On Buckminster Fuller

When I was in college, R Buckminster Fuller had a cult-like following of young people who reveled in his alternative way of thinking — comprehensively — because it was obvious to them that was the cause of many of society's failures. I must have learned of him though newspaper and magazine articles, the Whole Earth Catalog, newsreels, etc. I heard him speak on three occasions in the 1970's: 1) Washington State University, 2) Linfield College, and 3) Lewis & Clark College, where I hosted his visit toward the end of his life.

Fuller's Visit to Lewis & Clark College (the short version)

poor scan of the program for Fuller's talk on February 5th, 1979

On the evening of February 5th, 1979, Fuller gave a talk, "Toward a fuller future", at Lewis & Clark College. I was the faculty host for this visit. We picked up Fuller at PDX; Matt Wuerker drove his Volvo, Chuck Farnsworth rode shotgun, I was in the back seat with Fuller. At some point, I showed my "Buckfunster Miller" calling card to Fuller.

Buckfunster Miller card

To my surprise he did not approve of it. He said his name was sacred, and that I shouldn't try to borrow any of his fame (or words to that affect). He told me to make a name for myself. Well, that's what I tried to do, since John Miller is so common, it practically doesn't exist. Needless to say, he didn't take the card.

Before the talk, we hosted a dinner for Fuller and selected students in my home. (Dinner stories below.) His talk in the Chapel (overflow crowd) concluded: "Don't be afraid of Change!"

The next morning, on Feb 6th, I joined Bucky for breakfast at the London Grill in the Benson Hotel. I considered Eggs Benedict, which I'd never had. He said it was his wife's favorite breakfast. So I had Eggs Benedict. We talked over breakfast. Somehow the subject of a world-around computer network came up. By then, I had one experience with teleprocessing between WSU and Gonzaga University. He asked me if such a world-wide network had been established yet. I told him No, Not Yet.

I showed him a small version of my Synergy design, and he said: "Well done". (You can see 'Synergy' on my Trees page, under Nested Polygon Sequences. [LINK])

I then drove him to the airport. (To think, here is the inventor of the Dymaxion Car riding in a 1968 Opel Rallye!) When I dropped him at the airport curb, I again assured him that I would cease using the name, and wished him the Best of Health. He was good with that.

A More Detailed version Fuller's 1979 visit to Lewis & Clark College

OK, so the way this happened was that I was an active, albeit part-time faculty member at the college. I heard he was coming as part of a symposium. (I'd heard him speak twice before.) I figured that no department likely would claim him, so I asked if they had a faculty host/contact for him, and they (college) were relieved someone had volunteered. (I assume that the student's must have selected him to speak? Dunno.) Anyway, I became that person who who would pick him up at the Airport, host a dinner, and get him to the church on time. I could have used some other faculty member's home, but I decided to make a go of it. I staged my (entire) living room as a dining room, painted the floor, etc. This was when the lathe & plaster in the kitchen was half torn off the walls, and the porch was little more than some 2x4's nailed up as I recall.

When we picked him up at the airport, the TV stations were lined up to interview him! I didn't have that on my list. He patiently granted each one of them an audience. One station sent a young woman who had NO CLUE who he even was, and asked the stupidest questions. He politely told her that if she had done the least bit of research she would know some of her answers (or something like that). I was appalled and embarrassed for him, but he said not to worry, it happened all the time.

After we finally got out there, we needed to drive him from the Airport to my house for a dinner. The student driver missed getting onto the freeway, so we took an eternity getting out to the house. I'm sure Bucky wondered what he'd gotten into, but I was also sure he'd seen stranger sights.

I was in the back seat with Fuller. I presented him with my calling card (of the time) with "Buckfunster Miller" on it, and a 3-story pyramid house. Oh man, he did not like that. A) His name was sacred, and I was not to use that in any way — go out and make a name for yourself, he said. And B) pyramids were bunk! Domes were much better — better surface to volume ratio, etc. We'll I had looked at that quite a lot and felt I could challenge him on that, but after insulting his sacred name, I thought I'd better not get in an argument and blow his appearance at the college! I promised that I would stop using the moniker, and that I would tell everyone who knew me as Buckfunster that Fuller didn't approve of it. (Friends loved that name.) I tried to be gracious, like him.

Buckfunster Miller card rejected by Fuller!

We had a great dinner party. I had planned the menu under advice from his home office (eg Low sodium, no certain foods, etc). We had pan-roasted chicken (over wood fire stove), and I forget what else. Poppy-seed cake with ice cream for dessert. He chose to sit in a sturdy chair which sits near my desk today.

I was busy with my kitchen crew, and when I came out to the table finally I found everyone waiting, including Bucky. He said they were waiting for ME, the host. Gads! So I gave the Blessing as "Here's to doing More with Less, that's what we're doing here." He liked that. He also ate the Protoype dessert I presented.

(A reporter from the Lake Oswego Review was present, only as an observer. Dee wrote an article later. It was very general about Fuller - nothing specific about the visit.)

So we went to the college. His office had told us that he must have 20 minutes before each talk in which to gather his thoughts... So we steered him toward the sanctuary beforehand. On the way a number of people stopped him to say something. I was amazed how gracious he was, patiently giving them his undivided attention.

When we called him out of the sanctuary after the requisite 20-minute period, he asked what was holding things up. He said that was poppycock. We were running over an hour late, and the crowd was having a gay old time, packed into every corner of the chapel. So then he spoke to an overflow, fire marshall-limited overflow crowd for a couple hours. His talk in the Agnes Flanagan Chapel concluded: "Don't be afraid of Change!"

We had also had a slide projector set up with a carousel of slides he provided from his leather case. He never showed a slide! (I think it was an attention-keeping device.)

After the talk (I think?), in the sanctuary, he granted an audience with three stoned-out hippie followers who had made a glass aquarium, stackable, because of its particular polyhedral shape. They wanted him to have it. They exchanged some bucky-talk about the shape, etc, after he had accepted it. I thought holy shit, how the hell is he going to take this thing home on the plane, etc. So then.. he says, "Thank you for giving this to me. Now, I am going to give it to you. Whenever anyone asks, you can tell them that Buckminster Fuller gave this to you." They were blown away, thanked him profusely, and went on their way.

Some other students drove him downtown to the Benson Hotel. (The goal was to share the contact with many students.)

In the morning, I met him for breakfast in the London Grill (in the Benson). I had Eggs Benedict for the first time. He said that was his wife Ann's favorite. We talked about various things. He was curious about the media coverage. I had to tell him that NOTHING made the evening news. Nothing made it into the morning paper. That's what depressed him. He was too eccentric, too futuristic, too.. too abstract I guess. I showed him a plot I had made of some nesting polygons. He said 'Well Done'.

Then came time to get him to the Airport, in my 1968 Opel. (He heard me asking the valet the best way to get onto the freeway from the hotel, so he likely wasn't confident that I'd get him back out there! At the airport curb, I wished him the Best of Health, and apologized again for using his name. I promised I wouldn't use it and that I hoped he forgave me for it. He said Very Good.

He died about four years later, on July 1, 1983, shortly after his wife Ann died. Since then, after learning more about some of his own shenanigans, I feel like I could almost use Buckfunster again, and not be too worried about it. BUT I promised, and besides, he's right - you have to make your own name -- but I was given John E. Miller, not R. Buckminster Fuller to work with --- I've come up with JoHN MiLLeR so far. :^)

Bucky Stage Play

R. Buckminster Fuller: THE HISTORY [and Mystery] OF THE UNIVERSE

Does humanity have the chance to endure successfully on planet Earth, and if so, how? This is the question framed by Buckminster Fuller, the engineer, designer, poet, and philosopher who, among other things, was Mensa’s second president and invented the geodesic dome. Join us for an unforgettable journey inside one of the most remarkable minds of the 20th century in a one-man show that blends videos, lectures, poetry and a healthy dash of humanist humor. A hero of the sustainability movement, Bucky framed many of the great ideas of his time and ours. This is your chance to get to know the man behind the world-saving mission.

Actor Doug Tompos as Buckminster Fuller - Photo: Owen Carey

October 14 — December 7, 2008
In the Ellyn Bye Studio, Portland, Oregon

Written and Directed by D.W. Jacobs from the life, work and writings of R. Buckminster Fuller

Fuller was played in Portland by actor Doug Tompos. [LINK]

A half dozen actors have played Fuller in different productions in many cities over the years.

Attending the Play

I attended with my son Gus (August) who was studying at Portland State University at the time. I was hoping he would get some sense of who Fuller was, what he was like.

I felt that the ending fell a little flat. The lights just faded out after a fairly inconsequential statement. (I have no recollection of what the last line was.)

After the show, we waited outside the theater. Eventually someone asked if we needed anything. I asked if it would be possible to speak with the Artist. They said to have a seat and they would find out. So in a little while Doug came out and we got to talk.

I asked the actor if he had he ever seen Fuller speak. He said no, but he listened to recordings of Fuller. I told him he had the voice down perfect. He appreciated that. I told him I'd hosted Fuller on his visit to the college, had him for dinner, met over breakfast, and so on.

Then I told how I thought the play could have a better ending, and told him how Fuller ended his talk with "Don't be afraid of change". I thought that would work really well. The artist said he would relay that to the playwright. I don't know if anything ever became of it.

Expired theater Footnote from Trevor Blake: I will be delivering a new version of my one-hour lecture The Approximately Omnidirectional Ephemeralization of Richard Buckminster Fuller this weekend in Portland, Oregon. [LINK]

R. Buckminster Fuller USPS Stamp, 2004

I seem to be a Verb

Prior to Fuller's visit to Lewis & Clark College (February 5th, 1979), we were advised NOT to mention 'I Seem to be a Verb' in any introductions. Fuller was perturbed that the (co) authors listed him as Author on their compilation of his works — without his permission. So, the book is NOT Fuller's book.

In the book GUINEA PIG B, published posthumously by Fuller's estate, there is an appendix of "Books By R Buckminster Fuller". 28 books are listed. "I Seem to be a Verb" is NOT listed, nor mentioned in the book.

Page 374 in "Inventor of the Future" by Alec Nevala-Lee backs the notion that Buckminster Fuller himself did not directly collaborate on the writing or creation of the book. It's simply the compilation / remix of Fuller's previous words and sentences, targeted at the younger (Hippie) audience.

Unfortunately, both Wikipedia and BFI (B Fuller Institute) list IS2BAV as written by Fuller. This may be hard to squash. I don't know if Fuller ever received any portion of the royalties for the book.

What ChatGPT says about I seem to be a Verb authorship

The exact question I posed seems to have been lost, something to the affect of whether Fuller collaborated with Agel and Fiore. Sorry! Anyway, ChatGPT answered:

Jerome Agel and Quentin Fiore are credited with creating "I Seem to Be a Verb," a book that explores the ideas of Buckminster Fuller. The book is known for its unconventional format, combining text, images, and design elements. However, it's crucial to note that Buckminster Fuller himself did not directly collaborate on the writing or creation of the book.

Fuller was aware of the project, and there is no evidence to suggest that he objected to being listed as a coauthor. In fact, Fuller's philosophy and ideas are central to the content of the book. The decision to credit him as a coauthor might have been a stylistic choice or an acknowledgment of the profound influence his concepts had on the book's content.

It's not uncommon for writers and creators to use unconventional authorship credits for collaborative projects, especially when the work is inspired by a particular individual's ideas. In the case of "I Seem to Be a Verb," the inclusion of Buckminster Fuller as a coauthor is more symbolic of his influence rather than direct involvement in the book's writing process.

R. Buckminster Fuller

These notes were compiled before Wikipedia existed, so the section below could probably just be deleted now. --jm

Born: July 12, 1895 in Milton, Mass. Information below taken from NY Times and AP obituary articles, and from an interview with him by a Spokesman Review reporter.

NY Times obituary, published July 3, 1983.

PBS did an excellent TV documentary, American Masters: Buckminster Fuller: Thinking Out Loud , which you may be able to find in your library or video store. It is available for $40 from the link below.