Still, he’ll intervene in dire situations. Several years ago, he was performing in Indianapolis when he sensed a woman in the audience was contemplating suicide. He ended the show early and asked that she be escorted to his dressing room. He also summoned a priest. “The lady came back and we talked,” he says. “She had seriously been considering it.” After talking with Kreskin and the priest, she agreed to get help. Eight years later, he saw her at another show and she gave him a hug. “It was really quite moving,” he says.
I keep this story in mind when I see Kreskin perform a few weeks later, but no one triggers Kreskin’s sense of danger. He’s all business, booting a woman and her crying baby from the theater for disrupting his concentration, castigating someone for whistling, and calling a teen a “pinhead” for goofing off on stage while he puts a group of volunteers into a trance.
The audience is sympathetic, understanding that it is in the midst of one of the last great entertainers of a bygone era populated by the likes of Joey Bishop, Bob Hope and Carol Burnett. He has also conjured the crowd’s sense of wonderment through a variety of mental feats, including one in which he asks audience members to think of a childhood memory.
“Who is thinking Rebecca?” he asks.
A woman in the back stands up.
“Does Ann ring a bell?” he asks her.
“That’s my other daughter,” she says.
“Who’s Spencer?” Kreskin queries.
“The best thing about animals is they don’t betray you,” Kreskin notes, before revealing his offer of $1 million to anyone who can prove he uses paid confederates or electronic devices in the act. No one has ever collected, but that doesn’t mean Kreskin isn’t sensitive about efforts to impugn his reputation. Beneath his affable persona lies a ferocity for perfection.
Another time, he gets too close to a woman’s remembrance of an old friend, and she begins to cry. “I’m sorry,” he says. “You have a special memory and that’s the important thing.”
After performing his unique brand of storytelling, joke cracking, mind reading and trance inducing for more than three hours, Kreskin closes the show. “To those who believe, no explanation is necessary,” he says. “To those who don’t, no explanation is possible.”
The audience rewards him with a standing ovation and I join in the applause, my skepticism washed away. The show is a refreshing reminder that there are still some things beyond comprehension. That, in a world at times made cold by scientific certitude, the possibility of magic still exists — even if it’s on a scuffed stage in New Jersey.
Kathleen Parrish is a freelance writer from Bethlehem, Pa., who often tells her husband what he is thinking.