Thursday, March 14, 2024

HARRY HOUDINI: On the Motion Picture Screen

Magician and Illusionist HARRY HOUDINI made a claim that, if it was possible, he would communicate from the other side on THE  ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH, Halloween, October 31, 1926. 

Harry's wife, Bess, would attempt to communicate with her husband for ten-years on the anniversary of his death and then she stopped. As I write these words, there are still people attempting, for their own reasons, to reach Harry Houdini every year on October 31st. 

This is a motion picture and television history blog and that is the main area of my concentration.

Harry Houdini appearing just as Houdini, made one cliff-hanger serial, and four full length feature films in a movie career that included forming his own motion picture company. The cliff-hanger and one of the four feature length pictures were science fiction. The other three feature length movies were basically mysteries.

BUT, come to think of it, the science fiction feature film was connected to SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE. Who wasn't just the creator of "Dr. Watson's" roommate, but the 1926 novel, "The Land of Mist", featuring "Professor George Edward Challenger", of Conan Doyle's, 1912 novel, "The Lost World".

On July 2, 1953, producer George Pal,  released his motion picture biography of Harry Houdini, starring husband and wife, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. I look at that feature film in my article "Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh: Their 5-Motion Pictures Together" found at:

George Pal's piece of "Hollywood Biographical Fantasy", was loosely based upon the 1928, "Houdini His Life Story", by Harry Kellock, and remained the movie goer and television viewer's only motion picture source on the life of the illusionist for over two-decades. 

That would change on October 8, 1976, when the made-for-television, "The Great Houdini" aka: "The Great Houdini's", from "ABC Circle Films", was first shownI am not implying that this fictional version of the magician's life with Paul Michael Glaser portraying Harry, and Sally Struthers portraying Bess, was any better than George Pal's.

Although we did see the missing, from the George Pal feature film, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, portrayed by British actor Peter Cushing, Bess's alcoholism, and Harry's affair with magician assistant Daisy White, portrayed by Adrienne  Barbeau. 

It should be mentioned that future film-maker Tim Burton, seen below at 13-years-of- age, did make a 4-minute short, "Houdini: The Untold Story", in 1971. The short was a school project at Luther Burbank Middle School, in Burbank, California.

There were later Houdini biographical movies, mostly on television. Along with cameo appearances with different actors portraying Harry Houdini in movies not about the magician, but that is for my reader to look for, if so inclined.

Erik Weisz was born on March 24, 1874, in Budapest, Kingdom of Hungary, in Austria-Hungary. He was the son of Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weisz and Cecilia Steiner. On July 3, 1878, Erik, his pregnant mother, and four brothers arrived in the United States. The now Weiss family joined Rabbi Weiss in Appleton, Wisconsin, where he was the rabbi for the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation. Their time in Wisconsin was not good for the family and eventually they moved to New York City. At the age of nine, Erik Weiss calling himself "Ehrich, Prince of the Air", was already a trapeze artist, and a long distance runner.

Wilhelmina Beatrice "BessRahner Houdini was born on January 23, 1876, in Brooklyn, before it was consolidated into a borough of New York City. Her father was cabinet maker, Gebhard Rahner, and her mother was Balbina Bugel. They were Catholic, and after her death on February 11, 1943    Bess Houdini's family refused to have her buried in the Jewish cemetery beside her husband and she lays in a Catholic cemetery.

Bess Rahner was working on Coney Island in a song and dance group called "The Floral Sisters". It was there that magician and escape artist, Ferenc Dezső Weisz, Erik's younger brother known as Theodore "Dash" Hardeen, courted her. 

However, Bess fell in love not with "Theo", but Harry. The two would be married on June 22, 1894. Due to a medical condition with Bess, the two never were able to have children. However, the year after their marriage, they were performing their signature act:

Below, in a this dated 1907 photograph, left to right are Cecilia Weiss, Harry, and Bess.

I want to clear one misconception, thank you to those fictional biographical motion pictures starting with George Pal's classic, misquoting writers, and even magicians, who have it wrong. Sadly, Harry's mother had passed away on July 17, 1913, BUT that did not trigger his interest in spiritualism or start a quest to debunk fake mediums. Erik's interest in spiritualism started at the age of 11, in 1875. When he attended a series of seances in the families attempt to contact his recently deceased half-brother Herman. This interest in contacting the dead remained with Harry throughout his life, but as in the Pal feature. Having his actual great grief over his mother's death as the cause of him beginning to expose fake Mediums, makes for a better screenplay.

I am not going into any more specific biographical material, there are many biographies, and other works, mentioning Houdini, including Harry Kellock's book based upon his interviews with Bess Houdini.   As I have already stated, I am interested in his motion picture work and any stories revolving around his films.

At this point, I want to mention an excellent source on Harry Houdini, the website "Wild About Harry", by John Cox,


As a part of his vaudeville show, Houdini started to show his audiences short films he had made of his public, daylight, escapes. The first known film was from 1906, "Houdini Defeats  Hackenschmidt". Georg Karl Julius Hackenschmidt is recognized as "The World's FIRST HEAVYWEIGHT Wrestling Champion". However, this film is considered "Lost" and although we have the title, we do not know what it actually shows.

The next film short I want to mention has a little bit of date controversy connected to it. It was either his second dramatic film, or was it his first?

Merveilleux Exploits du Célèbre Houdini à Paris (Marvellous Exploits of the Famous Houdini in Paris)

My reader should note the date in Harry Houdini's handwriting on the above still, "1901". The controversy is that the actual accepted release date of this short film wasn't until 1909. However, if it was actually shot in 1901. That would make the illusionist one of the world's first motion picture makers.

The solution to the puzzlement is found on the website, "The Houdini File", at:

The conventional wisdom is that the film - a short - was actually made in 1909, not 1901, and released by Lux Film. If 1901 were true it would place Harry in the vanguard of pioneer filmmakers, right up there with with George Méliès, the Lumière brothers and the Pathés.
Once again, Harry is suspected of being either a liar or a dumbbell. 
We hypothesized that he was neither, and that the fault was probably on our end. So we got in touch with our friends at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY, one of the world's great film libraries. They were able to track down the research notes of Bret Wood, a film director who produced the Houdini videos distributed by Kino International, which include this section of Merveilleux Exploits.
According to Wood, the first part of the film was indeed shot - probably on a Pathé set - in 1901. But he says the film was re-shot in 1909, this time outdoors in the real world of Paris. Wood quotes a contemporaneous newspaper account and French sources. (The complete film, with all titles and scenes intact, appears to be lost.)

The almost made version of:


I turn to biographer Kenneth Silverman's, 1996, "HOUDINI!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, American Self-Liberator, Europes Eclipsing Sensation, World's Handcuff King, and Prison Breaker", as quoted, see reference #65, on the "Wikipedia" website at:

According to Silverman, Harry Houdini was offered the role of "Captain Nemo", in a 1909, French production, of French author Jules Verne's, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", but he turned it down. 

Kenneth Silverman may have been incorrect, or the year and country for the motion picture, misstated on the website.

We know that in 1907, the aforementioned French film maker, George Méliès's, "20000 lieues sous les mars", was released by his "Star Film Company", and is considered the first film version of Verne's novel. So, if the stated off was correct, Harry Houdini's, French feature film, would have become the second filmed version of Verne's novel. 

Returning to John Cox's, "Wild About Houdini", we get clarification, and confirmation that such an offer was made to Harry Houdini, not right after the French film's release, but six years later in 1915, and in the United States, not France

February 20, 1915 
Harry Houdini was approached by the Universal this week to appear in its production of "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea." When it came to the money talk Houdini took the film men off their feet upon demanding $40,000. 
In explaining why he asked the big money Houdini explained his vaudeville prestige would be damaged by appearing on the screen. Houdini offered to be handcuffed and then placed in a coffin and buried underneath the sea by divers, all in full view of the camera.  
The offer made Houdini, the film men stated, was the same as Annette Kellerman's salary, which they said was $400 weekly with a small percentage of the profits.

Annette Kellerman was a professional Australian swimmer who became a vaudeville, and motion picture actress. She was also one of the first women to wear a one-piece bathing suit, instead of the accepted pantaloons, see her picture below. She also was the first major actress to appear nude in a "Hollywood Production", 1916's, "A Daughter of the Gods". Kellerman started her own line of ladies swimwear, and her on-screen swim acts, of course, predated Esther Williams.

The money Houdini asked for, was the real reason Harry Houdini did not appear as "Captain Nemo" in 1916's, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea".

However, between 1909 and 1917, in six different newsreel shorts, images of Harry and Bess, not necessarily performing their acts, were included. These were "Mutual Weekly" #24 and #66, "Animated Weekly" #5, "Pathe News" #27, "Hearst-Vitagraph Pictorial" #27, and "Universal Current Events", #27

Harry Houdini signed a motion picture contract with producer Benjamin Albert "B. A." Rolfe". Whose film company, "Rolfe Photo Plays Inc.", was still located in the State of New Jersey. Although the move of the film industry to Southern California had began earlier.

Above, a 1920 photo of Rolfe, who was also a trumpet player, and a popular 1920's band leader and recording artist, that became a motion picture producer on the side.

THE MASTER MYSTERY Chapter One released on November 18, 1918

Above, the posters for the first three of the fifteen episodes (chapters) of this Science Fiction Cliff-Hanger serial, "The Master Mystery".

However, financial difficulties ended "Rolfe Photoplays Inc", and the serial was distributed by "Octagon Films". Which further would lead to a lawsuit against "Amber Films", and those exhibitors of pirated film titles, as explained in the follow notice.

According to the website the "Century Film Project", the cliff-hanger had to be reconstructed by using the movies mentioned in the above notice.

The basic set-up is described on the website:

Our story begins in the home of Peter Brent (Jack Burns) the President of International Patents, Inc, a company whose nefarious scheme is to buy up the patents for new inventions from lone geniuses and keep them off the market – benefiting those who own existing patents by preventing free competition. Unbeknownst to Brent, one of his employees, Quentin Locke (Houdini) is actually an agent of the Dept. of Justice, investigating on the grounds of the Anti-trust act, and he has wired Brent’s home for sound (most of the first shots we see of Houdini are his reactions to conversations other characters are having in other rooms, which can be a bit confusing). Locke is of course secretly in love with Brent’s daughter Eva (Marguerite Marsh) and Brent is actually having second thoughts about the whole scheme for her sake. Enter the real villains of the movie, Herbert and Paul Balcom (William Pike and Charles E. Graham), a father-and-son team who hope to take over the company (the father) and marry Eva (the son). They also have collaborators in the form of a secretary named Zita Dane (Ruth Stonehouse) who is secretly in love with Locke and a lady-of-leisure with the unlikely moniker of De Luxe Dora (Edna Britton) who “dominates” Paul.

The Villains use both a robot called the "Automaton", and a secret gas weapon known as "The Madagascar Madness".

The Titles of the Chapters were:

  1. Living Death
  2. The Iron Terror
  3. The Water Peril
  4. The Test
  5. The Chemist’s Shop
  6. The Mad Genius
  7. Barbed Wire
  8. The Challenge
  9. The Madagascan Madness
  10. The Binding Ring
  11. The Net
  12. The Death Noose
  13. The Flash of Death
  14. The Tangled Web
  15. Bound at Last; or, Unmasking of the Automaton

If there was a bright side to the failure of "Rolfe Photoplays Inc", it allowed Harry Houdini to get a contract with the "Famous Players-Lasky Corporation", founded on June 28, 1916. He would move his family from the East Coast and rent a home in Laurel Canyon, located in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.

Above the "Lasky Corporation", left to right, Jesse L. Lasky, Adolph Zukor, Samuel Goldwyn, Cecil B. DeMille, and Al Kaufman. They filmed at "Famous Players Fiction Studios", located at 5300 Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. While, Lasky and Zukor quietly bought up the controlling stock in that company and merged their now larger company with the distribution arm called "Paramount", forming "Paramount Pictures". At that time they also acquired the "Artcraft Pictures Group", which was directly connected to Harry Houdini's first motion picture for "Famous Players-Lasky Corporation".

THE GRIM GAME premiering in New York City on August 25, 1919

Harry Houdini, billed as Houdini, portrayed newspaper reporter "Harvey Hanford". Who is in love with "Mary Wentworth", portrayed by Ann Forrest. "Harvey" is framed for murdering "Dudley Cameron", portrayed by Thomas Jefferson. His ward is "Mary", and it's widely known that "Dudley" never approved of her marrying "Harvey". 

Above, "Harvey" is arrested for the murder of "Mary's" guardian. Below, "Mary" visits him in jail.

"Harvey" escapes from jail and goes after the real murderers. He confronts them and this leads to a climatic plane crash, clearing "Harvey" to marry "Mary". 

The above plot may sound simple, but this once thought lost motion picture contains the best examples of escape artist Harry Houdini's art and is considered his best motion picture. Not only does the audience see Houdini the escapist and stunt man, but the aviator as well.  Below are a few stills from the film.

The unexpected always makes for great film. The following link, as of this writing, takes my reader to the unscripted airplane crash scene from "The Grim Game". However, whomever put the video together, got the year wrong, along with the plot.

Houdini is in some of the shots taken in the air, but when he leaves the airplane to go to the second plane in flight, it is stunt man Robert E. Kennedy in the long shots dangling between the two airplanes. As described by Hugh H. Waynne in his 1987, "The Motion Picture Stunt Pilot's and Hollywood's Classic Aviation Movies":

It was a real accident caught on film over the skies of Santa Monica, California. David E. Thompson was flying with stuntman Robert E. Kennedy, doubling Houdini, hanging from the landing gear. As the two Curtiss JBN-4 "Jennys" lined up, a sudden gust of wind pushed Thompson's aircraft into the lower aircraft flown by Christopher Pickup, with his landing gear jamming into the top wing of the lower aircraft. As the two aircraft spun down, Thompson's aircraft flipped upside down while Al Wilson, flying the camera aircraft, followed the tangle of aircraft down.

The following stills are also from "The Grim Game" and illustrate one of Harry Houdini's major escape stunts. There are no stunt men used in this sequence and it was filmed at a Downtown Los Angeles Hotel. 

The set-up has "Harvey" recaptured by the police and placed in a straight jacket.

As the police and others watch, Houdini rolls over the roof's rim dangling by a rope.

Houdini gets himself out of the straight jacket and makes it to the flag pole.

Next, he climbs down the building and escapes, as every one else is inside the hotel going toward the ground floor in the hope of capturing "Harvey" before he's free from the building.

Houdini's second feature film for producer Jesse Lasky was:

TERROR ISLAND released in April 1920

The motion picture was filmed on Santa Catalina Island, Chanel Islands, California. A fishing, tourist and real estate destination since the late 1880's, located off of both Orange and San Diego counties.

Harry Houdini billed as Houdini, portrayed "Harry Harper".

Lila Lee portrayed "Beverly West". Lee was a child star known as "Cuddles", and her movie career spanned 1918 through 1967, for 103-roles.

Wilton Taylor, portrayed the villain, Job Mordaunt". He had just portrayed "Black Dog", in the classic 1920 version of Scottish author Robert Lewis Stevenson's, "Treasure Island". That had starred Lon Chaney in the dual roles of "Blind Pew" and "Merry".

John "Jack" George Bramwell, or Brammell, depending on what he was going by on stage, or in which movie he appeared, portrayed "Ensign Tom Starkey", seen below with Houdini. 

My reader may not be familiar with the name of Eugene Pallette, who portrayed "Guy Mordaunt", and at the time of this motion picture looked like this:

However, when Eugene Pallette portrayed "Alexander Bullock", in the 1936, William Powell and Carol Lombard, comedy classic, "My Man Godfrey". He had his "froggy voice", and looked like the more familiar supporting actor most lovers of classic movies knew him as.

Ed Brady portrayed, depending upon the website, either "Captain Marsh", or "Captain Black". Between 1911 and 1942, character actor Brady appeared in 373 mostly uncredited roles. His films included the 1932 Tom Mix version of "Destry Rides Again", 1933's, "Son of Kong", the Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper, classic 1934, "Treasure Island", 1939's, "Tower of London" starring Basil Rathbone, 1940's, "The Invisible Man Returns", and Cecile B. DeMille's, 1940, "Northwest Mounted Police".

Although the picture moves like a cliff-hanger, note the above publicity sheet that states "NOT A SERIAL". Which was on all promotional material to help sell the movie, because it would not have to stretch out over several weeks at the exhibitor.

Returning to the "Century Film Project", I found this story set up and I advise my reader to keep a straight face when reading this and remembering the pictures year:

Houdini stars as Harry Harper, a treasure-seeker with a heart of gold who hopes to recover a shipwreck full of diamonds using his newly invented submarine in order to take care of local waifs who sell newspapers. Wilton Taylor and Edwin Brady are greedy treasure hunters who are gunning for the same treasure, and they read about Harry’s plans in the newspaper. Lila Lee is Beverly West, the horseback riding love interest who happens to be related to the bad guys and also possesses the map to the wreck in question, sent by her father in a plea for his rescue from island natives who plan to sacrifice him unless she returns a skull-shaped pearl he sent her earlier. Got all that?

"Beverly's" evil relatives set fire to the house to force her to get the pearl and map. Outside are some thugs hired to get both from her, but the horse riding girl leads the thugs, in a car, in a wild chase scene.

"Harry" shows up and saves "Beverly" and the horse from being hit by a speeding train, but shortly afterwards she is kidnapped and taken aboard either "Captain Marsh", or "Captain Black's" ship. "Harry" again appears, having followed the ship in his submarine, fights the entire crew, rescues "Beverly", and swim to his submarine dodging bullets. On board, the two start to flirt, annoying "Ensign Starkey", as the three arrive at "Terror Island".

It should be noted that originally this was a seven reel feature film, but reels #3 and #4 are missing. They cover the escape in the submarine, its underwater sequence, and the recovering of the safe containing diamonds and placing it on the cliff near the native village.

What follows the three's arrival is also the arrival of the villains on their ship. There is a "lustful" native that desires "Beverly", but "Harry" fights him and the two role off a cliff into an underwater fight sequence. "Harry" returns to the island, as the natives are about to sacrifice "Beverly's father Mr. West", portrayed by Fred Turner. The natives accept the pearl from "Beverly", release her father, but decide they still need a sacrifice and choose her. At the same time they capture "Harry" and place him in what appears to be a neck stock device,

For their sacrifice, "Beverly" is placed in the safe and the natives push it off the cliff. Houdini releases himself by using his feet and dives after the safe and "Beverly", but the ships crew, having used diving suits, had planted dynamite around the safe to blow it open to get at the diamonds. "Harry" figures out the combination to the safe, rescues "Beverly", but the dynamite goes off. "Harry" realizing that the diamonds are in the strongbox he saw inside the safe. Now swims back and fights one of the crew that is wearing a diving suit, pulls the crewman's air hose out of his mouth, and takes the strong box from him.

Next, carrying "Beverly", "Harry" walks out of the water and into the native village. This frightens the natives, who believe both people have returned from the dead. Meanwhile, the villains get into the submarine having taken the strongbox and believing they can escape with the diamonds. What follows is a battle within a flooding submarine with "Harry" and "Ensign Tom Sharkey" against the villainous crew.

The film ends with "Harry", "Beverly", and her father setting sail for home on "Captain Marsh-Black's" ship.

Next, Houdini and his family moved back to New York where he formed his own motion picture company. There is a motion picture made in France listed on "IMDb" at:

The listing indicates that the motion picture was 1921's, "Lame Du Bronze (Bronze Blade)" aka:  "The Soul of Bronze", and "IMDb" shows Harry Houdini as the picture's director and the screenplay by two French writers. These facts are confirmed by "The Library of Congress" website also listing Harry Houdini as the director of the motion picture at:



However, who actually directed this "Lame Du Bronze" seems lost to history. 

What had actually taken place was that Harry Houdini had purchased two-cases of motion pictures made in foreign countries at a "United States Customs" auction. His purpose was to distribute them in an English format. His first picture was to have been "The Soul of Bronze", but he only translated the title cards and never got around to releasing the picture.

Of the two cases of foreign films, Harry Houdini did re-edit the Italian film,  "Il Mistero de Osiris (The Mystery of Osiris)". As with the unreleased French film, Houdini translated the title cards, but additionally he rewrote certain portions of the story to add scenes to the original, which he did direct and lengthen the film.

This was all done through his newly formed "Mystery Pictures". However, don't look for this movie, apparently the Italian picture went through several movie title changes, including one of importance to the next film actually starring Houdini, "Reincarnation". The last time the picture was known to exist, was as "Ashes of Passion" and had been acquired by a Sheik Tahar, who with the movie, seems to have disappeared. Houdini's revised screenplay is seen below and it should be noted that apparently, he only worked on these two films and did not do anything to the remaining foreign movies.

Harry Houdini's film company only produced two new feature films and the"First" film released was:

THE MAN FROM BEYOND premiering on April 2, 1922

The following quote about the film came from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, seen below in London, England, with his friend Harry Houdini:
From the opening scene showing the actual chopping of a frozen man from the center of a mass of ice and restoring him to life, to the closing scenes of the sensational rescue of the girl from the very brink of Niagra Falls, it holds one breathless. I consider The Man from Beyond one of the really great contributions to the screen.

According to John Soister, Henry Nicolella, and Steve Joyce's, January 10, 2014, "American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929", "The Man From Beyond", was an attempt by Houdini to reconcile with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle over the illusionists views on spiritualism.

The two, sometime between 1920 and the making of this motion picture had a falling out over spiritualism. Houdini and Conan Doyle attended a seance in which the "Medium", recommended by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, supposedly made contact with Cecilia Weiss and she started to answer questions from her son. 

(This is the incident that was used in producer George Pal's biographical motion picture starring Tony Curtis).

The result was Houdini exposing the "Medium" as a fraud. The reason was that the illusionist's mother ONLY SPOKE GERMAN and not the English she was speaking at the seance. This caused a break-up in the friendship of the British author and the American magician. 

What you are about to read mentions a spiritualist named Ira Erastus Davenport. Who with his brother, William Henry Davenport, were American magicians in the late 19th Century, and managed by their father. The brothers also worked with another magician, William Faye. 

The three built a "Spirit Cabinet" that contained bells and musical instruments. The brothers would be tied up to chairs witnessed by the audience. Next, the cabinet was closed, and the sound of bells and the musical instruments would be heard. When the cabinet was opened, the brothers were still tied as before, and the audience was led to believe that supernatural spirits the brothers had conjured played the bells and instruments.

Above, I could not locate who "Mr. Cooper" was.

I now turn to my 1972 copy of 1933's, "Houdini and Conan Doyle: The story of a strange friendship", co-written by Bernard M. L, Ernst, President of the Parent Assembly of the Society of American Magicians", and Hereward Carrington, Member of the Society for Psychical Research". That contains a "Forward" by J. C. Cannel, Vice President of the Magicians Club, Author of "Secrets of Houdini", both mentioned works published in London, England, at the time.

On Pages 46 - 47, the reader will find first a letter to Harry Houdini by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The first paragraph of that letter, below, is followed by an explanation by the books authors on the same pages:

In a later letter (January 26th, 1922) Sir Arthur writes:
You are to me a perpetual mystery. But no doubt you are to many. You do (and say) things that are beyond me. As an example of the latter, you said that Ira Davenport did his phenomena by normal means. But if he did (which I really don't believe) then he is manifestly not only a liar but a blasphemer as he went around with Mr. Ferguson, a clergy-man, and mixed it all up with religion. And yet you are photographed as a friend with one whom, under the circumstances, one would not touch with a muck-rake. Now, how can one reconcile that? It interests me as a problem. 
It is interesting to compare this early estimate of Houdini's powers with one which Doyle formed later on - for it is now common knowledge that he believed Houdini to possess supernormal powers of some kind which enabled him to make his escape from various restraints, and which came to his assistance in time of need. In his book The Edge of the Unknown, he defends this view at some length in his chapter "The Riddle of Houdini". Sir Arthur could not bring himself to believe that trick devices, resourcefulness and skill alone enabled Houdini to make his escape from complicated restraints placed upon him - and this in the face of Houdini's constant denial that he possessed any such power. Of course the secrets of the majority of his methods are now well known to magicians, and many of them have been published in Gibson's book Houdini's Escapes. On the face of it, it seems preposterous to assume that Houdini possessed any such power, and most men would merely simile at the very suggestion. Yet Doyle could not believe this, partly because he could not see how such escapes were possible, and partly because of certain remarks in Houdini's letter which he interpreted to mean a roundabout admission of the possession by Houdini of psychic power. We shall come to these in due time. Meanwhile the gradual change in attitude manifested by Sir Arthur toward Houdini's powers is interesting to watch, since his letters show the evolution of his belief in the supernatural character of certain of his exhibitions.
My reader no doubt noticed that the release year of "The Man From Beyond", and the year of the quoted letter to Houdini by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are both 1922. The following written words by Conan Doyle are found in his autobiography "Memories and Adventures". Both the "First Edition" and the "Second Edition", which sets on my desk, were printed just two-years-later, in 1924", and show that author had not changed his beliefs in the reality of spiritualism.

"Chapter XXXII, THE PSYCHIC QUEST", opens:

I HAVE not obtruded the psychic question upon the reader, though it has grown in importance with the years, and has now come to absorb the whole energy of my life.

As I have already mentioned the story for "The Man From Beyond" was written by Harry Houdini. It was adapted into a working silent movie scenario by Coolidge Streeter, this was his fifth of only six such adaptions. I could find little else about him, except he was born in 1884, married a Lola D. Moore, and died on November 30, 1924. His occupation was listed as a writer, but of what other than the six scenarios I also could not find.

The motion picture was directed by Burton L. King, who between 1913 and 1934, directed 151-titles, the majority being short subjects until 1917. Prior to directing he had been an actor and a writer.

Harry Houdini portrayed "Howard Hillary (The Man From Beyond)". 

Jane Connelly portrayed the dual roles of "Felice Strange" and "Felice Norcross". John Cox believes she was chosen by Houdini, because they worked together on the "Vaudeville Circuit". Connelly's only other film role was the uncredited "The Mother" in comedian Buster Keaton's, 1924, "Sherlock, Jr.".

Erwin Connelly, Jane's husband, seen below with his wife in the film, portrayed "Dr. Gregory Sinclair". His total film credits were 19, and had the role of "The Butler", in comedian Buster Keaton's, 1924, "Sherlock, Jr.".

What is interesting is that major silent film actress Nita Naldi portrayed "Marie LeGrande", a bit part. The science fiction website at talks to the actresses career:

Houdini is charismatic as always, but no great actor. But the sheer physicality of his presence brings a bit of magic to the film. One fun exception from the mediocrity is that one of the bit parts is played by Nita Naldi, one of the silent eras most famous vamps. She got her breakthrough playing opposite John Barrymore in the famous (and one of the best to this day) version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1920. She is famous for appearing in several films with Rudolph Valentino, in particular the 1922 blockbuster Blood and Sand, as well as in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1923), and in Alfred Hitchcock’s second film as a director, The Mountain Eagle (1926).


Above and below, Nita Naldi in "The Man From Beyond".

The Story That Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Praised with my commentary:

The motion picture opens with "Dr. George Sinclair" having led an expedition to the arctic that has been reduced in size by the arctic terrain and weather. Only "Sinclair" and a soldier of fortune named "Francois Duval", portrayed by Frank Montgomery, are left alive and "Duval" apparently abandons him, but returns to take "Dr. Sinclair" to a ship he has discovered frozen in the ice. There the two men will be able to build a fire for warmth. "Dr. Sinclair" nexts finds a man frozen below decks and a search also discovers the ship's log. Which seems to identify the frozen man as "Howard Hillary", who was a problem for the "Captain of the Barkentin, portrayed by Luis Alberni. "Hillary" was confined below decks before the ship was caught in a tempest and abandoned. Which happened one-thousand-miles from the frozen ships current location. 

Next, "Howard's" diary is discovered and the truth of his problem with the captain comes out. "Howard Hillary" was in love with a passenger, a young woman named "Felice". Who was the daughter of another passenger, "Milt Norcross", portrayed by Yale Benner, but the captain appears to have had his own interest in her. 

"Dr. Sinclair" is thinking of what a find a one-hundred-year-old man perfectly preserved in ice is to science. "Duval" is looking at the frozen man as frozen meat to slice up and eat. They start to cut "Howard Hillary" from the ice and "Dr. Sinclair" discovers a faint pulse, the man is alive!

The revived man confirms that he is "Howard Hillary" and immediately asks about his "Felice". "Dr. Sinclair" decides not to tell "Hilary" that it is no longer 1820, but 1922. He plans to study this one-hundred-years-old man as he adopts to 1922 America, and convinces "Howard Hillary" it is fruitless to search the arctic for "Felice". 

(As reviewers have pointed out, the audience is not told how they returned to the United States other than its three-months later. More importantly, "Hillary" came from a world of horse drawn carts and coaches. Now he sees automobiles and other 1920's changes, but doesn't question these things and still believes it is 1820)

After "Dr. Sinclair" returns home with "Duval" and "Harry". He next, discovers that the father, "Dr. Crawford Strange", portrayed by Albert Tavernier, of his ward, "Felice Strange",  had set out to find him in the arctic and became lost. This "Felice" is about to be married to "Dr. Albert Trent", portrayed by Arthur Maude, and the two plan to travel to the arctic in search of her father.

"Harry Howard" sees "Felice Strange" and calls out to her, thinking he is seeing "Felice Norcross", asking why she doesn't remember their love? The confused "Felice" somehow feels attracted to this man she has never met, but "Dr. Trent" sees "Howard Hillary" as a possible threat to his grand plan. "Dr. Trent" has already kidnapped "Dr. Strange" and is hiding him in his houses basement. 

Above, Harry Houdini on the left, facing off with Arthur Maude on the right.

(Besides the beginning idea of "Cryonics" appealing to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Houdini now ads in "Reincarnation")

Against "Dr. Trent's" wishes, the wedding of the reincarnated "Felice Norcross" is postponed so that a search for her father can take place and, conveniently, the start of a romance between the 100-years-old "Howard" and the reincarnated "Felice".

(Returning to the Scifist website is the following comment about Harry Houdini's views on reincarnation.

In fact, the main point of the cryonic theme seems to be one of convenience, so that Houdini can plug his theory of reincarnation, a theory that he firmly believed in himself. While he vehemently denounced all forms of spiritualism and didn’t subscribe to the idea of transmigration of souls, Houdini is quoted as saying that he “firmly believe[d] that we can carry on, as it were, through another lifetime, perhaps through many lifetimes, until our allotted destiny is worked out to its fullest solution”.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.

It is somewhat odd that Houdini should be a defender of the idea of reincarnation, as he was otherwise a fierce skeptic who battled spiritualists and their promoters without mercy. In one scene in the film, Hillary can be seen reading a book about mediums written by author Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock HolmesThe Lost World). Doyle was a devout believer in spiritualism and the supernatural, and was once famously fooled by photographs of cut-out cardboard faeries by a stream. 

(The following scene in "The Man From Beyond", shows Harry Houdini reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's, 1918 book on reincarnation and spiritualism, "THE NEW REVELATION", which "Harry Howard" shows "Felice Strange" to prove she's the reincarnation of his lost love.)

Faced with a possible search for "Dr. Strange" and his discovery, "Dr. Tent" tries having "Harry Howard" seduced by "Marie LeGrande" to get "Felice" to hate him, but that doesn't work. 

"Doctor Trent" finds another way of getting "The Man From Beyond" out of his way. The "kind doctor" thinking of the "poor, confused, Harry Howard", has him committed to an asylum for his needed medical and emotional care. 

Next, "Trent" moves against "Duval", as he can verify "Howard's" story, bringing him to the same basement he is hiding "Dr. Strange". 

All along, "Dr. Gilbert Trent's" plan has been to force "Dr. George Strange" to sign over his property and money to him. Then kill "Strange", who everyone still believes is lost in the arctic, marry "Felice" to keep his acquiring of the property and money appearing properly legal. Followed by a very tragic accident happening to "Felice" as the two search the arctic for her father.

Back at the insane asylum, "Harry" has realized the truth of the year he is in, and escapes. Reconnecting with "Dr. Sinclair", the two stumble upon a clue, a hat with a piece of paper with "Dr. Crawford Strange's" initials on it. The hunt is on and it points to "Dr. Trent". "Felice's" father is rescued, but she has been kidnapped by "Dr. Trent" and one of his henchmen,

This leads to the climax at Niagara Falls, at the rapids "Harry" sees a canoe with "Felice", "Dr. Trent", and his henchmen in calm waters. "Harry" now swims the rapids to rescue his reincarnated true love.

"Harry" catches up with the canoe, which over turns and the henchman drowns, as he rescues "Felice".

She regains consciousness and "Harry Howard" fights "Dr. Trent", who falls off the cliff they're fighting upon to his death. The film ends with the reincarnated "Felice", a distant relation to "Harry's" own "Felice", realizing who she really is and the two going off together in a rekindled love.

Now a look at Harry Houdini's final motion picture.

Approximately 17-months after the release of "The Man From Beyond", was the release of Harry Houdini's "Second Produced" feature film, but was this actually his second made motion picture? 

HALDANE OF THE SECRET SERVICE released on September 30, 1923


The following paragraph's information I owe once again to John Cox at:

An oddity to "Haldane of the Secret Service", is that it appears to have been primarily filmed by Houdini in New York State during 1921, and later, after filming at different foreign locations during his European Tour. This additionally filmed footage shot by Houdini, was incorporated into the footage from 1921, to make the motion picture the audiences viewed. 

Adding to the above was that "Haldane of the Secret Service" was not released by "The Houdini Picture Corporation" as "The Man From Beyond"had been, but by "FBO (Film Booking Offices of America)", as noted, in September 1923. 

Harry Houdini, billed as Houdini, portrayed "Heath Haldane" and is the credited director of the motion picture. Many reviewers believe that most of the New York filming was directed by the uncredited, Burton L. King.

Gladys Leslie (Moore) portrayed "Adele Ormsby". She was known as "The Girl With The Million Dollar Smile". Less known than Mary Pickford, Leslie still was as active as the other between 1915 and 1925, for a total career of 55-films. What happen to her between her final film in 1925 and her death on October 2, 1976, I could not locate.

William Humphrey portrayed "Edward Omsby". Starting with the title role in the 1908, 8-minute-short film, "Napoleon, the Man of Destiny", to Ralph Byrd's, 1937, "Dick Tracy", Humphrey's film career totaled 139-roles. His feature films include both Lon Chaney's, 1925, "Phantom of the Opera" and Tod Browning's "The Unholy Three", in 1933, Humphrey was in the Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Melvyn Douglas, "The Vampire Bat", and in 1936, the feature was director Cecil B. DeMille's, "The Plainsman", starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur.

In the April 1924, issue of the "Motion Picture Booking Guide", the feature film was described as:
Heath Haldane (Houdini), son of a detective slain by a gang of counterfeiters, swears vengeance. He rescues a girl (Leslie) from the gang, but is thrown into river by them for dead, and escapes. He rounds them up after many adventures, brings about their arrest, and discovers the leader of the gang is father of girl whom he loves.

The above is the clearest description of "Haldane of the Secret Service" I found. Except, it leaves out the plot point that "Adele Omsby" has a pending marriage.

It should be noted that Houdini, like the reviewers of the picture at the time, didn't really like the motion picture. The story lagged, because it was padded out with that added European footage, sometimes not making sense to the action. The motion picture ran 84-minutes, while "The Grim Game", only ran 71-minutes, and "The Man From Beyond", 74-minutes, a reflection not on a longer storyline, but the European footage being used.

Although I have covered the movies released with Harry Houdini, my article is not over. I need to end by bringing back Sir Arthur Conan and a prehistoric movie by Harry Houdini that was never made. 

There are several book and manuscript websites, including "Quicker than the Eye", "AbeBooks", "Swan Auction Galleries", and "Amazon", that are selling authorized copies of two never made motion picture screenplays written by Harry Houdini. 

The screenplay I am interested in, is 1921's:

On October 20, 2012, Amanda Yesilbas, published an article on the website, "Gizmodo", entitled, "That One Time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Punked Houdini With Dinosaurs". 

Her article opens with:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle went to a meeting of the Society of American Magicians at the Hotel McAlpin in New York City On June 3, 1922 to present a wonder to the gathered illusionists — including his friend and society chairman, Harry Houdini. He prefaced his display by saying he was going to show the waiting magicians extinct creatures that were "psychic" and "preternatural".

When the movie screen flickered to life, the assembled magicians were astonished by a film of life-like dinosaurs. The scene showed a group of grazing herbivore dinosaurs harried by vicious Tyrannosaurus rexes. Then an intense battle broke out between the aggressive beasts, leading to the broken back and death of the loser — but the victor's triumphant meal was interrupted by a charging Triceratops. The magicians wondered if this could possibly be real. But the dinosaurs' bodies moved so realistically, and the way the muscles rippled under the skin seemed very convincing. 

Later in the same article, Yesilbas prints a letter from Arthur Conan Doyle to his friend, Harry  
Houdini, received the day after Conan Doyle's showing of his dinosaur film. The letter explains what Houdini and the other magicians actually saw:
The dinosaurs and other monsters have been constructed by pure cinema, but of the highest kind, and are being used for ‘The Lost World' picture which represents pre-historic life upon a South American plateau. Having such material at hand and being allowed by the courtesy of Watterson Rothaker to use it, I could not resist the temptation to surprise your associates and guests. I am sure they will forgive me if for a few short hours I had them guessing.

The film that Houdini and the other magicians saw was made by Stop-Motion-Animator Willis "Obie" O'Brien and Model Maker, Marcel Delgado. The same team that would bring the world, 1933's, "KING KONG", and later the same year, "The Son of KONG".

As I mentioned, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel, "The Lost World", was published in 1912. Should you look at the "Filming Dates", as found on the website "IMDb", you would come to the conclusion that it was impossible for Conan Doyle to show outtakes to Houdini and the other magicians. Those dates are shown as July 1924 through September 1924. The "First National Picture" motion picture, "The Lost World", was initially released on February 2, 1925.

However, there is a difference between the times involved to design the dinosaurs sequences, make the models used, and animate the dinosaurs, as compared to the filming of the actors. When in 1922, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle showed his dinosaur film to the "Society of American Magicians". His footage was only Willis O'Brien's "TEST FOOTAGE" and not the actual footage for the motion picture. 

At the time of Conan Doyle's presentation, pre-production work on the actual motion picture had been  overseen by O'Brien since 1920.

For those of my readers interested in the making of 1925's, "The Lost World":

My article is, "WILLIS O'BRIEN: 1925's 'The Lost World' and the Story of Gwangi". Which can be read at:

My secondary article is, "MARCEL DELGADO: The Artist That Built the 1933 King Kong", and may be read at:

Which brings me back to Harry Houdini's never filmed, "Yar, The Primeval Man".                               

The very basic story has a caveman named “Yar”, portrayed by Houdini, as the leader of “The Strange People”, who live up high in the hills among the rocks. They enjoy throwing rocks down upon another tribe, “The Little People”, and “Yar” is considering war against them. Events occur and “Yar” and his mother are captured by “The Little People”. In their caves “Yar” sees a young woman of that tribe, “Aie, the Sun Woman”. The Two fall in love as “Yar’s” mother starts to teach “The Little People” new ways to treat their women and children. Both tribes have to battle the “Great Animals”, probably dinosaurs, and will eventually come together living in peace.

John Cox, in his discussion of the Harry Houdini never filmed “Yar”. Has brought up the similarity in storylines to Stop-Motion-Animator, Ray Harryhausen’s, 1966, , “One Million Years B.C.”, starring John Richardson portraying"Tumak", and a unknown at the time, Raquel Welch portraying "Loana".

While I agree fully in the similarity in storylines between Harry Houdini’s and the British motion picture. As a motion picture historian I feel I need to add that the 1966 screenplay is a remake and that there is a closer screenplay than 45-years from Houdini's writing "Yar, The Primeval Man".

On April 5, 1940, producer Hal Roach, who also co-produced the 1966 remake, released "One Million B.C.". The story of "Tumak, of the Rock People", portrayed by Victor Mature, and "Loana", of the Shell Sea People", portrayed by Carol Landis.

The basic screenplay does seem similar to Harry Houdini's. 

You have one aggressive tribe that values strength against your opponent, be that your own father as in "Tumak's" case, portrayed by Lon Chaney, Jr., for position within the tribe, or at any moment a challenge by another for no other reason than they want what you're eating. 

While, in "Loana's" tribe, everyone is considered equal, everyone will help any other with their problem without question, and food is equally shared. Their weapons are more advanced to protect them from predators.

When "Tumak" arrives in the "Shell People's" tribe, he is confused by their ways and his violent nature, learned from his own tribe, causes him to be told to leave and "Loana" will follow. 

They return to the "Rock Tribe" and slowly "Loana", like "Yar's" mother, starts to convert them to her tribe's way. All being disrupted by a volcano destroying both tribes and "Tumak" with the survivors of his, and "Loana" with the survivors of hers, form a new hybrid tribe of the best of their original tribes  values to survive.

Again, the movie deaths of Harry Houdini work well for an audience, but reality is different. 

Once again, I am a movie historian and for those who want a more detailed idea of the events that led to the death of Harry Houdini. The following, by David Mikkelson, is one look at those still debated events that led to the night of October 31, 1926.

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