in for the affidavit, he was very arrogant and laughed about the incident, not in the least penitent. “Oh, it was nothing at all,” he says to them, “let me show you how I did it.” “No, no, don’t show me,” Cohen tells him. He thought Whitehead might be crazy enough to punch him in the abdomen like he did to Houdini.

So, Houdini definitely had ties to the Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity House in New York and Montreal.  Something to ponder?

Related:

Photo Credits:

  • John Hinson Collection via WildAboutHoudini.com
  • McGill University Yearbook

“How Houdini Died” and “Was Houdini Killed?”

houdini-cwpm-photo-1

Houdini died 90 years ago, today. What led to his death and was he killed?

The following snippet from an article written by Bayard Grimshaw gives a clue:

The full story of the events leading to Houdini’s death was first told, to the best of my knowledge, in a well-written, detailed article by Stanley Handman which appeared in the Canadian Weekend Picture Magazine for 12th September, 1953.

[Abracadabra Magazine Saturday 23rd March 1974  page 230]

For years, I thought this article referenced by Bayard Grimshaw was the same article that Patrick Culliton posted the text for on his houdinighost.com website, which was titled:

That was, until I was finally able to get a copy of the Canadian Weekend Picture article, which was titled:

It turns out the source for the 12th September 1953 article in the Canadian Weekend Picture article was the undated file (“Was Houdini Killed?” by S. J. Smiley) from the Fulton Oursler collection, currently in the Georgetown University Library.

FWIW: Fulton Oursler, aka Samri Frikell and Anthony Abbot, was an American journalist, playwright, editor and writer, who aided Harry Houdini in his crusade against fraudulent mediumship, and died May 24, 1952. Writing as Anthony Abbot, he was a notable author of mysteries and detective fiction. He also wrote under his own name on Christian themes.

With that, I leave you with a snippet from Was Houdini Killed? article to ponder:

While Houdini was thus discoursing and I drawing, there was a rap at the door, and Houdini’s secretary ushered in a rather tall individual – he must have been at least six foot two – wearing a blue gabardine coat that seemed much too small for him, and carrying three or four books under his arm. The newcomer appeared to have known Houdini and had, in fact, come that day to return a book Houdini had loaned him a few days before; his name was Whitehead, and he was the theological student at McGill University.
Whitehead was an oldish looking young man about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years of age. He impressed one as being the very genteel type of student. His face was ruddy, his hair very thin on top; his frame was powerful though loosely-knit, and his neck was inordinately long. He spoke softly with an exaggerated Oxford accent.
With the advent of Whitehead the conversation continued anew, and though I was disturbed from time to time by the fact that Houdini had to turn his head to answer Whitehead’s numerous queries (for he was an enthusiastic talker) I found a good deal of interest in what was said…
It seems that Houdini had been a detective for many years and had aided in unraveling so many mysteries and had read so many detective stories, that he boasted of being able to piece together any detective story, unknown to him of course, by hearing three or four paragraphs from different sections of such story. Whitehead, who had a mystery book with him, tried the experiment; he read excerpts from three or four different sections of the book, and Houdini apparently was able to give the gist of the story. At this juncture Houdini made an observation which I shall always remember, “think of the trouble I might have caused if I had used my talents for ill.”
More conversation and then Whitehead asked Houdini another question. “What is your opinion of the miracles mentioned in the Bible?”
Houdini tactfully replied, “I prefer not to discuss or to comment on matters of this nature. I would make one observation, however, – what would succeeding generations said of Houdini’s feats had he performed them in Biblical times? Would they have been referred to as ‘miracles’?”
Whitehead appeared to be somewhat taken aback at this statement.
It was at this point that Whitehead began to manifest what seem to me an astonishing interest in Houdini’s physical strength. Then, out of a clear sky, Whitehead asked, “is it true, Mr. Houdini, that you can resist the hardest blows struck to the abdomen?”

Thoughts?

Related:

Houdini’s Death Officially Laid to Boy’s Blow?

I recently came across the following newspaper clippings that contradict one another and thought they were worthy of sharing. Enjoy!

According to the following newspaper excerpt dated June 13, 1927:

HOUDINI’S DEATH OFFICIALLY LAID TO BOY’S BLOW

June 13 1927 HH DEATH CAUSED BY BLOWAccording to the LEWISTON GAZETTE Nov. 1, 1926 Lewiston Maine:

HOUDINI’S DEATH NOT CAUSED BY A STUDENT’S PUNCH

Nov 1 1926 HH DEATH NOT CAUSED BY BLOWMcGill University Professor Denies Magician Struck by Student-Secret of Conjurer’ Mystic Performances Sealed in Mystery of Death

MONTREAL.  Nov. 1 Harry Houdini did not die of an injury received on Oct. 22 but was so sick when he came here that he was under care of a trained nurse the two men connected with his Montreal appearance asserted today.

The magicians family in Detroit expressed the opinion that the fatal illness was due to a blow dealt by a McGill University student in testing the magician’s strength.

Abie Wright, manager of the local theatre where Houdini recently appeared, said Houdini was ill when he came to Montreal and forced himself, with great difficulty to go through with his performance.

Dr. William D. Tait, professor of phychology at McGill University where Houdini delivered a lecture before the McGill Union, said there was no encounter between the magician and a student, as reported from Detroit.

So was it illness or accident?  Did the blows aggregate an existing condition?

It was vital his death be ruled an accident as opposed to being caused by a physical ailment in order to collect double.

An interoffice memo from a Mr. Cook to a Mr. McCall summarizing the New York Life Insurance Company case mentions that although there were rumors that Houdini had been suffering from stomach trouble prior to this time we have been unable to verify them and I think it must be conceded from the doctors statements and from affidavits submitted to us that the appendicitis resulted from the blows.

Special Thank You to Pat Culliton (aka Houdini’s Ghost) for Cook to McCall reference.

ADDENDUM

According to Bernard C. Meyer:

Abdominal trauma has also been cited as a cause of peritonitis when it resulted in the rupture of an already diseased organ or abscess. This raises the possibility that Houdini had been afflicted with an inflamed appendix before he had been punched in the abdomen by Mr. Whitehead. Although there is no record of his having suffered symptoms referable to such a condition prior to the blow, one observer, Doctor William D. Tait, professor of psychology at McGill, who escorted Houdini to the lecture platform on the afternoon of the nineteenth, noted that at the conclusion of his talk he sat down immediately, “as he was suffering great pain from his fractured ankle.” Conceivably, it was his abdomen that was causing his distress and not his ankle, which had been fractured eight days earlier.  This account appeared in the November first issue of the Montreal Daily Star under a headline which read: “Houdini . . . looked ill at lecture.” A newspaper reporter claimed to have seen “the stamp of death on his countenance.” [Houdini: A Mind in Chains, pages 176 – 177].

Does the size of his appendix (“a long affair”) indicate it was diseased?

Special Thank You to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for the Bernard C. Meyer reference.

Houdini’s Last Interview

The week of October 18-23, 1926 Houdini was at the Princess Theatre, Montreal Canada.  It was on October 22, 1926 that Houdini got punched in the dressing room of the theatre.  According to Silverman, the dressing room was small, about eight feet by ten.  What follows is a Montreal Daily Star newspaper ad from my personal collection that is reported to be Houdini’s last interview in October 1926.  This interview by Viola Cameron would have taken place in the dressing room at the Princess Theatre during the week Houdini was there.

Houdini Last Newspaper Interview October 1926 Montreal Daily StarViola Cameron interviews him in his dressing room with folks coming and going:  “three secretaries” with reports on his investigations and “three assistants” awaiting  his orders.There was also mention of him, “helping in an unbelievable measure those who visit him hourly with woeful tales of fraud through the medium, the fortune teller and the magician. Houdini is their friend and their voluntary advisor”.

The opening quote by Houdini is also of interest: “no man is great while he is alive because the last day before his death he might do something that would discount all else of greatness in his career”.

Houdini died shortly after this interview on October 31, 1926.

Thoughts?

Houdini is struck in the stomach by Smiley.  What?

smiley yearbook

Samuel J. Smilovitz a.k.a “Smiley” was the art student who sketched Houdini during his lecture at McGill’s Union Hall on October 19, 1926. Houdini was so impressed with the sketch that he invited Smiley to come see him backstage at the Princess Theater and do another for him. Smiley invited a friend, Jacques Price, and together they visited Houdini on October 22. It was during this visit that a third student, J. Gordon Whitehead, who was unknown to both Smiley and Price, joined the gathering. The rest is Houdini history or is it.

According to Frank Koval in the Illustrated Houdini Research Diary, Houdini is struck in the stomach by Smiley on October 22nd.  What?

And according to Walter B. Gibson in The Master Magicians, all three students delivered punches, which would have included Smiley.  What?

During the week of October 17, 1926, Houdini appeared in Montreal, and one morning toward the end of his engagement, a group of college students [Smiley, Price, Whitehead] stopped at the theater to interview him.  Houdini talked about the physical fitness needed in his escapes acts, and demonstrated how he could brace the muscles of his abdomen to offset heavy blows.  One student, then another, delivered punches at Houdini’s invitation.

As a third hesitated, Houdini relaxed, thinking the youth had given up the idea.  Instead, the student made a belated swing.  Houdini received the punch off guard, and it nearly crumpled him, but he managed to brush it off as if had not hurt him.

That night, he complained of a pain in his side, which grew steadily worse.  When the show reached Detroit, he was running a fever, but still insisted upon giving his performance when he learned that the theater was sold out.  That was Houdini’s last show.  He collapsed at the finish and was rushed to hospital, suffering from an acute case of appendicitis.  Surgeons operated immediately, but peritonitis was so far advanced that they were unable to save the patient’s life.  He died on Halloween, 1926.

All of this said, the full story of the events leading to Houdini’s death was first told, to the best of my knowledge, in a well-written, detailed article by Stanley Handman which appeared in the Canadian Weekend Picture Magazine for 12th September, 1953.

But wait a minute!  Sam J. Smiley is the source of the article.  It is believed that Stanley Handman gave his column that week to Smiley.

As far as I know, Smiley’s 1953 article is the first time that Whitehead’s name was first publically mentioned as the one that struck Houdini in the stomach.  What?

And a letter from Ernst, Fox and Cane to Smilowitz says:

“we understand you and your friends were in Houdini’s room, and one of your friends struck the blows, and so forth, we understand it was purely accidental. Our sole interest is in collecting on a double indemnity accident insurance policy for Mrs. Houdini.  Would you help by telling us what happened?”

Notice the only name they have is Smilowitz because he had given Houdini the sketch and his address.  We know Jacques Price was Smiley’s friend, but what about Whitehead?

So who punched Houdini in the dressing room at the theatre?  Smiley, Price, Whitehead or some other young man?

Wallace Irvin Whitehead 1926_0051

According to Silverman’s book,

[Smiley] identified the young man as Whitehead, a first-year student at McGill, and some biographers of Houdini have identified him further as J. Gordon Whitehead, but the only freshman  with that surname, according to the school’s yearbook, was named Wallace (Wallie) Whitehead, a good-looking twenty-two-year-old with slicked-down hair, manager of the class hockey league.

whitehead

Believed to be J. Gordon Whitehead at McGill

Since Silverman’s book, both Wallie and Gordon Whitehead have been found at McGill and they may have been brothers. What?

Whitehead, Smiley and Price were the only ones besides Houdini who knew what happened in the dressing room.

While anyone of the three students could have punched Houdini in the dressing room, the only real evidence that it was only J. Gordon Whitehead (30 years old) and not Wallace I Whitehead (22 years old), Smiley or Price is the affidavit from a J. Gordon Whitehead that has recently been made available.

According to the affidavit from J. Gordon Whitehead (3/16/1927),

I struck Houdini quite moderately and he smiled and laughingly said – “Why! Hit me.” I hesitated and he repeated – “Hit me”; I struck him a second blow slightly harder than the first, he gave not the slightest indication of any discomfort at either of the blows.  Both blows were struck on the left side of his body and above the navel.

The first affidavits from Samuel  Smilovitz (2/10/1927) and Jacques Price (2/14/1927) don’t mention Whitehead by name, they refer to him (“about 25 years of age“) as the Third McGill Student and first year student of McGill in Arts.  Interestingly, their second affidavits (SM 4/19/1927 JP 4/16/1927) do mention his name was Whitehead.  The affidavit (11/26/1926) from Houdini’s First Assistant, James Collins, mentions that Houdini was in the company with one Smilovitz and two other students (no names given) of McGill University, Montreal…On such occasion one of the said students struck Houdini with two blows in his stomach merely for the purpose of showing his resistance to blows.  Other affidavits from Sophie Rosenblatt (2/15/1927), Julia Karchere (5/7/1927), Julia Sauer (5/7/1927) mention that Houdini stated he had been violently struck a number of times by a student (no name given) of McGill University.

Based on the evidence, I think it is obvious, who punched Houdini?

Is Whitehead also found at Old McGill in 1927?

J Gordon Whitehead’s name appears on the ARTS 29 list in the Old McGill 1927 Yearbook, but the guy we surmised was Gordon in the ARTS 28 group photo from the 1926 Yearbook, does not appear to be found in this ARTS 29 group photo. This sort of makes sense, since Gordon supposedly dropped out of school shortly after the Houdini incident; so it is possible his name still appeared as a student in 1927, but he wasn’t around for a photo.

McGills 1926 ARTS 29 J Gordon Whitehead 1927_00641927_00651927_0332

Whitehead is Found at Old McGill in 1926

W G Whitehead 1926_0256

Whitehead McGill Rowing Club 1926_0257

Is the Whitehead above, the same Whitehead as the one below?

Whitehead

J. G. Whitehead

 

UPDATE:  The answer is NO.

W. G. Whitehead real name is Wallace I. Whitehead and was from the ARTS ’27 class.

Wallace Irvin Whitehead 1926_0051

W I Whitehead ARTS 27 1926_0056

W I Whitehead 1926_0057

See the Don Bell book, The Man Who Killed Houdini, chapter 13 (A Brother Found) and page 246 for some more information on a possible connection between Wally and Gordon.

J.Gordon Whitehead was from the ARTS ’28 class, although he never graduated. He was born in Gourock Scotland November 25, 1895, graduated from Kelowna High School, British Columbia, in 1914, and dropped out of McGill in 1926, almost immediately after the Houdini incident.

J G Whitehead ARTS 28 1926_0058

 

1926_0059Whitehead and Pickleman 1926_0356

 

Source: yearbooks.mcgill.ca

Special thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for the tip that led me to find the McGill Yearbooks.

The Student and the BOOK?

Whitehead Image

J. Gordon Whitehead circa 1950

The student is J. Gordon Whitehead, but what is the deal with the BOOK.

Whitehead is the one that punched Houdini in the dressing room at the Princess Theatre in Montreal on October 22, 1926.

Returning a borrowed book was supposedly how he gained entry to Houdini’s dressing room that fateful day.

Where did the return a borrowed book idea come from?

This question intrigued me so, I decided to investigate further.

If you examine all of the affidavits, none of them mention Whitehead returning a book.

If you examine all of the biographies, Milbourne Christopher’s, The Untold Story, appears to be the first one to mention a borrowed book being returned.  So where did Christopher and the later biographers get the idea.

The following snippet from an article written by Bayard Grimshaw gives a clue:

THE STUDENT AND THE BLOW

The full story of the events leading to Houdini’s death was first told, to the best of my knowledge, in a well-written, detailed article by Stanley Handman which appeared in the Canadian Weekend Picture Magazine for 12th September, 1953. The account is so circumstantial, and contains so many independently verifiable facts, that there is no reason to doubt its accuracy.

The full article, with its five illustrations, was reproduced as a supplement to The Magic Cauldron in October, 1965.  [Abracadabra Magazine Saturday 23rd March 1974  page 230]

Sam J. Smiley [student that made a drawing of Houdini in the dressing room] is the source of the article.  It is believed that Stanley Handman gave his column that week to Smiley.

Below is a portion of the Was Houdini Killed? article by Smiley that is applicable to this post:

While Houdini was thus discoursing and I drawing, there was a rap at the door, and Houdini’s secretary ushered in a rather tall individual – he must have been at least six foot two – wearing a blue gabardine coat that seemed much too small for him, and carrying three or four books under his arm. The newcomer appeared to have known Houdini and had, in fact, come that day to return a book Houdini had loaned him a few days before; his name was Whitehead, and he was the theological student at McGill University.
Whitehead was an oldish looking young man about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years of age. He impressed one as being the very genteel type of student. His face was ruddy, his hair very thin on top; his frame was powerful though loosely-knit, and his neck was inordinately long. He spoke softly with an exaggerated Oxford accent.
With the advent of Whitehead the conversation continued anew, and though I was disturbed from time to time by the fact that Houdini had to turn his head to answer Whitehead’s numerous queries (for he was an enthusiastic talker) I found a good deal of interest in what was said…
It seems that Houdini had been a detective for many years and had aided in unraveling so many mysteries and had read so many detective stories, that he boasted of being able to piece together any detective story, unknown to him of course, by hearing three or four paragraphs from different sections of such story. Whitehead, who had a mystery book with him, tried the experiment; he read excerpts from three or four different sections of the book, and Houdini apparently was able to give the gist of the story. At this juncture Houdini made an observation which I shall always remember, “think of the trouble I might have caused if I had used my talents for ill.”
More conversation and then Whitehead asked Houdini another question. “What is your opinion of the miracles mentioned in the Bible?”
Houdini tactfully replied, “I prefer not to discuss or to comment on matters of this nature. I would make one observation, however, – what would succeeding generations said of Houdini’s feats had he performed them in Biblical times? Would they have been referred to as ‘miracles’?”
Whitehead appeared to be somewhat taken aback at this statement.
It was at this point that Whitehead began to manifest what seem to me an astonishing interest in Houdini’s physical strength. Then, out of a clear sky, Whitehead asked, “is it true, Mr. Houdini, that you can resist the hardest blows struck to the abdomen?”

Of course much of the above now appears in the biographies by Silverman, Kalush and others.  As far as I know, Smiley’s article is the one and only source of a book being returned by Whitehead.  And it took almost 27 years since Houdini’s death to come too light. The 1953 article is also the first time that Whitehead’s name was first mentioned.

So, the return a borrowed book idea came from Smiley and only Smiley.

Thanks to Dick Brookz and Patrick Culliton for links to reference material (e.g., affidavits).

Related post:

Whitehead Second Visit

Whitehead Image

Only Known Image of Whitehead (circa 1950 Montreal)

First, let me start off by saying that the purpose of this post is not to argue one way or another WRT the intent of the infamous Whitehead punches; I will leave that to others. My purpose is to share and comment on the fact, that according to the sworn affidavit of J. Gordon Whitehead, he visited Houdini three times (i.e., two times after delivering the punches to Houdini); I found that to be quite interesting; feel free to draw your own conclusions to the significance of this. You can find a copy of the affidavit at Patrick Culliton’s Houdini’s Ghost website:

It is the second visit mentioned in statement 25 of the affidavit that I found fascinating:

  • 25. I called again on Houdini at the theater on Friday morning the 22 October 1926 at 10 AM during our conversation we spoke of longevity and he gave me a copy of the “Scientific American” for November;

After reading that statement, I just had to get a copy of the Scientific American for November 1926.

SA Nov 1926 Cover

Click on the page links below to read the Albert A. Hopkins article in November 1926 Scientific American on longevity that Whitehead mentions.

  • How Death Deals Its Cards: Death in a Thousand Shapes is Knocking Eternally at Everyman’s Door. [Page 362] [Page 363]

The article with an interesting title presents U.S. mortality statistics for 1923 by cause of death.  Don Bell (author of The Man Who Killed Houdini) mentions that it may have interested Whitehead to know that 8.12 percent of total deaths that year or 98,030, were caused by diseases of the digestive system, and there were 7,878 homicides.

I also found statement 11 of the Whitehead affidavit fascinating as it relates to statement 25:

  • 11. I had previously mentioned a book I had read which set forth the requirements of good health, such as the care of the skin, the maintenance of an abdominal muscular corset, and a good digestion;

Thoughts?