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Jack Smith

Those out-of-body experiences are beginning to get under his skin

January 29, 1987|JACK SMITH

I have an idea that we are about to undergo a massive popular surge of mystical seeking, experience and revelation in America.

We have always been easy marks for snake oil salesmen, but in recent years, various polls show, more Americans than ever believe in paranormal phenomena such as telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, astral projection, reincarnation and extraterrestrial visitation.

Surveys made recently by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Council indicate that 67% of Americans say they have experienced extrasensory perception, 73% believe in life after death and 42% (67% of widows) believe they have had contact with the dead.

Andrew Greeley, an Arizona priest, sociologist and novelist, reports on those studies in an article ominously entitled "Mysticism Goes Mainstream," in American Health magazine.

It may be, Greeley allows, that the incidence of mystic experiences is rising in the nation, but he favors the explanation that because of Shirley MacLaine and people like her, "millions are less afraid to talk about the experiences."

Greeley's article is followed by one about Ms. MacLaine's dramatization of her own experiences in the recent TV miniseries "Out on a Limb," based on her book of that name.

Ms. MacLaine's show ran five hours, and was undoubtedly seen by millions. Almost certainly it will generate a new wave of mystic and psychic experiment and witness.

One predictable result has already happened. In the series Ms. MacLaine enters an occult book shop in West Hollywood and is standing by a tall shelf, idly turning the pages of a book, when another book falls from the top shelf right into her hands. There is no earthquake. No one bumps into the shelf. The book simply falls of its own volition, or by some outside force. It's a miracle. Of course that book changes her life.

Since the series was shown, I am told, that little bookstore has been stampeded by mobs looking for a mystical experience; but I doubt that any more books are going to fall out of shelves into customers' hands unless the shop is electrically rigged for such chicanery.

I don't mean to make sport of Ms. MacLaine's belief. Everyone is entitled to her own mystical experiences. Besides, Ms. MacLaine is a delightful actress, she has a charismatic personality, and she dances like a youngster.

Still, it seems to me the series was strangely divided between her love affair with a British politician, which was not facilitated by any paranormal incidents, and her mystical adventures in the Andes with a young man who has been star-struck by contact with a female extraterrestrial. Ms. MacLaine is well into her mystical adventures when she meets her Englishman; they carry on their furtive affair in London, France, Sweden and Hawaii, always communicating by telephone. I wondered why they never used ESP, but maybe that's because he was a skeptic.

Ms. MacLaine believes that their swift mutual attraction is a result of their having known each other in a previous life.

Her lover, on the other hand, is the film's heavy as well as its romantic hero, since he believes that such notions are poppycock.

Ms. MacLaine gets far out, literally, when she accompanies her young teacher to Peru. He has assured her, in his smug, gently supercilious, out-of-this-world way, that spacecraft from other planets have been landing high in the Andes for years.

There, in bleak lodgings and at rarefied altitudes that allow Ms. MacLaine to slip in and out of smashing high-couture ponchos, she is soon transformed into a believer.

In a mountain hovel she consults a female seer who tells her that her friend Bella Abzug is going to lose the New York mayoralty contest to a man with no hair and long fingers (obviously Ed Koch).

When she goes out alone at night and her jeep fails to start, her guru is led to her rescue by his extraterrestrial contact, who wears blue jeans and has crazy eyes. Going back down the mountain with Ms. MacLaine, he takes his hands off the wheel and his extraterrestrial friend steers the speeding truck safely around the dangerous curves.

If Ms. MacLaine is trying to tell me that that ever happened, I don't believe her.

Her young man lures Ms. MacLaine into a hot sulfur tub (evidently with no sexual intentions, despite her affectation of modesty), and while immersed in the bubbling water she closes her eyes and has an out-of-body experience. We see her flying in her teddy among the stars, looking down at the curving earth, connected to her body by a silver ribbon.

I suppose that could happen to anyone.

Earlier, before going to Peru, Ms. MacLaine consults a couple of channelers--people who are mediums for channeling words of wisdom from disembodied entities, presumably dead. One of these mediums is a Swede whom she visits in his house; the other is a man who has a great head of bushy hair, wears a fedora on top of it, and looks like a cross between a concert violinist and a Mafia hit man. He performs for her in her Malibu house. I didn't see any money exchange hands, so maybe he sent her a bill.

Both of these fellows go through unconvincing little acts of leaving the here and now, twitching, mumbling and so on, and then become mediums or channels for the spoken words of their contacts.

We will soon have droves of rich channelers.

I will say one thing for Bella Abzug--she didn't buy any of this stuff.

Too bad she didn't beat Ed Koch.

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