How To Be A Fake Kreskin by The Amazing Kreskin

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 1996)

Oh, brother. Why would anybody want to try to be a "real" Kreskin, much less a fake one? When I was a kid I saw The Amazing Kreskin—one man's opinion—on the Johnny Carson show, and thought him the most insincere, unconvincing goofball I had ever witnessed. About a decade ago I spent about 15 bucks to see him work in a tacky little dinner theater in the wilds of Maryland, and thought it the worst entertainment investment I had ever made in my life. Never had I been so offended by a live performance; never had I seen a more base demonstration of pandering to the lowest common denominator of taste or intelligence; never had I seen any entertainer spend the opening 20 minutes of his show name-dropping; never had I imagined a magician would ask his audience to close their eyes (perhaps so he could read the billets he'd grabbed). These days our hero has been relegated to the Kamarr (The Discount Magician) role on Late Night with David Letterman, where he serves comic relief as the character so stupid that he doesn't realize why he's on the show in the first place. This is a guy who might as well be dragging a corpse across the floor and calling it "dancing."

But in the words of H. L. Mencken, nobody every went broke underestimating the taste and intelligence of the American public, and so the mildly amazing and mostly barely puzzling one is still around. And it's also been said that there's a sucker born every minute, and if you lack proof of that you need only be reminded that Kreskin was once embraced by arch skeptic Paul Kurtz, chairman of CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), because the latter thought he and Kreskin agreed about hypnotism (sort of), and because the good professor was also apparently fooled by muscle reading, that 19th-century trick that is mentioned in passing, as it happens, in The Magic Of Micah Lasher [page 256]. But in case you need further proof of that less-than-extraordinary Barnumesque claim (beyond the public humiliation of professional skeptics who know less about magic than your average 15-year-old), just count the number of copies of this useless and ridiculous book that are sold, and you and Mr. Kreskin can laugh the night away; he to the bank, and you over the foolishness and folly of the human species.

The book is the equivalent of a 131-page promotional brochure (albeit with very few pictures), filled with so much puffery and other less polite terms that I'm surprised it doesn't come with a shovel or a warning stamped on the back recommending the donning of hip boots before reading. The most interesting material—and it is not interesting at all—is contained in the eight-page preface written by David Meyer, whom I had formerly considered to be a gentleman of taste and erudition. Herein he describes Kreskin's performance of the Dunninger glass production, the Himber Linking Finger Rings, and much of the late Joe Dunninger's mentalism act (Mr. Meyer acknowledges the influence of Arthur Godfrey on Kreskin, but fails to mention Mr. Dunninger) in the most glowing terms imaginable. He also repeats Kreskin's constant claim that he reads a book in 20 minutes, which is at least twice the amount of time this book warrants. The writer here states that Kreskin is "an acknowledged master of the magical arts," although he doesn't say who acknowledges this other than himself.

And he also describes Kreskin's quaintly old-fashioned "hyp" act as the wonderful thing he apparently thinks it is, or at least a wonderful thing for someone to behold. It would be hard for any of the material which follows to be any more remarkable than the contents of this preface.

In Kreskin's own introduction he is quick to poke fun at those who have exposed his methods and claims; he fails to mention a book entitled The Psychology of the Psychic by David Marks and Richard Kammann (Prometheus Books, 1980) which I recommend highly, in fact much more highly than the nonsense contained within the covers of this little paperwaste.

If you are actually interested in knowing more about the contents of this book—well, you won't get much of it from me; just because I had to suffer reading it doesn't mean you have to suffer reading about it. Oh, wait, here's something interesting. On page 191 the author states: "Remember to keep the secrets of your demonstration secret. Otherwise your prestige will suffer irreversible damage, as most people simply do not appreciate such clever, but often simple, ideas, preferring instead to fantasize about mysterious powers."

Well, at least now I know the secret of his success; unfortunately, neither that or anything else in this book is really new or interesting, and I can't imagine—or at least would rather not—that any readers of this column would find otherwise. I once tried to ask Kreskin in a public forum how he defined the term "mentalist," a word he often uses but in fact seems never to define. He asked me if I was trying to embarrass him—I replied that he was doing a fine job of handling that himself—and then he walked off the stage in a huff. That's one job he's continuing with the publication of this book. Keep up the good work, George.

5 - 1/2" X 8" perfect hound; 131 pages; illustrated with 35 photographs; 1996; Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks