by Zack Smith
Decades after he rose to prominence in the 1970s, the Amazing Kreskin remains a pop culture touchstone and a busy performer whose touring takes him to the Carrboro ArtsCenter tonight. For many, his name is synonymous with hypnosis, predictions and finding the check for his appearance in the audience.
In a call from his home in New Jersey, Kreskin (real name: George Joseph Kresge) says he's grateful for his career longevity. “With the economy as tough as it is, I guess I’m pretty blessed, because I did 261 appearances around the world. The airline company [I use] announced I’d flown 3 million miles with them,” Kreskin says.
“In every period in modern civilization, there’s been interest in areas related to my work: before the Civil War, after the Civil War, the world wars. There was incredible interest during the Depression. I think it’s because though I don’t have answers to many things—I’m an entertainer—but my work speaks to the idea that there might be more out there, that we haven’t solved everything.”
Though he still regularly makes predictions for the new year on cable news and has made his pick for the 2012 presidential election, Kreskin emphasizes that he does not actually predict the future, though he’s been eerily accurate in the past.
“One of the most dramatic moments in my life was Jan. 1, 2001 on CNN, and the hostess was reading a prediction I made about a world war that the public wouldn’t know was going on, and on the air, I don’t know why I said this, but I said, ‘There could be here in New York in September of this year a major, gigantic disaster involving two airlines.’
“Needless to say, after Sept. 11, my life changed forever. I had intelligence, the FBI asking me how I knew this. Really, all I’d done was study the Middle East for the past five or six years.”
A generation of fans may remember his syndicated TV series The Amazing World of Kreskin or his appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. He’s excited that within the past week he was referenced during coverage of the Olympic boxing events and on the A&E series Longmire.
He’s less enthusiastic about the title character allegedly based on him in the 2008 film The Great Buck Howard, portrayed by John Malkovich: “That’s not my biography by any means!” Written and directed by Kreskin’s former road manager Sean McGinley, the film’s title character is a verbally-abusive has-been constantly name-dropping his Tonight Show appearances.
Kreskin says the film’s producer and co-star Tom Hanks told him off-stage, Malkovich studied hundreds of Kreskin videos and said, “That’s the good side of you.”
“I said, ‘Well, Tom, what do you think is the bad side?’ Tom said, ‘Each day, he shook hands with about 30 people the way you shake hands.’ And I said, ‘Oh!’ Regis Philbin always says to me, ‘Kreskin, the way you shake hands like a chiropractor’s dream.’”
Overall, though, he says he enjoyed the film: “I’m just thankful I haven’t been referred to as a wifebeater or terrorist, sir!”
Kreskin’s also quick to distance himself from the wacked-out mentalist played by Zach Galifianakis in the American remake of Dinner for Schmucks , who keeps a Kreskin photo on his desk (“I must assure you he’s not me!)”—and the title character on CBS’s hit The Mentalist.
“That’s interesting because he’s not really a mentalist, he’s a former fake psychic—excellent actor, by the way— he’s more of a Sherlock Holmes character,” Kreskin says. “I watch it from time to time but it’s not me because he’s looking for clay on people’s shoes and whatever. It’s extremely well-done and refreshing, but it’s not me.”
He says his next book will include a section on how CBS talked with his people about his work without telling him The Mentalist was in development.
And yes, at his appearance tonight, Kreskin’s check will be hidden in the audience, and he will have to find it or not get paid. It’s a feat he’s performed thousands of times, only failing on a few occasions. “One drama critic said that it’s like watching a mystery play where the solution is different every night,” he recalls with pride. However, on one evening, he didn’t locate his payment: “That was for $50,000,” he says.
The Amazing Kreskin appears at the Carrboro ArtsCenter tonight at 8 p.m. Tickets are $24. For more information, visit artscenterlive.org or call 919-929-2767.