Many years ago, when I apprenticed in the funnybook business with the great Jack Kirby, he and I co-wrote a story called "The Psychic
(Rough translation of the above: He told me what the story should be about and what everyone should do and say, I typed it all up just
as he dictated it, gave it to him to draw and he proceeded to illustrate it, ignoring everything I'd put on paper.)
The story was inspired by some articles Jack had been reading about a gent named Peter Hurkos who was often billed as "The Psychic
Detective." The typical Hurkos tale involved baffled police, a crime that could not be solved or an item that could not be found...and him being
called into the case and, via psychic powers, announcing the whereabouts of the missing evidence or person or whatever. If you believed in such a
thing as Psychic Powers, Hurkos was a walking example...and if you didn't believe in them, the stories of his incredible deeds made you wonder if
maybe there wasn't something to this psychic jazz.
At the time, I was also occasionally writing for a science-fiction/horror movie tabloid called The Monster Times. Shortly
after the above comic book tale was written, I received a last-minute call from the editor of said tabloid, asking me to fill-in for another of their
correspondents that evening at a Los Angeles movie premiere. I agreed and, three hours later, found myself picking up press credentials at the gala
world debut of a cheesy exploitation film called Flesh Gordon.
The whole evening was a disaster, in part because I found the movie about as entertaining as watching tapioca pudding age and pull away
from the edge of the dish; also because of an unbelievable crush of cameras and fans and badly-costumed costumed folks; also because someone had the
brilliant idea that the V.I.P.-type guests and the Press should be seated up front...like in the first three rows. (This was the kind of movie best
viewed from way back, preferably facing away from the screen.)
I found myself seated amongst the alleged celebrities. On my left was a young lady whose dress had less material than Andrew Dice Clay.
She was loudly proclaiming her credits in X-rated movies and pointing out other people in the audience with whom she had, uh, performed. I made a
mental note that she seemed like a good subject for a heart transplant because, obviously, her body had never rejected an organ.
Then I turned to the right and found seated there, a bonafide star of some magnitude: Larry "Buster" Crabbe, star of various movies and
serials past, including the original films of the original Flash (not to be confused with Flesh) Gordon.
To this day, I am uncertain how they got Mr. Crabbe to show up at this event but, gathering from his demeanor and muttered comments, I
would guess that somewhere, someone had firearms pointed at his mother.
During the entire film, he sat, more rigid than any of his screen performances, mumbling at how offensive he found everything on the
screen in every way that one can be offended: morally, artistically, esthetically...even financially.
Our mutual ordeal was made all the more excruciating by several pre-film ceremonies. Most were boring speeches by boring people with
tenuous connections to this boring film...but one exchange was so wonderful, so hysterical that it made the whole event worthwhile, at least for
To this day, I am able to summon up a smile and slight giggle by recalling the moment. Rather than attempt to recreate it here for you,
I am going to ask your help...and you'll need a friend to aid you with this. Together, the three of us — you, me and your friend — will
replicate one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life. If you do your part well, you will feel as if you were actually there and you will
experience some of the outrageous joy I felt at that moment.
(Yes, friends...I have just invented the Interactive Comic Buyers Guide column.)
Okay now, I have to set the scene for your performance:
We are in a cramped, overstuffed, underventilated movie theater in Westwood, California. People are packed into this place like a
Sergio Aragonés crowd scene. We've been here for hours, it seems, and they haven't even gotten around to running the danged movie yet.
(And they'd better get on with it: The actress to my left is due for her six-month silicone lubrication.)
We'd all like to walk out but this is a premiere and most of those present have some vested stake in either viewing the movie or making
sure that others view the movie. So no one wants to walk out on it, even before it's begun.
We are praying the M.C. will say, "Okay, time to run the movie" but instead, he keeps announcing one more speech, one more dedication,
one more thing to keep us here until this movie is released on Laserdisc.
(At the time of this incident, the Laserdisc had not yet been invented...but there were moments when I felt like it would be, before I
ever again saw sky.)
Finally, just when we all think he's about to thank everyone for coming and give the command to roll film, he proclaims that there will
be a psychic reading by the great Psychic Detective, Mr. Peter Hurkos.
There is silence in the house.
And not because they are all in awe over the announcement.
The stars of the movie are summoned to the stage to meet and be "read" by Peter Hurkos. Also summoned to the stage is the legendary,
medal-winning, wishing-he-were-anywhere-else Buster Crabbe.
Peter Hurkos is a portly little man whose psychic abilities, whatever they are, obviously do not extend to knowing that his hairpiece
looks like a Lhasa Apso. He gives the stars of Flesh Gordon a quick reading and proclaims that they will be big stars and that this film will
be a smash hit. Which right there oughta be cause for Dionne Warwicke to strip him of his Psychic License. Then he turns his attention to Buster
He asks to hold a personal item of Mr. Crabbe's and Buster grudgingly forks over his wallet. Hurkos begins rubbing the wallet as Crabbe
eyes him to make certain he is pocketing none of its contents.
For our dramatization (and I'm not kidding; get a friend and read this aloud. It'll have five times the impact if you do.) you will
play Peter Hurkos and your friend will play Buster Crabbe.
Your friend has the easy part. Until his last line, he just has to keep saying, "No." In the scene, he is the one who says "No" to
everything and he does not have to do it with any depth or feeling or presence. Remember, he is playing Buster Crabbe. Mr. Crabbe was a handsome man,
a wonderful athlete and probably a very nice person but Laurence Olivier did not feel threatened when Buster read lines. In fact, it will help the
overall effect if your friend can deliver his part with as little emotion as possible.
You have the tougher role...but then, you have most of the talent. You play Peter Hurkos and the most important part of your
performance (Look, Ma...I'm a director) is that you must be absolutely serious and believe intensely that everything you are saying is true. If you
can toss in a slight Dutch accent, fine, but it is not mandatory.
You are on stage in front of hundreds of people and you are massaging Buster Crabbe's wallet. In what follows, you have the first line,
your friend has the second and you alternate from there.
Okay, here we go...
"I see...I see that you are contemplating a major change in your residence...moving to another home..."
"You are contemplating a major change in your residence...remodelling your home..."
"You are contemplating a major change in your garage..."
"You have, in your garage, a red 1966 Buick Skylark..."
"You have, in your garage, a red Buick Skylark..."
"You have, in your garage, a red Buick..."
"You have, in your garage, a red car..."
"You have, in your garage, a car..."
"You are considering buying a car..."
"You are considering buying a coat..."
"You are considering buying a cat..."
"You already have a cat..."
"You have a dog...a Doberman Pinscher..."
"You have a German Shepherd..."
"You have a Cocker Spaniel..."
"You have a Chihuahua..."
"You were once bitten by a Chihuahua..."
"You were once bitten by a dog."
"You used to have a dog."
"Your children used to have a dog."
"Your children want to have a dog."
"Your children used to want a dog."
"You have children."
"You want to have children."
"You like children."
"You've talked to some children."
"Ah, yes, I knew it!"
At least, it went something like that. Halfway through, I was under the seats, laughing so hard I thought I'd bust my spleen, wherever
that is. All I remember is that Hurkos made about eight thousand guesses, getting increasingly more general, until one finally connected. And when
one finally did, he acted very, very proud, like he had just indisputably proven his psychic abilities.
He reminded me of the person at every party in the sixties who tried to guess our zodiac sign, got it on the tenth or eleventh guess
and would then go, "Yes, I can always tell." (If you are too young to have attended a party in the sixties, trust me: This person was at every one of
them. Sign-guessing was more prevalent than guacamole dip. And about as accurate.)
I don't mean any of this to belittle psychics or astrologers or even guacamole; I don't believe in any of the three but, hey, if it
works for you...
I don't even mean to belittle Mr. Hurkos, may he rest in peace. Even if you could convince me that there's such a thing as psychic
power, I'd still doubt that everyone who claimed to be able to do it could do it or that they could do it every time they tried. Perhaps, away from
hostile audience vibes and former Olympic athletes, Peter Hurkos could zero in on a lost child, an errant murder weapon or even Michael Dukakis. But
that night at the premiere, he couldn't read a Dr. Seuss book.
I went back to Jack Kirby, who believed in psychic powers — or perhaps it would be better to say that he wanted to
I told him all about the evening and reenacted the Hurkos/Crabbe exchange. I also told him about seeing the movie, likening the
experience to root canal performed with the Popeil Pocket Fisherman. Jack had the best comment about it all. He always did.
He said, "I'm disappointed to hear that about Peter Hurkos. I guess it proves his psychic powers weren't working."
"Yeah," I said. "If he were psychic, he would have known something about Buster Crabbe."
"Never mind Buster Crabbe," Jack replied. "If Hurkos were psychic, he'd have known enough to stay away from the movie.