I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for The Amazing Kreskin, the world’s greatest mentalist. I remember first being mystified by his mind-reading tricks during one of his 61 appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in the ’70s. And when I discovered earlier this year that Hulu had made multiple episodes of his ’70s Canadian TV show The Amazing World of Kreskin available online, I devoured all the conversations on the occult he had with luminaries of the era like Phyllis Diller, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and Loretta Swit.
In this era of CGI and other special effects, magicians and illusionists are having a harder time entertaining their skeptical audiences. But Kreskin’s simple-but-profound acts of psychic gymnastics always seemed to transcend the world of tacky illusions. More than any other performer in his field, he’s able to create a sense of child-like wonder in those lucky enough to watch him that nobody else can match. One of his best known tricks—immortalized in the film based on his life, The Great Buck Howard, starring John Malkovich—involves Kreskin being taken into seclusion while members of the audience hide his check for that evening’s performance somewhere in the crowd. Then Kreskin comes back into the theater and uses the power of his mind to discover who, among his audience of hundreds or thousands, has his money. He’s done this trick an estimated 6000 times, and has only failed to find his check nine times (after one failed attempt in New Zealand, he claims to have lost a payment of $50,000). Because of his astonishing success rate, however, rumors have circulated for decades that he uses plants in the audience and hidden ear-pieces to accomplish this and other famous feats. In response to these accusations, Kreskin has promised a reward of one million dollars to anyone who can prove he’s cheating in any way—so far nobody has been able to claim this reward.
Since the height of Kreskin’s fame was 40 years ago, I despaired that I’d never get the chance to see him in person. But this week I was astonished to receive an invitation to a screening of The Great Buck Howard at the National Arts Club here in N.Y.C., where Kreskin would be appearing afterward for a Q&A. When the legend finally arrived after the show, his hair was snowy white compared to the dark shag he sported in his youth, but he had the same sharp energy and vitality at 77 that he’d had on TV in 1977. He regaled the crowd with stories about his famous friends, and answered questions about his abilities. And then, almost as an afterthought, he said he wanted to show us an effect and asked if there was anyone in the audience, “who feels as if they can sometimes tell how others around them feel.” I shyly raised my hand, and as soon as he saw me he smiled and motioned me up to the front of the room to join him.
Now I know this is going to sound weird, and maybe the explanation is just that I was REALLY excited to meet him, but when I got within a few feet of Kreskin, it felt like I was passing through a weird invisible curtain of energy. I got a massive head rush, my heartbeat felt…off, and I was relieved when he motioned me toward a chair because my legs felt wobbly. He left me in the chair, went over to a table, wrote something on the back of a folder with Sharpie, and then left the folder on the table and returned to me with a newspaper. He had the paper opened to the page that listed the results of all the sporting and racing events. There were multiple columns filled with tiny type and hundreds and hundreds of scores. He asked me to hold a pen and close my eyes. Then he asked me to start circling my hand with the pen over the newspaper in concentric circles, wide then smaller, then smaller. He instructed me to keep circling over anywhere on the page I wanted, and when I finally felt ready, he said I should let my pen touch the paper anywhere and draw a small circle. I took my time. My heart was still racing and I was afraid I’d do it wrong and mess up the trick, but I finally chose a spot. And when I opened my eyes, I saw that my pen had circled part of a score that read “Chicago 54.” Kreskin hemmed and hawed a bit about how I hadn’t circled the word all the way, and for a minute I was afraid that either he or I had screwed it up. But then he casually handed the newspaper to the front row so they could see the mark I had made, and crossed to the table to pick up the folder he had written on before the trick even began. There, in his messy marker scrawl, was the score I’d picked—Chicago 54.
I swear I’m not a confederate. I’ve never met Kreskin before and had no idea what I’d circled before I opened my eyes. I’m just a genuine fan who finally got her mind read by Kreskin, and I’ve got the picture to prove it.