When psychic Uri geller first burst into the news, in 1973, a naive America was ripe for the plucking. With consummate showmanship, and leaving a trail of bent and broken silverware behind him, he travelled across the country, making followers - and fools - out of mighty institutions and prominent personalities. Geller convinced executives and researchers at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), one of the nation's most distinguished "think tanks", that he could read minds, fortell events, and, with sheer psychic energy, distort magnetic fields, streams of electrons, and solid metallic objects. He convinced Apollo-14 astronaut Ed Mitchell to help finance the research at SRI and persuaded Gerald Fineberg, a well-known physicist, into sponsoring a Columbia University colloquium featuring an amateurish SRI film that "documented" Geller's miracles. Even Nature magazine, the world's most prestigious science journal, published a detailed SRI report on Geller's remarkable talents, thus endowing Uri with an aura of respectability that an accompanying editorial disclaimer did little to diminish. The New York Times, Newsweek, network commentators including Barbara Walters, and a host of other journalists, treated Geller seriously and even with awe.
They certainly would not have done so had they known of his background, and Geller is very careful to make sure that they don't.
In Israel today, however, his friends, his relatives, his girl friends and his managers and all others who worked with him are ready to swear by all that is dear to them that Geller is a cheat and a liar; and they are able to demonstrate with their own hands all of his tricks that he used in order to create his reputation. According to them, Geller learned personal data - special obscure details and information about individulas (both true and false) - which he used to support his claims to special poweres of divination.
Uri Geller, born of a father who is an officer in the Israeli Armed Forces, told all who asked that he was born of a circus family and in one place that he was born in Cyprus. But the simple truth is that he is an Israeli, and that is an indisbutable fact. He travelled to Cyprus with his mother and his stepfather when he was twelve years old, and that was the first time he had left Israel.
Itzhaak Saban, one of Uri's close friends, has revealed that Geller used him as a confederate in the audience. He used to sit in the front row during Uri's performance and give him all kinds of signals, by means of motions, in order to make Uri succeed. One one occasion, hearing him tell so many lies about his performance, Itzhaak literally pressed him to the wall and forced him to admit that the entire performance was contrived. Uri had not bothered to tell anyone that some of these techniques he used were learned from the members of the Shin Beth (Israeli C.I.A.), who had been quartered at his father's hotel in Cyprus.
Several times, Uri maintained in his interviews with the press that even as a young student in elementary school he had begun to feel his special powers and was able to read the thoughts of his teachers and fellow-students. However, the actual truth about the beginning of this process in his life is told by his very close friend Hannah Shtrang. She is today an office worker for the Motorola Company in Israel.
"Uri was the counsellor at the camp of my little brother Shipi. The friendship between the two began shortly after that. My little brother always had very strange ideas, and Uri would tell him from time to time about a book which he had come across that told about magic and magicians, and the two boys decided to make a business out of it. Uri was then about twenty-one years old, and he was pretty depressed.
"My brother Shipi was at that time only fourteen years old, but Uri believed in him and my brother brought him into our home, which is where I met him.
"There is a great deal of personal charm in him. He was a very good-looking young man. A romance started between us and has continued until this present time. When Uri left Israel to conquer the world, he took me with him. After several weeks I was forced to return to my job, which I did not want to lose.
"Uri and Shipi performed together all forms of tricks. The basis of all these tricks was that my brother used to sit in the audience and pass signals to Uri that they had practiced beforehand. They began their performances in small living-room parties, particularly of students. They would recieve forty to seventy pounds. However, when they realized that the audience was very excited and enthusiastic, they decided to change this mere cooperative relationship between the two of them and go into business.
"They turned to a manager, Baruch Cotni, the owner of a stage production company, and they auditioned for him. They convinced him that the entire country would be wild about the talented Uri with his "supernatural" powers. Uri represented Shipi as his younger brother."
Little by little, the Uri Geller mania began to make waves with the Israeli public. As a result of publicity in a prominent newspaper, which praised him sky-high, he began to do three or four shows a day
One of Geller's conditions for performances was that his "brother" would always get a seat in a front row or at least in the middle of the second row. So said Baruch Cotni. He went on to explain that once he caught Shipi making the agreed-upon signals and pointed this out to Uri.
The next day, in addition to Shipi, a young woman appeared who was very cute but not really a beauty. Geller made a new condition now, that this woman had to sit beside Shipi in the audience in a special seat. This woman was Hannah, Shipi's sister, and she began to be a part of the act, passsing signals to Uri on stage.
Hannah, who was Uri's friend and still is (She says that the other girls in uri's life have been mere decoys, and that he always returns to her) maintains that Uri uses a great deal of trickery. "I used to help him with his tricks during appearances," says Hannah.
In the meantime, Geller's chauffeur admitted to many tricks that he maintained Uri had instructed him about. He said that Uri confessed, in a heart-to-heart talk with him, that everything in the act was just bluff.
"Uri is a good fellow. If he has driven the world crazy, then he is a very talented guy!" says his chauffeur. "I know all of his tricks very well, and I can even appear in his place if I wish to."
Geller's rapid rise to fame gave him a swelled head. He constantly pressed Baruch Cotni (his manager) for larger payments.
Rift With Manager
Uri's demands finally caused a rift between the two, and Uri found himself without a manager. He found a new agent, Micky Feld. Cotni, angered by all this, decided to expose the Geller mess once and for all. He searched about and found a magician, an ordinary magician who worked the bar mitzvahs. His name was Ayalon.
The recipe for success was exactly the same, and within a short period of time there was great excitement throughout Israel. Not only had Ayalon mastered with fantastic success all the original tricks of Uri Geller, but Ayalon himself began to inform the newspapers that his story was similar to that of Geller's - that he was the real thing. This began to pose another threat to Geller's reputation.
Another blow that Uri suffered came from Professor Klassen of the University of Tel Aviv. He is a professor of physics and also an avid amateur magician so well accomplished in the art that he is looked upon by his friends as an excellent performer. Klassen was present at a Geller performance and was able to identify most of his tricks. He was incensed. "What I'm upset about is that there appears to be here a swindle of this audience," the professor said. "If Geller would say that he is simply a magician, I wouldn't care, because then he would be regarded as a fine magician. For him to claim that he has special divine powers is lying and cheating, and can bring about a great deal of damage."
Klassen invited the producer of Uri's show, Micky Feld, to his own house, where he performed for Feld all of Uri's routine. Feld, who was one of Geller's converts, was absolutely stunned and shaken. However, he refused, because of business reasons, to expose Geller.
At a certain point, Ayalon the Magician, Geller's "double", began to feel the ground hot under his own feet. He decided, therefore, to change his statements to the press, and at a special press conference which he called, he said, "I did all that I could in order to show Uri Geller to be a liar and a cheat." At the same time, he revealed that all of his tricks and those of Geller were nothing but simple tricks that one can learn from consulting a good instruction book for magicians.
Danny Pelz, the showman who worked with Uri Geller says, "We from our side, know all the lies. We have much proof of them. And we also helped him to perpetuate some of those lies."
Nasser's Death Exploited
"One time was when Nasser of Egypt died. Uri was in the midst of a performance and we notified him of this news through the curtains at the back of the stage. The audience, naturally, did not know a thing about it. As soon as we conveyed the news to him, he exploited this information in a most theatrical manner. he appeared to be fainting, and called for a doctor. A doctor volunteered from the audience and came up on the stage. Uri asked him to take his pulse right in front of the crowd of seven hundred people. Uri said to him, "I feel terrible. Very, very bad. I feel bad because I think Nasser is dying right now. Right this minute." Naturally, immediately after the performance the audience left the theatre and found out about Nasser's death. Thousands of people were convinced that Uri Geller was a prophet."
However, Geller's time in Israel was running out. He made claims which included flying an Israeli Phantom during the Six Day War, while standing on the ground, using his psychic powers. On another occasion, he claimed to have performed for Sophia Loren and faked a picture showing him with the Italian actress.
The Israelis may be a religious people but even their credulity only goes so far. Geller was exposed as a fraud and discredited. But that was in Israel, America had not even heard of him - yet.
Next Issue: Geller in America, including the S.R.I. report. [Not in fact published in the next issue.]