Photo by Jeanne RiceIf only John Wayne were around. Newport Beach's adopted favorite son could pull this nervous nation of ours through these warring times with his famed sashay across the room, take-no-guff stare and a patriotic pep talk that he'd no doubt start with, "Now listen up, pilgrims." When George Dubya Bush says he wants Osama bin Laden "dead or live," face it: you snicker. But if the Duke were to repeat those words, you'd puff your chest out with pride while imagining the supremo terrorist shitting his white robes.
Unfortunately, John Wayne isn't around. He got the cancer bad and went off to that great bang-'em-up western-movie set in the sky way back in 1979. But "Psychic to the Stars" Kenny Kingston is around, and on the evening of Oct. 3, he sat in the bedroom of Wayne's old yacht, the Wild Goose, as it cruised through Newport Harbor. I was there because the Learning Light Foundation—the Anaheim-based, spirit-channeling, crystal-rubbing, feng-shuiing outpost that sponsors Kingston's local appearances—sent an invitation that stated, "Kenny will give interviews in the bedroom of the yacht and bring through messages from the Duke."
I arrived at the docks and immediately received a reminder of these troubled times: uniformed men searched all passenger's purses, briefcases and shoulder bags. I stepped aboard the Wild Goose to find about 150 people I had assumed would be Learning Lighters. Instead, this was a typical Newport Beach affair, something longtime Orange County journalists inevitably and repeatedly find themselves sucked into. The usual suspects, in their brimmed hats, gaudy jewelry, fake nails, fake hair, fake teeth and, of course, fake boobs, flittered about. Some had faces pulled so tight you wondered if their ears touched at the backs of their heads. There is "past your prime," there is "way past your prime," and then there is this crowd. Like I said: Newport Beach.
Turns out this was not a Learning Light Foundation event but a floating book fair, with Kingston just one of many authors aboard. Several books being hawked were too obscure even for the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble. I didn't write down exact titles because I'd come only to hear from the Duke, and my memory's a bit fuzzy because I had taken a painkiller (sore back) before boarding.
Shortly after the boat—which, goddamn it, is awfully large for one person to have owned even if he was an American icon—shoved off, I was invited up to the surprisingly small bedroom to meet with Kingston. There ahead of me was a photographer for the Weekly, two Kingston assistants, and two TV reporters who freelance their work to the national and foreign media. After setting her camera up on the bed facing Kingston (who sat in something like a throne), the British camerawoman would often step outside the cabin and tell the jewelry-jiggling bluehairs to keep quiet as she was taping. You had to love her moxie.
For the next hour, Kingston did no channeling at all. Instead, he threw out random thoughts and predictions, some he had previously prepared on three-by-five cards, some he recited from memory and some he claimed spirits were shouting into his head. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but this pixie-ish, nattily dressed dandy reminded me of someone.
Now, this could be the lingering effects of the painkiller talking, but I believe the best way to sum things up is just to reprint what I jotted down in my note pad, in the same order in which Kingston presented it, in one big ol' honking paragraph:
Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles will marry in the next two years. Prince Philip had better watch his health. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lopez and whoever her new husband is will only have successful marriages if the women bear boys. Jim Morrison is still alive. Soul mates for life: Ron and Nancy Reagan, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Bill and Hillary Clinton ("Soul mates do fight," Kingston explained with a toothy smile). Camilla Parker Bowles will not be allowed to retain the title of Duchess of Wales, but they'll give her another title. Women's hemlines will start dropping in 2002, and since less visible flesh will leave more to men's imaginations, there will be more marriages. President Harry Truman thought the title of his office should be changed to President forthe United States. Julia Roberts must not, under any circumstances, marry until 2004. Late Brit singer/songwriter Anthony Newley, who was one of Kingston's best friends, was married three times and gave each wife beautiful children, but his first wife was his soul mate, and, despite not having seen her for decades, he wound up dying in her arms. Dwight D. Eisenhower hated one word in the English language—birthday—because you only have one day of birth and everything else is an anniversary of that date. Princess Margaret's life essentially ended when she was not allowed to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend. Princess Diana's two children should be heavily guarded. She was going to marry Dodi Fayed for the same reason Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis: he could afford round-the-clock protection for her children. Lady Di's death was strictly an accident. The first person to greet her in heaven was the Duchess of Windsor. Marilyn Monroe, excited, called Kingston shortly before she died to say she'd scheduled a press conference to reveal something big to the world. She overdosed before she could make that announcement. Everyone assumes she was going to expose an affair with Robert F. Kennedy. Actually, she was going to announce her remarriage to Joe DiMaggio, who had bought a new suit for the blessed event. This explains why Joltin' Joe forever carried a torch for the actress.
If you're anything like me, God help you. But while some of what's recounted above might be fascinating—or, more accurately, might have been fascinating 30 years ago—there is one glaring omission: NO JOHN FREAKING WAYNE!
Let me refer you back to that Learning Light invitation that got me on that tub in the first place: "Kenny will give interviews in the bedroom of the yacht and bring through messages from the Duke."
Kingston was gracious, enthusiastic and clearly getting off on the attention. But I—and, as I'd later find out, that camera crew—was there to hear from John Wayne, to hear what America's favorite fictional hero made of these anything-but-fictional times in which we find ourselves.
Kingston finally started to head in the Duke's direction. He said that when he went to pick up that Wednesday morning's Los Angeles Times, the page facing up had a photo of John Wayne staring back at him. The story turned out to be an obituary for Frank Gasparro, the chief engraver at the U.S. Mint, who designed the best-selling John Wayne commemorative medal. When I went to look that story up later, I found out it had appeared in Tuesday's edition. Obviously, the "Psychic to the Stars" has the uncanny ability to conjure up day-old newspapers on his driveway.
Kingston said he met Wayne twice in elevators. The first time was in San Francisco; the second several years later in Malibu. During the second encounter, Wayne enlisted the psychic for personal readings, something Kingston says he did 10 to 15 times. He added that when the dying Wayne made his final appearance at the Oscars in 1979 to present the Best Picture Award, his tuxedo was padded to hide the fact that he'd shriveled.
He was now talking about the Duke at death's door. That special message that put four media types in this tiny cabin was surely coming next.
So Kenny, I asked, can we hear from John Wayne now? Pretty please?
"I don't think I can because of the noise," he said amid chatter conveniently going on outside the cabin door. With that, the Brit camerawoman lunged toward the door, flung it open and shouted, "We're going to need a bit of quiet in here." Some of the book-fair schmoozers, by now heavily sauced, apparently told her to piss off—in slightly less vulgar terms.
Kingston went on to explain that he didn't want to fraudulently put words in the dead Duke's mouth for our sakes. Then he launched into a spirited criticism of some of his younger colleagues, whom he wouldn't name, but let's just say the spirits were shouting the name of Sci-Fi Channel phenom John Edwards into my head.
"I've done psychic readings my whole life," Kingston said. "What disturbs me the most about the current crop of psychics on television is every one of them lets audience members ask the questions. So all they have to do is give answers. Anyone can do that. Asking questions is ridiculous."
Kingston is different because he only asks his subjects to repeat their names three times before he supplies details about their pasts, presents and futures.
"A spirit cannot be churned up," he said—despite the Learning Light invitation that stated he'd "bring through messages from the Duke." "You have to bide your time with spirits."
I tried a different tack. I asked, "If you were in a place a spirit had inhabited while he was a mortal—say, John Wayne in his yacht's bedroom, for example—would it be easier to contact him?"
Kingston's answer: "I've never been in a room with six people where I've felt more comfortable."
Then he lashed out at his psychic colleagues again.
"Psychics do make mistakes," he said. "One problem I have with a certain psychic I won't name who appears on late-night television is that person is supposedly never wrong."
Since it was increasingly clear we would not be hearing from John Wayne tonight, I asked if a spirit—any spirit; it did not have to be John Wayne—had warned him in advance about Sept. 11. Kingston said he does private readings out of his Studio City apartment. He reached into that stack of three-by-five cards and pulled out a snapshot he said was taken during a Sept. 1 sance. He pointed to a blurry image on the photo and said it was Quan Lee, a spirit who's constantly at his residence. Kingston claimed he can produce 12 people who were at that sance who can confirm that while in his trance, he—channeling Quan Lee—said, "bombing, bombing, bombing!" However, the sance participants, who no doubt paid good money to be there, did not press Quan Lee for details. They were more interested in who they'd be sleeping with next, where their careers were going, and what Dwight D. Eisenhower's least favorite word was.
"We are a world that refuses to listen," shrugged Kingston, who added that he predicted in 1999 that really bad things would happen in 2001—the real millennium year.
As for the present, Kingston believes Colin Powell is not being allowed to do what he wants to do to combat terrorism. "I personally feel the administration is putting thumbs on him," the psychic said. "He wants to go faster than they'll let him."
Since John Wayne can't comfort us, does Kingston have any advice to get us through these troubled times?
"I think we have to remain very vigilant," he said. "We've got to stop dilly-dallying. It's nice to know who our friends are, but we need to know who our enemies are. There will be three presidents in the next four years. I first said that two years ago. Oh, someone just yelled out 'Elizabeth Dole!' I don't know if that means she's going to be one of those presidents, or if it's one of her spirits on the other side pushing her."
A voice inside me just then screamed, "Jiminy Glick!" I had finally realized who it was Kingston reminded me of. He shares the same voice, mannerisms and hooray-for-Hollywood airs as Martin Short's fictional celebrity interviewer, but—unlike Glick—Kingston is truly charming. And certainly not rotund.
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Kingston next appears at an Oct. 27 spirit-raising event at the Learning Light Foundation, and since it'll be mere days from Halloween, he promised more spirits will be out and he'll be able to make many more predictions.
Who knows? Perhaps the Duke will be on hand to answer my simple question for these trying times:
What would John Wayne do?
Kenny Kingston will be the main attraction at the "Halloween Special!" event at the Learning Light Foundation, 1212 E. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 533-2311; www.learninglight.org. Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m. Prepaid, $20; at the door, $25.