John Burbage emails:
I have been a long time reader of your blog, and listener to your podcasts. Not too long ago you had a young man on who hosts the Carson Podcast (Mark Malkoff — listen here). Being as how I am 66 years old now, and of the Johnny Carson Show generation, I found the interview very interesting. I have since gone back and started listening to Carson podcasts I missed. One really caught my attention, and since I seem to agree with you on a lot of your politics, science, and skepticism I have a question to ask.
The podcast was an interview with The Amazing Kreskin. Now, I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s watching Kreskin on various shows like Carson, Merv Griffin, and Mike Douglas. I thought of him as a “magician” and I appreciated him for that. However, over the years he seems to be kind of full of himself, and in the interview, when he’s not telling the host how wonderful he is, he seems to be actually trying to convince us that he is real. I had always thought that this “I am a real mentalist” was just part of the act, but apparently it is not.
I am aware that you know some quite capable magicians/illusionists like The Amazing Randi, Banacek, and Penn Jillette to name a few. I was wondering if you ever discussed Kreskin with any of them over the years, and what their opinion of him was. Kreskin’s attitude in the Carson podcast comes off like one of those people who claim to talk with the dead and will help you “cross over.” The kind of people skeptics have been exposing now for many years.
John, your perception of Kreskin is exactly right — he started out by presenting himself as “look at this mentalism trick I can do,” but started believing his own hype and the act became “this is not paranormal, I am really doing this.” It was at that point that, like you, I started disliking him. So have Randi, Penn, and other magicians/skeptics, so you’re in good company in feeling that Kreskin fits into the same con man category as John Edward.
You might want to watch “The Great Buck Howard,” which I’ve just added to my Movies You Might Not Know list. It stars John Malkovich, wonderfully smarmy as a Kreskin-like performer who hires an assistant (Colin Hanks) to travel with him. Writer/director Sean McGinly captures the essence of has-been showbiz perfectly. The cast also includes Emily Blunt as Buck’s reluctant publicist, master magician Ricky Jay as his manager, and Tom Hanks as Colin’s father, who is not happy with his son’s career choice.
“The Great Buck Howard” made virtually no money at the box office when it was released in 2008, but I caught it on cable and really enjoyed it — much more than I enjoyed Kreskin the last few times he popped up on TV.