We were searching John Cox’ wonderful website Wild About Harry and found a very interesting article about Houdini’s possible return to film making in 1925 – a year before his untimely passing.
Mr. Cox points out that the nascent film was to be based on Miracle Mongers and their Methods. We consider that book to be a must read for every fan of Houdini and the history of Spiritualism. Fortunately it is no available in the public domain and thus accessible to fans gratis.
We would have paid big money to see the film.
Thank you to Mr. Cox for finding this important piece of history and sharing it with us Houdini fans.
As we know, Houdini stepped away from movie making after he completed The Man From Beyond and Haldane of the Secret Service in 1921. So the idea he’d consider a return in 1925 is pretty interesting. It’s also interesting to see the name of Arthur B. Reeve, who co-wrote The Master Mystery and Houdini’s Hollywood films.In 1923 Houdini told the L.A. Times he planned to adapt his book Miracle Mongers and Their Methods into an “out-and-out stunt picture” following his Keith’s vaudeville tour. This item appeared the Monday after he completed that tour. So could this signal the start of that process?
We also take great pride in our programming abilities and yet we were stumped yesterday trying to load an active graph from Google documenting the past and present searches for Houdini since 2010. We couldn’t go back further; like to 1920 and figured out that we were limited by the reality that Google did not exist in the Roaring Twenties.
So while we don’t have the live data stream for Houdini searches on InsideMagic.com yet, we can report that the term Houdini continues to be searched daily with peaks in the number of searches on special days and weeks around Halloween and the date of his death in 1926.
Why were we trying to construct this real-time search presentation?
First because we thought it was a cool tool to put on our website. We’re always looking to spice up our space.
Second, because we search for news or articles about Houdini daily. Sometimes the searches come back related to a rapper that used Houdini in his name. Sometimes it comes back with a wine bottle opener. Sometimes it comes back with the great Houdini Magic Shop from Disneyland or Las Vegas. But usually there is at least one hit for Houdini, the world-famous magician and escape artist par excellence.
It is amazing that his name, story and images still register on the Google Search metrics.
What a testament to his self-promotion, his place in modern history and his ability to entrance modern audiences even without being present (assuming you disregard claims of connections during seances).
Magicians today still make reference to Houdini in their acts; often comparing themselves to the master performer. The modern audiences have never seen Houdini (other than the Tony Curtis film, perhaps) but the reference still resonates with them.
We tried to think of other performers that have that kind of staying power. In the 1920s the American and European theaters were jammed full of performers and on a typical evening’s bill, there would be a star or top act. Yet, we are at a loss to name any of them unless they later had a career in a more permanent medium like film or radio.
Houdini is what got us heavily into magic and we assume his popularity is having the same effect on a new generation of magicians and escape artists.
What a wonderful art we have.
By the way, if we are ever in doubt about Houdini’s work or history, we refer to the source that knows all, Wild About Houdini, run by John Cox. If you are a Houdini fan, it needs to be your first stop daily for the latest findings and exploration about this incredible legend.
We will continue to work with our crack programming team to get real time search stats on InsideMagic.com but until then, we’ll just report the highlights we find through our searching or from Mr. Cox’ website.
Editor’s note: With the pandemic causing dramatic changes in our Art, we thought we would republish some of our reviews from a while back. Here is one from September 19th, 1907. Inside Magic was just a pamphlet then and published in limited quantities (and qualities).
The hottest trick on the market is the new Imp Bottle effect. It is the rave of all the magicians in the know that we know. It has received oodles of praise in the magic press and greats such as Houdini, Kellar and Thurston have testified to its endearing qualities and profound affect on audiences. Just how good is it? Inside Magic’s review follows but the skinny is that it is the genuine article, the cat’s meow and how.
Effect: You show a cute little vase made from a high quality wood and finished with a brilliant sheen. It stands erect on the table or in the magi’s hand. You explain that this bottle contains an “imp” that can be mischievous at times if not assuaged with praise. If the imp is pleased, he will allow the vase to lie down with its top touching the table. If, however, the imp feels frightened or insulted, he will refuse to allow the bottle to be set in such a configuration.
You demonstrate what you have explained by praising the imp and comforting it with soothing talk. You then set the vase on its side and it remains in that position until you take it back up.
You now ask one of your many spectators to hold the vase and try to set it on its side. Despite the volunteer’s kind words and good intentions, the imp in the bottle refuses to recline. The vase remains standing straight up. It is quite a mystery.
Review: We received the effect from a magic supply house for the purposes of this review but that shouldn’t bias our assessment. We have to give it back when we are done with it.
This one is a real fooler. The effect as described above is exactly what your audience sees. You can play up the story of the “imp” with gusto and ad libs aplenty because the effect is almost a self-working one. When we performed this for an audience recently, we gave a story about how the imp was entrapped in the bottle by a mean sorcerer who was jealous of the imp and his charming ways. Perhaps the story went on too long because the audience dwindled to a single member and we presume he remained only because we set the imp bottle in his hand as we provided our patter. Nonetheless, he was suitably impressed when he found that despite his kind words and magic flourishes provided by his free hand, he could not make the imp comply with his instructions. No matter what he tried, the bottle would not remain on its side.
We felt badly for those in the audience that left before this pay-off because it was a real hum-dinger!
In the future, we will limit the time allotted for our story about the imp to no more than five minutes. We started losing audience members around the ten minute mark and so five minutes ought to provide just the right amount of backstory to build up the astounding final effect.
If you are a close-up magician, this is a trick you should have in your waist coat or vest pocket no matter the situation. It is the perfect combination of “easy to do” and “great to see.”
For those of us who do stage shows, it may be possible to build this into a very large bottle with a real imp but we haven’t worked out the plans for such an illusion.
When in the course of human events (magic related), it becomes necessary by regulation or law to respond to readers and or correct mistakes in content, Inside Magic will provide its Letters to the Editor service to our dear reader.
To The Editor:
Do you call it a “silk” or a “handkerchief” or something else?
Magician’s often display a piece of cloth made of silk or some synthetic blend. The wave it before the audience and sometimes need to identify it for some reason. This is whence the “silk” versus “handkerchief” debate arises. We have performed exhaustive research into the topic and some of our long-time readers will no doubt recall our six-volume set on the topic, Silks, Hanks or Cloth: A Complete History published through Magic Text, our failed (we are not afraid to admit it) hard-bound publishing division in 1998.
We didn’t see this whole internet thing taking off and never thought a book could be made available in electronic format. We were confused at the time by the onrush of so many alternatives for information distribution so we figured we’d take the safe path and publish our books the old-fashioned way; in leather-bound, handmade tomes illustrated in the same style as the Book of Kells. The shipping cost was very high – the set weighed some weight in British “stones” or metric or something.
The other thing that hurt sales was the threatened injunction from Tom Hanks – who is a nice guy but has aggressive lawyers – to stop the publication for fear that folks would assume erroneously that we were using his name to indicate some kind of connection to or endorsement by the then Academy Award® winning actor. That was not our purpose – of course.
In fact the first book of the six-book set specifically pointed out how “Hanks” should not be used as a term because it could be confused with a person or even an actor.
For our other books, Magic Wand Handling: Safety and Security (a three-volume set with illustration set by a comic book writer from Tokyo) did very well but couldn’t make up for the losses we suffered with the first set. Magic Text went out of business in 1990 and we were despondent – the two are not related. We tend to be despondent and so this was just more of the normal but now with a reason to be despondent.
We had to lay-off twelve Irish illustrators and one Japanese comic book illustrator.
They all took it well – or so we thought – until they all filed wrongful termination claims against us. While we were despondent to be sued, we were so impressed by the beautiful way they illustrated their claims, that our souls were lifted as we settled for a confidential amount.
There are a lot of innovative magicians out there. They invent magic tricks we could never conceive. But as we were told at a bus stop in West Hollywood, “Invent what you know.”
We have no idea what its real purpose was but it inspired us. We should create tricks that are based on the things we handle every day. Then we should find an audience of similarly minded (and aged) people to whom we can perform and sell the tricks.
The CPAP of Mystery:
This is a trick involving a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine. It is a staple of those afflicted with sleep apnea – one of the few disorders that affect the entire family except for the person with the disorder. It stops obnoxious and annoying snoring.
(Ironically, Obnoxious and Annoying was the name of our first duo act. We played the mischievous character Annoying (despite being underweight for the part) and a current star of stage and screen played Mr. Obnoxious. We were true to the script as written by Shakespeare and even wore period costumes. Few playgoers have read the original text and, to be honest, it is a play often over-looked by Shakespearean scholars. Additionally it is four hours long. And we performed it without scenery or props. And we could not afford stage lights so we used flashlights to shine on each other. And our make-up was overdone due to a product placement deal we had with L’Oréal. Nonetheless, it was up for a Tony® award but it was a tough year and we lost to A Chorus Line. Our agent’s protests that we should be in the category for dramatic performance fell on deaf ears and we were pitted against one of the most popular Broadway musicals of all time. As most English majors can recall, Obnoxious and Annoying does have some singing and dancing in the seventh act when Annoying pretends to be dancing with the love of his life, Spiteful. The New York Times gave it a middling review, “There is a good reason this play is overlooked when one considers the full range of Shakespearean plays, it is terrible. But here we have two men willing to perform a play that should have been burned or used as scrap-paper acting without any accoutrements on a stage too small in a room too large for its pitiful audience size.” The New Yorker was not as kind, “Obnoxious and Annoying and Too Long” should have been the title for this forgettable foray into a play the Great Bard himself said was “not worthy of his cheapest ink.”)
But back to the illusion of the CPAP machine. An audience member selects a card from a freely shuffled deck, signs it, returns it to the deck. And then she throws the deck directly at the performer wearing a CPAP mask. The card instantly appears in the mask and when turned around (with either the performer’s fingers or tongue), it is shown to be the signed card. With a CPAP machine, we could sell it for $1,700. Without the CPAP machine – in case the performer already has one – it would cost $3.00. We think it would be a big hit. Continue reading “A New Magic Niche: Oldsters”→
It is the stated and occasionally followed policy of Inside Magic to publish letters to the editor. If you have a question for the editor of this esteemed virtual news outlet, please send your comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. While the editor is not always available or conscious, when he is, he is really on his game.
Dear Sir or Madam:
In your most recent blog post, you commented that Harry Houdini was dead. I wondered why you would mention this well-known factoid. Were you just in need of space to be taken up or was this supposed to be real news for the “professional” magician? What was the point? Are there people who think Harry Houdini is not dead? Or were you being metaphorical and saying his legacy is dead? Or, maybe you were saying his spirit lives on but his body is dead and buried? Again, what was the point? Who else is dead that you should tell us about? I subscribe to Inside Magic to get the latest news not the late news. Did you hear that Lindbergh made it to Paris? He did, he flew solo across the Atlantic. That’s all. Pick it up, please.
It has been a while since we commented on the living or non-living status of Harry Houdini but your email reminds us that it is about time to again remind readers that Harry Houdini died at 1:26 on October 31, 1926 at Grace Receiving Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. The cause of his death was ruled an accident resulting from a blow received several days earlier in Montreal whilst reclining in his dressing room. Our thoughts and prayers are with his widow and surviving family. There is discussion of having yearly séances in honor of Houdini and to test the theories of spiritualism against which he fought so valiantly.
The Lindbergh news is not really magic related and so that was probably why we didn’t pick up on it – that is our bad and we accept the blame. Good for him. We hope his experience will be positive for all interested in flying.
Ironically, “Pick it Up, Please” was the title of our first top 100 hit in 1972. It was actually the B-side of “Don’t Litter, Bug!” but got much more radio play thanks to our great A&R man, Zanzo O’Hara. We peaked at 47 with the 45 RPM record and still receive royalties from it. It was sampled on Eminem’s Marshal Mather’s “The Way I Am” track on his groundbreaking “The Marshal Mathers’ LP.” Eminem said he loved the “funk and instructive tone to the bridge on our 45.” That was good enough for us. It was also used as the background sound for a movie about a carnival funhouse that is haunted by bad people. We don’t know why they used it. There was nothing funky or instructive about the scene in which it was used. A woman and man, each younger than 21, get on the ride and look at each other before the cart in which they are riding goes through the front “gate” of the fun house. They never return but part of their clothes return, albeit blood stained.
Those in the know will say, usually with a chirpy tone, cool magic stuff from magic history and corn dogs.
Taking the list in order, we look constantly for cool magic stuff from magic history. We have a key to the city given to Harry Blackstone Jr. given by the mayor of Dearborn, Michigan. We have posters and pictures of great magicians through the years. Some of our fondest memories have been eating corn dogs.
Other great memories have been talking to older magicians about the magicians they have seen or with whom they worked.
We recalled a wonderful conversation about Harry Blackstone, Jr. (the impetus for our mention of my souvenir) and how compassionate he was for his staff and assistants. He certainly did not need to be – he was the star and his show was a hit. But he was.
We have a multi-page letter handwritten by Doug Henning in response to our question, “how can a magician who is only 12 make it as a professional.”
Not surprisingly, he did not tell us to get an agent, make posters, berate theater managers; but to practice the art, learn the rules of being a magician and have fun.
We work in a wonderful art. People genuinely love to be entertained and fooled and corn dogs.
We provide two out of the three and the more we do it, the more entertaining it becomes for us and our audience.
We wonder how the younger generation learns about our grand history. Perhaps there are still meetings over an occasional corn dog where mustard-stained young performers can hear stories of Willard the Wizard, Thurston, Houdini, Kellar, Dante and our favorite, Harry Blackstone, Jr.
Although the image is not of Harry Blackstone, Jr. or any deep-fried hot dog, we think the poster used by Kellar displaying his “latest” illusion of “self-decapitation” is illustrative of our wonderful history. No one – at least no one we have seen in the last 20-years has performed “self-decapitation” and even decapitation of others has fallen into disfavor (correctly in our humble opinion) due to world events. But his poster was drawn in sketch form, colored in, placed on lithographic machinery and literally inked with several different passes – one for each color – leaving a space to make the poster applicable to the town or setting where Kellar would soon perform. How wonderful.
You can find wonderful posters of magicians and non-magicians throughout history at the Library of Congress for your viewing and enjoyment. We hope you do.
[It is the policy of Inside Magic to provide notice of any revisions, updates, fixes or corrections to our posts; no matter how embarrassing. We have been publishing since 2002 (on the internet) and before that in a paper format sent to readers of Boy’s Life’s display ads. Bottom line: we have a lot of errors. Here is the next installment.]
In the June 2, 1996 edition, we used the word “squeak” in a way that could offend rodents. We apologize and note the trick described and reviewed is no longer available.
In the August 15, 1997 edition, we mislabeled a photo of Harry Houdini as Hairy Houdini. We have apologized by means of Ouija® Board and still await his response.
In the January 23, 1998 edition, we described a trick as “the best trick in the world.” It turned out it wasn’t a trick and certainly not the best trick and we apologize to those involved in the still unsolved criminal case.
In the March 17, 2001 edition, a guest columnist provided approximately 20 links to an off-shore casino and sports-betting site. We received no income from this and deleted it right around the time we figured out we weren’t getting any money.
In the December 25, 2002 “Christmas” edition, we mistakenly referred to Santa Claus as “Satan’s Claws.” That was a spelling error forced upon us by unknown spirits and we have since moved from that spooky house up the lane, by the woods.
In the July 4, 2006 edition, we just totally messed up. The whole issue was filled with errors, bad advice about fireworks, improper anime using fireworks in a way that was correctly described by readers as “bad” or “not safe.” Really that edition should have been scrapped but we had our first advertiser in it (Black Cat Firecrackers®) and since the off-shore casino thing fell through we were desperate and “sore afeared” that we let it stay up. It is still available on Internet Archive, we think. Don’t read it.
In the February 19, 2010 edition, we suggested ways to use rabbits in magic effects that readers found “unacceptable” and “gross.” To be fair, it wasn’t our writing. This was during our cut-and-paste just anything we found that had the word magic in it. We learned there is a difference between the kind of magic Magicians do and the kind of magic performed by sorcerers.
In the September 3, 2015 “Back to School” edition, we incorrectly suggested that “all milk but skim milk” contained unknown ingredients sure to give consumers an unattractive humpback. This was based on our misreading of an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, “Are Kids Putting too Much in their Backpacks?” We have apologized to dairy farmers through our other website, InsideUdders.com.
In the May 13, 2018 edition, we provided instructions to build an effect called “The Time Travel Machine.” Unfortunately, it turned out not to be a trick but an actual time travel machine. We have apologized to the Large Hadron Collider scientists and the Thompson family (including the darling little Emily) through our other website, Inside DIY Quantum Physics Machines.com.
In an upcoming edition (November 23, 2019), we will make a mistake involving the importance of oxygen for various activities (primarily breathing and allowing the propagation of fire – especially when it comes to lighting Black Cat Firecrackers®). We will regret the error.
To All our Magic Friends, We Wish You a Happy New Year!
2019 is upon us and we thought it would nice to look back on 1926. We intend for this to be a yearly feature but didn’t think of it until now so we are starting with earlier years and working our way up to the present day. We figure by the time the sun burns out, we will have matched the year in review with the previous year. We’re happy that we will have completed our task but a little melancholy about the end of the universe as we know it. And we know it as having a heat and energy-radiating center that affects our planet according to the portion of the globe facing the center.
But we began this post with the word “Happy” and we should continue in that vein.
Unfortunately the year 1926 wasn’t good for the magic world. Harry Houdini died just after 1 pm on October 31st of that year in Detroit. See the New York Times coverage of the event here. He did not pass performing the Water Torture Cell (aka “Upside Down”) but from a vicious (or as our spellcheck suggested “viscous”) attack in Montreal. His remains were moved to New York for burial days later. Some historians suggested he was being silenced by agents for Spiritualists. Houdini was intensifying his efforts to expose the fraudulent practitioners. Others suggested it was an accident, still others believe it was just an an attempt to humiliate Houdini gone wrong. Whilst talking with the students, Houdini accepted a challenge from one of them to be punched to demonstrate his excellent musculature. The student punched the great magician before he could get ready and continued punching until Houdini asked him to stop.
The punch(es) may or may not have ruptured an appendix that may or may not already been infected, thus spreading infection through his peritoneum and leading to his eventual death. He allegedly left an estate worth $6,743,910 in today’s figures. According to a November 1st edition of The Montreal Gazette published ten-years after his death, Houdini’s spirit could not be encountered by séances attended by his wife or brother.
For all things Houdini, we turn always to Jon Cox’ incredible site, Wild About Harry.
So, that was one of the big news magic items during that year. Earlier in October, 1926, the film The Magician was released. It was panned for being too gross as one would expect when one is dealing with using the blood of maidens to make life; with the central character being a magician and a surgeon. Critics have later praised the film for its innovative storytelling and cinematography. We haven’t seen it yet and understand at least one of the scenes is “unwatchable” for the gruesome transformation of a character bitten by a venomous snake. We’re not big on watching others in pain, so we might fast forward through this section and determine later whether it is essential to the plot. The movie had nothing to do with Houdini – who scrupulously avoided drinking or obtaining blood from maidens and stuff.
Carter the Great published one of his greatest posters, “Carter Accused of Witchcraft.” The poster is remarkable and dark. It features the gallows on which he will be executed and text giving us hope that the great magician will cheat death and perhaps prove he is not using witchcraft. We would have included the image for you to peruse but the only link we could find was from an eBay auction and we have a policy about endorsing products for sale – especially where we don’t get a cut.
“Professor” Joseph Dunninger published his Popular Magic Book in 1926. The book cost fifty-cents. In today’s money that would be $6.78 plus shipping. Things are not as cheap as they once were. It used to be we could buy just about everything (except for TVs) cheaper than we can now. If we had a time machine, we would use it to go buy things in 1926 and tell Houdini to avoid Montreal. We would sell the things we brought back through the time vortex and feel good that we helped Houdini live a long and valuable life.
That’s a question we are trying to answer as we develop, possibly for sale, an effect that could be popular with close-up magicians. Because that’s what we do, close-up magic, it seemed natural to make commercial offerings of the tricks we do for audiences in the amateur rooms at The Magic Castle.
So we have this trick that audiences seem to enjoy and it really just depends on sleight of hand invented by our forbears. We don’t know who invented the classic force – perhaps Johann Hofzinser back in the 1800s or someone more recent. We want to credit the right person and so we search. We can tell you one thing for sure, do not look up “Classic Force” on Google from your work computer. Wow. There is something not right with this world.
The second part of the trick involves a false pass of an object. Who invented that? Maybe one of Hofzinser’s friends or students or maybe it was T. Nelson Downs (“The King of Koins”). We want to credit this move to its rightful owner as well.
But inventing a trick means more than giving credit to the right person. We found we needed to write instructions for magicians wishing to practice the effect and performing it to maximum effect. We are not big on giving a link to the magician and letting him or her find the instruction video on-line. It seems impersonal and an easy way out. We’re more of a UF Grant kind of organization with illustrated instructions covering each move and describing how to perform said move.
Let’s assume we get past the crediting and the instruction writing, the next step will be to come up with a name that grabs users’ attention. We never had a name for this trick. It was always just the effect we working on. We’ll have to work on that as well.
Finally, we have to write ad copy that doesn’t mislead potential buyers. We want to be honest about the effect to be presented from the audience’s point of view, the skills necessary to perform the effect, any angle issues, and whether the performer will need to practice to perform.
Let’s assume we get the ad copy correct and have no blatant lies in our listing, we will have to get friends and associates to write one sentence, objective recommendations for the effect. We know some influential people and maybe they would be kind enough to write such praise. We’d like some of the praise to follow the current trend of “fooled me badly,” “the kind of trick you will carry always” “I was floored” “Not since biblical times has such a miracle been seen,” “I rank the inventions as Sliced Bread, [the yet to be named trick] and the cotton gin,” “if I could buy only one trick that I would use constantly it would be …” “the finest trick of its kind anywhere” or the ever popular “I wish this wasn’t being sold so I could be the only one who had it.”
Then comes the pricing. We don’t know how to price an ordinary deck of cards (with which one can perform second deals) and the special gimmicks that make the trick possible. We’re thinking the cards could be supplied by the performer so we would only need to send the gimmicks. They don’t weight too much – maybe a couple of ounces but they are specially made and cost us about $14 each. So we’re looking at a total cost of $30 or so. By checking mark-up of similar effects, we figure that means we should charge anywhere from $45 to $75.
Of course the second we launch the effect, we’ll learn from the various forums that the trick was actually invented by someone either a year ago or back in the 1920s. We’ll feel terrible, apologize and take it off the market.
That’s just how we work. We believe in not stealing effects, even if it is done without actual knowledge. We don’t steal jokes either. In fact, we have a non-stealing philosophy about most things – we’ll steal a kiss from our sweetie or steal fake fruit from a movie set if the script calls for it – but otherwise we’re this side of taking things we don’t own outright.
We wonder how so many magicians can invent new tricks, take the criticism of theft that comes from the magic public; or worse, failure to properly credit the innovators who invented parts of the trick. They must have iron constitutions. It would send us into a shame spiral – and not a good kind where you’re ashamed that you won a beauty contest over someone who came in second only because she couldn’t remember a good answer to one of those questions asked by celebrity judges. A bad kind of shame spiral where you doubt everything you have ever done and assume no one like you.
We thought about copyrighting, patenting or trademarking the trick to prevent theft – assuming we are the inventor of the trick but our research shows that none of these intellectual property laws would help. Copyright goes to the expression of an idea on paper or in action. We could copyright our instructions but someone could come along with a new set of instructions and avoid a copyright claim. A trademark only protects indications of origin of the effect. As long as the thief differentiated the source with a new trademark or name for the trick – which right now would be easy because it doesn’t have a name – he or she would be scott-free. A patent would not help because we would have to expose the secret to the patent office and to the world. There would be nothing to sell, the secret would be out. There are plenty of examples of patented magic tricks. We would normally link such things but do not want to give away secrets — even very old ones.
Maybe we’ll keep the trick in our act, teach magicians we know if they ask, and watch as they improve upon it in their performances. No shame spiral is likely and pride is almost certain to come.
If you see us and want to know the trick (assuming you are a bona fide magician) we’ll share it with you if it isn’t already obvious from our performance. Sharing is caring and we care deeply about our wonderful art and the friends we have met. The same friends we would have imposed upon to write glowing reviews such as “I literally lost control of my bodily functions upon seeing the effect,” or “this is the kind of trick with which you can start a cult.”