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SUNDAY BRUNCH | Out & About

A Rare Medium Stakes His Claim

January 25, 1998|IRENE LACHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When James Van Praagh has told you so, he has really told you so.

"I told them when they bought my book it would be a New York Times bestseller, and they didn't believe me. The publicist at Dutton said, 'Well, every author likes to think that.' I said, 'No. Listen to me. Take advantage of me. Please.' "

Use him, don't abuse him. This man is heavily connected in a town where connections count.

OK, so maybe his connections are your dead grandmother. Or Barry Manilow's.

Manilow once asked Van Praagh, who's a West Hollywood medium, to chat up Judy Garland. Instead, Van Praagh coughed up Manilow's Yiddische grandmama.

Who knew?

"I can't contact people unless you're connected with them," says Van Praagh, 39. "I told him, 'Your grandmother's here' and she was talking Yiddish and I don't know a word of it and I was speaking Yiddish. And she talked about making lunch for him, and then she said, 'You're going to meet Liza Minnelli.' "

Manilow says he'd never met Liza, but he would an hour later--a limo was coming to take him to a television benefit for AIDS co-starring Minnelli. "Isn't that wild?"

That reminds us of our own reading with Van Praagh. He summoned our long-departed dad, who went on to call our last boyfriend "self-obsessed." That's a hit.

If you want to know how Dad knew, just ask James. He's giving people an eyeful in his new how-to / memoir, "Talking to Heaven: A Medium's Message of Life After Death" (Dutton).

He was right, by the way. The book was No. 11 on the New York Times bestseller list last week, and Van Praagh predicts it will ascend heavenward.

Yeah, we know all authors say that. Anyway, you might want to know what someone who talks to the dead actually looks like. This one is built like a cannonball, a little guy from New York who talks fast and laughs a lot. Not at all woo-woo, as he puts it. You know, long fingernails, trailing scarves, Medusa hair--woo-woo.

He's a particular brand of psychic--an L.A. psychic. Those are the ones who work their way up from temping at the William Morris Agency.

That was in the early '80s. Van Praagh was temping and minding his own business, which is to say he was a writer, when a woman he knew invited him to visit a medium in Manhattan Beach.

"I said, 'I have enough trouble with the living. Why would I talk to the dead?"'

Ba dum dum.

The Manhattan Beach medium told him he'd be doing what she was doing in two years and guess what? Presto change-o. By the time word of mouth got out, Van Praagh says there was a three-year waiting list of people coming for private readings. Which was more fortunate than you might think, considering the fact that he knows when his own D-Day is coming--"when my work is done on this Earth."

Actually, Van Praagh has since gotten out of the private reading business and become a one-man psychic band. He has a Web site (http://vanpraagh.com), where he plans to give readings. He also comforts the bereaved at mass readings around town. The next one that's not sold out is Feb. 14 at the Learning Light Foundation in Anaheim.

And, lest we forget, he does TV. He started by putting Edgar through on "The Joan Rivers Show," and then moved on to spots on "Unsolved Mysteries" and "The Other Side." Hmmmm. Could there be a James Van Praagh TV special in your future?

Just don't accuse Van Praagh of going Hollywood. "I use it to get the word out, that there is no such thing as death. Only life. That life goes on."

Hey, the medium said it himself--he's the message.

*

Christina Haag, meet Khrystyne Haje.

You know, the one who dated JFK Jr.

That's Christina, who's starring in Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Or was it Khrystyne from TV's "Head of the Class?"

Backstage after opening night last week, the two Chrisses (or should we say Khrysses?) met the real thing--each other. For Christina, who dated Kennedy for years after meeting him at Brown University, the confusion has had its upside: It's been a relief for somebody else to be stamped with the annoying label JFK Jr.'s Girlfriend.

"I swear to God, it was on the news." That's Khrystyne. "They said Christina Haag and John were rumored to be engaged, and then there was commentary. And someone said, 'Yeah, she's on that show, "Head of the Class." I love that show.'

"And all these people called me and said, 'Well, how come you didn't tell me?'

"It's not me."

Meanwhile, Christina's agent has been getting calls about work, "which unfortunately wasn't for me." Oops.

"I would just love it if you could take some of that baggage," Christina said to Khrystyne.

"I'm sorry, it's all yours, but I'm so happy to meet you," said Khrystyne, who will have her own opening night next month in selections from George F. Walker's "Suburban Motel" at Garry Marshall's new Falcon Theatre in Burbank.

These days, Christina, who recently appeared in Stoppard's "Arcadia" at Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage, has eyes only for the witty playwright, whom she once met at a dinner party.

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