From The Kuklapolitan Website:
The Kuklapolitan Website and The Burr Tillstrom Copyright Trust are pleased to announce that due to popular demand, Volume 2 of Kukla, Fran and Ollie: The First Episodes will be available for purchase on December 15, 2011 through Amazon.com and the Chicago History Museum.
This second volume of the earliest episodes of the Emmy and Peabody-award-winning Kukla, Fran and Ollie, one of the most highly regarded shows of early television, contains 22 digitally restored episodes transferred directly from the 16mm kinescopes, most unseen since they first aired from 1949-54.
One of Burr's colleagues, Academy Award-nominated Lyle Conway, acted as Creative Director for this volume and has given the DVD a true "Kuklapolitan" look, featuring Ted Drake's original illustrations. He also worked with Buelah Witch to create a Wiki containing many details on the history of the show and its creators.
In addition, Burr's relatives opened his never-before-seen personal photo collection, which was used to create a Photo Gallery. The DVD also includes some of Burr's 5-minute Kukla and Ollie shows from 1961 and other treats.
The Kuklapolitan Website and The Burr Tillstrom Copyright Trust have collaborated on the first DVD to feature shows from the original Kukla, Fran and Ollie series. The First Episodes is a two DVD set of 20 shows from 1949 to 1954 and is NOW available from bothAmazon.com and The Chicago History Museum's store for $14.95. The DVD was produced by Mark Milano, webmaster of The Kuklapolitan Website
You can see clips from the DVD on theKFO DVD Youtube ChannelHere is a clip of Fran, Madame Ooglepuss and Buelah Witch doing the Kuklapolitan rendition of "Three Little Maids from School" from one of their annual Mikado shows:
Here is a listing of all the shows on the DVD:
12/5/49 Salute To Television
9/8/49 Screen Test
9/26/49 Madame Ooglepuss Loses Her Wig
10/6/49 Ice Cream - with Dave Garroway
11/30/49 Kukla Kiddish
12/20/49 Making A Christmas Tree Stand
12/28/49 Hansel and Gretel
Bonus: Homecoming - with Gene Rayburn (excerpt)
6/28/50 Puppetry Festival
11/3/50 As You Like It
12/20/50 Winter Carnival
11/26/51 First 15 Minute Show
12/5/51 Guppies Gavotte
12/12/51 Fran Practices Christmas Singing
4/22/52 June Lockhart
5/2/52 Leaving New York
10/12/52 Fifth Birthday
1/3/54 Miss VUHF
2/21/54 "The Mikado" Dress Rehearsal
Bonus: Sweet William (excerpt)
Bonus: "Here We Are" (excerpt)
Get yours now before they're all gone!!.......
One of the reasons people loved the work of Burr Tillstrom so much was that he provided each of his creations (aka “The Kuklapolitans,” he never referred to them as “puppets”) with his or her own distinct personality. No one ever mistook Kukla for Ollie, or Buelah Witch for Madame Ooglepuss, etc., because they were all so different from one another. Fran Allison often helped him create “histories” for each of his troupe. She gave him the idea of adding a large extended family for Ollie (we actually saw his mother and cousin Delores), and also was the first to mention Ollie’s old school Dragon Prep. Since each of the Kuklapolitans has something of a “history”, I thought it would be fun to relay what I know about them. Some of it is actual, the rest is make believe, but it’s all in fun. Below is a short “biography” on each of the Kuklapolitan regulars.
Kukla (with "Boss" Burr Tillstrom)
Burr created Kukla while working in the WPA. The story goes that Burr made the little hand puppet for a friend who was leaving town, but couldn’t part with the cute little face staring up at him from the box. Kukla was nameless until the ballerina Tamara Toumanova christened him one day when Burr brought the little fellow to her dressing room. She saw the tiny face peering over her shoulder and said, “Ah, Kukla!” Burr obviously liked the name, because his friend was Kukla for the next 45 years. There are several stories from the ‘50s that claim Kukla’s personality is the closest to Burr Tillstrom’s. Kukla does have the most well rounded personality, kind of the sane person in the midst of chaos. He is also the only one that does not have a made up history. This caused something of an identity crisis, as Kukla wondered on one show, “Ollie’s a dragon, Buelah’s a witch, but what am I?” A young fan wrote him with an answer, “My mother says you’re a blessing!” Apparently Fran thought so too, because Kukla was her favorite.
Oliver J. Dragon was actually third in the line of Kuklapolitans, but we always put him second, since his name is in the title of the show, after all. Ollie was “born” so that Burr’s troupe would include an alligator type puppet, which is a puppetry tradition. But from the beginning Ollie insisted he was a DRAGON, and anyone who insisted otherwise would find himself without a job (true story). Since Burr didn’t want any of his creations to be scary to children, he gave his dragon big, flirty eyes and a one toothed grin. Ollie also made sure to alert the press to the fact that one of his ancestors took in too much water while crossing the Hellespont. As a result, his family could no longer breathe fire. If Kukla was the responsible one, Ollie was the troupe’s “bad boy.” He was known to spend all the money allotted for Christmas cards on chocolate sodas. He was also the one who dreamed up elaborate schemes, which got him and his friends into all kinds of trouble. But Ollie was extremely popular with women. Burr stated more than a few times that Ollie had a huge female following who would write him love letters
Madame Ophelia Ooglepuss
Mme. Ooglepuss actually joined the Kuklapolitans before Ollie. In one early interview, Burr said he created her because he loved “big bosomed babes who sing opera.” Madame was often pompous and bossy. She was also an aging diva who fancied herself irresistible to men. Apparently the management at Marshall Fields would often tell Burr to keep Madame out of his shows. It seems the store was afraid her presence would offend some of their elderly, well heeled patrons, whom she resembled more than a little. Madame Ooglepuss was the only one of the Kuklapolitans to come close to “marriage.” She and Col. Richard Crackie (see below) almost tied the knot in the early ‘50s, but backed out at the last minute. The diva also had a beautiful array of costumes, designed by Burr’s assistant Joseph Lockwood.
Cecil Bill (with Ollie)
Cecil Bill was originally brought into the troupe as the love interest of Madame Ooglepuss. Since he couldn’t get a word in edgewise with her, he made up his own language (aka “Tooie Talk”). Rumor has it that Burr named the Tooie man after a technician named Bill Ryan, who was also difficult to understand. Cecil Bill’s role changed from number one boyfriend to stagehand (and “union steward”). He also did a duet with Fran called “Tooie Talk” that was released as an RCA recording (no word on its standing on the pop charts). Cecil Bill didn’t mind when Time magazine called him “an hysteric in a fright wig,” but he took his job as stagehand and union steward very seriously. He once threatened to “file a grievance” against Kukla for moving a curtain, and got quite cross with Buelah Witch when she proved to be a not so helpful helper before one of the shows.
Mercedes (with Cecil Bill)
This Kuklapolitan came about while Burr was working for Marshall Fields. The management felt the Kuklapolitans could present skits for the employees to help them deal with certain types of customers. Mercedes became the spoiled little girl who gave clerks all kinds of grief. Her personality really didn’t change after she went on television. She appears on the earlier shows, but she is no longer a “regular” after 1953 or so. She has a small part in the 1968 special “The Reluctant Dragon,” but is nowhere to be found in the color series on WTTW in the ‘70s. Only Burr Tillstrom could really say why she was abandoned, although one suspects that it was either her one dimensional personality that didn’t allow for character growth, or the fact that she was not really Burr’s creation.
Miss Witch was originally the villain in a Kuklapolitan version of Hansel and Gretel. But Burr had no prejudice against witches, and so when he went to television, Buelah Witch came along. He named her for his producer Beulah Zachary (with a slight change in the spelling of the name) and she became a favorite of his television audience. Buelah was a modern woman, interested in aviation and electronics as well as whipping up a good brew. She was also very good at cutting Madame Ooglepuss down to size if she got a bit too big for her britches.
Fletcher, like Buelah, came from “Hansel and Gretel” as a bit player. The son of a Washington DC mailman (or mail rabbit), he got a job as the troupe mailman once Kukla, Fran and Ollie went on the air. A good thing too, because they were getting thousands of letters a week! However, the job was often thankless, and Jack Fascinato wrote him a song called “There’s Never Any Mail For the Mailman.” Fletcher was also the Kuklapolitan gardening expert, giving the audience tips on when to plant different seeds during the season. Fletcher was a bit of a fuss budget and could fly off the handle if things didn’t go just so. Kukla or Fran could usually calm him down if he got too agitated.
Col. Richard Crackie(serenading Mme. Ooglepuss)
This southern gentleman came to town to court Madame Ooglepuss after she and Cecil Bill went their separate ways. He sounds remarkably like “Senator Claghorn” from the Fred Allen radio show, and was named for Burr’s older brother Richard Tillstrom. The Colonel would often perform as master of ceremonies for various Kuklapolitan productions, but was often long winded, forcing his lady love Madame Ooglepuss to shout “Get on with it Richard!” from the wings.
Doloras Dragon (with cousin Ollie)
If you think about it, Doloras’ story is rather a sad one. She was dropped off at the Kuklapolitan theater one night in 1950 by her parents Dorchester and Doris Dragon and abandoned there for eternity for her cousin Ollie to raise (with the help of Kukla and Fran of course). The origin of her name is rather murky. Director Lew Gomavitz states that Doloras was named for Tallulah Bankhead’s niece. However, if one does some digging, one finds that it was not Tallulah’s niece who was named Doloras, but one of her dogs. But who am I to contradict Gommy? In the photo above Doloras is missing the famous Dragon tooth. That’s because she’s a baby in that picture and it hasn’t grown in yet. By the time we see her in the 1970s shows, she is sporting her own prehensile tooth.
- Aug 22, 2011 11:30 AM Picking a few nits with the 50s Kid TV Box
- Aug 22, 2011 10:22 AM Happy 100th Birthday to KFO Producer Beulah Zachary!
- Aug 21, 2011 8:35 PM Kuklapolitans on Display
- Aug 21, 2011 8:35 PM More Musings about the "Hi Ya Kids '50s Saturday Morning" Box set
- Aug 21, 2011 8:33 PM Burr Tillstrom's Wizard of Oz
Burr Tillstrom was born on October 13, 1917. He began entertaining at an early age by putting on mock puppet shows at his home in Chicago. Burr honed his puppetry skills by working with the WPA in Chicago during the Depression. At the time he worked mostly with marionettes. However, he also learned to make hand puppets. Here he is in 1937 with his first "Kukla"
After his stint in the WPA ended, Burr did puppet shows at Marshall Fields in Chicago. It was there that he caught the eye of RCA executives who were doing demonstrations for a new medium called "television." They invited him to perform in their television exhibit at the New York World's Fair in 1939. He also worked with them during a ship to shore telecast in the early '40s.
Fran Allison was born on November 20, 1907 in LaPorte, Iowa. She attended Coe College in Cedar Rapids, with the goal of a teaching certificate in mind.
After four years of teaching, Fran was ready for a change. She always had a love of singing and landed a job at a Waterloo station WMT. While there she sang, did commercials, cooking shows, just about anything the little station threw at her. One thing led to another and she soon found herself auditioning in Chicago for Don McNeil's popular "Breakfast Club" program. Although originally signed as a vocalist, Fran became famous for her "Aunt Fanny" character which she had perfected while still in Iowa. Here she is, as Aunt Fanny with show host Don McNeil.
In the late 1930s, Fran met a "song plugger" named Archie Levington. They married in 1940, and their marriage lasted until Archie's death in 1978.
Aunt Fanny was loved by "The Breakfast Club" audience. On the other hand, the public was not as aware of "Fran Allison," despite her other radio work during the '30s and '40s.
In 1947 Fran was approached for a job in the new medium of television. Burr Tillstrom had been signed by WBKB in Chicago to do a daily puppet show. He was thrilled to finally be working "for money," but he knew he needed someone out front, preferably a woman. "I need a girl who can talk to a dragon," he said. He had worked with Fran during the war at bond rallies. Kukla, Ollie and she had gotten along so well that Burr thought she'd be perfect for their afternoon show Junior Jamboree. Bill Eddy, who ran WBKB, approached Fran about working on the show with Burr. She said yes and Kukla, Fran and Ollie was born. Here are the four principals, with Fran in an outfit similar to the one she wore as "Aunt Fanny."
Fran would stay with "The Breakfast Club" until the end of its run in 1968. However she would now be forever known as "Fran Allison," the centerpiece of Kukla, Fran and Ollie!
One of the things that made Kukla, Fran and Ollie great is that the team working in front of and behind the camera considered itself a family. They really did like each other! Here's Burr, Fran and Jack clowning around during a rehearsal
Music director Jack Fascinato gets Mr. Dragon's approval on the day's songs.
Even though the original show ended in 1957, Burr and Fran continued to work together off and on for the next two decades. Here they are around the time they worked on "The CBS Children's Film Festival" in the early 1970s
Burr died on December 6, 1985. Four months later he was posthumously inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. His longtime professional partner, Fran Allison, accepted the award for him.Kukla, Ollie and the rest of the Kuklapolitans went to The Chicago Historical Society (now the Chicago Hisotry Museum) after Burr passed on.
To honor her friend and longtime professional partner, Fran appeared in "Kukla, Fran and Ollie: A Reminisce" which aired on a local Chicago station. This is a still from that program. The trunk in the lower right hand corner transported the Kuklapolitans to their various shows and engagements.
Fran passed away on June 13, 1989. She will always be remembered for her quick wit, beautiful singing voice and yes, as someone who knew how to talk to a dragon!
The MGM movie "Lili" (with Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer, above) was derived from a story dedicated to Burr and Fran! In 1950 Paul Gallico, a big fan of KFO, wrote "The Man Who Hated People." This short story was published in The Saturday Evening Post. It was about a woman who worked on a television puppet show and her love/hate relationship with the cruel puppeteer. You can read the story here: http://kukla.tv/manwho.html
Earlier I posted that the book "The Love of Seven Dolls" preceded the film Lili. This is not the case. MGM writer Helen Deutsch adapted The Man Who Hated People into the film Lili. Gallico then wrote The Love of Seven Dolls, which is a much darker story than the movie (I have not read it, I'm only going by the reviews I read). Then in 1961 the story was adapted to the stage for "Carnival"
The drawing above was done by my dear friend Greg Checketts, who is an animator on "The Simpsons." He is also a fan of Kukla, Fran and Ollie. As you can see, Homer and Marge are taking over for Burr and Fran. Kukla seems very upset by the whole thing, but Ollie, old flirt that he is, wastes no time in cuddling up to his new friend Marge Simpson.
Who I'd like to meet:
I am a 47 year old woman in Kansas with a great love and respect for the two artists listed on this page. This is a page for people who love and remember the work of Burr Tillstrom and Fran Allison, or for those of any age who love nostalgia and might want to check out an obscure (because the work is not readily available) television show. I did not put up this page to increase my friend count, or to buy and sell people as pets. I didn't want to have to do this, but I guess I do:if you use your bulletins to push racist, homophobic or xenophobic agendas, please don't add me. Burr Tillstrom claimed he never "preached" in his shows, but in reality they conveyed a message of love and respect for ALL people. If you feel the same, I would love to be your friend.
- Status: Single
- Here for: Friends
- Hometown: Chicago, IL
- Ethnicity: Other
- Zodiac Sign: Libra
GeneralRemember "Match Game"?
In the photo above: Gene Rayburn, Fran, Gene's wife Helen and Burr. Most of us old timers will know Gene as the host of "Match Game" in the '70s. He was a long time friend of Burr and Fran, and there is at least one record of Gene appearing on Kukla, Fran and Ollie in the early '50s, which you can watch for free on the Museum of Broadcast Communications website. About 30 years later Gene returned the favor when Burr, Kukla and Ollie were guests on his show. It would be one of the last times their fans would be able to see them on national TV. Lucky for us, one of their shows is included on a four disc Match Game DVD set. Since they have to share the spotlight with the game and other celebrities, we don't see a lot of them, but what is there is very cute (as usual!)Aunt Fanny's Bread
In the mid-1950s. Fran Allison (as her Aunt Fanny character) promoted Aunt Fanny's Bread, which was a product of Holsum Bakeries. I don't know how Fran came to be connected with the product, but she was featured in ads, including this post card, which has a recipe for bread pudding on the back.
Every so often, the Kuklapolitans would guest star on other shows. Here are Buelah Witch, Madame Ooglepuss and Ollie with Dorothy Collins of "Your Hit Parade" from 1954:
Nothing as yet has been published about Bur, Fran or the show. Apparently both Burr and Fran (along with director Lew Gomavitz) shopped reminiscences to various publishers but were all turned down. Burr did publish a children's book in 1984 called "The Dragon Who Lived Downstairs." To read more about the Kuklapolitans and Burr Tillstrom, your best bet is the following website: http://kukla.tv/HEROESOUR TEAM
From left to right: director Lew Gomavitz, producer Beulah Zachary, Burr's secretary Mary Dornheim, Burr's assistant Joe Lockwood (aka Mme. Ooglepuss' favorite designer), Burr, Fran and Jack Fascinato.