Part 2: Is this really how it went down?

TC Dressing Room Punch Water Cell

If we are referring to the first preliminary green screenplay (4-23-52) for the movie “Houdini” starring Tony Curtis, then the answer is, YES.  

As a result of the blow (i.e., punch) described in Part 1, Houdini is in bad shape when he goes on stage a little later that evening to do his most hazardous escape — the water  cell:

As he is placed in the water cell upside down, he sees the grotesque Halloween costumes and masks of some of the children in the packed audience and his face shows fear as he realizes it is Halloween night.

The curtains are drawn across the cell at the regularly allotted time.  Bess apprehensively signals Otto who whips the curtain aside, discovers Houdini lying unconscious, and quickly smashes the glass with an axe…

Bess is beside the dying Houdini in ambulance.  His voice is barely audible as he says, “I’ll come back, Bess — I’ll find a way — “  Bess nods through her tears…

It is Halloween night, 1936, and Bess and Sydney arrive at the abandoned Houdini house.  For the past nine years on the anniversary of Houdini’s death, Bess has come here to see if he could contact her.  She promised him to try for ten years before giving up and tonight is to be the last attempt.

Bess and Sydney wait patiently in Houdini’s study which has kept intact. Midnight comes and again nothing has happened.  Sydney is urging the intense Bess to leave when suddenly she hears the Hungarian waltz. A beatific look comes over her face, and Sydney, hearing nothing is puzzled.  Bess sways to the music and moves over to a faded poster.  It reads Schultz Dime Museum and shows a picture of Houdini at the age of twenty, wearing is ill-fitting dress suit and pulling a rabbit out of a silk hat.  The music swells to a crescendo….  [Screenplay read and summarized by Dorothy Harrington, 4-30-52]


If we are referring to the final version of the Tony Curtis movie (1953), then the answer is NO.

It went down like this:

Houdini is lying down in his dressing room, and winces, when Otto touches his stomach.

Otto: “Still hurts you there doesn’t?”

Houdini: “It’s alright.”

Otto: “You should have had that taken care of a long time ago.”

Houdini: “It’s nothing, it comes and goes.”

Otto: “I think it is your appendix”

Houdini: “Since when have you been practicing medicine?”

Otto: “You don’t have to be a doctor to know that something is wrong”

Houdini: “Alright I will have it looked at as soon as we finish the tour”

Later that evening, Houdini performs the Barrel Escape and the Steel Strait-Jacket Escape, but the audience wants more; they want the Torture Cell.

Houdini goes into his dressing room to prepare for the Torture Cell when he accidentally bumps his stomach against the handle of a sword protruded from a sword box illusion.  He is in obvious pain.

He enters the Pagoda Torture Cell. Houdini passes the time-limit and the cabinet is broken open, flooding the stage.  Houdini is still hanging in the cabinet, unconscious.

Bess is then seen beside the dying Houdini on stage.   He regains consciousness long enough to promise her that he will come back to her, he will find a way somehow.

We then hear the Hungarian Waltz and fade to a poster that reads Schultz Dime Museum and shows a picture of Houdini at the age of twenty, wearing is ill-fitting dress suit and pulling a rabbit out of a silk hat.  The music swells to a crescendo…  The End

According to the man (Jon Oliver) that currently sleeps in Houdini’s bed: It is believed that they changed the movies ending from Houdini getting punched to him dying in the cell because the lawyers at Paramount did not want to get a law suit since the students were still alive.  For another reason the ending could have changed, check out A New Twist on The End of Houdini by Tony Curtis.

If we are referring to how Houdini died in real life WRT the Houdini death blow (i.e., punch), then you will need to talk to Houdini’s Ghost (Patrick Culliton) or The Female Houdini (Dorothy Dietrich) for an answer and rethink the rethinking on the Houdini punch.

Part 1: Is this really how it went down?

Houdini Punch Image

Is this really how it went down?

Houdini is disturbed by three college students to whom he promised to give an interview for their paper. Although Houdini is extremely weary he manages to joke with them about his successful feats of strength, such as having had a 500 pound weight dropped on his stomach.  As the boys continue to question him, Houdini starts going through an accumulation of mail and only half-listening, he consents to let one of the husky boys take a punch at him.  The boy delivers a crushing blow to Houdini’s stomach and from the look of surprise and pain on his face they realize with alarm that Houdini was unprepared for the attack.  The boy apologizes, and Houdini, concealing his pain, assures him he’s all right.  The boys leave and Houdini, in agony, manages to stretch himself out.  [Dorothy Harrington]

Check back for the answer in my next post.

HHCE Magical Celebration in San Jose

220px-Jose_Improv_TheaterThis past weekend, we went to San Jose to celebrate the engagement of my Son David to a beautiful girl named Danielle.

It was magical.  At the engagement party, Danielle’s father gave a very touching speech about his little girl; and I did a special magic tribute to the couple:

“This 1 dollar bill represents David and his family and this one dollar bill represents Danielle and her family.  If we put both together, we end up with two (the two bills become a 2 dollar bill) amazing people meant to be together.”  I followed this with a silk, ring, rope routine with a theme about tying the knot.  For the finale, I said that “David and Danielle could not get married unless they passed my test with a deck of cards”:

They each select and sign cards that are obviously put in different halves of the deck. When she squeezes the deck and thinks fondly of him, his card and only his card mysteriously turns face up in the deck.  Then he squeezes and thinks of her, and her card does the same.  As a kicker, the two cards are shown to have moved together in the deck.  Then as the final straw, when the two cards are put together in her hand and his hand covers the cards, the two cards become one in their hands.

They passed the test.

It was an amazing time had by all!  The food, drink, cake and party were a total success.

BTW:  During our visit, my son told me that Houdini had performed at the San Jose Improv.


Houdini breaks own record in The Master Mystery

MM Overboard Box 1

Before the camera Houdini broke his own record in a scene of the great fifteen episode serial, “The Master Mystery.”  Instead of two sets of handcuffs, he wore three, he was completely bound by heavy chains from his shoulders to half way below his knees, his ankles encased in leg manacles.  Thus equipped, he was placed in an iron enforced heavy wooden packing case, securely bound, and hoisted by eight strong men out into the Hudson River.

MM Overboard Box 2

A strong current was running, the box tipped to one side, then immediately sank to view.  In exactly 32 seconds, Houdini appeared, swimming leisurely about as though taking a refreshing dip. But not alone did he break his own record by twenty seconds, almost cutting it in half, but he performed the feat with a broken wrist; he obtained no permit from the police, he signed no release statements for his men, so sure of his success.  As his box was lost to sight and was to be used again in the serial, after regaining the dock from which the box was hoisted, he joined the divers in their search for it. When found, it was still securely bound.

MM Overboard Box 3

Houdini resumed his work before the camera as the though the marvelous record-breaking feat he had just accomplished were a mere part of his day’s routine, but Mr. Rolfe, the president of the B.A. Rolfe Productions, Burton King, who directed the scene, the cameramen; in fact, all who watched Houdini take his life so lightly in his own hands, were well high nervous wrecks, so high had been their tension, so keen their anxiety.

[Images from YouTube and Text is from The Hays free press June 26, 1919, Hays, Kan.]