Uri Geller and I are sitting in adjacent seats on the metroliner, heading toward Philadelphia. Geller is an Israeli with a fast-growing reputation as a psychic, and I am going to spend a few days with him, watching what he does and trying to figure out (a) whether he's for real, and (b) if not, how he manages to achieve his effects.
He asks me if I have a key with me. I don't, having left my heavy ring of keys at home. He asks if I have some other metal object. I do; a nail clipper. Geller takes the nail clipper in his hand and examines it. He swings open the small nail file section, and tells me to hold the file in my fingers. He strokes it lightly, with one finger. A few seconds later the file bends upward. A few more seconds and it cracks. A few more seconds and it breaks in two. "Isn't it amazing?!!" Geller says with great enthusiasm. (During the next few days I find no matter how amazed people are by the things he does, Geller is usually the most amazed.) I agree that the broken nail file is amazing; but, frankly, I've seen so many pictures of the keys and silverware he has bent of late that I'm not particularly surprised at this feat.
Geller asks me if I am wearing a watch. I am not. So he asks if I have one at home. Only a pocket watch, I say. He says to pick a time of day, and draw a clock face on a pad with the time indicated. I draw a clock face with the hands pointing to 3 o' clock. Geller looks over and says it wasn't necessary to draw the minute hand, but only the hour hand. He says he will try to make the hands of my pocket watch point to 3 o' clock by long-distance telekinesis (moving objects without physically touching them). I ask him what about the wind-up alarm clock I have brought with me. He says he usually can only move the hands of wrist-watches, not larger clocks, but he'll give it a try. Later, when I opened my suitcase in the hotel, the alarm clock is staring me in the face. It says 3.03 p.m. It's a strange coincidence - that happens to be the correct time of day. (When I arrived home three days later, I stuck the alarm clock in the dresser drawer and went to check the pocket watch. The pocket watch said 7.34 p.m. But a few days later, I happened to open the dresser drawer again. The alarm clock, which had been ticking when I put it into the drawer at about 11 p.m., had run down and stopped. The time that was, and still is showing on the clock was less than 30 seconds after exactly 3 o' clock.)
We check into the hotel, uric Geller, his manager, Yasha Katz, and an assistant, a young man named Shipi. Almost immediately, we start off on a round of television and radio shows, newspaper interviews and special appearances, all of them designed to publicize a public appearance in nearby Cherry Hill, N.J., to be held Nov. 3 in Cherry Hill High School East. Everywhere we go, Geller leaves people gasping. Skeptics become converts. Geller bends people's car and house keys, apparently by the power of his mind alone. The people hold the keys in their hands, and Geller touches or strokes the keys lightly until they curl up.
Keys and spoons and forks are not the only things to bend when Geller is around. People bend, too - mostly women. Geller is charming, personable. The 26-year-old psychic is tall, slender, graceful. He has glistening black hair and sparkling dark eyes, and he dresses with studied casual elegance. Everywhere we go, some woman or other is trying to press a telephone number into his hand or make a date for dinner, or an interview, or anything. At one point, Geller tells me that during one of his appearances, a survey showed that a number of women in the audience had experienced orgasm during the course of the evening.
One afternoon, Geller tapes a Mike Douglas show. In the three hours we are in the KYW-TV studios, Uri bends keys for Hugh Downs and several people on the production staff. He also bends rings and bracelets for a number of swooning women. Before the show, Uri sends Shipi running to buy a camera. After the show, Uri has his picture taken with Mike Douglas, Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas. "My mother gets a big kick out of it," he says.
One evening we all go to Cherry Hill, to a private reception at the home of one of the sponsors of Uri's coming appearance. The house is filled with people wearing name tags. Some are identified as members of the "Psychic Information Exchange" or some other group; others are merely identified as "Psychic." Uri tells the rapt gathering what they have come to hear - all about himself: how he discovered he could read minds at the age of three by telling his mother how much she had won or lost at cards; how he learned at the age of seven that he could bend the hands of his wristwatch merely by concentrating on them and willing them to bend; how he became a big entertainment attraction in Israel; how he met Andrija Puharich, a physician/inventor/parapsychological investigator, who brought him to America to be studied by the Stanford Research Institute in California and who has written a book about Uri. Geller also tells them strange secrets: hoe he and Andrija saw a flying saucer in an Israeli desert: how the brass cartridge of a pen dematerialized one day and rematerialized in the flying saucer; how various films of unidentified flying objects and eerie tape-recorded messages from unworldly beings dematerialized before the very eyes of Uri, Andrija, and others. He tells them everything, in fact, except the identity of the source of his powers, and what is the deeper meaning of it all - for that, he says, you'll have to wait for the publication of the book next spring; "The book will shock the world, I can tell you that," he says.
Just about then, things begin to happen in the room. Jewelry twists. A gold and stone amulet hanging around the neck of one "psychic" begins to bend. People pass up several broken wristwatches; Uri touches them and they began to tick. A man in the crowd concentrates on a figure of the Star of David and Uri reproduces it flawlessly on a pad. At that moment, a Star of David pendant hanging from a woman psychic's neck curls up like a potato chip. It's time to leave them with their eyes popping out. "Wasn't it great?!!" he enthuses as we head off toward Philadelphia. "What a terrific group!"
The next evening, we have some free time. Uri wants to see a Bruce Lee movie. At dinner, in the hotel dining room, I notice a strange-looking object protruding from beneath a napkin on Uri's side of the table. I moved the napkin; the object is a fork, which has taken a bend like a folded ribbon. Uri acts startled - "These strange things happen around me all the time," he says. "it's amazing - one time I was having dinner in the home of Ray Stanford, a parapsychologist in Texas, and a meteorite that had been in a bell jar suddenly teleported through the door and crashed to the floor!" Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a strange-looking fork at the next table. Is it bending? I check it again a few minutes later. It seems to have bent.
We walk to the theatre, arriving about five minutes before the show is to start. As we stand, talking, in the lounge, there is a strange, mechanical sound from across the room. I look over and see that the soda dispenser has gone mad; it is spewing forth piles of shaved ice. "It happens all the time!" Geller says. "Once in Munich, I was three miles away from the Olympic stadium, and I concentrated on turning the lights off and they went off in the whole stadium. Three times at SRI, where they tested me, the candy machines shot chocolates all over the place."
Back in the hotel, I draw three different symbols on three pieces of paper. I fold them up and shuffle them so I don't know which is which, then I choose one and, without looking to see which it is, I put it into an envelope. I then put that envelope into another envelope. Uri asks me to concentrate; I do so, and within about five minutes he says he is getting an image of a circle with an X in it. I open the envelopes and that is the drawing inside.
The next day, it is time to leave. Uri has some TV shows in Washington, and I have to get back to New York. As we are paying the check for a farewell cup of coffee at the station, Uri notices that one strand of the cashiers necklace is bent at a 90-degree angle. The cashier swears it had been straight; we try to straighten it out and can't. As I rode home on the train, I thought back over the events of the three days. A whole lot of strange things had happened to me and to people around me.
Or had they really? Trying to figure out whether Israeli psychic Uri Geller is genuine or a fraud is like trying to walk down a twisting hall of mirrors wearing a blindfold through which you can only take an occasional, squinting peek. You're forever catching glimpses of reality; but then each successive glimpse seems to prove the one before it was really only a mirage after all. The young Israeli psychic who has been enthralling American audiences has a whole bag of tricks, that's for sure.
Take his ability to bend metal objects merely by concentrating on them, willing them to bend. On the one hand, things really do get bent when he's around; keys curl; spoons and forks twist and break; bracelets and rings crumple. But on the other hand, all the professional magazines say his bending routines are just tricks, probably incorporating a lot of sleight-of-hand, suggestion, some special strength and possibly some new gimmicks. One magician, The Amazing Randi, claims he has studied Geller and can duplicate all the tricks, using only normal magician techniques and no psychic abilities whatsoever. You ask Randi if it would be possible for Geller to fool you so many times, and he asks you to think back over all the details of the times Geller bent things. Did you ever actually see something in the process of bending? No. Were you always right there watching every time something bent? No. Come to think of it, it seemed like he was always taking off into a corner or another room, and then the two of them would emerge, all enthusiastic about how a key, or a ring, had bent magically.
You think you have him at last, and so you take a photographer with you to see what Geller can do on camera, and this time you make sure you stay right in the room. But you have to leave the room momentarily, to go and buy some spoons and forks for Geller to try to bend, and when you come back Geller and the photographer are all excited about how the photographers key bent while you were gone. So you've finally caught him, you think - the need for silverware was a ruse, just to get you out of the room so he could trick the photographer with no experienced observer watching him. But then the photographer comes up with a series of photographs which show, with indisputable clarity, Geller holding a key, and the key in successive stages of bending. And the photographer swears he never took his eyes off the key, and Geller never moved it or touched it with his other hand the whole time, and the key just flopped over like a noodle going limp. And there you are. Or take Geller's ability to do telepathy and clairvoyance - he's forever reading people's thoughts, or reproducing a drawing someone has done and placed in one or more sealed envelopes.
On the other hand, you've got to believe your eyes. You test him, as I did. You take three identical sheets of paper, make a different drawing on each. You fold the sheets and shuffle them, so you have no idea which is which. Then you place one of the sheets into an envelope and put that envelope into another envelope. And after a 30-minute effort, Geller comes up with a drawing of a circle with an X in it, and that turns out to be what's in your envelopes. So you think he's genuine for sure. But then Milbourne Christopher, chairman of the Occult Investigation Committee of the Society of American Magicians, tells you there are many standard ways to perform that particular trick. And you read Christopher's books on the subject, and your forced to admit that, yes, maybe if Geller had held the two envelopes up in front of a light, he would have been able to see through them - they were only flimsy hotel stationary. And besides, you did have your eyes closed for a couple of minutes, when he was telling you to concentrate on your drawings and you presumed he wouldn't cheat. So you figure Geller's probably only a fraud.
But then you talk to Kreskin, the magician who specializes in several forms of thought reading, and he tells you that while 90 % of his act is simply a combination of deception and suggestion and special magical effects, the remaining 10 % does involve some very real thought transference. And then, just to complicate matters, Kreskin asks you to look for a minute, he wants to show you something. And he puts a folded dollar bill - your dollar bill - on a bedspread, and he tells it to unfold, and it unfolds. And then he tells it to walk, and it begins to skid slowly across the bed, starting and stopping at his command. And you know you are looking at something at least as impossible as bending a spoon. And Kreskin assures you that what you have just seen has nothing whatsoever to do with psychic abilities, but is just, "an effect." And you suddenly realize that maybe you're right back where you started in the hall of mirrors, not knowing which way is up.
Both Christopher and Randi are perturbed, to put it mildly, about the recent rash of interest in Geller. Both of the professional magicians call Geller nothing more than a clever trickster, possibly the most clever trickster to come down the well-worn occultist path for several decades. "And I want to emphasize the difference between the two terms," said Christopher. "Geller is a trickster, not a magician. Magician is a legitimate term for a member of an honourable profession. This guy is going after really big money - bigger money than you can get just by being a good magician." Randi agrees: "It's really convenient to have an act like Geller's. He claims he has these psychic powers that come from someplace outside himself, and he has no control over them. So when he manages to do a stunt, he succeeds, and when he fails to do a stunt, he says that's proof he's not a magician. So when he wins he wins, and when he loses he wins. If I ever went on stage and nothing happened for 30 minutes, the way it sometimes goes with Geller, they'd boo me right out of the house." "No, Geller is no magician, in the ordinary sense of the word," Randi continued, "but he does have something. He's discovered a completely new approach to magic - something brand new - and it's so na´ve, so direct, so simple, that even magicians can't figure it out right away. I couldn't figure it out myself for quite a while. But I now can duplicate any trick Geller has done." Randi calls Geller "Just about the most dangerous man to come into the limelight for the past 50 years, because he's into psychic feelings, and when he gets into that, the next thing you know, people will be bringing him their problems, their secrets, and then their money."
Randi, Christopher and Kreskin all agree on one further fact: The more intelligent one is, the easier it is for one to be fooled by a professional magician - and that fact applies to the scientists who have been mystified by Geller at the Stanford Research Institute in California. "The intelligent mind makes a lot more presumptions and assumptions than the less intelligent mind, and the magician learns to manipulate these assumptions to his advantage," says Kreskin. "I'm not the least bit impressed by all that SRI stuff," says Randi.
After talking to all the magicians, to Ed Edelson, science editor at the "News," and to assorted others, I began to feel that perhaps I had been had. So, with the assistance of Randi and Christopher, I set up one final test for Geller, and Uri agreed to try a couple more things for me. I went to a locksmith and got a duplicate of the strongest, thickest key on my key ring. I tried with all my might and I couldn't bend it, even by pressing it against the corner of a steel desk. Then I made a simple drawing (of an eye), wrapped it in aluminum foil and put it into two envelopes.
I went to see Geller the next afternoon. He tried for more than half an hour, with me keeping the envelope in my sight every second, to get the drawing. And he failed. Then he made an effort to bend the key, again with me keeping it in view every second. Again, nothing happened. Uri said that he was terribly disappointed, that this simply had been an all-around bad day for him. We continued talking for a while, and at one point a spoon which Geller was handling seemed to break in half - when I wasn't looking, unfortunately. Then, a bit later, he tried again to bend my key, and it did, in fact, bend ever so slightly. But my attention had been diverted from it for several minutes at that point, and I can't swear to you that he didn't palm it and pass it to Yasha Katz, his manager, who entered and left the room several times. I don't think that's what happened. But I can't swear it didn't either.
So that's about it. I left Geller, wiggling the ever-so-slightly-bent key in my pocket, trying to figure out what I really believed about him. And I guess you'll just have to do the same.
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