THE SHOW-BIZ TOUCH
Uri Geller moves about the globe too speedily for any sort of “in-depth” profile of his psychology: his hopes, fears, drives, frustrations, Oedipal or non-Oedipal complexes. But what is a modern celebrity without at least a fly-swatting attempt at analysis? Mary Bringle brings humorous insight to the psychic scene and its show-business aspects, as she has documented in her book Jeane Dixon: Prophet or Fraud? (1970). She is a writer for a number of magazines and the author of a novel, The footpath Murder.
What can you say about a twenty-seven-year-old man whose gaze causes forks to bend and clocks to stop? Who claims to communicate with beings in outer space and makes solemn pronouncements about his affiliation with “godhead”? That he’s an authentic wonder? A charlatan? A canny showman?
All these things, and more, have been said about the man in question, and some of the most peculiar opinions have been advanced by the Wunderkind himself. Naturally, these latter evaluations are of the variety crudely called breaking-one’s-arm-to-pat-oneself-on-the-back, and they range from the charmingly ingenuous to the absurd. In case you are still not aware of the identity of this psychic three-ring circus, we are speaking of Uri Geller, the young Israeli whose demonstrations of psychokinesis (ability to move or bend objects without touching them) has held audiences in thrall, from the nightclubs of Tel Aviv to the late-night television talk shows. He has been the subject of a controversial study held by the prestigious Stanford Research Institute (SRI), and is the hero of Uri: A Journal of the Mystery of Uri Geller, written by Geller’s very own mentor and advance man, Dr. Andrija Puharich. If the extraterrestrial controls have their way, a movie about Uri will soon be available for those of us who have not already been overwhelmed by Geller overkill. The end, as they say, is not in sight. There appears to be no limit to the commercial success which can be wrung from the powers and personal magnetism of such an eager and willing volunteer for immortality.
Consider: Geller is able to perform his fork-bending tricks with what one writer has called an almost “boring regularity.” (Uri is not infallible in this respect, but more of that later.) He is quite attractive – although his rather close-set eyes give him a less intelligent appearance than one might wish for; his actorish good looks make him, in psychic circles at any rate, a star. He makes no claims to intellectualism and operates only as an instinctual and highly developed instrument for powers outside himself. He has had a most tireless agent, in the form of the redoubtable Puharich, to ballyhoo for him. And finally, he is determined to pursue fame and fortune with all the considerable energy at his command.
If Geller were content to perform superior parlor tricks for the delight of his audiences, the matter might rest there. Everyone likes magic tricks; when they are performed by someone who claims to belong to a union other than the magicians’, they are even more delicious. If a performer further branches out into the turbulent waters of religiosity, he will gain ten new believers for every member of the audience who goes home in disgust. This is especially true today, since the portion of our lives that once devoted itself to religious contemplation has been rearranged and redefined to exclude the concept of God and usher in the era of belief in “something out there.” The “something” has been open for grabs for some time, with a slavish devotion to the occult, coupled with an embarrassing desire to “know ourselves” better through “therapy,” holding sway for the past decade.
Now, it would appear we are ready for something new, or, if not new, an old concept recycled to feed our endless desire to worship at the shrine of causality. It doesn’t take much imagination to leap to outer space for our next fad; UFOs and the like have played a large part in our collective imaginations for years. Why not locate the godhead at a cosmic point so far from anything we know – and therefore despise – that the old sense of wonder will have a chance to rekindle itself? As for priests and shamans, we’ll have to find someone to communicate, to intercede for us, with these alien beings. Enter Uri Geller, backed up by Andrija Puharich, M.D., as his prophet.
Geller is an unlikely choice, at first examination, for the role of Third World Messiah. Despite his incredible feats – and many are impressive, even accounting for misfired shots and occasional duds – he is rather too showbiz to comfortably assume the mantle Puharich has woven for him. No particular conflict arises from Geller’s rather ordinary off-stage mentality; instruments of higher purpose are rarely selected on the basis of I.Q. And one might convincingly argue that a nonintellectual being is an infinitely more fertile incubator for psychic forces; Uri himself says that he does not read books because “I do not want to change my theories.” Even the commercialization of his “gift” (Geller, an ex-model, performed in army shows, private homes, and nightclubs in his native Israel) is not really suspect; one uses one’s talents as one can.
It is the overwhelmingly stagy quality of almost everything surrounding Uri Geller that makes it difficult to take him seriously. He is ever so eager to place himself stage-center. In his anxiety to convince people of his sincerity he even goes out of his way to suggest new tests of his ability, occasionally overreaching and ruining the effect. Just such an example is the short-lived furore over Geller’s magical photograph taken with a camera borrowed from Life photographer Yale Joel, described by the photographer in this book.
The inability to leave well enough alone is in itself a dubious characteristic; it smacks too strongly of hard-driving celebrity fever. Those who have witnessed Uri’s performances in relaxed surroundings maintain that he is charming and casual. He keeps up a chatty running commentary while the miracles unfold, and appears to become almost as excited as his audience when forks, keys, or hinges bend humbly under his light touch and lambent gaze. “Do you see?” he will cry with boyish enthusiasm. “Do you see?” Yet he can become violently angry when challenged to deny reports from Jerusalem that Hebrew University pronounced him a fraud during his nightclub days, allegedly causing him to leave Israel in an odor of disgrace. Puharich himself delights in describing Uri’s temperamental outbursts, and mentions fights in which Uri is in a “shouting, towering, abusive rage.” Uri seems to scream often in the company of Puharich – whether from the pressures of his life or sheer operatic melodrama is never quite clear – and it would not be difficult to assume that the private and public Gellers are two distinctly different men.
He can, of course, be supremely rational, as when he calmly explains the antagonism toward him of professional magicians. Who, after all, would pay good money to see tricks performed by sleight-of-hand when they could as easily witness the same or better tricks accomplished by a sensitive, a gifted psychic? One of Geller’s most persistent adversaries is James Randi (The Amazing Randi), for whom Geller performed with less than his usual success. Randi is able to duplicate Geller’s feats, and claims that any professional magician can do so. Geller swears that he is innocent of the magician’s bag of tricks, and says he has never had any experience with professional prestidigitation, yet his least impressive talk-show stint occurred when he appeared on the Johnny Carson show. Carson, an amateur magician himself, had insisted on certain precautionary controls backstage. Arguing on such matters, however, is simply tilting at windmills. Any Geller devotee can tell you that the “vibes” are important for success, in other words, Uri’s lackluster performances in the presence of skeptics indicate only that psychic feats are best carried out in friendly and harmonious surroundings. This is all very old, very familiar territory, as stale as it is impossible to dispute.
Also difficult to pin down are the discrepancies in Uri’s accounts of the development of his gift. Autobiographical elements are continually shifted about to accommodate facts. What is workable, even charming, at one point is often in need of editing as the subject spirals toward greater fame and the accompanying need to defend against the public’s cynicism. Thus we are told by Uri himself that he bent the hands of his watch, simply by looking at them, when he was seven years old. “The kids in class started bugging me to bend theirs, and I could.” This is natural enough, and yet we are assured by Puharich that the boy Uri kept his psychic powers to himself because he didn’t want the other children to laugh at him or think him weird. It wasn’t, we are told, until Uri associated with actors and actresses, during his modeling days, that he allowed himself to reveal his talents. A small discrepancy, perhaps, but it does leave one wondering. Obviously, the latter story is much more likely to please a public that doesn’t like its heroes to be too theatrical or “pushy” when all the chips are down. “It’s bad enough,” you can almost hear Puharich groaning, “that the kid performed for money. . . . Do we have to admit he was wowing ’em back in school at the age of seven?” So, instead, we get the sensitive, demure Uri, who – although he was able to predict how
much money his mother had won or lost at cards from the time he was three years old -bided his time, fearing ridicule, until his gifts could no longer be concealed.
One can sense the need that Geller must have for a sobering force. After all, ace psychics are not expected to be good businessmen or even to handle themselves with much aplomb in the workaday world. We like our miracle men to be just a shade other-worldly, a mite too finely tuned and high-strung, to pay much heed to the mechanics of life. We especially prefer them to be ignorant of money matters, or at least to leave the negotiations to somebody else. Picture the glee with which Andrija Puharich seised upon his protégé, traveling all the way to Israel to persuade Geller to come to the United States! With Puharich’s sense of science-cum-showmanship and Uri’s flash, a credulous and yearning public could be made to accept Uri Geller as the hottest item since the hula hoop. Puharich, unlike his pupil, is a sort of cosmic sophisticate. He is nothing if not diverse: he is a pioneer in psychic research, an inventor of electronic devices, an importer of psychics, a photographer of UFOs, an expert on hallucinogenic mushrooms, and the author of Beyond Telepathy and The Sacred Mushroom as well as the masterwork on Uri Geller. He displays detachment in abundance, although it disappears when he speaks of his protégé, and a boundless energy. Puharich’s energy is what allows Uri to continue to project wholesome humility and wonderment over his own good fortune: “I don’t concentrate in the usual sense when I’m trying to do something unusual. I just say, ‘Let it happen.’ I have no idea how it’s done.” Puharich, in the meantime, makes sure that things do not “just happen.” He planned Geller’s “scientific” career as ably as Colonel Tom Parker once presided over the ascendant star of Elvis Presley. And, in case psychic feats are not enough to hold the attention and love of a notoriously fickle public, Puharich and Geller have served up a marvellously heady brew of extraterrestrial ingredients guaranteed to give most of us a cosmic hangover.
Is anyone not aware of the fact that Uri and Puharich have been chosen by forces from outer space to communicate messages to earthlings? Uri is the bearer of the tidings, Puharich the keeper and scribe. It all goes back to the time when Uri, under the hypnotic spell of Puharich, produced strange voices, which Puharich tape-recorded. The voices were by way of being a revelation from ‘The Nine.” who are the embodiment of all the highest wisdom in the universe. You may, if it makes you more comfortable, think of “The Nine” simply as God. At any rate, “The Nine” supervise the controllers of planetary civilizations. Earth’s controller, Hoova, patrols the earth in a spacecraft called Spectra, which is manned by computers. Hoova makes a habit of intervening in earth’s affairs every six thousand years, and it appears that exactly six thousand years have elapsed since the last intervention.
Although the tapes containing this information have since sadly self-destructed, Puharich assures us that it is Hoova’s intention to communicate with us through the good offices of Uri Geller. In fact, the computers made no bones about it: “There is no other on earth that we will use for the next fifty years but you and Uri.” Hoova has also issued an order, through Puharich, that a film be made on the life of Geller – surely the first time an agent has pushed his client with the forces of divinity behind him.
Geller and Puharich, of course, give distinctly different sorts of interviews. Uri, who speaks English fluently, speciaises in the inarticulate, faltering statements that are supposed to be synonymous with sincerity: “I can’t [talk] now because I’m not allowed to. Let’s put it that way. Like you are not allowed to kill somebody. You can, but you may not. So I can blab my mouth and say things, but I may not…. They, the things behind us, know the truth, and we are out there running to it, knowing nothing…. I can’t really imagine what’s behind it all . . . why there are people like me who can do these things.” Plaintive. Puharich, on the other hand, is rather more candid: “No space cadet has landed from Venus and said, ‘Hey, baby, we’re going to take a message to the U.N! Besides, I’ve seen enough UFO nuts in the last twenty years to be very allergic to the whole idea. I don’t try to force it on anybody, but I don’t avoid what I know to be so.” Together they make a perfect blend: just as you are indulging an irrepressible yawn over the earnest double-talk of Uri, along comes down-to-earth Puharich to add some sensible and reassuring yeast to the batter and make you wake up again.
Puharich, it must be remembered, is an observer from way back of such psychic stars as Eileen Garrett, Peter Hurkos, and Arigo, the Brazilian psychic surgeon. He can talk Faraday cages and hypothetical subatomic particles with the best of them. And Uri? Uri seems more and more to be suffering from the sort of grandiose delusions that have traditionally beset overnight superstars from time immemorial. References to Christ crop up in his interviews, all of them quite unsolicited. “I don’t want to make myself a sort of Jesus Christ. . . . It’s not only me.” Or: “I don’t want you to think I’m a Moses or a Jesus, but according to the Israeli account, Jesus was born on the twentieth of December, not the twenty-fifth, and I was born on the twentieth of December. Maybe it’s a coincidence.”
Maybe? It puts one in mind of another famed psychic, America’s own chatty Jeane Dixon, whose fame peaked when her predictions of the death of President John F. Kennedy became public knowledge via a book written by Ruth Montgomery. Mrs. Dixon has never performed psychokinetic feats like Geller’s; indeed, she has steadfastly refused to submit to any sort of scientific testing. Nevertheless she shares, with Uri, the belief that she is simply an instrument through which Higher Orders transmit, while simultaneously holding a very high opinion of herself. She has, she writes, been mistaken more than once for the Madonna, and has relieved one man of a lifetime case of warts simply by shaking his hand.
It is curious that so much psychic talent always finds its way through tortuous channels to an identification with divinity. Or is it? One would have to be very level-headed indeed to retain any sort of perspective in the maelstrom of attention swirling around the likes of a Jeane Dixon or a Uri Geller. The plight of most celebrities is truly poignant: they crave publicity, quite naturally, since they have been fed on it, and need to sing progressively louder for their spiritual supper until their audience eventually calls a halt. The despotic public, requiring, like the ancient Romans, newer and bigger entertainments for its satisfaction, is both catered to and despised by those who depend upon it.
Nothing short of claims to messiah-hood can slow down the symbiotic process which eventually must devour the idol it has created, and even messiahs have been known to fail. It is highly unlikely that Uri Geller truthfully regards himself as the instrument through which the wisdom of the ages will filter down to man, but it is possible. Does Dr. Puharich actually believe in Spectra and Hoova and his unique mission? One sort of hopes not. There is something disturbing about the idea of Uri being “superior” to other human beings, if only because it gives him a frightening potential for causing mass hysteria. So far, Geller and Puharich have not been political in their pronouncements – as long as Hoova confines itself to such requests as that a movie be made about Geller, there is nothing to be alarmed about.
Most disenchanted Uri-watchers feel sure there is nothing sinister about the Geller-Puharich act and that their only goals are money, fame, and the attention of reputable institutions like the Stanford Research Institute and the Max Planck Institute in Munich, but the triviality of Uri’s miracles has prompted more than one expression of impatience. Martin Gardner, in a review of Puharich’s book, wrote: “One is stunned by the smallness of these wonders. Compared to walking on water and rousing people from the grave, Uri’s feats have a picayune, slapstick quality more in keeping with a clever charlatan than a messiah.” And, in truth, the endless stream of stopped watch hands, bent forks, disappearing/reappearing buttons and keys, psychically repaired heating pads, and messages from outer space (nine pens spelled out the word WHY in the midst of an argument between Uri and Puharich, causing them to weep in brotherly love and forgiveness) has a cumulatively farcical effect. The episode of the hard-boiled eggs, in which Uri’s girl friend is about to cook three eggs for the ravenous Uri, only to discover that they have hard-boiled themselves, is perhaps the funniest. Uri was in a hurry, you see; waiting for those eggs might have put an intolerable strain on him. Again Jeane Dixon comes to mind, the inevitable comparison being the time Mrs. Dixon asked God for the winner of the sixth race at Bowie Race Track and received the answer: “Summer Sunshine!”
If Uri, in his amazing sprint for the “fame and fortune” he covets, has made the mistake of allowing Puharich too free a rein, we’ll know soon enough. The extraterrestrial vaudeville act has undoubtedly made his credibility take a sharp downward turn, but the end of the saga has not been played out. Whether Puharich and Geller are Svengali and Trilby, or merely the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy of the psychic set, remains to be seen.
A “MARXIST-LENINIST VIEW”
Uri Geller’s impact in Europe provoked a commentary in the East Berlin newspaper Neues Deutschland (February 8/9, 1975), which sought to interpret his performances, and those of others claiming psychic powers, from the viewpoints of Karl Marx and V. I. Lenin. In an article entitled “Modern Superstitions Disguised as Science,” Wolfgang Spickermann cited Geller’s popularity, notably in West Germany, as evidence that “occultism and superstition” were gaining followers in western society generally.
The Marxist review summarised some of Geller’s experiments, illustrated with the photograph of a severed fork, and commented that “Uri Geller, despite his remarkable versatility, is only one example of many,” and the “astrologers, clairvoyants, and prayers-for-health are currently experiencing increasing followers in the capitalist countries.” It also noted that a number of universities and other research institutes in the United States, West Germany, and other countries are “seriously attempting to study so-called paranormal phenomena, including telepathy, psychokinesis, and other occult occurrences.”
The article ignored the fact that such studies have also taken place during the past fifteen years in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Poland, and that Russian researchers, notably in Leningrad and Moscow, have publicly discussed the reality and implications of such phenomena.
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“There is no spoon!”
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“Uri Geller gave an absolutely resonating talk on his life and career. He had every single magician in the room on the edge of their seats trying to digest as much information as they could. Uri emphasized that the path to frame is through uniqueness and charisma and that professional entertainers must be creative in their pursuits of success and never shy away from publicity.”
Tannens Magic Blog
“The man is a natural magician. He does everything with great care, meticulous misdirection and flawless instinct. The nails are real, the keys are really borrowed, the envelopes are actually sealed, there are no stooges, there are no secret radio devices and there are no props from the magic catalogues.”
James Randi (In an open letter to Abracadabra Magazine)
Sir Elton John
“Eternity is down the hall And you sit there bending spoons In your mind, in your mind”
“I Have watched Uri Geller… I have seen that so I am a believer. It was my house key and the only way I would be able to use it is get a hammer and beat it out back flat again.”
“Better than watching Geller bending silver spoons, better than witnessing new born nebulae’s in bloom”