Inside Magic Letters to the Editer

Inside Magic Image of Attractive Reader Showing ShockIt 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 editor@insidemagic.com.  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.

 

Editor’s Response:

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.

“Pick it Up, Please” was part of the whole Litter Lyrics Craze that lasted from August 1, 1972 through December 13, 1972.  Although it was short-lived and rarely recalled these days, it was an important movement in the industry.  We recorded the 45s (there was no LP) in Detroit at Motown Records “Trash Heap” mobile studios – so named for the campaign Barry Gordy and the studio launched to both take advantage of the Litter Lyrics Craze and to clean the city.  We actually came up with the beat and lyrics whilst picking up tin cans (not the modern aluminum version; which are much lighter and less likely to cut someone if not properly handled) with Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.  We weren’t with them per se but on the same crew.  The funk/bass was based on Stevie’s “You Haven’t Done Nothing” that he was working on and would later incorporate the Jackson Five in the song.  We went up when he went down but the beats are about the same.  We asked Stevie later if he minded if we used that funk procession and he shook his head.

We never spoke with Marvin Gaye but did speak with a guy who did and he said he was a great guy.

 

Dear Editer:

Why do you have so many tpyos in your text?  Don’t you read what you write?

Editor’s Response:

Excellent point.  We really should be more careful.  Most of our text is written whilst we are traveling from gig to gig in a poorly suspended circus wagon on a Sanyo MBC 550 (Double Sided Disc Drive) with 256k of memory running the latest version of WordStar 1.25.  As you likely know, as you seem familiar with limited functionality in some of the older programs, WordStar 1.25 did not have a spelling or grammar editor.  So, what we do, is take the text and translate it through Google into “English” from “Bad English.”   We then publish the converted version.  Sometimes, we get tired and the road, she is bumpy and winding, and we do not act as completely as we should.  We watch the flowers and trees from our path along the freshly hewn mud tracks, practice our back palm and give thanks to the Almighty for all that has been given us.  We beg your pardon for taking this respite in our editing to enjoy nature, sunsets, and the gentle rhythm of the wagon as we head to our next performance.

Still, as Hank Aaron once said, “being lazy isn’t a job.”

He was of course correct.  We should always strive to do our best, swing for the fences, have abnormally large wrists and forearms, and leave enjoying life to moments when our work is complete.

Thank you for the shame.  We needed that.  We were starting to feel better and less regretful for those errors made on purpose or by accident.  Your note brought us right back to reality.  Being lazy isn’t a job, indeed.

Still there is a part of us that enjoys the quiet ride through the meadows and the watching without comment the change of seasons against the setting sun as we head to our next job.

 

Dear Tim:

I love your website.  I wish there was more about when magician’s died.  Could you set up a special page that had the exact time and death (maybe even the cause of death) for every prominent magician?  We can start with one, Chung Ling Soo a/k/a Billy Robinson died while performing the bullet catching trick in England.  There must be others.  We’ll keep reading and looking forward to this feature.

Editor Responds:

Thank you for loving our website.  While the Editor is related to “Tim” he is not “Tim” but the flattery is sufficient to end the discussion right there.  Your idea about a special page for the exact time and cause of death brings the shade of concern into our room.  Why would you want this?  What happened in your life that causes you to want such information or to want this information from this otherwise fun-loving website?  Who has hurt you child?  Have you lost someone in your family, witnessed such a gruesome and unexpected accident, or do you just love numbers?  If the latter, we may reconsider our prohibition and  just publish the date of death for those magicians with a prime number in their last year or full date of death.

When we first started Inside Magic in the late 1940s, the world was just coming back to its pre-war state.  We had a job with one of the largest magic factories in the Midwest and carried our  lunch bucket to the “duck pan” part of the mill where we pressed, turned and finished duck, chick and chicken pan tricks.   We had pride in our work and friends.  Some of the friends returned from the Great War maimed or psychologically damaged.  We vowed we would never celebrate the death of any magician or magician’s assistant.  We might mention that it had happened but our site would not be a graveyard for those wishing to visit, honor, or even take vengeance against the dead.

Years passed and the other modern magic newsletters (this was before the web) had in memorial pages listing the recent passing of every magician in every far region of our vast world.  We felt their work was sufficient and since our heart was not in discussing the passing of former friends and yes, lovers, we kept to our award-winning stories of interest to the Professional Magician.

So, just as we wouldn’t include information about Lindbergh landing in Paris at the end of his solo trip, we won’t discuss the passing of great magicians.  It’s just policy.  May we direct you to other sites established for just that purpose, Dead Magicians.com; Magicians who used to be alive.com; and Magic performers who perform no more because they dead.com.

Magicians, History and Corn Dogs

Kellar's Latest IllusioinYou can ask anyone, what does Inside Magic like?

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.

Houdini: The Pinball Game. Heaven on Four Legs

Inside Magic Image of Houdini Pinball Back GlassThere are three things we love: Magic, Houdini and Pinball Machines.

Imagine our glee to learn that our triad of triumph has been combined in one device.

The brand new Houdini Pinball machine from American Pinball Inc. in Streamwood, Illinois is a trifecta in our books.   It comes with special Houdini-esque obstacles and features that just makes us smile like a fool in a ball pit.

Consider:

  • Three Magnets to Control Houdini’s Magic (Remember the Thurston one had one magnet)
  • Over 20″ Launch into Houdini’s Steamer Trunk (Three more inches than a normal launch into a steamer trunk in non-pinball games)
  • Animated & Interactive Theatre Marquee (The glass is like a show.  No wooden numbers turning with a clunk and bump)
  • API Theater Stage  (The API Theater was a fine theater on the Bilbox Vaudeville Circuit later taken over by the forerunner of the Keith system)
  • Real Wood Laser Engraved Planchette (Like at the country fair where they carve your family name except this is for disembodied spirits through an Ouija board)
  • Theatre Spotlights (Of course.  Always shining from the front to enhance angles)
  • Custom Padlock & Gear Bumper Tops w/ Chains (Our first movie  made in Hollywood was coincidentally called “Custom Padlock and Gear Bumper Tops and Chains)
  • 6 Balls (because they are related to Houdini, likely larger than other pinballs)
  • 5 Multiballs (This is a quantum anomaly or simply five balls.  We prefer to think the former)
  • 10 Stage Modes including Straight Jacket Multiball (If you have never played pinball in a straitjacket you don’t know what you’re missing – but that’s okay because there are probably few that have so it’s not like you’re being left out of some really cool  group)
  • 3 Magician Modes (What? Who else would they put with Houdini? Kellar, maybe.  Dante, c’mon. Carrot Top, not even a magician)
  • 1 Master Magician Mode (You get to play as the Master Magician plays – includes cape between well-manicured fingers the bumper buttons)
  • 5 Secret Mission Combo Modes (Likely as H.H.)
  • 5 Houdini Silent Movie Modes (We would totally do voice-overs for the silent dialogue to compliment our playing)
  • 5 Jail Escape Hurry Ups (In our book, every Jail Escape is a Hurry Up.  We reviewed Houdini’s notes and found very little evidence that he trifled during any escape, especially a Jail Escape)
  • 1 Video Mode  (As far as we know, there was no video back in Houdini’s time – maybe he did a YouTube that we didn’t see yet)
  • Milk Can Playfield Multiplier

Imagine a game without a Milk Can Multiplier?  You cannot, can you?  It’s impossible.  Houdini wrote to his brother Theo “Dash” Weiss in 1919 “Now that I have the Milk Can and understand it’s multiplying effect, I cannot imagine the world without it.”  We have no word what response Theo provided his brother but likely it was along the lines of “Nope, I sure can’t, brother!”

The device is so pretty and so perfect, we just want to touch it and buy it.  It is more likely that we will touch it one day but not own it so soon.  Our magic friend Keiser got to try it out at the Arcade Expo in beautiful Banning California this weekend.  As he spoke about the Houdini machine and unrolled the special poster he brought us, we smiled beyond capacity; leading to slight tears to the corners of our well-chapsticked lips.  We were so enthralled, we worried that our special anti-enthralling medications were not working or, at best, overwhelmed.  But it was apparent, the medication was just whelmed – not overly or underly.

The machine cost a mere $7,000.00 USD ($6,999).  At $7.50 a show (assuming a complete sell-out of the back of the room Svengali Decks and knock-off Bullet Catch Trick with Nerf Guns), it would only take us a bunch of shows and lots of balloon animals (and we can only do poodles and giraffes (or poodles who look like giraffes or swords), to make enough to buy one.

Consequently, we are hoping one of our readers will decide to contribute the machine to us and perhaps through in some AC Generator wiring so we can play indoors.  We were going to do a Go-Fun-Me page but when we went to the site, it didn’t seem like a place one could raise money.  It seemed a little provocative.  We erased it from the computer and were thankful we didn’t use our own computer to search and find the site.

See or play the game, we would love to hear your experiences – and perhaps touch your hand to get some of your special luck.

We thank Keiser for his poster and his constant ability to fool us and be patient with our bad acting when we pretend to know exactly what he has done.

Check out the Pinball Machine with Everything here: https://www.american-pinball.com/games/houdini/; download the tech details here: https://www.american-pinball.com/games/houdini/docs/Houdini-Service-Manual.pdf; and the promotional materials here: https://www.american-pinball.com/games/houdini/Houdini-Pinball-Flyer.pdf

 

 

Houdini Museum Launches New Houdini-Opoly Board Game!

From Houdini OpolyInsideMagic Favorite The Houdini Museum in Scranton launches its newest venture with a big social media boom. Dick Brookz and the lovely Dorothy Dietrich not only run the Nation’s finest Houdini Museum, but have now announced brought to life their vision for a board game called Houdini Opoly.  Mr.  Brookz says he and museum co-operator Dorothy Dietrich came up with the idea about two years ago based on the museum’s popular tours. “We go through Houdini’s life in a circle from beginning to end. Well guess what, that’s how a board game works.”
Like the other “opoloy” sounding boardgame based on ancient New Jersey shore, the Houdini Opoly features game board property is a place significant to Houdini’s life ranging from his birthplace in Budapest, Hungary to his burial place in New York City.  There are even two northeastern Pennsylvania in the game: One is Welsh Brothers Circus where he found his most steady work in the 19th century. The other, the Houdini museum in Scranton.  Yay!
Where can one get  ‘Houdini Opoly’ you ask?  Well, Mr. Brookz and Ms. Dietrich launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of the board game. While the goal for game players is to accumulate as many Houdini properties as possible using game pieces, dice and deeds, Mr. Brookz says he and Ms. Dietrich are striving for something much more. “The goal of the game is to get Houdini in people’s houses around the world. The goal of the game is to create a collectible.”
The magic couple think Houdini would have loved the game.  “I think he’d be all for it because he loved publicity,” said Mr. Brookz who added that the Kickstarter goal is to reach at least $8,000 to produce upwards of 1,000 editions of ‘Houdini Opoly’. Click here to learn more about the campaign.
Click here to Inside Magic’s Favorite Houdini Museum in the world! www.houdini.org

 

Houdini Month at University of Texas

Inside Magic Image of Houdini and DoyleThe 90th anniversary of Houdini’s passing will be commemorated this month at the Harry Ransom Center at the beautiful University of Texas in Austin.

Curators have assembled restraints, love letters, scripts, press kits and handwritten descriptions of magic tricks for the very special exhibit.

Eric Colleary, Cline curator of Theater and Performing Arts, said Houdini stood out because of how he identified himself.

“Houdini was different than many others during his time for a number of reasons,” Colleary said. “He considered himself an illusionist, rather than a magician.”

The exhibit will include pieces related to Houdini’s debunking of spiritualism with a special presentation by Austin-based theater company The Hidden Room titled,  Houdini Speaks to the Living. Based on correspondence, essays, diaries and photographs from the Ransom Center, the performance will pit Houdini against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the issue of spiritualism.

And there is even more.  The center will screen The Grim Game and a hold a cooking class based on the great performer’s favorite foods.

Magicians and chefs will learn to make chicken paprikash with fennel potatoes; Hungarian goulash with spatzel; and custard bread pudding with cherry sauce.  We knew we liked Houdini but now we realize we would have loved to eat dinner with him.  In fact, when we were younger, we were part of two person telepathy team known as Goulash and Spatzel.  We were trying to break into the niche market of Hungarian food lovers who enjoyed poorly rehearsed mentalism routines.  Surprisingly, it was not a success, but we ate well; so that was good.

From our perspective, it is heart-warming (in a good way, not like an organ transplant way) that Houdini continues to inspire and intrigue the general public.

“I’m very interested in illusionists’ performances and their ability to captivate and confuse audiences with acts that seem beyond the realm of possibility,” communication studies junior Alyssa Hollander said. “I even subscribed to a magic subreddit because I wanted to learn how to do card tricks.”

“Programs like these are not only fun and engaging, but they also help us to understand different facets of Houdini’s life and career that we may not have realized before,” Colleary said.

Check out the Ransom Center’s website for all of the details.