Monday, June 10, 2024

The Houdini Issues: The Story So Far

Last year was the 100-year anniversary of Weird Tales magazine. There were eight issues published in that first year, 1923, beginning in March and ending in November. There was a bimonthly issue in July/August--call it a vacation issue--and no issue at all in December. Things were looking pretty good for the new magazine at the close of its first year.

Nineteen twenty-four started off well enough. There were monthly issues in January through April, but then the troubles began. Or at least the outward troubles began. Behind the scenes, the publishers Jacob C. Henneberger and John M. Lansinger parted ways that spring. Lansinger got the companion magazine Detective Tales and took editor Edwin Baird with him. Henneberger held onto Weird Tales--it was supposed to have been his favorite--but, with the departure of Baird, he needed an editor. And if he wasn't already in arrears with his creditors by then, Henneberger soon would be. By April 1924, he had twelve issues under his belt. The next would make thirteen. Would it be an unlucky thirteen?

One result of all of this was the first-anniversary number of Weird Tales and the only quarterly issue of the magazine, at least in its first incarnation. That issue was dated May/June/July 1924. In other words, in this month of June 2024, we are one hundred years past the near-final flourish of "The Unique Magazine." There would not be another issue until November 1924.

Last year in this space, I wrote, one by one, about the issues of 1923. As this year began, I jumped ahead to the first-year anniversary number of May/June/July 1924. My purpose is to use that anniversary as a starting point for a series about observances--or at least mentions--of other anniversaries between then and now. Before getting into that, I began a series on the Houdini issues of Weird Tales, of which there were three: March, April, and May/June/July 1924. My writing fell off pretty quickly after that beginning. Since then I have been busy with my regular work and with things to do with my family. You, the readers, have been hanging in there with me, though. I thank you for that.

The Houdini issues were, I think, another outward sign of the inward troubles experienced by Weird Tales. If you're struggling financially and need to bring in some cash, maybe you had better do something new and different. The Great Houdini was world-renowned in 1924. Even now, one hundred years later, people still know and invoke his name. That's pretty remarkable when you think about it. Getting Houdini on board with Weird Tales would make for a great coup. The Great Houdini would help to sell magazines. He would make them magically disappear from the newsstand. Or maybe that was the thinking.

Houdini met with Henneberger in Chicago in February 1924. Then or soon after, the two signed an agreement. Under its terms, Houdini would write "articles" for publication in the magazine. That was sure to boost sales. And what would he receive in return? Well, some press would come his way, and maybe he needed it. Maybe he was struggling a little in his career. In addition to that, Houdini was setting off on a lecture tour of America, the subject of which was his efforts at busting what were called spirit-fakers, or fraudulent mediums. Hooray (or Hou-ray) for Houdini!

Like I said, there were three Houdini issues of Weird Tales. Each had a story written under Houdini's byline. Each story was also a cover story, the first two depicting Houdini himself. These three Houdini issues were:

  • Weird Tales, March 1924--Cover story: "The Spirit Fakers of Hermannstadt," part one of a two-part serial by Harry Houdini. Cover art by R.M. Mally.
  • Weird Tales, April 1924--Cover story: "The Hoax of the Spirit Lover" by Harry Houdini. Cover art by R.M. Mally. Also inside: part two of "The Spirit Fakers of Hermannstadt."
  • Weird Tales, May/June/July 1924--Cover story: "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" by Harry Houdini. Cover art by R.M. Mally.

So far this year, I have written several entries on Houdini and his stories in Weird Tales. These are:

  • Weird Tales: The Houdini Issues-Part Two (Feb. 2, 2024)--"Spirits & Sphinxes"--An account of Houdini's association with Weird Tales, a list of his magazine credits, a beginning of his association with Arthur Conan Doyle, and a look at the Sphinx motif in connection to Houdini.
  • Weird Tales: The Houdini Issues-Part Three (Feb. 5, 2024)--"Imprisoned with the Pharaohs"--Jumping ahead to the third and last Houdini story, I wrote about how H.P. Lovecraft was the actual author of "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs," the cover story for the anniversary number of Weird Tales. Lovecraft's authorship of that story has been common knowledge for a very long time.
I left off with Part Four saying that I would next like to write next about the séance at Castle D---, the setting for the main action in "The Spirit-Fakers of Hermannstadt." And that's what I'll do before moving on to the middle story, "The Hoax of the Spirit Lover."

To be continued . . .

Copyright 2024 Terence E. Hanley

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