The Sworn Statement of James Collins, Nov. 26, 1926
State of New York,
County of New York,
City of New York.
JAMES COLLINS, being duly sworn, deposes and says:
I was the first assistant to the late Harry Houdini and for a period of approximately 18 years
I was with him and assisted him in all performances given by him in vaudeville, theaters
and elsewhere. I was with Mr. Houdini from the opening of the Houdini Show last
September and was with him continually until the date of his death on October 31, 1926.
Up to the 22nd day of October, 1926, Houdini was in good health and excellent physical
condition except for the fact that he had sustained an injury to his ankle at Albany on
October 11, 1926, during one of his performances. He was rapidly recovering from such
injury and did not miss a performance after the injury was sustained.
On Friday, October 22, 1926, he was playing at the Princess Theater, Montréal, and at
about 5 o’clock in the afternoon of that day he was in his dressing room at the said theater
in company with one Smilovitz and two other students of McGill University, Montréal,
where he had lectured a day or two before. I was at the theater at such time. On such
occasion one of the said students struck Houdini with two blows in his stomach merely for
the purpose of showing his resistance to blows. Houdini stated afterwards that he was
ordinarily able to steel himself against blows or bad effects there from, but that these
blows were struck at a time when he was not prepared for them.
The following morning Houdini told me that he had been greatly bothered about the blows
so struck and from that time on he was in bad condition and it was with extreme difficulty
that he managed to give the remaining performances at Montréal and the first
performance at Detroit on Sunday evening, October 24, 1926. In point of fact his condition
was such that he was unable to conduct these performances himself as he was in the
habit of doing. He was so weak at one performance for instance where he produces
approximately 1000 yards of silk from a small glass bowl that he was compelled to ask me
to pull the silk from a bowl for him. In an illusion in which he produces five women from a
cabinet it was his custom to walk through the cabinet to show that it was empty and he
was unable to lift his right foot to step upon the cabinet or to walk through it. He seemed
to be in pain and suffering throughout these later performances and was hardly able to
drag himself on and off the stage because of his physical condition and suffering at the
time of such performances. He was compelled to retire from the stage from time to time
and lie down for short periods of time and was completely exhausted at the expiration of
these performances.
This condition continued from October 22, 1926 throughout all performances which he
was able to give and until he was taken to the hospital at Detroit. Upon leaving Montréal
on Saturday night, October 23, 1926, his condition was such that it was necessary to
telegraph to have a physician meet him upon his arrival at Detroit.
The physicians at Detroit who operated upon Houdini at the Grace Hospital stated in my
presence that in their opinion the condition which they found, namely, a ruptured
appendix and peritonitis was directly caused by the blows struck at Montréal on the
preceding Friday night. Because of my close association with Houdini and my intimacy with
him, I am personally convinced that this is correct and that his condition after the blows
had been struck and until he was taken to the hospital at Detroit was occasioned by
reason of such blows and their effect upon him.
Houdini said to me that the person who had struck the blows said to him “I suppose that
you can stand a strong blow in the stomach” and that he replied that he could but that
before he had an opportunity to make his muscles rigid and properly prepare, the blows
had been struck and that he felt the effect of them at such time and subsequently.
After the blows had been struck I noticed that Houdini on a number of occasions was
pressing his stomach at or about the place where the blows had been struck and rubbing
it and indicating that he was bothered by reason thereof and was in pain therefrom.
On the night following the afternoon on which the blows were struck Houdini was unable
to sleep and called for Miss Sophie Rosenblatt, a trained nurse who was attending Mrs.
Houdini at the time. In the morning he was drowsy and was lying down most of the time
until the matinee on Saturday and he seemed to be almost asleep during a part of the
performance. After the performance he continued to complain of pain in the stomach. He
was lying down that afternoon and remained lying down until about five minutes before
the curtain went up on Saturday night. During such performance at times he seemed
rather helpless and unable to continue as was his custom and I assisted him as best I
could in running off the show. The nurse waited in the wings to take him off after the
performance. At such time he was chilled and pinched and covered with cold perspiration.
He immediately laid down in the dressing room. He was sick at the railroad station at
Montréal after his performance and complained of pains in his stomach.
It was Houdini’s usual custom to come in the smoking room of the train and talk on his
trips from town to town. On this night he did not appear at all but remained in his own
compartment. His condition was bad all during Sunday and although he was advised not to
give the performance on that evening, he nevertheless did so and collapsed at the end of
the performance and was taken to his hotel at Detroit and subsequently to the Grace
Hospital where he was operated on and where he died on October 31, 1926.
Houdini was a man of unusual physical strength and endurance and during all the years of
my association with him he was never in the condition which I observed after he had been
struck at Montréal and until he was taken to the hospital at Detroit.
Sworn to me this 26 day of November, 1926
(Signed) James Collins
Bernard M. L. Ernst
Notary Public, NYC