MERE PUFFERY- THE CONFESSIONS OF A LEADING PSYCHIC
If one of the "world's leading psychics" confessed to being a
hoax what would he or she say? Seldom does the world find out
because leading psychics seldom ever reveal to the public the
tricks of their trade. In 1981, however, one of this country's
leading psychics did confess to being a hoax. That confession,
unfortunately, took place during a television special which was
aired only once and never repeated (a transcript was never
published). SCS is pleased to publish here for the first time
excerpts from that rare and fascinating television interview with
confessed psychic James Hydrick.
First some background information on James Hydrick. Hydrick
rose to national fame after appearing on a December 1980 taped
broadcast of ABC's popular program "That Incredible." Hydrick
appeared to demonstrate for the viewing audience very strong
psychokinetic powers. These powers enabled Hydrick to flip the
pages of a telephone book (without touching the book) and cause a
pencil to turn on a table merely by the power of his will. The
tabloid newspaper The Star quickly ran an article on Hydrick
labeling him "The World's Top Psychic." The glowing account
labeled Hydrick's powers as "incredible and staggering." Other
newspapers revealed that Hydrick could cure headaches and colds
with a touch and answer questions before they were asked.
A scientist and electrical engineer from the University of
Utah after much testing also concluded that Hydrick's psychic
powers were indeed authentic.
Hydrick claimed that he had learned these powers from special
training in the martial arts and that he could teach these powers
to anyone. Hydrick opened a popular and successful school were he
professed to be able to teach psychokinetic powers.
While Hydrick was fooling the gullible he was not fooling
magician and psychic investigator James Randi. As Randi recounted
the incident in the The Skeptical Inquirer (Summer 1981), "What
of the pencil and page tricks? Well, my jaundiced eye recognized
these as rather tired old tricks...Hydrick was simply blowing the
page over, and he spun the pencil around by the same means. Not
immediately evident are these facts, however: First, the blast of
air from a half-open mouth takes time to get to the props, and
Hydrick made sure he turned his head away from the pencil and the
page after giving a sharp puff of air, so that he was facing away
when the action occurred. Second, one blows not directly at the
prop but at the table surface."
Randi immediately offered Hydrick his prize of $10,000 for
proof of one paranormal demonstration under proper conditions of
observations. Hydrick accepted Randi's offer and agreed to be
tested on the TV show "That's My Line." During a rehearsal
practice session with Hydrick the day before the actual taping
Randi had the session, unknown to Hydrick, videotaped, with a
highly sensitive microphone aimed and focused at Hydrick's mouth,
and with the amplifier turned up far beyond normal voice level.
Randi's microphone recorded monumental blasts of air every time
the page moved or the pencil turned.
For the actual taped show Hydrick was allowed to perform each
trick once without any controls; then he was required to submit
to a controlled test designed by Randi. John Palmer, a member of
the Parapsychological Association and two UCLA scientists were
called in as judges of Hydrick's abilities. The prize check was
held by "That's My Line" host Bob Barker, and was to be
surrendered to the proper person at the close of the test.
Randi's simple but controlled test involved emptying a small
can of styrofoam particles around the open book. In this way, any
blowing would show up as a massive movement of the particles. In
case Hydrick claimed that his power could not differentiate
between the pages of the book and the styrofoam particles, Randi
was prepared to place a simple germ-mask on his face, which would
in no way interfere with his breathing or his psychic functions
but would prevent one thing-blowing. Not only did Hydrick fail to
perform with the styrofoam particles in place, but he refused
altogether to use the face mask. Hydrick spent ninety minutes
trying to move the page of the telephone book without success.
The judges were polled, and all agreed absolutely that Hydrick
had failed to show them anything paranormal. What was Hydrick's
reply? "This isn't a magician's trick. I just can't come up -
bang bang - and its over. I have to be where I can work with
something small than big to build up my own self. It isn't a
trick. It has to be done...It's mental power."
A few months later Hydrick again agreed to undergo testing of
his psychic abilities. This time proper controls were used and he
failed to exhibit any psychic powers. Hydrick giving in to a lost
cause confessed to magician Danny Korem. Korem was part of the
team testing Hydrick. Also present was Hugh Ainsworth, a former
bureau chief for Newsweek. Hydrick began his confession by
talking of his fascination with magicians at the age of nine.
HYDRICK: He [the magician] would show how easy it was to trick
people. Slight-of-hand, etc. Things like that impressed me. How
close-minded a lot of people really were. It was so fascinating
to see how people would miss things just like that. The obvious
things they would miss. I was impressed by Houdini's trick of
vanishing an elephant off a stage. I could figure out how it was
done. I began to think, if people go crazy over that, maybe I
should do something people go crazy over.
KOREM: Why did you feel that you had to tell people that you had
powers that you didn't have?
HYDRICK: Because I wanted attention. My parents would never give
it to me. I would always be ignored or kicked around. I had to do
this to make me feel good. It gave me confidence. Everytime
someone thought what I did was very good but I'd never tell them
what it was. I'd tell them it was something else. Because if I
told them what it was they would say "Fine, it's just a trick."
But I would always tell them it was something else so I would
continue to get recognition.
KOREM: You were on "That's Incredible" a few months ago and you
really tricked them.
HYDRICK: I tricked the whole world.
KOREM: Yes. What did it make you feel like?
HYDRICK: I did that to reach. It's like a hand reaching out for
recognition. I don't know...I just wanted to be known. I needed
to be recognized. All my life, I've been...I hate to keep going
back to the past, but I don't know. I wanted to do that because
it was different. I just wanted to see how open minded people
were. I wanted to see if these people who were so-called
intelligent and I was so-called dumb; I mean, surely I'm here for
a reason. My whole idea behind this in the first place was to see
how dumb America was. How dumb the world is.
KOREM: How do you cause the objects to move?
HYDRICK: People are looking [at the object] and waiting and so it
moves, ok? Actually it didn't move from psychic powers it moved
from something else - physical. It moves from air currents.
KOREM: From where?
HYDRICK: From my mouth. But you can't tell it because it took so
many years of practicing to get this down pat to where you can't
KOREM: What you did, if I'm not mistaken, was to take somebody,
hold their hand and get them to point at the leaf and then you
would make the leaf move?
HYDRICK: Right. It's called the power of suggestion. Once you can
get a person to believe that he can actually do something - then
perhaps he can do it.
KOREM: What did you do? Can you show me?
HYDRICK: First of all I'm not just puffing out the air because
that can be seen. I am taking the air from my inside and making
it come out in a way in which it doesn't show. I can direct the
air in a way that it hits head on every time. I spent one year
and six months in solitary confinement. All this time I had been
thinking and thinking...then that's it!
KOREM: You had all the time you needed to learn how to breath and
make it move.
HYDRICK: I had spent hours and hours. I'd hold by breath.
Different breathing controls. So many ways. I could make deputies
think someone touched them on their neck because I could breath
in a certain way on their neck. They would feel something and say
"That's a ghost!" They would piss on the floor and go running out
of there! It was something that was fascinating to me and it got
me recognition. I mean every deputy in that jail was so
frightened of me. "That guy is possessed!" I remember when I was
in the Chaplin's office. He taught me how to read and write. And
I would convert people from bad to good. He told me that you had
to turn them onto Jesus, the Lord. And he gave me a Bible and I'd
read it. Then I got an idea! Now, I've never told Brother Joe
this, and I've never told anyone this, but I would convert twenty
inmates a day. That was my limit. I would have to convert twenty
inmates a day. I'd get up there and start telling them about
Jesus and stuff. And when I'd see that they were beginning to get
turned off - I'd stop and say "You don't believe that it exists?"
- I'd take a Bible and open it up and say "If the Lord is here
with me make these pages move!" or I'd open the Bible and say
"Hold the Bible. Father in the name of Jesus Christ make these
pages move." And the pages would move! And the guys are going "Oh
my God!!!" Everytime it worked. Then I would say "It's in you."
Or I take a pencil and put it there and say I've got to call the
Lord; but you are going to have the power to do this if you
accept the Lord. The next thing you know you would see them with
this big cross and handing Bibles out to people!
When in Egypt performing for family members of the late Anwar Sadat, Hydrick relates how he healed a woman stricken by a heart
HYDRICK: She strongly believed that I could actually heal her.
KOREM: What did you do that made her believe that?
HYDRICK: I'd move things. I'd show her so many things. I would
touch her and she would feel weird things. But its only in her
mind. She wanted to feel those things.
KOREM: Do you feel bad because you...
HYDRICK: No! No! I don't feel bad at all. It would be different
if you tricked them and done wrong, but I tricked them for their
KOREM: Were adults fooled by what you did as well as children?
HYDRICK: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, there was more adults
fooled then children.
HYDRICK: Because a lot of the adults are looking for something
like this. They want to see something like this.
KOREM: Do you think that parents watching this particular program
might think that what you are trying to start was a cult?
KOREM: You did not want to start a cult.
KOREM: You know that you can't read and write and that you lack
education. Do you think the possibilities existed that somebody
could have used you to start a cult?
HYDRICK: Absolutely! Kurbegovic. King Moharem Kurbegovic, the
Applebit bomber, who blew up the airport in LA. He wanted to use
me for a cult. Sirhan Sirhan who was part of the cult Aliens of
America (AOA). These people wanted to use me as a leader of their
KOREM: How did they want to use you?
HYDRICK: To brainwash people. By showing that this power came
from something that it didn't. As with the Jim Jones incident.
That would never have taken place if peoples' minds would have
been open. It would have been stopped.
Editor's note. Hydrick's connection with Sirhan Sirhan has never
been verified. Hydrick is now serving time in jail