Houdini, Voltaire and Fiction

houdini water torture cellAsk anyone who knows us – the real, deep down us – and you will learn that we love two things: Houdini and History.

Do not pay attention to the other things they say about us.  They’re just haters and most of those things allegedly captured on video tape are not crimes anymore and the tape is grainy and they did take place, technically, within International Waters (as defined before the startling and over-reaching 1982 United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea).

The Confabulist, a new book by Steven Galloway mixes history and Houdini together into a literary frappé with sprinkles of mystery and murder.  As much as we love history, you would imagine we love historical fiction.  And as much as we love Houdini, you would bet good money – perhaps your own – that we love fiction about Houdini.  Yet your imagination and betting prowess would be in error.

Myths, Voltaire once wrote, surround history like flies about a discarded meal.

Actually, the quote in French was, “Nous cherchons tous le bonheur, mais sans savoir où, comme les ivrognes qui cherchent leur maison, sachant confusément qu’ils en ont une.

And actually, that translates roughly to “We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one.”

But we only know one of Voltaire’s sayings and few people who know French, so we use the French quote we have memorized and attribute different meanings depending on the need.

We view Houdini’s legacy as sacrosanct – a wonderful word taken from “sacro” meaning “sugary” and “sanct” meaning “smell” thus a sugary smelling thing – and do not enjoy revisionist versions of his remarkable life told with reckless disregard for the truth as we choose to believe it.  We have few immutable things in our life.  We never use a “Family Restroom” when alone, we use new dental floss every time we floss and we do not make up stories about Houdini.

All that being said, we are looking forward to reading this new book.  It seems like our cup of tea – because we like our tea to be sugary and smell good – thus hiding the bitter taste of our hypocrisy and the stench of our self-righteous claims to be immutable.

According to Everyday E Book, “Galloway approaches his story as though it were a magician’s act, structuring the novel with the four elements of a trick (effect, method, misdirection, and reconstruction). In addition to sections from Houdini’s perspective, The Confabulist employs a first-person narrator, the fictional Martin Strauss. As the novel begins, Martin is an elderly man diagnosed with a rare brain disorder that causes him to recall false memories. We quickly learn that he is the man who killed Houdini — or, as he tells it, the man who killed Houdini twice. This intriguing hook sets up the central mystery of the story.”

We love books about Houdini, history and rare brain disorders even if it is a work of fiction.  In fact, this plot sounds a lot like a novel we are writing at this very moment about Houdini who is in a history class, studying rare brain disorders.  We call it, Houdini and History’s Head Case.  It is just a working title and we have not written too much yet but we have a dynamite back cover quote we will attribute to Voltaire.

Check out Mr. Galloway’s book on Everyday E Book for yourself.

Houdini’s Relationship with Judaism

Inside Magic Image of Harry HoudiniJoshua Spivak has a great article in today’s Jewish Daily Forward, “The True Story of Harry Houdini’s Tefillin.”

While researching a totally unrelated topic by reading through old newspapers, he came across an article about Harry Houdini’s death.  That led him to further research into the newspapers of the time and into an interesting – if occasionally contradictory – depiction of Houdini’s relationship with the Jewish community and his Jewish practices.

One article, collected the perspective of folks who claimed to be former Wisconsin neighbors and friends, claimed that: “They know him as a man devoutly religious, who, wherever his performance brought him, carried his phylacteries and mezuzahs, Jewish creedal symbols, with him…The mezuzahs, strips of parchment with scriptural passages encased in tin, considered effective in warding off evil, he is said to have nailed to the door of the hotel room wherever he lodged for the night, on the true orthodox Jewish fashion. And the phylacteries, little leathern boxes with scriptural parchment recognized as charms, he bound to his forehead and left arm each morning during his prayers, his friends declare.”

Joshua Spivak is a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in N.Y., and blogs at http://recallelections.blogspot.com/

Breaking: Fox Greenlights 10-Episodes of  Houdini & Doyle

Inside Magic Image of Houdini and DoyleAccording to Deadline.com, Fox Television has ordered ten episodes of “supernatural crime” series Houdini and Doyle based on the real-life friendship between Harry Houdini Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The two characters “join forces to investigate crimes with a supernatural slant.”

Houdini is the debunker and Doyle believes in spooks.

Some are describing it as an X-Files-esque take on two great historical figures.

We will keep you apprised as we learn more.

 

Escape Artist Andrew Basso Profiled

Inside Magic Image of Andrew BassoThe Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a great profile piece on Italian escapologist Andrew Basso today.  Mr. Basso is receiving raves for his twist on Houdini’s Water Torture Cell escape performed as his turn in The Illusionists nationwide tour.

How did he get into magic?  To impress mom.

“If you knew my mother, you would say she’s Morticia [Addams],” he said.  “She was very serious, no smiles. But when the circus came, she watched the magician’s act, and laughed out loud. I thought, Aha! He has the power to make my mother laugh. I want to be like him.”

He has worked escapes professionally since 2003 and has brought audiences to the edge of their seats and the limits of their composure town after town during The Illusionists’ tour.

Mr. Basso can hold his breath for about four minutes but aims to be out of the restraints and back to breathing air in two minutes.  He has had a couple of close-calls.

“It was this big opening, Sydney Opera House, and I was pumped — I just couldn’t get my adrenaline down,” he said.  “After 2 minutes and 30 seconds, it was taking longer than normal, and my guys knew that I was in trouble, so they got me out.”

He was also burned when performing an escape on live Italian TV.  He was locked in a wooden coffin rigged with explosives and severely burned over his face and hands.  “I haven’t done that trick again, but I would, but different,” he said. “I learned something from it.”

Be sure to check out his incredible website here.

Check out The Illusionists’ website to get updates on their tour schedule.

Houdini Museum Announces Hollywood Tour

Inside Magic Image of The Grim Game PosterInside Magic Favorites Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz  will be traveling west to lead tour of Hollywood Houdini Sites on what would have been the great magician’s 141st Birthday, March 24.

Ms. Dietrich and Mr. Brookz recently uncovered Houdini’s long lost film The Grim Game are in Hollywood as special guests of Turner Classic Movies to introduce the world premiere of the film.

Those in the know consider The Grim Game the best of Houdini’s five feature films but it has not been seen by the public for more than 96 years.  Thanks to Ms. Dietrich and Mr. Brookz, the film will be featured as part of the finale of the TCM Film Festival, March 29.

After the Hollywood showing, it will be exhibited at The Directors Guild in New York City and then in Scranton, Pennsylvania – the home of the incredible Houdini Museum.  Turner Classic Movies intends to broadcast the film on their cable channel later in the year.

The Hollywood tour will begin on March 24 at 10 AM in front of the Hollywood Heritage Museum at 2100 Highland Ave. The museum was once part of the Famous Players-Lasky Studio where Houdini made The Grim Game.  Dorothy Dietrich will perform magic for those in attendance and then she and Mr. Brookz will join John Cox for a private Hollywood tour.  Mr. Cox is the host of the most important Houdini website in the universe, Wild About Harry.

The Houdini Museum has the largest and only continuing traveling exhibit on Houdini, “Houdini Road Show,” that has finally all come back from being on display at the Seminole Coconut Creek Casino in West Palm Beach.

Ms. Dietrich and Mr. Dick Brookz are also currently starring in Psychic Theater’s Haunted Seance!  The show is the longest running performance of its kind in history – more than 10 years at the Houdini Museum Theater.

Visit The Houdini Museum at http://www.houdini.org.