What are some things Harry Houdini and Tony Curtis have in common?

Young Tony Curtis and Young Houdini performing Magic [German Newspaper clipping from Janet Leigh Collection at Margaret Herrick Library]

Both performed most of their own tricks/stunts in their respective films:

  • Tony Curtis performs many of the tricks of the master himself in “H o u d i n i,” the Paramount picture…This accomplishment is probably worth noting, since the illusions could so easily be faked in a medium that itself used to be known as “the magic lantern.” [Newspaper clipping from Janet Leigh Collection]  In fact, George Boston (magic instructor) and Joe Dunninger (magician who inherited some of Houdini tricks and books) were technical advisors on the magic and escapes.
  • Harry performed most of his own stunts in “The Grim Game”, despite the fact that they could easily be faked by movie magic editing and using a stunt double (e.g., plane to plane transfer).

Both performed magic tricks on the set of their respective movies:

Both got injured making their respective movies:

Both are Kings of Cards:

  • Tony Curtis King of Cards Still [Paramount Pictures Corporation]

Paramount-Artcraft Pictures: Classic Houdini Publicity Poses

1920s Harry Houdini Original Paramount Pictures Photo

The above photo of a classic Houdini pose just sold on eBay February 9th for $204.70; congratulations to the winner.

Below are other classic Houdini publicity poses taken when Houdini was working for Paramount-Artcraft Pictures:

TGG PressBook Cover 001

The above image of Houdini appears on the cover of the pressbook for The Grim Game as well as the pressbook for Terror Island. This image of Houdini may have been used more than any other image of Houdini for publicity abroad; See Kevin Connolly’s blog.

Lawsons Auction Sale 7919 -Lot 1813

The signed photo above will be auctioned by Lawsons in New South Wales on Friday, February 22, 2013. See John Cox’s blog for more info on auction.

Note: All of the above images can be found on various cards. Below are some examples from eBay that as of this date are currently for sale:

Topps Hollywood Walk of Fame Card

eBay 1920 Spanish Card

eBay 1920s Card from Cuba

Still 298-80 (L302-80): Happy Valentines Day!

Let's Elope?

Let’s Elope?

This photo (Still 298-80) appeared in a Swedish Program [HHCE Collection] and a Danish Program [Arthur Moses Collection] for the Grim Game.

So what is going on in this photo?

Harvey Hanford (HH) calls at the Cameron home and finds Mary Cameron (Ann Forrest) in the garden. HH and Mary are sitting on a rustic bench. To her he explains the great newspaper scoop he hopes to put over which will make it easier for them to elope. Mary is quite enthusiastic over her lover’s attempt to land a big story and agrees with the plans.  Their plans all arranged, HH kisses Mary good night.  [Paraphrased from files at Margaret Herrick Library]

Houdini Relaxes on Set with Marguerite Marsh Not

The image above is the front and back of card #38 from Houdini: The World’s First Superhero” cards. And once again the image on the right (back of card) is
misidentified.  But instead of misidentifying the actress as Gloria Swanson like William Kalush and Larry Sloman did on page 360 of their book, The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of Americas First Super Hero; the card misidentifies the actress as Marguerite Marsh.  Close, but no cigar.  The actress is not Gloria Swanson or Marguerite Marsh, but Ann Forrest (Houdini’s co-star) from the Grim Game.  Houdini did spend time with Gloria Swanson on the Lasky set, but was never in a movie with her.  See my blog Harry gets cozy with a young Gloria Swanson (and Ann Forrest) at Lasky Studios.  Houdini also cozied up with Margaret Marsh when he made the serial The Master Mystery. As the card above points out, Margaret Marsh played Eva Brent, the imperiled damsel in distress in the Master Mystery.

Houdini cozies up to Marguerite Marsh in The Master Mystery


In Search of Original Houdini Material for 1953 Houdini Movie, Part 2 of 2

While looking through the production 11495 department records (In Search of the Lost Plane to Plane Transfer) at the Margaret Herrick Library Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I came across some very interesting correspondence WRT to Paramount trying to locate some original Houdini material for use in the 1953 movie starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.  Part 1 focused on the Milk Can and Part 2 will focus on Houdini’s Water Torture Cell(s).

Below is the text from a letter dated May 6, 1952 from Gordon Cole of Paramount Pictures, Inc to Mr. Sam Frey (Paramount Executive):


Will you please include in the night wire to New York the following message:

I have been advised that Julian B. Proskauer, 148 Lafayette, Canal 64450, may have or know the where-abouts of the original Chinese Water Torcher Cell, used by Houdini.

Could this be checked and advise us if the cell is available to us, condition and cost.

Gordon Cole

Below is the text from a letter dated May 8, 1952 from Gordon Cole of Paramount Pictures, Inc to Hillar:

Dear Hillar:

Herewith two photographs of the Chinese Water Torture Cell. You will note that they are apparently two different cells in construction and I do not know which one you have located in New York.

As I explained to you by telephone, we will undoubtedly have to fake the cell as far as our actor is concerned.  It may be necessary to put a double glass in the front with water between the two glasses so that our actor in the back doesn’t drown.  We estimate the cost of construction here of the cell at roughly Fifteen Hundred Dollars ($1500.00), and it may prove in the final analysis, better that we build it here for picture purposes, rather than use the original but we cannot afford to overlook the one in New York for the moment.  It may be that the cost of getting the cell from Massachusetts, shipping it to the Coast, reshipping it to you, working it over, etc. can be more costly than starting from scratch.

If you do not think it favorable to attempt to ship the cell from New York here, and it does match either one of the photographs, it would be a great help to us if you could give us detailed dimensions, as we have nothing but photographs from which to construct the cell.

Thanks for all your trouble and hope to see you out here this summer. Best regards,

Gordon Cole

Below are pictures of Houdini’s water torture cells: