A Look Back at 2015, Part 1 – The Year of The Grim Game


Two of the people who were key to opening that lock! Copyright Houdini Museum


Thanks to the efforts of Dorothy Dietrich & Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum and their long-time friendship with Larry Weeks and their acquaintance with film producer Rick Schmidlin, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) acquired the Larry Weeks print of Houdini’s 1919 feature, The Grim Game (TGG). Fred Pittella (Larry Weeks best friend) was also an essential part of the recovery of TGG. The recovered movie underwent a full restoration and had its world-premiere at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood on March 29th with a live score conducted by composer Brane Zivkovic. It was then shown in places like Wisconsin (Apr 16), Michigan (May 28), Pennsylvania (Jun 13, Jul 2), Texas (Jul 19), Finland (Aug 21), Scotland (Aug 22, 23), Illinois (Sept 16), New York (Sept 16), and England (Oct 11), before it was aired on the TCM network (Oct 18) with alternate scores, one by Brane Zivkovic and another by Steve Sterner.  And then as a grand finale, in November, John Bengston, “the great detective of silent film locations,” revealed many of the Grim Game filming locations and historic LA landmarks.

the-grim-game-and-cops_page_08 (2)Cahuenga alley harrythe-grim-game-and-cops_page_17 (1)

[Harbour Apartments at 612 St. Paul Street; The Cahuenga alley; Bergstrom Estate 590 N. Vermont]

So 2015 was an amazing year for Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence (HHCE) because it was the year of the Grim Game.

Part I will cover the TGG highlights from HHCE and Part II will cover the other highlights from HHCE.

Let’s get started. The Houdini news that I had been waiting years to hear finally arrived on January 23rd, 2015 in a press release from TCM:

298-14-239x300Ann Forrest Houdini Historical Center298-15 001

GrimGameScrantonTimes1Trim1-435x1024This was followed by a number of other press releases in February and March:


Then one week away from the premier of The Grim Game at the 2015 TCM Film Classic, HHCE shared a different Grim Game productions still each day leading up to the event on March 29, 2015:


In April, shared my review of The Grim Game and the Festivities in Hollywood:

photo-28-A-225x300GG AM Gift Bag Photo of Contents 001 Aphoto (23)

In June, HHCE and TGG went to Scranton:Scranton-Welcomes-Joe-Notaro-1024x766


In July, TGG screens at a Magic Convention Once Again:


In October, The Grim Game made its television debut, but was first shown privately and publicly in August 1919:


Throughout the year, there were a number of posts on TGG music:

BraneScore_TheGrimmGame-300x200-300x200GG Musical Ensemble and Runtime 001A1919 Musical Synopsis TGGGrimGameMainTheme50SternerGrimGame153 Videos with new Piano Score

Other highlights on TGG included a series on Houdini Grim Game Cards throughout the years:

1920-Kinema-Comic-InsertGGPB Lobby Cards 200 001 AHH-Superhero-Card-21-002-300x204Weird TalesTheWonderWallet-1975-GG-cards-300x209houdini sketch cards gorman 298-47

And sharing a number of posts related to the Aeroplane incident:

Kennedy Forrest Thompson Pickup Wilson WillatPopular Mechanics Nov 1919 page 642Pickup Thompson Kennedy HoudiniThompson Upside Down Plane 001aimageRobert-Kennedy-After-Collision-300x241

What a year for TGG, now if we could just get a DVD:


Photo Credits:

  • TGG film location images courtesy of John Cox and John Bengston
  • TGG Still images courtesy of A.M.P.A.S
  • TGG Movie Set image and TGG Souvenir Set image courtesy of Arthur Moses
  • B&W Aeroplane images courtesy of Cecil B. Demille Trust
  • Steve Sterner photo, TGG piano music, and Scranton Press release courtesy of Houdini Museum

The Grim Game hits San Francisco

San_Francisco_Chronicle_Thu__Oct_9__1919_ (1)

Click to enlarge

Although the Grim Game was first shown privately and publicly in August 1919, it was not officially released until October 12, 1919. And that’s when it first appeared in San Francisco with live orchestra music on October 12, 1919 at the Portola Theatre located at corner of Market Street and 4th.

96 years later, December 5th at 3pm, you can see the restored film with live piano music by Donald Sosin at the San Francisco Film Festival at the Castro Theatre located at 429 Castro Street at Market Street.  You can buy a full day pass to “A Day of Silents” or an individual ticket to “The Grim Game”.


I highly recommend seeing it on big screen.  I was fortunate enough to see the TCM premier in Hollywood on a big screen with live orchestra music, as well as on a big screen at the Houdini Museum.  Two amazing experiences that I will never forget.

Check it out in S.F.!

You’ll enjoy it thoroughly.



San Francisco Chronicle Oct 13, 1919 Page 5

Private Showing of The Grim Game In New York



Last month when The Grim Game made its Television debut on TCM, I mentioned that it originally made its debut at the B.S. Moss Broadway Theatre in New York City on August 25th, 1919.  Well prior to its original debut, Houdini gave a private showing in NYC, which I promised to comment on.

The following passage is excerpted verbatim, even to the punctuation from a private letter WRT to a private showing of The Grim Game on August 18th, 1919:

Monday night 8 o’clock shapr [sic] there will be a private show of my latest picture The Grim Game which will be shown only to a few chosen magic friends before the regular trade showing and if you have desire to see same would like to have pleasure of having you attend.  Takes place at the production room of Lasky Famous Players offices, 400 [485] Fifth Ave near 42nd St. Monday August 17th [Note: Monday was really August 18th] Tried to get you twice on phone and no answer. Regards sincerely yours Houdini. [The Houdini Code Mystery by William V. Rauscher, page 106]

Note:  Koval places the private showing at 485 Fifth Avenue, which was the address of the corporate main office right across from the New York Public Library.

Aug 18 – A private showing of “The Grim Game” is given to Houdini’s chosen friends at the Lasky Famous Players Offices at 485 Fifth Avenue, New York City.

The Society of American Magicians officially endorsed The Grim Game at this private showing:

The endorsement was given at a private showing of the picture for the members of the society in New York, which was attended by Messrs. Houdini, Howard Thurston, Francis E. Werner, G.G. Laurenz, Hardeen, William J. Hilliar and about forty others.

After the showing,  Mr. Howard Thurston said: “I have always thought Houdini was a great showman, but I expected nothing like this.  It leaves nothing undone.  Houdini may now retire, confident that he has done his greatest work.  It is one of the most wonderful things I have ever seen”.  At the conclusion of Mr. Thurston’s speech, Oscar S. Teale, Secretary of the S.A.M. said:

“Gentlemen, I move that the Society of American Magicians pronounce the picture a glowing success, worthy of highest commendation, and that it go forth as officially endorsed by this society.”

[The Sphinx, September 1919]


According to a 17 September 1919 New York Clipper article, the Famous Players also had New York City offices at 428 Fifth avenue, 729 Seventh avenue and at 469 Fifth avenue, but at the termination of the leases, the company will use the entire front of the Putman Building [at Forty-Third street and Broadway] for its offices:

NY Clipper 17 Sep 1919 Putnam Bldg To Become Theatre

Houdini Stanhope Lens Viewers

HH Sustained Flight Description 001

Houdini is generally acknowledged as the first man to fly a plane in Australia. He made the historic flight just north of Melbourne in 1910. Two variants of a Stanhope miniature brass telescope were manufactured to commemorate the historic event and are quite rare.

Stanhope Lens Viewer Diggers RestHoudini Stanhope Viewer

Houdini collector, Joseph Gargano is now offering a viewer which is a reproduction of the Stanhope made to commemorate Houdini’s first flight over Australia. It comes in a beautiful wood box engraved with Houdini’s signature on the lid. This piece alone has sold for $195 and is now available for $105 which will just allow Joseph to recoup the cost of production, and get some money to The Houdini Museum in Scranton for the continued maintenance of Houdini’s grave.

Stanhope Lens Viewer Interior View

Looking through this novelty lens reveals an image of Houdini making his historic flight at Digger’s Rest in Australia. Here, he is pictured both in mid-flight in his biplane, and a separate posed close-up shows Houdini behind the controls of the plane.

For questions, purchases and shipping rates, contact Joseph Gargano at conjuringhh@optonline.net.

Stanhope Lens Viewer Grim Game

Joseph also offers a quality brass mini viewer with embedded lens showing an image from The Grim Game reproduced from an original glass plate negative in the Joseph Gargano collection. It comes in a small film can with Grim Game advertising image on the lid.  While supplies last, this viewer is offered as part of a larger Commemorative Set that is released in two very limited editions (Standard and Deluxe).  See John Cox site for details of The Grim Game Commemorative Set.

Standard Edition

The Grim Game Standard Edition

Deluxe Edition

The Grim Game Deluxe Edition

Special Armistice Day Program

Armistice Day (which coincides with Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, public holidays) is commemorated every year on 11 November. The First Official Armistice Day was held on the Morning of 11th November 1919. This would set the trend for a day of Remembrance for decades to come.

Please honor and remember those who have served in the Armed Forces.


Tonight, TCM welcomes Houdini and “The Grim Game” to Television!

“The Grim Game” makes its Television debut tonight on TCM:

TCM TGG on TV Oct 18

Originally, The Grim Game made its debut at the B.S. Moss Broadway Theatre on August 25th, 1919.  Below is the front and back of a program from the opening:


I hope everyone enjoys the restored 1919 thriller that will keep you guessing from start to finish.  The question is –who did it?  Watch as the screen unfolds the secret!


New Grim Game Glass Slides and DVD info

imageI recently did a post, 3 video Grim Game Clips with new piano music, that had a link to Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Videos for The Grim Game Webpage:

If you click on the same link above, you will find they have made some additions which include a couple of glass slides for the film.

Glass slides were used by many theaters to promote coming attractions during slide shows between coming screenings.

You can also vote for The Grim Game to be released on DVD.image

LINK: TCM airs a different score for its 2nd Showing of The Grim Game

There is still a score to settle.

On October 18th, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) airs a different score for its 2nd showing of Houdini’s “The Grim Game” than the one Rick Schmidlin first added to his restoration of Houdini’s finest movie.


Steve Sterner The Grim Game Main Theme – Music Copyright 2015 Steve Sterner All Rights Reserved

That is, the first showing will be the ensemble music as was shown in Hollywood and the second showing will be Steve Sterner playing original piano music written by him at the request of TCM. It will have 4 themes (which include a Main theme, Love theme, Villain theme and Servant theme), along with other minor themes with a lot of ad-libbing and changes of moods and keys to keep it moving.


Steve Sterner The Grim Game Servant Theme – Music Copyright 2015 Steve Sterner All Rights Reserved

Since I did the post titled “The Grim Game Has a Score to Settle” there has been a number of piano scores.

According to a post at Houdini.org who has been keeping score:

Critics and experts most common critique of the restoration as supervised by Rick Schmidlin was that the music was repetitive.

Since the restoration, the film has had several showings and for whatever reasons they decided to have their own live piano accompaniment instead of the score Rick Schmidlin provided. A few examples follows;
Sun. July 19, Composer/Pianist Reuel Meditz accompanied the film with his original score at the historic Paramount Theater, Austin, TX.
Sept. 16 Northbrook Public Library in Northbrook, IL, It was screened twice with live piano accompaniment by Dave Drazin.
Oct. 11, 2015 Performed with live piano accompaniment by Neil Brand at Barbican Cinema 1 in London.
Dec. 5 Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin at Castro Theater at The San Francisco Silent Film Festival.


Most telling is Turner Classic Movies having silent movie pianist Steve Sterner add a new score to the 2nd of the screenings on Oct. 18. They’re also using the music for trailers and clips of the film.


Click the link below to read the full article at Houdini.org which also includes quotes from reviews of the Hollywood score, how the composer and music was selected for the original restoration music, a list of other options for music and composers, and the consultant’s frustrations with the producer. Also, included is the lead sheet music for the four main new themes of Steve Sterner’s score.

All of this said, I am assuming we have not heard the last word on the score.

Either way, please enjoy the music and TCM airings of Houdini’s finest movie!

Images courtesy of Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz

3 Grim Game Video Clips with the new piano music

ggtcmTCM airings of The Grim Game on October 18th is rapidly approaching.

The first airing at 8:00 PM (ET) will be the Brane Zivkovic score and the second airing at 11:45 PM (ET) will be the new score by Steve Sterner.

Steve’s score is an original piano score that he recorded in August.

TCM has posted 3 videos of restored Grim Game clips with the new piano music:3 Videos with new Piano ScoreClick the link below to watch the videos.


A big thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for sharing this news.


What happened to Christopher Pickup from The Grim Game

Pickup Thompson Kennedy HoudiniWell, I previously did posts on what happened to Robert Kennedy and Frank Thompson, after “The Grim Game” respectively.  So, it is probably only fair that I share some info on Christopher Pickup, who flew the drop plane.  The below information is from an Aviation Autograph Collector selling items on eBay:

PICKUP, Christopher Vern.  PILOT IN A 1919 HOUDINI MOVIE AND U. S. AIR MAIL SERVICE PILOT.  (1896- ). SGT, 4th Cavalry (1913-14); USAS flight instruction (1916); Langley Field VA (1917); 2nd LT and flight instructor (1918-19); Durant Aircraft Co.; pilot for Cecil B. DeMille films (1919-20); flew in the Harry Houdini movie The Grim Game, colliding with David E. Thompson while Robert E. Kennedy hung suspended on a rope below Pickup’s aircraft. The props of both planes were shattered in a collision and both pilots were able to land their damaged planes, Kennedy, miraculously, suffering only bruises and abrasions being dragged along the ground during the landing (1919); U. S. Air Mail Service pilot (1920-21); appointed 8-25-1920 and assigned at Cheyenne WY (1920-21); he was apparently separated for not returning from leave (1921); Mercury Aviation, Los Angeles; Mexican Aerial Transport Corp. (1921-22); his request for reinstatement in the U. S. Air Mail Service was declined at the suggestion of the USAMS chief pilot (1924); FBO at Hoover Field Washington DC (1925-26); flew air mail for Clifford Ball, CAM 11 and Thompson Aeronautical Corp. on CAM 27 (1928); Transport Pilot rating no. 735 (1928); USMCR; air mail pilot for Boeing Air Transport (1927-40); his plane caught fire on an emergency landing at Elm Creek NE while flying CAM 18, Chicago-San Francisco (1929); member of the “Caterpillar Club” after abandoning an aircraft over Pittsburgh PA (1930); United Air Lines captain (1940- ).

Kennedy Forrest Thompson Pickup Wilson WillatBonus:

COPY of the pilot’s original Post Office Department “AIR MAIL PILOTS APPLICATION”, Form 2707 dated 5/16/1928 for his Contract Air Mail pilot service with CLIFFORD BALL

Pickup Application Form Page 1Pickup Application Form Page 2