The Amazing Kreskin: The Power of Suggestion
by Rich Rosell
dOc recently cornered the very busy Amazing Kreskin, who has nearly 60 years under his belt as a mentalist and thought reader. With the release of The Amazing Kreskin DVD he is venturing into new territory, but he took some time to talk about his influences, predictions, mediums, as well as his thoughts on Houdini.
dOc: What do you prefer people call you?
Kreskin: Just Kreskin.
dOc: When did you become The Amazing Kreskin?
Kreskin: Well, my family name is Kresge, I'm Polish-Italian. Kresge was also the name of a department store in which we had no financial interest. My God, I would have had all the games and toys I could want if we had been part of that. I decided early in my life that I was going to create a name that was my own, so I dropped the "ge" and added "kin" and created Kreskin. I never wanted the title "Amazing Kreskin", but it actually came from Johnny Carson, who I did 88 shows with him He had a routine with Ed McMahon—Ed and I were talking about it the other day—if he were to have me on he'd say "you know, the last time we had Kreskin on he was only 90% amazing", and Ed would say "no, he was 95% amazing", and it would go on and on. People then started calling me "Amazing" when I was traveling, and I said "What are you talking about?", and of course 88 shows was a wonderful history with Carson, and that's where it came out of. dOc: That's not a bad name to have.
Kreskin: On my credit cards, it's a treat. I had a private corporate performance last night in Atlantic City, and I took out my credit card, and it says "T A Kreskin". Of course people think it's "Thomas" or something, but it's really "The Amazing Kreskin".
dOc: If I looked on your business card, what it would say your job title is?
Kreskin: I don't really have a card, but I suppose it might be "mentalist" or "thought reader". Who would have ever dreamt, if I hired from day one the greatest public relations firm, that I could have ever guessed that the name "Amazing Kreskin" would become part of popular culture. dOc: It's almost become common vernacular.
Kreskin: I was performing a couple of weeks ago for a private party in Los Angeles for some of Spielberg's people, and I was reading people's thoughts for about 60 some people. When it was over some writer got up and said "you know, there's a television series on Thursdays called Night Stalker, and we're going to send you last week's episode to look at a certain segment". In the story they're chasing this serial killer whose crimes are horrendous, and the characters are saying the killer is so focused, and has been in solitary confinement for such a long, long time that they describe him as a "homicidal Amazing Kreskin".
Kreskin: It's followed me everywhere, and so during the month of October I was signing everything "The Homicidal Amazing Kreskin." So now my secretary, when she knows I'm in the office, locks the door of her office.
dOc: Your name does show up quite a bit.
Kreskin: The series The Medium had an incident where one of the characters told his friend "you'd better get to the hospital, I don't have good feelings about you", and other guy says "you're crazy". It turns out later he has a massive coronary, and when they meet in the hospital room he lifts up his head and says "Kreskin?" At least I'm not described as a child molester, murderer, serial killer or terrorist.
dOc: Your career seems as strong now as it's ever been.
Kreskin: Two years ago, in one year, I did 341 appearances around the world. Last year, not as many, but I was in Spain, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Wales, Netherlands, Canada. Two years I did an AFLAC commercial with the duck where I was supposed to be hypnotizing this gentleman on stage, and the duck was in the wings. And of course it ends up with the duck crowing like a chicken, and it became Advertising Age's most recognized commercial of the year. But there's one downside to the whole thing, and that is no longer, ever again, can I ever enjoy roast duck.
dOc: I've been a fan of magic and mentalism since I was a kid, and I used to look forward to your appearances with Johnny Carson and on The Mike Douglas Show.
Kreskin: I did 118 shows with Mike.
dOc: And I think I saw most of them.
Kreskin: There was someone, years ago, on television named Joey Bishop. He had a show opposite Carson, and he had me on as a regular, and the day that Bishop went off the air the next day Carson's secretary called and said "we're now going to have you on regularly." It's been quite a voyage, taking me around the world even to countries that don't speak English. I enjoy my work immensely.
dOc: How about your famous predictions?
Kreskin: For the past fourteen years, around New Years, beginning four days before and after, I'd do all the talk shows and news shows about how I think the world is going to change. Fourteen years ago CNN came to me asked if I'd go on the air with some astrologers and psychics to make predictions, and I said "I'm not into this business, and I can't figure out why psychics don't spend more time at racetracks."
dOc: That's a good question.
Kreskin: And they said "well, you travel a lot". In fact, as of four months ago, the airline industry has announced that in my career I've flown three million miles, so it's been a tremendous amount of travel. So I went on and made some frivolous predictions—I thought they were stupid—then I realized that people are predicting all the time. The weathermen go on everyday by looking at current events, and our economic and financial advisors, who don't seem to be very good wealthy because they're wise enough not to take their own advice, they give us advice. We look at history, and of course the only thing we learn from history is that we never learn anything from history. I've had some extraordinary coverage, and Celebrity Justice, which is an NBC series, played a piece a few months ago that I can't look at. They did a profile on me, and they used a segment from CNN in January 1st, 2001, and I was promoting my book called Kreskin And The Stars where I went to 60 famous people to ask them to predict the future of their field. There were predictions by prominent writers, politicians, psychiatrists, Seinfeld, Regis. They then read from a Newsweek article where I had given about 18 or 20 predictions, and the first one was that we are at war that public does not know about as of yet, a war of terrorism, and it could develop into biological warfare. At that moment I interrupted on the air live, and I said "I don't know why I'm saying this, but I think in September of this year there could be a disaster involving four airlines."
dOc: Now there's a prediction.
Kreskin: Needless to say, I can't tell you the amount of time I spent with intelligence and CIA people. But having toured the Middle East five different years, it goes back to if we don't learn from history it's just disastrous.
dOc: Where did the idea for the new Kreskin DVD come from?
Kreskin: This was not my idea. The company, Kultur, came to me with the idea of doing this, and I had more fun doing this. It has some thing to do with stunts in it, and we even have a pendulum that comes with it where people observe me onscreen, and they can watch me on the DVD and it will actually react. A lot of it has to do with show how to "fake" being Kreskin, how to have a good time and fake being yours truly. I had a ball. I even stole from the oldtime mediums from the 1800s that had seances, and it was a very intriguing area.
dOc: That would be the spread of spiritualism.
Kreskin: Yes. Every town had six, seven, eight, ten mediums. Mediums were the popular form of entertainment because where else, at period in history where things were rather conservative, could you get together with a group of people in semi-darkness and hold hands? Think about it. There was no television, there was no radio. There was much more to the seance than people being suckered, and I'm not saying all mediums were frauds because we do have channellers today. But I often just wondered why they don't just communicate with an unsolved murder victim and say "hey, just give us a tip". dOc: Medium stunts are always fun.
Kreskin: I show how people can cause a table to tilt, and a youngster can do it if he watches the explanation and scare the daylights out of everyone. But if anyone gets too scared, don't anyone come back and sue me for that. It's very expensive! But it's all fun on the DVD.
dOc: One of the segments on the disc has you appearing to hypnotize a large group of people. What's the difference between hypnosis and the power of suggestion?
Kreskin: I have said now for over 35 years that there is no hypnotic state. I don't believe hypnosis exists as a state, condition, trance, or anything whatsoever. Because everything that is supposed to be possible supposedly with a person in a trance is possible with the individual wide awake through pure suggestion. The power of suggestion. Now there is no way to show a hypnotic trance, which has caused me to go on trial in the 1980s. I was tried by a jury because a hypnotist wanted to prove scientifically that a hypnotic trance exists in order to win $50,000 I had offered. The trial ended up in my favor. I won the case, he didn't win the $50,000, but the trial cost me $112,000 so don't let anyone try to convince you that there's justice in the courts. In England if you go on trial and you win, the other side has to pay your expenses, not that these people could. Now I offer $100,000, but anyone who challenges me has to pay all expenses.
dOc: You've had a very long career, spanning nearly six decades, known primarily as a mentalist.
Kreskin: I'm almost 70 years old, and I've been doing it since I was 12.
dOc: Who were your influences as a child?
Kreskin: There were really two major influences which are largely forgotten today, and one was Arthur Godfrey. He was a legendary figure in early radio and TV, in fact when A&E did his bio they called him "the forgotten giant". He was, hard to believe, the most powerful single individual in the recorded history of radio or television. The other person was a famous bishop that was on TV, called Bishop Sheen. He was a Catholic priest who became a prominent bishop, and he gave half-hour talks and even atheists loved him.
dOc: You are an extremely accomplished mentalist and performer, though I have read that you ascribe that talent to something called "hyperaesthesia", which you call "an almost unconscious raising of the threshold of one?s senses".
Kreskin: Interesting. I have to tell you something, and this has not been brought up to me for a long time and it came up earlier today when I was asked if I had a hearing problem, and here you are bringing up hyperaesthesia. It's a very old term, and it's not common today, meaning an unusually high threshold of one of the senses. Certainly animals have a high sense of smell, and I have extraordinary high sense of hearing. One of my favorite examples of how extraordinary my hearing is has to do with a time I was performing at Carnegie Hall. It was my first time there, in the 1970s, full balconies, and a young man whispered to his girlfriend in the balcony and I heard it. I repeated the phrase back and got a big laugh, because only a few people around him knew what the whole thing meant. He came back to later and said "how the hell did you hear me?"
dOc: Does that condition cause any problems for you?
Kreskin: There is a downside. Today, much of our entertainment is awfully loud, and I can't go into certain restaurants because the music is so loud that I can't handle it. Have you noticed that even our movies are being played louder in the past few years?
dOc: It seems like a sensory overload scenario that is actually replacing entertainment content. It's action sequences and special effects.
Kreskin: You've really hit it. That's a very interesting remark, because I've been with a lot of movie people out in Los Angeles and what you said is sort of a sociological commentary. Everybody in the business points out that movies are not as well written as they once were. Two heroes in my life, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, all realized that fear and horror are in the mind, and that is where stories and mysterious incidents happen. In shadows. In grays.
dOc: When you do your performances, reading a group of strangers, you do that as entertainment, correct?
Kreskin: I do not give people so called psychic advice.
dOc: So what you do is a learned skill?
Kreskin: I think it's part of my lifestyle, and for me to say your going to be able to do exactly what I do, well that's just not fair.
dOc: What are thoughts on people like Uri Gellar, who claim things like his spoonbending powers came from mysterious encounter with a sphere of light while in a garden near his home? His approach seems to be that he has some mystical power as opposed that he is a clever magician.
Kreskin: My only comment is this. God forbid if he really has this talent to bend and change forms inadvertently, if I had a pacemaker I wouldn't want to be around him. I think if we just logically think some of this out, there are definitely, from my perspective, abilities that people have, such as some unique forms of perception. Instead of criticizing channellers, if we just reason it out there are some things that just don't make sense. Talking to the dead? I'm not saying that something does survive, but most of the Judeo Christian beliefs of the Western world are based on that. I love contradictions in our lives, and if things were not tragic in many ways God would be in Heaven looking down and laughing. If you're talking to God, you're praying. But if you say you hear him talking to you, they say you're schizophrenic.
dOc: How do you feel about people Penn and Teller or James Randi, who enjoying targeting those who claim that implied paranormal events are nothing more than well-crafted tricks?
Kreskin: They have an agenda. And you have to understand something, they keep mentioning Houdini. Talk about double standards. He was certainly the greatest escape artist of all time, but he was not a successful magician. He was an extraordinarily unsuccessful one. Houdini was extremely superstitious, he didn't perform on certain days, he had talismans to protect himself from things. The reason Houdini got involved with exposing mediums was a show business thing. It was very clearly that.
dOc:Randi has his ongoing Million Dollar Challenge that awaits the individual who can prove, in a controlled setting, that they have "super" powers.
Kreskin: When someone today offers a million dollars to prove that paranormal abilities exist, you need to go back to Houdini's challenges. There was no way on the face of the Earth that anyone could win Houdini's challenges because he had so many outs. I'm not saying they don't have a message, but there's not a reporter on the face of the Earth who thinks anyone is going to win the million dollars Randi offers. Now if you go to a casino, you'll have a better chance.