In All Directions
‘Look,’ said Uri. ‘This is what I do.’
He took the small coffee spoon I had brought with me and held the tip of the bowl between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, with the underside of the bowl facing upwards, and began to stroke the stem lightly with the forefinger of his left hand. I looked, as instructed.
I looked as carefully as I have ever looked at anything. I had been waiting more than ten years for my first private audience with this controversial Israeli, who had divided much of the world into two bitterly opposed camps, one of which claimed him to be the greatest demonstrator of paranormal or psychic power in history, the other insisting he was just an unusually smart magician. I had never managed to decide which was right, and felt it was time that I did.
It was undoubtedly my spoon. I had received it, together with an identical one, as a free offer from a Dutch coffee company a few weeks previously, and I did not take my eyes off it from the moment I handed it to him until he gave it back to me three or four minutes later. He was not wearing a watch, I noticed, or a ring, or a belt, and the copper bracelet on his right arm was well beyond the reach of the end of the spoon. The more obvious ways of spoon-bending by sleight-of-hand were thus ruled out. There were others, and I was ready for them.
‘Did you bring a camera?’ he asked, after some more rubbing of my spoon with his left forefinger. Aha, I said to myself. Misdirection. While I am fumbling in my bag for my camera and adjusting the speed and shutter opening, he is going to make some very quick movements and bend the spoon by muscle power, not psychic power. This is what sceptical friends had assured me he would do if given the chance.
I did not give him the chance. My eyes remained on the spoon as I reached down for my camera. The semiautomatic Olympus XA did not need adjusting, and at this range of five or six feet I had no need to look through the viewfinder. I held the camera in front of my nose, looked over the top of the viewfinder, and started clicking at once. The light was perfect: Uri was facing the huge window of his apartment overlooking Hyde Park at treetop level, and there was nobody else in the room with us.
I had been warned that Uri never kept still for long, but liked to move around quickly and confuse people. However, he was certainly sitting still now, on his exercise bicycle. ‘I need a heavy workout every day, or I lose my powers,’ he had explained, and he had been pedalling vigorously for ten minutes or so before offering to demonstrate those powers for me. Earlier that day, he told me, he had run twice around the park as usual.
‘It’s bending already!’ he exclaimed, after I had taken my second photograph. I said nothing, and took a third. Then he stopped pedalling, put his left hand on his hip, and held the spoon up almost at shoulder level. ‘Now it’ll go on bending until it has reached ninety degrees,’ he assured me.
The spoon had unquestionably bent already, but I could not say for certain that he had not helped it along with his fingers. In fact I had no intention of saying anything at all for certain until I had developed my film, made enlargements and placed my protractor on them.
I took two more pictures. Uri made no suspicious movement of any kind and did not try to misdirect me in any way. Then, about three minutes after I had handed him my spoon, he gave it back to me.
Later that day, after a couple of hours in my darkroom, I was able to verify that the angle of bend in the spoon had increased from the fourth to the fifth picture although Uri’s right hand had not moved and the position of the fingers of his left hand had not altered. I also noticed that the spoon had continued to bend slightly after I had taken the last shot.
I was impressed.
Immediately after his demonstration of apparent psychokinesis, or physical movement caused by the mind, Uri offered to show me another of his powers in action: telepathy. He asked me to draw something in my notebook, and then to try to project it into his mind. I had seen magicians do this and knew some of their techniques, so I decided to do some misdirection of my own.
I held my notebook parallel to my chest and made several movements with my pen that bore no relation to what I drew, adding a few scratches with my thumbnail for good measure. That, I reckoned, would make it difficult for him to guess what I was drawing by watching the top of my pen or by listening to the sounds it made on the paper. What I eventually drew, after Uri had become rather impatient and asked me to hurry up, was a very small head with a three-pointed crown on it. While I was doing so he turned away from me and put a hand over his eyes. Then he turned back to face me.
‘Now look at me and send me what you’ve drawn,’ he said, giving me a piercing stare with his large and almost black eyes.
I did not feel inclined to look at those eyes for long. I thought I knew a potentially powerful hypnotist when I saw one, having met several while researching the book on hypnotism I had just completed, and had no doubt that I was looking at one now. So as I mentally redrew my royal head I kept my eyes moving slowly. A sceptical magician friend had seriously suggested to me that Geller might be able to induce temporary unconsciousness just by staring at people. If true, which I am sure it is not, this would be as interesting as anything else he claims to be able to do.
‘I’m not getting it,’ he said, so I tried again. He then leaned forward, picked up his own notepad and made some rapid scribbles on it before handing it to me. ‘I don’t think it’s right,’ he said, ‘but it’s all I got.’
In this kind of experiment it is essential that you see your subject’s drawing before he sees yours. Otherwise, a few quick strokes with a ‘thumb writer’, a tiny pencil attached to the thumbnail, are all that are needed. I had no difficulty in satisfying myself that he was not using one. I also saw his drawing before he saw mine.
As he had said, it was not right, or not completely so. There were some interesting similarities between our two drawings, though. He had drawn three circles, one with four lines protruding outwards, one with what looked like a single cat’s ear, and finally one that was plainly meant to be a cat’s head with two pointed ears, eyes and whiskers, and another circle below for its body.
The cat’s head was remarkably similar to my human one both in size and shape. Uri took my pen and made two marks on each of our drawings, level with the top and bottom of each head. ‘If you measure these with a millimetre ruler,’ he said, ‘you’ll find they are exactly the same size.’
I did measure them later, and they were. Again, I was impressed. If this was sleight-of-hand, it was close-up work of a very high order.
‘You see,’ he said, ‘what I do is real.’
I had no reason to disagree. Whether what he did was conjuring or psychic interaction with a spoon and a mind -both mine – it was evidently real. A spoon had bent (upwards, incidentally) and a drawing had been at least partially reproduced without any obviously normal methods being used. Nor had he used any of the magicians’ tricks that are just as obvious to somebody who knows what to look for. His psychic powers looked real enough to me.
And yet . . .
Although Uri and I had first corresponded with each other more than ten years previously, and we had several friends in common, we had never actually met. I had followed his career fairly closely since he had first become well known outside Israel in the early seventies, and I had put together a large file on him in the hope that I would be able to write something about him one day. It was clear to me by the middle of the decade that he was either the world’s greatest psychic or its greatest magician. Like many people, I was not sure which.
Before I could try to find out, I lost touch with him, and the past few years all I had heard about him were rumours, most of which were not very complimentary: he had lost his powers, he had been unmasked, he had gone into hiding, he had fled to Mexico, and so on. At the same time, he had somehow or other made a lot of money, it was said.
When I heard early in 1985 that he had come to live in England, I was a little apprehensive about approaching him directly. The only thing I had ever written on him, which will be mentioned later, was not very flattering. Then one day in April he telephoned me out of the blue, or, rather, from his rented apartment just a few minutes’ walk from mine. I was, to say the least, surprised. Here was the world’s most controversial celebrity on my doorstep – and inviting me to come and see him.
I accepted gladly, though a suspicion lurked in my mind. Did he need publicity so badly that he had to ask writers to come and see him, I wondered? Had he really lost his powers, and was he now trying to make a comeback?
A brochure on the porter’s desk at his apartment block informed me that apartments were available for rents of ‘£800 a week’ and more. The porter buzzed a number, received no reply, and remarked, ‘I’ll try the other apartment.’ Yes? Mr Geller and his family had rented two of them! His weekly rent came to about the same as my total outgoings for a year, and he had already been there for two or three months. As I swished upwards in the lift, after running the gauntlet of the security guards, I reflected that there had to be something Uri could do and do very well.
He greeted me like a long-lost brother, and immediately wanted to know how my books were doing, what I was working on then, and where I lived. We discussed our mutual friends and brought each other up to date on their activities. I felt he was genuinely interested and not merely curious. At length I asked him, ‘What have you been doing lately?’
‘Right now, I’m looking for gold,’ he said, ‘and before that . . .’ He went on to fill in the gaps in my file, bringing in one name after another, of a multinational corporation, an intelligence agency, and even one or two heads of state. Before very long, I had reached what the writer Renee Haynes has called the boggle threshold, the point at which the mind cannot handle any more information on a given subject, and instead begins to reel.
‘People always used to ask me, “If you’re so psychic, why aren’t you a millionaire?”‘ he concluded. ‘Well, now I am!’ He was not showing off, I felt, but merely stating a simple truth.
He did not have to be telepathic to learn that I was indeed interested in writing something about him. I had heard, over the literary grapevine, that he was preparing a sequel to his 1975 autobiography My Story.
‘Maybe you and I should work together,’ he said.
After a brief discussion, we agreed on how we might arrange the book. Although English is only his third language, he expresses himself very fluently and precisely in it, with only occasional lapses into the syntax of his first two – Hungarian and Hebrew. It was settled. He would tell his story, in his own words, to a tape recorder, while I acted as questioner, editor and research co-ordinator. He would then read the transcripts and amend them where necessary. I would write a separate section in which I put Uri’s story into the context of current psychical research and dealt with the questions he could not answer impartially, such as ‘Is he genuine? If he is, what then? Why do so many people insist that he is not?’ and, I would hope, ‘What does it all mean?’
The last question could, of course, only be tackled if I was satisfied that Uri’s psychic abilities were indeed real. As I made clear to him at the start of our collaboration, I had not made up my mind, when we first met, whether they were or not, or whether perhaps some were and others were not. In view of this, I felt it was a considerable act of faith on his part to ask me to work with him, especially since I made it clear that I could not allow any censorship of my part, although he was welcome to correct errors of fact. (In the event, he contributed as much to my part as I did to his, even correcting my typographical and spelling mistakes as meticulously as any copy editor I have known.)
‘I can’t come to a conclusion after a single demonstration of spoon-bending or mind-reading,’ I told him, ‘except that I want to know more about you. I want to go right through your files from start to finish, and read everything the debunkers have said as well as the opinions of your supporters. Then I’ll be able to form a conclusion. At least, I hope so.’
If this fellow is a magician, I thought to myself when I had said this, he’s going to show me to the door right now.
‘Go ahead,’ he replied immediately.
Then I had to eat my words, or most of them. Uri showed me one of his spare bedrooms, which was jammed from wall to wall with packing cases. There were newspapers, magazines, books, audio and video tapes, film cans, huge index files, posters, and heaven only knows what else. It was like the end of Citizen Kane, when the contents of Xanadu are arranged on the floor for that classic travelling crane shot. To go through it all, I reckoned, would take me at least a year.
‘The rest of it is coming over in the container,’ said Uri, helpfully.
I decided that the time had not yet come for the full authorized biography of Uri Geller. When it does come, perhaps twenty or thirty years from now, it will need a whole team of writers and researchers, and several years of work. By then, maybe, the material will be housed in a library department of its own, like the Harry Price Collection at London University. It could already fill one, and Uri has not even reached his fortieth birthday.
He was born on 20 December 1946 in Tel Aviv, Israel (then Palestine). His parents had fled their former homeland, Hungary, shortly before the Second World War, in which Itzhak Geller served with the Jewish Brigade of the Eighth Army. Uri’s unusual abilities showed themselves at a very early age; his mother recalls a soup spoon bending and breaking in his hand when he was four, and there were many occasions on which Uri seemed to be able to read her mind.
He went to school in Tel Aviv, and after a year on a kibbutz he entered Terra Santa College in Nicosia, Cyprus, where his mother took him following her separation from his father. He spent six years there, returning to Israel at the age of seventeen. He served as a paratrooper during his military service in the Israeli Army and fought in the Six Day war of 1967, during which he was wounded in action. He then worked as an instructor in a youth camp, where he met Shipi Shtrang. This enterprising youngster, then aged fourteen, arranged Uri’s first public performance of psychic powers in a Tel Aviv school hall in 1969. He went on to become a combination of manager, agent, business adviser and partner, professional colleague and eventually brother-in-law.
In little more than a year, Geller had become one of the most sought-after entertainers in the country. He even received an unexpected testimonial from Prime Minister Golda Meir. Asked by a reporter what she saw for the future of Israel, she replied, ‘I don’t know. Ask Uri Geller.’
Controversy surrounded him almost as soon as he set foot on the public stage. On 20 October 1970, the popular weekly magazine Haolam Hazeh printed his photograph on its cover beside the headline URI GELLER A CHEAT. Readers were told that ‘all of Israel’s magicians have assembled for a witch-hunt’, their quarry being ‘this telepathic impostor’.
In August 1971 a researcher as controversial as Uri himself arrived in Israel after hearing from a friend, the late Itzhak Bentov (who was killed in the 1979 Chicago air disaster), about Uri’s purported psychic skills. This was Dr Andrija Puharich (MD), an inventor and medical researcher with impeccable scientific qualifications and a long string of patents to his name, one of his specialities being the development of miniature deaf-aids. Another was the study of unusually gifted people, including the clairvoyants Eileen Garrett, Harry Stone and Peter Hurkos, and the Brazilian healer Arigo.
As he described in his book Uri (1974), he was sufficiently impressed by what he saw in Israel to arrange for Geller to visit the United States, with the support of the Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, and to undergo a lengthy series of scientific tests in a number of laboratories in the USA and Europe.
The most exhaustive of these took place at Stanford Research Institute in California (later renamed SRI International, and referred to in this book as ‘Stanford’ or ‘SRI’). There, laser physicists Dr Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ carried out six weeks of tests at the end of 1972 and a further eight days in August 1973. Some of these were documented live in the SRI film Experiments with Uri Geller (1973) and were later published in the leading scientific journal Nature (18 October 1974). Detailed popular accounts of them can be found in Targ and Puthoff’s book Mind-Reach (1977) and in John Wilhelm’s The Search for Superman (1976). Each of these books contained first-hand accounts of the controversy that surrounded the SRI research even before it was made public, and which was still continuing more than twelve years later.
Also in 1972, the late Dr Wilbur Franklin, chairman of the physics department at Kent State University, Ohio, carried out the first study by a professional of Geller’s metal-bending (and metal-fracturing) abilities.
In October 1973, further laboratory experiments in metal-bending were carried out by US Navy research physicist Eldon Byrd of the Naval Surface Weapons Center in Maryland. Although the research was not conducted on Center premises, Byrd’s highly positive report was reviewed by his peers at the establishment, and became the first paper of its kind to be released with the approval of the Department of Defense. Byrd later learned to bend metal paranormally himself, and to teach others to do the same.
Geller spent much of the year 1974 as a laboratory guinea-pig. His investigators, all of whom produced positive reports on their findings, included: Dr Thomas P. Coohill, associate professor of physics at Western Kentucky University; Professor A. R. G. Owen, now head of the department of mathematics at Toronto University; Professor John B. Hasted, head of the physics department of Birkbeck College, University of London, which Uri visited on three separate occasions during that year; Professor John G. Taylor of King’s College (also London), who later retracted his positive findings; and Ronald S. Hawke, research physicist at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, California.
In July and August 1974, Geller toured South Africa, making numerous public appearances and four radio broadcasts. Dr E. Alan Price, a former senior radiologist at Johannesburg General Hospital, carried out a field study of the already famous ‘Geller Effect’, whereby Uri would act as a catalyst for all kinds of strange occurrences in people’s homes. After following up a total of 137 case reports, Dr Price wrote a lengthy report that included a mass of documentation and statistical analysis, and concluded ‘that there is enough evidence to suggest that the Uri Geller Effect exists and is genuine’.
In 1974 and 1975, Geller found time to be personally tested by four magicians, all of whom concluded that his psychic powers were real. Their findings will be discussed later in this book. In the latter year, he was also studied by psychologist Dr Thelma Moss, of University College at Los Angeles, and by Dr Albert Ducrocq, a researcher at the INSERM Telemetry Laboratories at Foch Hospital in Suresnes, France.
All of the above research was collected and published in The Geller Papers (1976) edited by Charles Panati, a qualified physicist from Columbia University and author of three textbooks and a number of popular works, who for a time was science writer for Newsweek magazine.
Throughout this period, the Geller Effect was making itself felt all over the world. It began on Uri’s visit to West Germany in 1972, during which he was credited with such feats as bringing an escalator in a department store to a standstill, and even halting a cable-car in mid-air. There were also countless examples of what was to become his standard repertoire of cutlery-bending, causing broken watches to start ticking, and both transmitting and receiving drawings or words by telepathy.
It continued in England, with appearances on the BBC’s Jimmy Young (radio) and David Dimbleby (television) programmes in November 1973 leading to a spate of media publicity of the kind given a decade earlier to the Beatles. Gellermania replaced Beatlemania. Even the normally sober and sensible New Scientist joined in the fun, devoting no less than sixteen pages of its 17 October 1974 issue (and its cover) to a feature on ‘Uri Geller and Science’ that was plainly timed to coincide with the paper already mentioned, which was published in Nature the following day. On 22 March 1974, the Daily Mail published the results of a poll in which its readers had been asked, ‘Does Uri Geller have psychic powers?’ Ninety-five per cent replied YES.
The Geller Effect spread to Scandinavia, where it was a case of more of the same. There were lively news conferences at which reporters would see spoons bending in their own hands, feel keys curling up inside their closed fists, watch Uri reproducing something they had just drawn (or merely thought of), and then return to their desks in a state of mental turmoil only to find that they could not unlock them because their keys no longer fitted, although they were certain that Geller had never touched them. There were equally lively radio and television programmes during which switchboards would jam as listeners or viewers phoned in to report yet another case of a long-dead watch or clock coming back to life, or of a spoon or a fork suddenly performing a spontaneous twist. There were furious debates between scientists who thought the Geller Effect deserved further study, and sceptics who insisted with increasing desperation that Uri was just a naughty magician pretending to be psychic. In short, Geller displayed an ability unmatched since the films of the Marx Brothers for inducing instant chaos, and he plainly loved every minute of it.
Gellermania swept on, like a psychic hurricane, through South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Latin America and also every major country in Europe. Even the appearance of a book by a magician named James Randi, entitled The Magic of Uri Geller (1975), had little effect except to add to his publicity. It failed to demolish the Geller legend, as it was clearly meant to do, just as it failed again when it was revised and reissued in 1982 under the title The Truth About Uri Geller.
Uri’s own book My Story was translated into thirteen languages, and led to requests from all over the world for promotion tours, and by the end of the year in which it was published (1975) there was no knowing when Gellermania would come to an end, if ever.
Yet it did end, almost as suddenly as it had started three or four years previously, and until now we have never known why. One possible reason was suggested by Colin Wilson in The Geller Phenomenon (1976):
In a life of constant travel and performance, he has had no opportunity to try to explore that inner space in which his powers probably originate. The next stage of his career, the stage of self-exploration, will provide him with that opportunity . . . Uri Geller is in an ideal position to test the truth of the assertion that psychic powers can be increased by inner discipline.
Wilson was right. There was to be a period of self-exploration, though it was not to come for another three or four years. By 1976, Uri’s career had already changed course. Indeed, for a time it appeared to follow the example of Stephen Leacock’s character who ‘flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions’.
We have both done our best to arrange the following account of those years from 1975 in chronological order, while at the same time attempting to sort it into chapters that concentrate on certain features of it. Inevitably, there has been some overlap, since throughout the period covered, Uri was often almost literally in several places at once. We have both provided all the dates and references we could find, although we have to confess that we never did get through all those boxes.
‘What was it that sent you off in new directions?’ I asked Uri on our first joint working day.
He thought for a moment. ‘It was a telephone call, really,’ he replied.
‘That’s as good a way as any to start a book,’ I said. ‘Go on . . .’
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