There scattered reports earlier this year that Summit Entertainment purchased the film rights to William Kalush and Larry Sloman’s biography, The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero, to make “an action thriller featuring a character who is part Indiana Jones and part Sherlock Holmes.”
Entertainment web site IGN opined Summit’s decision to stray from the bio-pic format was to build a franchise on Houdini’s fame; not necessarily his life.
The studio announced in March 2009, it was looking for a writer to craft the story and build the super-hero character.
They apparently found their writer and his credits fit the need for a super-hero take on Houdini.
Jeff Nathanson, writer of Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will write the script. Mr. Nathanson worked with Steven Spielberg on Catch Me if You Can and the horrible waste of celluloid The Terminal. His action credits also include Rush Hour 2 and Speed 2: Cruise Control.
IGN was not able to receive confirmation of the writing assignment from Mr. Nathanson’s Hollywood agents, CAA.
Summit was apparently excited by the book’s suggestion that Houdini was a spy for Britain, and possibly murdered by spiritualists in retribution for his very effective debunking of their craft. The book certainly made the suggestions but offered very little support for either the spy or murder claim.
News of this potential deal brings up a sore subject for us here at Inside Magic.
You might recall there was an attempt to exhume Houdini’s body to test for poison. Commentators believed this was a publicity stunt on the part of the book’s authors to drum up sales.
According to a March 27, 2007 article in The Washington Post, at least half of Houdini’s family was decidedly against plans to exhume the master magician’s body. Grandnephews of Bess Houdini, John and Jeffrey Blood, told reporters, “a disinterment to determine whether he was murdered smacks of sensationalism. It is our firm belief that Bess Houdini would never approve of this.”
The Bloods ascribed an improper motive to the exhumation plans. “The family believes this is likely being done to promote sales of a recent book on Harry Houdini, suggesting he may have been murdered.”
“I’m sorry that Bess’ side of the family feels that way, because this is not a publicity stunt in any shape or form,” Larry Sloman, one of the co-authors of the book shot back. “This is not something frivolous. This is a serious scientific study.”
Washington Post Columnist, David Segal, believed the exhumation efforts were just a publicity stunt; nothing more. “To exhume a dead body, well, that’s what they said, anyway. But the more they talked about exhuming the body, the more it seemed like the point was reviving the sluggish sales of a nearly moribund book.”
Was Mr. Segal correct? It is hard to discount his research. He wrote:
It turns out this media spectacle was not orchestrated and paid for by the family of Houdini, as one might have inferred from Tacopina’s opening remarks.
It was organized and paid for by the authors, who hired the uber-crafty PR firm Dan Klores Communications to put it together. The idea, perhaps, was to goose sales of The Secret Life, which hasn’t exactly burned up the bestseller list.
It’s sold a decent 24,000 since October, according to BookScan, which tracks most retailers, but the numbers are flagging. Last week, just 200 copies were sold.
We certainly are not looking to trash the authors of the book for their efforts to promote the book sales and, it seems, to secure the sale of movie rights.
When the book was originally released, we expressed concern that its speculation and theories were not sound but calculated to sell the book rather than provide an accurate biography of our hero, Houdini.
So, as a fan of all things Houdini, we are excited that a new movie will be produced about the man even though it is apparently more about developing a new myth.