Harry Houdini’s Father

By Tom Interval

From the time he arrived in the United States in 1876 to his death in 1892, Rev. Dr. Mayer Samuel Weiss, Harry Houdini’s father, struggled to support his family. I talk about those arduous years on my Houdini blog. Have a look by clicking on or touching the link or image below.

Rabbi Weiss’s Farewell Sermon 

Rev. Dr. Mayer Samuel Weiss, Harry Houdini’s father


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Happy Birthday, Joseph Leeming

By Tom Interval

Joseph Leeming, author, circa 1968 (Photo courtesy of Nancy Leeming)

Joseph Leeming, author, circa 1968 (Photo courtesy of Nancy Leeming)

Today marks what would have been Joseph Leeming’s 121st birthday. Yes, it would take some real magic to reach that age, but Leeming’s written legacy will endure much longer than that.

For the younger lads not familiar with his name, Leeming, born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 15, 1897, was an author who penned 59 nonfiction books on a variety of topics, including magic, puzzles, games, crafts, ships, history, and business.

He wrote most of those books for children and devoted ten of them to magic. Conjuring enthusiasts worldwide fondly remember checking out from the library such works as Fun With Magic, The Real Book about Magic, and Tricks and Stunts with Playing Cards.

When Leeming wasn’t writing, he worked as a news editor, writer, and public-affairs officer for the United States Department of State (DOS) and served as an information officer at the Department of the United States Information Agency (USIA). He retired in 1960 and died on September 26, 1968, in Folkestone, England, in Spade House, where English writer H.G. Wells lived about 60 years earlier.

Since Leeming’s death, thousands of magic books have been written. While many of them have replaced his volumes, which once dominated the shelves of school and public libraries, few have the same charm as Leeming’s, thanks, in part, to the spirited illustrations of Jessie Robinson. Sadly, even if Leeming’s books were still prevalent in libraries, children are less likely to stumble upon them since they don’t frequent those libraries as often—all the more reason to preserve Leeming’s memory.

In the months ahead, as time allows, I’ll research Leeming in more detail and possibly publish a longer article about him because he’s a man most magicians know virtually nothing about. In fact, to my knowledge, besides the 1927 newspaper image of him I posted on MagicPedia a couple of months ago, no photo of him exists in any reference materials, at least the ones I have access to. Fortunately, Nancy Leeming, Joseph’s daughter-in-law, was kind enough to provide me with the picture that accompanies this article.

Happy birthday, Joseph, and thank you for helping to nourish my interest in magic, just as you did for three generations of aspiring magicians.

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Posted in Authors, Birthdays, Books, Books, Cards, Fun with Magic, Illustrators, Jessie Robinson, Joseph Leeming, Learning, Magicpedia, Photos, Reading, Resources, Tricks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fun with Joseph Leeming

By Tom Interval

Joseph Leeming (1897-1968) (Photo: Buffalo Evening News, Tue. Sept. 6, 1927, p. 4)

Joseph Leeming (1897-1968) (Photo: Buffalo Evening News, Tue. Sept. 6, 1927, p. 4)

One of the most mind-boggling tricks that magic author Joseph Leeming (1897–1968) has ever done is render himself invisible for the past 91 years.

Sure, his books have been pretty conspicuous, infiltrating virtually every library from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Pittsburg, California. And he wrote a lot of books during his lifetime: 58, to be exact, and 10 of those were all about magic, including one of the first magic books I ever read: Fun with Magic.

But somehow Leeming still managed to keep his private life, well, private, which is kind of ironic considering he spent some of his career as a public-affairs officer. Not that we nostalgic, prying types have an inherent right to know every intimate detail of his personal affairs, but he was a public figure who has inspired three generations of children to delve deeply into conjuring, crafts, games, and other recreational pursuits that will last lifetimes. We want to know more about him!

Illustration by Jessie Robinson, Fun with Magic, by Joseph Leeming, 1943, J.B. Lippincott Co.

Illustration by Jessie Robinson, Fun with Magic, by Joseph Leeming, 1943, J.B. Lippincott Co.

So last week I decided it was time to do some digging and update at least the Joseph Leeming Magicpedia page, which, before last Tuesday, contained very little content and listed only five of his books.

For those interested, the page, while still a work in progress, now includes a more detailed and accurate (albeit short) biography, a complete list of every book Leeming wrote during his lifetime, corrected names and dates, and a photo of the man himself—the photo that accompanies this blog article and one most people haven’t seen since 1927.

I’ll continue adding to the page as time allows. For starters, I’ll lengthen the biography, expand the book list to include posthumous and translated editions, and find a clearer photo to use. In the mean time, I’ll get you started here, and you can decided whether or not you want to read more.

Joseph Leeming (June 15, 1897–September 26, 1968) was one of magic’s most prolific American authors. During his lifetime, he wrote 11 instructional books on magic and 47 other nonfiction books about a variety of topics, such as puzzles, games, crafts, ships, history, and business. A “modern Angelo Lewis,” as Robert Lund once called him¹, Leeming sometimes wrote under pseudonyms, including Professor Paradise, Professor Zingara, Merlin Swift, and Jo-Ann Leeming. Read more >

Posted in Authors, Books, Books, Fun with Magic, Illustrators, Jessie Robinson, Joseph Leeming, Learning, Magicpedia, Photos, Professor Hoffmann (Angelo Lewis), Reading, Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday, Houdini

By Tom Interval

Drop by my Houdini blog and read my birthday greeting to the one-and-only legend of escapology and magic, Harry Houdini, born 144 years ago today. In the mean time, enjoy this 1908 photo of him preparing to jump from the Harvard Bridge in Boston.



Posted in Anniversaries, Birthdays, Famous Magicians, Harry Houdini, Harry Houdini, magicians | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Scarce Photo of Houdini on the 91st Anniversary of His Death

By Tom Interval

There’s no enviable day to die, but if you’re a magician, and you have to cash in your chips, anyway, it might as well be on Halloween. That’s exactly what Harry Houdini did 91 years ago today: October 31, 1926, 1:26 p.m., age 52.

Of course, it wasn’t intentional. And of all the things that could have killed a daredevil like him—drowning, suffocation, strangulation, plummeting—it was peritonitis that ultimately did him in. I suspect that today at least some Houdini and history bloggers will expound on the myths, realities, and ironies of the pioneering showman’s demise, so I won’t offer you more of that.

Instead, here’s a scarce photo of the man, upside down as he often was (hence the danger of plummeting). It was published in The New York Times on August 29, 1920, with the caption, “HARRY HOUDINI, HANDCUFF KING, Freeing Himself from a Straight-jacket While Suspended in the Air at the Police Field Day Games at the Gravesend Race Track.”

To read the full article about this photo, please visit my Houdini blog: Houdini’s Suspended Straitjacket Escape at Police Field Day Games. In the mean time, Happy Halloween and Houdini Remembrance Day!



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Houdini Jack-o’-Lantern 2017

By Tom Interval

Last year I skipped my annual ritual of carving a Harry Houdini jack-o’-lantern, but I made one this year! Here’s one picture. To see a few more, see my Houdini blog. Hope you have a happy and safe Halloween!

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My Split-Second Appearance on a 1990 Busch Gardens Commercial

By Tom Interval

Tom Interval on a 1990 Busch Gardens TV commercialEven in 1988, $50 didn’t seem like a lot of money to be in a television commercial. But who was I to complain? I was doing what I loved for a living at a super-cool theme park to which I had unlimited access. Besides, the gig was a non-speaking part, so I didn’t even have to join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).

Busch Gardens Williamsburg (as in Williamsburg, Virginia) ended up using only about one second of  my performance in the commercial. So that’s $50 per second. Hmm. Eight hours in a typical workday, which equals 480 minutes, which equals 28,800 seconds, which, at $50 per second, equals $1,440,000 per day. I could scrape by on that.

Hey, a man can dream, can’t he?

As it turned out, not only did I not end up with millions of dollars, I didn’t even get a copy of the tape, despite my repeated requests to Busch over the years.

Fast-forward to 2017, a year that exists in the age of YouTube, the online video storehouse featuring everything from cat juggling to tutorials on quantum mechanics. Fortunately, it didn’t take a physics lesson to finally find the Busch commercial I’m in.

An anonymous guy in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who calls himself Betamax King, recorded the commercial back in 1990, two years after it was filmed. He has more than one YouTube channel jam-packed with old video and audio clips he’s collected over the years.

Here’s the 30-second commercial with my appearance in all of its one-second glory. Do you think it’s worth 50 bucks?

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