What happened to David Thompson, whose plane flipped over?


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Credit: Cecil B. DeMille Trust


Our friend Bill Mullins alerts John Cox and I about an article in the Rockford Register-Republic dated Wednesday, January 16, 1957 about David Thompson who had just become a fledgling member of the National Real Estate flyer’s association at the time, but of course he was no newcomer to aviation:

He was an army test pilot for 20 months in 1917-19, and was called to Hollywood by Paramount Pictures after he left the air service signal corps (ancestor of today’s U.S. Air Force).  His first movie stunt flight in Paramount’s, “The Grim Game”, was nearly Thompson’s last and ended with his plane flipping over.  Thompson helped found the Mercury Aviation company in Hollywood, with Cecil B. DeMille as president. And was one of the earliest airline pilots.  He holds the distinction of making the first flight from the U.S. to Mexico City.

You can read the full article below for this and more about David Thompson.

1957 01 16 Rockford IL Register Republic p 12 b (2).pdf

Click on article to enlarge for reading


Thanks Bill!


Some years after the movie was released, Houdini used the final sequence (AKA “Desperate Chances”) in a vaudeville act.  One night Tommy (aka David Thompson) took his wife to see the act and found that after running the clip in which the stunt man faltered and the planes locked, Houdini referred to this as his narrowest escape.  He then invited members of the audience on stage.  Wondering what Houdini’s reaction to him would be, Tommy joined the group.  The great escapist recognized him at once and, without the flicker of a lash, identified him to the audience as “the hero who saved my life in The Grim Game.”   [Hollywood When Silents Were Golden]

Of course it was really Christopher V. Pickup in the upper plane who saved Robert E. Kennedy (Houdini’s stunt double) as he hung from the rope. Tommy actually flew the lower plane.



LINK: Best Things to do in Scranton PA


Congrats to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for the Houdini Museum being one of the best things to do in Scranton, PA.  Check out the article below by Malerie Yole-Cohen:

Houdinia-Museum-Scranton-PA-640x480Visiting the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA is definitely on my To-Do list in the near future and it should be on your to-do list.

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I was fortunate enough to not only meet Dorothy and Dick during their historic visit to Hollywood, but also to be one of their invited guests that got a reserved seat at the TCM screening of The Grim Game.


LINK: Rick Schmidlin Interview about Finding and Saving The Grim Game

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My friend, John Cox, over at Wild About Harry, knocked it out of the park with a two part interview with Rick Schmidlin, the man who produced the restoration of Houdini’s “The Grim Game”.  Check it out.


In Part II of the interview, we discover that it was in 1959 when a 16mm negative and print was made from a 35mm nitrate original [that Larry Weeks acquired in 1947 from Houdini heirs according to the opening title card in the restored movie]. What we don’t find out is the specifics of how and where Larry might have gotten his original 35mm nitrate print.  But not to worry, John is going to do a BONUS INTERVIEW in which he and Rick speculate on where Larry might have gotten his original 35mm print.  It should be interesting indeed. Stay tuned!



What happened to Robert E Kennedy after the plane incident?

Robert Kennedy After Collision

Credit: Cecil B. DeMille Trust

Above is the scene immediately after planes hit the earth.  Note crowd rushing forward to greet pilots.  Robert E. Kennedy (Houdini’s Stunt Double) is in the center with back to camera being congratulated on his narrow escape by fellow pilots (or according to another account, he was he being blamed by fellow pilots for the accident).

Houdini never saw or spoke to him again.  According to Tommy [David E. Thompson], who flew the pickup plane, he got up and ran away and was never seen again. Shortly after the spectacular crash, Kennedy and Bill Hahnel, a fellow flying officer in the service, made exhibition flights throughout the country, billing themselves as The Flying Tramps. Later, Kennedy became a noted test pilot, pioneer airplane pilot and inventor of navigation instruments. After several barnstorming tours of Texas, Robert E. Kennedy joined with members of Los Angeles based bus company, Pickwick transportation, in the formation of Pickwick Airways. Flying tri-motors, the new airline pioneered air routes into Mexico until Pickwick was absorbed by a larger airline. Kennedy continued flying until he went to work for Douglas Aircraft in 1934.  After retirement, he lived in Anaheim until his death in 1973. But perhaps he can best be remembered for adding one more legend to the folklore of Harry Houdini.

Next related post will look into what happened to David E. Thompson, whose plane flipped over?


  • Taped interview with Robert E. Kennedy conducted by Arch C. Wallen, and Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1966
  • Locklear The Man Who Walked on Wings by Art Ronnie 1973

How did Robert E Kennedy get the plane-changing job?

Dare Devil Kennedy Before Flight

Credit: Cecil B. Demille Trust

Word of the plane-changing job passed around local aviation circles as the Lasky Company searched for a stunt man to double for Houdini.  No one responded because several stunt men had already been killed at air shows while trying to duplicate Locklear’s famous stunt. Robert E. Kennedy, a former lieutenant and flying instructor in the Air Service, applied for the dangerous job and immediately received a contract.

The logical choice would have been Locklear.  After all, Houdini knew him and Locklear was the only pilot in America at the time, indeed in the world making plane transfers.  But the man Willat hired for the stunt was Robert E Kennedy, fresh out of the Air Service where he had been an instructor at March Field.  It was first time that Kennedy had ever attempted a plane change.  But like so many other pilots at the time, he had heard of Locklear’s exploits and thought it worth an attempt.

Future related posts will include:

  • What happened to Robert E Kennedy after the plane incident?
  • What happened to David Thompson, whose plane flipped over in the plane incident?


  • The Motion Picture Stunt Pilots and Hollywood Classic Aviation Movies by H.Hugh Wynne
  • Locklear: The Man Who Walked on Wings by Art Ronnie

LINK: Brane Zivkovic Conducts a Live Score for Harry Houdini’s Film


Brane Zivlovic was recently in Los Angeles for the TCM Classic Film Festival.  He conducted a live performance of his score for Harry Houdini’s silent film The Grim Game (1919) at the closing of the festival…

Click here to read the rest of the article posted at The Office of Special Programs at New York University Tisch School of the Arts.

The Grim Game will next screen at the Wisconsin Film Festival on April 16.

Bonus: See below for the Grim Game musical ensemble and runtime”:

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The Grim Game to screen at a Magic Convention Once Again

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The Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.) is going to host the Screening of “The Grim Game” at the 2015 Convention in Philadelphia.

Click here for the official news and press.

Larry Weeks, back in the 60s 70s and 80s would occasionally screen the film at magic conventions, S.A.M. assemblies and after S.A.M. broken wand ceremonies.

I believe the first magic convention he screened it at was in April 1964 at The Wizard’s Conclave in Plainfield NJ.  It was also shown publicly on March 1974 at The New School in New York.  In the 80’s the S.A.M. parent assembly in New York would screen it as part of “Houdini Night” produced by Larry Weeks.  And the last time that the Grim Game screened at a Magic Convention was at a September 1986 Magicians Convention in Allentown PA.  Also in 1986, after an S.A.M. broken wand ceremony conducted at Houdini’s grave at Machpelah Cemetery in New York, on October 31st, Larry Weeks gave a lecture on Houdini and showed “The Grim Game at the Glendale Public Library in New York.

Additional Grim Game Title Cards added to the Restored Version


Dorothy Dietrich, Rick Schmidlin and Dick Brookz with the Original Title Card for The Grim Game

In my review of the Grim Game, I mentioned that I finally was able to find out which set of original sub-title and spoken title cards were actually used; that is the restored movie followed the stand-alone set that contained 111 titles as opposed to the 94 titles embedded with the 422 scenes of the script that I read at the Margaret Herrick Library.


TCM Film Festival Photo by Edward M. PioRoda

The 111 original title cards included a Main Title (seen above), Producer Title and Credit Title, that appeared when the film started.

In addition to the original title cards, the restored version added an intro card before the film starts, which included Larry Week’s story.  It also included three other title cards that I have been given permission to share.

This included a Producer Credit Title card with restoration producer Rick Schmidlin, a Consultant Credit Title card with consultants Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, and a Special Thanks Credit Title card that included a number of resources.

ZSchmidlin1stCreditZDietrichBrookz2ndTitleCardZEnd Credits

I think these Title cards speak for themselves.

Thank You to all who contributed.

LINK: L.A. Daily Mirror pinpoints Houdini’s plane crash


John Cox at Wild About Houdini just did a short post titled, L.A. Daily Mirror pinpoints Houdini’s plane crash,that shares a well-researched article by Mary Mallory about Houdini’s The Grim Game.

John also shares the following information from the TCM film festival which was news to me as well when I heard it:

At last Sunday’s premiere of The Grim Game restoration, the sons of director Irvin Willat told me their father said the camera plane, which he was in, was also struck and “went down” with the others. This is the first I’d ever heard of the crash involving three planes.

This needs some more research.  Hopefully the sons of director Irvin Willat can elaborate some more.

Other Related Posts:

Review of The Grim Game and the Festivities in Hollywood

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For me, the festivities in Hollywood started off on Thursday, March 26th when I picked up a TCM Film Festival program that included a 5 page article on the Man, the Myth, the Legend and included 6 images (5 below and 1 above) from The Grim Game.

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On Friday, March 27th was the infamous Houdini “Nuts” lunch at the Magic Castle in the Houdini Séance room that was attended by the following:  Joyce Basch, Dick Brookz, Lisa Cousins, John Cox, Patrick Culliton, Dorothy Dietrich, Joe Fox, Joe Monte, Arthur Moses, Charlie Mount, Jose Luis Nazar, Joe Notaro, Angela Sanchez, Gene Franklin Smith and Mark Willoughby.

At the lunch, I shared what I believe is a complete set of all of the production stills from The Grim Game.

Gene Franklin Smith brought printed copies of his masterfully produced Houdini play, Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter for all of the Houdini “Nuts” to sign and keep.

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Dorothy and Dick handed out some keepsake cards.

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And last but not least, Arthur Moses handed out a Houdini “Nuts” Grim Game Souvenir Folder that was off the charts:

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On Saturday, March 28th, many of the Houdini “Nuts” attended a Houdini Séance at the Magic Castle.

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Sunday, March 29th, was Houdini Day in Los Angeles

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Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz got me a reserved seat for the Tony Curtis, Houdini movie, where I got to see them share the official “Houdini Day” proclamation from the City of Los Angeles and perform one of the best straitjacket and handcuff escape routines I have seen, Bravo!  This was followed by seeing a rare 35mm print of the movie.

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Next on the agenda was the grand finale, the premier of “The Grim Game”, at the Egyptian Theatre.

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While, I waited with anticipation outside the theatre with my fellow Houdini Nuts (Lisa Cousins, John Cox, Patrick Culliton, Joe Fox, Arthur Moses, Gene Franklin Smith, and Mark Willoughby) , I got to meet John Gaughan, Fred Pittella and Bullet Valmont, for the first time which was an honor.

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Was I really just about to see Houdini’s Best Movie?  The answer is yes, Dorothy and Dick got me a reserved seat as one of their special guests.  In fact, they took their seats right in front of me after they performed a quick magic routine using a vest once owned by Houdini, and Dorothy shared her heart-felt feelings about this special moment of a lifetime.GrimGameDietrichSchmidlinBrookz

So, I got to see the movie, with a different perspective than most.  That is, I spent years studying everything I could get my hands on about The Grim Game, which included the script, two lists of subtitles & spoken titles, production stills, press book, newspaper ads, magazine articles, books, programs, and whatever I could find in libraries and online archives.

So although, I hadn’t seen the actual movie before, I felt like I knew it inside and out.  That said, seeing it brought to life on a large screen accompanied by a live orchestra was an experience that I will never forget.   I literally saw my 40 year obsession with Houdini and his best work pass before my eyes.

There was some nitrate damage to the film, but it was not too bad.  And I did notice some small white plus-shaped images or specs that appeared in parts of the movie, but I am told that this was normal for silent films and was not a defect.  As far as I was concerned all of these things added to experience and authenticity of the movie.  Overall, an excellent job was done preserving and restoring this film so it could be enjoyed by all.

For the most part, the movie appeared to follow the Script and the 422 scenes that I read at the Margaret Herrick Library.  The exceptions that I noticed were as follows:298-14SAVED AFTER A FALL298-15 001

  • The Press Club Grill in the script got changed to the Paloma in the movie.
  • In the script, Scenes 311-314, Houdini frees himself from a straitjacket, swings like a pendulum at the end of the rope, catapults his body through a small window; and then scales a wall and disappears over the other side. However in the movie, Houdini released himself, fell into an awning and then dropped to the ground without scaling a wall. Any way you look at it, the straitjacket scene was breath-taking.
  • Scene 325 takes place on a mountain road where we see Mary (Ann Forrest) riding in on a motorcycle.  After riding a long distance, the road is too rough for Mary to go any farther.  She stops and gets off of the motorcycle and proceeds quickly up a path. Ann Forrest does not appear on a motorcycle in the movie.

Seeing the movie, I was finally able to find out which set of sub-titles and spoken titles were actually used; that is, the movie followed the stand-alone set that contained 111 titles as opposed to the 94 titles embedded with the 422 scenes.  My guess is that after the scenes were shot, they updated and added titles to create the final product. When you watch the movie, you will notice that some title cards have a border around them and some don’t. The ones without a border are spoken titles and the ones with a border are sub-titles.

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For me, the highlight of the movie was the jail sequence, which unfolded in total silence without music which I thought was brilliant but not everyone agreed.   I was amazed to see the 3 story shots of the jail house and then the focus on the cell on the third floor of the facility occupied by Houdini.  All attention was on the Master, as it should be.  He did not disappoint.  He escaped the fetters, pried the bars on the window open, and worked his way down the side of the building, where he did his most daring feat of the film and dove under a moving vehicle and latched on to its underside as it sped away.  Brilliant!

I would now like to share a few comments/observations about the actors in the movie.

All of the suspects played their parts to a tee.MHL PRINTS 008 298-9 villians with HH

  • Tully Marshall (“Nick” Raver, Cameron’s Lawyer, who seems to prosper without other clients)
  • Augustus Phillips (Hanford’s employer, David Allison owner of the Daily Call)
  • Arthur Hoyt (Dr. Tyson a famous alienist and Cameron’s physician),

As far as the ladies in the movie, they all played their given roles well.  Although, Ann Forrest has always been considered the leading lady in the movie, I would also add Mae Bush to that category as well; she had a number of scenes and really shined.  Jane Wolf (not pictured below) and Houdini’s land lady Mrs. Gates added some good comedy relief. In fact, Mrs. Gates deserved to receive a credit in the movie, but did not.

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  • Ann Forrest (Mary Wentworth, Cameron’s ward and heiress)
  • Mae Bush (Ethel Delmead, favorite of the Paloma Cabaret who plays Cameron’s nurse)
  • Jane Wolf (Hannah, the maid plays many parts, as the gloomy mansion houses but two servants)
  • Unknown actor (Mrs. Gates played Houdini’s land lady)

Speaking of credits, I am not sure why The Police Reporter (pictured in Straw Hat below) got a credit and Old Banks (not pictured below) did not.  The police reporter’s role was very minor and probably went unnoticed by everyone in the theater. While I guarantee everyone remembers Old Banks who provided a lot of comic relief and set the stage for the movie with the following comment:

“If anything happened around here, we’d have circumstantial evidence on you – prowling about these grounds with a gun!”


  • Ed Martin (Police Reporter)
  • Unknown actor (Old Banks, the man-of-all-work and one of Cameron’s two servants)

And last but not least, Houdini deserves a Standing Ovation for his acting performance in this movie.  Yes, I said acting.  He nailed it.  You could also feel the chemistry between Houdini and Ann Forrest, which included a couple scenes where he kissed her.

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  • Houdini (Harvey Hanford, Cameron’s nephew and David Allison’s trusted adviser and assistant)

Overall, The Grim Game surpassed my expectations.  It was absolutely brilliant and breath-taking.

After the movie, I joined a small group at the Magic Castle in a private room to discuss what we had just witnessed, which was history being made.

This was an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget.

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Special Thanks to Arthur Moses for the Grim Game gift bag and Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich for making my dreams come true.

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