On Thursday morning, November 7, 1918 at the Strand Theater (1579 Broadway, New York City), the first five episodes of The Master Mystery, were shown in a special trade showing. Harry Houdini attended, seated in a stage box. From the report in Brooklyn Life, Mr. Houdini’s performance in the serial was validated by the applause from the audience and by the number of times the crowd came to their feet with each astounding escape in the picture. The review seen in the November 16, edition of, The Billboard, glowed, rhapsodized, and thoroughly encouraged, the exhibitor, of the film’s possibilities at the box-office. On Saturday, November 30, 1918, filming was complete on, The Master Mystery; this was the first time that a serial was finished prior to its official release. Within days of the completion of the series, Grossett & Dunlap announced that they would soon publish the movie-book tie-in. By Christmas time, the serial made its bow in Pennsylvania, in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. But, the general public got its initial viewing of, The Master Mystery, at the St. James Theatre, in Boston, Massachusetts on Monday, November 18, 1918.
Harry Houdini made fifteen personal appearances during that first month of release for Master Mystery, including the first installment in Boston. Why did Boston receive the premiere of, The Master Mystery? The film’s producer, Benjamin A. Rolfe, while born in New York, had adopted the area as his home; at his death he was buried in Walpole, Massachusetts, some twenty-five miles southwest of Bean Town. I believe that I have found the reason that began our popular-modern misunderstanding of the premiere date of, The Master Mystery on March 1, 1919. By that date in 1919, the territory representatives for the series were holding Trade previews in the western States, for impending release, but nowhere in that news item is a serial-premiere mentioned. But, the Moving Picture World reported that episode one would be seen on March 1, 1919 in Chicago; this is the only link that I can find to the incorrect statement that Master Mystery opened in March of 1919 instead of the actual roll-out in December of 1918. The published evidence speaks volumes to the contrary of a March 1, 1919 premiere for the Houdini thriller. Harry Houdini, at one point in our history was every boy’s hero, (magician, escape artist, movie star), a robot, (first portrayed in film?), “The Madagascar Madness- Gas;” all these elements coming together for a serial that is (albeit incomplete) an E-Ticket ride! And the best news is that you can see it, even though it has been nearly one-hundred years since its opening; and better news still, that you may you see it, for it is accessible for your home viewing pleasure. The Master Mystery is available on DVD as part of a 3 disc set from Kino, featuring (the following is a copy of the Amazon description): Terror Island (1920, 55m, B&W), The Man From Beyond (1922, 68m, Color Tinted), Haldane of the Secret Service (1923, 84m, Color Tinted), The Grim Game, (Fragment, 1919, 5m, Color Tinted). Special Features Include: Filmed records of Houdini escapes (ca. 1907-23) – Audio recording of Houdini speaking (1914) – Excerpts from the NY Censor Board files – Slippery Jim, a 1910 Houdini-inspired comedy – The illusion Metamorphosis performed by Houdini’s brother Hardeen and others.
By C. S. Williams  Billboard, November 16, 1918 Brooklyn Life (Brooklyn, New York) November 23, 1918  Billboard, November 16, 1918  Billboard, November 30, 1918 Wid’s Daily, December 3, 1918  Wid’s Daily, December 3, 1918  Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) December 24, 1918 Gazette Times (Pittsburg, Pennsylvania) December 25, 1918  Boston Post (Boston, Massachusetts) November 18, 1918 Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) December 28, 1918  Indeed, on the release date page for, The Master Mystery on the Internet Movie Data Base, it details each episode’s opening through May 1, 1919.  Moving Picture World, March 15, 1919  Moving Picture World, March 15, 1919