01 March 2017

[Guest post] Houdini in Vancouver part 5

The following is a guest post from an author who wishes to be known as The Magic Demon.


March 1st, 1923 (Thursday)

Houdini Is In Vancouver, British Columbia!
Researched by The Magic Demon exclusively for Canada's Magic.

Houdini is major front page news in today's The [Vancouver] Sun.

His local Orpheum Theatre appearances are well underway. His unparalleled sense of publicity is producing impressive results in the local press.

Today's page one story, accompanied by a photo of Harry, takes up well over a quarter of the front page. When is the last time you can recall a magician taking up that much space on page one of a major city newspaper?

The headline:
"Houdini In For Tough Time; Detectives Ricci and Sinclair Bind Him."

In smaller letters:
"Magician Will Have To Wiggle To Get Out Of Jacket for These Two Expert Ropers Promise to Make It Burglar Proof."

Found in the Vancouver Public Library's microfiche of the March 1st, 1923 edition of The Vancouver Sun.

Today is the day (at high noon) that Houdini has agreed to The Sun's "challenge" to escape a straitjacket (they always spell it "straightjacket") while hanging upside down outside of The Sun office building.

But this morning's edition has gone to press long before the noon deadline.

So today they can only report on events leading up to the dramatic public spectacle.

The Sun's reporter, known only by his initials "J. K." has the memorable front page story of the day with his report of meeting up with Houdini the day before (Wednesday). This he did along with Orpheum manager Bill Hart to look over The Sun building on West Pender from where Houdini was to hang outside noon this day.

When they took Houdini to the rooftop of the building, he writes that they "slid through the hatchway like a couple of eels."

But when it was Houdini's turn, the "genius of escape" had "a tough time making the grade." In other words, he had trouble getting through the aforementioned hatchway! One can only imagine Houdini's chagrin. He must have carried it off with his usual calm charm as "J. K." concedes this might have been due to Houdini's "heavy overcoat." But it still leads him to wonder in print if Houdini would also "make the grade" the next day escaping the confines of the straitjacket. (I sometimes wonder if Houdini ever felt too old for such antics. He was just over three weeks away from his 49th birthday). Of course this was all designed to build up and hold the readers' interest.

After examining the building, the three went into The Sun's new "washroom and shower" to "dust ourselves off."

The article goes on to report that the Vancouver Police detectives Ricci and Sinclair promise to make his confinement in the straitjacket the next day "burglar proof."

Vancouver Police Chief James reports that he expects a big crowd to watch the public event. The Sun says that it expects "at least ten thousand."

In response to The Sun's previous exhortation for Houdini to award prizes for the best spectator pictures of his noon "hanging" (as he had graciously done elsewhere) which might be useful "to find out just how he does it", Houdini has agreed that he will give a First Prize of $15, s Second Prize of $10 and a Third Prize of $5. W. J. Moore, staff photographer of The Sun, will judge.

To "up the ante" and reader interest once more, the article concludes, mock-combatively:
"Well, Mr. Houdini, The Sun is ready for you. . . if [we've] made it a little difficult for you to pull your stunt that's The Sun's business." 

Elsewhere in the paper is The Sun's first review of Houdini's premiere evening performance the night before.

Headlined, "Genius of Escape Shows His Prowess; Vaudeville Programme is Pleasing" the anonymous reviewer describes Houdini's Orpheum appearance as "out of the ordinary" and "just a bit different" than Vancouver theatre goers had been used to seeing.

Furthermore, according to the review on an inside page of The Sun, Houdini "amazes, mystifies and really gets on the nerves of his audience - until, of course - he emerges from his cell of torture." Houdini is without question, "the one big feature of the week's entertainment." The review then goes on to list and describe the other performers, the supporting members of Houdini's evening performance.

Of note is a mention of the young comedian Jack Benny, back "again with his violin, also with some new jokes. Some not so new. Still. . . not so bad."

[Note to younger readers: Jack Benny was destined to become a major star in radio and early television and some films. Google him.]

A paid Orpheum Theatre advertisement similar to the first also appears in this issue.

Today is also the first time a reference to Houdini appears in the other major Vancouver newspaper, The Province.

Either because Houdini was favouring The Sun with his exclusive interviews and straitjacket publicity stunt - or else by nature more conservative and thus less likely to engage in such advance publicity - The Province had until now appeared to shun any mention of Houdini's arrival.

They made up for it with a major review on an inside entertainment news page.

"Houdini Headlines Fine Orpheum Bill."
 It was subtitled,
"Seen in Series of Clever Mystifying Turns - Show of High Standard."

The Province's anonymous reviewer describes the show with Houdini as headliner as "undoubtably one of the best of the season."

We get more details of Houdini's  performance. His Water Torture Cell features ("his own invention") as does his version of the Indian Needle trick.

Houdini also appears to have incorporated the latest technology into his act as the reviewer describes what can only be silent film footage of Houdini shown "in a thrilling airplane race and collision." This might have been footage taken many years earlier in Australia where Houdini had made history as the first person in that country to fly - as there is a nebulous reference to "the other side of the Pacific." On the other hand, it sounds much more like footage from one of his more recent adventure serials, "The Grim Game" released in 1919 which featured an accidental actual mid air collision (although with a stunt double pretending to be Houdini). This writer believes it to be the latter.

The review concludes with references to the other acts supporting Houdini on the bill. Jack Benny is given a more positive review than he had had in The Sun, this reviewer noting "for twelve minutes he holds the attention of the audience" with his "original patter," "fine voice" and "engaging natural smile."

TOMORROW: Public Triumph - or - Disaster?

Researched by The Magic Demon exclusively for Canada's Magic. With thanks to the Vancouver Public Library and The Vancouver Sun.


Thank you to
The Magic Demon for guest posting at Canada's Magic!


  1. Fantastic stuff! Love the detail about HH having trouble getting through the hatch. I also agree it was Grim Game footage that was shown. And Jack Benny! Wonderful work.

    1. So glad you're enjoying the series and especially this post!

      I'll be sure to let our guest poster know!