James Hydrick Speaks — Part III
— With your fame and martial arts skills at the time, did Hollywood ever come calling for possible roles in film or television?
Hollywood came knocking a few times after my early shows. After the Korem show, Warner Brothers came and I signed a one-year contract and got a $4,200 advance for them to do my story on television special. They had the option, and were to pay me more monthly… but nothing happened. Slim Pickins was to play my farther in that one, but it aborted.
Then, in about 1985, I was in Atlanta. An offer rolled in from New York, I think from Motown. They did a few hours of audio recordings, but I wouldn’t allow video. It was to be a TV special that never happened. There was also another try by Michael Ovitz who was the agent for Steven Seagal. Michael used to say he could turn anyone into a movie star. It had had been my dream ever since as a youngster watching Bruce Lee with my dad when he was on the chain gang in jail. I was introduced to Michael by Ed Parker, and they were setting up a movie about my life, because Ed Parker was fascinated by it, but it never got past the planning stage. Ripley’s Believe It or Not featured me in a segment.
Two years ago, the New York documentary company who did the James Randi film An Honest Liar filmed 3 1/2 days of me at Coalinga for a James Hydrick documentary. That film is in the making, and they’re just waiting for more funding. My biographer, Steven Bo Keeley, is the consultant to that movie, and our book should be out within a year.
— How many students did you have training under you at the dojo at your peak?
I had 3,500 students training under me in martial arts in ’80 – 81 at Salt Lake City. It was the largest martial arts studio in the free world. About 10 percent were female, and the rest guys. It was mostly adults and a few youngsters. The majority were from Utah with about 10 percent from out of state and 5 percent from other countries like Brazil, Canada, and Israel. I tried to take people who were already advanced in martial arts, so it was a high quality group. There were three classes a day, morning, afternoon and evening, plus individual instruction.
— What happened with those students immediately following the Korem film? Did you speak to any of your classes about it, and if so, how did they feel?
Korem didn’t damage my martial arts program. People don’t care about illusions when it come to martial arts. However, Korem did damage my rep as a stage illusionist. He scripted and edited that show to promote himself and put me in the worst light as a magician. I used magic to get more martial arts students. I didn’t teach magic at the school, but consolidated martial arts with illusion to generate more martial arts students.
— Years after the Korem show, you reappeared on an episode of Sally Jessy Raphael. How did this come about?
Korem called me after his show and asked me to appear on Sally Raphael. They gave me a $3,500 appearance fee. I didn’t know particulars of what would happen. When I got to the show I was seated in the audience and thought it was a little strange. When the cameras started a guy next to me jumped up and said, “James Hydrick is sitting next to me.” The cameras swung to me, and then someone recognized Danny Korem in the audience. The cameras swung to him, and then back and forth. The discussion was minimal, and Korem used the Raphael show as a confirmation of his little victory in his earlier show.
— And were there any other less well-known JH TV appearances?
Dimension Five with Ed Jakes did a 30 minute piece on me in 1980 on KSL channel 5, the big news station. That was my debut. There was That’s Incredible, the Danny Korem show, and That’s My Line.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not did a segment saying, “How can a terribly abused kid with a third grade education use a nine inch pencil in a clever display of illusion to become the world’s greatest psychic?” Paul Harvey talked about me but there was no interview.
— Is there any truth to you being sought out as a figurehead for various cults? Or do you think Danny Korem was trying to portray you as more dangerous, like a possible Charles Manson that had to be stopped, to make his ‘exposé’ seem more important?
No one ever sought me out as a cult leader. I never introduced anyone to a cult and wasn’t asked to be in one. I don’t know how that rumor came about, but can guess. When I was living with my biographer Steve Bo Keeley in Salt Lake and just getting my dojo going, there were articles in the Mormon newspapers about how my illusions might come from the supernatural. Bo Keeley’s brother, a minister, saw these and contacted Danny Korem in Dallas asking him about it, since Korem was a Christian and a magician. That’s how the Korem show came about. That’s probably how the talk of me being a part of a cult got started. Again, I wasn’t part of a cult, and the people who came to my dojo were there for martial arts or to enhance their performances in professional baseball, boxing or other sports.
Danny Korem painted me as a villain, when he knew I wasn’t a villain. I was a young man with an abused childhood and a third grade education, and he was a slick illusionist. He took away the only thing I had, the chance to crawl out of the literal hole I came from. I’ll tell you something that will sound strange, but is true. I was tied to a tree with the pigs and dogs and forced to eat their food. I was molested by my step-mother, chained to my Dad’s steering wheel at nights when he bounced at bars, and raped repeatedly before I turned ten. That was the hole I was trying to crawl out of, and Korem took it away from me.
Korem didn’t like that I said things come from the mind as well as from illusions. Possibly he was jealous. James Randi encouraged me, and said ‘You are good. Keep going, kid‘, but Korem tried to discourage me. Randi wrote Korem after the show, and it’s a matter of record, that Korem committed a serious crime of morality on that show. But I retained my reputation as a martial artist and became successful.
In the upcoming Part IV, Hydrick talks about those famous TV appearances, how he developed the page-turning trick, and facing off against James Randi and his $10,000 challenge.
For more information about James Hydrick, or other, similar tales, check out my book, Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal.