by Alix Cohen
At 83, The Amazing Kreskin seems to remember every name and date involved with experiences long past. Awareness is his modus operandi. Convinced that we’re fatally distracted- these days a state compounded by too much electronically generated information, he’s equally sure that human beings are as capable of reading one another as he is. It’s just that the mentalist has been honing his gift 78 years.
Talking to the indefatigable artist (364 appearances last year) is like standing in a strong wind. ‘Ever try to redirect wind? He communicates in enthusiastic whooshes clocking reaction with speedy instinct. “…and by the way…” Eyes are bright, speech emphatic, gestures staccato. Kreskin is having a good time…with life. Joseph Campbell would call it following his bliss.
The Amazing Kreskin appeared on The Tonight Show 88 times, arguably becoming the inspiration for Johnny Carson’s ‘The Great Carnac.’ (Later he was the inspiration for Tom Hanks’s movie The Great Buck Howard) In 2012, he called our presidential election on The Jimmy Fallon Show after calling the results in three earlier races. In 2016, he not only predicted the conquering Super Bowl team (the Broncos were decided underdogs), but sensed the number 24 which turned out to be the points by which they won.
“I’m not really looking into the future, but picking up the present thought patterns of the masses, including audiences and anticipating on how they would vote. The dramatic incident regarding the last Super Bowl is a personal experience I could not explain. “
The young New Jersey native began to realize his potential with a Mandrake the Magiciancomic book. A syndicated strip created by Lee Falk, it features a hero who foils crime by using telepathic abilities and hypnosis that causes hallucinations. The character also turns invisible, shapeshifts, levitates and teleports, but none of these skills compelled Kreskin like the first two. He felt-an affinity. “It enthralled me. Others played cops and robbers, I was always him.”
One rainy day, third grade teacher “Miss Curtis said, You’re not going out to play outside, so I’ll teach you a game.She sent Jane Hamilton out of the room and we hid a beanbag. Jane came back and Miss Curtis said, Now try to find it. Your classmates will tell you if you’re hot or cold.I didn’t get to go out of the room. I was so disappointed.”
That Sunday, he and his brother Joey walked to their Sicilian grandparents’ house. Kreskin sent his brother upstairs asking that he hide a penny somewhere. When Joey called, he walked into the kitchen, “moseyed around” and headed for the bedroom. His brother said nothing, offered no clues. Kreskin climbed onto a chair and reached behind a curtain rod feeling the coin. “My grandmother being Italian would probably have thought I had the Evil Eye, but she understood little English and had no idea what was going on.”
The feat “got around” and his family experimented with hiding items. In 6thgrade, Miss Galloway had Kreskin sharing his abilities for Show and Tell. During one such event, he asked the class to think of a movie they’d just seen. “I pointed to Gloria Dunn at the back of the room and told her she wasn’t doing it. Wait-were you thinking of a movie you saw at Christmas time? She said yes and named the movie…The bottom line is…”
Miss Gallaway had the boy in the 4thand 6thgrades. He didn’t find out till after college that she’d written every one of his teachers through high school saying we don’t understand this young man’s gift, but we must support it.
It was time to turn professional. Kreskin started performing at church parties, Italian and Polish events (the other half his heritage.) “There was no minimum wage then, so I was getting big money, $5.00 a show.” In Junior High, he graduated to doing his act for The Knights of Columbus and at benefits.
At Seton Hall, Kreskin majored in psychology and minored in religious philosophy. His family thought he might become a priest. It took 8 ½ years to finish college because he was working so much. Head of department was so impressed the young man was invited to teach a course in “the power of suggestion, how we can influence people.” That content, in tandem with alertness and recall, is part of his corporate coaching today.
Kreskin then worked part time for psychologist/psychology professor Dr. H. Hanson. “He said, I believe you can influence and handle some of my patients as a supportive technique to what I do. I was a hypnotist in those years. I taught myself and believed in it then. I would see patients using hypnotic techniques.”
Apparently there were dramatic results, but Kreskin sensed something was wrong. He’d intermittently worked with a “bad subject” who nonetheless resolved pressing issues. Were factors other than hypnosis involved? “I came to the conclusion that hypnosis doesn’t exist in any way shape or form. It’s all the power of suggestion.” Think what a placebo can do in a blind medical test or the efficacy of a voodoo stature to those who believe. “Alfred Hitchcock could terrify us with a black and white movie. Many of this swore they saw red blood.”
Next time the artist was onstage, he skipped inducing the trance and “convinced’ people to say and do things by suggestion= will? “I can make people forget their names or seal their eyelids. It’s that I’m able to harness a level of thinking where someone’s not critical.”
Sued by a hypnotist who advertised the practice in her therapy, the mentalist apparently showed that everything induced by a hypnotic state could be affected without it. When a woman was regressed in court- i.e. re-experiencing her past, he pointed out she wouldn’t know the therapist if her mind was in rooted in another time. Electroencephalograph tests showed people in so-called trances were, in fact, awake. The jury laughed. The case got thrown out.
Kreskin has also helped law enforcement authorities solve crimes. He helps witnesses remember what they’d seen. “We learn in psychology that all our experiences are recorded on an unconscious level. There’s only one problem. Some of what you remember is incorrect. That’s why hypnosis evidence is not accepted in most states. Suggestions by well meaning psychiatrists inadvertently influence. The bottom line is…”
“You get into a theater and need the audience with you. I condition them. People remember unusual things when I help direct the way they think. About 15 minutes in, I’ve got them. They have to listen and hear me.” Kreskin doesn’t choose people, he asks for volunteers. Sometimes he picks up negativity or danger he doesn’t want to reveal. The audience member is asked to see him afterwards. One night that person was intending to commit suicide. They spoke. 8 years later, a person comes forward and throws her arms around me. It was her.”
The signature climax of Kreskin’s act is to hand payment for his performance (the check) to a small group of volunteers and let himself be led outside the theater while they hide it within its confines. When he returns, those people are asked not to speak, just to concentrate on its location. If the performer doesn’t find it, he relinquishes the entire fee. “As of now, I’ve forfeit 10 times. That’s not many out of 6000 shows.”
Hiding places can be bizarre and inspired. Once the check rested inside a man’s upper mouth plate. Another time, it was rolled into the gun barrel of a plainclothesman. Kreskin found both.
The artist prefers the term paranormal (or sensitive) to psychic. I looked up the terminology of both on a number of web sites. Psychic ability is defined as the conscious use of intuition that’s been paid attention to and developed. Psychology training helps with keys to physical and aural tells. Paranormal applies to events or phenomena such as telekinesis or clairvoyance that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding. A fine line? I ask.
“I don’t consider myself psychic because it suggests a wide panorama of, including talking to the dead, possibly bringing back the dead, psychometry (reading the thoughts of objects), to foretelling individual’s futures, etc, etc. This is not a criticism of people who claim such abilities, except I don’t have them, and since I don’t drink that heavily, I don’t have signs of having those abilities. It isn’t that I don’t want to pin it down, it’s simply that I want to be specific.”
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Call it snake oil, a gift, or practiced skill– it’s clearly entertainment.
Decide for yourself April 12-28 on Theatre Row. https://www.cheaptickets.com/events/tickets/the-amazing-kreskin-3440205