Houdini Tries Some Hollywood Magic with Wanda Hawley

As promised from my post last week, here is a photo of Houdini sweeping a Hollywood starlet off her feet.

TMPW June 14 1919 WH HH

At the time this levitation photo was created, Wanda Hawley, was working on the production of “Told in the HIlls” at the Famous Players-Lasky studio in Hollywood, while Houdini was working on “The Grim Game” in Stage 4.

Wanda Hawley (a.k.a. Wanda Petit), (July 30, 1895 – March 18, 1963) was a veteran of the silent screen films era. She entered the theatrical profession with an amateur group in Seattle, and later toured the U.S. and Canada as a singer. She co-starred with Rudolph Valentino in the 1922’s The Young Rajah, and rose to stardom in a number of Cecil B. DeMille and director Sam Wood’s films.

Hawley was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, but together with her family moved to Seattle, Washington, when she was a child. She received her education in Seattle.

Hawley made her screen debut with the Fox Film Corporation and after playing with them for eight months joined Famous Players-Lasky and appeared as leading lady for Douglas Fairbanks, in Mr. Fix-It (1918)

She had also appeared opposite William S. Hart, Charlie Ray, Bryant Washburn, Wally Reid and others. She was five feet three inches high, weighed a hundred and ten pounds, and had blond hair and greyish blue eyes. She was an able sportswoman.

With the advent of sound, Hawley’s career ended, and she reportedly was working as a call girl in San Francisco by the early 1930s. She is interred in the Abbey of Psalms in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, CA.


  • The Moving Picture World
  • Wikipedia.org

Harry gets cozy with the ladies at Lasky Studios

During the making of the Grim Game, Houdini has been photographed at Lasky Studios getting cozy with:

Gloria Swanson,

Houdini and Gloria Swanson Photo from Photoplay September 1919 p102

Ann Forrest,

Ann Forrest 10x8

and the young lady pictured below.

Guess Who I Am

Care to guess who that young lady is?  Next week, I will reveal who that is, along with a very rare photo of the Hollywood starlet being swept off her feet by Houdini at Lasky Studios. You won’t want to miss it.

Houdini Performs Brick Wall 100 years ago today and then Passes It Along to Hardeen

color wall

Houdini first performed the Brick Wall on July 13, 1914 at Hammerstein’s Roof, a summer theatre located atop Willie Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre in New York City.

After the engagement at Hammerstein’s, Houdini never performed the illusion again.  Instead he passed it along to his brother, Hardeen, who toured with it and enjoyed some success.


Hardeen Brick Wall Ad

Below is an account of Hardeen performing the effect:

Hardeen, the man of mystery, whose engagement at Proctor’s has been extended for the entire week, again baffled the spectators last night by appearing to walk through a solid brick wall.  How did he do it, you ask?  Well ask Hardeen. All that those in front of the footlights know is that saw him on one side of the solid brick wall and the next minute he was on the other side without apparently having crawled under or over or gone around the barrier.

The wall was about 8 feet high and half again as long, built in an iron frame, so heavy that it required several men to wheel it on the stage.  So as to make assurance doubly sure that he did not go through any trap doors, the theatre management laid a heavy mat on the floor and then Hardeen placed on top of this a large piece of linen.  A committee of seven went on the stage, examined the floor covering both before and after it was laid and assured themselves that it was not a trick arrangement.  The linen was held up in full view of the audience, the lights in the theatre were dimmed and reflectors were turned on behind the cloth to show it was all in one piece.

The wall was wheeled into place. Two green baize compartments, each about the size of an ordinary telephone booth were affixed in each side of the wall neither reaching quite to the top of the wall. Into one these Hardeen stepped.  It was closed by an assistant.  There was a full minute’s pause and then Hardeen made his appearance in the box on the opposite side of the wall. The committee tested the wall and found it still as solid as before.

The committeemen watched the act closely and were convinced that Hardeen didn’t crawl over the wall, the top of which was in plain view all the time, neither did he crawl underneath, which was a physical impossibility.  It being less than four inches from the stage, and he didn’t walk around either end. The audience watched one end, while the committeemen kept their eyes on the other.  Just how he got through that wall is a secret, of course.

[Mount Vernon NY Daily Argus 1915 Friday March 26 1915]


Buried Alive in Boston: Eye Witness

MCPL Shubert Theatre Boston 001

Courtesy of Milbourne Christopher Houdini A Pictorial Life

While two ads (see related posts) and a program (above) have been found advertising Houdini’s Buried Alive (aka The Secret of the Sphinx) in Boston on stage, I have been unable to find an eye-witness account or article to corroborate this until Houdini Expert, Patrick Culliton, shared the following snippet with me.

From Magic magazine December, 1999 Centennial issue, Jay Marshall talks about readers picks for the top-ten magicians of the 20th century:

Magic: As you know, Houdini received, by far, the most votes, placing him number one on the top 10 list. We guessed that, less than 1% of those voting had ever seen Houdini. How do you account for that enduring fame?

Jay: I don’t know, because the things I saw him do, at the time, did not impress me.

Magic: What do you recall of his show?

Jay: It was at the Majestic theater in Boston. I remember Houdini sitting on the stage across from someone at a table, which you could see underneath, and they were switching slates.

Magic: Was this (in the) Spiritualism segment of his final touring show?

Jay: Yes, and Houdini talked a lot. It didn’t seem like magic, and it didn’t mean shit to me as a kid. However, for the second act, they tied him up with a rope, handcuffed him, and put him in a thing that looked like a coffin my father told me he was going to get out of it. Now that got my interest. I listened as the music played, and the next thing I knew, when I woke up, Houdini was taking bows.

Magic: Dozing off during bad magic shows started at an early age?

Jay: I was seven, and that was in 1926, the year Houdini died. I was intrigued with him being tied up and escaping, but as far as Houdini being the magician of the century, I would not say so.

Magic: But the readers who voted did.

Jay: That’s right. He was a remarkable man. Look at the number of books he wrote. He didn’t have a formal education, and he edited the conjurers monthly magazine (1906 – 1908).

The question “what do you have on Houdini?” Is constantly heard by Elaine Lund at the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan. She’s got the “Milk Can Escape” that everybody wants to see. And they asked to see Houdini posters and all the literature on Houdini.

So much for the magic and spiritualism part impressing him.  At least the escape part got his interest and we finally have an eye witness account of the show, although be it as one remembers it as a 7 year old. The advertisement did say to “bring the kiddies“.  Jay Marshall was born August 29, 1919 so he was definitely seven in September 1926 when Houdini performed at the Majestic Theatre in Boston.

Special Thanks to Patrick Culliton for sharing this evidence.

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