Wednesday, July 19, 2006

History Detectives and Houdini Posters Part 2

The show begins with a bouncy reggae theme, “Watchin’ the Detectives”, and a voice over teases the story segments. We are to find out if a Chisom Trail historical marker in a southern Texas border town is for real. (It isn’t.) Could that American Flag, which according to family legend was draped over the coffin of assassinated President McKinley, be authentic? (, but close.)
Sandwiched between those two stories is the Houdini poster segment. The tease: “Does this poster hold a secret about escape artist Harry Houdini and his desperate attempts to speak to the dead?”
The segment itself starts out in troubling fashion when the host in charge of answering our questions, Gwendolyn Wright, mispronounces Lee Levin’s name, Lee Lubin. This kind of mistake, in this kind of show, is unforgivable. The entire premise of the show is to get the facts right.
Gwen meets Lee and interviews him on the story behind the poster. He asks if the poster is authentic, if it was from Houdini’s final season, and what Houdini performed in his show. She does not believe she has much to go on: only the poster, the month and day printed on the poster, the name of the theater on the poster, and that the poster came from Chicago. Not much at all.
First Gwen visits her colleague, Elyse Luray, to authenticate the poster. Measuring 14” X 22”, the poster is really a window card. It is printed on the right paper and in the right format. At the top of the card is the show information, SCHUBERT PRINCESS THEATER, BEG. MARCH 8, HOUDINI THE MASTER MYSTIFIER, underneath the information is the image. Elyse dates the card to the mid-1920s. So far, so good.
At this point, I hoped the show would cover the Chicago aspects of the story. They don’t. Houdini’s 8-week stand (one his longest anywhere) was one of tumult and triumph. He earned 10 to 12 thousand dollars a week (some of the highest receipts of his career) and some of the best reviews of his career (as a magician!).
Instead of the untold story, the History Detectives tell the told story, a brief biography of Houdini. During which is a visit to Las Vegas and Lance Burton. Gwen gets to perform some magic on stage with Lance. Then, Lance speaks to the fame of Houdini in his time and his continuing influence on modern magicians.
The Houdini name, while not on those lists of top earning dead celebrities, is still a household word. At the time of my last Google search there were over 300,000 web pages related to the Houdini name. Besides selling magic tricks, his name sells animation software, golf clubs, and fancy corkscrews among others. However, Gwen is no closer to the answer of the Spiritualism question.

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