The 13th Floor

Revisiting CRISWELL PREDICTS!

A quotation from the 1968 volume CRISWELL PREDICTS:

I predict that [a] catastrophe will take place during the tourist season, and the fun-loving people in the amusement zone will suddenly find their day of pleasure turned into one of horror. A roller coaster will rise and sway, throwing cars and occupants to the ground below. A Ferris wheel will collapse and carry many children to untimely deaths. A penny arcade will become a dungeon of doom, a canopy of a merry-go-round will plunge down upon its most innocent riders. I predict only silence will reign where there was once laughter and gaiety. The citizenry of this Colorado city will find themselves enveloped in a jelly-like substance that was once brick, concrete, steel and lumber. They will be unable to escape for it will be impossible to cut through or tear this substance. Although soft and pliable it will still retain the strength and weight formerly possessed. I predict in the outskirts the conditions will not be as serious but fleeing people will find themselves mired in roadways and hardly able to move.

Image Credit: The Cinemasochist
Image Credit: The Cinemasochist

It’s hard to tell if Jeron Criswell King (1907 – 1982), better known as The Amazing Criswell, was a charlatan, a showman, or a kook. Criswell was, for lack of a better term, a pop psychic, very much along the lines of Miss Cleo, but in an era before psychic hotlines and fortune-telling-for-cash were the cottage industries they have become today. Criswell, with his spit curl, sparkly black tuxedo, and unblinking confidence, would, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, appear on stage, on radio, in print, and even in several Edward D. Wood horror movies, making wildly inaccurate psychic predictions about the future of mankind. He predicted that brain transplants would be available by vending machine. He predicted that lust would overtake humanity. And he predicted that the world would end on the 18th of August, 1999.

Criswell’s tone was difficult to pin down. Although he spoke with the utmost confidence, and never admitted in public to any dishonesty, there was an undercurrent of ineffable sterility that made his sincerity difficult to determine. Criswell’s predictions were strange, and in many cases ludicrous, making a casual listener believe that he may be intentionally having us on, and was perhaps staging an arch satire of TV psychics.

Las Vegas, Nevada, March 10, 1990: The very first Interplanetary Convention will be held in the new Convention Center on the famed Strip with colony citizens of Mars, Venus, Neptune and the Moon in full representation; Governor Sawyer will make the opening welcome address.

But if Criswell was kidding his audiences, he never once winked to let you know it. Criswell was dead serious in every single prediction he made, no matter how bonkers. Listening to Criswell leaves one baffled, amused, but strangely cautious. Which leaves us with two options as to his intent: Either he was making it all up, ever the showman, using a serious tone and a shiny suit to milk a career out of his own dubious psychic powers. Or, there is the very real possibility that Criswell believed he was psychic, and he actually did receive visions from the future.

Asking those who knew him reveals little. Criswell, the child of a troubled home (raised among morticians, the young Criswell claimed to sleep in coffins to avoid family turmoil), eventually moved to L.A. where he worked as a radio announcer and salesman of Criswell Family Vitamins. The infomercial began incorporating his predictions, and he took off in popularity. The predictions grew in popularity, and Criswell eventually began appearing on THE JACK PAAR SHOW. He soon became a Hollywood gadfly, becoming friends with Mae West, serving as her personal psychic.

I predict an outburst of cannibalism that will terrorize the population of one of the industrial cites in the state of Pennsylvania—Pittsburgh. Mass mournings will be held for the victims. A smile will be unknown. The fate of this city of Pittsburgh will never be forgotten… Date: November 28 to December 21, 1980.

Most famously, Criswell fell in with anti-auteur Edward D. Wood, Jr., and he appeared in several of the Z-grade director’s movies, including PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, NIGHT OF THE GHOULS, and ORGY OF THE DEAD. It’s not known whether Criswell associated with Wood merely because they were friends, because he liked appearing in Z-grade movies, or if he thought he was making genuine contributions to the world of cinema. If Tim Burton’s excellent 1994 biopic ED WOOD is to be trusted, Criswell was a gleeful member of Wood’s friendly posse. ED WOOD also featured a scene where Criswell (played by Jeffrey Jones) admitted that his predictions were “horseshit,” and that looking good and talking well were his only real talents.

Image Credit: Touchstone Pictures

This stands counter to other reports, however. Maila Nurmi, a.k.a. Vampira, said in interviews that she believed Criswell was indeed psychic. Mae West, as mentioned, once hired him as her personal psychic, and she continued to be a friend to him for many years, often mailing him expensive home-cooked meals, and selling him luxury cars for $5 a pop. Criswell once predicted that Mae West would become president, and that President West would lead an expedition to the moon with Criswell and Liberace’s brother in tow. That didn’t come true, but I wish I lived in a world where Mae West went to the moon with Criswell and Liberace’s brother.

When asked directly once, Criswell once admitted that he once had psychic abilities, but lost them over time. When he tried to make money from it, they vanished. Commercialism of this sort does tend to dampen the magic. C’est la vie.

New York will not exist as we know it today after January 21, 1980. Shifting ocean currents and earth tremors will begin to remake the eastern coast of the United States beginning in 1971. At first the changes will be small, but within three years our geologists will know what is happening. As the coast-line shifts, the land will sink and the ocean will pour inland. Before 1978, Long Island will be mostly underwater. Only the areas that can be protected by hastily erected dikes will escape—and they, not for long. Manhattan will become a city of canals, like Venice. Billions of dollars will be spent to save New York, but by 1980, all efforts will have failed and a new New York will rise, further inland, at a great expense.

Were all of Criswell’s predictions wild? Not all of them. He once famously said, on THE JACK PAAR SHOW, that President Kennedy wouldn’t run for re-election in 1964 because “something would happen to him” in November of 1963. One dead president later, Criswell was right.

Many of Criswell’s predictions were published in a 1968 book, CRISWELL PREDICTS FROM NOW TO THE YEAR 2000, which can be found, used, through various online retailers. More intimate is Criswell’s 1970 long-playing record THE LEGENDARY CRISWELL PREDICTS YOUR INCREDIBLE FUTURE, which was reissued on CD following the release of Tim Burton’s movie.

Image Credit: Dionysus Records
Image Credit: Dionysus Records

What happened to Criswell? He is certainly a cult figure, but his star has certainly faded in recent years. I think he should be vaunted again. If he was a huckster, he sold some of the weirdest wares imaginable; homosexual cities? Meteors destroying London? Alien visitors? If he was a huckster, he had to be aware that this was a strange, strange con. His boldness should warrant our attention. If he was a mere showman, then we should admire his presence and his tenacity. Criswell made predictions for years, turning “looking good and talking well” into a career. He wasn’t as diverse or as impactful as, say, P.T. Barnum or William Castle, but he belongs in the same camp.

And if he was a kook who believed his own predictions, then we should admire the man for his honesty, his forethought, and his earnest outsider desire to share his gifts with the world. CRISWELL PREDICTS was a notable and wonderful piece of outsider culture that should be remembered and celebrated.

Remember: Future events such as these will effect you in the future.

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