This much we know
from the Nelson canon...
At a time when
professional mentalism was only in its infancy (the early 1920s),
Nelson Enterprises supplied practically everything a professional
mind reader, fortune teller or spook show worker would need: complete
mind reading acts (including turban), miniature radio devices, crystal
balls, enchanted talking lamps & tea kettles, blindfolds, prediction
chests, codes, hypnotism routines, cold reading manuscripts, impression
pads, clipboards, reaching rods, nail writers, spirit trumpets,
slates, luminous paint, book tests, horoscopes, pitch books, tick
sheets, good luck tokens... and much, much more.
One might even
say that Nelson Enterprises was one of the primary links between
the 19th century Spiritualist mediums and the 20th century establishment
of the new entertainment form known as Mentalism.
But Bob Nelson
did much more than simply supply the material needs of professional
workers. He was a professional worker himself, appearing over the
years as a stage mentalist, magician, spook show entrepreneur and
radio psychic. From these experiences and the experiences of those
he encountered on the road, Bob Nelson was able to put into print
the methods, routines and acts that launched and sustained the careers
of many mentalists and readers.
generally receives credit for fueling the engine of early mentalism,
Nelson was almost single-handedly responsible for documenting the
once-secret art of professional psychic readers. While "The
Art of Cold Reading" is probably his most widely-known book
on the subject, Nelson was publishing "the full facts"
about Q&A and cold reading as early as 1925 with "Answers
To Questions" (DeLawrence) and again in 1929 with "Confessions
of A Medium."
Do Sylvia Browne,
John Edward and James Van Praagh have copies of Nelson's books in
their libraries? Perhaps not. But one can't help but think that
today's mediums amd spiritual advisors might certainly find them
to be of great interest.
Where did Nelson
stand on the subject of professional ethics? It's hard to say, since
on the one hand he purported to "reveal" the under-handed
methods of private readers, and on the other hand supplied everything
these supposedly unscrupulous characters needed to ply their trade.
I suspect that Bob Nelson was, at the end of the day, a businessman,
and didn't spend an inordinate amount of time agonizing over ethics.
But it doesn't appear that we'll ever know, at least not until someone
unearths previously unknown documents or diaries.
Until that day,
we'll need to piece together the Nelson Puzzle based on a few facts
and his prodigious writing. With that in mind, here are a few dates
and facts that we know...
1900 - Larry Nelson
(aka Allah Rageh) born. Although
some sources cite Larry's birth date as 1899, 1900 is the year on
his death certificate and social security records.
November 16, 1901
- Robert A. Nelson born in Columbus, Ohio.
1911 - Bob becomes
interested in magic.
1914 - Brothers
Larry and Bob form their 1st pro mindreading act.
1915 - Their mother
takes them to the San Francisco World's Fair to present their code
1915 - Larry and
Bob present The Magical Revue, a 2-hour show that plays the Central
1915 - The Rageh
Trio is formed (Bob, Larry, and boyhood friend Cecil Case, who plays
1916 - Bob and
Larry meet Howard Thurston backstage and are impressed that he addresses
them as "Gentlemen."
1916 - Allah Rageh
& Company is formed while Bob and Larry are still in high school.
They play every suburban theater in the Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati
area, selling question coupons, crystals, horoscopes and lucky charms
after their shows.
1921 - Nelson
Enterprises established to meet the demand of professional mentalists.
First big customer was Ali Axiom, a stage mindreader.
1920s - Larry
smells the big-time and heads to Hollywood. After a few small roles,
he will eventually return.
1928 - Bob appears
on Detroit radio station WJR, receiving 40% of all revenues from
horoscopes sold over the air. Purchasers receive with each book
a coupon good for one answer to a personal question. (All sales
came with a money-back guarantee, of course.) The 15-minute show
lasts for 25 weeks, and is terminated only when Bob is stalked by
an emotionally unstable fan and high-tailed it to Cleveland.
1930 - Bob hits
on the idea of launching a direct-mail campaign to past customers,
and receives an 80% response rate.
1930s - Originally
approached by Greystoke to help with demand for spook shows (Bob
turned him down), the London Ghost Show is created.
1930s - Bob and
Larry take to the airwaves with seperate radio shows. Bob assumes
the persona of Dr. Korda RaMayne ("The Voice of Destiny"),
and sells horoscopes on many local radio stations, including Mansfield
and Dayton, Ohio stations. It is a role that he will play for over
1935 - Bob discovers
"Hellstromism", and uses it to book appearances on additional
1930s - Bob creates
the "Sonia Zaranoff and Her Talking Tea Kettle" act.
1943 - Alexander,
Crystal Seer, retires and sells Bob his entire show... all 7 tons
1947 - Bob presents
his "loaf of bread" prediction at the annual I.B.M. convention.
1947 - Collier's
Magazine runs "Ghosts For Sale" article, highlighting
the Nelson Ghost Factory. The publicity results in Bob presenting
the first (and last) spook show performed on national radio (Gulf
Oil Company's "We the People" show).
1950s - Bob is
retained by Disney to act as technical advisor for Disneyland's
"Haunted House." Although Nelson claims in "The Last
Book of Nelson" that he was working with Disney during the
1940s, Diego Domingo has correctly pointed out that since Disneyland
didn't open until the mid 1950s, Nelson could not have been consulting
with Disney until after Disneyland had been open for some time.
1950s - After
a few less-than-successful attempts at breaking into television,
including an 8-week stint as "Dr. Korda RaMayne" on WTVN
in Columbus, Bob turns his full attention to Nelson Enterprises.
February 21, 1973
- Robert A. Nelson moves on to The Big Spook Show in the Sky.
A NOTE FOR THE
PURISTS: As you may have guessed, The Secret Domain of Dr. RaMayne
is a labor of love, and is in no way meant to be a definitive document
on the life and times of Robert A. Nelson. There are others who
have spent even more of their time, money and effort than I have,
and I urge you to contact them and encourage them to continue their
scholarship of this intriguing subject.
Mr. Diego Domingo
of Southern California is one such scholar who I have had the pleasure
of corresponding with over the years, and his help has been invaluable
in my own study of Nelson. He can be contacted online at email@example.com
or by writing to: Diego Domingo, P.O. Box 1463, Studio City, CA
the comprehensiveness of this biographical timeline, I originally
put off the creation of this website for quite some time, with the
thought that I didn't have all the information required for it to
be complete. I finally came to the realization that if anyone is
sufficiently bothered by a lack of detail, they will either a) supply
me with the necessary information to rectify the situation, or b)
create a better web site. Either way, the benefit will be felt by
Nelson fans everywhere.
The Secret Domain will be updated at irregular intervals. If you
have other dates or information, please feel free to contact me
and I'll add them to the timeline.