Saturday, November 03, 2007

In search of: Retired puppets

Somewhere in my parents’ attic, there’s a trunk with several of my old toys in it, including an old Winnie-the-Pooh. I’ve been fortunate enough to still have some of my old toys. (You can read about some of them for yourself by clicking on August 2006 in my archives section to the right). But have you ever wondered whatever happened to the REAL puppets or dolls that inspired some of our favorite toys? Where is the FIRST Winnie-the-Pooh, the one owned by Christopher Robin Milne?

The question was asked by Fozzie Bear (no, not Fozzie Bear from the muppets, that’s just his Internet name!) on the Muppet Central Forums. Here is his original post from October 2007: (follow his links to find out where Winnie the Pooh is today!):

I figured something like this would be interesting to discuss. We all know that the tales of Winnie the Pooh were based on actual dolls owned by the real-life Christopher Robin.

Now on permanent display at the New York Public Library

There is also an actual 100 Aker Wood:

One of the Howdy Doody puppets is on display at the Smithsonian.

But:Where are the puppets from the Neighborhood of Make Believe? Where is Kukkla Fran and Ollie (at least the puppets)? Beanie and Cecil (?) - Wasn't that a TV show? Where is the puppet? I'm 100% sure I'm forgetting missing puppets--who or what, and where? Obviously, this isn't discussion about Muppet Characters that have disappeared over the years, but the other puppets in the entertainment industry that have gone the way of mystery. If you know information or have links, please share. Any others missing from here, likewise: Post away!

Poster Winslow Leach added:

I got to see Howdy (and Kermit) at the Smithsonian.

As for Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Fran Allison died in 1989, and Burr Tillstrom, the only puppeteer on the show, passed away in 1985. In his will, Tillstrom prohibited anyone else from performing Kukla, Ollie and the other characters from the show. I assume the puppets still exist, as in the years since Tillstrom's death, people have expressed interest in reviving the characters. His estate must have them in storage...just a guess.

But Kukla and Ollie remained in the public eye long after their series ended in the 1950s. They appeared on numerous TV shows and specials throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Tillstrom even made live appearances with Kukla and Ollie, including a run on Broadway in Side by Side by Sondheim (1978). In 1979, Kukla and Ollie were panelists on Match Game.

It’s cool to know that puppets were on Broadway long before “Avenue Q” came along. It would have been great to see Kukla and Ollie live.

Fozzie's question inspired me so much that I decided to do a little Internet searching of my own. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

Let’s start with the muppets. The Jim Henson company is alive and well, and (I assume) the home for all the muppets. As mentioned earlier, The Jim Henson company is donating several puppets – along with sketches and artwork – to Atlanta's Center for Puppetry Arts. The exhibit will be housed in a wing of the museum that won't be ready until 2012, but when it is, it promises to be a Muppet fan's paradise, featuring puppet characters from several Henson productions. A definite thing to look forward to in 2012. Read about it here, along with some links:

According to the site below, many of the Mr. Rogers “Neighborhood of Make Believe” puppets are “on permanent loan” to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

However, when I visit the Web site for the museum, I’m unable to find specifically where the puppets are on display. I suppose it’s possible that they are currently in storage, as many museums keep some of their treasures under wraps for much of the time. Here’s the museum link, but note that “The chicken dance” music plays in the background. Try to remain seated.

Moving on to Kukla and Ollie, the site below says that Burr Tillstrom’s puppet collection was willed to the Chicago Historical Society.

But once again, I can’t find specifically where the puppets are on exhibit when I visit their Web page:

This Web page below is easily the best “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” fan page I’ve found so far:

No luck yet on finding Beany and Cecil, but you can see what the puppets looked like at the site below:

Remember Paul Winchell? I couldn’t find anything specifically on his puppets, but I did locate an interesting Web site about him and his career:

On the subject of famous teddy bears, you may recall that Elvis Presley’s teddy was destroyed by a distraught dog. I posted about that on my blog:

Even Mr. Potato head appeared in puppet form on a T.V. show. Couldn’t find anything on where the Mr. Potato Head puppet is, but here is a great site for Potato Head data that has a small picture:

For Eureka’s Castle, a search revealed that the topic has been covered before on a certain Web site:

On the Eureka’s Castle puppets, Buck-Beaver writes:

“The puppets were built by 3-Design Studio Inc, the same folks who created puppets for "Wimzie's House", "Groundling Marsh", "The Puzzle Place" and most of the non-Muppet shows coming out of NYC. I've been trying to dig up info on 3-Design for years with little success, but I think a lot of the builders come from the Muppets. They also design toys and do costumes I believe.”

I couldn’t find a specific site for 3-Design either, but I did locate a page with a photo of Jim Kroupa, one of the designers:

Remember Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop? Shari Lewis has passed away, but her daughter Mally Lewis is currently performing with Lamb Chop! You can read about it at her site:

But what happened to Shari’s lamb chop puppet? According to the site below, Shari’s grandson Jamie Hood . . . is sleeping with it. Cute.

So I would guess that all of Shari’s original puppets are still with the Lewis family. I’m not sure if anyone is sleeping with the other puppets, though.

So basically, it seems like many of the puppets are (I hope) in storage waiting to be displayed in a “special exhibit” someday. I guess I’m just glad that they still exist!


SPIDEY IN "STAR JAWS": It’s always fun when some of your favorite characters from one show/movie/book team up with characters from another show/movie/book. Here’s a fun example of Spider-Man teaming up with Sam the Robot from Sesame Street. And as if that weren’t enough, they’re doing a parody of “Star Wars!” Man, what’s not to like?

BTW, although Doctor Doom may look like a rip-off of Darth Vader, Dr. Doom actually came first. He first appeared in the Fantastic Four comic book in the 1960s. As a matter of fact, Sam the Robot actually came just a little bit before C-3PO and R2-D2. Hmm. I wonder who’s doing a parody of whom.