Charming Houdini. I’ll never forget him.

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-Charmian London’s diary, November, 1915

Excerpted from The SECRET LIFE of MRS. LONDON: The love triangle between Harry Houdini and Charmian and Jack London by Rebecca Rosenberg


Jack and Charmian London met Harry and Bess Houdini after his magic show at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, in November, 1915. The San Francisco Chronicle reported about the show in their November 8, 1915 issue:

Harry Houdini in water chamber

Harry Houdini in water chamber
photo: wildabouthoudini.com

HOUDINI PUZZLES AUDIENCE AT ORPHEUM

Boxed, Dumped Into Water, Escapes

Houdini throws the big thrills into this week's show at the Orpheum. He has mystified local vaudeville patrons with many and varied exhibitions of his ability to liberate himself from all sorts of stage captivity, defying doors, locks and chains, but his new act surpasses all the previous ones.

In this act he is lowered head downward into a box compartment full of water, and with his feet fastened after the manner of the oldtime stocks, to the top of the cabinet. The whole contrivance is pretentiously barred, bound and padlocked, but Houdini comes out triumphantly about sixty seconds after the submersion. The cabinet is the performer's own invention though it is called a "Chinese water torture cell," after which it is supposed to be patterned. Also on the "elusive American's" programme is the East Indian needle trick.

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Jack London took his daughter Becky (who lived with her mother, Jack’s ex-wife, Elizabeth Maddern) to Houdini’s show one afternoon on a chilly November day. He was so impressed, he brought Charmian the next evening, even after he’d spent four excruciating hours in the dental chair earlier in the day. After the show, the Houdinis and Londons met and went to dinner, becoming fast friends.

The following week, the Houdinis hosted the Londons for Thanksgiving dinner in their Oakland hotel, introducing them to Houdini’s brother Hardeen, who was appearing as a magician in Oakland as well.

To be continued …

Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, Charmian London Diary, Huntington Library, San Marino, California