Thursday, March 22, 2007

Houdini kin wants body exhumed, tested

By LARRY McSHANE, Associated Press

NEW YORK - For all his death-defying stunts, Harry Houdini couldn't escape the Grim Reaper: He died on Halloween 1926, apparently from a punch to the stomach that ruptured his appendix. But rumors that he was murdered have persisted for decades. Eighty-one years after Houdini's death, his great-nephew wants the escape artist's body exhumed to determine if enemies poisoned him for debunking their bogus claims of contact with the dead.

"It needs to be looked at," George Hardeen told The Associated Press. "His death shocked the entire nation, if not the world. Now, maybe it's time to take a second look."

Houdini's family scheduled a news conference for Friday to give details on the plans. Prominent New York lawyer Joseph Tacopina is helping clear any legal hurdles to the exhumation.

A team of top forensic investigators would conduct new tests on Houdini's body, said Hardeen, whose grandfather was Houdini's brother.

The circumstances surrounding Houdini's sudden death are as murky as the rivers where he often escaped from chains, locks and wooden boxes.

The generally accepted version was that Houdini, 52, suffered a ruptured appendix from a punch in the stomach, leading to a fatal case of peritonitis. But no autopsy was performed.

When the death certificate was filed on Nov. 20, 1926, Houdini's body — brought by train from Detroit to Manhattan — had already been buried in Queens, along with any evidence of a possible death plot.

Within days, a newspaper headline wondered, "Was Houdini Murdered?"

A 2006 biography, "The Secret Life of Houdini," raised the issue again and convinced some that he might have been poisoned, including George Hardeen, who lives in Arizona and is the chief spokesman for the president of the Navajo Nation.

The likeliest murder suspects were members of a group known as the Spiritualists. The magician devoted large portions of his stage show to exposing the group's fraudulent seances. The movement's devotees included Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle.

In the Houdini biography, authors William Kalush and Larry Sloman detail a November 1924 letter in which Doyle said Houdini would "get his just desserts very exactly meted out ... I think there is a general payday coming soon."

Two years later, Houdini — by all accounts a man in extraordinary physical shape — was dead. Kalush and Sloman say that "the Spiritualist underworld's modus operandi in cases like this was often poisoning" — possibly arsenic, which could be detected decades later.

The authors also suggest that Houdini might have been poisoned by "an experimental serum" injected by one of his doctors at Detroit's Grace Hospital.

Houdini took the Spiritualists' death threats seriously, but he traveled without security, often accompanied only by his wife, Bess.

"If someone were hell-bent on poisoning Houdini," the authors wrote, "it wouldn't have been very difficult."

The team working on the exhumation includes internationally known forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden and professor James Starrs, a forensic pathologist who has studied the disinterred remains of gunslinger Jesse James and "Boston Strangler" Albert DeSalvo.

Baden, who chaired panels reinvestigating the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., pointed out a pair of oddities in Houdini's death certificate: It noted his appendix was on the left side, rather than the right. And the diagnosis of appendicitis caused by a punch was "very unusual."

Starrs said he was long familiar with the story of Houdini's death, and believed the fatal injury was the result of an accident until he read the Houdini biography.

"My eyebrows went up when I read this book," Starrs said. "I thought, `This is really startling, surprising and unsettling, and at bottom, suspicious in nature.'"

The exhumation plan received support from a surprising source: Anna Thurlow, the great-granddaughter of "medium" Margery, whose husband Dr. Le Roi Crandon was one of the Spiritualist movement's biggest proponents — and one of Houdini's enemies.

During a 1924 "seance," Margery channeled a "spirit" named Walter who greeted Houdini with a threat: "I put a curse on you now that will follow you every day for the rest of your short life."

"With people that delusional, you have to question what they're capable of,'" Thurlow said. "If there's any circumstantial evidence that Houdini was poisoned, we have to explore that."

Collage du Jour • A couple of pieces I'm working on

Tom Frank • Toy Collage

Tom Frank • Toy Collage 2

Tom Frank • Toy Collage

Tom Frank • Art Collage

Tom Frank • Art Collage 2

An Evening at the Magic Castle

Got a call from a new friend named Sam. He invited me to the Castle last night. He’s a nice guy who when his wife of 25 years passed away 4 years ago, took an apartment across the street from the Magic Castle. He says at his apartment he uses the bathroom and kitchen, but he thinks of the Castle as his living room. I like that.

I blew off my slot at the City Walk because it was chilly and overcast. I left for the Castle a bit after 8 PM. I love that I can drive from my house to the Castle in 10 minutes. I knew that Aaron Fisher was working the early parlor and was happy and surprised to find out that Gazzo was working late parlor and Billy Kidd was working late close-up.

I strolled upstairs and found Aaron, he was hanging at the bar with a few minutes before his show. A loud voice and a huge smile called my name. Sitting at the bar was Kozmo and his pal (from Cincinnati) a young man named Bob. These guys left their wives and kids at home and have embarked on a multi-city busking tour. They’ve been working the Promenade and from the sound of it doing all right.

Aaron’s show was about to start, so I excused myself and took a seat in the second row. Aaron was working on some new material and was eager for some feedback. I watched two of his shows back to back and gave him a few notes. It was halfway through the second show that it occurred to me, what we do is hard. It’s not enough to have flawless technique like Aaron does, as well, as a well defined direction that his character is going. You also have to be able to look out at the audience and make some decisions as how to best connect with THAT audience. Interesting watching Aaron perform first for a rather sparse audience followed by a full house, but an older crowd. All a part of what we do. All a part of what we want to share of ourselves with our audiences. Aaron’s magic was strong, in some instances too strong and needed him to silently mouth the words, What the fuck?” at pivotal place in a the reading of a prediction. We talked about that after his second show. Aaron was very receptive to this discussion about his act.

After leaving the Parlor I watched a fellow named Jon Armstrong do a trick for a bunch of people. He killed with a well built up card revelation.

Back to the bar to for a cocktail and then seating for Gazzo’s show. I sat with Kozmo, Bob & Jersey Jim, it was looking like Busker Night at the Castle as I also saw my pal from the Promenade, Omar.

What can I say about Gazzo? I’m a big fan of his work. He’s a study in comedy and timing. Does a great 30-40 minute show and only two tricks. He did his card routine followed by the egg bag.

The evening was turning into a total magic geek out and I was loving it. Jersey Jim and I went down to catch Billy’s act in the close-up room.

She did a nice set of card magic. What impressed me more than her technique, was her timing. She wasn’t rushing the tricks or the jokes. As a student of Gazzo’s she’s been paying her dues street performing in Mallory Square in Key West.

After her show we hung out at the first floor bar. Across from the bar is the couch were Dai Vernon could be found night after night holding court. I took the Professor’s seat, took out my deck and craved a cigar. It wasn’t long before a group of curious laymen crowded around the little table and wanted to see some magic. I did a little card and coin routine then passed the deck to Kozmo and then to Bob. I like magicians, I like street performers and I love my life here in California!

I got a text message from Polly around midnight. Poor girl was just getting off of work. She had been there since 9 AM!!! Oy! I left the Castle to spend a little time with her before she had to go to bed and do it all over again today.

As for me, I’m back into my routine of smoking cigars naked in the back yard while soaking in the beautiful sunshine. This is the life. It’s a beautiful day and I can’t wait to work this evening!

Filmschool Podcast

Listened to an interesting interview about a new documentry film.

here is an exerpt

American Cannibal is about the sacrifices we make when reality is re-packaged and sold to us as entertainment. Every TV news story, every documentary film, every reality TV show has been edited within an inch of its life, to grab the audience by its eyeballs. When you produce and direct real life for maximum watchability, the result isn't so much fact but non-fiction. As a culture we've become so good at imitating reality that we'll take the fake version over the real one every time. Lots of people in power would rather deny it, but it's no secret that in the race for popularity, truth comes in second.

Very interesting stuff. To read more about this movie Click Here

Second Lesson

Traffic is an issue in LA. . . DUH!!! It's no wonder I don't want to leave my part of town. Yesterday I went to Santa Monica to meet with Paco for his second lesson.

While driving I got a call from Aaron Fisher, I told him that I was going to teach a private lesson. We had an interesting talk about teaching magic. Aaron has strong feelings on the subject as do I. For anyone wanting to seriously study the art, a strong foundation in the basics is imperative. Aaron has spent much of his career lecturing for magicians and I respect what he has to say on the subject.

The lesson started with a review of last weeks material. Paco had been practicing, things were showing improvement but needed some tweaking in the Downs Pam Vanish & Reproduction. I shared with him some fundamental concepts in misdirection like, "The larger motion conceals the smaller motion". To illustrate the point we talked about the larger motion being a tossing motion to vanish the coin, the smaller motion being the actual tuck of the coin into Downs or Classic Palm. I told him the Vernon hitchhike "Where ya going?" story and cautioned him about throwing the thumb out when putting a coin in classic palm. We discussed keeping the forefinger and thumb together when going into classic to prevent the tell. I also told him to get some bigger coins. Throughout the lesson we switched from quarters to half dollars to dollar coins. I taught him some finesse points on the reproduction and went over a couple of variations. We talked about how to hold and show a coin for maximum surface visibility.

We talked a bit about finger palm. Aaron suggested the old Dropping the coin blunder out of Bobo's. . . good call, he loved it.

Next we moved to cards with a self working spectator cuts to the aces. We talked about all the things that can go wrong even with a self working trick. This was a good time to start to introduce the notion of presentation and entertainment.

Then back to the grindstone with Card Shuffling we went over 3 types of shuffles, the layman in the hands shuffle with bridge, the tabled riffle shuffle and the overhand shuffle. We forged forward into injogs and then an injog overhand shuffle control with a selected card. Control to the bottom of the deck in preparation for a simple revelation. We went over this again and again and again and again.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Well hello again my friends. Today looks to be another Seattle day in LA. A bit chilly and wet. It drizzled most of the day yesterday, giving me the day to watch movies and work on a collage.

Would have gone to Huntington Beach last night to work, but the rain kept me home. Doesn't look like I'll be working this evening either unless it clears up.

I had a nice chat with Chris Karney yesterday (My pal in San Francisco). As usual we spent a fair amount of time taking about the structure, rhythm and delivery of comedy. As I've said in the past, Chris cracks me up and impresses me with the depth of his thinking.

Polly and I are talking about a visit to Northern California next month and we'll probably visit with Chris and his wife in San Fran when we do.

Things are good. Haven't really had too much to say here on the blog, not sure why. Guess I'll just keep doing what makes me happy.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

Over the holidays we had a house guest named Ruth. She’s a friend of Polly’s who is a touring theatrical hairdresser. For the last 6 months she’s been working on Jersey Boys in San Francisco. She called the other day telling us that she was going to be in town this afternoon to work the Tonight Show.

When I heard this, I thought “Hot Damn!” maybe she could hook us up with some tickets. She did, but Polly had to work, so I went by myself and had a great time seeing how a big time Live, TV show is shot.

I got to the studio around 3 PM and noticed the long line of people waiting to get in. I parked and went around back to guest relations where Ruth had put us on the guest list. I was ushered back to the green room where there was some food and drinks. After a bite, I was taken to my seat. So this was the Tonight Show Studio! I was happy and excited.

Jay Leno came out in blue jeans and a denim shirt, before the show started and told the audience how the taping would go. He said the show was live to tape and that there wouldn’t be any stopping. Mistakes and all would be in the finished show.

The guests on tonight’s show were actor, Terrence Howard, comedian, Bruce Fine, and music from the hit show - Jersey Boys

My eyes scanned all the shit hanging from the ceiling. There where tons of lights, TV monitors, speakers, mics, wires. They had 6 HD cameras rolling. 4 big studio cameras, one on a telescoping jib arm and another roving. Pretty impressive operation.

The show ran smoothly and Jay Leno was funny. The interview, comedy and music made for a good hour show with probably 10 to 15 minutes of commercials.

Thanks Ruth for hooking me up with a cool afternoon at the NBC Studios in Burbank (a short 10 min. drive from our house).

Pic du Jour • Glass Rings