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Houdini

Category: Magician

 

Harry Houdini was born Erik Weisz on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Austria-Hungary and died October 31, 1926 (aged 52) in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.  He was a magician, escapologist, stunt performer, actor, historian, film producer, pilot, and so called debunker of fraudulent mediums.

Houdini was born into a prominent Jewish family. His parents were Rabbi Mayer Sámuel Weisz (1829–1892) and Cecília Steiner (1841–1913) and he was one of seven children.  Weisz arrived in the United States on July 3, 1878, on the SS Fresia with his mother (who was pregnant) and his four brothers. The family changed their name to the German spelling Weiss, and Erik became Ehrich. The family lived in Appleton, Wisconsin, where his father served as Rabbi of the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation.  On June 6, 1882, Rabbi Weiss became an American citizen and the family later moved to New York City.  Houdini became an active Freemason and was a member of St. Cecile Lodge #568 in New York City.  This is important and has a bearing on later events.

In 1893, while performing with his brother "Dash" (Theodore) at Coney Island as "The Brothers Houdini", Houdini met a fellow performer, Wilhelmina Beatrice "Bess" Rahner. Bess and Houdini married in 1894, with Bess replacing Dash in the act. For the rest of Houdini's performing career, Bess worked as his stage assistant.  The two remained married all their lives.  He called his mother and his wife  "My Two Sweethearts.

Career

 

Ehrich Weiss made his public début as a 9-year-old trapeze artist, calling himself "Ehrich, the Prince of the Air", when he was a teenager, Houdini was coached by the magician Joseph Rinn, who appears later in this entry. 

Houdini focused initially on traditional card tricks. At one point, he billed himself as the "King of Cards", but although he was regarded as ‘competent’, he lacked the grace and finesse required to achieve excellence in that craft.  So he began experimenting with escape acts.

Houdini first attracted notice in vaudeville in the US and then as "Harry Handcuff Houdini" on a tour of Europe, where he challenged police forces to keep him locked up.  In later life, Houdini said that he chose his first name, Harry, as an homage to Harry Kellar, and his last name in homage to Robert Houdin, both of whom he greatly admired.

Soon he extended his repertoire.  In 1904, thousands watched as he tried to escape from special handcuffs commissioned by London's Daily Mirror, keeping them in suspense for an hour. Another stunt saw him buried alive and only just able to claw himself to the surface, emerging in a state of near-breakdown.

 

From 1907 and throughout the 1910s, Houdini performed with great success in the United States.

He freed himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in sight of street audiences. Because of imitators, Houdini put his "handcuff act" behind him on January 25, 1908, and began escaping from a locked, water-filled milk can.The possibility of failure and death thrilled his audiences.  

In 1913, Houdini introduced the Chinese Water Torture Cell, in which he was suspended upside-down in a locked glass-and-steel cabinet full to overflowing with water, holding his breath for more than three minutes. He would go on performing this escape for the rest of his life.

Houdini also expanded his repertoire with his escape challenge act, in which he invited the public to devise contraptions to hold him. These included nailed packing crates (sometimes lowered into water), riveted boilers, wet sheets, mail bags, and even the belly of a whale that had washed ashore in Boston.

The Water Torture Cell

Brewers in Scranton, Pennsylvania and other cities challenged Houdini to escape from a barrel after they filled it with beer.  Many of these challenges were arranged with local merchants in one of the first uses of mass tie-in marketing.  Houdini's advertisements showed him making his escapes via dematerializing, which is itself extraordinary as this is apporting – and about as spiritual as one can get. 

Houdini explained some of his tricks in books written for the magic brotherhood. In Handcuff Secrets (1909), he revealed how many locks and handcuffs could be opened with properly applied force, others with shoestrings. Other times, he carried concealed lockpicks or keys. When tied down in ropes or straitjackets, he gained wiggle room by enlarging his shoulders and chest, moving his arms slightly away from his body; thus one can classify the majority of his act as magic. 

But his escape from crates and from underwater, involves the skills of the fakir.

The driving ambition of Harry Houdini

 

Houdini seems to have had a fervent wish to always be the best or the top of his career or hobby.  His search started at an early age to find his destiny and his role in life.  He put his heart and soul into everything he tackled - he was a champion cross country runner in his youth, for example.

He was also ambitious to the point of obsession and where his ambitions could not be met, he often lost interest.  He craved publicity and managed it very effectively, and he was not averse to hinting to journalists that what was, in effect, the outcome of  wishful thinking were ‘facts’. 

In 1909, for example, he became fascinated with aviation. He purchased a French Voisin biplane and after crashing once, made his first successful flight on November 26 in Hamburg, Germany. The following year, Houdini toured Australia. On March 18, 1910, he made three flights at Diggers Rest, Victoria, near Melbourne. Houdini made sure plenty of journalists were to hand and it was reported at the time that this was the first aerial flight in Australia, but this was untrue.  Wing Commander Harry Cobby wrote in Aircraft in March 1938 that "the first aeroplane flight in the Southern Hemisphere was made on December 9, 1909 by Mr Colin Defries".  Additionally, New Zealander aviation pioneer Richard Pearse undertook his first flight as early as 1902 in his own design plane, which would give him not only the Southern Hemisphere but the World record. 

The submerged crate 1912
 

Following a pattern that would be seen in many of his other pursuits, once he had had his moment of glory, he lost interest and put the Voisin into storage in England. But he continued to use his exploits as publicity long after he had ceased any flying.  He announced he would use it to fly from city to city during his next Music Hall tour, and even promised to leap from it handcuffed, but he never flew again.

The debunking of fraudulent mediums

Superficially, exposing fraud and trickery in the shady world of mediums, spiritualists and magicians is a very admirable objective.  But if one reads about his ‘exposures’, a sour note starts to creep in for Houdini appears to have as his aim the discrediting of everyone who was psychic

The attacks he made on ‘Margery’ are described below in the observations, but he also attacked Jules and Agnes Zancig saying that they were not telepathic, when he had actually witnessed the Zancigs demonstrating telepathy during his own theatre show.

One of the first he appeared to expose was Robert Houdin.  Houdini based his stage name on Houdin’s and the action he took appears to be utterly illogical.  Why try to discredit your hero?  We shall see what happened and why, however, as the story unfolds.

Attacks on Robert-Houdin

 

Whilst on tour in Europe in 1902, Houdini visited Blois with the aim of meeting the widow of Emile Houdin, the son of Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, for an interview. He later wrote a negative account of the incident in his magazine, claiming he was "treated most discourteously by Madame W. Emile Robert-Houdin." In 1906, he sent a letter to the French magazine L'Illusionniste stating:

"You will certainly enjoy the article on Robert Houdin I am about to publish in my magazine. Yes, my dear friend, I think I can finally demolish your idol, who has so long been placed on a pedestal that he did not deserve." 

Houdini also wrote a collection of articles on the history of magic, which were expanded into The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin published in 1908. In this book he attacked his former idol Robert-Houdin as liar and a fraud for having claimed effects such as ‘aerial suspension’ - levitation.  But Robert-Houdin knew the secret of levitation. 

His stage act involved using his son.  He placed three stools on a wooden bench. His youngest son Eugène stood on the middle one. With the instructions from his father, he extended his arms. Robert-Houdin placed two canes on top of the stools and positioned them under his son's arms.  He took a vial of ether and opened it. The audience smelled it wafting through the theatre. He placed the vial under his son's nose, and he went limp. In reality, the vial was empty, with the odour being produced by his son Emile pouring real ether on a hot iron shovel.  He then  took the stool away from his son's feet, and he just hung limp as a rag. He took away one of the canes, so he was dangling by one arm, and carefully placed his head against his upraised hand. This was startling enough. What he did next was stunning. He lifted his boy upright in a horizontal position by his little finger and then let go until he was suspended in mid air. Robert-Houdin stepped away to leave his son in that suspended state, balanced only by his right elbow and no other support.

Robert Houdin was an extremely gifted psychic, had telepathic skills plus a great number of other gifts, and a magician in the true sense of a shaman.  He was genuine and talented, so why did Houdini want to discredit him?

What Houdini said versus what he believed

There appears to be a huge discrepancy between Houdini's actual opinions and the image he wished to project to the general public as some kind of superhero – a knight in shining armour ravaging the shady world of mediumistic chicanery.  We have an observation from Dr Granrose that supports this and the following :

Experiences of a Psychical researcher – Raymond Bayless

Few people know that Houdini, in spite of his constant campaign against the belief in the existence of psychic phenomena, personally held a completely opposite opinion. He spoke of seeing an apparition of his mother with a shawl over her head standing in the wings of a theater in Berlin. The apparition appeared at the time of her death in New York. The magician also had a few photographs showing psychical effects which he admitted he could not explain. These facts are quite well known and can be found published in several books, including Hereward Carrington's Psychic Oddities.

in 1899

The famed researcher Harry Price received a letter from Houdini, dated January 5, 1925, which stated: "Another strange thing happened, with the aid of the spirit slates I produced a photograph of Mrs. Crandon's ['Margery'] brother, Walter, who was killed and of all the miracles. I ran across the photograph of the boy as he was crushed between the engine and the tender. I doubt very much if there are any duplicates about."
Harry Price wrote .. that Houdini asked him to write a paper about the parapsychological element in his performances which was published in Light, December 8, 1923, and was titled "Psychic Element in Legerdemain." Price also included in his book a footnote which states that he had a letter from Houdini which remarked that he believed that a psychical photograph of Professor James H. Hyslop was authentic.
The English spiritualist newspaper Psychic News, March 27, 1971, published a most interesting and significant article respecting the Houdini controversy. It seemed that they discovered an original letter written by the magician to Dr. W. J. Crawford, the famed psychical scientist who studied the phenomena of Kathleen Goligher, which was dated June 24, 1920, and bore as a letterhead a picture of Houdini in the upper left corner. The letter was reproduced in full, and read as follows:

Dear Dr. Crawford:
As promised am writing to let you know that I have witnessed Mlle. Eva in a successful sitting. She manifested the other night, after a few blank sittings, but your medium must be a great deal more powerful, according to your report. Sir Arthur (Conan Doyle) tells me he thinks that the power comes from the womb, it certainly is a wonderful affair and there is no telling how far this may lead. I am returning to America shortly and wish you would please let me have one or two snap shots to take back with me. I suppose you heard Prof. Hyslop has passed away. My permanent address in America is
278 West I l3 Street
New York City, U.S.A.
and if there is anything that I can do for you over here and if it is in my power will attend to same for you. Kindest regards best wishes.
Sincerely yours,
Houdini

The Psychic News has done well in providing a reproduction of this letter for the public. It should once and for all settle the Houdini controversy and show conclusively that the magician did admit from personal experience that psychical phenomena do exist. The letter briefly mentioning his experiences with the noted physical medium Eva Beraud, who was studied by Dr. Gustave Geley, Baron von Schrenck Notzing, Dr. Charles Richet, and others, furnishes this evidence. It can be seen, therefore, that the popular belief that Houdini was totally antagonistic toward the possibility of psychic phenomena is really not at all correct.

 

 

One other thing which shows that his debunking activity was in apparent conflict with his beliefs is his decision to test death itself, when he confided a code phrase to his wife, Bess, which had to be revealed in a séance, with the objective of proving to the world that spirits do exist. 


it seems curious that a man who supposedly dedicated the better part of his later life to debunking would decide to try to prove the very thing he had spent so many years decrying”.

Why did he deny what he believed?

A number of suggestions have been put forward as to why he publicly tried to debunk what he privately believed, these include:

He wanted to be the most famous magician - One logically plausible suggestion for this apparent contradiction, is that this ambivalence sprang from his obsessive desire to be the best at everything – the top of the tree.  Houdini was a very very able magician, he employed a mixture of genuine environmental control of his bodily processes, with sleights of hand and ‘magic’ in its old sense.  But he was incapable of telepathy, and was unable to perform the psychokinetic feats of the mediums. 

 

And as he was unable to compete with them – though as one can see, he privately held them in great awe – he could have decided to eliminate them as competition. 

Genuine mediums and the spiritually inclined are a threat to [largely materialistic] magicians in general.  Their powers are greater – Houdini had none of the powers of a D D Home, for example. 

He was protecting his income – Many genuine mediums do not charge for their services, but do it as a ‘sideline’, healing people or helping genuine scientists investigate their powers, as such a charging magician is no match for a free medium.  There is the added risk that if the scientists had found out how all this works and discussed it, there would have been no magic, as many magicians rely on psychic gifts as well as 'trickery'.  Furthermore, Malcolm Bird has suggested that as Houdini grew older he had to create a new role for himself so that he had an income when ‘as must inevitably happen, he no longer has the physical resources for his fatiguing escape tricks’.  In building up a new stage personality as exposer of mediums, he HAD TO

  • behave towards all mediums as he had towards Margery
  • assume in advance that the phenomena were fraudulent
  • at all hazards make them so
  • in every way put the idea across that he was the author of mediumistic exposures, infallible ‘bad medicine’ for mediums.
 

He was being paid by others to expose them - But there may also be another twist to this tale and we think that although the other reasons may have some credence, this one stands out as more plausible.  In the séances with Margery/Walter [see observation 04] we have the following conversation

Walter: Houdini, have you got the mark just right? You think you're smart, don't you? How much are they paying you for stopping phenomena here?
Houdini: I don't know what you're talking about; it's costing me $2,500 a week to be here.
Walter: Where did you turn down a $2,500 contract in August?
Houdini: In Buffalo.
Walter: You had no work for all this week. How much are you getting for stopping these phenomena?

In other words Walter was accusing Houdini of being paid by parties unknown to wreck the world of the occult.  So we now have to ask who would do this and benefit from the removal of the occult? 

One of the more obvious answers is magicians with little talent, attempting to protect their income, but these are his rivals - he has no reason to help them.  Furthermore, the amount of money involved would suggest some agency that is much larger.

The role of the secret service

The US secret services took a great interest in psychic research as early as the late 1800s and it has continued to this day.  The remote viewing capabilities, the ability to telepathically read others minds are skills which have been investigated and probably used by the CIA in particular.  They have enormous potential in spying and political manoevering and manipulation. 

But the people who have these skills are also a threat to security, especially if they are investigated scientifically and found to be genuine and their methods widely known.  Thus in order to keep the skills within Secret Service control, whilst ensuring the existence of them was not made public, occult powers had to be debunked, fraudulent mediums identified and removed from the scene and ideally, the genuine ones identified and protected.

John Elbert Wilkie (1860 – December 13, 1934) was an American journalist and Director of the United States Secret Service from 1898 to 1911.  John Wilkie's mother, around 1885, 13 years before John Wilkie becomes head of the US secret services, had this experience which was later reported to the SPR....

John_Elbert_Wilkie

'... A prominent Chicago journalist, Mr F. B. Wilkie reported that his wife asked him one morning in October 1885, while still engaged in dressing, and before either of them had left their sleeping-room, if he knew anyone named Edsale or Esdale. A negative reply was given and then a " Why do you ask ? " She replied : ' During the night I dreamt that I was on the lake-shore and found a coffin there, with the name of Edsale or Esdale on it, and I am confident that someone of that name has recently been drowned there." On opening the morning paper the first item that attracted his attention was the report of the mysterious disappearance from his home in Hyde Park of a young man named Esdale. A few days afterwards the body of a young man was found on the lake-shore.

The case was carefully investigated and authenticated by Dr Hodgson, a ‘leading skeptical member of the Society For Psychical research’ and found to be true.  John Wilkie himself also made another psychic claim to the Society For Psychical Research, published after he became head of the US secret services.

Wilkie knew the realities and the dangers of such powers.  The Secret Service thus had a motive for wanting the debunking to succeed.  Remember the conversation – Houdini turned down a $2,500 contract in August to attend the séance attempting to debunk Margery.  This was a lot of money and more likely to be from the Secret Services than his fellow magicians.

Besinnet

In 1909, The Society of American Magicians’ (SAM) president, John W Sargent, suggested that the government should employ their magicians to debunk psychic phenomena.  Their first victim was  Eusapia Palladino in a blaze of media. At the same time, Sargent provided lessons to a young John Mulholland who many years later was employed by the CIA during project MK-ULTRA to secretly investigate parapsychology.

A large portion of Houdini's estate holdings and memorabilia was willed to John Mulholland (1898–1970).  When Mulholland joined the CIA, he followed the general approach of agents in this area both researching it extensively and then apparently ‘exposing the tricks of fraudulent spiritualist mediums’. His book Beware Familiar Spirits (1938) was intended for the general public.  In 1952 for Popular Science, he published a skeptical article on flying saucers and UFOs, which given the record of the Secret services is somewhat alarming.

Houdini even enlisted a team of ‘helpers’, which he called 'my own secret service'.  They included the magicians Robert Gysel, W S Davis and Joseph Rinn. His choices may not have been very wise:

  • Magician Robert Gysel was one of Harry Houdini's assistant debunkers for 5 years.  His debunking methods included throwing a brick during medium Ada Bessinnet’s seance, and throwing sneezing powder into another.  Gysel in earlier years had conned an old lady out of $1000 as a fake medium.
  • Magician’ WS Davis had made money as a fake psychic.  He said this about his perceived role: 
    '..To be a good exposer ….., one must actually degrade himself by also playing false, ….. We must make false representations we must pretend to be friendly and sympathetic with the medium when we are really planning her downfall; and we must frequently resort to violence. Investigators who are incapable of or unwilling to adopt such measures might just as well keep away from seances. ...'
  • Magician Joseph Rinn was also part of his team.  Rinn's book Searchlight on Psychical Research (1954) was described in a review as the "death knell of spiritualism as it exposed the fraud and tricks involved in spiritualist activities”.  In the book A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology (1985),by authors Gerd H. Hövelmann, Marcello Truzzi and Piet Hein Hoebens they describe Rinn’s book as
    A flawed but nonetheless very important critical work by a man prominent in conjuring …. It is a book full of opinions, gossip, and anecdotes, and it needs to be read that way — not as a work of objective scholarship.
    Biographer William Lindsay Gresham noted that the book did ‘contain inaccuracies’ but was most valuable for its reprinting of clippings dealing with Harry Houdini.

It is easy to classify Houdini as ‘the bad guy’ in this.  But we think that would be totally wrong.  He too became convinced that these powers, if they fell into the wrong hands, could be disastrous

 

A psychic with the genuine ability to perform weather control, for example, could create hurricanes so devastating they could wreck a country.   Furthermore, a psychic able to psychokinetically move objects, has no need for a gun – he could launch rockets, space ships and nuclear missiles just by thinking about it.  A powerful malevolent psychic is in some senses a threat to national security and life itself.  The Russians, plus many other countries knew this, including the Germans [the Nazis] and Houdini was Jewish, all their secret services were researching it, as such the race was already on.

Debunking minor mediums was not, in all honesty, going to have much effect, but preventing scientists [from outside the CIA] from researching how these effects were obtained was possible and we think this was the aim.  In other words, they were attempting to prevent scientists with good intentions from opening the Pandora’s box of the occult.  But stopping research doesn't stop the gifts being bestowed, and we believe the action to have been very very unwise.  Just to take Russia alone, research on psychic phenomena carried on at a strapping pace during the cold war, as is now very evident as the iron curtain has come down.  The old eastern block countries are way ahead and the next war could be a psychic one - like Peter and Simon Magus

The USA shot itself in the foot, if what we believe  took place did indeed take place and the suppression and ridicule of all things occult after the war surely supports this.

We think Houdini took it upon himself to be the champion of the Secret services, with the objective of ‘saving’ the world, not destroying the occult, even though a more open approach may, in hindsight, have been more likely to have done so.

Debunking and its dangers

Just weeks before Houdini's death, Houdini's lawyer informed him he was about to be sued for millions due to the aggressive, illegal debunking methods used by his team of ‘helpers’, which Houdini called 'my own secret service'.  On the 7th October 1926, Houdini left his sick wife and took a night train trip to meet with lawyer Bernard Ernst. The meeting was about the lawsuits Houdini was facing.  After midnight, Houdini asked magician Joe Dunninger to take him to his home, where he ‘removed a considerable number of documents’. According to Dunninger, a tearful Houdini told him he would never see his house again.

After Houdini's death, Houdini's brother ‘nearly burnt the house down’ getting rid of files (according to magician Joe Hayman).  Why? Harry Houdini's lawyer Bernard Ernst revealed that Harry Houdini's home basement contained .... '...."filed away, details and information, which he had unearthed, regarding the personal life-histories of practically everyone connected with the subject—and this, not only regarding mediums but investigators and others as well ...’

in 1918

Shortly after Houdini's death, Harry Day and Hereward Carrington's houses were broken into.  Carrington was involved in Psychic Research and specifically with Margery [Crandon], whose case history is shown below.  Harry Day (16 September 1880 – 16 September 1939) was a British theatre owner and Labour Party politician; he was also Jewish, but in the early 1900s, worked as a manager for Houdini in the UK.

The court case would have exposed Houdini’s team and the methods used by the team, they would have revealed the psychics and possibly put them at risk during a time when war was threatening, but perhaps more pertinent it would have revealed the possible involvement of the Secret Service in the debunking activity, and might even have named their agents.

Magician/editor Fulton Oursler (after Houdini's death) said that not long before his death Houdini was worried and was phoning him at strange hours ......
Fulton Oursler: 'What is it?'
Harry Houdini: 'You know my detective system…..  They are going to kill me'

As such the claim that Houdini was ‘murdered by spiritualists’, as suggested in the biography The Secret Life of Houdini is way off the mark.  He was more likely to have been murdered by agents of the Secret service, if he was murdered at all.

Death

 

As we can see, controversy surrounds the circumstances and cause of Houdini’s death.

Wikipedia

Eyewitnesses to an incident at Houdini's dressing room in the Princess Theatre in Montreal gave rise to speculation that Houdini's death was caused by a McGill University student, Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead (b. 1895 – d. 1954), who delivered a surprise attack of multiple blows to Houdini's abdomen.
The eyewitnesses, students named Jacques Price and Sam Smilovitz (sometimes called Jack Price and Sam Smiley), proffered accounts of the incident that generally corroborated one another. Price describes Whitehead asking Houdini "if he believed in the miracles of the Bible" and "whether it was true that punches in the stomach did not hurt him". He then delivered "some very hammer-like blows below the belt". Houdini was reclining on a couch at the time, having broken his ankle while performing several days earlier. Price stated that Houdini winced at each blow and stopped Whitehead suddenly in the midst of a punch, gesturing that he had enough, and adding that he had no opportunity to prepare himself against the blows, as he did not expect Whitehead to strike him so suddenly and forcefully. Had his ankle not been broken, he would have risen from the couch into a better position to brace himself.
Throughout the evening, Houdini performed in great pain. He was unable to sleep and remained in constant pain for the next two days, but did not seek medical help. When he finally saw a doctor, he was found to have a fever of 102 °F (39 °C) and acute appendicitis, and was advised to have immediate surgery. He ignored the advice and decided to go on with the show.  When Houdini arrived at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, Michigan, on October 24, 1926, for what would be his last performance, he had a fever of 104 °F (40 °C). Despite the diagnosis, Houdini took the stage. He was reported to have passed out during the show, but was revived and continued. Afterwards, he was hospitalized at Detroit's Grace Hospital.

 

Harry Houdini died of peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured appendix, at 1:26 p.m. on October 31, 1926, in Room 401 at Detroit's Grace Hospital, aged 52.  There was no autopsy and when his wife later died, and despite a request from her to be buried with her husband, she was buried in a separate grave supposedly at the request of her Catholic family.

In The Man who killed Houdini by Don Bell, described by one reviewer as the definitive investigation into the events that occurred in Harry Houdini's dressing room on Oct 22, 1926, perhaps the most important finding is not that about Whitehead, but that Houdini was a marked man.   Bell discovered that the magician was attacked three separate times during that fateful week and found independent eyewitnesses to each of these other attacks who readily corroborate the facts.  Bell does not attribute the conspiracy to spiritualists, nor link Whitehead to the spiritualist’s movement, but he shies away from voicing his real suspicions, for good reason.

The 1980s book 'Death Blow' by escapologist Norman Bigelow, suggested that Houdini was indeed murdered, and again not by spiritualists, by those paying him to do the debunking.  They ‘removed him’ before the court case mentioned above, because the trial might result in their exposure. According to Norman Bigelow's daughter, Lynda Bigelow .....

Bigelow was once told by officials in one magic society to leave it alone. When Bigelow said what is the matter with the truth and that he did not believe the story we have been told, he was told, "what makes you think we want to know the truth." A message was then sent to him by his own agent that ‘some people’ liked the story just the way it was and if he Bigelow kept it up, he would be buried out there with Harry under the monument.

References

Books

 

Houdini published numerous books during his career, but very few were actually written by him. 

Some were written by his good friend Walter B. Gibson, but Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter has stated that:

Houdini wasn't a natural-born writer..  All of his letters have misspellings or names are incorrect. Some of that is because he dashed it off in the dressing room and some of that is simply because he didn't know how to.

According to John Cox, a long-time Houdini historian who runs the Wild About Harry website, Houdini published most if not all of his books, articles and even an entry in the 13th edition of Encyclopedia Britannica — thanks in large part to ghostwriters.  The list of these books is, however, as follows:

  • The Right Way to Do Wrong: An Exposé of Successful Criminals (1906)
  • Handcuff Secrets (1907)
  • The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin (1908), a debunking study of Robert-Houdin's alleged abilities.
  • Magical Rope Ties and Escapes (1920)
  • Miracle Mongers and Their Methods (1920)
  • Houdini's Paper Magic (1921)
  • A Magician Among the Spirits (1924)
  • Houdini Exposes the Tricks Used by the Boston Medium "Margery" (1924)
  • Imprisoned with the Pharaohs (1924).
  • How I Unmask the Spirit Fakers, article for Popular Science (November 1925)
  • How I do My "Spirit Tricks", article for Popular Science (December 1925)
  • Conjuring (1926), article for the Encyclopædia Britannica's 13th edition.

Oscar Schutte Teale (September 9, 1847 - April 8, 1934) was an American architect by trade who was interested in magic. He was the fourth President of the Society of American Magicians and worked as a private secretary for Houdini.  Teale also worked as an editor, illustrator and ghost writer for Houdini and claimed authorship of A Magician Among the Spirits (1924)

Gabe Fajuri, is also certain that Houdini didn't write "The Cancer of Superstition" based on the complexity of the language in the manuscript.  Houdini approached H P Lovecraft and Lovecraft's fellow Providence, R.I., author C.M. Eddy Jr. "jointly to ghost write a full-scale book on superstition." 

That "industry of ghostwriters" included both Lovecraft and Eddy before "The Cancer of Superstition" was ever written. Lovecraft ghost-wrote the Houdini short story "Imprisoned With the Pharaohs" published in a 1924 issue of Chicago-based Weird Tales. And as Fajuri has noted, Houdini employed Eddy as a ghostwriter and investigator.

Films

Houdini - This 1919 silent feature was recently found in
Brooklyn and has been restored

Initially Houdini’s films were for publicity purposes and from about 1906, he started showing films of his outside escapes as part of his vaudeville act. In 1909, for example, Houdini made a film in Paris for Cinema Lux entitled Merveilleux Exploits du Célébre Houdini à Paris (Marvellous Exploits of the Famous Houdini in Paris). It featured a loose narrative designed to showcase several of Houdini's famous escapes, including his straitjacket and underwater handcuff escapes.  But not long after he started to get offers to actually act in films.  His films include:

  • The Master Mystery—Octagon Films (1918)—playing Quentin Locke
  • The Grim Game—Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount Pictures (1919)—playing Harvey Handford
  • Terror Island—Famous Players Lasky/Paramount (1920)—playing Harry Harper
  • The Man from Beyond—Houdini Picture Corporation (1922)—playing Howard Hillary
  • Haldane of the Secret Service—Houdini Picture Corporation/FBO (1922)—playing Heath Haldane

Neither Houdini's acting career nor his production company found success, and he gave up on the movie business in 1923, complaining that "the profits are too meager".

Other References

  • Brandon, Ruth - The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini. 1993
  • Fitzsimons, Raimund - Death and the Magician: The Mystery of Houdini  1980
  • The Archetype of the Magician - John Granrose, Ph.D., Director of Studies "E" at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zürich; 1996
  • Death of Houdini - Did Harry Houdini die from a ruptured appendix caused by a punch in the stomach? LINK
  • The Man who killed Houdini by Don Bell. 

Observations

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