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March 30, 2020

John Lennon Posing With Alexis Mardas’ Nothing Box, 1965

A series of images of John Lennon smiling, having just had his teeth done in the United States in 1965. While in the U.S (presumably) John purchased several “Nothing Boxes” from inventor and associate Magic Alex, one of which is featured here. These boxes did just as they promised, nothing. Other than blink of course, until their battery runs out. The Beatles released, Help!, the soundtrack from their film of the same name, that same year, featuring the iconic singles “Ticket to Ride” and “Yesterday”.

Yannis (later John) Alexis Mardas (2 May 1942 – 13 January 2017), also known as Magic Alex, was a Greek electronics engineer who is best known for his close association with the Beatles. His nickname was given to him by John Lennon when he was involved with the group between 1965 and 1969, during which time he became head of Apple Electronics.

Mardas had moved to London from his native Greece in 1965 and worked as a television repairman. At a time when almost anything seemed to be possible for someone with the gift of the gab, he went on to exhibit his Kinetic Light Sculptures at the Indica Gallery – one of which was bought by the Rolling Stones. The group's guitarist Brian Jones introduced him to John Lennon. And it was at this point that Mardas impressed Lennon with the Nothing Box; a small plastic box with randomly blinking lights that Lennon would stare at for hours while under the influence of LSD. Lennon later introduced the renamed John Alexis Mardas as his “new guru”, calling him “Magic Alex”.

Mardas allegedly told Lennon about ideas for futuristic electronic devices he was “working on”, which he later disavowed either promising or discussing: a telephone that responded to its owner’s voice and could identify who was calling, a force field that would surround the Beatles’ homes, an X-ray camera, paint that would make anything invisible, car paint that would change color by flicking a switch, and wallpaper speakers, which would actually be a part of the wallpaper. Mardas later asked for the V-12 engines from Lennon’s Rolls-Royce and George Harrison’s Ferrari Berlinetta car, so he could build a flying saucer. Mardas had denied these in a formal statement.

John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Magic Alex (Alexis Mardas), 1968.

The Beatles set up a company for Mardas called Fiftyshapes Ltd. in September 1967; he later became one of the first employees of the newly formed Apple Corps, earning £40 a week (equivalent to £700 in today) and receiving 10% of any profits made from his inventions.

The Beatles often called Mardas the “Greek wizard”, and Paul McCartney remembered being interested in his ideas: “Well, if you [Mardas] could do that, we’d like one. It was always, ‘We’d like one’”. Mardas’ ideas were not confined to the realms of electronic wizardry, but included songwriting involvement, with a Lennon-Mardas composition, “What’s the New Mary Jane”, originally meant for inclusion on the Beatles’ self-titled double album (also known as the White Album). Lennon later removed Mardas’ songwriting credit for unknown reasons.

(Photos by Brian Duffy/Getty Images)

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