Obiter Dicta – Jon Racherbaumer


Jon Racherbaumer


Dust-Motes In the Gird- Jon Racherbaumer

# 1 – “Raise tempers, goad and lacerate, raise a whirlwind.”

This is an experiment.  This is the first installment of entries from my journal directly or tangentially related to magic, magicians, and the amorphous body called the “magic community.” The installments will be posted weekly or weakly (depending on how you look at them) and whether or not they warrant casual or close readings or subsequent commentary remains to be seen. I consider my imagined audience to be small—not necessarily huddled and sympathetic, but more scattered and dispassionate. One of my short-lived pubs, Swipe, was prudently limited to only a dozen copies, which at its outset seemed practical. It was an optimistic search for feedback more substantial than distant echoes. What can I say? Esoteric matters appeal to me—things like newsletters named Eternal Ink, peddled by the Christian Tattoo Association. It has 23 subscribers.

Dumping more text, much of it indiscriminate and as spontaneous as a hiccup, into cyberspace is probably a piss-in-the-wind. Measurable or significant results are unlikely. Consider the following: 14,000 issues of the Linking Ring are mailed to members of the I.B.M.. How many issues are carefully read? Who reads the articles or tries out the tricks? It’s likely that less than 25% know the name of the Executive and Parade Editors. Although I have published over 100 tricks in Magic magazine, I doubt that any of them are currently part of anyone’s active repertoire. This is the reason I call most of my work “ephemera.”

Considering these assumptions, entries from a personal journal may have an even shorter “life” in the swarm of “memes” out there in cyberspace and elsewhere. Like the brain-droppings of George Carlin, the rants of Dennis Miller, or the bat-droppings of the late Lloyd Jones, my “orbita dicta” are dust-motes in the Gird, gnat-like notations in the Glut. (By the way, I used the term “Obiter Dictum” in Kabbala magazine in the 70’s. If you don’t have a dictionary nearby and desire its denotative meaning, “obiter dictum” refers to “incidental or passing remarks and opinions.” The legal definition is more interesting: “An incidental or supplemental opinion by a judge, not essential to a decision and therefore not binding.”

Clarifying “Fusion” Confusion

What is currently called the Fusion Effect was actually invented by Wesley James in 1965. He originally called it the Physical Merger effect. In 1967, James showed it to Dai Vernon, who agreed (rightly or wrongly) that it was not only a new “trick,” but a new plot or approach worthy of being added to Fitzkee’s list of effects. According to James, he asked Vernon to keep the trick to himself. He wrote: ” To the best of my knowledge, he [Vernon] honored that agreement to his grave. In 1972, I showed my handling of the effect to a few other magicians such as Frank Garcia and Derek Dingle. Each came up with alternate handlings. In 1974, I showed the effect to Max Maven, who also developed an alternate handling, although it basically duplicated one I had already developed. Max also asked and was granted my permission to show the idea to Danny Tong and Ray Goulet. Danny began using the handling that Max had re-invented. Two other notables are also part of this story. In Peter Samelson’s 1984 book, Theatrical Close-Up, he describes an item he calls ‘New York Transpo.’ You can read his opening comments yourself, but he says, in part, that his item was developed in 1974 and was inspired by my ‘Forgery,’ which is the name of my first version. Peter had worked with me for months at The Magic Towne House, a club I ran in New York in the mid-70’s. Samelson is wrong about my creation date for the effect he saw me perform every night for months. He claims that my unpublished effect was developed about 1970. Peter’s mistake is understandable. The handling I used during the years we worked together was of that vintage. In any case, because of the Towne House performances, a slew of magicians saw my routine, although it was not explained. Darwin Ortiz, in his At the Card Table (1988), explains an effect called ‘The Dream Card.’ In his description he fails to acknowledge my ‘Forgery’ as being an inspiration. However, he has since agreed that it was a part of his inspiration. He will, I believe, confirm this if asked. Finally, in my lecture notes (‘Stop Fooling Us’ – 1989 – a revised and illustrated second edition – 1990), I described the details of the handling of ‘Forgery’ I have been using since the early 70’s. This history should settle any questions about the origins of the Physical Merger/Fusion Effect.”

Thanks, Wesley. The ancestry of many effects and ideas in magic are more complicated than anyone thinks.

Modality Dalliance

In a never-ending quest for understanding, we often look for models of explanation, drawing analogies if and when we can. The term “method” is high on the ladder of abstractions, higher than we assume at first blush. In some ways, a “method” is like a film script. It includes what must be said and done, yet there is room for a director and his actors to interpret exactly how this must be done. Then the editor takes over with interpretations of his own during post-production. To round out the “circle of events” is the audience, who will watch, react, judge, remember, and so on…adding their own interpretation. So it goes…

round and round…

where it stops, nobody knows…

Tilt Tizzy

Karl Fulves, an early Marlo-hater, still leads the attack-pack against Ed Marlo. Jim Steranko is not far behind. Their hatred of Marlo appears disproportionate to the facts of the complicated case that has been growing since 1970. Nevertheless, there is something spiteful and malevolent afoot. Marlo, in many quarters, is now perceived as a “bad guy” a very bad guy—who stole most of his ideas and passed them off as his own. In short, he was the biggest thief that ever lived and his reputation is fraudulent and undeserved. Having never met Fulves or Steranko, I should let this pass. However, attacking a dead man who cannot defend himself seems unfair. Since I’m considered a Marlo apologist (among other negative things) and know a little about the case, perhaps a few things should be publicized?

First, Fulves at least started attacking Marlo when he was alive and could still defend himself. On the other hand, Mr. Steranko, using others as unschooled foils or dupes, is spreading falsehoods, misinformation, and disinformation after Marlo’s death.

I will deal with Steranko later. In the meantime, let me say a few things about the Tilt Tizzy or Depth Illusion Flap. This is a good example of Fulvian Disinformation.

Several years ago, Karl Fulves tried to squelch an article I wrote titled, “How Deep Is This Illusion” (on Tilt). It was originally part of Kabbala Three (1975) and thanks to Fulves, Tannens destroyed the original print-run, then published a censored version in 1976. (I eventually published this expurgated article in Sticks & Stones.) This article, by the way, was inspired by Fulves’ propagandizing commentary in Close-Up Folio #10, a screed sorely needing emendations and clarifications and—guess what?—Fulves still has not responded quid pro quo. His flimsy excuse is, “The time required to extract truth from falsehood in this miserable exercise in new journalism is more than I can justify…”

The publication of Flashpoints apparently goaded Fulves to resume his weird crusade in his new rag, Verbatim. Fulves insists that Marlo claimed the Tilt concept. There have been three public statements to the contrary in three different books—Tilt, Full Tilt, And Flashpoints. Nevertheless, Fulves writes, “All of this is wrong…Marlo did claim Tilt. When he wrote the original manuscript, nowhere was Vernon’s name mentioned. A magician familiar with Vernon’s Depth Illusion confronted Marlo on the subject. Though Marlo insisted Tilt was his, he was persuaded to revise the credits.”

This statement is false.

The original Tilt manuscript clearly mentions Dai Vernon. Flashpoints cites Vernon’s name at least twenty times.

At this stage of any historical investigation, I doubt that anyone will conclusively prove Tilt’s provenance. Most of the names associated with the concept are known. A few dates are known and have been recorded. Most hearsay evidence has been aired. The rest is moot. Bottom line: Most magicians credit Vernon; the rest don’t give a damn. A point apparently lost to sciolists (*) is the primary one that Marlo wanted to assert. His contribution to Tilt or the Depth Illusion are his applications. Without them and the others that quickly ensued from the Tilt manuscript, the concept might have remained in obscurity. If Vernon invented the concept, why didn’t he do more with it than history indicates?

After reading Fulves’ Verbatim, a friend asked, “Perhaps Fulves is talking about Marlo’s original write-up that formed the basis for the Tilt manuscript?” I doubt it. These hand-written notes are in my files. As Marlo points out in his Foreword to Tilt!, these are separate manuscripts devoted to the relevant subject they explore. They do not have anything to do with Vernon or historical attribution. Yet Fulves gives credence to the hearsay testimony of one, unnamed magician. Why doesn’t he name his informant? (If you like to play guessing games, consider the small number of magicians familiar with Tilt during 1960-62. This number can be further reduced if you consider those willing to confide anything to Fulves.)

Fulves reminds me of crack-pot conspiracy-theorists. He gathers some speculative bits, then draws moot conclusions. He wants the magic community to believe that Marlo was a lying, thieving scoundrel who relied on a network of spies to supply him with inside information. Once these “moles” leaked an idea, trick, or sleight (usually via a letter or telephone call), Marlo then hastily rushed them into print. This way he scooped everybody else to obtain credit.

Marlo corresponded with many magicians during his lifetime and this voluminous correspondence was purchased by Dr. Persi Diaconis. I’ve read most of the surviving letters written by Bill Simon and Marlo and found no evidence of a Tilt conspiracy. My parenthetical mention in Flashpoints is not eye-opening. It is plausible to assume that Simon told (not wrote) Marlo about Krenzel’s application. This explains my wording (via Simon?). The interrogative does not suggest the exact means of transmission. IN the final analysis, who cares? Perhaps Simon did tell Marlo about Vernon, Schwarzman, and Krenzel and their experiments with Tilt. So what? Yet Fulves interprets these factoids as hard evidence, proving (?) that Marlo learned everything about Tilt from various informants, especially Bill Simon. Prior to these “leaks,” Fulves assumes that Marlo was wholly ignorant and once he got wind of Tilt, he took an independent-invention stand. In short, according to Fulves, Marlo was a thief and liar. He stole Tilt, published it under his name, then lied about it. Furthermore, the Marlo-Simon Connection funneled tons of unpublished material from the East-Coast Brain Trust. (Notice Fulves’s language: “The inclusion of Simon’s name as a source for material siphoned to Marlo…”)

Consider this: If Simon was indeed a “mole,” why didn’t the other trustees ostracize him? More important, if Marlo was really an over-rated, ego-maniacal, petty thief, stealing the best and brightest material from magicdom’s genuine creators, why wasn’t he exposed sooner? Why didn’t others amass evidence and publicly expose him? Why don’t Fulves or Steranko write a definitive, cogently argued, fully documented book to discredit Marlo? Such a book, if it was honest and well-documented, would settle matters once and for all? This is not likely to happen. Instead Steranko is using intermediaries to disseminate his hearsay accusations and erroneous assertions. Fulves continues to chip away and publish blind-item assertions like this: “…it was this particular channel [Simon] of communication that was responsible for the fact that a Slydini solution to a card problem showed up under Marlo’s name as ‘Rise Rise Rise.'”

Readers seldom check out bits of bêtise like this. How can they? Marlo, Simon, and Slydini are now deceased. Good luck.

So, where do we go from here…if anywhere?

Good question. Unless Fulves or Steranko come up with documented evidence that Marlo was indeed a thief and fraud, they remain highly motivated muckrakers with a pathological agenda. Fulves at least leaves a paper trail. He publishes statements. He makes claims that can be examined. For example, he writes: “JR [Jon Racherbaumer]says Marlo relied heavily on ‘informants’ for information on the depth illusion.” Hold on! My original statement, which Fulves has distorted, was: “Marlo did not get this information firsthand, but relied heavily on the honesty and reputation of his informants.” Notice a difference? Fulves also pejoratively uses “informant” and inductively converts a specific example[Single-Card Tilt] into an encompassing noun (“information”), suggesting that more information was “tipped” than the basic idea of tilting a top card to create an illusion of “depth.”

Fulves also wrote: “JR does not state where his original article appeared.”

Wrong again! On page 21 of Flashpoints, I wrote: “A slightly different version of this article was published in STICKS & STONES – NUMBER 10 (1977) and was written on August 10, 1977.”

In”How Deep Is This Illusion” I asserted that Fulves “wants to discredit Marlo. He wants to impugn Marlo’s reputation.” I still stand by that assertion. There is also a difference between a scholiast and a sciolist. I try to be the former, whereas Fulves does his level-best to be the latter.

Tempus edax rerum!

(Time consumes all things; everything is transitory.)

sciolist – one who pretends to scholarship or knowledge.
Onward…  (Gemini Archives – Stevens Magic Emporium)