A Thousand Clowns (1965) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A middle-aged iconoclast, doggedly avoiding the tedium of employment and conventional life, faces the prospect of losing custody of his young ward.

  • 12-year-old Nick lives with his Uncle Murray, a Mr. Micawber-like Dickensian character who keeps hoping something won't turn up. What turns up is a social worker who falls in love with Murray and a bit in love with Nick. As the child-welfare people try to force Murray to become a conventional man (the price they demand for allowing him to keep Nick), the nephew, who until now has gloried in his uncle's iconoclastic approach to life, tries to play mediator. But when he succeeds, he is alarmed by the uncle's willingness to cave in to society in order to save the relationship.

  • In New York City, Murray Burns happily leads a life of non-conformity. One of his latest non-beliefs is in work, most specifically the 9-to-5 rat race, and he's been unemployed for 5 months after quitting his job as a writer on a children's television series. For 7 years he has taken care of his 12-year-old nephew, who attends the Revere School For Gifted Children. He was abandoned by his never-married mother, Murray's sister Elaine, and her current whereabouts is completely unknown. She had never even given her son a first or last name, and Murray made an agreement with him that he could call himself whatever he wanted until he turned 13, and then they would apply to give him his legal name. The boy currently goes by "Nick," which Murray thinks he will choose as his legal name when he turns 13 in four weeks. Murray and Nick's situation comes to the attention of the Child Welfare Board, who could take Nick away from Murray as he has never been officially named as Nick's guardian and might not be deemed a suitable one because he has no job. The caseworkers for the Child Welfare Board are the administrator, the officious Albert Amundson; and the child psychologist, the more emotionally-sensitive Dr. Sandra Markowitz; just by their interactions with each other, Murray can see that Albert and Sandra also have a personal relationship. While Murray does make an impression on the pair, he knows that to keep Nick, whom he truly loves, he needs to make some quick concessions to show the Board that he is taking steps to being a responsible guardian. The question becomes how far Murray will go for Nick, especially to get work in his field, the nature of television having gone downhill in his opinion. Perhaps more importantly, how far will Nick let Murray change from the man he knows and loves?

  • Determined to avoid employment, eccentric former TV writer Murray Burns lives with his 12-year-old nephew Nick in a messy New York City apartment. When Nick's unconventional home life is discovered, Murray comes under the scrutiny of social worker Sandra Markowitz. Attempting to be responsible for both Nick and Sandra, Murray begrudgingly seeks a job. But can he truly commit to a more conventional life?


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