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Behind the Scenes With a Master Hypnotist

Michael Mesmer says he can't make people do what they don't want to do. Or can he?

Every day Michael Mesmer transports more than a dozen people to a beautiful beach and gives them a million dollars.

Then he has them celebrate. Some dance, some bask. Most of them have their eyes closed and almost all of them get laughs from the audience at the Santa Cruz County Fair who can't quite see their dream world.

For 12 years Mesmer has done the hypnosis show twice a day at the fair, his popularity never waning. You'd think by now he would have either hypnotised everyone in the county, or chased away the skeptics.

But he's done neither and the crowds keep coming, amazed at what they've seen.

"There's no way it's real," says the curmudgeonly "Sleepy" John Sandidge, the local concert promoter and KPIG-FM radio personality, at the show with his young grandchildren. "He tells them what to do before and they do it. It's an act."

No way, says Mesmer, who studied clinical hypnosis for 500 hours and uses the techniques in his show. Hypnosis is a therpeutic form of mental control and was used to relieve pain before the discovery of anaesthetics. And it's not particularly mystical in all of its forms.

Daydreaming and watching TV for a long time are forms of hypnosis. So is driving a familiar route.

"Have you ever driven someplace familiar for several hours and gotten there, but didn't remember the last 100 miles? That's a kind of hypnosis."

Mesmer claims at its most extreme, hypnosis can help channel blood in the body and control the growth of various organs. You can buy his hypnosis CDs for male enhancement or female breast size, or to help you sleep or give up smoking.

Mesmer, 54, who plays 380 shows a year, at fairs and Vegas theaters, isn't the kind of hypnotist who makes fools of people. No chicken dances or stripping.

But they certainly look funny under his spell, dancing with Ricky Martin, playing in his band, laying out on the imaginary beach with their millions.

He takes pride in playing sober grad nights for high school students, which are serious about keeping kids alive and not driving drunk, but still bring plenty of laughs.

Check the photos on the right and the video interviews with Mesmer.

See him live at 6 and 9 p.m. Friday and 6 and 8:45 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Fair. He promises special greatest hits shows on Sunday.

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