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Topic: Houdini's right-hand man
Message: Posted by: Prober (Jul 27, 2009 08:52PM)
There was a post a few years ago here regarding what happened to Jim/Jimmy/James Collins, Houdini's chief assistant, after Harry's demise. Would appreciate any other information about the man at all, particularly with regard to where he came from and ended up in the UK (apparently he was either English or Scottish), his date of birth and death, etc. Thanks in anticipation,
Paul (Collins)
Message: Posted by: Eric Fry (Jul 28, 2009 11:20AM)
I wonder if Sid Radner of Holyoke, Massachusetts, has info. Didn't Collins go on to work for Hardeen, and didn't Radner have a lot of contact with Hardeen?
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Jul 28, 2009 09:23PM)
Kevin Connolly should know.
Message: Posted by: Tom G (Jul 31, 2009 09:22PM)
Sid took magic lessons from Hardeen. I've been to Sid's house and it's a totally amazing place.
Message: Posted by: houdinisghost (Nov 21, 2009 02:17PM)
This is an old post, but, a couple of things have come to light: Jimmy Collins loved magic, invented an "any drink called for" effect, and actually performed an act of his own featuring magic and escapes on at least one occasion. He also assisted Frederick Eugene Powell in a special performance.
He appears to me to have been a humble genius. Metal worker, cabinet maker, onstage and off Houdini's guardian angel, stage manager, etc.
He was offered what must have have seemed like all the money in the world to him at the time to reveal Houdini's secrets and he never would.
He gets credit for some things he didn't do. He wasn't with Houdini in Australia. He wasn't with Houdini during the days of the handcuff act.
Harry Hardeen told Jon Oliver that Hardeen had worked with Collins and recommended him to Houdini, who was looking for a cabinet maker.
Message: Posted by: houdinisghost (Nov 30, 2009 05:23PM)
James Charles Collins was born Dec 13, 1882 either in Belfast or Highgate, London.
He died Mar 6, 1942 in Philadelphia. He is not buried in the same cemetery as Bessie Houdini. I don't know where he's buried.
Message: Posted by: Prober (Jan 10, 2010 04:53PM)
I've been doing some research about Jim Collins and most biographers refer to him as being Irish, although an odd one claims Scottish, another Cockney (London) and yet another mentioned that he had a 'Lancashire accent'!
His parents may well have been Irish and he certainly lived in north London for quite a while but, for the record, I've discovered from the National Census that he listed his birthplace as Portsmouth, on the south coast of England.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Jan 10, 2010 04:59PM)
Not to be difficult, but how do you know the Jimmy Collins from Portsmouth was the same one as the one we are referring to? It's a very common name.
Message: Posted by: Prober (Jan 13, 2010 08:02PM)
Well Bill, because I've been researching him for some time (that common surname being my own!) and have accessed the British Census of the time with details of his date of birth, occupation, known address at the time, together with names of his various relatives. In contrast, none of the biographers that I've seen that refer to him as Irish or otherwise provide any evidence for their assumptions.
Message: Posted by: SJMiller (Jan 13, 2010 08:32PM)
Just out of curiousity, did you check more then one census? Never used the British Census before but have found through personal experience with the US Census that places of birthplaces have a habit of changing from census to census.
Message: Posted by: Prober (Jan 13, 2010 09:45PM)
Yes; not sure about the US but here the census was (and is) taken every ten years. A couple of salient points were that there's no other James Collins with the middle name of Charles in the country at the time and in 1911 he lists his profession as 'Stage Carpenter' - there isn't another James Collins recorded in the UK at the time with a job description even close to something relevant to something useful regarding the work which he ended up doing with Houdini, or whose age corresponds even roughly, plus he was living in north London (which all other sources agree on re our Jim).
Of course, as I've suggested previously, there's always the chance that JC changed his own place of birth from Ireland to Portsmouth, England, due to the prejudices often shown to the Irish in England during that period. Portsmouth would be an obscure and unusual choice of fictional place of birth though if that were actually the case; it would have been a lot more logical and easier to claim London where he had lived for a long period by 1911 and whose accent he most likely had - unlike the States, local dialect here can vary considerably in a short distance and the London (Cockney if working class) and Portsmouth accents were and are considerably different.
Message: Posted by: SJMiller (Jan 14, 2010 07:31AM)
The US Census is every ten years also. Was curious because the birthplace of one magician I have been trying to research was listed as Missouri, Illinois, and West Virginia in various censuses.
Message: Posted by: houdinisghost (Jan 14, 2010 09:58PM)
I have just put the WW1 draft registrations for Houdini, Hardeen, Jim Collins, Jim Vickery, and Frank (Franz) Kukol on a web page.
Jimmy Collins was married twice. His wife in England was Sarah and I believe they had three children.
Collins' wife in America was a former showgirl named Maud Meyer. She survived him.
I think Collins went to work for Houdini earlier than we have previously thought.
I think he appears in the 1909 Pathe film "Merveilleux Exploits du Célébre Houdini à Paris" - Pathé (1909). Collins said he was with Houdini twenty years.
And Collins and Kukol both appear in an outtake from Haldane.
Message: Posted by: Prober (Jan 14, 2010 11:02PM)
Thanks Patrick. Actually Jim had four children with his British wife who was called Sarah Ann:
Reginald born 1903, Lucy May born 1904, Nora Tresa born 1905 and Edward James (Sonny) born 1907.
I'm not sure about the accuracy of the US census as suggested above but the British ones of the time relied on the head of the household filling in the details, and facsimilies of these original handwritten forms can be viewed over here.
Rather than repeatedly questioning the subject of Collins' birthplace, does anyone have any reason to believe that he was born somewhere other than Portsmouth other than the oft-repeated biographer's hearsay?
Message: Posted by: houdinisghost (Jan 15, 2010 05:12PM)
The listing of Portsmouth as Jimmy Collins' birthplace on that census report is the only solid evidence we have as to where he was actually born. I was told Belfast and it's on a web page about Collins that is full of wrong stuff and right stuff. Dai Vernon and others said Highgate, London, but, that is hearsay--which isn't to say one or the other might be right.
Gresham, I think, wrote that Collins had a Lancashire accent. Others said he was a cockney. Gresham never met him. He lived with Sarah Ann (thank you Prober for the "Ann") in Highgate.
I have studied him and I believe he was a mad genius. He invented the gimmick that led to the Water Torture Cell. It was said of him that he always wanted to do a magic act of his own. There is footage of him carrying Houdini's coffin in which he looks like a man who has lost his whole world. In that same shot, Kukol (Frank Williamson) has that same shattered look. Vickery is tougher to read, but, his world was shattered too.
Message: Posted by: Prober (Jan 15, 2010 10:18PM)
Thanks again Patrick. I'm assuming that the Highgate reference comes from the fact that Collins did live there for a considerable amount of time; it's in north London and therefore would still make him English rather than Irish if he did happen to born there, and still not a Cockney as that refers to people born within a very specific area of London.
Regarding the 'Lancashire accent', I've just finished reading 'The Man Who Killed Houdini' by Don Bell. While I really admire the author's tenacity and general attention to detail, he constantly refers to towns in Lancashire, England, as being in the Midlands (note the capital 'M'), which is the equivalent of saying that Los Angeles is in the centre of the US Bible Belt; I think that a similar comparison could potentially be made in reverse with regard to the aforesaid accent reference.
Message: Posted by: houdinisghost (Jan 17, 2010 05:05PM)
Three intersting photos of Collins, Vickery and Kukol/Williamson.
Message: Posted by: susewongf (Jan 21, 2010 07:44AM)
Hello, I am married to Jim Collins' grandson, son of Lucy. I have been trying to find out some info regarding Jim for quite a few years now. Lucy was one of 5 children from Jim. Lucy was the oldest (born in 1903) and lived until she was 95. I started looking for photos of Jim before she died but couldn't find any at the time. The last thing Lucy had from her father was a bible which was sent from New York in 1912 (which I still have). The other four children were Nora, Reg, Sonny and Hilda. They all passed on before Lucy. As far as Lucy was concerned, her father and mother were never divorced and Jim never returned to England. They were living in Highgate, London when he left to go with Houdini. Lucy remembers Houdini and Bess coming to the house and Bess bringing a dresses for her and Nora.
My husband and I were under the impression that Jim came from Ireland originally, but I am not 100% sure. I have been in touch with Tom Interval at the Houdini Museum in the US but he couldn't tell me much about Jim. Since finding this web-site, I have found a few more pieces to the puzzle.
Message: Posted by: houdinisghost (Jan 21, 2010 12:41PM)
I wonder if Sarah Ann and James Charles Collins communicated when Houdini returned to England in 1920. Both James Collins and Franz Kukol were separated from their wives and children by World War 1. I don't know whether Franz Kukol went on that 1920 tour. I don't think he could get a passport. But, Collins should have been there, and human nature tells me that Sarah would have gone to the theatre and asked James what was what.
I'm not a gossip guy. My interest in Houdini has always been focused on how he did his escapes and magic. But, these people were flesh and blood like the rest of us. One of Houdini's other assistants, John Arden, said that he and Collins used to chase showgirls together. This would be in the mid-twenties.
The thread I started on Kukol on the Genii forum has turned up some fascinating information about Franz'a transformation into Frank Williamson.
And I have learned some wonderful things about Harold James (Jim) Vickery from his grandchildren.
Jim Vickery was part of the crew that helped Houdini make the first flight in Australia. Footage shows Vickery and Kukol running alongside the plane, steadying the wing tips. The plane picks up speed and the two of them splatter onto the ground, and Houdini becomes airborne.
Message: Posted by: Prober (Jan 21, 2010 08:22PM)
Hi Suse (not sure what your name is?!) I have been researching Jim for a while; I'll explain exactly why in a private message but my family name is Collins and I'm based in the UK. I believe that I might have a few bits of information about James which are not common knowledge so would be good to talk if you might be intertested.
Message: Posted by: Prober (Jan 21, 2010 08:23PM)
...apologies for that last spelling mistake!
Message: Posted by: houdinisghost (Jan 27, 2010 08:04PM)
Joseph Fox turned this up:
Dec. 1931 - Sphinx:
Conn. State Fair--JIM COLLINS was doing a SOLO magic act under a tent:
--"Houdini Chinese Execution Trick" - 8 steel blades penetrate assistant's body.
--Flying Bird Cage
Message: Posted by: brass neck (Apr 15, 2011 01:22PM)
Jim Collins was my great Grandad. My late Grandmother was Hilda his last child on this side of the pond. Apparently he upped and left one day,leaving his wife and kids to be with Houdini, never to be seen again....nice chap!!!
Message: Posted by: houdinisghost (Apr 15, 2011 09:56PM)
Jimmy Collins had another wife in America. She stage-managed Hardeen's show on the Steel Pier. Her name--this may have been a stage name--was Maude Merrill. I've seen her referred to as "Maudie Collins." Apparently, they were together thirty years.
I wonder if Jimmy Collins provided any kind of support for his children?
Patrick Culliton
Message: Posted by: John Cox (Feb 11, 2014 10:38AM)
Reviving this thread to share a pretty nice artifact. This is Collins' last paycheck from Houdini.

Message: Posted by: Prober (Feb 23, 2014 11:49AM)
Does anyone know how Collins and the rest of H's assistants referred to their employer when addressing him - Harry, Houdini, Mister Houdini, Boss, etc?