Houdini connection with the last days of the Father of American Music (Stephen Foster)

The Elude Nov 1919 Mag Cover 001By chance, someone that my spouse knows (while cleaning out their garage) came across a magazine (Presser’s Musical Magazine: THE ETUDE) from November 1916 that contained a letter (The Last Days of Stephen Foster) written by Harry Houdini.  They offered the magazine to my spouse knowing that I was interested in information on Harry Houdini.

Apparently Houdini’s search for data to enlarge his collection of literature pertaining to drama, minstrelsy and stage magic put him in position to shed light on Foster’s last  days.

Below is the Editors Note:

After the publication of the September issue THE ETUDE, which was devoted in part to the life and works of Stephen Foster, we received the following letter from Mr. Harry Houdini.  Mr. Houdini is so well known in the vaudeville world for his singular skill in unfastening the most artfully contrived “locks, bolts and bars” that he needs no special introduction.  This letter reveals him in a new light, however, and our readers will surely appreciate his valuable contributions to the small stock of information available regarding the composer of Old Folks at Home, My Old Kentucky Home and a generous percentage of America’s small stock of native folk songs. In preparing our special Foster issue, we ransacked every known source of information, and published all we received that came from reliable sources.  Certain small discrepancies existed in the varying statements, but this is not to be wondered at. No facts were published at the time of Foster’s death, and in consequence we are dependent on hearsay and the memories of those who were near him at the last – fifty two years ago.

Click here to read the letter from Houdini to the Editor of The Etude regarding The Last Days of Stephen Foster.

Stills L302-1 to L302-3 Aeroplane Sequence

L302-1Above is a photograph that just sold on eBay last week for $123.50.  Congratulations to the winner. This is the first time, I have seen this image with a press released still number on it; It looks like it is L302-1.

Closeup of Still NumberThis is the first image of a sequence of three that appeared together in the newspapers documenting the actual collision in mid-air.  It was also used in ads promoting “The Grim Game”. It shows Kennedy climbing down the knotted rope toward Thompson’s top wing for the plane changing stunt in the movie.

L302-2 001I have yet to see the above second image of the sequence with the still number on it.  It may be L302-2. Notice that, as the aeroplanes are buffeted by the unstable air, Kennedy lifts his feet to avoid contact with Thompson’s propeller.

L302-3 Sphinx Sept 15, 1919 v18n7Above is the third image of the sequence with still number L302-3 on it.  After the collision, you see Kennedy dangling in space at the end of the rope as the aeroplanes start to descend.

Houdini Grim Game Stunt Doubles

His double for the plane-to-plane descent was Lieutenant Robert E. Kennedy.

New York Tribune, July 06 1919 p 6

 New York Tribune July 06, 1919, Page 6

Several other doubles were used for Houdini during the more hazardous feats in the movie. These were dummies with painted faces. They were dressed in striped shirts and dark trousers to match the clothes he wore. The dummies were filmed in long shots; then studio-made close-ups of the star were inserted to create the illusion that he performed breathtaking feats that not even Houdini would risk. [Houdini The Untold Story by Milbourne Christopher page 163]

Grim Game Dummies

Dummies of  Ann Forrest and Harry Houdini from the Grim Game. See Aviators in Early Hollywood (Images of America: California) by Kelly Shawna on page 52 for the complete photo which includes Robert E. Kennedy, Ann Forrest and Harry Houdini posing with their magical dummies.

Dummies do not land airplanes well in crash scenes but are desirable flight “fall guys” to drop on a rare occasion. 

See pages 51-53 for other amazing Grim Game photos.