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

14 thoughts on “Houdini Tries Some Hollywood Magic with Wanda Hawley

  1. A lady from Scranton, PA, Houdini Museum’s current location.
    Another famous movie star years later was also from Scranton. Lizabeth Scott, Born September 29, 1922 in Scranton, Pennsylvania

    Great photo of Houdini, thanks.
    What was the date of this pic?
    This picture looks like it might doctored. Anyone else get that feeling.

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini.

    • I definitely thought of you guys when I found out Hawley was born in Scranton, PA.
      The photo appeared in The Moving Picture World on June 14, 1919.
      As far as being doctored, the photo came from a guy who worked in the publicity department at Lasky Studios.

    • Thanks John! I love coming across new photos and information and am looking forward to seeing some more of your unpublished photos.

  2. Unless I am seeing things this is not a legit photo. Don’t get me wrong I certainly believe it was published as we see it in 1919 but it appears to be a crude attempt at making it look like Harry is levitating this actress. The bottom part of the photo does not match the top part. A 1919 version of photoshopping. Looks to me the actress is laying on something…perhaps a concrete embankment…when the photo was originally taken. Then the photographer erased the embankment!

    • I tend to agree. Back in 1919, the guy that published that photo in The Moving Picture World visited the publicity department at Lasky Studios looking for Houdini and was shown that photo to which he replied: “Do you think you can put anything like that over on me? You forget that I once followed the ancient and dishonorable profession of publicity —“

    • Thanks!
      In 1919, the guy who posted the image, referred to it as a “levitation picture”. That said, I doubt, he floated her up from the ground.

  3. I also agree that this looks some kind of 1919 version of photoshopping. The front edge of that swimming pool looks like it was cut off. Still, an interesting photo.

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