“As a singer, I sound like Elvis Presley, no matter how hard I try not to,” says James Kruk, who disbanded his former group Fake Booby Judy and became, for a time, one of Poland’s top Elvis impersonators.
“The Elvis show happened from a karaoke contest in Krakow [around 2004],” says Kruk, who was teaching English in Poland at the time. “I went up on stage and the crowd went crazy, like I was really Elvis. They made me sing every Elvis CD they had, and the crowd loved it. I was shocked! I won the karaoke contest that night.… The prize was some Russian champagne.”
Though popular, Kruk says Poles didn’t pay much for his Elvis act.
“The most I got was 200 Polish zloty for a 45-minute gig. That was around $70 U.S. Now, it’s worth something like $120.”
Before settling in San Diego with his Polish-born wife, Kruk spent two years touring the U.S. as Elvis in Steve Martin’s stage play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, about Albert Einstein meeting Pablo Picasso in a bar before they become famous.
“Elvis shows up as a time-traveling deus ex machina, to juxtapose the impact of fame and genius. I was paid $1500 a week, plus $600 weekly per diem for food and hotels.”
Comedian Steve Martin authored the play but didn’t appear in it. “He was around for rehearsals and for some shows, though,” says Kruk. “He had the cast over for dinner when the tour stopped in L.A., which was cool. Some cast were swooning and telling him his greatest movies. I told him mine was The Muppet Movie. He was not amused.”
– Jay Allen Sanford