Best TV Puppets: Mister Rogers, Pee-wee, Baby Yoda and more
While The Muppets (among Jim Henson’s other productions) are unmatched as a long-running franchise and have many portals, puppets have always held an important place in the life of culture. They’ve been on television since the beginning: According to the World Encyclopedia of the Puppetry Arts, more than 25 programs featuring puppets were broadcast nationwide between 1947 and 1957, and many more did. been seen only locally.
Puppets are powerful; each time a person and a puppet share the stage, it is the human who becomes the prop, even (or perhaps especially) when the puppet is at the end of the man’s arm. They help children to assimilate their feelings, allow adults to express their most horrible thoughts. They can be as simple as a sock with button eyes or require multiple operators working on radio controlled motors. They’re festive and subversive, and they’ve brightened our screens from Kukla and Ollie to Baby Yoda.
Kukla and Ollie. There is no puppeteer in television history more gifted or inventive than Burr Tillstrom, whose “Kukla, Fran and Ollie”, featuring a puppet doll (Kukla) and a puppet dragon (Ollie) alongside human Fran Allison, was a landmark of early television, which aired nationally from 1948 to 1957. With Ollie on one arm and Kukla on the other (or any combination of multiple puppet stands), Tillstrom could play contrasting or complementary energies and body language, as if one hand really didn’t know what the other was doing. While the show had an easygoing charm, it wasn’t aimed at (or far from) children: the actors could perform “The Mikado” or discuss the meaning of highbrow, lowbrow, and middlebrow.
Beany and Cecil. Created by host Bob Clampett, “It’s Beany’s Time” was a satirical adventure show, aired locally in Los Angeles in 1949 and nationally from 1950 to 1955. Performed against cartoon painted backdrops, it was transported in wacky puns and vibe friendly hipster. Stan Freberg played Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent, sort of a boisterous aquatic cousin of Ollie from Tillstrom, “300 years old” and “35ft 3in in my underwear.” Daws Butler, soon to voice Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw, performed Beany and Captain Huff n’puff. Albert Einstein is said to have apologized for a meeting to go watch the show. A comic book version produced by Clampett, “Beany and Cecil,” followed in the 1960s.
Howdy Doody. While not a particularly compelling character on its own, the scale of his fame makes it impossible to miss the star of “Howdy Doody Time.” Dressed in Western clothing, with a freckle for each of the 48 states, Howdy is theoretically a young boy – though he seems indistinguishable from “Buffalo” host Bob Smith, who voiced him either off camera or through through a pre-recorded dialogue indicated by an engineer. , and stood as tall as Doodyville’s most interesting “adult” puppets, argues otherwise. The series lasted from 1947 to 1960; Rufus and Margo Rose, fundamental figures of the American puppet, worked with agility on its strings for the most part.
Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose. Conspirator peace disturbers in the ‘Captain Kangaroo’ treasure house, these plush puppets were the work of former set painter Cosmo Allegretti, who also appeared as Dancing Bear and gave voice to Grandfather Clock. Bunny Rabbit, whose glasses made him look smart and contemporary, spoke only in Mr. Moose’s ear; his main goal was to trick the captain (Bob Keeshan) out of the carrots. The floppy-antler prankster, Mr. Moose, lived to drop ping-pong balls on the captain’s head. Sneaky puppets, not real adults, were the real role models in this series, which ran weekday mornings from 1955 to 1984 on CBS.
Lamb chop, Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy. Like Tillstrom, the magician’s daughter Shari Lewis was a genius for changing characters, but as a ventriloquist she was often a part of the conversation itself, sometimes carried out at a breakneck pace. Her the technique is amazing but his writing and characterizations are also first-rate, subtle and unpredictable, and full of warmth. (She studied acting with Sanford Meisner.) Lamb Chop is her star creation, quickly changing, a child and not a child, soft or sassy, tender or hard depending on the moment; Lewis’s own roots in the Bronx shine through in her. Lewis made his way through local television shows in the 1950s until NBC’s “The Shari Lewis Show” won its national title in 1960. In the 1990s, the public television series “Lamb Chop’s Play-Along “proved to be an Emmy magnet.
Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff. Paul Winchell and his puppet Jerry Mahoney – virtually the epitome of a ventriloquist’s supermodel – were in attendance day and night from the late 1940s, including their own prime-time variety and children’s shows from the Saturday morning. The club’s setting, theme song, and the latter’s secret password were revived for a later generation in the mid-60s ‘Winchell-Mahoney Time’, co-hosted by sage Jerry and slower Knucklehead Smiff ( the Mortimer Snerd to his Charlie McCarthy, or in perhaps more appropriate terms Bowery Boy, the Huntz Hall to his Leo Gorcey). Winchell’s televised work, which often employed hidden actors to provide characters with arms and hands while Winchell worked head and mouth, foreshadows an ambidextrous Muppet like Cookie Monster.
Topo Gigio. A 10 inch tall soft foam mouse created by artist Maria Perego, Topo Gigio made the leap from Italian children’s television to international stardom thanks to “The Ed Sullivan Show”, where he first appeared in 1963, and was last guest in 1971. (“Eddie, kiss me goodnight! ”was his signature.) Sullivan took part in these appearances – over 50 – as a straight mouse man, in which Topo was worked by puppeteers dressed in black on a black background to create an illusion of movement. independent. The show hosted many imaginative puppeteers and ventriloquists, including Señor Wences, puppets Bill Baird and the pre-“Sesame Street” Muppets.
“Thunderbirds.“The climax of the science fiction series Supermarionation” by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, including “Supercar” and “Fireball XL-5”, “Thunderbirds” (1964-66) mixes puppets, miniatures and mechanics in a family story who travels the globe extinguishing metaphorical and real fires. What makes this show so beautiful is not that the strings don’t show up, but that they do. You are always aware that this is a handmade, hand-controlled object: a world of toy boxes that you can imagine making yourself.
The Make-Believe puppet district. Adjacent to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was a land of puppets, performed primarily by Fred Rogers himself. Rogers started out as a puppeteer in the mid-1950s on “Children’s Corner,” and although his puppets were not technically ambitious, he got a lot of expression from his expressionless alter egos, including Daniel Tiger, who is shy and insecure; Henrietta Pussycat, who is also shy and insecure, and speaks mostly in meows; King Friday XIII, who likes to be bowed down; and Lady Elaine Fairchilde, a little bohemian. They brought conflict and attitude into the show, on the path to conflict resolution, and allowed Rogers, the embodiment of reassuring calm in himself, to get a bit mean.
The “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” puppets. Paul Reubens’ delusional, subterranean art refraction of children’s shows from his own youth, which aired Saturday mornings on CBS from 1986 to 1990, brought the puppet back to network television. (This was not a followed example, in particular.) Along with living things – Randy the Evil Child, Pterri the Pterodactyl, the Puppet Group, Mrs. Cow, the Flowers in the Window – the gift of anthropomorphism s’ is spread generously throughout the Playhouse. : Chairry, the Dog Chair, Clockey, Globey, Floory, M. Window and M. Kite.
Sifl and Olly. On MTV’s late ’90s cult “The Sifl & Olly Show,” the kind of incredibly awesome creation that doesn’t happen if someone tried too hard to do it, a pair of sock puppets (childhood Matt Crocco as Sifl and Liam Lynch as Olly) host a half-hour of low-resolution, crudely-fashioned and misinterpreted skits, newsletters, commercials and interviews. (Guests include death and an atom.) It seems less written than recorded, cut and rearranged; if Pavement was a puppet show it might look something like this.
Defeat the Insult Cartoon Dog. “Saturday Night Live” veteran Robert Smigel is the creator and operator of Triumph, a “Yugoslavian mountain dog” who first smoked cigars in 1997 as a rude, rude rude reporter on “Late Night” With Conan O’Brien ”- and more recently providing a service similar to“ The Late Show With Stephen Colbert ”- confronting politicians, protesters and“ Star Wars ”fans. (To give you an idea of Triumph’s willingness to court controversy, he once said to a black cameraman working for Fox News: “It’s okay, I understand. I was writing for Cat Fancy.”) Smigel sometimes forgets. accent, and the puppet (and the puppet) sometimes collapses, which is allowed in the context, even advantageous. A short-lived sitcom, “The Jack and Triumph Show,” starring Jack McBrayer, aired on Adult Swim in 2015.
Grogu. It might be too much to place the success of “The Mandalorian” on the small shoulders of the puppet informally known as Baby Yoda, but there’s no doubt that the very dear and adorable animatronic toddler is wearing a weight inversely proportional to its size. Outside of the show, he’s been featured in countless memes and GIFs; he has been featured on “South Park”, “Saturday Night Live” and The New Yorker; and he lent his form to plush dolls, backpacks, hats, T-shirts, magnets and key chains. The fact that it’s modeled after a creature first created by Frank Oz means that there are Muppets in his family tree.