The enigmatic John A. Keel is back. At age 72 his story is now told on film.
John A. Keel, the Indiana Jones of the paranormal, the real-life X-File before Mulder is now a feature film starring Richard Gere who plays John Klein (note initials), a writer investigating the paranormal, and who is possibly experiencing insanity. “It’s a great picture. They did things very cleverly. Everything is implied. The director Mark Pellington gets a lot of credit,” an unusually enthusiastic John A. Keel told MagicTimes during an hour-long interview.
Keel began his career at age 12. “I sold a an article to a magician’s magazine and they sent me a check for two dollars. That was it.” He moved into Manhattan’s Greenwich Village at age 16 and supported himself by writing for poetry magazines, and fraternized with another Village resident, Ted Annemann. “Annemann and I were both from upstate NY (Annemann was from Waverly, Keel from Perry, NY) and we were both young, manic writers with worldly interests.” Keel told MagicTimes.
Keel is best known to magicians for his “autobiography” written at age 27: “Jadoo.” It is one of the first western books to tell the story of Indian street magic. The author befriended many galli galli men, and those who performed feats no longer seen, such as the instantaneous appearance of many small birds from under a basket. The publisher of the 1957 magnum opus was aggressive, and by the time Keel was living in Germany years later, he was famous. In India he was close friends with Sorcar Sr., and in Germany he spent time with Kalanag. Back in the US, he spent countless hours with one of his closest friends, Walter B. Gibson. Keel and Gibson saw eye to eye. Gibson’s “Shadow” was Keel’s “Jadoo.”
Keel has seemingly done it all. Author of 30 books. 100,000 articles in too many languages to count. He’s made ropes and snakes rise in department store windows. He’s been on and written for every talk show since talk shows began. He even performs a neat little “Out to Lunch” business card trick every now and then at his favorite luncheon counter. A book of original tricks he has on a shelf has never been published.
Magic, written about, performed or debunked, real or imagined, illusion or reality, in New York or Tehran (he’s lived in both) is the central pursuit to the man whose letterhead used to boast a wand, quill and noose.
From real research of the vanishing caste of street performers with snakes (“the samp wallah”) in India, to hosting radio broadcasts from the interior of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the road John Keel has followed is captured in his genuinely horrifying book “The Mothman Prophecies.” Originally published by the “Saturday Review Press” in 1975, Keel’s book has been optioned for film many times, but this time, it happened. What makes a feature film “a go” these days?
“A young screenwriter named Richard Hatem is a Keel fan with a huge collection containing articles since 1952. He read “Mothman” 20 times. He wins the Expert Keel Cup.” Keel quipped. “He wrote the screenplay, and was very instrumental in making this happen.”
“He had a romantic angle that no one who ever pitched the screenplay ever had. The movie is really a very good exposition of my thoughts. Alan Bates gives a speech in the movie that is word for word a speech I gave once. Gere plays one side of my brain. Bates the other. It’s very clever. Neither is me, entirely, but I am both of them in the movie.”
HBO is currently (last two weeks in January) running a short film called “The Making of Mothman.” January 23 the F/X channel will run an hour-long documentary about the actual case Keel investigated in the movie. The reprint “Mothman” book cover also matches the gripping movie poster. The original “Men in Black” made their first appearance not in Will Smith’s jiggy vid but in Keel’s life. Then he wrote about it, and the story will scare you to keep the lights on when you sleep.
Keel jokes, “Richard Gere is not the problem…I’m the problem. I can’t get any comps to the screenings!” He continued, “The movie is sort of a crossover from one world to another, the psychic and the real world. This is hard to do with out making it hokey, and this is not hokey.”
One reprint cover to Keel’s monumental tale of magic, mystery and genuine intrigue is a famous Frank Frazetta painting of the dreaded red-eyed beast, the Mothman. The poster has sold in the thousands, and the book? Probably, millions. But Keel hasn’t seen the cash. “I’m the most ripped off author! Even little presses in Finland have knocked off my titles” the matter-of-fact author said.
A UFO superstar, Keel doesn’t believe in little green men. However, Keel’s truth is out there, in movie theaters nationwide, beginning January 25.
The Mothman Prophecies
Starring: Richard Gere & Laura Linney with Alan Bates
Directd by: Mark Pellington
Screenplay by: Richard Hatem
Based on the book: “The Mothman Prophecies” by John A. Keel, 1975
Opens nationwide: January 25, 2002
For more information click: HERE.
To order the latest edition of The Mothman Prophecies click: HERE.
Ben Robinson is a magician and writer who lives in New York City. He wrote “Twelve Have Died,” the definitive book on the Bullet Catch, and is a recipient of the Milbourne Christopher Foundation award for his notable contributions to magic. He is the co-founder of The Art Rock ‘N Roll Circus and produced STOMP at Lincoln Center. His latest book “Ben Robinson On Synchronicity” was published last year on CD. For more information visit: www.illusiongenius.com.