Manager of Magic Castle’s operator resigns amid controversy
Joseph Furlow, the embattled general manager of the organization that operates the Magic Castle, has resigned, he confirmed in a statement to The Times on Friday afternoon.
Furlow, general manager of the Academy of Magical Arts since 2012, wrote in an email that he “enjoyed great success in my career, most especially transforming” the fortunes of the organization “from near bankruptcy to solvency.” The Academy of Magical Arts is a roughly 5,000-member group that calls the Hollywood private club home.
Furlow’s departure comes two weeks after an investigative report by The Times disclosed allegations of sexual misconduct, racism and other issues at the Castle, which is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, a fractious dialogue on Facebook about various claims roiling the Castle led the academy’s board of directors to engage a law firm to conduct an investigation into “alleged inappropriate workplace conduct” — one that members said scrutinized Furlow.
“It is clear that a handful of individuals have strategically leveraged social media to present a narrative that is more illusion than fact, but which, like magic, captures attention,” Furlow said in his statement. “While this has become a common and effective tactic for the disgruntled, my professional record of success speaks louder.”
The Times’ Dec. 4 story included an array of claims about bad behavior at the institution, and some of the allegations related to Furlow. Among them were claims from a 2019 lawsuit filed by a former Castle waitress, Stephanie Carpentieri, who alleged that after she was groped by a busboy on multiple occasions, she sought help from Furlow and others, but nothing was done to protect her and she was eventually fired in retaliation for speaking out. The story also detailed an alleged encounter between Furlow and a Black member that had racial overtones, with the general manager allegedly using language that evoked sharecropping during a contentious contract negotiation.
Furlow did not respond to questions about alleged incidents at the Castle when The Times contacted him prior to the story’s publication, and he declined interview requests. In his statement on Friday, Furlow wrote, “I have no desire to engage.”
In an email to members Friday night, the seven-person board of directors said that it had accepted Furlow’s resignation, adding that his responsibilities have been temporarily assigned to other staff as the organization searches for a successor. “We wish [Furlow] well in his future endeavors,” the board said.
The Magic Castle opened in 1963 and has counted Cary Grant, Johnny Carson and other show business stalwarts as members. The venue, which the academy leases, is a popular tourist attraction, though getting in isn’t so simple for nonmembers, who almost always need an invitation from a member. That exclusivity has made it an alluring destination for many, but academy members have said that the organization’s leadership often demonstrates an old boys’ club mentality by not addressing people’s concerns about claimed misconduct and not holding alleged wrongdoers accountable. And several lawsuits filed by former employees allege that no action was taken by management after they brought complaints to their superiors, managers or human resources workers.
From 2011 to 2019, the academy was sued four times by former employees, including Carpentieri, alleging violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, which protects against sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation. Settlements of undisclosed terms were reached in three of the cases; Carpentieri’s matter is ongoing in L.A. County Superior Court.
In October, the board issued a statement to members announcing completion of the unnamed law firm’s months-long inquiry, saying that “the findings were serious and broad-spanning, covering management, culture, human resources, operational systems and processes, and the need for systemic change.” It did not disclose the details of the law firm’s report.
Randy Sinnott Jr., president of the academy’s board of directors, provided a statement to The Times earlier this month that said a management consulting firm had been brought on to assist “in implementing the resulting recommendations” from the law firm’s investigation.
“The Academy of Magical Arts and its Board work to provide a safe and welcoming environment and experience,” Sinnott previously said. “All claims brought to the attention of the Board or management are treated seriously and professionally.”
Furlow had by many accounts improved business at the Castle, whose financial health was poor in the mid-2000s, several members said. A 2016 profile of Furlow by online publication Long Beach Post said he’d improved attendance at the Castle by upping the quality of magic on display and offering more of it. In the story, Furlow boasted that annual revenue had hit about $15.5 million in 2015, nearly double what it was the year he took over.
Magician member Brandon Martinez called Furlow’s departure a “landmark moment” for the Castle, adding, “It shows a large commitment from the Board to take steps in the right direction. It allows the Board to say things that were swept under the rug before will not stand anymore.”
“I believe this is the Board’s way of coming forward and taking an active stance against the abuse that occurred under Furlow,” Martinez said in an email. “The Board is choosing the safety of their employees, members, and guests over the comfort of the old boys club.”
The Magic Castle closed in March, laying off about 95% of its staff, board of directors meeting minutes said — or 189 people, according to an email the academy’s leadership sent members. Since the pandemic began, the academy has been mired in red ink, with monthly losses topping $300,000 on several occasions, according to board minutes.
“I think the Castle needs to fix a lot of things internally to be able to survive,” said Katie Molinaro, a former cocktail server there. “Joe leaving is a good start, but they can’t replace him with someone like him.”
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