"Skeptically Speaking" Column #7 -- Apr. 1992

By Gary P. Posner

The Incredible Gall of
"The Amazing Kreskin"

"It's not a magic act," he assured viewers of Ch. 13's Eye on Tampa Bay on Jan. 7. "The Amazing Kreskin," billed for years as "The World's Foremost Mentalist" and appearing at the Showboat Dinner Theatre, was responding to host Kathy Fountain's question as to what he means by the term "mentalist." But if Kreskin's isn't a magic act, it's the closest imitation of one this side of Uri Geller's.

Kreskin 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 a close copy of the Great Dunninger's, a 1940s and '50s magician. As always, Kreskin disowned the label "psychic" ("I cannot foretell the future") while claiming psychic-type powers ("I can read people's thoughts"). And as an example of his non-psychic "intuition," he told of how three years ago he "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 revealed only after the fact), the applause attested to the audience's lack of appreciation of the point's significance.

Eye producer Joyce Pearson had notified me of Kreskin's appearance about a week in advance, allowing me time to provide much skeptical material, including two chapters from The Psychology of the Psychic (Marks and Kammann, 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." Kreskin responded: "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 alleges that he does.) He added, "I don't have that much skepticism [about me] any more. . . . 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."

Although Fountain was holding 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.

Here's the scoop on the "garbage": The one trick whose solution could only be deduced by Marks and Kammann was finally solved 10 years later by members of the National Capital Area Skeptics (NCAS) during a 1990 D.C. 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 on the floor. Kreskin, of course, correctly "divined" the message -- but NCAS members later recovered the scraps while Kreskin was backstage, compared the handwriting on them to Kreskin's own, and published their findings (with photos) in their quarterly newsletter (Winter 1990-91). These photos will accompany a longer piece on Kreskin by me in the Spring 1992 Tampa Bay Skeptics Report.

The following is excerpted from a Tampa Bay Skeptics "Press Release" issued during Kreskin's visit to the area: "The Tampa Bay Skeptics, founded [by me] in 1988 out of concern for those being misled into believing in such unsubstantiated phenomena as 'ESP,' is prepared 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. . . ." There was no response from the media or from Kreskin.

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