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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Randi, Carson, and Geller

In a Miami Herald profile, James Randi discusses how he helped Johnny Carson show up Uri Geller when the latter was booked on the show to do one of his mentalist tricks:

Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, an amateur magician himself, called Randi for advice about an upcoming Geller appearance on the show.

Geller had been wowing audiences with the same experiment that had won over the Stanford scientists, a variation of the shell game that street hustlers use to con rubes out of their money. Geller would be presented with a tray bearing 10 small aluminum film canisters. Nine were empty; the 10th contained a steel ball. Geller’s challenge was to pick the one containing the ball, which he was able to do with near 100 percent accuracy.

“Glue the containers to the tray so they can’t move,” Randi advised Carson. “And his powers will mysteriously fail.” Sure enough, Geller couldn’t pick a container, even when Carson paused the show’s taping for 20 minutes. “I don’t feel strong tonight,” he complained before finally giving up.

“I had already seen film of Geller doing this trick,” Randi recalled. “Every time he was offered the tray, he tilted it slightly, this way and that way. I was sure he was watching for tiny movements of the canisters that would tell him which one had the ball inside.”

Their wrangling, legal and otherwise, continues to this day. It is anything but friendly. A television crew once accidentally caught footage of a chance encounter of the two men in which Randi refused to shake Geller’s hand. (“Do you really suppose Churchill and Hitler would shake hands?” Randi once retorted when asked about the incident.)

Randi, however, thinks their quarrel may be nearly over. Noting that Geller in recent interviews has begun referring to himself as a “mystifier” rather than a psychic, Randi believes Geller may be on the verge of confessing that his paranormal powers were just a long, profitable hoax.

“He wants to come out and say, ‘I fooled everybody.’ Or, at least, everybody but me,” Randi said. “But he can’t do that. Universities and governments all over the world have spent millions of dollars investigating the Geller Effect, as he calls it. He’d be sued out the gazoo if he said he was faking it. Now I think he’s trying to ease the transition with this word ‘mystifier,’ so people won’t be so mad at him when he finally admits that none of it was true.”
Here's how it looked that night on NBC...

Read the full piece on Randi here.