By Tom Interval
It’s the fourth of November, 1926, in Detroit, where Harry Houdini died only four days earlier.
Behind the Garrick Theater, 11-year-old George scrambles to find a hiding place. He’s way too young to be running from a gun-toting thug, but that’s what he gets for conning him with the old three-shell game.
“You can’t hide from me, twerp!” says the thug. “When I get my hands on ya…”
Just then, the backstage entrance door George is leaning on opens up just enough for him to slip into the theater as the door swings closed and locks behind him.
In the dark silence, a voice calls out. George soon discovers it’s the ghost of Houdini, whose final challenge is to inspire the boy to live a more honest life. It’s the only way the great escape artist can be reunited with his beloved mother, Cecelia, who died thirteen years earlier.
To achieve this, Houdini takes George on a journey that spans the escapologist’s life—from his early childhood struggles, to performing in vaudeville, to meeting his wife, Bess, all the way up to his final performance at the Garrick.
That’s the story line of The Great Houdini, a two-act play that ran at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood from April 22 through May 30, 1999. Alan London, coauthor and executive producer of the play, recently announced he’s selling an e-book of the full script, available for Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook e-book readers.
The story, “comprised of far more fact than fiction,” according to London, is based on more than 12 years of research. And magician and actor Jim Bentley, who played Houdini, really looked the part and apparently did a fantastic job, along with the rest of the cast, including Raphael Goldstein (George), Kim Lores (Bess), Elizabeth Ince (Cecelia), and magician Whit “Pop” Haydn (the thug), among others.
“The entire cast performs with gusto,” wrote reviewer Ed Thomas in the August 1999 issue of M-U-M, the official publication of the Society of American Magicians. “Production values are top notch. Altogether an enjoyable evening of theatre and magic.”
As for the script itself, an uncredited reviewer in the April 3, 1999, issue of Goodliffe’s Abracadabra wrote that it “made fascinating reading, with a twist in the tail [sic] those seeing the play are asked not to divulge.” And Paul Gross writes in his May 14, 2010, blog that The Great Houdini “was written much like a feature film rather than [a] play . . .”
Even illusionists Siegfried & Roy enjoyed reading the script three years before the play’s opening at the Stella Adler. “We offer Congratulations to you on a very well-written work,” they wrote in 1996 in a personal letter to London. “We feel that because of the manner in which you tell the story, it would have a broad appeal . . .”
To purchase The Great Houdini e-book script, click on the cover thumbnail below or visit one of the following web pages:
- Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/The-Great-Houdini-ebook/dp/B00CLUM4CE
- Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1115237658?ean=9781626757301
To read about some of the show’s props, built at Warner Bros. Studio, and to see pictures of the props and show posters, visit Gross’s blog at http://hocuspoc.wordpress.com/2010/05/14/.
To see a 2009 video of Jim Bentley performing a Houdini-like upside-down straitjacket escape at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, visit the following YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKmQnnEJXfY&feature=youtu.be