Q&A: The Amazing Kreskin

Did you predict that the world's premier mentalist would be performing in Connecticut soon? Well, you were right.

 

 Don’t call The Amazing Kreskin a psychic, a medium, a fortune tel­ler or any other name that smacks of paranormal hib­bity-jib­bity. He calls himself a mentalist. “I don’t want people to think I have supernatural powers,” he says. “What I do is a form of thought transference, an ability­ to sense what people are thinking and feeling when I’m around them. But those people have to concentrate, or I can’t do anything. It doesn’t mean that when I walk into a room I know what everyone’s thinking. I couldn’t live that way, and who’d want to live with me?” Kreskin’s best-known demonstration of mentalism is a routine he’s done worldwide—and will bring to Connecticut when he plays Bridgeport’s Downtown Cabaret Theatre Feb. 18 & 19 (203/576-1636, dtcab.com) and Infinity Music Hall & Bistro March 4 (866/666-6306, infinityhall.com).

We're talking to you about your shows in Bridgeport next February . . .

Is that right? If I don't have my schedule right in front of me, I wouldn't know where I was going next . . .

But you're Kreskin, aren't you?

[laughs] I'm booked heavily until April. Things have been pretty hectic for me. Last year, I did 237 appearances around the world. In 2010, the number was 301. And in 2008, the airline industry announced that I had flown a little over three million miles at that point in my career. I just got back from Vancouver, B.C.—I spend eight to 10 weeks a year in Canada.

During the Christmas holidays in 2010, I was headlining at the Riviera in Las Vegas for three months. I ended up on the CBS Morning News because in the last seven weeks of my run, when I was playing Vegas five nights a week, I still managed to fly 68,000 miles to other gigs in between. CBS asked me how I manged to meet that schedule, because there are so many dilemmas in flying these days; it's a hassle.

So at age 77, you're still the busiest man in show business.

It's been an extraordinary career. Who would have thought, a few years ago, that Tom Hanks would make the movie The Great Buck Howard? I think John Malkovich studied my videos for hundreds and hundreds of hours. He did quite a job, and got my mannerisms and phrasing down pat. The only downside was he had to spend three days learning my handshake. Regis Philbin once said that I shake hands in a way that is the dream of every chiropractor. There is some energy in it.

Growing up, I remember seeing you in scores of TV talk-show appearances. What were your favorite shows to guest on?

It's impossible to pick one show, because I have a special reverence for some of them that's unusual in this business. I'm thrilled to have been on Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night" more times than any other guest—four times in one year. And I've enjoyed working with Mike Huckabee, though that's an older, different audience. But I have a special fondness and feeling for Regis; it was very difficult when he left his show. ABC sent me a beautiful letter asking if I would be there for his last show. I've known the man for almost 40 years and have done 104 shows with him—we go back to the days when he was an announcer for Joey Bishop.

People have asked me if I have any idea who will replace him. The answer's very simple: Nobody. Over the last 28 years, them man has created a one-of-a-kind image. There are very few people in this industry who are exactly the same offstage as their public persona, and he's one. Tom Hanks, I think, is another. You can't say that about many people, whether they be in show business or politics.

David Letterman's been very good to me. A couple of years ago, when my hometown of Montclair, N.J., decided to throw a party for my 75th birthday, he had a birthday party on the air for me that same night, even though I couldn't be there. But he never sent me a piece of the cake.

I did 88 shows with Johnny Carson, more than any guest in the history of the series. His character Carnack, the Magnificent is based on yours truly. I did 101 shows with Merv Griffin, who showed interest and believed in me at a pivotal point in my career. And I did 112 shows with Mike Douglas.

 

Speaking of Jimmy Fallon, I understand you made a very special prediction on his show recently.

Yes, regarding the 2012 presidential election. It's a dramtic scenario. He now has in a safe—and I'm the only one who knows the combination—my predictions as to the results. What made it challenging for me is that I didn't just name the candidate who would win, but also the Republican contender, and you know, a few months ago there were still about 16 of them. Anyway, we've made an agreement that any time I'm on the show, there will be a guard standing next to the safe. I wrote it out by hand on the show but the camera was blocking off what I wrote—Fallon himself has no idea.

A second copy is in the hands of a man who used to be in TV but is now a columnist in Las Vegas, Robin Leach. A third copy is with a radio personality who does a lot of political interviews in New Jersey, and who went to the same high school I did. And a fourth is in a miniature sealed combination safe hanging over the bar of Patsy's in New York City, made famous because it was Sinatra's favorite restaurant. What more worthy place for something dealing with politics?

All four parties are going to confirm my predictions two days after the election. I'd already written them some months ago, in Las Vegas; but in the interim, I'd changed my mind because I realized Mike Huckabee wouldn't be seeking office. A number of people back then knew that I had written them out, and was going to put them in a strongbox as part of my live act. As God is my judge, the day I wrote this message out in my hotel room, I got a call from a gentleman who knew I had done this, even though there were only five people in Vegas I told. He asked me if he could come upstairs to my hotel room and if I said "yes," he'd hand me $20,000 cash. Two days later he called again; then when I got back to New Jersey he called a third time.

I'm sure it was a tabloid ruse. If I'd have taken the money, I would have given it to an animal charity. I have four cats at home—if I didn't travel all the time I'd have six dogs, a llama, and would also, absolutely have a pig, because—Carson and I used to talk about this—they're highly intelligent animals.  And one thing about animals is, they don't betray people.

So what can we expect from your performances in Bridgeport?

The highlight of my program will be what has been written about all over the world—and the last third of Buck Howard deals with this, because the man who wrote the screenplay, Sean McGinly, worked with me for a couple of years and is now a playwright.

I'll assemble a committee of strangers onstage, five or six, to whom I'll hand my paycheck for each evening. Then I'll be escorted from the theater, and this committee will hide my check anywhere within the theater's confines. When I return, if I don't guess where my check is hidden, it will be given back to the theater to be used as the management wishes.

I've failed to find the check nine out of 6,000 times, and I've done this all over the world. I had a haunting experience in New Zealand—I failed in a coliseum there, and the next morning I did a press conference on the steps of the theater that I'm told was broadcast on practically every channel in the country. I lost $51,000 that night; the money was turned over to a children's hospital.

The money has been hidden in the wildest places. At the University of Illinois I found it, among 8,000 people, under the upper dental plate in a man's mouth. I asked him if he had a new roof in his mouth; he took out his upper plate and handed me my check. At a dinner for Bob Hope, with 1500 media people in attendance, I was on the dais and shoved my hand into a turkey—they had cooked it in the stuffing.

On another occasion with an audience of 8,000, a plainclothesman pointed a gun toward my eye—the check was in the barrel of the gun. We got it out with tweezers. As reviewers have said, this routine is almost like watching a live mystery play, except that each night the solution is different because my audience creates the challenge.

 

How did you first learn about your mental abilities?

I got started on a rainy day in 3rd grade. We were playing a game of "Hot & Cold" with the teacher; she hid a beanbag in the room. I never got to play in class, but when I went home that day, I told my brother about it—I was 9 years old, he was 6. I remember we went to my grandparents' house and I told him to hide a penny in the house. When he called to tell me it was done, I remember I just went into the bedroom of their house, climbed up on an old maroon chair and found the penny behind the curtain rod. I never actually played the game with my brother. And my grandparents were Old World people from Sicily—I'm sure my grandmother must have thought I had the evil eye.

My teachers—especially Miss Galloway in the 4th grade—became very enamored of my abilities. We had Show & Tell on Fridays, and she had me practice with my classmates. I remember one Friday, I told everyone, "Think of any movie," and I pointed to Gloria Palmer, who was sitting in the back of the class next to Judy Dunn. And I named a movie, and it was exactly the one she was thinking of. By my teens, I was performing professionally at conferences and parties. What was very inspiring—and I didn't learn about it until after I finished college—was that Miss Galloway had quietly written personal letters to my junior high and high school teachers saying, "Even though I don't understand his gift, I feel that you must support him." How many teachers would do that?

How do you describe your abilities?

I call myself a "mentalist," which is a word I use because I don't want people to think I have supernatural powers. Dr. Margaret Mead was a tremendous supporter of mine. She used to bring 200 students to my performances, saying, "I've written about this ability in primitive tribes, but in modern culture it seems to be a largely dormant phenomenon." She felt that this was a gift, that I'm a highly sensitive person.

But I'm not a fortune teller, the people I'm performing in front of really have to concentrate. Otherwise, I can't do anything. I think what I do is a form of thought transference, an ability to almost sense how people feel when I'm around them. However, that doesn't mean that if I walk into a room I automatically know what everyone's thinking. First of all, I couldn't live that way; secondly, who'd want to live with me?

You've amazed a lot of people. What or whom do you find amazing?

I never guessed that my name would become such a part of our culture. It's really been extraordinary. My work has touched many areas of the culture—when terrorists have attacked, they've brought me on news shows to discuss that. I've spent my life tuning into the thoughts of people; it's not some magic act. I have a sense of what's on people's minds—it's part and parcel of what I do.

As for people, I'd say I find those who have been able to grapple with life and rise above the most negative circumstances amazing.

Q&A: The Amazing Kreskin

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