Gellermania and After
On 10 September 1983, the West German newspaper Bild ran a headline on its front page in letters an inch high: NEUES URI-GELLER-FIEBER. 1000 GABELN KRUMM.
It went on to give details of the ‘new Uri Geller fever’ during which ‘a thousand forks twisted’. The story began: ‘Has your best dinner service become bent since Thursday evening? Uri Geller has been on German television again . . .’
The first outbreak of what the British press called Gellermania had been on my visit to West Germany early in 1972, before my arrival in the USA. Then, I had been given the credit for performing a number of unusual feats, such as bringing a department store escalator to a halt and stopping a cable car in mid-air. In January 1974 there had been another epidemic of Geller fever when I appeared on Wim Thoelke’s Drei Mal Neun television show and caused all kinds of odd things to happen in viewers’ homes, as I had done a couple of months earlier in London and was eventually to do in at least twenty other countries.
The epidemic was said to have been eradicated as early as 1978, when a writer in the New Scientist (6 April 1978), basing his claim on some evidence which will be mentioned later, announced that ‘the Geller myth finally disintegrates’.
It seems to have put itself together again, however. Although my show business career was diverted in a number of directions from 1975 onwards, as I have already described, it flourishes intact to this day. I may have chosen to make fewer public appearances over the past five or six years, but to judge from my files of press cuttings, they have all proved as infectious as my early ones.
My 1983 appearance on the Thomas Gottschalk Show on West German TV was fairly typical. A student in Heilbronn held her mother’s wrist-watch in front of her television screen while I was appearing on it, whereupon the watch began ticking after thirteen years of total paralysis. In Freiburg, an even older watch came back to life when held by its owner at my suggestion. He had been wearing it when he was wounded in a battle against Soviet troops during the Second World War, and he had kept it ever since as a lucky charm. Now it was ticking for the first time in forty years.
There was one German, however, who probably wished he had missed my show. This was the Berliner who went along to the police to complain that I had bent fifty-one of his knives and forks – and his birdcage. ‘I want compensation,’ he said.
There is no need for me to appear on television or on a stage to produce results like these. A public appeal through a newspaper has much the same effect, as I have shown more times than I can remember. For example, in its issue dated 14 April 1981, the New York Star invited its readers to ‘Find out if you share the amazing powers of the most baffling man in the world’. It would have been slightly more accurate to have said ‘Find out that your own powers are just the same as Uri Geller’s’. For this is true. My powers are no more amazing than anybody else’s. I simply use them more, and whenever I can I show others how to use them too.
Readers were invited to test their powers in three ways. First, they were to place any broken watches, clocks or battery-driven appliances on top of the picture of me in the newspapers, and concentrate on them for fifteen minutes beginning at 3 P.M. on the following Sunday. They could also put some keys or cutlery beside them if they liked. At the same time, they should hold a pencil and try to draw in the coupon provided by the paper the telepathic image I would be projecting to them.
‘It will be your mind and your power of concentration that will create the energy to make things happen,’ I told the Star readers. I also told them where I would be at the appointed time: in a commercial jet flying at 30,000 feet from coast to coast. Here is a typical response from a reader:
My family thought I was crazy, because they don’t believe in psychic power. So I went upstairs to my bedroom to do the experiment. I put two wrist-watches that hadn’t worked for some time and a spoon on Uri’s picture. While I was watching, one watch started ticking and the hands of the other started moving after my 15-minute experiment had finished. I looked at the spoon and it had bent in the middle. Now my family doesn’t know what to think.
A group in Pennsylvania put no less than fifteen broken watches on my picture, and managed to get four of them going, bending a couple of spoons and breaking a fork in half at the same time. A lady from Texas revived her cuckoo clock, while a California reader’s electric grandfather clock started up although it was not plugged in. In North Carolina, a seventy-year-old lady restarted six watches-out of eleven, one of which had been out of action for thirty-five years.
One or-two readers did particularly well: a psychologist from Florida reported that the hands of all eleven of her old watches moved during the experiment, and a key bent at the same time. One family psychically repaired a radio, a tape recorder and a clock, all at once. Another fixed four watches, an illuminated make-up mirror and a toaster.
The newspaper followed up this nationwide experiment by inviting three readers from the New York and-New Jersey areas to come along to their office to meet me and try their skills on the spoons in front of witnesses. All three managed to bend their spoons into near right angles, and reporter Toni Reinhold testified that I had not handled any of the cutlery, which was provided by the newspaper. Two of the spoons went on bending by themselves after they had been put down on the table.
Mrs Bonnie Harnden gave us an interesting description of her impressions during the first experiment:
I felt a surge of energy and tingling that came from my head down through my arms and body and then I just knew I would do it. The bowl of the spoon I was holding actually folded up. I just sat there looking at it- I couldn’t believe that it had actually happened.
As this 1975 cartoon shows, Uri Geller had become
a household name in the United States
[Text reads: Well I think that’s rotten!: After she left here mother had to wait over an hour in the pouring rain for the bus!: Someone moved the hands forward on this clock.: …and it wasn’t Uri Geller!]
The telepathy part of the experiment produced equally interesting results. The picture I drew up in the sky was of a simple sailing boat, with a mast and triangular sail. Out of 855 readers who sent their drawings in, sixty-four had drawn a boat, while a total of 195 drew parts of boats or something related to them. A sixteen-year-old girl from La Miranda, California, produced an almost exact replica of my drawing, and had this to say about how she did it:
I was in the kitchen alone and opened the paper to Geller’s picture. I was just clearing my mind when the boat popped into it. I didn’t believe it at first. It took a couple of days for me to send in the drawing. The image of a boat just kept coming back to me, so I sent it in.
My most recent mass experiment of this kind was carried out in England, with the help of readers of the News of the World. They were invited to ‘tune in’ at 3.30 P.M. on 3 February 1985 with their cutlery and broken possessions in front of them as they concentrated on my picture. On this occasion, instead of trying to transmit a drawing, I was to be at a well-known landmark and readers were asked to say where they thought this was.
The place I chose was Stonehenge, the ancient stone circle thought by many to have been built by Druids 3,000 years ago. It is probably the best-known landmark in England after Big Ben, so perhaps it was not so surprising that 1,500 readers guessed correctly. However, reporter Stuart White and I were in for a surprise of our own. Here is how he described it in his paper on 10 February:
The Geller Effect started at Stonehenge itself. As Geller began to concentrate at precisely 3.30, three girls walked along the perimeter fence.
One, 25-year-old Donna Smith . . . told me: ‘I had a feeling Uri would be here.’
Holding out her News of the World, she showed me two broken watches placed on Geller’s picture. Donna said: ‘I thought I’d try this, but as you can see, it’s not working.’ A minute later she cried out: ‘Oh my God, I don’t believe it, it’s not possible.’
Both her watches had started ticking. She assured us they had been out of order for ‘ages’.
Similar repairs were being carried out all over Britain. One rather unusual one took place in a train, the passenger being the well-known disc jockey Anne Nightingale. In her version of events, given to Stuart White before my secret location was revealed, she began by saying, ‘I feel sure Uri was at Stonehenge.’ She went on:
I have an old watch which, even after being repaired, would only go if you wound it up fully and shook it a lot. But after a couple of hours it would stop.
I read the News of the World and decided to do the experiment. The watch was fully wound but wasn’t going when I got on the train. I checked the time with the man sitting opposite in the buffet car and when he said it was exactly 3.30, I concentrated.
I thought about Uri’s picture, holding the watch, and suddenly it started. I’m looking forward to telling my listeners this Sunday that the watch is still keeping perfect time. It’s incredible.
Things do go wrong now and then during experiments of this kind. Mr and Mrs Holt, from Hyde, Cheshire, reported success with some knife-bending, but unfortunately at the same time their washing machine flooded and water poured out of it. It had been working perfectly until half-past three, but refused to work thereafter. Reporter Stuart White had some bad luck himself:
My tape recorder and that of another reporter both played inexplicable tricks. Mine switched itself off when its control buttons suddenly rose of their own accord. The tape in the other recorder burst out of its cassette.
He concluded, ‘It seems anything is possible with Uri around.’
It is not always destructive, I am glad to say. During a BBC Radio Oxford interview in November 1986, my host David Freeman produced a small transistor radio which he said had not worked for almost twenty years. Although he had put a new battery in, it made no sound apart from a low crackle. I told him I would try to fix it for him, and as listeners to the programme clearly heard, I did.
That old Geller myth was still holding together, eight years after its final disintegration had been announced. I should mention that it has never depended entirely on the popular press, for a good many of the ‘quality’ publications of the world’s press have made their contributions to it over the years. There have been cover stories on me in Science News, Science Digest, Popular Photography, New Scientist and Der Spiegel, and major features in Business-Week, Forbes, Esquire, Physics Today, Nature and the American Medical Association’s journal Today’s Health. My activities have even been described in the defence technology journal Combat Arms, the Australian business journal Rydges, and Computer World, in addition to most of the world’s leading newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the Financial Times. At least ten books have been written about me, and I have been mentioned in more than 200 others.
I became controversial on my very first trip as an entertainer outside Israel, when I went to Italy in 1971. This was largely due to a widely-distributed photograph that apparently showed me in the company of Sophia Loren, although most people saw at once that it was a fake. I gave a full account of this episode in My Story, but it continued to be quoted by the witch-hunters as an example of my supposed dishonesty. Therefore I am grateful to the person who was really responsible for it for setting the record straight, which he did in this statement:
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
I, Rany Hirsch, who once acted as Uri Geller’s part-time nonexclusive promoter, was fully responsible for creating a photomontage of Uri Geller and Sophia Loren, and releasing it to the Israeli press.
Uri had absolutely no knowledge of this until seeing the photograph on the front page of a newspaper. I did this after Sophia Loren refused to be photographed at our meeting [with Uri], which indeed took place.
Knowing Uri, he would have certainly objected and disapproved of such a foolish promotional stunt.
I am fully aware of the damage I caused Uri in the early seventies, and I regret it very much.
Thank you, Rany, for scraping a little more of the mud off the Geller myth. I certainly did meet Sophia Loren, who received me very graciously in her home, but refused to be photographed by anybody except her personal photographer, who was not available at the time. Any actress of her standing would have done the same.
It was on that occasion that I realized for the first time that I had an entry to the world of the beautiful people, thanks to my unusual talents and background. Soon after my arrival in West Germany in 1972, I exploited that entry-permit to the full. You do not come across many jet-setters in Israel, and I only knew of their world from the glossy magazines and the James Bond films, all of which I had seen and loved.
Before I had been in Germany very long, I found that I was not only welcomed by the beautiful people set, but that I was enjoying an affair with a prominent member of it. It was one that was to teach me a lesson.
She had everything. She was extremely rich, very beautiful, and very well connected. She was fascinated by my strange powers, and I was fascinated by everything about her. I lost no time finding out how top people in Western Europe have fun: we cruised around in her vintage Ferrari from one glittering event to another where I met all kinds of famous people including two of my heroes, the footballers Muller and Beckenbauer. She took me to expensive restaurants, where she would order whole cans of caviar as casually as I would ask for a glass of water, and then she would slip me wads of banknotes under the table so that I could be seen to be paying the bill.
Lying in her swimming pool, with the sound of the Moody Blues to keep us company and the servants preparing another delicious meal, I felt like a new member of a very exclusive club. Yet I had hardly begun to enjoy its amenities and privileges when I resigned my membership. This is how it came about:
One day, she took me to the family castle, which was straight from a story book. I had no idea people actually lived in such places except in Disney films, but her family did, and had done for ages. It should have been the perfect setting for another scene in our romance. Instead, it led to the final curtain.
It was all because of my love of physical exercise. There was no pool at the castle, but there was a dusty old ping-pong table. I set it up with the help of one of the maids, but we could not find the bats. The maid said they were up in the attic, so I offered to go and fetch them while she gave the table a wipe.
Torch in hand, I clambered up the stairs to find what you would expect in the attic of a castle: piles of boxes all over the place, pitch darkness and a good deal of accumulated dust. I shone the torch in all directions, but saw no sign of any ping-pong bats.
One corner of the huge attic caught my attention. There were all kinds of military regalia: medals, uniforms, trophies, and a number of framed photographs. I found that I had stumbled across a miniature museum of the Third Reich. I took a closer look at one of the photographs, and saw two men with a little girl sitting in the lap of one of them. She looked about the right age for the present daughter of the house, and one of the men, I assume, was her father. There was no doubt as to who the other one was.
How does one describe the feelings of an Israeli sabra who finds himself living under the same roof as somebody with a connection like this? I could not blame her for anything, and I could not punish her for whatever her father had done to earn all those medals from his good friend, the Fuhrer. She belonged to a new generation of a country that had welcomed me and helped me make a name for myself. I did not want to rake up the past, but it was time to move on.
I put through a transatlantic call to Edgar Mitchell, and told him I was ready to come to the United States. It was he and Andrija Puharich who were mainly responsible for my going there, but it was the discovery of the photograph that had much to do with the timing.
This episode taught me that there are skeletons to be found in the attics of even the most respected members of society, however rich and famous they may be. It made me somewhat wary of the beautiful people. All the same, I have to confess that as soon as I began to amass a respectable fortune of my own, I wanted everybody to know it. For a time, I became as compulsive a spender as I had been an eater. For a start I had to have a custom-built Cadillac, of course, to show my friends that I had made it. I had to have a gold Rolex watch, Gucci wallets and suitcases, silk shirts costing £100 each, about 200 Hermes ties which I never wore, and so on all the way down to my handmade socks. I was cramming every comer of my apartment with expensive presents to myself and to Hanna, just as I was to gobble up bar after bar of Swiss chocolate during my period of bulimia. Fortunately, my overspending ended as abruptly as my overeating, although in this case the initiative did not come from me.
In 1979 I finally married Hanna, whom I had known for more than ten years since we first met while I was convalescing from the wounds I received during the Six Day War of 1967. I suppose we had been engaged ever since, in a subconscious kind of way, although neither of us had ever brought up the subject of marriage. It just seemed to happen naturally, and it happened at precisely the right time. I was getting worn out by all the rushing from airport to hotel to television studio or theatre, and then back to the hotel and then the airport to fly somewhere else and do it all again. I had begun to lose touch with ordinary life, and with the simple things that mattered to me. I was also losing touch with myself, and I needed a period of withdrawal and quiet.
It was a very simple ceremony, with no publicity and no guests, and I knew at once that I had the greatest wife in the world.
One day, when we were in the south of France, we walked past one of those fashionable boutiques full of ‘name’ items Pierre Cardin this, Yves Saint-Laurent that, and so on. I suddenly decided we needed a suitcase, so in we went. I ordered a gorgeous Gucci creation, then another, then one more, until we had one of every single size in stock.
Hanna looked at me in her honest and down-to-earth way. ‘Why are we buying all this, Uri?’ she asked. ‘Just so that everybody will see us carting Gucci bags around at airports? What are you trying to prove?’
I looked at her, and suddenly we both burst out laughing. There was no more to be said, and from then on there were no more buying sprees. We gave each other simple and inexpensive birthday presents. I wore my favourite T-shirts until they literally fell apart. There was no more need for me to prove anything. I still have my 1976 Cadillac today, ten years later, with only 26,000 miles on its clock. (I have run more than that over the same period.)
Ten years of performing to people had left me with an immense tiredness by the end of the seventies. I wanted to disconnect myself from the whole rat-race and disappear into my own world, where Hanna and I could settle down and start our family. I was well off enough to spend the rest of my life without working again, and I wanted to get back into my shell and experience some spiritual peace for once.
I had already acquired a number of home bases: a maisonette in Mexico City, an apartment in Tel Aviv, a country house (more of a log cabin than a stately home) in Japan, and a secret hideaway in Europe, in addition to the apartment and house I had bought for my mother in New York and Connecticut. Hanna and I divided our time between them, living comfortably but very simply. My daily regime of running, swimming, and good home cooking worked wonders for both my body and my soul. I tried a strict vegetarian diet, and found that it made such a difference to my psychic powers that I vowed to stay with it. As Hanna soon showed herself to be the world’s best vegetarian cook, this was an easy resolution to keep.
When Colin Wilson was with me in Spain, doing research for his book The Geller Phenomenon, which was published in 1976, he told me that the next stage of my career would be one of self-exploration. This was the last thing I had in mind at the time, but he proved to be absolutely right.
I did not become a total hermit. I did the occasional television show, newspaper promotion and business assignment, some of which I have already described. If they were fewer and farther between, that was the way I liked it. I cannot understand how some entertainers, such as the Rolling Stones, can go on for twenty years or more – after only five or six years as a celebrity I was more than ready for the quiet life.
I was certain that Hanna would give me a son and a daughter, in that order. The New York hospital technician who carried out a sonographic scan when Hanna was pregnant for the first time told us that the outline looked to him like that of a girl, but I knew he was wrong, and said so. When the time came to take Hanna to hospital, I drove her there and switched on the car radio and heard Elton John singing his song ‘Daniel’. We took that as a good omen.
It was a difficult birth, however. As Shipi and I waited anxiously in the hospital corridor, a doctor came up to me and said he would have to perform a Caesarean section if Hanna did not begin to dilate soon. Later, I learned that the reason for the difficulty was that there was what is called a Rhesus factor problem, meaning that Hanna’s blood was not compatible with Daniel’s. This, I have been told, can lead to a baby’s sickness and sometimes even death.
‘If there’s any chance that your powers can help,’ the doctor said, ‘now’s the time to use them!’
I concentrated as hard as I could and shouted, ‘Open! Open! Open!’
Heads peered round doors, wondering what on earth was going on. Just another anxious father-to-be, they must have thought. They can act rather strangely . . .
About five minutes later Dr Masood Khatamee, the gynaecologist who made the delivery, came up to me and said, ‘My God, you did it.’
‘Most babies would have been affected by the Rh-factor,’ he told a reporter from the New York Star (31 March 1981), ‘but Daniel was in fine shape. It really surprised me.’ He was not prepared to say that my powers had influenced the course of events, but he did admit ‘It was rather unusual’, adding that ‘we do see surprises in medicine’. He saw another one a couple of hours later, when Hanna walked out of the hospital carrying her baby, after signing a form releasing the hospital from any responsibility for her unusually early departure.
Later, Hanna recalled a curious incident that had taken place in Israel long before our marriage. She had been on her way to a party with some friends in her home town of Givataim. It was raining hard, and she had to jump over a large puddle that had grown around the grille of the drain. One of her friends caught sight of a black object that had become stuck in the grille and told Hanna to see what it was.
She fished it out. It was a copy of Elton John’s ‘Daniel’.
Coincidences will happen, of course. They seem to happen around me more often than could be expected by pure chance, however, and some of them have been fairly trivial. In 1985, for instance, I went on two separate occasions to take care of the sale of my mother’s apartment and house. The buyer of the apartment was a lady of Korean descent named Hong, while the house was sold by a different agent to a gentleman of the same unusual name.
Other coincidences, or synchronicities as some people call them, are more meaningful. Take the case of Peter Sterling, the Australian businessman who flew to London in April 1985 to discuss the business deal I described in the previous chapter.
He told his secretary to make hotel reservations for him, his wife Merlene, and their three children. She had done this before many times, and telephoned the usual hotel. It was full up, so she tried another. Booked solid. Apparently, there was a big conference in London.
She kept trying, and had made more than twenty long-distance calls before she managed to find accommodation for the Sterling family, in a hotel where they had never stayed before. She did not have my address, incidentally.
A few days later, Peter rang to say he was in town and would be right over. I gave him the address of my apartment building, the entrance of which was in a side street that was unfamiliar to him. I assured him that London taxi-drivers knew their way around and would find it for him.
My doorbell rang about five minutes later. Peter had walked out of his hotel, gone to the corner of the block, hailed a cruising taxi and climbed in, giving the driver my address after he had driven off. The driver promptly made a U-turn and deposited Peter exactly opposite the spot at which he had picked him up.
There are more than 850 hotels listed in the London telephone directory, and it may have been pure chance that led Peter’s secretary to find rooms for him in the one nearest to my apartment block, which not only has a different street address but is on a different telephone exchange.
One way and another, the Sterlings’ visit was quite a memorable one. Here is Merlene Sterling’s account of one incident which is rather hard to explain by pure chance:
Peter decided to ask Uri to bend a large coin so he could put it on his desk at work to show to the sceptics back home. So we shopped around, and came up with a magnificent silver sovereign dated 1890. The coin cost £25, and has a picture of Queen Victoria on one side and St George and the dragon on the other. It is about three millimetres thick and four centimetres wide. Eldon [Byrd], an ex-coin collector, said he thought it was too beautiful to bend. This did not deter Peter, who gave it to Uri, who said he would try it when he was in the right frame of mind or something similar.
Merlene went on to describe how we all went out to an Indian restaurant, where we discussed psychic matters, and how she and Peter came along to my apartment to say goodbye the day before they were due to fly out.
As we were about to leave, Peter asked Uri if he had managed to bend the coin yet. Uri said, ‘No. Where is it? I will do it now.’ The three of us began searching for it . . .Uri was looking concerned, and we gave up the search and returned to the hall. He picked up his jacket and looked in both pockets. He then remembered that he had left the coin in the restaurant the other night. We were all standing in the hallway discussing the loss of the coin when we were startled by a loud noise in the kitchen, like the sound of breaking glass.
We rushed in to see what it was. The room was empty and the hallway was the only entry, so we would have seen anyone coming or going . . . Peter and Uri ventured briefly into the room and did not see anything unusual, so they retreated, puzzled.
I felt guided by an unseen force and moved directly to the bench (that is, the worktop around the sink) and there was the coin in the sink – bent!
The other two rushed over, and we all jumped up and down with excitement at the sudden return of the coin. I can remember Uri looking at it and saying, ‘Good, it is bent. Now I won’t have to do it!’
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