Mark Evanier on The Amazing Kreskin:

No, I never met Kreskin. Never saw him in person either, though once I was in Laughlin, Nevada for a few days and he was playing at the hotel right across the street. I saw an ad — I think tickets to his show were $9.95 or even lower — and there was a number to call for reservations. I thought, “Reservations? If Kreskin’s any good, he oughta just know I’m coming and save a seat for me!”

But I never got over there. I’d have liked to see him because I liked his style and patter, especially when he was guesting on someone else’s show and had time restraints put on him. He had his own show for a while and I recall that he would take a solid three-minute trick and stretch it out to what felt like ten.

But! In the last decade or two I developed an aversion to magicians who pass perfectly simple magic tricks off as genuine psychic power or telepathy. I’m one of those people who believes — no, knows that there ain’t no such thing as genuine psychic power. I could tolerate and even appreciate it with someone like my pal, the late Max Maven. Max did it with style and in a manner that…well, you’d have to be really, really dimwitted to think it was anything but a trick.

But I have seen magicians who felt that a vital part of their act was convincing the audience that their “psychic powers” were bona fide. I have to wonder how many of them acted as a kind of gateway drug for the kind of people who fall prey to the Sylvia Brownes of the world. I’m talking about connivers who feign such powers to bilk the bilkable.

Reading this, I suddenly remembered: I saw The Amazing Kreskin perform! It was when I was just in 2nd grade. We lived in Elkins, WV at the time; this was 1978-1979. Kreskin is still alive now; he’s 89 years old, so he would have been around 44 when I saw him perform live.

I don’t remember much specifically about the performance, though I do recall that he did some “Blind reading” type stuff, where he’d purport to opening himself up to the mental energies of the room, and then he’d start saying things like “I’m getting something about…someone here has a loved one–a brother, maybe–in the hospital. The brother needs a procedure….” And eventually someone in the audience whose life kinda-sorta matched what Kreskin was saying would stand up and say “That’s me!” It was easy to fall for, honestly.

He also did some sleight-of-hand magic, which is what I liked the most. I only remember one trick, where he put his hands inside a thick pillowcase and had a couple of audience members tightly bunch it up around his wrists so he couldn’t move or do anything…and then suddenly he pulls his hands out, holding a glass of water. That trick was pretty cool.

I don’t recall a whole lot more than that. Mr. Evanier is right that magicians have to walk a careful line between willing suspension of disbelief and soliciting outright belief. David Copperfield (whom I also saw live, in 1996 or so) was–is?–a magnificent showman who created real tension and an atmosphere conducive to belief in what he was doing, but nobody really believed that he had been cut in half by the falling blade or that he had made the Statue of Liberty disappear or that he had actually passed incorporeally through the Great Wall of China.

I know that I didn’t come out of Kreskin’s show way back then believing in magic any more than I had the day before. I do remember a good time and being somewhat amazed by what went on that night. So, I think I came out ahead.

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