Where Does The Grim Game Rate?

It made the list of the 100 Best Movie Posters; it was the best movie poster in 1919:

It made the list of WTE Classic Movie Poster Cards; it was number 18 out of 20:

It made the list of the best 10 movies about magic of all time; it was number 9

And last but not least, it is considered Houdini’s best movie.

Therefore, it appears to rate pretty good for a movie that has not been seen by many.

What a Mystifier or Coincidence?

I was looking thru my collection of Mystifier Newsletters (A Publication of the Houdini Historical Center that ran quarterly from April 1991 to the Fall of 2003) and came across some very interesting coincidences on pages 3 thru 5 in the First Quarter 1996 Newsletter:


  • Page 3 thru 5 had a well-written article, titled Ray Stark & Hollywood, Searching for Houdini, by the man who is Wild about Harry, John Cox.
  • Page 3 had a photo (L302-84) from The Grim Game
  • Page 4 had a photo misidentified as being from The Grim Game
  • And last but not least, Page 5 welcomed new HHC Member, Joseph M. Notaro

Now 16 years later, if finding this isn’t a mystifier or a coincidence, then I don’t know what is.

Mother’s Day at The Glen Tavern Inn

By sure coincidence and chance, my mom and I ended up at The Glen Tavern Inn & Restaurant in Santa Paula.  As we walked up the driveway, we read a plaque that said the building was erected in 1911; I thought to myself, Houdini was alive then.  The 35 room Glen Tavern Inn opened in September 1911.

We walked into the Inn and noticed that the hallway walls were covered in classic Hollywood movie posters and photographs.  I thought to myself, Houdini was in Hollywood movies (e.g., The Grim Game, Terror Island). 

 As we were seated at our table, I noticed a placard that said HOUDINI Happy Hour, so I asked the waitress about it.  The waitress informed me that Houdini had actually stayed at the Inn.  You can imagine our surprise when we heard that.  I asked if they had any brochures that mentioned Houdini; the waitress kindly gave me a 2 page print-out that had a brief history of The Glen Tavern Inn. The waitress did not know what room in which Houdini stayed, but pointed out that John Wayne usually had room 208.

My mom and I proceeded to have a wonderful conversation and brunch.  Afterwards, we went exploring the 3 story inn looking for signs of Harry Houdini.


In the 1920s and ’30s, a host of Hollywood notables, including Charlie Chaplin, Carole Lombard, John Wayne and Harry Houdini, took a train to Santa Paula to stay at the Glen Tavern Inn while filming any number of classic early films.

Story goes that Houdini’s train broke down nearby and he needed to stay at the Inn on an emergency basis.  He used the Tavern’s 3rd floor as storage space for his magic props so he could keep an eye on them and make sure no one would discover his secrets.

The 3rd floor was also once used as a gambling parlor and brothel. One of the more popular stories of the inn is that of a gambler, “Calvin,” that was shot to death in room 307 after he was found to be cheating. Calvin is probably the most well-known spirit that haunts the inn. He is said to be flirtatious with the female guests and sometimes the scent of his sweet pipe tobacco permeates throughout room 307. Calvin, of course, is not the only ghost to haunt the Glen Tavern.

The story goes that an entity of Houdini has been seen standing at the railroad station across the street


Aeroplane Sketches

The following original art work sold at the Manuscript and Collectibles Auction in November 5, 2005:

(Houdini) Original Art Work. Pencil and Ink Sketch, 20″x12½”, Signed by the artist: “R.B. Ogle / 1920.” The scene shows a frightened Houdini dangling by a rope from one bi-plane as it crashes with a second plane. This scene actually occurred while Houdini was filming The Grim Game. The legend below the sketch, with the title “Exploits of Houdini,” quotes Houdini: “…I was dangling from the rope end ready for the leap. Suddenly a strong wind turned the lower plane upwards, the two machines crashed together – nearly amputating my limbs – the propellors locked in a deadly embrace, and we were spun round and round….” This scene could possible have been drawn for a lobby card to be exhibited in the theater. In any event, it is intriguing.  Realized:  $1265

(Houdini) Art Work From The Master of Mystery. Pencil and Ink Sketch, 10¾”x14½” of Houdini looking over the side of a biplane assessing his next action as the pilot watches., c. 1919. Lower border identifies the scene as being from “‘The Master of Mystery (7th instal. p. 4.)” “Kinema Comic” is stamped in the lower left border, and some measurements are marked on the sketch, which is mounted to board. R.B. Ogle is identified as the artist on the back. The art work was probably for a lobby card.  Realized:  $575

First Ever Pictures of Aeroplane Collision

Last week, I posted a blog that had some incredible photos of aeroplane wreckage being used as part of a lobby display for “The Grim Game”.

In keeping with the Aeroplane theme, I thought I would post an article and photos from the New York Tribune, July 06, 1919:

THESE pictures are the first ever to be taken of airplanes in actual collision in midair.  The three extraordinary photographs above are part of a motion picture film which was recording the flight from another plane at the time of the accident.  The collision was unpremeditated and miraculously resulted in the injury of but one pilot.

The crash occurred 2,200 feet over Santa Monica, Calif.  The planes were chartered for scenes in “The Grim Game”, being produced by Famous Players-Lasky.  It was planned that a former army pilot, Robert Kennedy, should change planes in midair, dropping from a rope attached to the undercarriage of the upper machine to the top wing of the lower plane.  A third plane was to carry a motion picture camera, from which the scene was to be filmed.

Just as Kennedy prepared to leap, an up-current of air drove the upper wing of the lower plane full into the landing gear of the one above.  The planes locked and spun down nose on, with Kennedy helplessly dangling at the rope’s end.

At 1,200 feet the planes parted and dove earthward at terrific speed.  They finally flattened out and pancaked to the ground, but not without crashing.  Miraculously, no one was seriously injured, not even Kennedy, swinging helplessly on his rope during the fall.  And all the time the cameraman in the third plane kept on grinding.

The photo on the left shows the daredevil Kennedy standing beside one of the wrecked planes.

[New York Tribune, July 06, 1919, Page 6]

For more information and other photos of the plane crash, see American Heritage April 1972: Houdini’s High-flying Hoax by Art Ronnie, page 106 – 109.

Note: The planes used were Curtiss Canucks, Canadian versions of the famed Jenny, the World War I training plane.  They were rented from producer-director Cecil B. De Mille, who owned and operated two of the three airports in Los Angeles at the time.

[American Heritage April 1972: Houdini’s High-flying Hoax by Art Ronnie, page 108]