Time's caricature of Dr. S.S. Voronoff rejuvenating a belly dancer.

Our friend Kevin Connolly blew the doors off the Houdini world three years ago when he published a letter showing Harry contemplating having a monkey's testicle grafted onto his own equipment.

Click to enlarge.

Our recent visit to Harry's childhood home in Appleton, Wisconsin has provided indications that he may indeed have had the operation! 

Perfected by Dr. Serge Voronoff of Paris and Cairo, it was very  popular in the early 1920s. Many famous men, including Nobel laureate Anatole France and the great poet W.H. Auden, had it and thrived. Auden wrote much of his best poetry after age 70 and reportedly regained the sexual potency of his youth. Harry, hitting his mid-40s, complained periodically of the toll his daredevil life was taking on body and soul. A little rejuvenation would be welcome!

Kevin's letter from Houdini is addressed to Clifford Smyth, credited as co-founder and editor of the New York Times Book Review. Today, Saturday, October 10, is coincidentally the anniversary of the first appearance of book reviews in The Times.

In Kevin's letter, Houdini says "am to see the patients next week in Chi." We now can say with some certainty that Harry and Smyth were both considering having the monkey gland transplant performed by Houdini's lifelong friend, Dr. Max Thorek, the famous endocrinologist and glandular surgeon who founded the American Hospital in Chicago. 

Dr. Thorek performed many such operations. And Thorek eventually acquired Houdini's proudest possession - his priceless collection of documents related to the Diamond Necklace Affair (now held at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas). Was this the price Harry paid for rejuvenation?

This is corroborated by another letter to Smyth that we found in the Appleton archives of the Outagamie County Historical Society. The letter refers to Thorek by name and speculates: "will we call him "Transplantor?"

Dr. Max Thorek in his study. Photo by Fred Korth.
Did Harry ultimately have the operation? The American Hospital's official history proudly lists Houdini as a patient.
"Suspense." Photo by Dr. Max Thorek.



[Photo courtesy Sidney H. Radner Collection at the History Museum at the Castle, Appleton, WI.]


  1. Samuel P. Marchbanks, LLDOctober 11, 2015 at 11:53 AM

    Glad to see the photo by Thorek. He was both a great surgeon and a fine photographer. Fascinating story!

  2. When I read that Dr. Thorek eventually acquired Houdini's proudest possession, for a moment I thought the next line was going to be:

    His equipment.

  3. So are you saying that there's evidence Houdini went through with this?

  4. More inference than evidence. I can't find any other reason for him to have been a patient at that hospital.