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A Thousand Clowns

original film poster
Directed by Fred Coe
Produced by Fred Coe
Written by Herb Gardner
Starring Jason Robards
Barbara Harris
Martin Balsam
Music by Gerry Mulligan
Don Walker
Cinematography Arthur Ornitz
Editing by Ralph Rosenblum
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) 1965
Running time 118 minutes
Country United States
Language English

A Thousand Clowns is a 1965 American film which tells the story of a young boy who lives with his eccentric uncle Murray, who is forced to conform to society in order to keep custody of the boy. The movie was adapted by Herb Gardner from his 1962 play, and directed by Fred Coe. Gardner based the Murray Burns character on his friend, Jean Shepherd, who is said not to have appreciated the gesture.



Plot summary

Unemployed television writer Murray Burns (Jason Robards), lives in a cluttered New York City one-bedroom apartment with his 12-year-old nephew, Nick (Barry Gordon). Murray has been unemployed for five months after walking out on his previous job, writing jokes for a children's television show called "Chuckles the Chipmunk". Nick, the illegitimate son of Murray's sister, was left with Murray seven years earlier.

When Nick writes a school assignment on the benefits of unemployment insurance, his school sends social workers to investigate his living conditions. Confronted by investigators for the Child Welfare Board, Sandra Markowitz (Barbara Harris) and her superior and boyfriend Albert Amundson (William Daniels), Murray is threatened with removal of the child from his custody unless he can prove he is a capable guardian of Nick.

Murray charms and seduces Sandra, who convinces Murray to obtain employment. They begin a relationship. Although Murray tries to avoid returning to work, he finds himself in a dilemma: if he wishes to keep his nephew, he must swallow his dignity and go back to work; on the other hand, he can't let go of Nick until he thinks the boy has shown some backbone; he "wants a little guts to show." In a confrontation with his brother and agent Arnold (Martin Balsam), Murray states his nonconformist worldview. Arnold rejoins that his own goal, by contrast, is to be "the best possible Arnold Burns".

Murray realizes that he must get a job, and after walking out on several interviews, he agrees to meet his former employer the detested "Chuckles" host, Leo Herman (Gene Saks). Leo insults Nick, but Murray refuses to do anything, upsetting Nick. But Nick stands up to Leo, telling Leo he is the fool that he so obviously is, and Murray sees the boy has finally grown a backbone; the guts have shown. At that point Murray becomes able to join the crowds of people heading to their jobs. He knows Nick has come of age.

Awards and nominations

Martin Balsam won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in this film as Murray's brother and agent. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Music (Scoring of Music, Adaptation, or Treatment), and Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium).

Herb Gardner won the 1965 WGA Award for Best Written American Comedy.

Ralph Rosenblum was nominated for the American Cinema Editors 1966 "Golden Eddie" award for film editing.


External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

A Thousand Clowns is a 1965 film about an eccentric, nonconformist children's television writer living in a New York City apartment with his nephew Nick.

Directed by Fred Coe. Written by Herb Gardner, adapted from his 1962 Broadway play of the same name.


Albert: Sandra, it's really time we left for Queens.
Sandra: Here's the Ledbetter file, I'm staying here.
Albert: Sandra.
Sandra: I have decided to pursue this case.
Albert: Sandra, have we lost all professional control?
Sandra: You just -- you just go yourself -- to the Leadbellies -- you go on to Queens.

Albert: Mr. Burns, you can assume at this point that Miss Markowitz is no longer involved with your case. The Board will be informed that she is no longer involved with this particular case. Her continuing here, to discuss your case -- at this point -- is entirely unofficial. You can dismiss any conference -- that may resume after I leave -- when I leave here, from your mind. And regardless of what you think of me--
Murray: I think you're a dirty O.W.
Albert: And -- do you know what you are? Maladjusted!
Murray: Oooh! [strikes heart and sinks to the floor]

Albert: Miss Markowitz did not show up in Queens yesterday.
Murray: So...
Albert: Well, her parents are quite upset. I am quite upset. Where is she?
Murray: She’s hiding in the closet.
Albert: Now, we’re really all quite anxious to know where she is.
Murray: I’m not kidding, Albert, she’s in the closet.
Albert: [checks the closet, gazes at her momentarily, quickly closes the door, and goes back to talk with Murray] She is in the closet.
Murray: I wouldn’t lie to you, Albert.
Albert: Why is she in the closet?
Murray: I don’t know, uh…she’s got this thing about closets.
Albert: Well, that’s a very silly thing for her to be in, that closet.
Murray: Well, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Now, what else can I do for you, Albert?
Albert: That’s a difficult thing for me to believe...I mean, that she’s right there in the closet. You know, you are not a person, Mr. Burns, you are an experience!
Murray: [laughing] That’s very nice, Albert. I’ll have to remember that.


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