93 Years Ago Today, December 27, 1921, Houdini became the figurehead of The Mystery Pictures Corporation. Note: This is not the Houdini Picture Corporation (HPC), nor the Film Developing Corporation (FDC) which wishes you all A Merry Christmas and A Happy and Prosperous New Year
FDC: Houdini invested in the FDC in 1916. It was founded upon a novel invention: a method of automated film processing, developed by Gustav Dietz. Offices were opened on Broadway, and a factory in Hoboken, New Jersey. Houdini’s initial investment was $4,900 but the company was never able to turn a profit. In April, 1918, Houdini fired Dietz and attempted to improve upon the mechanism himself, assigning his brother, Theodore W. Hardeen, to run the company, all to no avail.
HPC: It seemed only natural that, owning a film processing company, he should make his own films, rather than relying on the resources and expertise of a motion picture studio. He formed the Houdini Picture Corporation (HPC) in early in 1921. By October of 1921, seven months after incorporating HPC, Houdini had wrapped up two full-length feature films, The Man From Beyond and Haldane.
Even though The Moving Picture World had announced that the HPC would produce “four feature productions a year, in which Houdini will be the star,” the filmmakers must have quickly realized how impossible it would be to live up to this ambition. So Houdini sought other ways to keep the FDC busy, and to shore up his film-making empire.
The Mystery Pictures Corporation was formed.
During his tours through Europe, he had discovered that there were many high-quality films there that might never be exported to the U.S. What they lacked in popular American stars, they made up for in production values. Harry Houdini was the President. Hardeen was vice president and Harry H. Poppe served as Secretary.
Films imported for distribution included: 1918 French Film L’Ame du bronze (Soul of Bronze), Les Contes de mille et une nuits (A Thousand and One Nights), and 1919 Italian Film II mistero di Osiris (The Mystery of the Jewel). Note: The Mystery of the Jewel was renamed and released as Ashes of Passion.
Realizing that producing his own features (as the Houdini Picture Corporation) and acquiring foreign films for distribution (as the Mystery Pictures Corporation) were losing propositions, Houdini finally brought his commercial film career to a close.
- Houdini The Movie Star Film Notes by Bret Wood
- The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman