In Search of Original Houdini Material for 1953 Houdini Movie, Part 2 of 2

While looking through the production 11495 department records (In Search of the Lost Plane to Plane Transfer) at the Margaret Herrick Library Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I came across some very interesting correspondence WRT to Paramount trying to locate some original Houdini material for use in the 1953 movie starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.  Part 1 focused on the Milk Can and Part 2 will focus on Houdini’s Water Torture Cell(s).

Below is the text from a letter dated May 6, 1952 from Gordon Cole of Paramount Pictures, Inc to Mr. Sam Frey (Paramount Executive):


Will you please include in the night wire to New York the following message:

I have been advised that Julian B. Proskauer, 148 Lafayette, Canal 64450, may have or know the where-abouts of the original Chinese Water Torcher Cell, used by Houdini.

Could this be checked and advise us if the cell is available to us, condition and cost.

Gordon Cole

Below is the text from a letter dated May 8, 1952 from Gordon Cole of Paramount Pictures, Inc to Hillar:

Dear Hillar:

Herewith two photographs of the Chinese Water Torture Cell. You will note that they are apparently two different cells in construction and I do not know which one you have located in New York.

As I explained to you by telephone, we will undoubtedly have to fake the cell as far as our actor is concerned.  It may be necessary to put a double glass in the front with water between the two glasses so that our actor in the back doesn’t drown.  We estimate the cost of construction here of the cell at roughly Fifteen Hundred Dollars ($1500.00), and it may prove in the final analysis, better that we build it here for picture purposes, rather than use the original but we cannot afford to overlook the one in New York for the moment.  It may be that the cost of getting the cell from Massachusetts, shipping it to the Coast, reshipping it to you, working it over, etc. can be more costly than starting from scratch.

If you do not think it favorable to attempt to ship the cell from New York here, and it does match either one of the photographs, it would be a great help to us if you could give us detailed dimensions, as we have nothing but photographs from which to construct the cell.

Thanks for all your trouble and hope to see you out here this summer. Best regards,

Gordon Cole

Below are pictures of Houdini’s water torture cells:

5 thoughts on “In Search of Original Houdini Material for 1953 Houdini Movie, Part 2 of 2

  1. Fantastic!

    So the Massachusetts cell is obviously Sid’s. But what’s this New York cell?

    How cool that they actually considered using Houdini’s original USD. How cool would it have been if they had?

  2. First, it is believed thay changed the movies ending from Houdini getting punched to him dieing in the cell because
    the lawyers at Paramount didnt want to get law suit since the students were still alive. It is then far to remember that
    Houdini had the cell protected in copy right.
    Perhaps they couldnt figure out who at that time held it so
    changed the name.
    The second cell belonged to Marie Hinson, and was keep in her basement. The New York fire marshall made them
    throw it out because it was a fire risk.
    Jon Oliver

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *