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Last month when The Grim Game made its Television debut on TCM, I mentioned that it originally made its debut at the B.S. Moss Broadway Theatre in New York City on August 25th, 1919.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

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 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 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

When did Houdini first meet Arthur Conan Doyle?

HH and Doyle imageaastrandblue

I recently came across an excellent article, Doyle, Houdini and The Strand Magazine By Stephen Forrester, where I found something that intrigued me:

Long before Houdini met Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he wrote a letter to Sherlock Holmes:

“Characterless men,” had taken names similar to his and were stealing, “The fruits of my brain work, and years of research for new tricks. They are trying to get rid of me, by either crippling me for life or even going to the extreme of taking my life in cold blood.”

Some men had broken into Houdini’s trunks in Germany and were trying to bribe his loyal assistant. Houdini had no intention of mailing this letter, but it appeared as an illustration in Der Kettensprenger Houdini und der Welt-Detektif (Dec./1908) an anonymous paperback thriller published in Berlin. According to the story, Holmes crossed the channel, took a train to the German capital and soon had the criminals behind bars.

A quick search and I discover that mega Houdini collector Arthur Moses has a copy of this very rare 1908 paperback (Dec 22, 1908. n101) with an image of the cover and description in his Houdini Periodical Bibliography which he has graciously given me permission to share.

Early HH and Doyle pastiche - Arthur Moses

Credit: Arthur Moses

The Pulp magazine title (Der Kettensprenger Houdini und der Welt-Detektiv) translates as “The Lock-breaker Houdini and the World Detective.”  And Auf den Spuren Houdinis” translates as “On The Trail of Houdini”. In this short story, Houdini and his friend Sherlock Holmes get involved in a mystery and end up saving each others lives.

So Houdini and Sherlock Holmes were friends in 1908 according to the story, but when did Houdini really first meet Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes?



Soon after arriving in England in early 1920, Houdini dispatched a copy of his book The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin to a cold list of some 200 of the country’s leading figures which included Doyle.

On March 15, 1920 Doyle wrote and thanked him for the book.

Houdini and Sir Arthur Doyle exchanged a number of letters during this period:

“Am only too delighted to correspond with you”, he wrote on April 3rd, the trigger for Doyle’s invitation to lunch which Houdini received on April 11th.  Houdini instantly replied by telegram on April 12th, “[I] will avail myself of the opportunity of calling on you Wednesday morning, … Mrs. Houdini is with me, but will not be able to come at the present time, and wished to thank you for your kind thought.”

On Wednesday Apr 14, 1920 Houdini visits Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle at their home at Windlesham, Crowborough and the rest is history.

Houdini2 (1)Bonus:

Early in May 1920, the Conan Doyles traveled to see Houdini on stage at the London Palladium, where he escaped from a series of straitjackets, performed the Upside Down, and told the audience of his “many terrifying close calls” on the set of The Grim Game, before finishing on a mildly anticlimactic note with a conjuring trick he called the “Cut and Restored Turban”.

BTW: Conan Doyle attended a New York Screening of The Grim Game, and declared himself impressed.


  • Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle by Sandford
  • Houdini and Conan Doyle by Ernst and Carrington
  • The Illustrated Research Diary by Koval

The original pulp dime-novel series that later became Harry Dickson (The American Sherlock Holmes) began in Germany in January 1907 under the title of Detective Sherlock Holmes und seine weltberühmten abenteuer (Sherlock Holmes’ Most Famous Cases), published by Verlagshaus für Volksliteratur und Kunst, and comprised 230 issues in total, published until June 1911. The name Sherlock Holmes was actually used for the first 10 issues. After some concern about the rights of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the series was retitled Aus dem Geheimakten des Weltdetektivs (The Secret Files of the King of Detectives) with No. 11, even though the main character was still called Sherlock Holmes inside. Holmes’ Doctor Watson sidekick, however, was a younger man named Harry Taxon. Issue No. 101 (Dec 22, 1908) had the original series title, Der Kettensprenger Houdini und der Welt-Detektiv (The Lock Breaker Houdini and the World Detective), which was later released in other languages (e.g., Danish, Dutch, French, Romanian, Spanish)

Parrot pulls a Houdini

circa 1919 HandB with Parrot pandp

The photo above with a Parrot on Bessie’s shoulder may have been taken in Hollywood when Houdini was making “The Grim Game”.  And that may be “Pat Houdini”, their pet parrot that escaped his cage and disappeared into the Hollywood Hills.

Well, just the other day, another parrot, “Hocus Pocus”, that also has a lot in common with Harry Houdini, did a similar disappearing act.  Click the link below for details as reported by the WNEP news station:

Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for sharing this touching story with me and allowing me to share it with you.