Hollywood’s Magic Castle

Destination: Hollywood’s Magic Castle
The Magic Castle has Houdini’s spirit

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The Magic Castle in Hollywood is world famous as a private club for magicians and magic enthusiasts. It is a showplace for the greatest magicians to perform, or young magicians to learn their craft. The best of the best appear (and disappear) to the delight of lucky visitors to the spellbinding destination.

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The Castle is a great dining experience, along with presenting entertainment in the various showrooms throughout the magical place.

It also has a special connection with history’s most famous illusionist– the great Harry Houdini. Milt Larsen co-founder of the Magic Castle (with his late brother Bill) gathered a crowd on Hollywood Boulevard recently to rededicate Houdini’s star on the Walk of Fame, and further extol the legend of Houdini.

The bad boys of magic Penn and Teller were on hand for the ceremony, along with Neil Patrick Harris, Tippi Hedren, JoAnne Worley and Irene Larsen (Bill’s widow), also a founding member of the Castle and known in the magic world as “Princess Irene.”

Plus other magicians and celebrities were there to hear about the “mystery” of Houdini’s star, and chat with Hardene Houdini and his wife Cyrene. He is the grandson of Houdini’s brother and a magician as well.

Milt Larsen revealed, on the morning of November 1st, 2000, he got a call to go down to the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Orange Drive, which is just a block south of The Magic Castle.

It was discovered that sometime during the previous night of Halloween, Houdini’s star on the Walk of Fame cracked and was damaged. This occurred 25 years to the day that Harry’s star was first unveiled. So on October 24th, 2008 (exactly 82 years after Harry Houdini’s final performance), Larsen revealed a repaired star so the public could enjoy it for many years to come.

The new star for Houdini would not have been possible without the top magicians of today, including Lance Burton, David Copperfield, Tihany, Marvyn Roy (Mr. Electric), as well as Siegfried and Roy contributing to the restoration, in addition to the Academy of Magical Arts.

After the star ceremony, the Magic Castle hosted a VIP performance in the Palace of Mystery showroom, with Jim Bentley taking on the role of Houdini and escaping from a straitjacket just like the legend himself.

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The newly renovated Houdini Séance Room was also rededicated, and the Castle’s resident medium Leo Kostka was there to fill everyone in on Houdini’s history.

In addition to magic and escape, Houdini spent much of his late life debunking fraudulent mediums and was genuinely interested in knowing if it was possible to come in contact with “the other side.”

Harry and his wife Bess formulated a code and procedure that was put into effect following his death. The code was known only to Bess and Harry, and the procedure was ten consecutive years of séances to attempt to contact each other.

For ten years after Houdini’s death on Oct. 31st , 1926, Bess conducted the séances on the anniversary of his death (Halloween night) which were attended by the top names in magic. The final Houdini séance took place atop the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. Bess never came in contact with her late husband. Or did she?

Kostka reported that the séance room houses one of the largest original collections of Houdini’s “tools of the trade,” including his personal handcuffs, straitjacket, metamorphosis trunk and famous milk can escape. “Houdini himself used these actual props to mystify his audiences,” said Kostka, who also pointed out a picture of a young Milt Larsen doing a coin trick for Bess Houdini.

Milt and Bill’s magician father, William W. Larsen, Sr., was with Bess at the last Houdini séance in 1936, and for special groups, that final séance is recreated.

Castle patrons can enjoy a gourmet dinner and then be entertained by the mysteries of communicating with those who have crossed over in the séance room. Guests always marvel as images appear out of thin air and the voice of the great Houdini himself can be heard during a recreation of the final Houdini séance.

A wonderful experience beyond belief, the Magic Castle occupies a magnificent 100-year-old building that is on a hill right above the heart of Hollywood. The charming multi-level mansion constructed in 1909 was a private home, and is now home to the Academy of Magical Arts, a non-profit social order devoted to the advancement of the art of magic. Go to www.magiccastle.com to learn more about the Magic Castle.


Frank Barron is the former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, having served twice in that capacity. In between, he was West Coast news director for Billboard Publications, supervising their five magazines. Barron also created the western TV series “The Man From Blackhawk” for the ABC network. For more than three decades he and writer-wife Margie Barron have covered Hollywood for Production Update magazine, and they currently contribute to numerous publications. Frank started in showbiz as publicity director for the KHJ radio and television station. Before moving to California, he was a sports editor in New Jersey.

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