Stone Walls and Chains Do Not Make a Prison – For Houdini

Picture Houdini pacing up and down in the cell and then suddenly he stops, looks at his handcuffs and goes to the cell door. He peers out and sees the guard is not near.  He then sits down and begins removing his shackles. He succeeds in liberating his hands and now turns his attention to the leg irons.  He gets rid of the leg irons, runs to the door, peers out again and then sits back down on to the cot. He removes his shoe and takes the handcuffs and pries a portion of the sole of shoe revealing a steel shank in the instep.  This he pulls out.  He stands on the cot, reaches bars of window; puts cuffs on bars and using leg iron as lever begins to bend them. 

Finding that his head will now fit through the opening, he pulls himself up and wriggles his way through the bars and stands on window ledge many stories above ground.  Standing here, on the ledge, he reaches out and secures the rope of a flag pole.  He ties rope to bars of window, cuts rope with steel shank taken from shoe and begins lowering himself down to the window ledge below. Arriving on this ledge, he cuts off the end of the rope, ties it to the cell bar on this window and lowers himself again.  At each story, the rope gets shorter until finally, he is within one story of the ground. 

You can guess what happens next.  That’s right, he leaps down into the alleyway and makes a dive under a fast moving truck.  Houdini is seen clinging to bars underneath the truck as he makes his getaway.

[Paraphrased from Paramount Files at Margaret Herrick Library]


This is just one of the exciting escape sequences from the “The Grim Game”.

Here is another:

LINK: Inside the Houdini Estate

Check out the incredible post that John Cox at Wild About Harry posted about his visit last month with Patrick Culliton to the Walker’s “Houdini Estate” in Laurel Canyon.  He lays out the full history of the famous property, including the guest house where Houdini may have stayed when he came to California in 1919 to film his two features of Famous Players-Lasky, The Grim Game and Terror Island.  Below is a snippet from the post:

— and when the magician came to California in 1919 to film his two features for Famous Players-Lasky, The Grim Game and Terror Island, he and Bess are said to have stayed at Walker’s guesthouse at 2435 Laurel Canyon Blvd.

Now, it needs to be said that we don’t (yet) have smoking gun evidence that puts Houdini and Bess in the Walker guesthouse in 1919. But we do have circumstantial evidence. In Harold Kellock’s Houdini His Life Story (page 271), it says that Houdini spent “his leisurely evenings at home in the modest bungalow he had rented in Hollywood” and that “fellow players returning from late parties, who might have been moved to investigate the solitary light burning in the Houdini bungalow, would have seen the Handcuff king and escape artist scratching busily with his pen at a table littered with manuscripts and old volumes.”

The house at 2435 did indeed sit on a bluff above Laurel Canyon Blvd where, yes, one would have been able to see a solitary light burning in the window while driving to and from parties in the Hollywood Hills. The property was also practical — being relatively close to the Lasky studio (which sat at Sunset and Vine), and scenes from The Grim Game were shot in Laurel Canyon. There is also no other address for Houdini at this time.  

Los Angeles Relics Postcard

Also check out John’s post from May 28, 2011:

“The card shows A Shady Nook in Laurel Canyon Hollywood, California; But to Houdini buffs, it shows much more!”

Forty Winks by the Star Reporter

Forty winks by the star reporter (Houdini) permit the office jokers to get busy.

Picture Houdini seated at a desk of a very busy newspaper office.  His head is back and he has slid down in his chair. A police reporter sees that he is sound asleep and motions to two other reporters.  They decide to play a joke.  The police reporter carefully slips one end of a pair of handcuffs on Houdini’s wrist which hangs down at the side of the chair – the other he snaps over the rung of the chair.  The three jokers suppress their laughter as they tip toe to watch the results.  Houdini sleeps on and has no idea of his predicament until his boss from his private office yells out his name.

You can guess what happens next.  That’s right, Houdini manipulates the handcuff with a smile on his face – then rises from his chair – casts an amused glance toward the jokers and strolls toward the private office.  The handcuff is left dangling.

[Paraphrased from Paramount Files at Margaret Herrick Library]

This is just one of the exciting escapes from the “The Grim Game”.

I’ve Seen Most of The Grim Game

Poster Image created from still photo 298-8

That is, I have had the distinct pleasure and honor to be allowed access to the Margaret Herrick’s Library Special Collection file of original production stills from The Grim Game.   I can tell you it was an amazing experience that I will never forget.  There were 10 envelopes in the file that contained 87 unique stills ranging from Production# 298-1 to Production# 298-92.  All 92 production numbers were accounted for with the exception of these ten: 298-3, 298-33, 298-34, 298-35, 298-36, 298-37, 298-58, 298-66, 298-76 and 298-90.  Now, there were four stills in the file that did not have the production number on it, so they could account for four out of the ten missing; plus I have also seen 298-3 (L302-3, mid-air collision), 298-34 (plane), and three other stills (jail scene and two other mid-air plane images) without the production number that could account for five more of the ten missing. Plus, the infamous L302-55 (298-55) image was not in the file, but a totally different image for 298-55 was in the file.  And there were two images of 298-27 in the file that are totally different images.  So, there is no guarantee the stills are all correctly numbered.  In addition:  Production numbers 19, 20, and 21 were marked with 289-19, 289-20, and 289-21 as opposed to 298-19, 298-20, and 298-21.  And, some of the production numbers were written in pen on the still.

So, based on this circumstantial evidence, I can pretty much say that I have now seen and cataloged most of the production stills for The Grim Game.

Poster Image created from still photo 298-71


Here are some interesting counts of the 87 unique stills found in the special collection file at the Margaret Herrick’s Library:

  • Harry Houdini was in all 87 stills; Yes, I said ALL.  I don’t think you can say that for his other movies.
  • Ann Forrest was in 21 stills.
  • A Straw Hat was in 17 stills.
  • The Jail was in 15 stills.
  • An airplane was in 13 stills



If you or someone you know has a 298 or L302 image from The Grim Game with any of the following numbers (33, 35, 36, 37, 58, 66, 76 or 90) on it, please send me an email describing the image, so that I can correctly catalog all of the stills for The Grim Game.

Also, if you have an image from The Grim Game that is missing the production number on it, and would like to know what the production number is for that image, send an email and I will be glad to identify it for you.

The Grim Game Core Experience

I decided to go for it.  That is, I took a day off from work and drove to the Margaret Herrick Library with the hope of making a future appointment to finally see The Grim Game, Master File 681 Paramount Script Collection and Archive of photos (original stills).

I showed up at the Margaret Herrick Library with a notepad, pencil and driver’s license.  The guard at the front greeted me, took my drivers license and had me fill out some paper-work.  After signing in, he told me to take the elevator to the second floor and check in at the desk.

My heart was pounding as I got off the elevator.  I was given a library card that was good for the day; I was then directed to go discuss my research project with the librarian.

Within moments, the librarian filled out a card for me to see the core collection for The Grim Game and the core collection for Terror Island.

The Grim Game core collection consisted of three envelopes:

Contents of Envelope 1 (1 card)

Contents of Envelope 2 (4 pages)

  • Copy of November 1919, Photoplay article (Page 112 and Page 115)
  • Copy of New School , program notes by Wm. K. Everson, “3/1/1974” (1 page)
  • B&W Copy of Page 19 from MUM Society of Americans Magicians Monthly Magazine August 1919 (Click here to see it in color)

Contents of Envelope 3 (Six stills): The two in bold (298-19 and 298-51), I had never seen before

  • 289-19 (Note:  prod#  is mis-labeled on still, should be 298 not 289)  Harry Houdini and Ann Forrest reading The Daily Call Illustrated Magazine
  • 298-51 (similar to this Library of Congress image) minus the chains and cuffs
  • L302-64 (same as this Lot 271 image that sold at Potter and Potter auction)
  • 298-16 (same as image found in MAGIC April 2001 magazine on page 106) Harry Houdini risks his life to escape by leaping out of moving car
  • 298-53 (same as this Kevin Connolly’s L302-53 image but with 298-53 prod# on it)
  • 298-87 (same as image in Grim Game Press Book  and image in The Adventurous Life of Versatile Artist) Harry Houdini lying down on the top wing of an airplane


After reviewing the core files, the librarians showed me how to use the library computers and helped me locate some other references on Houdini.

While I was there reviewing other Houdini references, I also had the opportunity to discuss my research project with Barbara Hall, Special Collections Research Archivist and Faye Thompson, Photograph Department Coordinator.  And schedule an appointment to see The Grim Game, Master File 681 Paramount Script Collection and Archive of photos (original stills).   Stay tuned!