Castle Grievance filed against Bill McIlhany by Rich Cowley

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Postby Bill McIlhany » 10/28/10 02:32 PM

Subject: Castle Grievance filed against Bill McIlhany by Rich Cowley

To All Whom It May Concern:

Since the alleged ethics grievance against me refers to events that occurred over a period of at least 16 years, I think I should provide the full background and context of the subject matter for the benefit of many who will read this letter and are not aware of that context.
I joined the Castle as a magician member (no. 3006) in 1974. In 1994, I contacted Jim Starr, who was then chairman of the Video Committee at the Castle. I told him I was frustrated over the fact that the hundreds of video tapes and many reels of movie film at the Castle had never been archived and cataloged. No one knew what was there. If someone knew a tape was there, it was very difficult, if not impossible, to locate it. I wanted to know what was there. I wanted members of the Academy and other magicians to be able to search and utilize this film and video material.
My contact with Jim Starr was the beginning of a good friendship between us and we set about to catalog the video tapes. This project resulted in us spending hundreds of hours during the period 1994-97, including most weekends, building a Filemaker Pro & Excel database of the video tapes. Among the things we accomplished was persuading the late Peter Pit to return the many important interviews of prominent magicians he had done at the Castle in the 1970s, which he had taken home with him. That is the reason they exist in the collection today.
I noticed that a few reels of movie film had been transferred to video, but with minimal quality. I asked Milt Larsen if I could transfer all the movie film to video at higher quality and then donate a set of S-VHS copies of those film transfers to the Castle Video Library. He agreed. This process required another full year of work on my part and I had to buy a $4000 telecine transfer machine to do it. I also bought all the blank S-VHS tapes for the copies of the transfers that I donated to the Castle Video Library.
The process of transferring over 100 reels of movie film to video led me to meet and become friends with someone who had grown up with Bill and Milt Larsen. He was my close friend, the late Harrison Red Baker. I learned that all the magic-related movie film stored at the Castle actually belonged to Baker. In the early years of the Castle, Baker listed the film contents. He brought a 16mm projector to the Castle and showed films there on weekends.
In subsequent years Baker did not know what had happened to all this movie film stored at the Castle, including the films donated to the Castle by William Vagell, the late Mystic Craig. After I transferred all the film to video and donated a S-VHS set of the resulting tapes to the Castle Video Library and added them to the database, Baker asked Milt to return the films to him. In 1999, Milt announced in the Castle Friday newsletter, that he was on that day returning the Magic Castle movie film collection to its owner, Harrison Baker, so that I, Bill McIlhany, could preserve it for the future.

The process I and Jim Starr accomplished from 1994 to 1997, entering about 1300 video tapes into the FileMaker Pro database, resulted in several things.

1. Magician members of the Academy, Academy Board members, and other magicians were finally able to search and access the video collection. Until the end of 1997, magicians were able to purchase a VHS viewing copy of non-copyrighted footage from the collection. This brought in $500-1,000 annually in income to the Academy and was done with the full knowledge of the Board and our Board liason, the late Harry Blackstone, Jr. Then the Board decided to make no more viewing copies available to anyone. I had paid for both the blank tape and the postage to process these purchases. I met with and told the Board that although I welcomed their taking more work away from me, the reason I and Jim Starr had cataloged the video tapes was to make them available to members!

2. Jim and I had to check many video tapes to see if their content matched the description on the box they were in. We soon discovered that many of the video tapes were in bad shape. The inch tapes went back to 1969-70. The Betamax and VHS tapes were close behind in age. One part of a unique 1974 six-part Dai Vernon lecture would not play without clogging the heads on the inch machine. Other tapes had this problem. The magnetic oxide on the tape was simply coming off. To recover the tape, I had to put it in the machine, play it for 30 seconds until it clogged the heads, stop the machine, remove the tape, manually clean the head, and repeat the process again. It took several days just to recover one 30-60 minute inch tape!

So our archiving and cataloging process soon became a preservation project. Jim and I donated much blank tape and considerable time to do this. We also recorded ongoing TV magic shows and donated the copies to the Video Library. When we submitted these expenses to the Board for reimbursement, including the cost of a new Betamax machine, it took weeks and weeks to obtain reimbursement.

This takes us up to 2000-2002, long before anyone ever heard of Rich Cowley.

During those two years, a foundation was established by Diana Zimmerman called the AMAEF, supposedly to advance magic in association with, but separate from, the Magic Castle.

Castle and AMAEF member Tim Holly also was an employee of CBS. As a result of this contact, the president of CBS in Hollywood, Michael Klausman, was encouraged to donate the manpower and facilities at CBS to make digital backups of the videotapes at the Magic Castle. CBS has a department called Jurassic Park where they resurrect and restore old video tapes of television shows, their own and for outside clients. It was understood that they would work on making digital copies of video tapes from the Castle Video Library when their equipment and personnel had spare time to do so. The Academy was supposed to reimburse CBS for the hundreds of blank DVDs they would use and I would bring blank D-VHS (a JVC digital video format abandoned by JVC after 2005) blank tapes for a backup digital copy. AMAEF initially reimbursed me for the blank D-VHS tapes and copies made on those were delivered to AMAEF. After early 2004, I bought and paid for all the D-VHS blank tapes taken to CBS. With Zimmerman plotting to take control of the Magic Castle, AMAEF was no longer functioning and I was never reimbursed.

As Board members of AMAEF, Jim Starr and I accepted the responsibility to carry all 1300 video tapes from the Castle to CBS and return them and the DVDs that were made from them. This meant that we made, between 2002 and 2006, many dozens of trips back and forth. We became good friends with the staff at Jurassic Park, most of all the manager Carl Maurizi and Dave Dryer. I showed them magic on many visits. They all became steadily saturated with magic and very interested in it. Jurassic Park did not have a working Betamax machine, so I even donated one for their use!

They did an incredible, painstaking job. We could not have paid any outside firm to do it all so well. For example, the inch tapes at the Castle had many start and stop points on them and each one sent an output of no signal. Whenever the DVD recorder received that signal, it would freeze up and ruin the DVD. CBS had to make a Betacam SP copy of each inch tape and then use that to copy to DVD! The process took twice as long, but was done right!

Then in early, 2004, I spoke with Milt Larsen at the World Magic Summit in Las Vegas. He told me he had just learned about a plot to undermine his position at the Magic Castle. He learned that Diana Zimmerman and two other magicians, all of whom Milt had regarded as his friends, had gone behind his back and formed a partnership with two members of the Castle landlord family of Tom Glover (including Andy Ulloa). They were attempting to negotiate a renewal of the Castle lease on terms favorable to them, leaving Milt on the outside. Most of those reading this letter are familiar with the fact that this abortive and very ugly coup was not successful. And that, by 2009, the Academy Board had to remove Ulloa and his company from running the Castle food and beverage, and even lock them out of the building.

The attempted coup was very embarrassing to me and others who had been working with Zimmerman in the AMAEF. I had no idea from 2002 to 2004 that anything like this was underway. The foundations activity consisted of board meetings in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, occasional participation in an auction at a convention, and the work Jim Starr and I carried out at CBS. After the coup got underway in 2004, there were no more meetings scheduled by Zimmerman and the AMAEF literally ceased to function.

Because the future of the Castle, its operation and location, were quite up in the air from early 2004 onward, I asked Milt Larsen if I should bring the video tapes and DVDs from CBS and leave them at the Castle. He instructed me to keep them all in storage until the power struggle was over and the dust had settled. I paid for a $400 a month storage unit in west Los Angeles and kept them stored there. I told then Academy President Dale Hindman that I was not going to risk leaving the DVDs at the Castle until a fire-resistant and lockable storage unit was obtained for them. This did not happen until 2006. I paid to store and protect the tapes and DVDs for almost two years.

In 2006 Rich Cowley was making a computer database of the books and periodicals in the Castle Library. He said he wanted to add the Video Library to that same database. By the end of 2006, the Castle Library finally had a lockable safe for the DVDs and I delivered most of them to Cowley. I was still taking more video tapes to CBS and bringing them and the digital copies made at CBS back to the place I stored them since 1994.

Jim Starr and I first met with Cowley at the Castle and tried to explain to him the sequence of events described above. We were there to offer our knowledge, experience and help to him and expressed appreciation for his work and efforts. Oddly enough, Rich impressed both Jim and me as being insecure and uncomfortable, not only with regard to taking helpful advice but defensive toward our efforts to establish communication and work together.

With the above context established, lets now review the text of the grievance against me that was written by Cowley. My comments begin with an asterisk (*).

Over a period of years, Mr. Mcllhany had volunteered as courier in an arrangement between the AMA, the AMA Education Foundation (AMAEF) and CBS Television where CBS would digitize our videotapes onto DVDs and/or D-VHS tapes.

* Because Cowley was never present or involved in the work at CBS, he is carelessly guessing at trying to tell the story. Jim Starr and I were Board members of AMAEF, not a courier or errand boy as Cowley suggests. The DVDs made at CBS of videotapes from the Castle Video Library were for the Castle Video Library. The D-VHS copies made at CBS of videotapes from the Castle Video Library were made for the AMAEF, which ceased to function in 2004.

In the process though, several hundred tapes (and their resultant digital renditions) were never returned to the AMA, (A list of these missing tapes and disks can be found at

Judging by the checkout logs Mr. McIlhany signed at CBS acknowledging he took possession of these materials, I've concluded that, either from a lack of diligence or with full knowledge, Mr. Mcllhany is responsible for the disappearance of these items. I believe this behavior is contrary to our club's standards.

* In the first place, neither Jim Starr nor Bill McIlhany signed (nor remember signing) any checkouts logs at CBS! Cowley would not know about that since he was never there when the work was done! CBS printed labels for the DVDs and D-VHS copies they made and that was their record of work done. Jim Starr and I had our own handwritten lists of the tapes taken to CBS and returned with DVD copies to the Castle. Those lists were discarded after the tapes and DVDs were returned. During four years Jim and I made dozens of trips to and from CBS and never recall signing anything. This is simply a clumsy fabrication by Cowley, possibly based on something said by Tim Holly. Both Cowley and Holly were NEVER at Jurassic Park when Jim and I were there!

On February 27, 2007, Cowley received all of the remaining videotapes from the Castle Video Library still in the possession of McIlhany, as well as all the DVDs made at CBS of videotapes from the Castle Video Library. Everyone present knew that was to happen at the meeting! The meeting began with my demanding from Cowley a stack of 16mm films and videotapes belonging to me which had been removed from CBS by Tim Holly and held by Cowley without notifying me. I presented written proof that the films belonged to me. Cowley, uncharacteristically sheepishly, left the room and brought the films back to me.

This must have irritated Cowley very much, but the fact is that the only videotapes not properly returned to their owner were the ones Cowley said on February 27, 2007, he could not find! It also indicated he was making ongoing mistakes because he consistently acted without consulting Jim Starr or Bill McIlhany!

After that meeting Cowley sent a series of e-mails asking about certain video tapes he said were missing. The numbers kept changing. It was soon clear how confused he was. ALL of the Castle video tapes had been returned along with the DVDs made from them. If any were missing, it was for Cowley to explain since they were under his usurpation and control since February 27, 2007.

Another massive confusion in Cowleys information also resulted from his failure to find out what was going on before Tolman allowed him to seize control. There were a number of videotapes taken to CBS for digital backup that were NOT from the Castle Video Library. Because they were not part of the Castle Video Library, they were not to be returned there.

I was invited by CBS Jurassic Park manager, Carl Maurizi, to bring in for digital copying ANY magic-related videotapes that I thought were worthy of preserving. Carl made clear that I was welcome to preserve any magic video that way. I did this with several groups of video tapes and returned the tapes to their owners along with the DVDs that were made of them. One of these friends, whose videotapes featured her with her late performer and Board member husband, has been an Academy Board member and President!

Carl and I discussed the older and unusual equipment at Jurassic Park, such as an early 2 inch video tape recorder and tape cleaner. I said I had a brief 2 inch video tape I had not been able to view. Carl urged me to bring it in to see if it would play. It did and he made a DVD of it for me.

During the four years Jim Starr and I were taking the Castle Video library tapes to and from CBS, Jurassic Park acquired its own Rank Cintel telecine machine, a high-end system for converting movie film to video. One of their employees was trained to operate it. Carl suggested that I might want to use the machine for telecine transfer. He suggested that I write a letter to Michael Klausman to request this. I did. Klausman asked Tim Holly about it. Remember that Holly worked at CBS in a building across town from CBS Television City in Hollywood and Jurassic Park. Neither Holly nor Cowley were ever at CBS when I and Jim Starr went there so many dozens of times during four years. In 2002 Holly had placed an empty three-ring binder in the video room opposite the Parlor at the Castle, which is where Jim Starr and I worked for years to make the database catalog, and Holly was never heard from for the next five years! Holly reacted to hearing from Klausman by, so to speak, trying to run to front of the parade in order to appear to be leading it. Klausman approved my request and advised Carl Maurizi that we could use the Rank telecine. I took a group of 16mm films (originally from the Castle, property of Harrison Baker and, after 1999, my property) to CBS and they began transferring them to video and DVD. Holly teamed up with Cowley and went to CBS and removed the films. He gave them to Cowley along with a couple of videotapes. Cowley never advised me he had them and returned them only when I forced him to do so at the meeting in the Sance room at the Castle, February 27, 2007.

This meeting was attended by Jim Starr, myself, Gay Blackstone, Bill Goodwin, Mark Nelson, Whit Haydn and Cowley, who never looked up or
made eye contact with Jim or me. The meeting was conducted by Board Member Brian Tolman who abruptly informed Jim Starr and me that the Castle Video Committee was now the Multimedia Committee. He announced it was under the control of Tolmans friend, Cowley. Jim Starr and I, who had worked for the prior 13 years to catalog and preserve the Video Library would no longer have any direct access to the library. Anything related to the Video Library was under the control of Cowley and we were told we had to go through him to access it in any way. Also, the then current chairman of the Video Committee, Ray Pierce, was thrown out of his position. Both Ray and Jim Starr had donated countless hours to taping magic performers at the Castle and were very good at it. Now Cowley seized control of this function also with the blessing of Tolman.

Cowley: While this AMA/CBS agreement was only to involve materials owned by the AMA, CBS's checkout logs also reflect that Mr. McIlhany knowingly and deliberately included some of his own personal materials in this digitizing process, thus gaining personal benefit while also potentially damaging the AMAs reputation with CBS, and incurring costs on CBS's side that might never be recovered. I believe this behavior to be against our club's standards as well.

* Because Cowley was never at CBS and never saw the videotapes that were being taken there, he is once again using his imagination here. He digs an even deeper hole and falls into it to his own embarrassment. As stated above, digital copies of film and video tapes NOT from the Castle Library were made at CBS with the knowledge and permission of Carl Maurizi and Michael Klausman. Obviously, there was no personal benefit for McIlhany to gain from a process that took four years (2002-2006) of time, many dozens of trips to and from the Castle and CBS and the cost of storing all the video tapes and DVDs from early 2004 to February, 2007, in a $400-a-month storage unit at the instruction of Milt Larsen. CBS donated the Jurassic Park facilities and personnel from 2002 to 2007. They made digital copies of the 1300 video tapes from the Castle Library. They became good friends of Bill McIlhany and Jim Starr. McIlhany was able to persuade the Castle to invite three of the CBS personnel and their wives to a complimentary dinner at the Castle in appreciation of their efforts, which McIlhany hosted! If CBS personnel could pick anything to remember with regret, it was the way in which Cowley and Holly arbitrarily and hastily ended this process. That action prevented the Castle from getting subsequent video tapes converted to DVDs at CBS. It also prevented the Castle from using the Rank Cintel telecine equipment to upgrade video transfers in the Castle video library. If CBS got tired of the antics of Cowley and Holly, it had NOTHING to do with McIlhany or Starr.

Now read how Cowley refers to the meeting at the Castle on February 27, 2007.

Cowley: When 1 was serving on our Library Committee (back in 2005 or 2006, if I remember correctly), Mr. McIlhany handed me a list detailing the AMA's videotape collection. When I first took over the Multimedia Committee (back in early 2007) one of my first tasks was to establish an inventory of the videotape collection and reconcile it to this list. That physical inventory showed several hundred tapes missing from our shelves. At the time, CBS claimed it had only a few of our tapes; because I knew of Mr. McIlhany acting as courier to CBS, I asked him If he knew of any tapes that had left CBS but had not (yet) been returned to the AMA. On several occasions over the next few weeks, he told me that no such tapes existed, that he had no tapes in his possession.

* Typical of Cowley, it is hard to tell whether he is referring to 2005, 2006, or after the meeting on February 27, 2007. The truth is much simpler. When Bill McIlhany and Jim Starr first met with Cowley, we showed him the thick stack of paper that was the printout of the database we had built since 1994, a copy of which was in the Castle Library. Cowley insisted on duplicating our work by making his own database of the video tapes at the Castle. In doing so, he had no idea where tapes were that were still at CBS, or misplaced by Cowley as my property had been, or still in storage at my expense since 2004, and tapes that had NOT come from the Castle Video Library but were copied as DVDs at CBS.

When Cowley e-mailed questions about this to me after the meeting on February 27, 2007, with constantly changing numbers, I tried to explain these matters to him. Bottom line: since ALL the tapes from Castle Video Library and the DVD copies were returned to Cowley, if any were missing, it was his problem to solve. Since Jim Starr and I were no longer to have access to the Video Library we had cataloged and digitally preserved, there was nothing we could do.

Cowley: When pressed on the topic at a meeting in late February 2007, Mr. McIlhany was able to produce a box of several tapes, many of which were among the missing tapes I was trying to locate; he offered no explanation as to why he'd denied their existence In the past. I therefore believe that Mr. McIlhany was originally being intentionally misleading to me, and I believe that behavior to be contrary to our club's standards.

* This statement is not only a falsehood, but almost delusional in its scope! Everyone at the meeting on February 27, 2007, knew that I was there to return ALL the remaining Castle video tapes and DVDs made from them that were still in my possession. After I forced Cowley to return my property which he had hidden at the Castle and Cowleys friend Tolman announced that Cowley had seized control of the Video Library and other Video Committee functions, I recall that all the men at the meeting followed me to my car and carried in a group of heavy postal cartons full of video tapes and DVDs. Cowley refers to this as a box of several tapes. I can only conclude that Cowley was so distracted by having to return my property first that he could not remember all the heavy boxes of video tapes and DVDs that were turned over to him. Perhaps this led him to misplace them? But his statement that I was ever intentionally misleading to him is an obvious lie and libel against me and Jim Starr. I suggest that such misrepresentation and lying by Cowley in order to defame me and Jim Starr is quite contrary to our clubs standards. An apology by Cowley might well be in order, but the Academy should make clear to him that any of his future vendettas might prove to be more costly to the Academy than just dealing with the kind of ethics grievance I could file against Rich Cowley!

It is notable that Cowley has carried on a vendetta against me and Jim Starr since 2007, based on events he never witnessed that go back to 1994. This unfortunate attitude was based on false information and assumptions he never cared to take the time to correct. That is clearly his problem and not ours.

Cowley inspired two very similar demand letters in 2008 and 2010. They defamed both Jim Starr and me and threatened legal action against us. They were signed by our longtime friend, Castle manager Mark Felicetti. I wrote a lengthy reply to both letters, as did Jim Starr, refuting all the false statements. I also stated how my attorney was prepared to defend me vigorously against such defamation and pursue full damages. This apparently put the demand letter and legal threat bluff to rest. No longer hiding behind letters signed by others and, finally, at long last after prior failed attempts, becoming a Castle Board member, Cowley has prepared this embarrassingly bogus and fraudulent grievance action against me. It is totally false and groundless as this letter makes clear. I am sending everyone who received this letter a copy of my response to the Mark Felicetti letters of 2008 and 2010. I suggest you read them all very carefully.

This matter reflects not merely an obnoxious loose cannon trying to use his Board member position to throw his weight around and make himself feel important, no matter how reckless he is with the truth. It also reflects the resentment harbored by an insecure and envious very small person against two Castle members who, since 1994, made an enormous contribution to the Academy and to the preservation of the film and video history of the art of magic. We actually wanted to work with Cowley, rather than have him continually stumble by trying to work out of our trashcan.

Jim Starr and I never received any reimbursement or personal benefit from all this work of ours since 1994. The Academy never gave us any form of award or appreciation for these unique efforts which are well known to, and appreciated by, our magician friends around the world. We have similarly preserved the magic film collections of the Society of American Magicians, The Magic Circle and other private collections. Our contentment and reward comes, not from any praise or public recognition, but by that gift we could only give ourselves. In the future, if this rich film and video legacy survives for future generations, we will know that we made it possible.

I will be away from California on November 11 and will therefore not have the pleasure of attending the grievance discussion.


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Postby mrgoat » 10/28/10 04:44 PM

Cliff notes?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 10/28/10 05:24 PM

I suspect there will be more to come on this.

Bill's post on the Magic Castle Forums were repeatedly deleted, which is why he posted here.
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Postby Bob Cunningham » 10/28/10 06:38 PM

That explains a lot!

I received this post from the castle forums 5 times yesterday. I had no idea he was re-posting because his message was being deleted.
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Postby David Alexander » 10/28/10 07:20 PM

If you look in the dictionary under "Straight arrow" you'll find a picture of Bill.

This is a perfect example of "No good deed goes unpunished."
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 10/28/10 07:37 PM

I definitely concur. He's a very decent person and a credit to the magic history world.
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Postby Roger M. » 10/29/10 01:00 AM

What do the "powers that be" leave up on the Castle Forums without deleting it these days.......the daily weather report?

I'm sorry to say, with Castle members present........but it all appears quite dysfunctional.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 10/29/10 07:35 AM

Now if he elected to express his displeasure by posting his videos on YouTube on a channel (subscription or password or open) and suggested any further work in magical preservation be done through similar means to avoid such future fussing...
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Postby Rich Cowley » 10/29/10 01:13 PM

As many of you know, I no longer participate much in magic forums. But, a few things have been said here that I feel I have to respond to.

Yes, I filed an ethics grievance recently against Mr. McIlhany, but I had no interest in making that matter public, nor will I comment now on the full extent of my charges. Our Ethics Committee is scheduled to meet on this matter next month, and I've been asked to "make my case" at that meeting. Mr. Mcilhany was also invited to that hearing, and I'm personally saddened he chooses not to attend.

Should Mr. McIlhany wish to respond privately or publicly before our Ethics Committee meets, I only have one thought regarding stopping him from doing so: Because the AMA very much wants to give anyone in Mr. McIlhany's situation a fair, unbiased hearing, it feels things work best when individual members of our Ethics Committee don't know the nature of a charge (or hear any arguments surrounding it) before the hearing itself. (Think, "sequestering a jury before they hear a case".)

When Mr. McIlhany tried to rebut my charges on the Castle forums a few days ago, I expressed concern about it, citing in the interests of fairness the advantage to keeping the matter out of the Committee's minds before the hearing date. Our Internet Committee and Management teams agreed with my reasoning, and pulled Mr. McIlhany's post. When Mr. McIlhany was informed of the retraction, he posted yet another rebuttal in the same forums almost immediately; this second rebuttal was also retracted, and (if I understand correcly) Mr, McIlhany has been temporarily banned from our forums until it can be decided if he violated the Terms of Use Agreement he made when signing up for our forums.

Now, not surprisingly, Mr. McIlhany decided to post on the Genii forums instead. Of course, I have no right to stop him, but I have advised Randy Sinnott (chairman of our Ethics Committee) of this thread. Because many of the Committee's members intentionally desire to "keep themselves in the dark" about an issue before hearings, I suggested to Randy that he "pass the word" to his committee members about this thread, and that they fully realize the complications of reading anything within.

I won't say I'm looking forward to this hearing; I'd very much hoped things would have taken a different course in this matter. But, please know that, regardless of the hearing's outcome, I feel strongly that a grievance like this is best handled without all the idle speculation and libelous banter that so often besmirch forums like these.

Thanks for your attention on this!
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Postby erdnasephile » 10/29/10 01:30 PM

If certain committee members wish to "keep themselves in the dark" then this is rather easy to accomplish by not reading posts that are made regarding this issue, whether here or on the Castle Forums.

It isn't as though Mr. McIlhany is posting his rebuttal under deceptive subject headings or loading pop-up viruses on people's computers. Anyone who happens upon the thread will know the subject matter from the title.

Even if somehow Mr. McIlhany was able to force the committee members to read his text, the very first sentence gives away what the text is about, thus giving any persons not wishing to know of it's contents plenty of time to simply exit the thread.

Therefore, IMHO, Mr. Cowley's justification push to censor Mr. McIlhany's rebuttal on the basis of "sequestering a jury" just doesn't seem logical.
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Postby NCMarsh » 10/29/10 02:57 PM

The last thing I want to get involved with is castle politics. But I can't help saying -- as someone without a dog in the fight (other than a deep appreciation for Mr. Mcilhany's contributions to our community) -- how sketchy it looks to an outsider to try to "keep in the dark" one side of the story, prior to a hearing at which only the other side will be presented.... Orlando Magician
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 10/29/10 03:07 PM

CBS wants to do a NCIS or 60 minutes special on "the missing magic video?" for sweeps week?
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Postby Steve Hook » 10/29/10 03:12 PM

Rich Cowley wrote:

I feel strongly that a grievance like this is best handled without all the idle speculation and libelous banter that so often besmirch forums like these.

Thanks to your arrogant post, Rich Cowley, the intelligent Genii Forum reader is now aware that the idle speculation and libelous banter is ironically coming from your wing of the otherwise respectable Magic Castle.
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Postby Bill McIlhany » 10/29/10 04:37 PM

Comments and corrections to Rich Cowley's Post by Bill McIlhany

1. First, Rich Cowley seems to be quite active on The Castle Forum! Milt Larsen corrected one of his errors there a day or so ago. When I posted there the facts about his smear of me and Jim Starr, Cowley had it removed and had me blocked from The Castle Forum. So much for openness and freedom of expression at the Magic Castle!
2. Cowley laments: "Mr. Mcilhany was also invited to that hearing, and I'm personally saddened he chooses not to attend." The date of the hearing, November 11, was sent to me and I replied that I will be out of California then and most of November. I then learned that I was NOT allowed to bring my attorney or record the meeting even though its consequences could be damaging to me.
3. Cowley preferred all this to be kept quiet prior to any such hearing ("keeping themselves in the dark" were his words) for obvious reasons. It is possible to libel a person falsely with a few written sentences. It might take the innocent target of the libel many pages to explain and clarify the facts as I have done. If people on the Grievance Committee attend a hearing and are given a list of false accusations and only a few moments to grasp the full context and background, they can and often will be manipulated by what amounts to a Star Chamber proceeding or kangaroo court, which has proven to be very handy in totalitarian states. Notice that Cowley, the source of the libel against me and Jim Starr, is actually admitting to warning Ethics and Grievance Committee chairman Randy Sinnot that he must prevent the committee members from reading what I have posted here unless they wish to suffer "complications". I think the words arrogance and desperation fall short of describing Rich Cowley.
4. I was never informed of the removal by Cowley of my posting on The Castle Forum. He just did it twice and had me blocked from the Castle Forum. He is obviously determined to avoid any further facts from being exposed there!
5. Rich concludes: "I feel strongly that a grievance like this is best handled without all the idle speculation and libelous banter that so often besmirch forums like these." Rich would prefer that his defamatory vendetta against me and Jim Starr simply succeed without being exposed to anyone else or ever be discussed by anyone!

The struggle for truth and freedom of expression at the World Famous Hollywood Magic Castle has just begun! Do join in!
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Postby Roger M. » 10/29/10 04:38 PM

It's always funny when those who would rather keep everything, (and everyone) in the dark on a given matter try to spin a comment that must somehow make sense to readers.

Nothing in Rich Cowley's post makes sense, nor does it do anything to change the opinion of most readers that he's a man using an "ethics complaint" as a substitute for power and control.

You'd have been far better placed Mr. Cowley, if you hadn't posted here in the Genii forum.
As it is, your posts assuredly confirms what most here already thought about you.

Your explanation related to the "why" behind repeatedly deleting Mr. Mcilhany's posts on the Castle forum reads like an unintentional attempt at humor.

To further stick your foot in the [censored] pile, you go on to threaten Mr. Mcilhany with some sort of additional investigation related to "violated terms of agreement" of forum use?

You're sad case my neck of the woods, you'd be referred to by locals as a "little power tripper".
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Postby CraigMitchell » 10/29/10 04:49 PM

And we're surprised that magic club attendance is dwindling ... grievance committees, ethics complaints, politics, missing video tapes!

Does anyone actually do any magic anymore ?
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Postby Brad Henderson » 10/29/10 05:17 PM

FIGHT . . . FIGHT . . . FIGHT . . . FIGHT . . .

The lunchroom clears out.

How long before the gym teacher breaks things up?


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Postby KirkG » 10/29/10 09:45 PM

Actually it is a very fun week at the Castle this week and all week, with new performers every Monday.

Of course, due to the extra performers this week, there is a hefty door charge for members and guests alike.

It was very crowded last night (Thursday) so I expect it will be even more so for the rest of the weekend.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 10/29/10 10:57 PM

What the hell was Rich Cowley thinking when he deleted McIlhany's posts from the Castle forum?
That was where this discussion belonged.
Rich is accusing Bill of everything but kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.
I can tell by the way this is going that none of it is going to stick.
I have no idea whether Bill McIlhany is guilty of a grievance against the Magic Castle. I know he devoted a lot of time and money to the Castle over a period of many years.
This I also know: in my lifetime, Bill McIlhany has done more to preserve film and video footage of magicians than anyone on earth.
Bill may not be there Nov. 11 when the grievance committee hears the full breadth of the beef against him, but, I will--unless some faint heart blocks me from attending.
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Postby Robert Allen » 10/29/10 11:18 PM

I'm now certain that I will never, every, join and organisation that feels a need to have an "Ethics Committee". If an organization needs one, that tells me it must be full of unethical members.

No wonder magicians and mentalists over the years have gone on record as saying they avoided associating with other magicians.
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Postby Jim Riser » 10/30/10 01:31 AM

This could be easily settled. Rich Cowley could withdraw his grievance, express how sorry he is (in more ways than one), resign from whatever "duties" he performs for the AMA, leave The Castle (and Magic), and never come back.

Why do petty individuals always seem to seek a position of "power" - never realizing that they can not handle it? Jon Townsend, perhaps you can enlighten us on this puzzle.

I take this opportunity to express my thanks to Bill for all he has done to preserve a visual record of magic history.
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Postby Terrence » 10/30/10 11:14 AM

The Ethics and Grievance committee has been around a long time, and is rarely invoked -- I have a very high regard for all of our members, and this committee exists solely to ensure that we have a body separate from the Board of Directors that will give any member brought up on a grievance a fair hearing.

And yes -- recording is not allowed. Whatever happens there stays there. It's not there to put people in legal jeopardy -- it's simply there to dispassionately resolve disputes.

Robert -- make up your mind -- American English or British English! Get Organiszed!!!!!!!! :D
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Postby Robert Allen » 10/30/10 01:46 PM

"Robert -- make up your mind -- American English or British English! Get Organiszed!!!!!!!!"

Doh! LOL!
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Postby Terry » 10/31/10 11:51 AM

"Jim Riser - Why do petty individuals always seem to seek a position of "power" - never realizing that they can not handle it?"

They're called bureaucrats and they lack whatever it takes to succeed in life. By assuming "power" they feel they can establish their manhood and control over others.

When it's over all they prove is just how small they really are.
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Postby KirkG » 10/31/10 04:55 PM

Are you talking about Rich or just petty bureaucrats in general?
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Postby Magic Randy » 10/31/10 05:35 PM

Recently it appears that the MC Internet Committee and Management teams started deleting posts on the MC forum if they don't like the content.

So the content gets posted elsewhere, like the Genii forum that has a much higher readership than the MC forum.

So their censorship behavior has the opposite effect.

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Postby Terrence » 11/01/10 11:06 AM

I abhor censorship on our Forums, and I'd like to thank RK for continuing to sponsor our opinions out here.

In fairness to Rich, let me say this. He was not the only member to request that Bill's post be taken down.

As an IC member (who has himself been censored in the past), I had a problem with Bill's sub-heading:

"Libel of Bill McIlhany and Jim Starr by Rich Cowley "

This appeared on our Forum, and Bill did not repost that here.

Bill was therefore the first to put that accusation out there -- not Rich. (So does Bill believe he's been pre-libeled??????)

(Because of that sub-heading -- I voted to take the post down.)

Before we could talk it over with Bill, he stuck it back out -- perhaps he thought that his post was accidentally moved to the private moderators area. And so he was banned until things could be worked out.

And I'm sure we can work something out with Bill.

That's the gist from my perspective.
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Postby Roger M. » 11/01/10 12:48 PM

I abhor censorship on our Forums

Unfortunately your actions and statements simply don't back this up.

I believe it's called "lip service".
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Postby Bill McIlhany » 11/01/10 12:52 PM

It's very simple! Cowley libeled Jim Starr and me in the two letters he got Mark Felicetti to sign on 2008 and 2010. Then he libeled me in the text of his phony Grievance. So when I added that subheading, I was just following what you might learn from any dictionary! I did not libel anyone by pointing that out! You sound like you'd make a good politician, but don't assume anything about me!
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Postby Terrence » 11/01/10 01:17 PM

Bill -- I assume nothing about you or anyone else.

I think you're overreacting.

And BTW thank you for assuming that I would make a good politician. I wish I had thought of that myself. :)
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 11/01/10 04:56 PM


Bill is being accused of improper behavior, has been censored, is expected to change his personal/business schedule to defend himself at the convenience of everyone else, and he is overreacting?

I don't think so.

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Postby houdini's ghost » 11/01/10 05:52 PM

To Terry Ellet,
You got a damn funny way of abhorring censorship.
You know it isn't hard to get an opinion or a diatribe from Rich Cowley, and I have heard him filibuster on the subject of McIlhany more than once.
It's time McIlhany fired back.
This should all have been on the Castle forum--not this forum.
I don't understand the two letters from Felicetti at all.
Mark Felicetti is warning Bill McIlhany of possible legal action?
Come on!
A Castle grievance! Let's see.
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Postby David D. C. » 11/01/10 06:52 PM

In the midst of reading this post about a grievance at the Magic Castle, I'm trying to figure what the purpose of the grievance is and why it escalated to this.

As a Castle member, it would seem the primary goal of any action of the AMA is the benefit of the AMA and the magic community. And that is only accomplished by its staff and volunteers willing to contribute to the organization. So from that perspective, I read this thread.

Some points I've taken from this:

1) Jim Riser, Bill McIlhany and Rich Cowley have been and do volunteer their time to the AMA, specifically to Castle video library, with or without compensation to do so, and to the point where , as the saying goes, "no good deed goes unpunished". It is also clear that more than these three have contributed to the health and maintenance of the Castle archives. Just like Rich Cowley is, as Bill and several people voice, a "small man", no one person can claim any responsibility for the vast archives at the Castle: it has been years in the making.

2) Rich Cowley is not the Magic Castle. Seems a rather obvious statement, but based of the exhaustive back story Bill wrote, there are more players in this play than Bill and Rich. It involves Milt Larsen, Jim Riser, Diana Zimmerman, CBS studios, Tim Holly, Mark Felicetti a whole cast of characters, and these are just a few of the ones Bill mentions. They all had a part in the escalation to bringing a grievance to the AMA's grievance committee, which Rich Cowley does not serve on. This is the AMA's rules and regulations to address disputes and I can assume these rules were part of the Castle way before any of this took place. It is impartial and is used for the benefit of the AMA.

3. Forums are monitored and moderated. People are banned, threads are closed. Posts are removed. It could be considered censorship, but just as the Genii forums are moderated by Richard Kaufmann and others here for the benefit (and gratitude) of the Genii community, the Castle forums are moderated too, and for similar reasons: for the benefit and health of the AMA. That's the whole reason for the terms of use everyone must agree to before being allowed to post. So if someone was using the Castle forum to subvert established Castle rules, like the ability to air grievance through the grievance committee, but instead, rally to dissent, the AMA has a right to monitor and moderate. Just as the moderators here have a right to allow this thread to continue and exist.

4. Bill McIlhany, as a member of the Castle, has every right to argue his case. If he feels it is best for his case to argue to forums, fight for a grievance date he can actually attend, submit his side to people who can make a difference, clear his good name, restore order to the magic kingdom, he should. Considering his post here, and the quality of his case, it would be something that I would think he would put priority in. He could quickly solve this matter in 5 minutes, and Rich will be banished to magic purgatory to rethink his crimes to humanity. But for that to happen, he needs to argue his case to people who can can help. That's the AMA, and any decision made will be from the AMA and for the AMA.

5. And what is that goal? In this case, to track and maintain all Castle video archives. It seems the power to do so lies not in just Rich's hands, but Jim's and Bill's and anyone who has a part of the video archives. It's a big task, as Bill attests to.

6. This is a non-magic issue. It's a preservation issue. People can have varied opinions about the importance of these fellows in the world of magic, but the preservation of magic footage can be argued as more important. As long as this thread has spilled out to the Genii forum and/or other forums, the call to other magicians to help the AMA maintain their archives may be worthwhile.

Bill has posted this link from Rich (See, they can work together):

(A list of these missing tapes and disks can be found at

And perhaps other people can help find a decent copy of missing footage, if it footage doesn't show up. Because if the point is to archive footage for the benefit of the magic community, one Bill acknowledges:

(We have similarly preserved the magic film collections of the Society of American Magicians, The Magic Circle and other private collections. Our contentment and reward comes, not from any praise or public recognition, but by that gift we could only give ourselves. In the future, if this rich film and video legacy survives for future generations, we will know that we made it possible.)

Then it would seem we have a mighty tool, the Internet, to do so.

7. Bill does not have to work with Rich Cowley. The number of people involved with magic footage preservation is more than two or even three. Currently, the Multimedia Committee at the Castle is fact run by man named Jim Yoder, with a volunteer staff of seven and growing, and that's only one group of people Bill can work with. If Bill feels he cannot work with "that idiot coward Cowley", then I would suggest he contact people he can work with: more agreeable folk for the benefit of his love of magic, and the community at large.

I don't deny this all sounds very naive and pie-in-the-sky, but the rewards in working together outweigh petty grievances of a couple.
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Postby Terrence » 11/01/10 06:54 PM

Will, gee, I didn't know anything at all about any letters or anything else about this case -- some of us just saw a possibly actionable accusation of libel.

That was the first thing seen on the Forum. I didn't bother to analyze it and make a judgment of whether or not it's true -- that's not the job of a moderator.

Dustin -- tell me what you would have done? As a moderator?

Just because I don't like something doesn't mean I can't do it or necessarily should or should not.

As I write this BTW -- an effort is underway to accommodate Bill's schedule conflict with this hearing by the head of the E&G committee.

Overreacting? Perhaps I should analyze Bill's post more carefully before continuing, and give it proper attention in detail...more later.
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Postby Terrence » 11/01/10 06:59 PM

Thank you David. I missed your post, and it makes lots of sense.
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Postby Terry » 11/01/10 07:30 PM

Kirk, from the content in this thread, apparently the control freaks at the Castle.
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Postby MaxNY » 11/01/10 08:18 PM

"This I also know: in my lifetime, Bill McIlhany has done more to preserve film and video footage of magicians than anyone on earth."

Ummm, than I get a very close second.

Just want to add that I don't know either of the guys. I have met Bill once or twice, and he knew I was sitting on some stuff...The second time we met, he didn't even greet me with a "Hello" first, but went right into the hard sell for getting a few missing pieces to the Castle collection. Just saying.

Not part of the case, but just in case anyone would be wondering...Why would CBS offer free restoration? Probable answer is because in the 1960's, (rumor has it) they would just throw away tons of 16mm film masters.This stuff got costly to store at 57th Street, and became.....garbage. Of course, now, they would like that stuff back....Only reason I can come up with offering free restoration.. Video restoration is big business. Can you imagine trying to locate a Betamax now? They only made maybe 3?? million units. Try to locate a top loading 3/4 Umatic, in running condition. I know of one, maybe two.

Restoring video was my profession for about 2 decades. I learned very early on that I don't do any favors, as often they are not returned. Instead, I have a few friends that I have met here at the funny forum, and that's that. Magicians are a secretive society. Part of me likes it that way... Maybe the stuff is better if sitting in some old dusty vault...or basement. Any time you get clubs or groups together, nothing gets done the proper way. DVD's are hard to keep off the street. Lap-tops, Bang, you got a copy. Sad.

I also want to add that, the old stuff was heavy indeed.

I hope this turns out well. I haven't been around here much lately, but this may get interesting.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 11/01/10 08:43 PM

Terrence wrote: Dustin -- tell me what you would have done? As a moderator?


That this thread and all its posts remain intact is one clue regarding what I would have doneat least so far. If you were troubled by the subheading, perhaps you could have just deleted that (I dont know if you have that ability or not). But I am going to qualify that in a moment, so bear with me.

No, its not your job to judge the facts, but I am confused about something: Were you worried about Bill libeling someone with his accusation of libel (and thats what you thought could be actionable) or does the MC IC just prefer to steer clear of the entire libel issue regardless? I ask because if you thought that Bill might have cause of action, why delete his post? Right now, the perceptionwhether right or wrongis that the MC IC is taking one side (or taking orders from one side).

Now, all that having been said, I know that being a moderator sometimes just plain blows (and anyone who thinks otherwisethinks its some kind of ego or power triphas never done it). I do feel your pain, to borrow a phrase. So here comes my qualification: When it comes to libel, as a moderator, it is always better to err on the side of caution. I have done it myself.


PS: Im glad to hear that the scheduling issues are being sorted out.
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Postby Terrence » 11/02/10 12:53 AM

Thank you!

Right now the IC is not completely independent in its ability to do or not do certain things, and we have a problem with our terms of use -- they are clearly too onerous, and should only reflect on a Member's status on the Forum -- not his or her's membership status.

Here is a quote BTW from one of our most respected members concerning the censorship topic:

"There is simply no place for censorship at the Magic Castle. The only legitimate reason to remove a message posted by a member on the Castle Forums would be to deal with libel."

(I can't attribute who said this as he's not given permission -- suffice to say that he's one of the smartest and highly esteemed among us.)

The control freak in question is not a member of the IC. We do though have to respond to members complaints -- the complaint I received did not come from Rich.

Also, no one seems to be following up on our procedure for notifying Forum members that we have a problem. I will take that one on myself, and say here to Bill that I'm sorry that this has been done without following through to him.

Pat -- I know they did this to you -- did you ever receive notification from getting banned, and are you banned now? (Please try it and let me know.)

OK Dustin -- not overreacting. Maybe over-acting? Nevertheless neither I nor any member will hold it against anyone for being pissed off over this, especially if it turns out that there's no "there" there.

And Roger -- read my "lips" -- no service intended...
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Postby mrgoat » 11/02/10 06:15 AM

Reading this I just thought, as an overseas member of the castle that gets to go about twice a year, if I am lucky, why the hell the IC is so 40 years ago? Even the Castle website looks like it was designed in 1988.

This is 2010. Ingesting, storing and distribution of video is REALLY easy.

Imagine if I, as a member, could get remote access to the archive. Wow. People all round the world would pay handsomely for that right. What if they streamed the performances, or lectures?

The magic circle is as bad.

There is money in distributing video online. If societies need money, they should invest in making that happen. IMO.
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