Demian’s Puppet Heros|
My interest in puppets began with 50s TV children’s programming. I was infected by such shows as “Howdy Doody,” which always struck me as being noisy and rude. Other shows had greater use of imagination, such as “Time for Beany” (by Looney Toon animator Bob Clampett), “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” “Foodini the Great” (and Pinhead), “Johnny Jupiter,” and “Rootie Kazootie” (actually another rude one).
During 1967-8, my friend Bill Skirski and I ran around New York City with our portfolios; me with my photography and films, Bill with his illustrations. On December 13, 1967, as we looked at an office building’s list of businesses, Bill recognized one of the names, Morey Bunin, as the creator of Foodini.
Remembering one of my childhood favorite shows, I got all excited and said we should try and meet him. Bill thought he wouldn’t want to be disturbed, however, I talked him into going with me.
Once in Morey Bunin’s office, I asked, “Are you the guy who made Foodini and Pinhead?” He was, indeed. Morey was very happy to find fans who remembered, and cherished his show. He graciously showed us Foodini, who, according to Morey, “does nothing but hang in the closet all day.”
We also got a tour of the office and workshop. We not only saw the original hand puppets, we saw the secret workings of a video process that Morey had created, called “Aniforms.” It allowed a TV cartoon line image to respond directly, and personally, to an audience.
Morey allowed me to work some of his wonderful puppets, which is heaven for a puppeteer.
Morey told us that his company intended to take the Aniforms process as a show to shopping malls and the like. I read later that it was used on various children’s TV shows such as “Captain Kangaroo,” and “The Surprise Show.”
In 1932, Morey and his brother Lou had worked for Bil Baird operating marionettes in Macy’s department store windows. The brothers also produced shows using string, rod, hand, and shadow puppets.
In the 50s, Morey Bunin collaborated with David Seville to produce the puppets of Alvin and the Chipmunks.
According to my correspondence with the daughter of Lou Bunin, Amy Bunin Kaiman, Lou made puppets that appear on the opening credits of the Ziegfeld Follies (MGM 1946). He also did many characters for early television commercials such as ‘Bucky Beaver’ for Ipana toothpaste.
Almost all puppet work I saw in my youth was through TV and film. I recall only one, live, professional puppet show, sometime in the 50s in Brookline, Massachusetts, that featured a wonderful interpretation of Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” It utilized black light and bubbles (for underwater), which are effects I have since used in many of my own shows.
My favorite vents were Shari Lewis (with Lambchop and Charlie Horse), and the incomparable Paul Winchell (with Jerry Mahoney).
In the world of marionettes, the top-of-the-line was Bil and Cora Baird. Their work graced various TV specials, and were used in many of the Bell Telephone Science Film Series shown in many public schools.
Decades later, the work of Jim Henson, Frank Oz and company, captured my attention.
The most sublime puppeteer’s work I ever saw was done by Kukla and Ollie’s creator and operator Burr Tilstrum. In the 60s on “That Was the Week that Was,” a satirical news review, he did a silent portrayal of a news event — the brief lowering of the Berlin Wall — all performed with just his hands. Burr depicted the pain of relatives being ripped apart by the institution of the wall, the ecstasy of re-uniting, and the horror of being forcibly separated once again. By the end of the piece I was sobbing.