The Celebrity Collector 

The Amazing Kreskin Collects Items Related to ESP
and the Powers of the Mind

By Ken Hall

You probably don't have to be psychic to guess that The Amazing Kreskin collects items related to extra-sensory perception and the powers of the mind. The internationally known mentalist-magician has been accumulating such things since a relative gave him a copy of a Mandrake the Magician comic book in the early '40s. Kreskin was 5. The gift turned out to be an epiphany.

"That book, which I still own today, stylized in my mind what I wanted to do the rest of my life," Kreskin said from his home in Essex County, N.J., where he lives with his mother, Lucy, who's 95. "Mandrake was dressed in top-hat and tails, like a magician, but he used telepathic powers to solve crimes. That really inspired me. I knew from the start I wanted more than just sleight-of-hand."

As it turned out, though, that's exactly how Kreskin started out. He began performing professionally as a teenager, with a show that featured card tricks, magic and hypnosis. As he honed his act and his abilities -- in places like Bethlehem and Allentown, N.J. -- Kreskin gradually introduced thought reading into his act. "If it was working on that given night, I'd use it. If not, I'd leave it alone."

Kreskin first realized his unusual gifts as a grade-schooler. Once, when he wasn't picked by the teacher for a game of "Hot and Cold" (in which a student leaves the room, then returns to try and find a hidden object while the others help him with shouts of "Hot!" or "Cold!") he went home and asked his brother to play the game. What happened then shocked everyone, including himself.

"My brother Joe went and hid a penny behind a curtain rod in an upstairs bedroom," Kreskin remembered. "I had gone outside, but when I came back in, I just knew instinctively where it was. I walked upstairs, stood on a chair and brought out the penny. He didn't have to say 'hot' or 'cold' once." His teachers in those early years recognized Kreskin's talents and encouraged him along.

For anyone who doubts Kreskin's mental powers, he extends the following offer: if he can't find the check for his performance, he doesn't get paid. Over the years, he's found checks lodged in a chandelier, rolled up in the barrel of a gun, stuffed into a turkey, and even tucked inside someone's upper dental plate. "Six times I couldn't find the check, so six times I didn't get paid," he said.

The Mandrake the Magician comic that started it all is today just one, albeit the first, component in a collection that encompasses much in the way of paranormal reading matter. Kreskin is a voracious reader, consuming up to four books a night, and his massive library includes comic books, pulp novels and manuscripts. All are vintage, and all are related to magic and mentalism.

The Mandrake books, written by Lee Falk, are among his most cherished. "His comics are still revered today in Australia," Kreskin said. "I actually got to know him about eight or nine years ago. We were eating together at Sardi's in New York City, and he told me I came the closest to epitomizing Mandrake's characteristics. It was one of the most moving moments of my entire life."

Kreskin has some original Mandrake drawing boards given to him by Falk and illustrated by Phil Davis, Falk's artistic collaborator. "Attempts to do Mandrake on film have invariably failed," Kreskin pointed out. "It's difficult to crystallize telepathic abilities, even with special effects. I remember Fellini giving it a try one time and just giving up. It's too bad, because the stories are wonderful."

Walter B. Gibson's The Shadow was another character that captured Kreskin's imagination as a youth. Today, many copies of the pulp serial from the '30s are in his collection. "Gibson was an authority on crime and magic, and he was a friend of Houdini's," Kreskin said. "Through the character Lamont Cranston (The Shadow), Gibson combined the criminal mind and the crime fighter mind."

The Shadow, of course, became one of the most popular radio programs of all time, but it isn't the only character for which Walter Gibson is known. He also authored the Super Magician comics of the 1940s, often under the pseudonym Maxwell Grant. The main character was based on the real-life magician Harry Blackstone. The premise was that he performed magic and fought crime.

"I have a copy of every Super Magician comic book ever produced (it ran about six years), encased and in mint condition," Kreskin said. "I can't imagine what they're worth, but you know what? I don't care. These books and other items are part of the embroidery that make up the fabric of who I am. They're not for sale, and I don't care to have them appraised. That's not the point."

Another part of Kreskin's collection was assigned a dollar value, but only because he received an offer that was instantly declined. It was a collection of manuscripts on parapsychology, assembled into 53 hard-bound volumes by the Swiss magician Stanley Jaks. Kreskin was gifted the volumes by Jaks' estate when Jaks died, and said no to an offer of $1.25 million for them soon after.

As for Harry Houdini, Kreskin has nothing at all relating to the famed escape artist. "For one thing, most of the items supposedly worn or owned by Houdini are things he didn't go anywhere near," Kreskin said. "It's a great joke in the industry. I wouldn't trust any of it to be authentic." He added that Houdini, while being a fabulous escape artist, was actually a rather poor magician.

"Escaping from things -- that was Houdini's real talent," Kreskin said. "As for his magic show, it was a 20-minute act, and it was completely unremarkable. He also decided, late in his career, to get into the movies, and it drained him of his life savings. He ended up touring as a magician, and it was a complete disaster. In the end, he died from a blow to the stomach by a college kid in 1926."

Another figure that holds great fascination for Kreskin is Howard Thurston, the magician and illusionist who gained some degree of fame in the first part of the last century and died in the 1930s. Thurston was good at tossing cards up into the balcony during a performance -- a trick known as "card spinning" or creating a "card flourish." Kreskin tells a story that gives him pause to think:

"I was in Cleveland, preparing to do a show, and someone came up to me and handed me one of Harry Thurston's cards. It had gotten lodged between two of the seats in the balcony and remained there all that time until workers found it while remodeling. What intrigues me is the fact that I've been told by people who knew Thurston that I have many of his mannerisms and traits."

Does this mean Kreskin believes he's the reincarnation of a magician who died shortly before Kreskin was born? "Not really. In fact, I don't believe in reincarnation. My good friend Liberace always told me he thought he was the reincarnation of the famous pianist Franz Liszt. I've also gone on record as saying there's no such thing as hypnosis. There is the power of suggestion, however."

Other items in Kreskin's unusual collection:

  • A hand-made, opal-studded belt given to him backstage at The Tonight Show by the father of a boy Kreskin had given a benefit performance for after his death. Kreskin gave the performance at the family's home.
  • A table used by charlatan spiritualists in the early 19th century in Baltimore. The table was designed to rise, leading relatives to believe they were communicating with the deceased.
  • An incredibly lifelike pair of hands, also from the early 1800s (the heyday of spiritualism in the United States). The charlatan would make them appear to relatives of the deceased at a dramatic moment. "You can imagine what the reaction was," Kreskin said.
  • A wand in a black velvet box used by Indian fakirs (cross-legged snake charmers and sleight-of-hand artists) from the 1920s.
  • The cork from a bottle of Korbel champagne that Kreskin located amongst a warehouse filled with similar bottles (but this one had his performance check attached). "It was one bottle hidden among 22 million bottles, and I directed the warehouse man directly to it."
  • Jewel-encrusted wrist-cuffs given to him by his long-time friend, the late Liberace.
  • Items from the estate of the late performer Arthur Godfrey, gifted to him by Godfrey's estate.

The Amazing Kreskin was born George Kresge in Montclair, N.J., 67 years ago. He was raised Catholic by a Polish father and an Italian mother. He had his name legally changed to "T. A. Kreskin" some years ago. Despite his incredible talent and resulting fame, his parents early on hoped that music would be his life. He studied the piano and became an accomplished pianist.

At the height of his fame, in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, Kreskin appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 88 times (a record for a guest), The Mike Douglas Show 118 times (also a record) and The Merv Griffin Show 99 times. He continues to perform today in Las Vegas and elsewhere, and is a frequent guest on The David Letterman Show and the Howard Stern Show.

Fans of The Amazing Kreskin may write to him c/o Kreskin, Inc., 8 Soder Rd., No. Caldwell, NJ 07006.

2002

The Amazing Kreskin's real name is George Kresge. He was born in Montclair, N.J., 67 years ago.

A voracious reader, Kreskin keeps his vintage books in a massive library at home in New Jersey.

Kreskin has fond memories of his time spent with Walter B. Gibson, creator of The Shadow.

Kreskin appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 88 times
(a record for a guest).

 

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