Thursday, March 2, 2017

Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini (Erik Weisz and later Ehrich Weis) born March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian-American illusionist, stunt performer, and noted for his sensational escape acts. So much has been written about Houdini’s life from articles to books. The life he lived and the secrets he took with him over ninety years ago are still being researched and found today. There still seems to be an endless source of material around the world.

Over the past handful of years alone, anything from scrapbooks, posters, and letters seem to appear, and it doesn’t seem there will be any end in sight. The name Houdini will continue to live on as a goal setter. Whether it was his method of publicity, his public recognition, or just good timing; the name Harry Houdini has been the bar to reach for in magic.

Harry scaled playing cards with accuracy and he could cut a card in mid-air with a pair of scissors. Thanks to Jay Hunter for solving one part of the Houdini throw out card mystery. Jay found the following in "The Sphinx" for June, 1936. Included in John Mulholland's "Editor's Page", he included the following from Harry's brother, Theo Hardeen.  "...Hardeen wrote the following interesting letter to me: 'The very beautiful story about the card throwing of Herrmann and Thurston in the May issue interested me very much. However I think that it is a little incomplete in not mentioning the name of Houdini. In 1894, when Houdini and I were performing as the Houdini Brothers, Houdini threw out steamboat cards with his picture on the front. These were the regular cards, no thicker. Then when Houdini joined the Welsh Brothers tent show, after his marriage, and worked the act under the name of Harry and Bessie Houdini, Jim Bard of the famous Bard Brothers (Jim and Eddy) taught him how to do a back somersault. After that Houdini would scale out the cards and the last card, he would throw out, turn a back somersault and catch as it returned to the ring." 
        If it wasn't for one particular publication by someone who has surpassed Houdini in his prowess of handling cards, we wouldn't be able to enjoy the image below what appears to be the Houdini throw out card. Here is an image of the front of the card published in the 1977 book by Ricky Jay titled, Cards as Weapons. I want to make an open request, please. If you own this throw out card, it would really be nice to know what is on the back. What is the actual size and would you be so kind as to allow us to post a perfect image? One wonders, what happened to all of these cards? 

             To honor the man whose name continues to be brought up almost daily around the world, here is another image in the form of advertisement that nearly coincides with our site.

This 7.62cm x 11.43cm card was used to promote soap.

            It should be mentioned, the facts on the back of the card are not all correct (well, they got his name right). Possibly those were the facts they received at the time of the publication. This is one cards advertising Orocrema Almond Soap that was created in the early 1920’s. Each card measured three inches by four and a half inches (7.62cm x 11.43cm).

Loosely translated the card reads:
“A single film has been enough to make this fantastic artist universally known. Son of a wealthy merchant was born in Chicago, in 1887, where he studied the career of an engineer. Since childhood, he has always shown an engaging and decadent character that led him to the realization of his daring plans. He built an armored armor that was the main reason for his only film titled "Houdini and the human tank" that gave him popularity. He is of a nervous temperament, and his numerous prowess has made the stairway of the facade of a "skyscraper" with the sun helping his feet and hands. He is currently retired from cinematography.”
              Houdini's skills were somewhat legendary, as discussed on the sites Wild About Harry and The Great Harry Houdini. According to many sources, he would scale steamboat cards with his autograph on the face. Images of such cards can been seen on Pinterest and here on this site Propelled Pasteboards.

This three sheet poster is currently on display at the famed Winchester House in San Jose, California (Yes, that's me).

              As seen above, there was always one item that really would have made a perfect throw out card, but alas, it was only created as a poster.


  1. "The one item Harry didn’t use was a throw out card."
    What is that on p. 116 of "Cards as Weapons"?

  2. Houdini wrote this fyi. Wendell g. Mortimer on FB has challengeD anyone to disagree.