clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Publicist Herb Kraus dies at 95; worked with MLK; Truman Library

Herb Kraus had a roster of high-profile public relations clients; was president of the Publicity Club of Chicago and taught at Columbia College. | Supplied photo

Herb Kraus’ public relations clients read like a history of Chicago and the Greater Midwest — the Rev. Martin Luther King, Tommy Bartlett’s Water Show, Vienna Sausage, Inland Steel, the Harry S. Truman Library, Marina City and Bresler’s Ice Cream, which at its peak had 300 stores and came in 33 Flavors.

As the publicist for Israel Bonds, he met Golda Meir, the fourth prime minister of Israel. And he taught public relations for almost 30 years at Columbia College.

Mr. Kraus died in his sleep on May 20 at his home near Belmont Harbor, according to his daughter, Claudia Kraus Piper. He was 95.

He gave many Chicago public relations professionals their first jobs, hiring them out of college and generously passing along some of his own clients when they were ready to establish their own firms, said his friend Howard Mendelsohn. Often, he worked free for nonprofits. In 2006, Mr. Kraus won a lifetime achievement award from the Publicity Club of Chicago, where he was a past president.

Publicist Herb Kraus worked on the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum with the president. | Provided photo
Publicist Herb Kraus worked on the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum with the president. | Provided photo

Friends said he could produce spare, elegant copy as if on an assembly line.

Publicist June Rosner recalled how Mr. Kraus — her former boss — helped when she landed her first customer, the International Academy of Proctologists. She froze when she had to write a news release about the group’s gathering.

“He sits down, pushes me over, says, ‘Who are they? What are they doing?” she recalled. “He just typed it all up within about 45 seconds, and I just said, ‘I’m going to learn to do that.’ He was so talented and such a good writer.”

“His copy just sang,” said Mendelsohn, a publicist and frequent contributor to Irv Kupcinet’s long-running column in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mr. Kraus also invested in successful 1960s Broadway shows including the Mike Nichols-directed “Any Wednesday,” featuring Gene Hackman and Sandy Dennis, and “Luv,” starring Alan Arkin, Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach. He shared common-sense advice on bankrolling productions. “Don’t invest one penny more than you are prepared to lose,” he wrote in the Chicago Daily News.

Born Hershel Meir Kraus in Cleveland, his name was later changed to Herbert Myron Kraus. His family owned an Indiana restaurant supplies store and he grew up in Hammond and Calumet City, Claudia Kraus Piper said.

He started college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before his 16th birthday. In 1942, after college, he served as an Army combat correspondent in the South Pacific. He was awarded a Purple Heart after he was shot in the chest while riding in a jeep, his daughter said in his eulogy.

Herb Kraus backed Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 race. | Provided photo
Herb Kraus backed Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 race. | Provided photo

He entered public relations in Chicago in the 1950s, a more formal era in which he often wore a derby to work. His first clients included the American Jewish Committee and State of Israel Bonds.

In 1964, he used his connections to get tickets for Claudia and another daughter, Gale Reinitz, to see the Beatles at Chicago’s International Ampitheatre, where he stood stoically amid screaming, fainting girls, Claudia Kraus Piper said.

In 1966, he worked with King on a civil rights rally at Soldier Field. Decades afterward, he still regretted that he never obtained a photo someone snapped of him alongside King.

He backed progressive causes and candidates, no matter the party, his daughter said. Mr. Kraus served as a delegate for presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy at Chicago’s 1968 Democratic convention.

“I am not a pacifist,” he told the Sun-Times. “But, like Sen. McCarthy, I believe that the war in Vietnam is an unjust war, an immoral war.” He went to the 1980 GOP convention in Detroit on behalf of candidate John Anderson.

Herb Kraus, wife Catherine and entertainer Jimmy Durante. | Provided photo
Herb Kraus, wife Catherine and entertainer Jimmy Durante. | Provided photo

In the 1970s, his firm merged with New York’s Manning, Selvage and Lee.

As a member of the Clarence Darrow Commemorative Committee, Mr. Kraus worked to keep alive the memory of a lawyer who crusaded for sometimes unpopular causes. Darrow eloquently argued on behalf of an evolution-espousing teacher in 1925 Tennessee in the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial. And he worked on the sensational case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two bright, wealthy young men from Kenwood accused of the 1924 thrill killing of 14-year-old Bobby Franks. Many say Darrow’s powers of persuasion saved them from execution. The murder was the basis for the Alfred Hitchcock film, “Rope.”

A first marriage to Barbara Cohen Marks ended in divorce. He met his second wife, Catherine Capraro Kraus, when she sat next to him at a Pete Seeger concert.

He served on the boards of Victory Gardens theater, the Jeff Awards and Hull House.

His wife died before him. In addition to his daughters, Mr. Kraus is also survived by four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services have been held.