Stand-In Spectacle

The climax of Harry Houdini’s 1919 film The Grim Game called for the hero to descend by a rope between two biplanes. During filming, the planes inadvertently collided and went plunging toward the ground (about 4:30 in the clip above).

No one was hurt, but the incident was caught on film and the story was hastily rewritten to incorporate the sequence. Ever the showman, Houdini boasted that “all the flying stunts [had been] actually performed” and offered $1,000 “to any person who can prove that the collision [shown in] the film was not genuine.”

It was genuine, all right, but the performer wasn’t Houdini — a former U.S. Air Service pilot named Robert E. Kennedy had performed the stunts, which were later intercut with closeups of Houdini.

During the accident, Houdini had been safely on the ground with his arm in a sling — he’d fallen three feet while filming a jail-cell escape.