Posted in Other Media

Saturday Cimema ~ Several Cinematic Houdinis



Earlier this week, a fellow Hugh Jackman fan linked to the following: Houdini Musical, Starring Hugh Jackman, May Have Chicago Premiere Prior to Broadway. My first thought was, “Dude, isn’t he a little tall to be Houdini?”

According to IMDB*, Harry Houdini was 5’6″. Wikipedia quotes 5’5″ and notes that his shortness was often remarked upon. Hugh Jackman is 6’2″. I’m guessing the milk can escape isn’t going to be in the musical. (Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time Jackman’s been called upon to “play short.” According to the Marvel Wiki, Wolverine is 5’3″.)

File:Deathdefyingacts-poster.jpgI had recently watched Death Defying Acts and thought that Guy Pearce was too tall too, and too eloquent, so I started to wonder just how Hollywood has treated Houdini. After tracking down a few bio-pics and “guest shots,” I noticed a few things in common and a few things that often seem to be missing–mainly Houdini’s interaction with magic community. He worked to organize magicians and also habitually seemed to piss them off. These are things overlooked and would probably require a series rather than a movie. Even if he is my 20th favorite magician, I’d watch a Mr. Slefridge-style series. And might I suggest some height appropriate actors? Daniel Radcliffe or Frankie Muniz are both 5’5″, but my pick would be a hair-dyed Seth Green (5’3″).

(While looking up information for this post, I find that Wild About Harry reports that the History channel has green-lit a two night series starring Adrien Brody, 6’1″.)

* I’m cribbing all my height information from IMDB.

What I’ve Seen:

Houdini (1953)
Tony Curtis – 5’9″

  • File:Houdini.jpgWhat it’s got: Screwball romantic comedy, Houdini as the Wild Man and sawing Bess in half on their wedding night, Houdini working at a safe factory, lots of random magic, Bess threatening to leave over his relationship with magic, use of lockpick with toes, mysterious absent mentor Von Schweger and Otto the assistant, mention of Missouri (the Show Me state), a Halloween curse, not very dramatic debunking of a seance.
  • What it’s missing: Theo, Houdini interacting with other magicians, Houdini being punched in the gut.

The Great Houdini (1976)
Paul Michael Glaser – 5’11”

  • What it’s got: Houdini with a New York accent and struggling to become famous (suggested alternative job: working in a tie factory), Houdini and Bess working on their mind-reading act in bed, Bess leaving over Houdini’s relationship with his mother,  the religious inclinations of Harry (Jewish) and Bess (Catholic), mention of Missouri, dramatic debunking of a seance, Halloween spookiness, Vivian Vance stealing every scene.
  • What it’s missing: Theo, Houdini interacting with other magicians, the love interest being called a shiksa.

Voyagers! “Agents of Satan” (1982)
Michael Durrell – shorter than everyone else except the kid

  • What it’s got: Escape via time travel! Dramatic debunking of “mentalist.”
  • What it’s missing: N/A – Houdini is a secondary character in a one hour TV drama.

Via Wild About HarryFairyTale: A True Story (1997)
Harvey Keitel – 5’7″

  • What it’s got: The best Houdini hair, nice depictions of magic including Houdini post-water chamber escape waiting behind the curtain to build suspense.
  • What it’s missing: N/A – Houdini is a secondary character and is fairly compromising on the subject of fairies. He advises the young Miss Wright to never reveal her secrets.

Death Defying Acts (2007)
Guy Pearce – 5’10”

  • What it’s got: A buff, fit, perpetually injured, haunted Houdini at the height of his career, a put-upon manager, a story from a medium’s perspective, a little girl who reads comics, an incredibly lush movie that covers a very small period of time.
  • What it’s missing: Bess, the needle trick, mention of Missouri.

Notable, but I Haven’t Seen:

Jeffrey DeMunn  (5’9″) played Houdini twice in 1981’s Ragtime and as adult Houdini in Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color‘s “Young Harry Houdini” (1987).

Houdini (1998) (TV) Played by Johnathon Schaech – 5’11”

Posted in History

Adventures of the Writerly Writer ~ The Elusive 50K

My current work environment.

Time for a rewrite/edit. It’s been a month.

I realized that I’d gone off the rails with my plot and needed Eric to help me get focused again. He read, concurred that I’d gotten muddled.

So, here I am again. I’m “starting over” at the beginning. Some of it will be retyped, some of it will be rewritten entirely. I’ll hit 50K one of these days, by golly; it’s just not going to be in the next couple of weeks. For the moment, my nebulous goal is to get as much done as possible.

Hosted by Michelle @ Stories Inside

Posted in Readathons-Challenges-Memes

R.I.P. VIII & Gothic September

Hosted by Carl @ Stainless Steel Droppings

September 1st is right around the corner. It is time to begin.

Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above. That is what embodies the stories, written and visual, that we celebrate with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event.

As time has wound on I’ve honed this event down to two simple rules:

1. Have fun reading (and watching).
2. Share that fun with others.

As I do each and every year, there are multiple levels of participation (Perils) that allow you to be a part of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril without adding the burden of another commitment to your already busy lives. There is even a one book only option for those who feel that this sort of reading is not their cup of tea (or who have many other commitments) but want to participate all the same.

R.I.P. was one of the most fun on-line events I took part in last year. The above genres are some of my favorites, and I’m always on the lookout for more reviewers and bloggers who cover the dark side of speculative fiction.

Peril the First: My current TBR pile is below. I shouldn’t have any trouble finishing four books in two months.

The Picture of Dorian Gray A Study in Silks (The Baskerville Affair, #1) The Seance Society: A Mystery A White Room

Peril of the Short Story: Additionally, I working my way through a couple anthologies:

Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes

And lastly, Peril on the Screen. I already have a thing or two in mind to watch. Now, all I need is September!

I’m also going to try to participate in The True Book Addict’s Gothic September. I have two bits of Gothic literature on my list right now. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even finish The Woman in White!

Posted in Male Author, Nonfiction

Review ~ The Glorious Deception

Cover via Goodreads

The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the “Marvelous Chinese Conjurer” by by Jim Steinmeyer

In a biography woven from equal parts enchantment and mystery, master illusion designer and today’s foremost magic historian, Jim Steinmeyer, unveils the astonishing secrets behind the enigmatic performer Chung Ling Soo, the “Marvelous Chinese Conjurer” — a magician whose life of intrigue and daring remains unparalleled to this day. He learned his art during a revolutionary era in show business, just as minstrel, circus, and variety saloons were being stirred together and distilled into a heady new concoction: vaudeville. Soo’s infamous death in 1918 astonished the world: he was killed during a performance of “Defying the Bullets,” his popular act in which he caught marked bullets on a porcelain plate. After his death, the deceptions began to unravel. It was discovered that he was not Chinese, but rather a fifty-six-year-old American named William Ellsworth Robinson, a former magicians’ assistant, and the husband of Olive Robinson. But even William Robinson was not who he appeared to be, and for the first time, Jim Steinmeyer has uncovered the truth behind Robinson and the magic world’s most glorious deception. (via Goodreads)

Interwoven with the tale of William Robinson and his transformation into Chung Ling Soo is the history of a very dangerous trick: the bullet catch. Honestly, before this book, I wasn’t sure if any magician had ever died doing a bullet catch illusion. There are layers and layers of stories around magic and magicians. Some of these stories are…not true. This is obviously the case with Robinson. He spun the persona of Chung Ling Soo, the Chinese conjurer, around tricks that suited his incredible technical aptitude in order to hide his awkward stage presence. As long as he was able to lose himself in a role, he was a very fine magician. His secret, like most secrets in magic, was half-kept. Professional magicians knew what was going on (his biggest rival was the a real Chinese conjurer, Ching Ling Foo), but the general public did not.

Similar layers of truth and falsehood surround dangerous magic tricks*. Many of Houdini’s death-defying acts were very well planned and prepared, only seeming to be potentially fatal. When a magician claims that something is dangerous, that it may be fatal, I only half believe. But the bullet catch, historically, has been both. It involves not entirely safe modifications to firearms and a blurring of reality that has led audience members to disregarding the whole trick aspect of the trick.

I debated buying this book for a while. I had already read Steinmeyer’s Hiding the Elephant and The Last Greatest Magician in the World, both of which cover the same era in stage magic. I didn’t think I could justify a biography of Chung Ling Soo as more research material. My correspondence with Chicago magician Neil Tobin helped make the decision. He suggested it since Robinson (aka Soo) was once almost arrested for being involved with a sham seance during the Chicago World’s Fair. While Robinson did write a book on spiritualism, his involvement isn’t delved into too much in The Glorious Deception. Ultimately, this book wasn’t a hugely useful resource aside from providing more information about the time period.

I was also worried that the stories, and Jim Steinmeyer’s writing, might get a little stale. The major magicians of the late 1800s and early 1900s knew each other, were friends and rivals (often both). Robinson, before he became Chung Ling Soo, worked for the Herrmanns and Harry Keller as an assistant and stage manager. Howard Thurston (the subject ofThe Last Greatest Magician) was associated with Keller and tried to impress Leon Herrmann, a story in which Robinson plays a role. Tales overlap. I was worried that I might get tired of reading them. But I didn’t. All the little stories snap together; little clusters of puzzle pieces fit together into a richer picture. Currently, I have a lot of enthusiasm for magic history.

Steinmeyer is a talented writer. I’ve said it before, he has obvious love for the subject matter and that comes through in his work. Looks like I’m going to be asking for the rest of his books for Christmas.

* See also, Penn & Teller’s nail gun trick.

Genre: Non-fiction.
Why did I choose to read this book? I really like Jim Steinmeyer’s books; it was also suggested to me by a magician as good research material.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Absolutely.
Craft Lessons: Man, I really do envy Steinmeyer’s way with words. I read. Why don’t I use words better?!
Format: Paperback.
Bookmark: Business card from

Hosted by Joy of Joy’s Book Blog

Posted in History

Sit Down and Write 4

Hosted by Michelle, The True Book Addict @ Stories Inside

The Sit Down and Write write-a-thons are for any writing you need to get done. If you’re working on a novel, a novella, or even short stories. If you have a ton of reviews to write coming off of any read-a-thons you might have just finished with, then this is for you too! Official dates and times: Monday, August 26 at 12:01am CST through Sunday, September 8 at 11:59pm CST (adjust times according to your time zone).

I had a scheme: Edit Monday, write 1000 words Tues-Fri, research Saturday, whatever on Sunday. According to that scheme my manuscript should be at 38,000 words right now. It’s not. It’s at 35,225. Why am I behind? Simply because I haven’t been sitting down and writing.

My goal is to get caught up (according previous goals) by the end of Sit Down and Write*: Reach 46,000 by Sept. 8th. Actually, I’m going to stretch it out a little to 47,000 by Tuesday Sept. 10th. I’m heading to Omaha on the 11th and it would be nice to be caught up by then. I’m also adding a stretch goal of 50K by the time I go to Omaha.

Can I keep up a NaNoWriMo pace for four days a week? You’d think, but I’m heading into the middle of this book. Middles are hard for me.

Why don’t I write every day? I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I know myself. It doesn’t work for me.

Other complicating factors:

  • I’m going to have work VOTS work to do. Draft is Monday night and league starts on the third, which means I’m going to have teams and a schedule to post, among other things.
  • I should also get one ahead on book reviews before heading to Omaha. This is a minor consideration.
  • Minecraft. Need to limit my Minecraft time. Larger consideration. That game is a total time suck.

* This is my first one, btw. I haven’t been very social in my writing because somewhere along the way, I got really tired of talking about writing!

Posted in Male Author, Novel

Review ~ The Ambitious Card

This book was provided to me by Henery Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Ambitious Card by John Gaspard

Cover via Goodreads

The life of a magician isn’t all kiddie shows and card tricks. Sometimes it’s murder. Especially when magician Eli Marks very publicly debunks a famed psychic, and said psychic ends up dead. The evidence, including a bloody King of Diamonds playing card (one from Eli’s own Ambitious Card routine), directs the police right to Eli.

As more psychics are slain, and more King cards rise to the top, Eli can’t escape suspicion. Things get really complicated when romance blooms with a beautiful psychic, and Eli discovers she’s the next target for murder, and he’s scheduled to die with her. Now Eli must use every trick he knows to keep them both alive and reveal the true killer. (via Goodreads)

In the past ten months, I’ve read ~3400 pages of books, fictional and non-fictional, about magic.That’s not counting David P. Abbott’s works that aren’t on Goodreads and the many, many magazine articles. At this point, I’ve developed some opinions about the subject. For me, picking up a book with a magician character is going to go one of two ways: well or badly.

I’m happy to say that The Ambitious Card went very well for me. John Gaspard does a good job with the magic and a really good job of making the psychics sympathetic characters instead of just the butts of skeptical jokes. The supporting cast of characters was quirky with Eli, our narrator, being mostly the straight man–as much of a straight man as a wise-cracking magician can be. I’m also a sucker for a prominent setting and the Minneapolis area is front and center. The Minnehaha Bunny is going on my list of things to see if I’m ever in the area.

My one criticism is that there are maybe too many coincidental relationships between characters. I might be accused of occasionally being to much of a slave of reality, and in this case I had to suspended my disbelief a little. I didn’t mind; while very serendipitous, the relationships between characters never seemed overly contrived.

I had a great time reading The Ambitious Card. Goodreads says its the first of the Eli Marks mysteries. I’m glad to hear that. I don’t read many series, but I’m definitely willing to go on another adventure with Eli.

The Ambitious Card was released on Aug. 20, 2013 from Henery Press.

Genre: Mystery
Why did I choose to read this book? Mystery! With magic
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes
Craft Lessons: It’s okay to have fun. No really, it is.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: Netgalley

Bout of Books 8.0 – #Pairathon Challenge

Bout of Books 8.0 – #Pairathon Challenge

Hosted by Nikki @ Book Pairing

The premise is simple. I want to see what you’re out there reading and drinking or eating during Bout of Books. I’m nosy. But I also think that books and wine/food/beer are better when enjoyed together. So let’s share?

Cashew BeefMy pairing is Jim Steinmeyer’s The Glorious Deception and Hawaiian Cashew Beef. “But wait a minute, Katherine,” I hear you saying, “what does Hawaiian beef have to do with a Chinese conjurer? And those are peanuts, not cashews!” Well, Robinson was an American pretending to be half Chinese and half Scottish. I figure there’s nothing gained by getting technical in this case. I could change the name of this dish to be Ginger Peanut Beef, but what fun would that be?