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Minding the Storm

October 25, 2007
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Uri Geller thinking big
Oh, those seder-table manners at the Geller manse must have raised more than four questions. It wasn't the bent elbows on the table, but those bent spoons ...

No problem for Uri Geller since managing big matzah balls has been a lifelong oblong objective for the mentalist with a mind of his own.

This Tel Aviv native son tellingly has a sabra sechel that infuses his fusion of telekinesis and television charisma, an out-there alchemy that makes him a natural "Phenomenon."

"Natural 'Phenomenon'? Yes -- one that involves my Jewish faith," says the natural star expert of NBC's newest niche in the nabe of reality series, featuring a web of Wednesday-night wonks competing to outmental, outmaneuver, out-of-their mind the position of successor to the stellar Geller and await a future of unforetold fortunes.

Its Israeli predecessor, "The Successor," mind-melded with television minions to make it must-qvell TV. The ratings-basher is bashert, says Geller.

"When the show became such a huge hit in Israel, I took it to Cannes to sell it worldwide at the MIPT" -- an international sales/ distribution market for TV/film -- "and NBC was there."

You could have knocked them over with a peacock feather, the execs were so ecstatic over the show's concept, which drew more than a 50 share of Israeli audiences. "But two weeks later, I got a negative e-mail from them, that no, they would have to pass."

Negative neurons don't pass through Geller; they explode before they enter. "I'm a positive person," says the proton-charged pro with a ton of ideas and credits in a bio bulging with mind-blowing books and brainstorms.

Bashert, thy name is Ben.

"I called a good friend of mine, who knows Ben Silverman," at the time in charge of Reveille, one of the most revered reality-show producers.

And before you could tap out the xylophone notes for N-B-C, Silverman had taken over as the network's top exec.

"The universe wanted it to happen," avers Geller of NBC/ Universal's pickup of the show. "I'm a religious man; things happen when they should."

See for yourself Wednesday nights. Or better yet, see for your soul. "I always say if you can visualize something, you can make it happen," claims Geller.

His career has been no mere happening; it's been a daring dose of derring-do -- which includes feats of dowsing, divining the future -- and dividing audiences between believers and brickbat-tossers, whose aim has been on and off as the off-and-running Geller gelds myth and mental gymnastics into a balance beam of bravos and boos.

Whatever, this is no mental midget; whether one believes in his bravura or bashes it as overblown bluster, he brilliantly minds a mint of a career.

"Indeed, I have enough money; I am not doing the show for that reason at all," he says of "Phenomenon."

What he is doing is proving a point: "It all boils down to 1925, when a young man wrote an amazing equation -- E = mc2. Albert Einstein proved that everything around us is energy."

Which makes Geller an energetic equation unequaled today.

"We live in an ocean of motion," he says of his waterworld of wonder.

Ironically, it was in a land where water was wanting that he found the moat that would float his notions. "Israel manifests the law of attraction in the universe; if you send out positives, the world will send it back."

Are those the do's and dunes of GellerGlobe? "I had a dream," he says, but this one involved hills of sand, not mountains of obstacles. "We were very poor growing up in Tel Aviv, and I had a dream. I told my mother that one day I will stop her from having to work."

It worked; she didn't have to. Enormously successful in appearances, this apparition of positive thinking brainstormed a business that proves he knew how to mind the store.

But then came the memory lapses -- reminders of the poverty he had come from and overthrown; soon the man with an eye on the future had put the future too much on the "I." "Success went to my head," but where better to go for a man of many mental talents.

Not so, he said. He was soon traveling without benefit of trains, planes or automobiles: I go, he goes ... ego: "In the '70s, I was on such an ego trip."

He got tripped up quickly. But then, mind games came naturally to Geller, who lets it slip that he's related to Sigmund Freud. "I became sick, suffered from panic attacks, anxiety; the determination to succeed" had sickened him.

It also didn't help that he suffered third-degree burnout from the third-degree interrogation he got on "The Tonight Show," from host Johnny Carson back in '73. Carnac the Magnificent wasn't so munificent, reportedly planting obstacles in the way of Geller gelling on camera.

No one had to rip open an envelope to question the fact that Geller couldn't push the envelope that night; he failed miserably.

But he found another talent; the alchemist would be okay, making lemon into lemonade.

"Ironic, isn't it?" says Geller of returning to the network that netted him the belly-flop that had almost sunk him.

"He humiliated me," recalls Geller of the great Carsoni who had laid him low on late-night TV with a slap in the face from a sleight-of-hand: slighting him by hiring his own behind-the-scenes setup artist.

An amateur magician himself, Carson conned the pro, according to Geller. "He had a magician set me up; I was devastated after the show."

But this was no abracadabra for an abecedarian; Geller discovered the ultimate magic mitzvah: "There is no such thing as bad publicity."

And the heartbreak was miraculously mended by many calls from talk-show hosts. "The next day, Merv Griffin, Tom Snyder, Jack Paar -- they were all on the line calling me."

The lines formed at the right -- and Geller had his career right back where he wanted it, on track, off and running. Nothing up his sleeves, nothing downing his spirits.

The name of the game? "No matter what they say about me, as long as they spell my name correctly."

You are correct, sir -- and the career correction was on its way. "What did Oscar Wilde say?" asks the man who has made book on knowing the answers. "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

Silence is not golden, but gutless. And word was Geller was gold.

Not everyone thought his mettle should go untested -- or untarnished. The thorn in his thalamus has been mentalist mandrake, the Amazing Randi -- debunker of de magic, the namesake of the James Randi Educational Foundation, whose $1 mil offer to anyone who can prove magicians' many feats are not standing on feet of clay has gone uncollected.

Randi has more than thrown the book at him; he's written a biography on Geller. Laws of physics ceded to laws of court as Geller sued the one-time magician, losing the case.

Geller is not at a loss for why he has sued for what he considers sewer allegations: "I'm a controversial person."

Far from a broken one, to be sure. "But I did break the spoon-bending [bit] into American culture," he says proudly.

There are those who would break the mentalist's head over such claims, citing Geller as one who speaks in a forked tongue, claiming that he's more adept at misdirection than maneuvering a spoon's bent.

But there are many swooning over his spooning, hoping that they, too, can make a meal ticket out of undulating utensils. Put a fork in it, he tells them: "When a young person e-mails me, telling me he or she wants to learn how to do it, I say, forget about spoon-bending; believe in yourself, do what you can do for yourself."

But, Uri, what's your secret? "When asked how I do it, my story is that it's a mystery."

From a man of mystery and mastery who proves that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a great way to Western wealth.

Not that Geller's talents are compass-constricted. His books, his shows, his appearances, his apparitions -- all apparently have globally gleaned a following that makes the 61-year-old even an icon of Ikea.

The Swedish are sweet on him, too; although he was slightly bent out of shape when, without telling him, they publicized a new line of bent furniture labeled the Uri.

Pull up a chair in court, Ikea? Case closed.

What's open to debate continuously, however, is the veracity of his version of physics and chemistry. Mind over matter matters to those whose minds he reads through "telepathic drawing," which draws on audience involvement.

And yet ... his is the "oy" that came in from the cold, called on by the FBI and CIA to work cold cases and given credence by an incredible cluster of legit agencies.

If there is an art in all this, maybe it's because Geller is an artist himself, designing album covers for rockers and having his paintings given wall space in galleries worldwide, including Israel.

Dilettante taunting the professionals? Dillydallying in art? Far from it; his greatest source of inspiration and artistic savior was surreal soulmate Salvador Dali.

"My whole hope has been that I would validate his surrealism," says the surrogate with portfolio of prestidigitation.

"My first meeting with him was at the Ritz Hotel in Barcelona," says Geller. Picture this: "Dali was freaked out when I bent a spoon in front of him."

The artist offered a memento for the brash brush with greatness. "He came back with a crystal, 'a gift from me to you,' which I treasure immensely."

What Geller doesn't value is theft of reputation. "Why do I sue so many people? I mind character assassination."

The killing fields these days center on a discovery he made recently in which a major magazine quoted a source as saying that "the Knesset has branded Uri Geller a disgrace to the State of Israel."

He followed parliamentary procedure to get to the base of the prevarication: "I called the Knesset; I called my friend Bibi [former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu], and was assured nothing like that was and would ever be said."

Is there a court crier about to cry out "O, yea! O, yea!" Oh, yeah, promises Geller.

But then, doubting Thomases and Tims don't intimidate him. "Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is still around," he says of spotting it in different world spots.

If he can see into the future, is it a vision with a victory sign? "I see it coming," he says of peace being pieced together in the midst of his Middle East roots, just a jet away from his current British residence.

As for helping the land of milk and honey find the missing honey pot of oil, why not just use his dowsing talent in the dunes?

A simple request is all it would take. That's oil, folks: "I've never been asked by the government."

What he's being asked now is to find a success on "Phenomenon." He and co-expert Criss Angel have crisscrossed the world (Angel is one of the world's master magicians who makes what happens in Vegas stay on the minds of millions once they leave) to find a successor.

Geller's definition of success "has nothing to do with money." And neither does Geller's personal take on phenomenon have "anything to do with power."

That, says the tot born into poverty in Tel Aviv, has to do with what he gleans from the Galilee, jimmies out of Jerusalem: Israel is the phenomenon.

"It is a power, a force, where I can feel the energy in the air. It triggers another dimension in me," says the man who may already have met up and mind-melded with the fourth dimension on his daring walk through the world's one-way mirror of wonders.

 

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