Monday, November 30, 2009


(click 'em cartoons)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009


We get a lot of questions from aspiring puppeteers, and I've answered many of them individually. Been thinking that this FLEXI-BLOG might also be a good forum for discussing all things puppet related. Like my friend John K. does on his amazing animation blog: I'll try and pass along important info I've learned over the years towards the betterment of the Art of Puppetry. And hopefully, some of you will catch-the-dream and maybe even work for us one day. If anyone has any questions they'd like to pitch, I'm wearing my catchers mitt, and it has a face.

Below is a letter I received, with the name removed to protect the innocent:

Hello! I'm in a master's degree in puppetry arts program. I've seen your work since I was a child--the Juke Box Band was always my favorite part of Shining Time Station.

Glad to hear it. I'll definitely tell the band (they're right over there.)
I'm especially interested in film and TV work, but my program leans toward the theater side of puppetry. That's why I'm writing you--in hopes that you wouldn't mind giving me some advice on how best to pursue the film side of puppetry, so that when I graduate in a couple years, I'll be prepared.

I suggest you learn everything you can about designing, building and performing puppets LIVE. The more you know about all these aspects, the more "heart" you will be able to transmit to your characters. Most television and film puppetry is a "reflection" of character, rather than an embodiment. That is, the essence and personality seem to exist in some netherworld behind the puppet, rather than from inside it. I attribute that to many many (way too many) puppeteers mindlessly attempting to recreate the movement, voices and action from what they've seen on programs like Sesame Street. They put on the same google-eyed socks with the ear-to-ear slit-for-a-mouth, watch the monitor, and try Try TRY to replicate that aimless bouncing around that they saw as a kid which creates a colorless, color-by-numbers performance. Watch sometimes. They all run in the same way regardless of the character - - whether its a good guy, a monster or a carrot - - and they all do little double takes whenever someone talks to them - -whether the situation requires it or not. Same movements. Same voices. Pointless, copycat jiggling.
When you study puppetry for the stage by looking into a mirror as opposed to a monitor, you will discover many more sides and facets to the personality that is inherent within the character, not imposed upon it. You'll see what that fairy or demon really looks like from all angles; how a twist of the head can be quizzical or admonishing or both. What does gravity do to the way a puppet without legs actually walks, rather than giving the impression that the puppets are blindly bouncing on a water bed. The more you can transform your being into what's on your arm or down the strings, the more alive the puppet will seem in the audiences imagination. Then with this vital performance skill inscribed onto your DNA, once you put your character on camera and look at the monitor, rather than just filling in the prescribed blanks, you are filled with ideas on how to best use three dimensional space as a living breathing thinking character.

Are there particular skill sets or computer programs I should start learning?

Learn what you can about everything that interests you. This will not only infuse your puppet artistry, but will also make your whole life whole. Go forth and absorb and you'll find - - if puppetry is to be your true destiny - - that whatever you learn is tinged with " do I apply this to puppets. . ."

I would be very grateful for any guidance, however brief, that you would be willing to share with me.

I always ask aspiring puppeteers if there is anything else they'd rather do that puppetry. Because if there is, then do that other thing. Bear in mind that the field is cluttered with dilettantes. However, If you discover in your heart-of-hearts that you can't live without making something out of nothing, and make that something spring-to-life in someone elses imagination? Then, Welcome to the Bridge!

Sunday, November 22, 2009


This clip speaks for itself (and you can see it's lips moving, too)

(the great Chuck McCann on WNEW-TV5 1966)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Where we left off :

. . . who suggested I call WONDERAMA - - which I did. . .. . . to set up an audition, which I got.
The next week didn't get here QUIK enough.
I practiced my ventriloquism in front of the mirror for hours. I also figured I'd do my puppet act as well. This is when it pays to have a younger brother. My bro, Lowell, is six years my junior as well as my captive assistant. I'd get him up at all hours to work my puppets so I could see my puppets work. Everyone should have a serf - - except younger brothers.
Anyway, off we headed - - suitcases in hand - - to 205 East 67th Street:
This was not only the self-same studio where WONDERAMA originated, but it was also home to SANDY BECKER & SOUPY SALES.
I met with NORMAN BERGER (producer of Wonderama) in the lobby, and he and his assistant took us down to the basement, and for some reason FLASH! those offices really stuck in my memory. I'll tell why it matters later.

Well, I did my vent act which had something to do with taking my dummy, RAVENAL VALPOLE Jr (!) to the dentist (ME: I'll have to give you the gas. HIM: OK, check the oil too.) It was really my adaptation of a comedy bit from my favorite book:
When I finished Norman said "excellent" (woohoo!) We then did the puppet act, and he said we should do them both on the show and that we'd be on in a couple of weeks.

When the big taping day finally arrived, they kept us away from the rest of the kid rabble (heh heh) in the studio audience. Soon they called me down to stand next to SONNY FOX.
Sonny was the host of the show; a somewhat intimidating presence who kept the proceedings moving at a good clip. He said to me "when I introduce you, say something funny." HoBoy, had to write something fast! Next thing I knew, Sonny was saying. . . "14 year old ventriloquist Craig Marin" and he tossed it to me. I took a deep breath and said "Well, Ravenal, what do you think about being on Wonderama?" He rotated his head and quipped "If you can't do Ed Sullivan, I guess this will do." The audience cracked up, and it was intoxicating!

Next thing I knew Sonny was saying "Headlining on the show is puppeteer ADDIS WILLIAMS."

WOW, a professional puppeteer! With a stage. When I auditioned we hid behind a table, and I figured I'd just figure something out at the studio. Addis, one of the nicest kindest people I ever met in these make-believe arts asked if I wanted to use his stage for my bit. Problem solved!
I'll never forget his generosity. Or his act. He had a CHEF hand puppet that I think looked something like this:
He was trying to bake a cake, and at the end of the bit the candle blew up and the cake collapsed! The Chef "oh well" rested his chin on his fist. It was inspiring!

When it was our turn to puppetize I remember the bit going over well. Then we stood up to take a bow, and little Lowell's head didn't make it above the playboard!
Sonny called us out front and interviewed us, finally asking if my puppet would like to throw it to the commercial. I watched the monitor as the camera pushed in. My character says "and now, here's a word from K-E- double L, O Double Good Kelloggs best to you." Sonny cracked up at what was my first blend of Art and Commerce!
I mentioned the basement office where my brother and I auditioned? Fast-forward BLIP years later and I'm doing the DJ Kat show from the self-same studio where I performed on WONDERAMA those BLIP years ago. And where is my new office? In the basement at Channel 5. I had come home to where I remembered the future to be . . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Back in the day, WONDERAMA was the go-to show in the New York Tri-State area for fun & games & comedy & guests. It was on for fours on Sunday hosted by SONNY FOX, though it began as a 6 hour(!) program starring SANDY BECKER.I, of course, preferred LET'S HAVE FUN which was on opposite Wonderama but starred CHUCK McCANN with the PAUL ASHLEY PUPPETS as all of the above.
Here's how my trek to appearing on Wonderama began. . .

I get dragged to a CAR SHOW at the Coliseum on 59th & Columbus Circle here in NYC by a new friend I had just met in school. Never had much interest in cars (still don't) but oh well what de hell I went. Fenders, bumpers, engines = meh.
Then suddenly my eyes fell upon an oasis in a desert of tin. There was a poster bellowing:

Right there! So I was right there. Like clockwork Jimmy appeared on the stage and from beneath a lecturn he produced his partners DANNY O'DAY & FARFEL THE DOG.
For those of you who don't know who he is, Jimmy Nelson was in the Top Tier of Classy Vents in the 50's and 60's.
. . . PAUL WINCHELL. . .
. . . and JIMMY NELSON.
He will forever (how long is "forever" in a culture that goes POP?) be remembered for his classic NESTLES QUIK COMMERCIALS.
Well, his act was GREAT and afterwards I wended my way backstage and met his eyes and told him "I can talk without moving my mouth" which I said without moving my mouth. He told me "Hey, you're good. Do you want to see my dummies?" It wasn't an etching but I couldn't say no. In fact I FLIPPED!!! So we go on the stage and - - I still think this memory is beyond cool - - he unlocks a door on the back of the lecturn and there sat Danny & Farfel. And he let me manipulate them! That was the first time I ever worked a professional dummy with a hole in the back and it's head on a stick.
After a while he said to me "why don't you call my friend Norman Berger . . . (Norman! If you're reading this? THANX!) . . . he's the producer of WONDERAMA. I'll tell him to expect your call, then you can set-up a time to audition." That was heaven. Yes it was (except it meant if I got on I'd have to miss LET'S HAVE FUN. What a choice!)
It's telling that all these people I admired that I met as a child:


. . . they all gave me a real-life boost in this make-believe art. THANKS GUYS!!!
A few weeks later, I was on WONDERAMA.

Monday, November 9, 2009


(click it)
Olga, Howdy, (producer) Burt Dubrow and Buffalo Bob Smith
on the set of the
Sally Jesse Raphael Show (1990)

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Our dear friend DAN LINCK (he produced "GOIN' UP") has the kid-show jones in his DNA. He just posted a Big Bowl Of Soupy memories in our comment section, and it's so well written I couldn't just leave it there. So - - illustrated with pictures from the Flexitoon archive - - here's guest blogger Dan REMEMBERING SOUPY. . .

Soupy's humor talked up to us, cracking us up along with the crew of 50-something union lifers, which made it hilarious.

Soup, in constant mental hotfoot, Southern twang dripping like Carolina molasses, gave the joke, often was the joke and made the straight man an artform. An unselfish performer, he let Clyde Adler run amuck with his myriad characters, CA getting more out of one hand and forearm than a whole company of lesser improvisational geniuses.
The two of them (and Frank Nastasi in New York) kept the circus riveting and rolling for the fastest 30 minutes on black and white TV. Soup was the ringleader, the best friend, the cool uncle who never creeped you out and just gave you laughs with genuine innocuous warmth, for it was his heart out there dancing as fast as his wit. He was a kid in an adult suit, a PeeWee's Playhouse without the over-effort, allowing the laughs to come from character and a cast trying to one up each other -- and let you in on it. Irreverence ruled. Like a Warner Bros cartoon, the inferences might of jumped over our heads, but the ghist, the attitude, stuck...and we learned a more sophisticated humor from it. Way before kid shows started their Barneyizing devolution, kids were thought to have brains and Soupy was among the elite, the best of them took that and ran with it. Paul Winchell, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett. . .

. . . Chuck Jones might have first been aiming at adult theatre auds but never diluted their material - when TV appeared and the audience was clearly young, they stayed smart, unleashed their inner childs and brought us up to their level using tools they invented -- no babytalk, no simplification, no explanations...teaching us puns and how a joke worked without our knowing. Soup was a comedia del arte clown for the electronic age, sans makeup, as he needed none. (but he'd be getting a pie any second) By using a blackboard for sayings of the day and other groaners, he brought the familiar schoolroom tool into a new realm -- instead of lessons, we got jokes and we absorbed them twice as fast.

Soup knew when it was time to take a break -- no narcissicist he. He'd do his bit and bang! It was time for Pookie "Hey...Boob-bee-ing" at the window, giving a hand-puppet double-take that outdid Red Skelton.

Bang! It was the hard sell con man at the front door pointing, jabbing, and finally dumping a pail of something on Soup or setting up one of Soup's baaaadddd puns.

Boom! It was White Fang, a white polar bearish dog arm with an arresting speech impediment "rah-uh-row"-ing with a demented jazz scat and slapping The Soup around like a rag doll.

And of course, his alter ego Black Tooth, a black feminized "dawgie" arm whose mission in life was to shower Soup with loud, puckerized smacks of canine love mwahs.

And he broke the fourth wall as an artform, possibly creating a fifth -- we were in that room with him. Fast, fun, warm, easy and altogether smart, Soup set the bar for the hosted kid show that was never crossed. His Fosbury Flop coasted up to heights rarely seen since, over that bar and into our collective memories. A true gift from a true talent. The world just became, contrary to current global warming dogma, a colder place with the passing of this true intuitive showman with magic in each one of those stage-manager-launched pies.

Rah-uh-row. We'll miss ya, Soupy.

Dan Linck

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Howdy, Lucky.

The original HOWDY DOODY meets the original LUCKY STIFF in a no-strings-barred dummy-off! Actually, this was in 1990, where OLGA puppeteered Howdy opposite BUFFALO BOB on the SALLY JESSE RAPHAEL SHOW (produced by the legendary Burt Dubrow). Others on the show included Bob McGrath (Sesame Street) and SOUPY SALES. We designed the puppet stage to sit on top of the piano, so Buffalo Bob could play and sing and converse with Mr. Doody. It was an honor and a pleasure and great fun, too. I mean, the ORIGINAL HOWDY DOODY! I be looking for a clip to post. . .

Lucky Stiff was a featured player on our weekly FOX series, The DJ KAT Show.

I played BRACKISH SWAMPWATER, a Villianous Ventriloquist who was after DJ Kat's job as host of the show.

Always had a soft spot in my head for dummies. . .

Monday, November 2, 2009


(click to enlarge)
Thanks to Doug Preis for finding this.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


(Go ahead. Click it.)