Charles "Chuck" Burnes
February 14, 1931 – April 29, 2020
Funeral Service Broadcast
Saturday, May 16th, 2020
(Please Contact Family for a Link)
Our hearts are broken. We lost our amazing dad this past Wednesday morning as he passed away in his sleep. He was 89 years old. For everyone who knew him, Chuck was one of the kindest human beings you could ever meet on the planet. He was truly a 'family man' who supported and cared for his wife and kids 110% percent, and loved us to the tenth power. I don't think my brother, Richard, or I, throughout our own lives, ever doubted that love for one tiny second. Dad was a humble sort of man with a great smile, a signature handlebar mustache, and a twinkle in his eye, who meant so much to so many people wherever he went, especially those involved directly or indirectly with show business.
During his incredible career, our father worked as an actor, circus clown, opera extra, writer, producer, circus manager, producing clown, agent, advance man, theatre manager, columnist, ticket seller, event planner, entertainment director, consultant, and the list doesn't end. He actually only ever held what might be considered a 'normal' job for about a year and a half with the rest of his life devoted entirely to entertainment, full-time, and he was so proud of that. He just loved everything about this crazy business.
As a very young man, he co-managed the Palace Theatre on the east coast during the time when vaudeville was desperately trying to make a comeback. He took up acting and played several seasons of summer stock. Cut to a few years later, during the '50s and '60s, and Dad was now touring for 7+ years with Ringling Bros. Circus, "The Greatest Show on Earth!" He was one of the last great clowns from that era, alongside Lou Jacobs and Otto Griebling, playing to thousands of spectators each and every show in giant arenas. He also promoted the circus wherever they traveled, making a thousand-plus appearances on television and radio programs throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It was on the Ringling show that he met and would eventually marry our beautiful mom, Carole (nicknamed 'Bambi' after a type of bread made by her mother.) who performed in the show as a dancer and aerialist.
Upon moving to the west coast, and settling in southern California, he immediately found work as a regular guest star on Mark Wilson's "The Magic Land of Allakazam" television series, very often in the role of Christopher Periwinkle, the Toy Maker (13 episodes). Throughout the decades, Dad met, chatted, and worked with a wide variety of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Jerry Lewis, Groucho Marx, Milton Berle, Vincent Price, Walt Disney, Jonathan Winters, Charles Nelson Reilly, Phyllis Diller, Patrick Stewart, and many more. He also produced and consulted on a wide array of special events, seasonal parades, and stage shows for over four decades for major theme parks including Disneyland, Great America, and most notably, Knott's Berry Farm for 17 years, and then even more years as an independent consultant and producer. Chuck was also known as the "Voice of Knott's Berry Farm" providing the recorded welcomes and announcements that were broadcast all throughout the park, from the main entrance to many of the individual rides and attractions. If all that weren't enough, he also toured throughout the world with the Disney On Parade arena show, which played the largest venues including its very own gigantic tents in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Dad also co-produced multiple, large scale "4th of July Spectaculars!" special event productions for the Angel Stadium of Anaheim. His own company, Periwinkle Productions (named after his 'Allakazam' character) co-owned with our mom, created unique entertainment and production and revue shows for corporate & special events, banquets, theatres, and colleges for over 30 years. The list of acts he hired over his entire lifetime is literally an eye-popping 'Who's Who' of magic and the variety arts, with many of them becoming close and dear friends to the point that he and Mom fondly thought of many of them as 'family'.
Dad also loved being part of the legendary Magic Castle (aka The Academy of Magical Arts) up in Los Angeles, since its inception back in the 60's. As a matter of fact, his membership number is #115 of the first 150 who joined the fledgling club. He served on quite a few of their committees over the years and was so proud of his involvement and of the friends he made there. This unusual organization now has over 5,000 members and the Castle is still considered the 'Mecca' of the art of magic and its rich history.
But more than all of his career and various achievements combined, he was most proud of Richard and me in our individual pursuits and careers, and was beyond tickled to play the role of grandfather after we each got married and had kids of our own.
Dad retired more than a decade ago, devoting the latter part of his life to writing a bi-weekly column for Circus Report, traveling some, and catching as many shows as he could in person. He just lived and breathed this wonderful business and was still as excited as when he was a child to see the latest editions of circuses and touring shows that routed over to the west coast. He attended magic and circus conventions, gave a few talks and interviews here and there about his illustrious career, and in 2014, was officially welcomed and inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame that includes such notables as Red Skelton, Charlie Chaplin, Lou Jacobs, Otto Griebling, Dougie Ashton, Avner Eisenberg, and Bill Irwin.
Near the end, it was unfortunately learned that Dad had been diagnosed with dementia, which eventually turned into Alzheimer's. But instead of a hospital or care facility, he was able to live out his final years at home, thanks to the love and care provided by Mom, family members, and a devoted, wonderful team of nurses and caretakers, who also became part of our extended 'family.'
Behind the scenes, Dad had been working earnestly on his autobiography over the past 25 years, and the initial draft of the manuscript was finished last year. But due to his gradual memory loss, so many wonderful details, facts, and anecdotes, not to mention cool and noteworthy photos and images, were left behind and not included. (I've been busy with rewrites to expand the pages to accommodate all of those additional cherished and often hilarious stories, and following up even further with more in-depth interviews of the people around him who were a treasured part of his life.)
Looking back, I continue to be so humbled and grateful to have had not only such an unusual and adventurous childhood because of our parents, but to also have had such a one-of-a-kind father that really made you feel important, loved, and wanted. And I know my brother feels the very same way. Thanks to our dad, we were given the opportunity to explore much of the world, firsthand, and to understand it and its humanity so much better than if we had simply grown up in just one tiny spot on the planet. Through the examples of his life, we were indirectly taught that you could do literally anything you dreamed up or aspired to as long as you put the effort in, and not give up. I'll be forever thankful for that nugget of wisdom.
Dad, we love you so much. Thank you for starting each moment we met you with a hug and kiss. Thank you for everything you inspired in us and hoped for. And I hope you know the number of lives you touched along the way, and how much you were truly loved by so many during your time on this tiny blue marble.
A memorial service, most likely online, will be planned in the coming weeks, and I promise to keep everyone informed once it is all formalized and confirmed. My sincere thanks to all who befriended him and were friends with him. And thank you to everyone who has shared their own heartfelt stories about Dad with us over the years. Much love to all of you.
In Lieu of Flowers
In lieu of flowers please consider making a donation in Chuck's honor to one of the following programs:
Meals on Wheels O.C.
1200 N Knolwood Circle
Anaheim, CA 92801
Kaiser Hospice Care
17542 17th St.
Tustin, CA 92780