The Incredible Gall of
"The Amazing Kreskin"

by Gary P. Posner

As seen on
Who2
 


"It's not a magic act," Kreskin assured the viewers of WTVT's Eye on Tampa Bay  on January 7, 1992. "The Amazing Kreskin," billed for years as "The World's Foremost Mentalist," and in town for a January 8-12 engagement at Clearwater's Showboat Dinner Theatre, was responding to host Kathy Fountain's question as to what he means by "mentalist." But if Kreskin's isn't a magic act, it's the closest imitation of one this side of Uri Geller's.

Kreskin, in his typically ingratiating and self-promoting manner, began the TV show by mentioning that Johnny Carson's "Carnac is a satire of me" (but not a word about his own routine being modeled after that of the 1940s and early '50s magician "The Great Dunninger"). He also wasted little time in complimenting Fountain's earrings and, noting that "very few cities" have live interview shows like Eye,  he implored the audience to "hold onto this show." Had a member of TBS been available for the audience, as we had earlier planned, Kreskin might have regretted those words before the 30 minutes were over, and might not have been motivated to say "I love you" to Fountain as the show's final few seconds ticked away.

As always, Kreskin disowned the label "psychic" ("I cannot foretell the future") while claiming psychic-type powers ("I can read people's thoughts"). As an example of his non-psychic yet amazing "intuition," Kreskin told of how three years ago, "I studied for 30 hours" before correctly predicting "for one of the networks" the six main Academy Award winners, even noting that "in the foreign movie category I couldn't come to a decision [between] two movies. . . . [And] it was the first time in years that it was a tie and both movies [won]." When he added that "They opened [the predictions] the next day on the air" (i.e., that his alleged predictions were only revealed after the fact ), the audience members' applause attested to their lack of appreciation of the point's real significance.

Eye  producer Joyce Pearson had notified TBS of Kreskin's appearance about a week in advance, allowing us time to provide much skeptical material, including three articles from the National Capital Area Skeptics (NCAS) newsletter Skeptical Eye,  and the two chapters from The Psychology of the Psychic  (Kammann and Marks, Prometheus Books, 1980) which dissect/debunk Kreskin's entire stage routine. As a result, Kathy Fountain asked Kreskin to address "the charges by some skeptics who say this is really a glorified magic act, that a magician could do the things that you do." (The eyebrows of one of the two audience members visible in the camera shot rose dramatically with that question.)

In his response, Kreskin stated that "I still offer $50,000 to anybody in the world who can prove I employ paid assistants, confederates in any phase of my program. No one has ever collected it." (But no one makes that charge.) He added, "I don't have that much skepticism [about me] anymore. . . . People have seen me work for so many years with celebrities and the general public on television. If things were rigged, by now someone would have blown the whistle, because people who work for royalty even write exposés on what people eat and throw away in the garbage. . . . In our culture today, trust has gone out the window . . . and I haven't had any problems through my career." Although Fountain possessed a few 18 ct. gold "whistles," including one recovered from "the garbage," she opted to break for a commercial -- I sympathize with her dual, and sometimes conflicting, responsibilities as both gracious host/interviewer and anchor/newswoman.

The incriminating "garbage" involved the one trick in Kreskin's stage show whose solution could only be deduced by Marks and Kammann, and which was finally solved 10 years later by members of NCAS during a 1990 D.C. area performance by Kreskin. After collecting written messages from the audience, Kreskin had someone select one, memorize it, tear the paper into pieces and throw the scraps onto the floor. Kreskin, of course, correctly "divined" the message, but NCAS members later recovered the scraps while Kreskin was backstage, compared the handwriting on the message to Kreskin's own,  and published their findings (with photos) in their Winter 1990-91 Skeptical Eye.

When the program resumed, Kreskin informed Fountain that "I haven't said anything -- the folks of the staff know this -- but this test is going to be done with you. But I didn't want you to know." Fountain, in the 'spirit' of things (so to speak), responded, "Oh, really! Oh, gee! I hate when they surprise me!" And as the audience laughed, Kreskin added, "Ah, no, no. We've pre-arranged nothing. You don't know what I'm going to do, do you?" to which Fountain replied, "No, no, I don't." Kreskin then wrote a hidden word on a card and sat it against the table, facing it away from the audience and camera. He then asked Fountain to collect five items from the audience. After she did so, and handed them to Kreskin, he stated, to emphasize the spontaneity of the situation, "And I'll tell you, I did not intend to do this," but that he decided to only after a questioner made a point about Kreskin's ability to, in Kreskin's words, "preset the mind" of his audience.

Kreskin lined up the five items across the desktop, and after having Fountain momentarily close her eyes as he passed his hand in front of her face (adding an element of 'mysticism' to the proceedings), he asked her to "touch one of the items" (she picked up the ring). Without missing a beat, Kreskin then requested that she "pick up another item" with her other hand (she picked the scarf). He then told Fountain that "you've eliminated two of them," and placed them in a forward position on the table. He next asked her to push forward one of the three remaining items, saying that "this is the only time I'm going to ask you to do this" (she pushed forward the watch). But instead of announcing that three  items were now "eliminated," with two remaining (keys and Certs), Kreskin dramatically revealed the hidden word: "WATCH." And as the audience "oohed" and "aahed" and applauded enthusiastically, Fountain asked, "How did you do that?"

I would not ordinarily have used two paragraphs to describe this parlor trick, just as I am not going to waste one describing the card trick with which Kreskin concluded the show (except to mention that although he said that his deck contained only the 13 Hearts, it was clearly twice that thick). But a curious thing had happened as Fountain was in the process of collecting the five items from the audience. As she moved and looked about, she asked, "O.K. Who did he s...? [say?]. . . . What was the fifth one? [Audience members then responded 'Scarf']. . . . The scarf, O.K." It appeared that Kreskin must also have known, before  he wrote "WATCH," what five objects were going to he selected, without even needing to employ his celebrated powers of "mentalism." And given the fluidity of the rules of the game, he would have succeeded no mater which of the five items had been written on the card.

Before he left Tampa Bay, Kreskin hopefully had an opportunity to read my "Letter to the Editor" in the St. Petersburg Times  (published on Jan. 11 in response to the Times'  favorable Jan. 3 article). And TBS had delivered for him, at the Showboat, our Jan. 8 "Press Release" in which we offered "to pay $10,000 (10 times our usual standing offer) to 'The Amazing Kreskin' for a successful demonstration of even one  of his 'mentalism' feats, under conditions that eliminate the possibility of a non-'Amazing' explanation. . . . " We received no response from the media or from Kreskin.

Kreskin had pointed out during his Eye on Tampa Bay  appearance that his new book, Secrets of The Amazing Kreskin,  had already entered its third printing after only six weeks. That Prometheus Books is its publisher is of concern to many who admire Prometheus' reputation as a source of credible information on such subjects as psychology and the paranormal. Ironically, the real  secrets of "The Amazing Kreskin" were published by Prometheus, back in 1980, in The Psychology of the Psychic. 


This article appeared in the Spring 1992 Tampa Bay Skeptics Report.


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