Showing posts with label Houdini. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Houdini. Show all posts

21 February 2018

On This Day in 1923: Houdini in Winnipeg

From the April 3rd, 2012 post "Favourite Foote Photos: Brett Lougheed" by Esyllt W. Jones Lost Foote Photos:
This photograph taken by L.B. Foote on February 21, 1923, to me, perfectly illustrates the Winnipeg we are striving to become once again. Suspended 30 feet above the Winnipeg Free Press building on Carlton Street, Harry Houdini, arguably the biggest name in entertainment at the time, wriggled his way out of a straitjacket in front of what was reported to be four or five thousand awestruck onlookers. This publicity stunt was intended to generate interest for his week-long show at the Orpheum Theatre. Houdini’s opening act at the show was a young comedian named Jack Benny. It was not uncommon for performers of this calibre to make regular appearances in Winnipeg during this time.

Read more.


From the Twitter feed of 93-3 The Drive:

03 March 2017

[Guest post] Houdini in Vancouver: part 7

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

--


March 3rd, 1923 (Saturday)

Houdini's Final Day in Vancouver
Researched by The Magic Demon exclusively for Canada's Magic.


Houdini has his final two vaudeville appearances today (a matinee and an evening show) of his seven in total this week at the Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Reviews have been superb.

His outdoor publicity stunt of hanging upside down and escaping a straitjacket in full view has been major front page news (actually getting more column inches than reviews of his vaudeville show).

What more could one ask?

Well, I had hoped today for an editorial summing up of his impact or at least some kind of "goodbye and thanks Harry" - but neither The Sun nor The Province refer to him at all. (They do, however, both run a final Orpheum Theatre advertisement for his shows).

It's as if they have nothing more to say. (I guess they didn't).

And as if Houdini has no further need for continuing coverage. No doubt he was busy this weekend accepting via telegram another "unique challenge" from the chosen newspaper ally in the next city of his vaudeville tour.

But what I did find, Houdini-related, in The Province on its front page was this curious story:
"Doyle Sure of Ectoplasm"

Subtitled:
"Twenty Three Austrian Professors Said to Have Been Convinced"

and
"Famous Writer Thinks Controversy Should Now Be At End."

What better timing could this have had than the end of Harry's Vancouver visit? I wonder what thoughts raced through his mind as he read this (as I'm sure he must have done).

The story recounts a letter published recently in The New York Times, in which the famous author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and an ardent spiritualist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, tells of a "demonstration of ectoplasm" (which he himself apparently had not actually witnessed) by mediums in front of multiple distinguished Austrian scientists which, in his mind, "puts an end to the whole debate so that anyone who reopens it is inexcusably ignorant or willfully perverse."

Gee. I wonder to whom he might he be referring?

The next paragraph is headed,
"Houdini Is Wrong."

Doyle is quoted as writing:
"We are publicly assured. . . I am sorry to say, by my friend Houdini, that this was all what they called 'bunk' and that [the ectoplasm] was really regurgitated food. . ." [but according to Doyle it could not be as it was often the wrong colour.] "Criticism is most welcome and helpful, but I would beg our opponents to exercise some restraint in it, or they will make the subject and themselves rather ridiculous."

And of course, as we know, Houdini would show no restraint in exposing fraudulent mediums to the end of his days and this public campaign (as well as comments like those expressed above by Doyle) would put an effective end to their trans-Atlantic friendship.

----

This was to be Houdini's first and only professional visit to Vancouver. Just over three and a half years later he would once more be front page news but for quite a different, unexpected reason. (His death.)

It's been fun reliving day by day Houdini's triumphant appearances in Vancouver during this week in 1923. I wish I could have been there but I guess this was the next best thing.

I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed researching it for you.


-
Researched by The Magic Demon exclusively for Canada's Magic. With thanks to the Vancouver Public Library and The Vancouver Sun. The VPL and its staff are awesome!
--

Thank you to
The Magic Demon for guest posting this fabulous Houdini series at Canada's Magic!




02 March 2017

[Guest post] Houdini in Vancouver: part 6

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

--

March 2nd, 1923 (Friday)

Houdini Continues Triumphantly in Vancouver, B. C.
Researched by The Magic Demon exclusively for Canada's Magic.


Houdini continues to thrill citizens of Canada's west coast "third city" twice daily at the local Orpheum Theatre. Two shows are scheduled today; the final two tomorrow (Saturday).

Reviews have been universally complimentary for this, his first (and only), appearance in the city.

Today's front page Houdini story in The Sun, however, deals with the publicity stunt he performed outside the newspaper's office around 137 West Pender Street at high noon the previous day. The paper had been building it up with great flair and deceptive hyperbole in previous issues.

I'd like to be able to tell you exactly what is on page one of The Sun. I really would.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase Apollo 13 - Houdini, we have a problem.

No front page exists today!

Despite every attempt to locate the front page in both the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) microfilm collection and the official  Vancouver city archives, no extant copy has been found. Perhaps it will turn up elsewhere another day.

However, we can certainly piece together what must have been a triumphant page one headline story about Houdini's upside down straitjacket escape from surviving photographic evidence and from the story as it is continued on an inside page of the paper.

Both the Vancouver Archives and VPL have public domain photographs of the stunt, at least one of which might have appeared on the missing page one. I've also attempted to photograph the same location in 2017. My photo re-creation of the scene as well as original 1923 photos will accompany this post.

As for the feature story, an inside page headline screams, "Houdini Free in 3 Minutes (Continued From Page 1") - so I think we can conclusively rest easy that all went well!

Bess Houdini is referenced for the first (and only) time, "a comely, shy little woman," making her way through "the dense crowd" with traffic "inspector Hood" to talk with Houdini before he began his "perilous attempt."

A theatrical embellishment or was it genuine concern for Harry? He was after all approaching age 49 in just three weeks. Or did she secretly pass to him some hidden device? He'd done this kind of stunt thousands of times but it is impossible to know for sure at this point. "There was. . . anxiety mirrored in Mrs. Houdini's eyes" reports the anonymous scribe, who felt such alarm genuine and who felt that her concern really "amounted to something" quite apart from the free show about to commence.

Harry Houdini preparing to hang upside down from The Sun newspaper building.
W.J. Moore's photo, Vancouver Public Library 70208A.


But events quickly moved forward as Detective Ricci (as announced yesterday) with Traffic Inspector Hood (who appears to have replaced Detective Sinclair, reported yesterday) quickly confined Houdini into the awaiting straitjacket.

The Sun records:
"Strong men lifted him from the truck. In another few seconds he was swinging from his ankles above the heads of the multitude... inch by inch, foot by foot he was hoisted aloft."

Harry Houdini hanging upside down from The Sun newspaper building.
W.J. Moore's photo, Vancouver Public Library 70208.

Then,
"Houdini furiously struggled to escape..."
Harry Houdini hanging upside down from The Sun newspaper building.
W.J. Moore's photo, City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Port N100.


Edited to add this close-up of the above photo Tweeted by the Vancouver Archives:


And,
"Three minutes and twenty nine seconds later he tossed the jacket to the ground"

Houdini was free!
"A cheer arose and swelled into roar" from the crowd.

And what a crowd it was that had assembled.
"Perhaps no greater outdoor crowd ever assembled in Vancouver than the one in front of the Sun office yesterday" boasts the breathless reporter, taking time to praise the Vancouver police force's foresight in arranging details of diverting "motors and other vehicles, which left no room for discussions or even a chance for accident."

I'd love to know what those other (non-motor) vehicles were.  But I'd be afraid to ask police who left "no room for discussions!"

And how did Houdini feel about it?

"It was the greatest outdoor crowd I have ever seen. . . I have never seen a more orderly crowd. . . it was a pleasure to work for them and a double pleasure to have such an enterprising newspaper as The Sun to vouch for my efforts..." Could the paper have asked for a better endorsement for their week long publicity efforts on his behalf? He then went on to thank the local Vancouver police for their help. (Especially "decent and gentlemanly officers as Inspector Hood and Detective Ricci. . .") Harry knew exactly what to say at these occasions having done so many in the past.

The rest of the article describes with some quiet awe all the still photographic and silent film coverage of the event. ("Nothing like it has ever been seen before in Vancouver.")

Cameras from every major news reel service were in evidence. To accommodate the most important of them, The Sun had erected a platform above their illuminated sign. You can see it if you look closely at the photograph of the event. On the ground, thousands of amateur photographers snapped away as Houdini "wiggled and twisted himself out of the straitjacket:"

And so did The Sun feel that Houdini had honoured their "unique challenge?"
"The Sun's challenge. . . melted as the immense crowd faded, not unlike a February snowstorm before a gentle chinook wind."

Uh, I'll assume that as affirmative.

Taking advantage of the new medium, Houdini arranged that footage of his Vancouver straitjacket escape would be projected during that very evening's Orpheum performance (and possibly at all remaining performances). Clearly his fascination for the relatively new medium continued unabated, as the reporter noted

"Houdini himself was an interested spectator. . . he came down from the stage. . . while they were being [projected] on the screen. The film was evidently pleasing to the magician, for at its conclusion, he faced the audience with a smile of satisfaction, exclaiming 'Isn't that a wonderful crowd?'"

I'm sure most of Vancouver felt the same way about him.

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


What the site of the Houdini escape looks like in 2017. Photo by The Magic Demon.
The actual Vancouver Sun building at this location (137 West Pender Street) was demolished many years ago.




TOMORROW: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Says "Houdini Is Wrong"!



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

--

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

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.

Headlined,
"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!

28 February 2017

[Guest post] Houdini in Vancouver part 4

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

--

February 28th, 1923 (Wednesday)

Houdini to Perform in Vancouver

Researched by The Magic Demon exclusively for Canada's Magic.



Finally! H (for Houdini) - Day, at long last.

Houdini is to appear tonight at the Orpheum Theatre headlining in his first vaudeville appearance ever in Vancouver, British Columbia. It will be followed by a matinee and evening show on each of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Excitement must have been tangible in the city.

But it is too early for newspaper reviews to appear just yet.

Instead, a playfully combative article giving an exciting final burst of advance publicity appears in the lower front page of The Vancouver Sun on this date entitled, "Houdini Defies Police; Ditto Their Hangman."

What makes this article, the fourth, unique is that is is an unsigned editorial personally addressing Houdini in the first person.

It begins,
"Alright, Houdini!"

It goes on to restate the conditions of its "challenge" to have Houdini escape from a straitjacket upside down while hanging outside their office the next day at noon.

I'm not sure how accurate that headline was. His defiance of the police simply would take the form of having them truss him up. As to their "hangman," well, that was a bit of literary hyperbole to be sure. It might not have been strictly accurate but it definitely made you want to read on!

But they were not done. The Sun knew how to "up the ante."

They wrote:
"Just to make it snappy, Mr. Houdini, The Sun expects no less than ten thousand to be outside The Sun office to watch your antics."

In this way, The Sun itself would soon become part of the news it was reporting; it would become part of the Houdini legend.

Then an unexpectedly humorous boast:
"This newspaper has . . .  for its own and your benefit . . . put a couple of new storeys on its building."

I take this as a sly wink to its readers paying close attention. In effect, it's a reminder to them that, hey, this is all good fun! Don't take any of this too seriously! We don't!

It concludes with an exhortation to Houdini to provide a prize for the best snapshot spectators might take of the outdoor event (as he had done elsewhere) "successful or otherwise."

Were they now suggesting his stunt might not be successful? An element of doubt certainly was dropped into the "mix" for the first time. Which was very clever. What better way to entice spectators to come out and see for themselves?

The tone is playfully combative as I said. It was as if they were daring him not to show up - to an event to which he had already agreed (and indeed probably originated). A master stroke of publicity. Having enthusiastically proclaimed his greatness, at this last minute the newspaper was now hinting at his possible fallibility and the fact that - good heavens - he might even renege, the "challenge" they had offered being so great.

What a laugh seen from today's perspective. Houdini and The Sun could not have been better allies.

The Sun concludes:
"You said you would be here at noon Thursday. Well, you keep your end of the bargain and never fear that The Sun won't be there with everything it has promised."

It was positioned almost like a gunslingers shoot out! Who could possibly resist attending it?

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


TOMORROW: "Houdini in for Tough Time; Detectives Ricci And Sinclair Bind Him."


-
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!

27 February 2017

[Guest post] Houdini in Vancouver part 3

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

--

February 27th, 1923 (Tuesday)

Houdini to Perform in Vancouver
Researched by The Magic Demon exclusively for Canada's Magic.



It is now H (for Houdini) - Day Minus 1.

Houdini appears to be coming from performing in Winnipeg (in what appears to be a cross-Canada tour heading west). No doubt he (and his supporting acts including a young comedian named Jack Benny) will appreciate Vancouver's milder weather having experienced Winnipeg in mid-February.

Window advertisements for a Houdini performance and shows at the Orpheum theatre.
Vancouver Public Library 86870.

The public must have been eagerly awaiting the first appearance ever in Vancouver of this legendary "genius of escape" who's exploits they have read about (and possibly even seen dramatized on the silent screen) without ever a hope of actually seeing him in person.

Until now - during his triumphant "return to vaudeville."

The Vancouver Sun, our primary source for continuing coverage, is doing an incredible job ratcheting up public interest in the Houdini story and in doing so has become very much part of his eternal legend.

In the lower left corner of page one on this date is the headline,
"Sun Planning to Make It Tough Job For Friend Houdini."

It first recapitulates the news about his latest sensational stunt, the water torture cell, which he will perform at the Orpheum.

The report at this point is a bit confusing. That is, it is confusing from our point of view today. It describes the water torture cell as both his "original" as well as "self-constructed" escape stunt but then mentions that Houdini will escape from "the can filled to the brim with water" - which surely sounds more like Houdini's old classic milk can escape?

My guess is the writer of this article, not having ever seen the act, has simply confabulated details of the two different escapes into one. Or that he is sloppily referring to the water torture cell as a can. It is unclear. Not that contemporary audiences of the day would know or care.

Given equal prominence in this third article is a reminder of Houdini's "acceptance" of the challenge purportedly issued by The Sun "to liberate himself from a straight jacket [sic] wrapped about him. . . suspended by the ankles, head downwards, from a beam in front of The Sun office, at a height of at least thirty feet."

The Sun enthusiastically concludes,
"This will probably be one of his greatest efforts. . . a wonderful chance to show his genius. . ."

I know if I were alive at the time and living in Vancouver I'd've already bought multiple performance tickets. And for sure I'd be outside The Sun office on Thursday at high noon to see Houdini escape from his straitjacket confinement.

How about you?

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



TOMORROW: "Houdini Defies Police; Ditto Their Hangman."



-
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!

26 February 2017

[Guest post] Houdini in Vancouver part 2

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

--

February 26th, 1923 (Monday)

Houdini to Perform in Vancouver
Researched by The Magic Demon exclusively for Canada's Magic.



It is now H (for Houdini) - Day, Minus 2.

Excitement is mounting.

The publicity for Houdini's first ever Vancouver, British Columbia vaudeville performance is gearing up.

It is assuming the status of genuine news; coverage of his upcoming visit is indeed carried as front page news in The Vancouver Sun, our primary source for continuing and developing coverage .

A headline on this day (near the bottom of page one) screams in huge letters, "Houdini To Hang Downwards". Then in smaller lettering, "Strapped in Straight Jacket, Will Swing from Sun Building Thursday."

It goes on to state:
"Houdini, genius of escape, has accepted a unique challenge. . . he offers to free himself from a straight jacket wrapped around him by any member or members of the Vancouver police force, and while suspended in mid-air, head downwards, in front of The Vancouver Sun newspaper office on Thursday at noon."

So it would appear that The Sun had chosen to play along with the Houdini legend with its "unique challenge."

Astute readers will, of course, recognize the fact that Houdini would perform a similar free public stunt in almost every major town or city he played in order to generate publicity for his local theatre appearance. He usually did it outside of the local newspaper office to achieve maximum exclusive coverage by same. It was guaranteed to stop traffic and become a newsworthy event all by itself. One can only bow to Houdini's highly developed sense of self-promotion and ponder what wonders of publicity he would have achieved in today's Twitter-verse?

This second article goes on to describe the nature of his confinement in a straitjacket. By enlisting the local police to truss him up, Houdini once more ensured that no "funny business" would mess up his stunt and that it would be enhanced in the public's imagination by his implied challenge to local police to confine him.

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

TOMORROW: "Planning to Make It Tough Job For Friend Houdini."


-
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!

25 February 2017

[Guest post] Houdini in Vancouver: part 1

Updated February 25th to add:



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

--


February 25th, 1923 (Sunday)  

Houdini to Perform in Vancouver
Researched by The Magic Demon exclusively for Canada's Magic.


Houdini was coming to Vancouver!

Hard to imagine the excitement such news would have generated on the narrow streets of Canada's "third city", Vancouver, British Columbia, back in February of 1923 or some 94 years ago today.

Houdini was then one of the world's most famous entertainers. He had never been to Vancouver before. In an era long long before the internet, before television, with radio in its infancy and silence being the only sound coming from film, vaudeville was still attracting the masses. It may well have been on its "last legs" although its audiences would never have suspected it with a major headliner like Houdini coming at long last to entertain them.

It was still news worthy of reporting.

The first published references extant about Houdini's first (and only) upcoming appearance in Vancouver appears in The Vancouver Sun on this date.

A two column wide by five inch paid advertisement by Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre on an inside page announces, "Attractions Coming. Wednesday Evening. February 28th. Four nights and three matinees. First Appearance Here of 'The Genius of Escape' Houdini (In Person) - Who Will Startle and Amaze."

Found in the Vancouver Public Library's microfiche of the February 25, 1923 edition of The Vancouver Sun.



I would posit that the "In Person" line was to distinguish his live appearance from any filmed appearances or that of any imitators.

A list of accompanying support acts (there are a half dozen or so appearing on the same vaudeville bill) includes a young comedian Jack Benny ("Wit, Music and Patter"). Prices noted: "Matinees: Thursday, Friday, 15 cents to 40 [?] cents. Saturday 15 cents to 55 cents. Nights 25 cents to $1.00."

A similar ad would run every day for the duration of Houdini's three day, four night Orpheum Theatre visit.

The Orpheum Theatre featuring Houdini's appearance in 1923 was an earlier incarnation of same; it is not the structure named the Orpheum Theatre still standing elsewhere today (which was constructed much later in 1927). Houdini's Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver is long gone. It was located where what is now the downtown's Pacific Centre Mall.

A two column wide by six inches photo of Houdini (entitled "Wizard of All Wizards Defies Strongest Shackles") dominates an inside page.

An eight inch deep column accompanying it is headlined "Houdini, Genius, Tops at Orpheum. Noted Master of Escape Will Make Appearance Here Next Wednesday."

It begins:
"Houdini, the marvellous, will make his first big vaudeville appearance in Vancouver next week. Houdini, known as the "Genius of Escape", will thrill and mystify Orpheum audiences beginning next Wednesday."

The article goes on to lavishly praise Houdini by reminding its readers of his numerous accomplishments in the entertainment field. One must wonder how much copy was generated by Houdini's own advance publicity machinery and how much was originated locally, designed to whip up newspaper and theatre ticket sales? 

Houdini was a master of obtaining free publicity for his shows. His antics sold newspapers and they in turn sold theatre tickets. What newspaper would therefore not love him? Especially as the theatre he was to appear in was a major advertiser. And so The Sun was either chosen - or had decided for itself - to become the primary vehicle for promoting and thereby documenting Houdini's once in a lifetime appearance.

This initial article reveals a couple significant facts once we get past the enthusiastic hyperbole.

First, it refers to Houdini's "return to vaudeville". Had Houdini returned happily or reluctantly to headlining such a show? We get no clues. We do know as he matured that he had attempted to master a new, less arduous performance methodology: the capturing of his incredible escape abilities via the brand new medium of silent film. It had not been the overwhelming success for which he had hoped.

Says The Sun:
"It was believed the motion pictures - which showed Houdini thrills, eclipsing anything ever portrayed via the innumerable possibilities of the camera - would reach the acme of his supernatural ability; but he himself says not."

So even Houdini acknowledged that silent film to that date for whatever reason had failed to capture the essence of his charismatic style. And if you've ever seen any of his films you'd know he was understating it. Houdini on film just didn't live up to his potential. His acting was somewhat wooden. He had too much competition on the silver screen to ever become its primary star. So what could Houdini do to make his return to the live vaudeville circuit a memorable triumph? Why, do what he always did best, of course. And that was to come up with a spanking new live performance of a "genuine novelty."

Says The Sun:
"[Houdini] says his latest sensation, liberating himself after being locked in a water torture cell, which he does in full view of the audience, is the most difficult feat he has ever accomplished in his varied and strenuous career."

Houdini comes through yet again! Who could resist seeing him escape something called a "water torture cell?"

Curious that they used the expression "supernatural" when referencing his abilities given his latter day fight against those claiming fraudulent "supernatural" abilities. I will assume in this instance that the writer was just using it as a contemporary superlative and wasn't implying any abilities to communicate with the dead!

Of historical interest, the article then goes on to describe the acts supporting Houdini's "return to vaudeville" which includes a reference to a young comedian named Jack Benny - who "will offer a few moments on his violin. He plays a little, gags a great deal and keeps the audience thoroughly amused."


Found in the Vancouver Public Library's microfiche of the February 25, 1923 edition of The Vancouver Sun.


TOMORROW: "Houdini Accepts A Unique Challenge."

-
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!

26 April 2015

Conan Doyle and Houdini drama

A drama based around the lives of two unlikely friends — crime writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and illusionist Harry Houdini — is set for TV networks in the USA, Canada and the UK.

Sony Pictures TV struck a deal with Fox in the US, ITV in the UK, and Shaw Media in Canada, for a production which has several heavy hitters on its roster.

David Titcher, who came up with ongoing action and adventure series “The Librarians,” is also credited with creating “Houdini and Doyle” for Sony.

Read more.

18 February 2015

Montreal: The McCord Museum magic acquisition

From the Montreal Gazette:
The McCord Museum has acquired a $3-million collection of 600 posters, 200 rare books and 200 documents relating to the golden age of magic – from the 19th to early 20th centuries. 
Included are objects linked to Harry Houdini, including personal correspondence and scrapbooks. Houdini performed in Montreal four times, including the event in 1926 where a McGill student punched Houdini in the stomach before he was prepared for it, rupturing his appendix. Houdini died a week later.

“It’s the second-largest collection of Houdini material held in a public institution,” said David Ben, artistic director of Magicana, an organization dedicated to the study of magic. Ben served as an adviser to the museum and was there on Monday as journalists were invited into the museum vaults to view some of the artifacts.  The Library of Congress in the U.S. has the largest such collection, making this the most extensive in Canada. “The collection is significant,” Ben said.

Read more.

From Julie Eng's Facebook page:



More media links:





12 August 2014

Houdini in the Amherst News

From the Amherst News:
On Aug. 3, exactly 118 years after Houdini’s visit to Amherst, MacNab took people on a tour of Houdini’s time spent in Amherst.

The tour made four stops, and each stop featured magic by Margaret Steele, a magician from Peekskill, New York, who has performed magic throughout the world, most recently performing in China. 
The first stop was directly behind the First Baptist Church on Victoria Street where the back parking lot meets Amherst Town Square.

Read more.



[via Wild About Houdini]

31 July 2014

Amherst: Houdini Day

Bruce MacNab, author of The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, has helped arrange a special Houdini Day in Amherst, Nova Scotia, this Sunday, August 3, 2014. The event celebrates Houdini's historic August 3, 1896 performance at the Amherst Academy of Music.

Read more.

Also in the post, it says that "Lucas Wilson will perform Houdini's upside down straitjacket escape from a 100-foot crane."

A special way to mark Houdini's presence in Canada!

22 July 2014

Classifieds: Own a piece of magic history

The following is a classified ad from David Merry.  For more information, or to make an offer, contact Dave directly.

--

Own a piece of magic history.

I am just about to buy an amazing piece of comedy memorabilia and am putting up a magic four pack of autographs from my collection. They are Houdini (a letter with his actual signature from 1926) and pictures framed. Blackstone Sr. (from 1949) an actual Merlin playbill signed by Doug Henning and Chita Rivera from early 1980’s) and David Copperfield see attached pictures. I thought I’d put it out to my friends in Canada first before the open market $2500.


Houdini letter with his actual signature:





Houdini letter (above) and pictures framed





Blackstone Sr.:





Signed Merlin playbill:





David Copperfield:







21 May 2014

Houdini: The Pickleman punch and J. Gordon Whithead

From "The Pickleman punch" at Wild About Houdini:
We all know J. Gordon Whithead punched Houdini in the stomach in his dressing room at the Princess Theater in Montreal on October 22, 1926. It's debated whether or not the punch caused or just masked his fatal appendicitis, but all agree that Whitehead's punch was the start of a chain of events that would lead to the magician's death on Halloween. But in his seminal work, The Man Who Killed Houdini, author Don Bell uncovered evidence of two other punches delivered by McGill University students during Houdini's stay in the city that might extend that chain a little further back.

One of those punches is said to have occurred in the lobby of the Prince of Wales Hotel. However, that incident is questionable as it only comes via second-hand sources, so I'm going to save it for another time and another post. The punch I want to discuss today is the first of the three for which there is strong evidence. This punch or "test" occurred on October 19, 1926, when Houdini was giving his lecture at McGill University. Bell calls it "the Pickleman punch."

Read more.

From "Is this J. Gordon Whitehead at McGill in 1926?" at Wild About Houdini:
Recently our friends at the Houdini Museum in Scranton and Joe Notaro of HHCE turned up an amazing archive of yearbooks from McGill University. Of course, it was a student from McGill, Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead, who punched Houdini in his dressing room at the Princess Theater on October 22, 1926. Could these books give us our first look at Whitehead as a student?

There is only one known photo of Whitehead, taken almost 25 years after the Houdini incident when he was in his 50s. Because he never graduated, there is no individual yearbook photo of him as a student. However, this group shot of the "Arts '28 Class" in the 1926 yearbook is said to include a "Whitehead, J.G." (as well as Gerald Pickleman, who also "tested" Houdini that week). Unfortunately, it doesn't specify which student is Whitehead.

Read more.


03 May 2014

The Confabulist by Steven Galloway

From the Vancouver Sun:
With his new novel The Confabulist, Vancouver writer Steven Galloway effortlessly blends history and fiction into a thrilling narrative that is as irresistible as it is subtly complex.

It’s difficult to go wrong when you start with legendary escape artist Harry Houdini. While he does spend some time with Houdini’s career on the stage, Galloway builds The Confabulist around Houdini’s crusade against the bogus spiritualists in vogue in the 1910s and 1920s, debunking their claims of communication with the dead and crippling the elaborate confidence games they developed around seances and visitations.

The story centres, however, around Martin Strauss, who claims, in the introduction to the book, “What no one knows, save for myself and one other person who likely died long ago, is that I didn’t just kill Harry Houdini. I killed him twice.” 
Read more.


[via iTricks]

31 October 2013

John Cox is live blogging the Official Houdini Seance in Halifax



You can also, follow @HoudiniWild on Twitter!

The Herald News is also live blogging the event.



Update from John Cox about Halifax Houdini seance


Storytime with The Professor

From John Cox at Wild About Houdini:
The October 2013 Magic Castle Newsletter has launched a new column, "Storytime with The Professor", featuring memorable tales told by the late Dai Vernon. The inaugural story is about, what else, Houdini, and in it Vernon recounts how S.A.M. members once "tricked" Houdini into going into a closest at the New York Hippodrome and locked him inside. "We pulled this trick on him because he was such a terrible egotist," said the man who's own ego was pretty well developed.

Read more.

24 October 2013

Details about Halifax Houdini Seance

From John Cox at Wild About Harry:
Official Houdini Séance will Haunt the

Halifax Citadel on Halloween


Famous Canadian fort to host an evening of
magic, mystery and history

Harry Houdini spent a month in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1896. This Halloween, some are hoping the legendary escape artist will return to the harbour city. The 2013 Official Houdini Séance is set to convene at historic Citadel Hill, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on October 31.

Before he died on Halloween in 1926, Houdini promised to send a message from the Great Beyond. His widow Beatrice held the first ten séances on the anniversary of his death, and each year since the Official Houdini Séance has been held in a city where Houdini performed. It is now organized by an American consortium of Houdini experts, piloted by Tom Boldt and Bill Radner, son of Sidney Radner who was caretaker of the Séance from 1947-2010. Halifax organizer is Nova Scotia author and Houdini historian Bruce MacNab.

Read more and buy tickets.


From the CBC:
Goulish thrill seekers in Halifax will be looking for signs of legendary magician Harry Houdini’s return from the grave this Halloween night.
Houdini, whose real name was Ehrich Weisz, died in Detroit at the age of 52 on Oct. 31, 1926. He was buried in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, N.Y.

Just before he passed away, he promised his wife he'd send a message from the great beyond, if it was possible.

Since his death 87 years ago, there's been a séance — somewhere in the world — every Halloween night. This year it will be held in Halifax.  
Read more.

04 October 2013

Halifax to host Houdini Seance

From John Cox at Wild About Harry:
Great news today! Bill Radner informs me that the 2013 Official Houdini Seance will be held in the catacombs of the historic Citadel HIll in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Halloween of this year.

Houdini and Bess performed in Halifax during their first tour of the Canadian Maritimes in 1896. That formative tour is the subject of Bruce MacNab's excellent book, The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini. Bruce will be co-hosting this year's seance, which is going to have a terrific lineup of guests and performers and will have a limited amount of tickets available to the public.

Read more.