Sad over my magic man

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


After The Houdinis and Londons met in November, 1915, they kept up a brisk correspondence until Jack London died suddenly and unexpectedly just a year after their meeting. He was only forty years old.

Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini
photo: wildabouthoudini.com

Houdini shot off a telegram to Charmian from their home in New York City. “Papers here report Jack’s death. Please let us know if this shocking truth is founded on facts. Your sincere friends, Harry and Bessie Houdini”

The following year, Charmian London went to live in New York City’s Greenwich Village for a while. She had old friends there to comfort her over losing her husband, Jack.

She went to see Houdini’s patriotic magic show. Harry seemed amazed by her healthy, blooming appearance.

Charmian answered defensively. “I refuse to be beaten. I am going to put in whatever years life still hold for me as profitably in the pursuit of happiness as I possibly can. You have lost and suffered. Am I not right in that attitude?”

Afterwards, Charmian wrote Houdini a private letter, without mention of her friend, Bessie.

“Someday, at exactly the right time and place, I shall tell you more about this past year and the other remarkable experience I have had that I really have carved out for myself. This is your letter. Please destroy it. (But don’t forget it.) CL”

Tickets to the Show

In January, Houdini sent her tickets to his new show, where he made Jenny the elephant disappear right in front of the audiences’ eyes. Afterwards, he invited Charmian backstage and treated her with warmth and affection that rekindled her feelings for him. She’d worn white fur and he called her his Lady in White. The chemistry between them sizzled.

Back in her Greenwich flat, she wrote that Houdini said she looked like a girl. Flattering since at six years older than Jack, she’d always felt so much older. She was sure Houdini would call her, but when she didn’t hear from him for several days, she thought she’d misread his signals.

When she did hear, it was an invitation to dine with Bessie and Houdini.

The next morning Houdini telephoned her flat. She wrote in her diary: “HH declaration over the phone rather shakes me up.”

Charmian and Harry started to see each other late in the afternoon or late at night after his shows. Houdini wrote his friend, “Been having a hard time with my private affairs.” While Charmian recorded the ardent affair in her diary with overwhelming passion, swooning, trembling, and stirring to the very depths of their souls. Charmian couldn’t sleep, she was too swept still.

“I’m mad about you."

Over the winter and spring months of 1918, Houdini professed his deepest desires for the widow: “I’m mad about you. I give all myself to you.” And the highest praise from Houdini, who cherished his deceased mother above all: “I would have told her -- my mother -- about you ...”

The passion of the affair seemed to overwhelm them both. Houdini proclaimed: “Now I know how kings have given up kingdoms for a woman. You are gorgeous -- you are wonderful. I love you.” And “You are unreal to me. I don’t even think you have to eat.”

Both of them wrestled with their consciences, over adultery. Houdini didn’t show up for their dates. Charmian would go out with friends instead of seeing him. Arriving at her empty flat, Houdini would write sorrowful messages for her.

Finally, it proved all too much for the two of them. Charmian left New York in April, 1918, and returned to Beauty Ranch by the Transcontinental railroad. She began writing notes for her biography of Jack London.

Houdini and Charmian London exchanged affectionate letters and telephone calls until the end of Houdini’s life, October 31, 1926.

When Charmian heard about Houdini’s death, she wrote in her diary: “Stirred with regret ... I scan his lovely picture with a magnifying glass. Sad over my magic lover ... dead.”