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I was frustrated over the fact that the hundreds of video tapes and many reels of movie film at the Castle had never been archived and cataloged.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 www.Rich-Cowley.com/VaultDVD_FullCatalog.xls
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.
(TO RECEIVE A COPY OF THE FELICETTI RESPONSE, CONTACT ME AT
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.