A debut memoir recounts the life of an entertainer who became known as Charles the Clown.
Kraus began learning magic when he was just 10 years old, taking the train to Manhattan from whichever borough his family lived in to buy material for tricks at a specialty shop. He studied TV performers, honed his comedy chops, and started playing paid shows as a teenager. Life tugged him around the map, from attending boarding school in Massachusetts and Connecticut to serving a four-year stint in the Navy and finally landing in Los Angeles. Along the way, Kraus performed magic and comedy, sometimes opening for comedian Jay Jason while employed as his personal assistant. The author even presented magic for kids in Vietnam during his military service. In one of his best stories, he recalls answering an ad looking for variety acts for a movie called John Hoffman’s World of Talent. According to the author, he knew the film was a charade, but, being underage at the time, he forged his father’s signature to participate. While the project delivered a cautionary tale about show business, it was still a fun experience and allowed Kraus to brag he was in a movie. He was soon convinced he was not meant to be an actor after watching talented troupers at the Barn Playhouse in New Hampshire. But he could amuse adults and children. Told by a Los Angeles agent that there were too many magicians, the author accidentally found his calling as a clown. The book offers some illuminating anecdotes about performing. For example, one of Kraus’ signature bits, transforming himself into a clown in front of an audience of kids, developed because he was late to a gig and didn’t have time to dress up. So he improvised. There is true love of the craft in much of this memoir, which features black-and-white photographs, though it is long in spots and broken up awkwardly into one-paragraph chapters in others. In an early chapter, the author devotes only one paragraph to an engagement after which he had an epiphany that he didn’t need a lot of props to entertain. The scene could have been an emotional high point if given more space. Still, his passion for show business shines through brightly, and that makes this a worthy read for anyone similarly inclined.
A charming, if gently flawed, account of a performer’s intriguing journey.