Was Houdini Killed?
by Sam J. Smiley
(Is Smilovitz trying to tell us something with this title?)
Smiley's 1953 story on what happened backstage in Houdini's dressing room. Smiley wrote an article where he talked a little more freely about the dressing room incident.
Quoting from that article.
... More conversation and then Whitehead asked Houdini another question. "What is your opinion of the miracles mentioned in the Bible?"
Houdini tactfully replied, "I prefer not to discuss or to comment on matters of this nature. I would make one observation, however, " what would succeeding generations said of Houdini's feats had he performed them in Biblical times? Would they have been referred to as 'miracles'?"
Whitehead appeared to be somewhat taken aback at this statement.
It was at this point that Whitehead began to manifest what seem to me an astonishing interest in Houdini's physical strength.
Then, out of a clear sky, Whitehead asked, "is it true, Mr. Houdini, that you can resist the hardest blows struck to the abdomen?"
The rest of this 1953 story by Smilovitz continues as follows
... Houdini did not appear to be very proud of his abdominal muscles.
In an apparent attempt to divert attention from his abdomen, he ignored the question and exclaimed, "my forearm and back muscles are like iron! Feel them." We did and found how near human muscles can approach iron in rigidity and strength.
Again Whitehead manifested interest in Houdini's abdominal muscles. "Is it true that your stomach muscles can stand very hard blows?"
Houdini repeated, "my forearm and back muscles are extremely strong. They're like iron."
Once more Whitehead returned to the abdominal muscles, as if it were all-important to establish
their power of resistance to external force.
"Would you mind if I delivered a few blows to your abdomen, Mr. Houdini?" he asked.
Whether it was a matter of professional pride or whether Houdini felt that it would hurt his prestige to refuse - I do not pretend to know.
Before I knew it Houdini had accepted the challenge and then and there he lay supine,
but apparently not quite ready to receive Whitehead's blows. Hovering over his outstretched form, Whitehead, with elbow bent, suddenly struck four or five terribly forcible, deliberate,
well-directed blows to Houdini's abdomen.
My friend, who, at the time showed more presence of mind than I, interposed and held back
Whitehead. "Are you mad?" he fairly shouted in indignation.
Even the great Houdini appeared to have had enough. With a wry smile (that I can still clearly
picture), Houdini made an arresting gesture with his hand and mumbled almost inaudibly, "that will do."
The atmosphere in the little room was charged and tense at that moment. My friend and I felt
particularly uncomfortable. Houdini resumed his pose, and I rapidly added the finishing touches to
It seems to us, as in Smilovitz's affidavit that follows, Smilovitz is telling us, no matter what Houdini said, or how much Houdini tried to divert the subject from his stomach, Whitehead was intent on bringing the conversation to where he could punch Houdini with impunity,
and that is what he did!
Smiley also said...
Harry Cohen told me that "when Whitehead came in for the affidavit, he laughed about the incident. He was very arrogant, not at all penitent "oh, it was nothing at all, let me show you how I did it." "no, no don.t show me!" Cohen told him, drawing back He thought Whitehead might be crazy enough to punch him in the abdomen too."
Sworn Affidavit of SAMUEL J. SMILOVITZ, Three pages.
Line breaks are as in the original.
Writing in italics are in hand.
Parts in red are by me for emphisis.
There are a few changes from the Pat Culliton version, but the are mostly the same.
Comments followed below.
Dominion of Canada,
Province of Quebec 1
SAMUEL J. SMILOVITZ, being first duly sworn,
deposes and says:
I am a student at McGill University, Montreal,
Canada, and reside at 724 Sherbrooke St. W., Montreal.
I first met the late Harry Houdini in the
ballroom of the McGill University union on the afternoon
of October 19, 1926 when he delivered an address to the
student body of the University. I am an artist and I
sketched Houdini while he was speaking. I showed him the
sketch and he appeared to be pleased with it, autographed
it and invited me through a friend to call to see him
at the Princess Theater some morning after 10 o' clock to
make a drawing of him. Accordingly at about 11 o'clock
on Friday morning, October 22, 1926, I called on Houdini
with a friend, Jack price by name, at his dressing room.
Others present at this visit were Miss Sophie Rosenblatt,
a nurse who is attending on Houdini in connection with
trouble he had with his foot,Mrs. Houdini who was present (1)
for a time, two lady secretaries and later a third student
of McGill University, who I believe is in the second year
of arts at the University. Such third student was about
twenty-five years of age and seemed to be of a rather
My friend and I were in the dressing room from
about a quarter after 11 o'clock in the morning until
about a 1:15 in the afternoon. I was seated
in one corner of the room (which is small like most
theater dressing rooms) with a pencil and paper as I was
going to draw Houdini. My friend, Jack Price, was seated
near me and watched me draw for a considerable part of
the time. A little distance away from my friend sat the
third student. Opposite to the three of us reclining
on a couch and with his right side nearer to us was
Houdini. The latter while reclining was resting on cush-
ions to make it more convenient for him to talk and to
be drawn by me. It was rather difficult to draw Houdini
as he was reading his mail although this did not disturb
me so much. The third McGill student engaged Houdini
more or less continually in conversation and Houdini
of course turned to answer him. He told us much concern-
ing his beliefs, experiences and the like. The third
McGill student spoke to Houdini about his strength. (2)
My friend and I were not so much interested in his strength
as we were in his mental acuteness, his skill, his beliefs
and his experiences. Houdini stated that he had extra-
ordinary muscles in his forearms, his shoulders and in his
back and he asked us to feel them, which we did. (3)
The third McGill student asked Houdini whether
it was true that punches in the stomach did not hurt him.
Houdini remarked rather unenthusiastically that his stom-
ach could resist much although he did not speak of it
in superlative terms. The McGill student shortly there-
after gave Houdini very heavy blows below the belt, (4)
(Added in hand initialed twice S. J. S.) first securing Houdini's permission to strike him.(S. J. S.) (5)
Houdini was reclining and the said student was more or
less over him. Since Houdini's right side was nearer to
us, the blows fell to the stomach a little to the right
of the navel. I do not remember exactly how many blows
were struck. I am sure, however, that at least two hard
and deliberate blows were delivered while my friend be-
lieves that the student hit the reclining magician at
least four times. Houdini stopped the student in the
midst of a punch (and my friend especially and I protested (6)
with a gesture that he had had enough.
(Initialed twice and in hand) S.J.S. immediately after my friend and I protested against this sudden onslaught. S. J. S. )
Houdini stated that
he had not had an opportunity to prepare himself against
the blows. The conversation then continued smoothly (7)
and I continued to draw until a little after 1 o'clock
when Houdini was ready to go to lunch.
Sworn to before me this
(in Hand)10th day of February, 1927.(Signature) SJ Smilovitz
(in Hand)Munroe Abbey
Commissioner of the Superior Court
for the District of Montreal
1. This is here to tell us why the nurse was there. Not from Ptomaine or vomiting, but for Houdini's foot. DiD Smiley know this at the time or was he told later.
2. Here Whitehead is leading the conversation to Houdini's strength, and soon to his stomach.
3. Here as smiley will tell with more examples that did not stress his stomaach strength, as he does, but more so, in 1953 (See Below.
4. Here white head is leading up to punching Houdini and smiley is telling us was looking to move on.
5. Even though they protested Whitehead did not stop. Why?
6. This shows Smiley felt the onslaught was not expected or appropriate.
7. If Houdini had a chance to brace himself, it would not have been an accident.
Other sites of interest concerning this subject.
These are all works in progress and will change over the coming weeks. So check back.
Whitehead Friends LadyMarler, LadyAllen
Julia Sauer Houdini Ernst affadavit
Julia Karcher Houdini Ernst affadavit
Mackenzie King and Spiritualists
Whitehead out to get Houdini
Things to do in Scranton
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