The (medical) reason why the Houdinis never had children

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Postby JohnCox » 07/30/11 10:07 AM

I've been sitting on this information for a long time. Sixteen years, to be precise. It's the answer to why Harry and Bess Houdini never had children, and it was told to me by Houdini's late niece, Marie Blood. As far as I know, it's never been revealed in any book or article. Until now.

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Postby Terry » 07/30/11 11:35 AM

It may have been a good thing they never had a son. Considering who his father would have been, the pressure to be the next generation Houdini would have been impossible to achieve.
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Postby JohnCox » 07/30/11 11:43 AM

Yes, that's a very good point, Terry.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 07/30/11 11:54 AM

... or the kid would have indeed been the next Houdini, charisma and all, and perhaps carried the legacy proudly for another 85 years.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 07/30/11 01:28 PM

They could have adopted - being first in that trendy practice that so amuses today's celebrities. Character is often forged out of difficult conditions and difficult choices.

Glad to read the open discussion of Bess's medical condition that would have made pregnancy next to impossible and childbith simply unthinkable.

Sometimes talent skips a generation or two. More useful to look at the grandparents for those long term predictions. ;)
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Postby JohnCox » 07/30/11 01:32 PM

Yeah, why they didn't adopt, that's a mystery. Bill Kalush actually spoke about this at his Skirball lecture. He said he thought Bess "needed to be the child" in the relationship. Possibly. Or maybe Houdini did.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 07/30/11 02:11 PM

Bess Houdini told Anne Gwynne that Houdini and his brother Leo sterilized themselves playing with Leopold's X-Ray machine.
I have always been a bit mistrustful of Marie Blood's explanation. Marie was a very young child when Bess might have gone (probably did go) through menopause. Bess, naturally, would have never had a period when Marie knew her.
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Postby Terry » 07/30/11 05:09 PM

Patrick,

The x-ray explanation could be misdirected blame to hide Bess' medical condition.

Either way, the particular players are long passed.
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Postby El Harvey Oswald » 07/30/11 08:09 PM

why not reveal it 16 years ago? 8? 1 year ago?
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Postby David Byron » 07/30/11 09:15 PM

The claim about x-ray sterilization and the claim about amenorrhea are not mutually exclusive.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 07/30/11 09:49 PM

Hey, El Harvey Oswald, John told me he held onto it all these years because he thought you wouldn't be able to handle it.
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Postby Pete Biro » 07/30/11 10:18 PM

The Tim Burton exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) includes short film made by Burton when he was 14 years old that is an amazing sketch about Houdini. Burton acts in it and it is really interesting. You must see the complete exhibit... it runs through Halloween.
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Postby magicam » 07/31/11 06:01 AM

Interesting piece, but perhaps it would be more prudent to say that this may be the reason why Harry and Bess never had children, rather than stating it as fact?

Im no Houdini historian, and havent read much about Houdini in many years, but here are some questions which come to mind in connection with Marie Bloods claims:

1. How reliable was Marie Blood as a source of historical facts? Did she have a track record of making revelatory statements which were subsequently and widely accepted as true by careful and reputable Houdini historians, or was she a font of misinformation and sensationalism (in the spirit of promoting her uncle/family)? Over time, were her statements about certain facts and events consistent, or inconsistent?

2. How well did she really know Bess? How much time did she really spend with Bess? Did Bess like Marie?

3. John mentions Bloods claim that Bess was very frail and often sick, and she never weighted [sic] more than 98 pounds. Have historians confirmed these claims? From what I recall, young Bess may have been short, but she certainly didnt have rail thin legs, and she seemed to look healthy enough as a young adult. When has it ever been established to a reasonable degree that she never weighed more than 98 pounds? Is it possible that Maries facts (impressions) were colored by the fact that she only really came to know Bess in Bess later years, when Bess actually did look thin and frail?

Im glad John came forth with this information, but wary of believing that its the reason why the Houdinis never had children.

*******
Edit:

Okay, did a quick Google, and came up with these photos. Dont think they show a frail or thin person at all.

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid= ... =1&theater

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid= ... =1&theater
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Postby AJM » 07/31/11 08:43 AM

Don't know about anyone else, but I find the discussion of these 'facts' somewhat distasteful and wouldn't have at all minded if John had 'sat' on this information ad infinitum.

Of course, I could be wrong - perhaps a special edition of Genii featuring a number of articles on the fertility of magicians (past and present) and their partners might be a best seller.

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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 07/31/11 10:44 AM

I'm with the "maybe it's true" side of the presumptive diagnosis of Bess.

Those who don't already know that many of life's important moments, from start to finish, are icky ... are in for some surprises.
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Postby JohnCox » 07/31/11 12:04 PM

magicam wrote:1. How reliable was Marie Blood as a source of historical facts? Did she have a track record of making revelatory statements which were subsequently and widely accepted as true by careful and reputable Houdini historians, or was she a font of misinformation and sensationalism (in the spirit of promoting her uncle/family)? Over time, were her statements about certain facts and events consistent, or inconsistent?

Well, during this same conversation Marie told me three other things that were unknown at the time (at least they weren't in print yet) -- that Bess smoked, that she was an alcoholic, and that she spent time in a sanatarium. All of these have since proved to be true. Marie might have misremembered facts at times, but I don't recall anything that I would say she made up.

magicam wrote:2. How well did she really know Bess? How much time did she really spend with Bess? Did Bess like Marie?

Houdini died when Marie was still a child, but Bessie lived on another 17 years, so well into Marie's young adulthood. Bess even lived with Marie and her mother for a time, and Marie says she was privy to conversation between the sisters who were VERY close. By all accounts Bessie and Marie got along well. Well enough to share clothes.

But I'm not certain this info came direct from Bess to Marie, or that it needs to to be true. Marie may have been told this by her mother. It's family history.

magicam wrote:3. John mentions Bloods claim that Bess was very frail and often sick, and she never weighted [sic] more than 98 pounds. Have historians confirmed these claims? From what I recall, young Bess may have been short, but she certainly didnt have rail thin legs, and she seemed to look healthy enough as a young adult. When has it ever been established to a reasonable degree that she never weighed more than 98 pounds? Is it possible that Maries facts (impressions) were colored by the fact that she only really came to know Bess in Bess later years, when Bess actually did look thin and frail?

There are LOTS of references to Bess being ill in Houdini correspondence, etc. Of course, some of these might have been hangovers. :p

[quote="magicam"]
Im glad John came forth with this information, but wary of believing that its the reason why the Houdinis never had children.[quote]
True. There could very well have been some kind of psychological barrier (they didn't adopt), or Houdini could have fried himself with X-rays. But you ain't making an omelet without the eggs.

Glad to see one of my blogs finally spurred some conversation. :)
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Postby JohnCox » 07/31/11 12:06 PM

El Harvey Oswald wrote:why not reveal it 16 years ago? 8? 1 year ago?

No blog. And...

AJM wrote:Don't know about anyone else, but I find the discussion of these 'facts' somewhat distasteful and wouldn't have at all minded if John had 'sat' on this information ad infinitum.


I knew some people might feel this way. I really did struggle with whether or not I should post it, and worked hard to present it in what I thought was the right way.
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Postby JohnCox » 07/31/11 12:08 PM

Pete Biro wrote:The Tim Burton exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) includes short film made by Burton when he was 14 years old that is an amazing sketch about Houdini. Burton acts in it and it is really interesting. You must see the complete exhibit... it runs through Halloween.


Boom.
http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2011/07 ... lacma.html

Haven't gone yet. Looking forward to it.
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Postby Oli Foster » 08/01/11 03:05 PM

I didn't like Ruth Brandon's Freudian psychobabble, so this at least provides some room for the cynic to maneuver around a perhaps unduly harsh depiction of a modern Oedipus Rex, or otherwise adds fuel to the fire.

It's interesting that the mainstream biographies all seem to have their own agenda, which leads one to read lots of them. Perhaps some middle-view is the most sensible but would probably be unpublishable.

However, thinking about it, what an odd thing to speculate about! Perhaps they just played it safe due to work commitments and very sensible too :) ...
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Postby JohnCox » 08/02/11 12:13 PM

Oli Foster wrote:It's interesting that the mainstream biographies all seem to have their own agenda, which leads one to read lots of them. Perhaps some middle-view is the most sensible but would probably be unpublishable.

There is no agenda or sensationalism in Kev Silverman's Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss. That's a very straightforward, fact based bio.
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Postby El Harvey Oswald » 08/02/11 05:46 PM

what exactly did your "struggle" entail? and, really, how many ways are there to "present" the fact that houdini's wife couldn't have kids?
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Postby El Harvey Oswald » 08/02/11 10:07 PM

" It's the answer to why Harry and Bess Houdini never had children"

THE answer? i know the piece is adorned with details about their "love of children," but in the absence of far deeper research, it is at most a potential reason.
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Postby JohnCox » 08/03/11 10:14 AM

El Harvey Oswald wrote:what exactly did your "struggle" entail? and, really, how many ways are there to "present" the fact that houdini's wife couldn't have kids?

Well, I struggled with whether it was my place to reveal a family medical secret to the public. Did Marie tell me this in confidence? Might the Bloods be angry with me? Would some be offended and feel a private life should remain private (as some criticized my story about Houdini's mistresses). People can get weird about sex. So...yeah, I had to struggle with whether this was something appropriate to post.

I could have done it a few ways. I could have just done it coldly and faculty in a blog about their childlessness. I could have included as a sentence in my pets story. I could have revealed the source, or not. I could have included the diagnoses, or not. In the end, I decided to do it as a personal story about how I found out this personal piece of information. Reveal the source, the setting, etc. Make it as much a story of the discovery as the issue itself. I just felt like I had to do this showing appreciation for the source, Marie, and reverence for the subject, Bess.

El Harvey Oswald wrote:" It's the answer to why Harry and Bess Houdini never had children"

THE answer? i know the piece is adorned with details about their "love of children," but in the absence of far deeper research, it is at most a potential reason.

Yeah, true. Guilty. But I'm still a writer and this is a lead paragraph. It needs to grab the reader. But if you read the whole piece, I think the balance is there in the end and everyone understands where I'm coming from. Sure, there could have also been psychological/professional reasons they didn't have kids. But I've never heard/read about those. On the other hand, I have read that they wanted kids. And Marie did say this was THE reason...

Maybe I should have said "couldn't have children", because there's no question that Bess couldn't have children with this condition.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 08/03/11 10:37 AM

The blog entry reports something from a person who's now gone. Is it less of a struggle since the only person who could offer clarification is gone?

I find the psychological context more awkward than the medical matter that's presumed, elaborated then discssed (okay you can also read that as disgust).
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Postby JohnCox » 08/06/11 01:51 PM

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Postby houdini's ghost » 08/06/11 03:07 PM

I think the year was 1991--I could be wrong--but there was quite a gathering of magic collectors and historians in Appleton, Wisconsin, for a magic collectors convention. Ken Silverman was there, Manny Weltman, Randall Bell, etc. We were honoring Sid Radner that year. Henry Muller let four of us examine the Mirror Cuff and open and lock it.
At one point, Sid Radner, Weltman and I were onstage talking to four hundred or so people. The question was asked, "Why didn't the Houdinis have children?"
Weltman repeated what Marie Blood had told him and me. This was well before Ken had published his book--in fact he was researching at a frantic pace in Appleton--and Milwaukee--on that trip.
So that bombshell was detonated way back then.
Then, Jay Marshall stood up and offered an equally plausible explanation, that is, he said, "Bessie Houdini told Anne Gwynne that Houdini and his brother Leopold sterilized themselves playing with Leopold's X-Ray machine." Leopold's office was in the brownstone at 278 W. 113th.
I mentioned that in Kellock, Bessie's story was that they wanted children, but, felt they shouldn't have them until they retired from the road. I said that I knew from my friendships with the two greatest magic teams in my lifetime that can be true.
Anyway, who gives a [censored]. The big news would be that they never had a baby because they never had sex.
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Postby JohnCox » 08/10/11 02:14 PM

Interesting. Thanks, Pat.
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Postby JohnCox » 08/24/11 12:20 PM

This is worth clicking back into to read the comment by Gregory Edmonds, who knew Marie and knowns the Bloods very well. Intrigued by what he had to add about the "born on the boat" thing.

http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2011/07 ... essie.html
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Postby Richard Hatch » 08/24/11 01:06 PM

houdini's ghost wrote:Then, Jay Marshall stood up and offered an equally plausible explanation, that is, he said, "Bessie Houdini told Anne Gwynne that Houdini and his brother Leopold sterilized themselves playing with Leopold's X-Ray machine." Leopold's office was in the brownstone at 278 W. 113th.

According to online sources, the Houdini's got married (or at least, partnered up!) in 1894. X-rays were not discovered/investigated for medical use until late in 1895 and Houdini didn't purchase his brownstone (where the above incident supposedly took place) until 1904. So that's a decade of childless co-habitation before this event could have happened.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 08/24/11 01:36 PM

Bessie said in the early years they couldn't think of having children.
Why didn't some of our greatest married teams have children? Because for the life/career they chose, they couldn't stop working, settle down--because the ACT was their child.
Anyway, Houdini didn't get Daisy White, Ina Claire, Charmian London, Lila Leeds or Milla Barry pregnant either.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 08/24/11 08:58 PM

Listen John,
You seemed to have shocked a few people who didn't know anything about this, but, it was only fresh news to you and them. In your blog about this, you also wrote that Marie Blood revealed to you back in 1995 the dumbfounding news that Bessie Houdini smoked.
I refer you to: "(Houdini) didn't smoke or drink; Bess enjoyed doing both."
Patrick Culliton, Genii magazine, Oct 1993
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 08/24/11 10:29 PM

Patrick, is there really good reason to believe that Houdini had affairs with all five women you've named?
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Postby houdini's ghost » 08/24/11 11:10 PM

Okay, Milla Barry--busted (by Houdini himself); Charmian London--pretty much busted (by Charmian); Daisy White--Zolotow and Flosso were insistent about that one; Lila Leeds--Flosso said Georgie Jessel (worked with her in Vaudeville) said yeah; Ina Claire--again Flosso quoting what Theo Hardeen had told him. Ina Claire was a big star.
Now, can Al Flosso be trusted as a source of information? In my opinion, particularly having known Jackie, I think he can. Jackie told me many show biz stories and he was uncannily accurate about names and dates and such.
Other names come up, but, those five are pretty certain--to me.
I'm not trying to force that opinion on anyone else. I was just delivering one of those "bombshells" my colleague John Cox loves so much.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 08/24/11 11:32 PM

Interesting, and it makes Houdini a serial philanderer, rather than having just a fling with Jack London's wife. Given his ego, it's not surprising. He liked to conquer challenges.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 08/24/11 11:55 PM

Milla Barry stayed with Bessie out here in California.
Daisy White was Bessie's partner in the tea room, Beatrice Houdini's Rendevous, and Charmian London was supposed to be Bessie's friend as well as Houdini's.
In Kellock, reference is made to Bessie returning "mash notes" to adoring women who had written to Houdini. There may even be mention of the widow of a friend--there's something specific in there. The Kellock book is Bessie's story.
I believe Houdini had a seductive personality. I believe he was a seductive performer. I really don't know anything for absolute sure about his sex life, but, Harry Blackstone Sr. told Harry Jr. that Houdini was the most charming man he ever met. "Houdini referred to Sr. once as "the magician from the West with the unmanageable hair and the irresistible wife."
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Postby David Byron » 08/25/11 02:00 AM

Wikipedia and IMDB give Lila Leeds a birth year of 1928. That's quite a trick, Mr. Jessel!

Maybe Bing Crosby introduced them. ;)
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Postby houdini's ghost » 08/25/11 10:41 AM

Lila Lee (July 25, 1901 November 13, 1973). Sorry about that, David.
Lila Leeds was the gal who got Mitchum busted for Pot.
Lila Lee was in a kiddie act with Jessel, co-starred in Terror Island with Houdini after becoming reacquainted with Houdini at a party at Buster Keaton's, and was the mother of James Kirkwood, who wrote "A Chorus Line."
And, David, don't give me shjt about the fact that Bing Crosby introduced my Aunt Mary to Houdini.
Lila Lee. Now look her up on Wikipedia.
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Postby JohnCox » 08/25/11 11:20 AM

Ina Claire!

That's a new one to me.
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Postby El Harvey Oswald » 08/25/11 11:29 AM

While "serial philanderer" is linguistically accurate, it suggests something anomalous; as if he's an outlier. Five women, historically famous, reasonably attractive and fit . . . He's probably on the lower end relative to other similarly situated famous people's propensity to avail themselves of the surplus sexual demand for them.
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Postby David Byron » 08/25/11 11:30 AM

houdini's ghost wrote:Lila Lee (July 25, 1901 November 13, 1973). Sorry about that, David.

That makes more sense than Lila Leeds. Thanks for clarifying.
houdini's ghost wrote:And, David, don't give me shjt about the fact that Bing Crosby introduced my Aunt Mary to Houdini.

All ribbing intended in a friendly way! :D
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