I ring the bell at Kreskin’s house in North Caldwell, N.J. His assistant, Mario, signals though the window for me to come around back. “We can’t open the front door, because of all the birthday presents,” he soon explains. Stacks of presents block the front door. Two days earlier, Kreskin, the legendary mentalist, hypnotist or magician (as he has been described), had turned 80, and threw a party in a Manhattan restaurant that was packed with friends, fans and press.
Kreskin’s kitchen is warm, as is the man. He has three cats: Pumpkin, Spooky and Penguin. Black-furred Spooky settles down on the table and purrs. “Spooky really likes you,” Kreskin observes. “Look at that.”
I had planned to ask Kreskin how he does what he does. How do you see right through playing cards and read minds? It doesn’t happen that way. This is the amazing Kreskin after all; you think he’s going to reveal his secrets to me like some lawyer to depose him?
It’s only later that I realize I never really wanted to know. Because his magic and gift is in the love implicit in what he keeps secret. That twinkling grin of his that makes you feel that no matter what happens, Kreskin will save us.
‘I’ve never claimed any supernatural powers. I’ve been involved in 84 [criminal investigations] in my career. I’ve been of some help in about one-third of them. I rarely discuss it publicly. And it’s not that I was given an object from the scene of the crime, and all that mystical stuff, but in some of the cases, I was able to break memory barriers so the witnesses recalled more.’
Of all the terms that you are called, what’s your favorite? Interesting you should ask that. Everyone uses “mentalist,” and that’s a generic term. Anthropologist Dr. Margaret Mead wanted me to consider another name: a “sensitive.” In the 1800s and the early 1910s and ’20s, people who were unusual in whatever way, who seemed to be tuned into people around them, were called “sensitives.” If I had my way, that would be the word, but I would have to spend way too much time explaining what it means.
What don’t you like about ‘mentalist?’ Well, we have the TV series The Mentalist and so forth. I’ve never claimed any supernatural powers. I’ve been involved in 84 [criminal investigations] in my career. I’ve been of some help in about one-third of them. I rarely discuss it publicly. And it’s not that I was given an object from the scene of the crime, and all that mystical stuff, but in some of the cases, I was able to break memory barriers so the witnesses recalled more.
I understand that you now train athletes? Boxers in particular. A manager came to me and said, “Would you work with three of my boxers?” I said, “I can’t make them stronger, but I can affect how they think.” All three won the fights.
How do you help fighters? Let me give you an example. With Heather “The Heat” Hardy, now the International Light Heavyweight Champion of the World, I trained her to be so alert, that she could see the blows to come before they happened. When she is around people, [I taught her], through suggestion, to watch their eyes and anticipate before they speak.
How would you describe your powers? High sensitivity. Empathy. Paying attention. We don’t listen to each other anymore. Teachers in grade school and junior high keep saying it to me. We don’t listen to each other anymore. We really don’t. Everything is instant. We don’t even stop to reflect upon a word or a phrase and embrace it.
What are you most proud of in your career? I proved in a court that there is no such thing as hypnotic trance, and it changed the law. There is only suggestibility. No trance state. People said to be in trance are actually wide awake, it turns out, and the electroencephalograph shows it. We are all very suggestible. Especially people who are empathic, able to feel, or embrace new ideas. There is suggestion, but there is no hypnosis, No trance.
Is there such a thing as mind control, CIA, Manchurian candidate-type stuff? Not quite, The Manchurian Candidate was basically dealing with the Russian research on hypnosis. The truth of the matter is that kind of situation can’t happen, unless you start affecting the person physically, filling them with drugs. Now, you’re not talking about some hypnotic trance.
Many YouTube videos now demonstrate how magic tricks are done. Do you find that dispiriting? It’s kind of blasphemous, isn’t it? Ruins the mystique. (Grins). ν