Down Memory Lane With Hardeen, Magician and Handcuff King, Part 2 of 2

This is the continuation of Part 1 where I share more text from an incredible November 1933 New York Evening Journal article that goes down memory lane with Hardeen, Magician and Handcuff King:

While Houdini and his wife went with the Welsh Brothers Circus, I teamed up with Farmer Dan’s Place on the Island.  We featured the “Dancing Duck and Human Faced Chicken”  A dancing duck was any duck on a hot plate, lifting his feet to keep cool, and any chicken became human looking by cutting off the beak.

Martin Beck finally caught Harry’s act in a beer garden in Kansas City, became his manager and booked him to the Coast.  Although many persons claim to have made Houdini all credit should go to astute Martin Beck.

In 1900 Houdini went to Europe and created a furor at Berlin’s “Winter Garden,” on a bill with Ching Ling Soo, Lowell and Lowell and Everhardt, the Hoop Roller Ike Rose (who now has a midget troupe) booked them I received a cable from Houdini, “COME OVER, THE APPLES ARE RIPE” and catching the Deutschland, the then fastest boat afloat arrived in Berlin.  My brother had booked me as his own competitor and I became Hardeen.

As Hardeen sub-billed Houdini 2nd I opened at the Olympia Theatre, Magdeburg and played in Europe seven solid years.  Those were the happy days Houdini cleaning up in the States and Hardeen in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Came the day when Klaw and Erlanger decided to buck Keith.  Houdini was the Keith headliner and advised Klaw and Erlanger to get me their Advanced Vaudeville  Pat Casey offered me forty weeks and Jennie Jacobs started me off on the Vaudeville Fight in St. Louis along with Vinnie Daly, Lou Sully, The Keatons and James Harrigan.

Touring with the Keatons and giving my stateroom to Joe, Myra and Buster and a few little Keatons.  That night Sidney Grant stole the undies of the May Warden Dresden Dolls and wrapped them around the necks of the sleeping Crane Brothers.  Hawthorn and Burt, and the Glinseritties Troupe  That was Pullman comedy in 1907.

The Fred Niblo-Josephine Cohan and the Hardeens four-year old youngsters never sure which did belong to which until mine one day in Worchester shouted from the audience “Are you my daddy?”

That supper in Salt Lake City with participants the night before the Jim Flynn – Jack Dempsey fight, and having Sherriff John S. Corliss explain how he gives convicted murderers their choice of death – gas or shot!  Darn humane, I calls it.

Wilmer & Vincent booked me into their Colonial Theatre, Norfolk, Va, and it’s publicity man, W.T. Kirby, started the stunt of having me jump into a river handcuffed.  Rose Coghlan, Jolly Fanny Rice and Waid and Curran came down to the bridge to bid me “Adieu”.  The only damage was the collapse of an oyster dock, spilling hundreds of Negro spectators into the river.

Douglas Fairbanks Sophie Tucker and Rooney & Bent on the bill with me at Atlantic City’s Garden Pier Theatre.  Fairbanks objected to my feature billing after seeing my leap shackled into the Atlantic he said, You can have the billing”

Max Spiegal’s “Winning Widows” engaged me, Joe Fields, George B. Scanl0on and Florence Mills for the Gayety Theatre, Brooklyn.  A brewery company challenged me to escape from a vat of ale between the 1st and 2nd acts.  It was okay with me, but the chorus beat me to the ale and there never was a second act.

Scouting around for grasshoppers in Canton, Ohio, to feed Whippie Huston’s marmoset, with Harry and Eva Puck encouraging the marmoset to eat more.

Pantages books me and Orpheum books Houdini and we are rivals in all West Coast towns with the newspapers having us cutting each other’s throats – an just two loving brothers living off the fat of the land culminating in an expose on Thanksgiving Day at a dinner by us to Jack Londons and Alex Pantages.

Retiring from work to take charge of Harry’s film laboratories in Hoboken only to return when Houdini died and willed me his secrets.

Down Memory Lane With Hardeen, Magician and Handcuff King, Part 1 of 2

Thought I would start the New Year off with a two-part post where I share text from an incredible November 1933 New York Evening Journal article that goes down memory lane with Hardeen, Magician and Handcuff King:

Our father, M. S. Weiss, L.L. D., Ph. D. arrived in that Wisconsin town a graduate lawyer.  The town had no need of a lawyer but Mayor Hammel told my dad they needed a rabbi.  My father said, “Okay, that’s me,” and became a rabbi of a temple over a harness shop opposite the old Kirby House.

My brother, Houdini, born Harry Weiss a year later, and I studied at the Brown School – so called because it was painted green.  Our first escapes were from here.

Later with Houdini in Milwaukee.  He sold papers at the Plankington House corner, supplemented by shoe shining.  We played cops and robbers with Charles Harris (who later wrote “After the Ball”) when he carried groceries at $3 per for General Storekeeper Simon.

After Houdini had saved $10 our elder brother died, and Harry gave his savings for the funeral.  He always was giving.  He then studied acrobatics, making me become a contortionist – we trekked to N.Y.

Stopping on 79th st. with Mrs. Leffler, mother of George and John, but don’t tell these managers that we still owe “Ma” for room rent.  During the first Winter, experiencing the Great Blizzard of 1888 and receiving much food from Mrs. Leffler, and studying at P.S. 70

Harry, battling life, became the Boy Magician and gave his first show at the Pastime A.C. on E. 69th st to an audience including the walker, Sam Liebgold, Half Miler Gage Hollander, All-Around Athlete Jimmy Rose and Wrestler Bothner.

Saved $26 in Citizens Savings Bank at Bowery and Canal while working for James G. Johnson & Co., only to give it to brother Harry for partnership in act called the Houdini Brothers.  We played museums all over the country.  Kohn and Middleton in Chicago, Moor’s in Detroit and Rochester, and Brandenberg’s Philadelphia.

New York saw us in in those days at Worth’s on Sixth ave, the Globe on the Bowery, Hubers, and the Gayety for Dave Posner.

Opened a bill at the Krauss Imperial Music Hall, appearing with Weber, and Fields, Topack and Steel, Lizzie B. Raymond, and Joe Flynn, who wrote “Down Went McGinty”

Next to Coney Island, only to be fired from Vacca’s on the Bowery and Buschman’s Walk Customers too interested in us to buy beer, but Ed Rogers, the Smilaz Sisters, and Ferry, the Frog Man, kept on.

With the Christi Brothers for a whole season in a big shadow pantomime at “Coney’s Sea Beach Palace” … What a beautiful dump?

Then came Bess!  She broke up the act when Harry married her because we did not get enough money for all three.  My most solemn moment was the night Harry made his bride swear never to reveal his Trunk Trick (his most copied stunt) which incidentally, I still do.

To be continued next week…

Which city did Martin Beck first meet Houdini?

martin_beckWhich city did Martin Beck first meet Houdini?

  • [A] Woodstock, Illinois
  • [B] St Paul, Minnesota
  • [C] Kansas City, Kansas
  • [D] None of the above

Let’s explore each of the possible answers.

[A] At one point, the Wikipedia article on Harry Houdini included the following claim:

“Houdini’s big break came in 1899, when he met manager Martin Beck in rural Woodstock, Illinois.”

However no source was cited.


FWIW:   The Postcard above sent by twelve-year old Ehrich Weiss to his parents after he ran away from his Milwaulkee home in 1886, directs his family to write in care of “Mead Bros Woodstock Ill.”

[B] The Wikipedia article on Houdini now claims:

“Houdini’s big break came in 1899 when he met manager Martin Beck in St. Paul, Minnesota.”

And every major Houdini biographer recounts the story of Houdini and Beck meeting in St. Paul;

So what is their source? It is from an article by Harry Houdini in The Magician Annual, No. 3 (1909-10) page 17:

When working at a small hall in St. Paul, a party of managers, while sight-seeing, happened to come in.  They saw my performance, became impressed with the manner in which I presented it, and one of them, Mr. Martin Beck, perhaps more in a joke than sincerity, challenged me to escape from one of his handcuffs.  He had none with him, but the next day purchased a few pairs and sent them on stage. I escaped! He then booked me for one week, and it was the first chance I ever had, and my act in a first-class theatre created a sensation.

[C] According to Hardeen, Martin Beck finally caught Harry’s act in a beer garden in Kansas City, became his manager and booked him to the Coast.  FWIW:  Houdini performed at the Orpheum Theatre, Kansas City, KA after he performed at the Palm Garden, St. Paul, MN and Creighton-Orpheum Theatre, Omaha Nebraska.

Or is it [D] none of the above. That is, Is the story of Beck challenging Houdini in a Beer Hall/Garden fiction?


John Cox, in a well-researched post on Houdini in 1899, mentions this possibility:

But on March 14, Houdini received a telegram from Beck that changed his life:

Beck’s statement that he would “see his act” in Omaha makes me wonder if the story of Beck challenging Houdini with cuffs at the Palm Garden might be mythology. It always struck him a little odd that a man like Beck would be trolling beer halls for acts.  Perhaps it was a scout who saw Houdini and alerted Beck.  Or maybe Beck had learned of Houdini via the “strolling magician” article a few months earlier.

According to Houdini’s account, a party of managers (which included Martin Beck) was sight-seeing and just happened to stop in the beer hall and catch his act.

My vote is none of the above, and that their first meeting was in Beck’s Omaha, NE theatre.  Do you agree?

Houdini Performs Brick Wall 100 years ago today and then Passes It Along to Hardeen

color wall

Houdini first performed the Brick Wall on July 13, 1914 at Hammerstein’s Roof, a summer theatre located atop Willie Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre in New York City.

After the engagement at Hammerstein’s, Houdini never performed the illusion again.  Instead he passed it along to his brother, Hardeen, who toured with it and enjoyed some success.


Hardeen Brick Wall Ad

Below is an account of Hardeen performing the effect:

Hardeen, the man of mystery, whose engagement at Proctor’s has been extended for the entire week, again baffled the spectators last night by appearing to walk through a solid brick wall.  How did he do it, you ask?  Well ask Hardeen. All that those in front of the footlights know is that saw him on one side of the solid brick wall and the next minute he was on the other side without apparently having crawled under or over or gone around the barrier.

The wall was about 8 feet high and half again as long, built in an iron frame, so heavy that it required several men to wheel it on the stage.  So as to make assurance doubly sure that he did not go through any trap doors, the theatre management laid a heavy mat on the floor and then Hardeen placed on top of this a large piece of linen.  A committee of seven went on the stage, examined the floor covering both before and after it was laid and assured themselves that it was not a trick arrangement.  The linen was held up in full view of the audience, the lights in the theatre were dimmed and reflectors were turned on behind the cloth to show it was all in one piece.

The wall was wheeled into place. Two green baize compartments, each about the size of an ordinary telephone booth were affixed in each side of the wall neither reaching quite to the top of the wall. Into one these Hardeen stepped.  It was closed by an assistant.  There was a full minute’s pause and then Hardeen made his appearance in the box on the opposite side of the wall. The committee tested the wall and found it still as solid as before.

The committeemen watched the act closely and were convinced that Hardeen didn’t crawl over the wall, the top of which was in plain view all the time, neither did he crawl underneath, which was a physical impossibility.  It being less than four inches from the stage, and he didn’t walk around either end. The audience watched one end, while the committeemen kept their eyes on the other.  Just how he got through that wall is a secret, of course.

[Mount Vernon NY Daily Argus 1915 Friday March 26 1915]


“The Master Mystery” Reissued By Hardeen?

Houdini Master Mystery Poster

John Cox at Wild About Houdini just posted an excellent blog: Gone With The Handcuff King: David O. Seiznick’s Houdini which talks about a Houdini biopic in the 1940s that Hardeen was on board with as the technical adviser.  Then, like so many Houdini biopics before, it vanished in a puff of smoke.

Hardeen was also going to reissue The Master Mystery:

Manny Baum and “Hardeen”, brother of the late Houdini, will reissue the 15-two-reel episode serial “The Master Mystery”, which starred Houdini, originally released in silent form by Octagon Films, Inc., 25 years ago.  The reissue film will contain a narration and musical background. [Motion Picture Daily Vol. 55 No. 41 Tuesday, February 29 1944]

Unfortunately, I think it vanished in a puff of smoke.

Is Hardeen Full of Ice?

Like Houdini, his brother Hardeen has a story about Ice.

Police and Hardeen Prior to Ohio River Bridge Jump

Police and Hardeen Prior to Ohio River Bridge Jump
[Photo: Life and History of Hardeen]

On September 26th, 1907, Hardeen allowed the Chief Police officials of Louisville, Kentucky, to securely fasten heavy handcuffs and leg irons on him. These weighed almost thirty-five pounds. So shackled, before a crowd of 15,000, he jumped into the Ohio River from the 18th Street Bridge which was 60 feet above the water. It looked like sure death but Hardeen released himself from the handcuffs as he sunk in the water about fifty feet below the Bridge, and made his triumphant re-appearance holding the cuffs high in the air.

Hardeen jumping from bridge into Ohio River
[Photo: Life and History of Hardeen]

He later repeated this feat many times, but on February 10th, 1908, he almost met death when he jumped into the Elizabeth River at Norfolk, Virginia, when the stream was full of ice.

As he hit the water he was working to release himself from his handcuffs according to his version, so did not note that they were two large pieces of ice floating down the water as he jumped.   He hit one and was practically knocked unconscious, fell underneath the second one and when he tried to get to the surface of the river for air, still working to free himself, he came up under the ice.  Not knowing the size of it, he sunk down and tried to reach the surface again.  On his second attempt, he was successful, completed the escape and swam to shore.  He had a large lump at the top of his head where he hit the ice when coming up, and one of his legs was badly cut from the piece of ice which he had originally hit.


  • Life and History of Hardeen by Hardeen 1914
  • Hardeen Memorial Issue Conjurer’s Magazine July 1945

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