“How Houdini Died” and “Was Houdini Killed?”


Houdini died 90 years ago, today. What led to his death and was he killed?

The following snippet from an article written by Bayard Grimshaw gives a clue:

The full story of the events leading to Houdini’s death was first told, to the best of my knowledge, in a well-written, detailed article by Stanley Handman which appeared in the Canadian Weekend Picture Magazine for 12th September, 1953.

[Abracadabra Magazine Saturday 23rd March 1974  page 230]

For years, I thought this article referenced by Bayard Grimshaw was the same article that Patrick Culliton posted the text for on his houdinighost.com website, which was titled:

That was, until I was finally able to get a copy of the Canadian Weekend Picture article, which was titled:

It turns out the source for the 12th September 1953 article in the Canadian Weekend Picture article was the undated file (“Was Houdini Killed?” by S. J. Smiley) from the Fulton Oursler collection, currently in the Georgetown University Library.

FWIW: Fulton Oursler, aka Samri Frikell and Anthony Abbot, was an American journalist, playwright, editor and writer, who aided Harry Houdini in his crusade against fraudulent mediumship, and died May 24, 1952. Writing as Anthony Abbot, he was a notable author of mysteries and detective fiction. He also wrote under his own name on Christian themes.

With that, I leave you with a snippet from Was Houdini Killed? article to ponder:

While Houdini was thus discoursing and I drawing, there was a rap at the door, and Houdini’s secretary ushered in a rather tall individual – he must have been at least six foot two – wearing a blue gabardine coat that seemed much too small for him, and carrying three or four books under his arm. The newcomer appeared to have known Houdini and had, in fact, come that day to return a book Houdini had loaned him a few days before; his name was Whitehead, and he was the theological student at McGill University.
Whitehead was an oldish looking young man about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years of age. He impressed one as being the very genteel type of student. His face was ruddy, his hair very thin on top; his frame was powerful though loosely-knit, and his neck was inordinately long. He spoke softly with an exaggerated Oxford accent.
With the advent of Whitehead the conversation continued anew, and though I was disturbed from time to time by the fact that Houdini had to turn his head to answer Whitehead’s numerous queries (for he was an enthusiastic talker) I found a good deal of interest in what was said…
It seems that Houdini had been a detective for many years and had aided in unraveling so many mysteries and had read so many detective stories, that he boasted of being able to piece together any detective story, unknown to him of course, by hearing three or four paragraphs from different sections of such story. Whitehead, who had a mystery book with him, tried the experiment; he read excerpts from three or four different sections of the book, and Houdini apparently was able to give the gist of the story. At this juncture Houdini made an observation which I shall always remember, “think of the trouble I might have caused if I had used my talents for ill.”
More conversation and then Whitehead asked Houdini another question. “What is your opinion of the miracles mentioned in the Bible?”
Houdini tactfully replied, “I prefer not to discuss or to comment on matters of this nature. I would make one observation, however, – what would succeeding generations said of Houdini’s feats had he performed them in Biblical times? Would they have been referred to as ‘miracles’?”
Whitehead appeared to be somewhat taken aback at this statement.
It was at this point that Whitehead began to manifest what seem to me an astonishing interest in Houdini’s physical strength. Then, out of a clear sky, Whitehead asked, “is it true, Mr. Houdini, that you can resist the hardest blows struck to the abdomen?”



Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – Mystery Solved

As promised, here is a post that sums up the mystery of all of the movies, we discussed in the previous four posts:

Well, it is pretty obvious, that The Master Mystery was re-cut into these four new attractions, which according to John Cox at Wild About Houdini was a practice that went on in the days of silent films.

With that said, I believe the following ad that appeared in the Moving Picture World on January 8, 1921 and January 15, 1921 pretty much sums up the mystery of the four movies:


Now, we just need to find prints of these pirated movies.

Possibly Depicting a Scene From The Master Mystery?


The very nice publicity illustration above just sold ($1600) at the Potter & Potter Auction for the Magic Collection of David Baldwin.  Congratulations to the winner!

Below is the auction description:


[Houdini, Harry (Ehrich Weiss)] Ogle, R.B. Original Publicity Illustration of Houdini. Circa 1920s. Pen and ink on paper, possibly depicting a scene from The Master Mystery (1920), in which Houdini is shown climbing through an open window into a bedroom at night and bearing down on a man wielding a dagger. “Kinema Comic” annotated in pencil in lower margin, with scattered printer’s annotations and stamps. Artist’s name identified on verso. 10 x 13″. Old central vertical fold.

The description mentions that it is “Possibly Depicting a Scene from The Master Mystery”.

Well, we know the artist R.B. Ogle has created Aeroplane sketches for Kinema Comic that depict scenes from The Grim Game.  The originals (seen below) are now in the Arthur Moses Collection which I was fortunate enough to see in person.


Since I have finally seen all of The Master Mystery, plus studied the script, synopsis, and book, I feel that I am qualified to answer the question if the publicity illustration sold by Potter & Potter auction depicts a scene from The Master Mystery.  The short answer is, No.

That said, Episode 11 of The Master Mystery has an incredible scene in a deserted shack,where the Madagascan Strangler attempts to stab Houdini that I would like to describe.

The following are two title cards from Episode 11:


At Paul’s instigation, Eva has

been abducted; and one of his

followers disguised as a minister,

attempts to perform a false mar-

riage ceremony.


—while Quentin Locke has been

bound and placed under the

coverings of a sofa, where he

is left to the tender mercies

of the Madagascan.

While Eva is being married to Paul against her will, the Madagascan Strangler thrusts a knife into the form of Locke (Houdini) laying on the sofa.  To his surprise, the Madagascan is caught at his ankles and thrown to the floor.  Houdini had shifted his position to meet the expected attack and ironically “strangles” the Madagascan Strangler.

A little later in Episode 11, they flashback and reveal exactly how Houdini caught the Madagascan off guard:

  • Houdini all tied up is seen rolling out from the sheet in the back of the sofa where he escapes his bonds.  He then rolls underneath the sofa as the Strangler approaches with the knife.

Note: This scene only appears in the movie, it does not appear in The Master Mystery Novel.

Historic 90th Seance’ to be held at site of Houdini’s first New York home

The Historic 90th Houdini Seance at Sojourn Restaurant-The Site of Houdini’s First Home in NY Oct 31, 2016.

It will be headed up by world renowned female escape artist Dorothy Dietrich and Broadway mentalist Marc Salem, and begins at noon, close to the time Houdini died on Halloween.

The Houdini Seances were done by Ms. Dietrich many years at New York’s legendary Magic Towne House. Dietrich is the Director of The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA, the only building in the world dedicated to Houdini. The Houdini Museum is under the close guidance of Houdini’s family. They have also asked the museum to do upkeep and repairs at the Houdini’s Grave. The not for profit 501 C-3 museum recently received world wide acclaim for replacing the bust of Houdini at his grave that had been destroyed by vandals 41 years ago, at a cost of $10,000, and for discovering and getting restored, by Turner Classic Movies, Houdini’s best and long lost feature film, “The Grim Game.

Also attending will be paranormalist Dick Brookz currently appearing on Travel Channels Mysteries At The Museum, and star of The Houdini Museum’s Haunted-Mysteries of the Beyond, the longest running paranormal and seance show in history. Several original Houdini items will be on display as part of the event, that is free and open to the pubic.  Reservations suggested

The Sojourn Restaurant  is located at 244  East  79 St,  NYC

Each year since his death a tribute in the form of a seance has been conducted on that day. The first ten were done by his wife Bess as a tribute and test, each year after Houdini died. In his effort to challenge the crooked mystics and psychics who claim they can make contact with the dead. He told people to save their money and not be cheated by those who make such claims!  Houdini said if he, the greatest escape artist of all time, could not escape from the beyond and return, no one could. After ten years, Houdini’s wife passed on the legacy and tradition to Houdini biographer, friend and writer Walter B. Gibson. Gibson was the creator of “The Shadow” one of the most famous mystery series of all time that started out as a novel, a radio show, a television show and then a movie starring Alec Baldwin. The shows catch phrase, “The Shadow knows!” has been repeated thousands of times by comedians and others through the years. Gibson also helped Houdini in some of his literary projects, and after Houdini died Gibson wrote several biographies and magic secret books culled from Houdini’s private notes that Bess let Gibson use.  Before Mr. Gibson died he passed on the legacy and the tradition of the Houdini Seance to well known magic celebrity, Dorothy Dietrich.  http://DorothyDietrich.com


Walter B. Gibson – Dorothy Dietrich – Milbourne Christoper

Dorothy Dietrich has been named “one of the most noted magicians of the late 20th century” by Columbia Encyclopedia.  Dorothy Dietrich is one of the world’s best known magicians and has also been called “The First Lady of Magic and “The Female Houdini”. She has appeared in many television specials, and is the first and only woman in history to perform the death defying Bullet Catch in her mouth, that has killed 12 men.  It’s the “the stunt that scared Houdini” who  backed out after announcing he would attempt it.   She is also the first and only woman to perform a straitjacket escape from a parachute ride while suspended hundreds of feet in the air from a burning rope, as shown on the HBO special, The World’s Greatest Escapes, that she starred in. She is also known as “The first woman to saw a man in half!” She is considered a leading collector and expert on Houdini.  Recently, the Internet’s main site for Houdini news, WildAboutHoudini.com, heralded, “She’s not only a bonafide legend of magic, but she is a tireless and selfless promoter of Houdini’s history and legacy.  With her museum, radio show, TV appearances, and her continued upkeep of Houdini’s grave site, it could be said that no one is as devoted to preserving Houdini’s memory as Dorothy Dietrich.”  When not traveling, Dietrich performs at The Houdini Museum. The Houdini Museum has the largest display to the general public, anywhere, of artifacts, historical displays and information on Houdini. She is considered a leading expert and collector on Houdini. She has been featured on numerous television shows and channels world wide including the BBC, CBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, The Travel Channel, Biography Channel, History Channel, TV Land, “Mysteries at the Museum”, etc.


Marc Salem came to international prominence when he was featured on 60 Minutes by Mike Wallace and amazed Wallace and viewers around the world. He also had a feature story in the New York Times. His show MIND GAMES concluded two extended runs on BROADWAY to both critical and popular acclaim. The Sydney Opera House, the Edinburgh Festival and Singapore’s Esplanade have also hosted his extended runs. He has been featured on the The O’Reilly Factor, Montel, Maury, CNN, and is a regular guest on Court TV, and has had two network television specials. Salem was last on the New York stage with his show Mind over Manhattan in 2012, and, most recently, concluded a three month run in Chicago with his show Mind over Chicago.  He recently completed five sell out seasons in London, along with many theatres from Montreal to Capetown.  Marc Salem’s all new show “Haunted Mind” will play a special Halloween night event at The Gramercy Theatre at 127 E. 23rd Street in Manhattan onOctober 31st at 7pm. For more info, go to http://concerts.livenation.com/event/0000511CE8674890
or  http://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Mentalist-Marc-Salem-to-Bring-New-Show-HAUNTED-MIND-to-the-Gramercy-for-Halloween-20161010

During the Fall and Winter months The Houdini Museum is open weekends for tours and a magic show, as well as being available any day of the week for school and bus groups, and magical parties.
For pictures and more information go to:
Houdini Seance web page http://Houdini.org/houdiniseance.html

For more information or to RSVP contact Penny Wilkes at
The Houdini Museum
1433 N. Main Ave, Scranton, PA 18447
(570) 383-1821 or (570) 342-5555.
magicus@comcast.net  http://Houdini.org

Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Doctor’s Vengeance

As promised in my last post, here is evidence of another one of the four films based on The Master Mystery – The Doctor’s Vengeance.

The first ads that I could find are from January, 1921:


[The Public Ledger (Maysville, Kentucky)]

I also found some ads from March 1921:


[Witchita Daily Times (Wichita Falls, Texas)]

May 1921 is the last time I could find an ad for the picture.


[The Houston Post (Houston, Texas)]

Next week:

  • Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – Mystery Solved

Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Law Pirates

As promised in my last post, here is evidence of another one of the four films based on The Master Mystery – The Law Pirates.

The first ads that I could find are from October 31, 1920.  Below are a couple of them.


[The Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania]

So what was the gist of The Law Pirates.

According to an ad for the Colonial Theatre, dated Nov 17, 1920, it was:

“Reaiizing the menace that the future wars will bring by the deadly submarine the government has placed a premium on all devices that will overcome it.  A poor inventor has perfected a wonderful submarine suit and in seeking aid in his experiments interests Houdini. A band of ‘law pirates’ headed by a clever but unscrupulous lawyer try to steal the invention.”

[The Daily Gate City and Constitution Democrat, (Keokuk, Iowa)]


[The Journal News, (Hamilton, Ohio)]

And from ads for the Grand Theatre, dated Nov 19, 1920, we know that Houdini is Very Pleasing in “The Law Pirates”:

“Houdini is just as mysterious an ever in ‘The Law Pirates’ in which he is now being seen at the Grand theatre.  Houdini is just naturally a man of mystery and in ‘The Law Pirates’ he does all kinds of thrilling mysterious things.  Big houses saw the initial presentation of this picture last night and everyone was pleased.  It remains the attraction at the Grand today and tomorrow with ‘The Water Plug’, a clever comedy as the added feature.”

[Hamilton Evening Journal (Hamilton, Ohio)]

“Unusually large houses greeted Houdini in ‘The Law Pirates’ at the Grand last night.  Houdini is becoming quite a screen favorite in Hamilton especially among those who like mystery and action and Houdini is not anything if he is not mysterious.”

[Hamilton Evening Journal (Hamilton, Ohio)]

And from ads, dated Dec 13 and 14, 1920, we learn the following:

“Supported by Ruth Stonehouse in this great picture Houdini will be seen as an inventor of a device for the government to overcome the deadly submarine and a band of parties seek to steal it.  If you have seen Houdini in ‘Terror Island’ you know him as the man of mystery.”

[The Gettysburg Times, (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)]

And from an ad, dated March 10, 1921:


[The Public Ledger, (Maysville, Kentucky)]

October 1921 is the last time I could find an ad for the picture.


[The Des Moines Register, (Des Moines, Iowa)]

Next week:

  • Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Doctor’s Vengeance

Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Lure Of Power

As promised in my last post, here is evidence of another one of the four films based on The Master Mystery – The Lure Of Power.

Based on the date of the ads, The Lure of Power appears to be the first of the four films that showed up in theatres in early October 1920.


[Fitchburg Sentinel, Fri, Oct 1, 1920]


[Fitchburg Sentinel, Fri, Oct 2, 1920]

February 1921, is the last time I could find any ads for the picture.


[The Public Ledger Wed Feb 2, 1921]

Next week:

  • Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Law Pirates

Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Marked Woman

Well, back in May 2013, Bill Mullins, over at the Genii Forum shared two December 1920 advertisements for Houdini appearing in the film “The Marked Woman”.  And John Cox over at Wild About Harry followed up with a post about the ads titled, A Houdini movie mystery.


[The Bristol Daily Courier, Nov 30, 1920]

Well, not only have I found additional ads (see above for one) for The Marked Woman, but I have found evidence for three other films based on The Master Mystery.

  • The Lure of Power
  • The Law Pirates
  • The Doctor’s Vengeance

In the coming weeks, I will do separate posts for each of these other three films and end with a post that sums up the mystery of all of these movies.

Meanwhile, let’s take a closer look at The Marked Woman:

The first ads that I could find are from November 1920.  Below are from the Princess Theatre in San Antonio, Texas:


[San Antonio Evening News Nov. 13, 1920]


[San Antonio Evening News Nov. 15 and 16]

So what was the gist of the mystery drama, titled The Marked Woman.  According to an ad for the New Colonial Theatre, dated Nov 30, 1920, it was:

“One of those gripping stories in which two women fight for an immense fortune.  One uses fair means — the other foul.  Everything seems to work against the rightful heir and clever band of crooks operating with perfect accord seems to have the fortune within their grasp many times only to be frustrated by Houdini.”  [The Bristol Daily Courier, Bristol, PA]

And from December 1920 ads, we know that the “hand-cuff King Houdini the man of mystery is supported by Ruth Stonehouse and an all star cast [Charles E. Graham, Marguerite Marsh, Wm. Pike]”.

The Gettysburg times ad from Dec 27, 1920 lists the price for Adults as 20 cents and 15 cents for Children, but the next day ad for Dec 28 lists the price for Children as 10 cents, not 15 cents.

We also know from the ads that the picture is “not a serial, but a five reel drama of mystery by the world’s greatest magician”.


July 1921 is the last time I could find any ads for the picture.


[The Des Moines Register Jul 13 and Jul 14, 1921]

Next week:

  • Lost Houdini Film(s) Based on The Master Mystery – The Lure Of Power