Getting the Message
The inauguration of Jimmy Carter was to take place on 20 January 1977, and Mike told me that somehow or other I would have to attend. It was the only way, he said, that I could get close enough to the president and deliver the message that he, Mike, had in mind. He doubted whether an official meeting could be arranged because of what he called the ‘ridicule factor’: for a new leader to be seen publicly associating with psychics would inevitably undermine his image right at the start of his term of office. In any case, there would be observers, and that meant there would be leaks to the press. Washington was not Moscow, where the rulers did what they liked and the press did what it was told.
‘Don’t worry, though,’ he assured me. ‘You’ll almost certainly get an official invitation.’
The year 1976 was a very active one for me. Requests for my performances continued to pour in, and I was able to raise my fees. My tour of Brazil, for example, grossed almost a million dollars. I was originally invited there to do two television shows, but thanks to my enterprising and efficient agent Marcos Lazaros I ended up with a nation-wide tour involving forty performances, one of them in a football stadium in front of an audience of 12,000.
One of my television shows was seen by the wife of a distinguished diplomat, Ambassador Vasco Leitao da Cunha. She had been suffering from arthrosis for some time and was unable to walk unaided. As I was doing my usual stuff – bending spoons and telling people to get their old clocks and watches going – she thought to herself: Why can’t he do something for my legs? The following morning, she leaped out of bed and danced around like a twelve-year-old, according to columnist Jose Carlos Oliveira of Jornal do Brasil (26 July 1976). As he pointed out quite rightly, she was responsible for this ‘miracle cure’ and not I. Something similar had happened in Denmark in 1974, and it made up for the case of the Swedish woman who tried to sue me for bending her intra-uterine device so that she had an unwanted pregnancy after watching me on television!
Another of my Brazilian viewers was Lucita Crespi, whose uncle Nino Crespi had been a famous racing driver. He had been killed in a crash during a race in Rio de Janeiro forty years previously. His family had kept the chronometer he had been using at the time, which had never ticked again although several attempts had been made to have it repaired. It started up again during my show, however, and went on working perfectly for several days. Oliveira’s conclusion was that ‘we are all Uri Gellers’.
One way and another, I had forgotten all about Mike’s promise when I received a telephone call in my Manhattan apartment towards the end of the year from a girl named Lucy. She just introduced herself, giving her full name, and asked if we could meet. I could think of no reason why not, so we did, and I found her to be an attractive and intelligent young lady with as much interest in parapsychology as she seemed to have in me. We went out together several times and got along very well. Her face seemed familiar, and it turned out that she had accompanied Rosalynn Carter on her visit to Mexico, though we had not spoken to each other on that occasion.
One day, she surprised me by mentioning that she was a close relative of the Carter family. She had told Jimmy all about me, she said, and his reaction had been one of open-minded interest. Then, before I could make the obvious connections in my mind between her, me and Mike, she asked if I would like to come and attend the inauguration ceremonies in Washington.
I had said nothing to her, or to anybody else, and was certainly not fishing for an invitation. A presidential inauguration is a major social event, to which everybody in the country would like to be invited. What chance did I have? I was fairly well known as a somewhat unusual entertainer, but I was no big star, and I was not even an American. The thought of receiving such an honour had slipped from my mind once again when the envelope appeared one morning on my doormat.
I could not believe it. Mr Uri Geller was formally invited to attend the inauguration of President Carter in Washington. So was Mr Shipi Shtrang. We just looked at each other in sheer bewilderment. We had come a long way.
What a week it was! Lucy, or at any rate somebody, had arranged the full treatment for us. Out of all the hotels in Washington, we found that our reservations were in the one where the president’s close relatives were to stay. Some of them were even on the same floor, and the first person I met when I stepped out of my room was Carter’s brother Billy.
‘Hi there,’ he boomed, ‘You’re Uri Geller – I’ve heard so much about you.’ He wanted to find out for himself right away if any of it was true, and in his book you will find a double-page photograph of the two of us sitting in that hotel corridor and doing a telepathy experiment.
Lucy was the most efficient of escorts. She gave me a whole stack of invitations, not only to the VIP podium on the inauguration route, but to any number of balls, parties and receptions, one of which was to be in the White House.
The parade was a fairly uncomfortable affair. It was freezing cold, and President Carter insisted on making the long journey from the ceremonial stand to his new home on foot, which must have alarmed his security advisers. As I sat and shivered, I-wished I had brought some warmer underwear with me.
When the entourage came in sight, the whole affair struck me as absolutely ludicrous. I am always ready to try something new, yet Mike’s plan – to beam a telepathic message into the mind of the chief executive of the most powerful country in the world – was going a bit too far.
The new presidential couple were waving and projecting their warm southern smiles to the crowd. One smile came in my direction, and although Mrs Carter could not have recognized me from that distance, it was personal contact of a kind. So, as they passed in front of me I took aim, so to speak, and fired off a sort of compressed thought-capsule containing the images of psychic phenomena, Soviet superiority, and money.
‘It’s all a question of money,’ Mike had told me. ‘Money for grants to research institutes.’ He had not mentioned any figures, but the sum I had in mind for some reason was that of $6 million. So I added that figure to my message, which I delivered as well as I could in view of the distance between me and my target.
I still had to make more direct contact with the president. There is much argument as to whether telepathy is more effective at close range; Russell Targ and others have shown that it can operate at very long distances, even from Moscow to California, but I would imagine that the kind of thing I was trying to do would be more powerful at close range. I could be wrong, but in any case Mike’s suggestion had been for me to get as close to Carter as I could.
I had to wait for a while. There was no chance of getting anywhere near him at the first event, a formal affair in a big convention hall. There, I only recognized two people: the actor Jack Nicholson, one of a number of celebrities from all fields who had come to pay their respects to the new president, and a very familiar figure I spotted on my way into the hall. I sneaked up behind her and called out, ‘Muncy! Turn around!’
She really fell apart when she saw who it was, and I could see her wondering how on earth I had got myself invited. However, this was no time for explanations.
At last it was time for the main event of the week-long celebrations, and I found myself inside the most famous home in the United States. It was not exactly a private visit, as there were several hundred other guests, and after my initial excitement at setting foot inside the White House, my spirits sank again. Security was tight, to say the least. Lucy shepherded me around and introduced me to several people, including one of Carter’s close advisers, but my mind kept wandering. . I knew this was probably the only chance I would ever have to meet the president, and at the same time I saw that not even Lucy with her family connections could penetrate the wall of protection around him – in his own home.
Then, all of a sudden, the guests began to form a line to pay their personal respects to the Carters. I doubted whether the secret servicemen would let me even get into the line, let alone actually speak to them. The next thing I knew Lucy was literally grabbing hold of me and shoving me to the back of the line, leaving me there behind what looked and sounded like the whole of the population of Georgia.
I was reminded of my first parachute drop. I remembered the green light that meant I was next in line and there was no turning back. It went on again now, inside my head, and I summoned all the concentration I could manage. I felt this was an assignment I had to get right first time.
Much sooner than I had expected, there was suddenly nobody in front of me except Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and their personal entourage. This is it, Geller, I thought.
Mrs Carter recognized me at once, and broke the tension. ‘Oh, Jimmy,’ she exclaimed, ‘this is Uri Geller. You remember, that young Israeli I told you so much about?’
The president’s expression barely altered, and there was a brief silence as I stepped forward and grabbed hold of his hand. I held on to it for a good six seconds, looking down into his eyes – he was shorter than I had expected and I am six feet one inch – and forcing that same message through them, this time really putting everything I had into it.
Psychic phenomena are real. Open your mind. Put money into research. Six million dollars. Catch up with the Soviets.
The tension and urgency I felt must have made my grip even firmer than usual, for Carter winced slightly and I felt him trying to withdraw his hand. Don’t overdo it, said the voice in my head. Then his well-known smile beamed at me.
‘Are you going to solve the energy crisis for us?’ he asked. It was the second time a head of state had asked me much the same question. I forget what I replied, but I had a strong feeling that my message had been received. There are times when I feel certain, rather than merely confident, that I have done something right, and, thank God, this was one of them. Rosalynn Carter said a few kind words to me and that I must come and meet them again, and then it was all over. Mission accomplished. I am sure one of the photographers immortalized this event and the photo is somewhere in the Washington archives.
There was no direct feedback. Lucy telephoned me once or twice, but we never met again and I never knew if she had been manipulated into meeting me without knowing who was behind it. Or was it a coincidence? As for Mike, he simply disappeared from my life as suddenly as he had entered it.
A report appeared nearly seven years later in the New York Times (10 January 1984) in which it was stated that President Carter ordered ‘a high-level review of Soviet psychic research’ in 1977, following what was described as ‘a private audience’ with me. (No information about any such meeting has ever originated from me.) The secret review was completed in 1978, according to the newspaper, and although ‘it found no evidence of the “psycho-warfare” project such as Mr Geller had warned of, it did find definite Soviet interest’. White House officials ‘could neither confirm nor deny’ that such a review existed. Neither can I.
When I celebrated my thirtieth birthday in December 1976,1 had reason to feel fairly pleased with myself. I had made my name a household word over most of the world, I had visited almost all the countries I had always dreamed of visiting, I had made several good friends and my bank account was well into seven figures. The attacks against me by sceptics and magicians only made people more eager to come and see me or watch me on television. Several books had been written about me, in addition to literally hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. I had attended the inauguration of one head of state, and was just about to attend another. Everything seemed to be going my way.
Psychologically, however, it was not. To begin with, I began to feel constantly unwell, and the cause was easy to find. I had always been a hearty eater, and now I had become a compulsive one, suffering from what is called bulimia, or insatiable appetite. I would gobble up every thing put in front of me, and dining out regularly with Muncy in all the smartest places in Mexico City only provided more temptation to overdo things. Fortunately we were both teetotallers, and I hate to think what might have happened otherwise, but we were both developing some rather extreme eating habits.
Few of the restaurants we visited ever produced a bill. The publicity that arose from the fact that the president’s wife had dined somewhere was usually thought to be worth more than a handful of pesos. I even paid for meals now and then by bending some spoons, and one restaurant framed one of my impromptu metal sculptures and hung it on the wall! Waiters would do their best to tempt us with their specialities of the day, and we invariably gave in. When the dessert trolley was wheeled over after a huge meal, Muncy was quite capable of ordering one of everything and devouring half of each.
I was just as greedy, and often I would have to excuse myself to go to the toilet and force myself to throw up, to make room for yet more excessive food intake. At home, it was much the same, and I would even stick my toothbrush down my throat to induce vomiting. Eventually, I found I could no longer keep anything down, so that the more I ate the thinner I became. I tried to fool myself into thinking that this was due to the exercise I continued to take, running up to five miles a day even in the thin atmosphere of Mexico City, but I failed to fool those nearest to me.
On one of my visits to New York, Shipi’s sister Hanna came over from Israel to be with me, as she often did, and she told me I was looking really terrible. Back in Mexico, Muncy said the same. Tom Morris told me I reminded him of an inmate of a concentration camp. One day as I was getting out of a car, I suddenly found I had lost all my strength. I had to grab the edge of the roof and pull myself up. It was a brief, unexpected and very frightening moment of truth, and the truth was that I was slowly killing myself.
The fact of realizing this seemed to awaken some remote area of my unconscious mind, where the decision to do something about it at once was taken. It was powerful enough to produce immediate results, with a good deal of help and support from Hanna, and from that moment on I began to eat normally, as I have done ever since.
Almost immediately, I had to face a potentially far more serious problem. The president of Mexico had clearly become concerned at the impression Muncy was making when she appeared with me in public, and in due course she received an official order from him to step into line. She was not to wear such sexy clothes, or so much make-up. She was to try to enter a restaurant without turning all eyes in her direction as she swept in with me on her arm. She should, in short, remember who she was and what she represented.
I had been worried myself for some time. I had seen plenty of jealousy on nearby faces in restaurants and theatres, all the more, no doubt, because I was an outsider. I began to feel more and more uncomfortable, but neither I nor her husband, it seemed, could change Muncy’s ways. Her inevitable reply to any comment on her behaviour was ‘I don’t care!’, and if I or anybody else cared there was clearly nothing we could do about it. That was the way she was.
One day, Pepito took me aside. There was something he clearly had to get off his chest. I did not have to be psychic to recognize that expression on his face.
‘Listen, Uri,’ he saidl ‘There is talk. There are rumours. Don’t go out with my mother any more, it’s not good for us.’
There was no trace of a threat in his voice, but even so, warning bells began to sound in my ears. Pepito was telling me, in effect, that although both he and his father knew that Muncy and I were just good friends, the family could not tolerate any hint of scandal. And such hints were already being dropped.
At this time, I should add that tongues were also wagging about the president. Like most public figures in Latin America, he was widely assumed to have a mistress hidden away somewhere, though I have no evidence that he had. From what I could see, his relations with his wife were entirely normal. If they seemed a little distant at times, I put it down to his intellectual side. He worked very long hours, and would spend such free time as he had in keeping himself fit and then retiring to his study to read, write, or reflect on the history of his country, on which he is a recognized authority. He did not seem to have enough time to chase after other women, and he was always most hospitable and courteous to me. Never did he even suggest that he objected to my keeping Muncy company while he was occupied with other matters.
He must have had words with her, however, since our relationship gradually became a good deal less public, although we continued to see a lot of each other. One day early in 1978, she invited me to join her and the children for a short holiday in the seaside resort of Cancun. It was a romantic spot, and strolling along the beach by the Caribbean in the moonlight was an experience I will never forget. However, even there I knew that Muncy’s vigilant bodyguards were not far away, so I can hardly claim that we were alone together. I am also sure that the president was kept informed about all his wife’s movements.
We were also, it seems, still in the sights of the gossipmongers.
On 10 February 1978 the (London) Daily Express printed a short item under the headline BENDING THE RULES FOR URI. It contained a small photograph of me and only three column-inches of text, and had no dateline or byline. It began:
There is startling news from Mexico about spoon-bender Uri Geller. The Israeli psychic superstar has struck up a warm friendship with President Lopez Portillo’s lively wife Carmen. A friendship which, according to some observers, might precipitate a ‘Mexican Watergate’.
The article went on to reveal that I and my ‘clever assistant’ Shipi Shtrang had managed to become Mexicans thanks to the First Lady’s good offices; It added that this ‘saves Senor Shtrang from Israeli military service’. It then announced that ‘Geller and Carmen, who is buxom and in her late forties, have surprised Mexicans by taking holidays together’ at Cancun, where ‘at one hotel, reports a member of staff, they were behaving rather intimately’. The member of staff was quoted as saying, ‘We did not know where to look.’ I myself, according to the paper, said, ‘It is true I am fond of her- and her husband and three children.’
This article was fairly accurate. I do recall speaking on the telephone to somebody at the time and confirming what most of Mexico already knew: that Muncy and I were good friends. I am sure some waiter or waitress was startled by her behaviour. As I have indicated, it often used to startle me.
Yet how did that article find its way into a London newspaper? What was all the talk about a Mexican Watergate? Why include the gratuitous smear against Shipi? A minimum of checking would have established that he left Israel quite openly and legally before he was liable for military service. In any case, he would almost certainly have been exempted from this, since he suffered in his teens from Meniere’s disease. He has since visited Israel without any problems at all.
It must have been a plant, and I wondered who might have planted it. The mention of the Watergate affair suggested that it might have been the inner circle of the PRI, the party that really runs things in Mexico. It may have decided that enough was enough, for which I could hardly blame it. My relationship with Muncy might well have been misunderstood, although, as I have said, it was the most public of friendships, and if the president had wanted it terminated he had only to let me know, which he never did.
It could also have been a leak sprung deliberately to embarrass me by one of my witch-hunters, who must have known very well that in Mexico an innuendo of this kind could be enough to put my life in danger. In view of some of the dirty tricks they were to play on me later, I definitely cannot rule this out.
I was due to-visit Los Pinos on the evening of 10 February, but I never got there. A copy of the Daily Express was on the president’s desk that morning, presumably having been telexed from the Mexican Embassy in London. Things then moved very quickly.
The telephone rang in Tom Morris’s house, where I was still staying on my visits to Mexico. It was for me, and the caller was Pepito.
‘Don’t come to Los Pinos today, Uri,’ he began.
‘Something very bad has happened.’ His father, he said, was very angry. In fact, he was furious. ‘There was something in a newspaper,’ he went on.
I tried to get some details out of him, but all he would tell me was that people were saying bad things about his mother and me. His tone of voice was serious and, as he went on speaking, the distant warning bells started up again. It became clear that something was under way that Pepito could not control, and this telephone call was a friendly warning and no more.
Suddenly, everything seemed to collapse around me, and it was the tone of urgency in Pepito’s final words that made me realize that it was time to plan my exodus.
My precious Aeromexico card gave me the right not only to free first-class travel, but also to turn somebody out of a seat to make room for me if necessary, and even to keep a plane waiting on the runway. I had never needed to resort to such measures before. Now, I did.
Tom Morris drove Shipi and me to the airport, and were it not for the diplomatic plates on his car I am sure he would have ended up in jail for any number of motoring offences. We shot through red lights, down one-way streets, and over pavements. Traffic cops waved and yelled at us. Passers-by stopped and stared at what must have seemed some unusual driving even by Mexican standards.
Somehow or other, we made it to the airport. There was no time to thank Tom properly for all that he had done for me, and at last I flopped into my seat on the flight bound for New York.
I had originally stayed in Mexico as the result of a direct order from the wife of the nominated president. Now I was leaving, just as unexpectedly, on the advice of her son. Even after we had taken off, Pepito’s final words to me rang louder in my ears than the jet engines that were lifting me from what could have been imminent danger: ‘My suggestion is to get out of Mexico – quickly.’
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