Right here We are Once more: Kukla, Fran And Ollie
As I’ve talked about often, I love Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy (and Mortimer Snerd). The one other that equals them for me is Burr Tillstrom and Kukla, Fran and Ollie.
I’ve tried to seek out video of the Kuklapolitan Gamers online, and there is some, but unfortunately none of it does the show justice. It is all very brief clips, and whereas they’re fun they’re note simply fairly proper — some do not have Fran, or they depart out Kukla, or are simply songs, or are appearances on other exhibits, or doing commercials. The factor about Kukla, Fran and Ollie that makes them so special, though, is that what Burr Tillstrom did is create slightly world where all the characters work together intricately with one another, a world that exists on its own phrases separate from the fact around them, where there’s a lot affection between all of the characters, but still has it’s fair-share of lunacy and snarkiness. And it is all tied along with the exceptional skill of Fran Allison who interacts with them so flat-out, other-worldly impeccably that you just sense if she believes the Kuklapolitans to be absolutely, undeniably actual, then why not you? And in the end, the show was as much for adults as little kids with its sly references and subtly, constructing a story slowly over time — which is certainly one of the main causes, too, why quick clips do not work.
Not to worry, I do have some clips under at the top. They simply don’t…effectively, do the show justice.
The factor about Kukla, Fran and Ollie that bowls me over is the brilliance of Burr Tillstrom. It is simple to look at the old (and short) movies and never pay shut consideration and be dismissive. Many of the Kuklapolitans haven’t got mouths that transfer, and the few that do move (Ollie, as an example) don’t achieve this with the impeccable syncing we’ve come to expect from the very best of the craft, like most notably Jim Henson’s Muppets. The truth is, sometimes Ollie’s mouth is even closed for a phrase or two when he speaks. This kind of thing bothered a friend of mine who at one point had executed a bit bit of puppetry. I said it missed the purpose of what Tillstrom was doing — and why he gained three Emmys, two Peabodys and stays beloved after 60 years.
Edgar Bergen, for instance, wasn’t technically impeccable, usually having his own characters chide him for having the ability to see his lips move. Yet Bergen was idolized (Jim Henson dedicated The Muppet Movie to him), and that was for the characters he created, absolutely believable and richly developed with lives of their very own. We adored the characters. If his lips moved, so what?
And that’s the identical with the Kuklapolitans, as I mentioned. It is just as vibrant and substantive. But additionally, what tends to get overlooked, because it’s all out of sight and executed with such seeming ease, is that all of the characters, every of them distinctive, are carried out by Burr Tillstrom (aside from Fran, after all…) — many scenes often juggling four or five characters at a time, or more, shifting voices all through, having speedy-hearth arguments back-and-forth between them and not missing a trick. It is masterful craft, seamless and good. And made all the more so when you additionally uncover that all of the shows were ad-libbed. There was a walleye fishing shirts basic plot define, they usually rehearsed the songs with long-time music director Jack Fascinato. However that was it. He was making up with the wit, whimsy and charm on the spot. It is largely why Burr Tillstrom was also idolized.
Several years again, I occurred to be in Chicago when the Chicago Historical Society had a 50th anniversary tribute exhibition on Kukla, Fran and Ollie, because the present was originated and broadcast from the town and where Burr Tillstrom lived. The exhibit was a joy. They’d the original puppet stage — which you could possibly stroll behind and see how all of the puppets hung there for Tillstrom to grab and quickly put on. And all the original puppets have been on show. Additionally they had video monitors playing episodes all through the museum. And it was full of memorabilia, historical past, and extra, making the world of the Kuklapolitans come alive. (The television Academy in Los Angeles had a tribute, as effectively — held alas when I was in Chicago. A pal went, and mentioned the large auditorium was packed…and laughing uproariously on the episode being showed with Madame Ophelia Oglepuss trying to organize the Kuklapolitans to placed on one among her annual effective artwork operas, as a rule Gilbert and Sullivan. A video monitor at the museum occasion had excerpts from that same episode — it was indeed laugh-out-loud funny, cracking up the Tv crew in the background, who didn’t know what was coming.)
How talented was Burr Tillstrom? The exhibit also had the Joseph Jefferson Award gained by Madame Oglepuss for her efficiency as Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, for Just a little Night Music!! Sincere. Not solely is that exceptional on its own merits, but you have to perceive that theater is a big deal in Chicago, and the Jefferson Award is significant, the town’s model of the Tony. Back in the 1970s (or perhaps early ’80s), an area, properly-regarded theater company was putting on Stephen Sondheim’s musical and asked Burr Tillstrom if he’d participate and have Madame Oglepuss seem every evening as the grandmother — a role played in the unique Broadway manufacturing by Hermione Gingold and in the recent revival by Angele Lansbury, He agreed — and the museum had the Joseph Jefferson Award on display, to Madame Ophelia Oglepuss, to prove it.
For me, though, my biggest treat of the exhibit was seeing the puppet for my favorite Kuklapolitan, Cecil Bill. (Pronounced “Sess-uhl.) Tillstrom rarely used Cecil Invoice on the present, probably because the little man was so totally different and nuts that it could overdo his charm and lunacy if he was on a lot. That’s because Cecil Invoice nearly lived in his own world and spoke his own, insane language, comprised largely of various incarnations of “toi-ta-toi-toi toi”. But what most thrilled me seeing Cecil Invoice up close was to find the eye to element that Tillstrom had completed with the puppet to subtly improve the sense of how lunatic Cecil Invoice was — unlike all the other puppets, he had painted Cecil Bill’s mouth just barely off-middle, making him look a bit odd, even in case you did not fairly know why.
These are solely a number of the Kuklapolitans. A few others made appearances now and again, notably Ollie’s niece Dolores, and his mom. (By the way in which, that is Cecil Bill second from the left. Discover his askew mouth.) And Jefferson Award-winner Madame Oglepuss is on the precise.
How actual was the world of Kukla, Fran and Ollie? Oddly enough, my often-mentioned here buddy Nell Minow suits on this tale, as effectively. Her father Newton — later FCC Chairman underneath President Kennedy — was Burr Tillstrom’s lawyer. (In fact, how might a Nell Minow story be in any other case…?) And for the reason that Kukla, Fran and Ollie show was achieved in Chicago, sooner or later her father had business with the puppeteer and took his young daughter to the studio. As it happened there was a newspaper reporter there doing an article on Tillstrom and the present, and when seeing a little bit girl, the reporter asked her some questions, one of which was the standard, “What do you want to be while you develop up?” And her answer was, “I need to be a Kuklapolitan.” The quote made it into the paper.
(Facet observe: I’ve advised Nell that with all the many jobs she does, and overlapping her life between the reality of big enterprise and the fantasy world of films, and all points in between, mixing it all up with usually the unlikeliest of coincidences and events, I think she made it,)
Tillstrom’s remaining Emmy Award came for a non-Kukla, Fran and Ollie appearance, one of many “hand ballets” he would often carry out on the satirical information collection, That Was the Week That Was. It was for a moving piece done with nothing more than his empty hands, impressed by an precise occasion in the news of the time when the Berlin Wall was lowered for just one weekend throughout Christmas 1963.
Lastly, there’s a captivating addendum to all this.
You might know the Tony-profitable musical, Carnival! It’s the show that launched the track, “Love Makes the World Go Round,” and was just lately revived by the new York Encore! sequence with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Anne Hathaway. What it’s possible you’ll not know is that it is loosely based mostly on — or “inspired by” is the better term — Kukla, Fran and Ollie! This is how the lineage works out —
Carnival! is predicated on MGM’s classic Oscar-profitable movie, Lili (perhaps best remembered for its Finest Track-winner “Hi Lili, Hi-Lo”). It’s the story of a younger, naive lady who gets caught up with a traveling circus in Europe and turns into so enamored by its puppet present — though not its embittered puppeteer — speaking with the puppets so deeply as if they were actual, that the circus’s owner places them all together as an adorable act.
But wait, that is not the total story…
The movie, Lili, you see, was in turn primarily based on a novella, Love of Seven Dolls, by Paul Gallico (creator of The Snow Goose), which he had expanded from his short story, The Man Who Hated Individuals, This unique brief story came about, not in Europe, however in a tv studio within the United States, and it told about a bitter man who might solely specific himself with warmth by means of his puppets on a Tv show, and the young woman who spoke with them as if they had been real. For those who assume that that might just be coincidence with Kukla, Fran and Ollie, know this — when Gallico tailored the brief story into the novella, he moved the tale to Europe — and devoted it to “Burr Tillstrom and Fran Allison”!
(Know that Tlllstrom was not embittered, nor did he hate individuals. It was simply Gallico’s manner to add a dramatic ingredient to the story.)
And lest you suppose the connection simply ends there, here are the puppets within the film, Lili. Examine them virtually spot-on to the picture above of the Kuklapolitans.
That is Carrot Prime, Reynardo the Wolf, vain ballerina Marguerite, and gentle big Golo — the equivalents of Kukla, Oliver J. Dragon, opera diva Madame Oglepuss, and her blustering gentleman good friend Col. Crackie. And Lili, of course, played by Leslie Caron standing in for Fran Allison.
Which brings us finally to the movies. There are DVDs available, however as I stated, I could not discover any on-line clips that do Kukla, Fran and Ollie justice. But at least this first one has the show’s sweet theme song, and a montage of all of the Kuklapolitan Gamers in motion – in addition to being in coloration from its later years.
Subsequent is a video from one in every of Madame Oglepuss’s preparations for her annual Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, with the participation of Beulah Witch. It is also shows the Fran Allison’s sweetness and whole perception within the puppets. And reveals Burr Tillstrom at his lunatic. (Much as there appears to be a happy accident in this clip, upon watching repeated viewing I am pretty convinced that it was all impressively planned.)
And eventually – that is Burr Tillstrom alone, without Kukla, Fran and Ollie. It is his outstanding, aforementioned “Berlin Wall” walleye fishing shirts piece that gained him a 1964 Emmy Award. As I said, he did periodic “hand ballets” on the sequence, That Was the Week That Was. The introduction explains the setting, though there are glitches within the outdated movie. Simply know that it is primarily based on a then-current event when the Berlin Wall was temporarily lowered for the weekend to allow those in West Berlin to briefly visit their households in East Berlin for Christmas.
If there are any doubts of Burr Tillstrom’s brilliance among those that is not going to see, this could put all of them to relaxation.
Robert J. Elisberg’s comic novel, A Christmas Carol 2: The Return of Scrooge, is available in paperback and e-book edition. It’s at the moment #4 for Humor/Parody on Amazon Kindle.