A Tribute to Clyde Adler
Alan Cook mentioned to me recently that at the last P of A festival, someone put up a large sheet of paper and asked puppeteers to list their major influences in the art of the puppet. Thinking over my own list, I included Clyde Adler.
Adler was the puppeteer on the Soupy Sales Show broadcast from Los Angeles KABC in the Œ60s. Virtually the only other performer besides an occasional guest star to appear with Soupy on the single set, live television show, Adler performed Soupy's dogs, White Fang and Black Tooth, and the irrepressible lion hand puppet, Pookie.
Adler was a genius of comedy characterization, but we never saw him beyond his elbow. His White Fang was a huge blustering dog whose big white paw would wave in Soupy's face as Soupy tried to discipline him. Black Tooth, the female dog, was a silly, giggly thing who loved to pull Soupy off camera and smother him with kisses. The dogs spoke in their own doggie language, perfectly understandable to Soupy and, because of Adler's skill, to the rest of us.
And Pookie. I adored that rubber-faced lion. My favorite sequences were when Pookie, who always appeared at the window of the set, would ask Soupy (whom he called Bubbie) to read him a fairy tale and then would pantomime, in costume, all the parts. By the end of the tale, Pookie would be frantically changing from one costume to another and end up a pile of wigs, hats, and false teeth. For this seven year old viewer, it was one of the funniest thing I had ever seen.
Adler also performed every person who came to Soupy's door from salesmen to Soupy's girlfriend, Peaches. Only his arm, of course. If the situation involved, say, a policemen trying to find out who owned the big, white dog selling faulty egg-beaters around the neighborhood, Soupy would go back and forth from the person at the door to White Fang behind the camera. We, in our living rooms, could hear Adler running around the set, playing both parts from opposite sides of the camera. Soupy, who got to witness Adler's frantic runs, would always crack up. And that made it all the funnier.
When Soupy moved his show to New York, Adler retired from performing. Frank Nastasi took on the role of Soupy's puppeteer, making all the characters his own.
Clyde Adler died recently at age 67 in his home state of Michigan after a long illness. Thank you Clyde for making me laugh so hard. I still laugh today.
back to top
Lou Bunin's death brought out obituaries including the New York Times. Those of us in the Southland got an opportunity to See Bunin and his "Alice in Wonderland" at the Los Angeles Animation Festival held in Wadsworth Hall in early 1985. Notable was Bunin's frustration with his battle with Walt Disney to get a releasable print of this an animated feature. Bunin related that Disney also planned an "Alice in Wonderland" feature. Bunin persisted, backed mostly by British investors. Disney tied up Techincolor Laboratory forcing Bunin to fight for a finished print of his movie.
On release, the film with stop motion puppets received few showings. Walt Disney's version of Alice shortly followed. It had a worldwide release Bunin worked in stop motion puppetry and had previously done notable work in major Hollywood films. His version of the Wonderland story heavily used elements of Gilbert and Sullivan to move the narrative.
back to top
March 19,1952 - August 24, 1995
by Alan Cook
Master puppeteer, Rand Bohn, died early in the morning of August 24, 1995 at the Chris Brownlie Hospice in Los Angeles. He was a member of both the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry and the Puppeteer's of America. He attended the 1994 Regional Festival of the Pacific Southwest at Asilomar and had planned to attend the 1995 National Festival at Bryn Mawr but canceled because of deteriorating health.
He was multi-talented, with extended skills in sculpting, mechanical knowledge of animation techniques, sound tape editing, mold-making, costuming, set and stage design. He also was a skilled disc jockey, had wonderful voices for his puppet characters, and on occasion, built cabinets and building additions. In fact, one recent construction project, an addition to an old house, was so expertly accomplished that it was the primary reason the original structure did not fail during the Northridge earthquake that caused so much damage to the Hollywood area.
Rand began his puppet work in Chicago at the age of 8, doing puppet shows for schools, settlement houses, youth centers, shopping centers and private parties. In Chicago, he also worked with the late Bobby Clark and operated the miniature opera puppets at the famed Kungsholm puppet theater. His puppets appeared on The Magic Door for the Chicago Board of Rabbi's on their local CBS outlet and the Harry Hazard Safety Show in Boston. Bohn performed as spokes animal with the walk-around Magi Cat in Los Angeles. Commercial clients for whom Rand built sets and props include McDonalds, International House of Pancakes, Minolta, Budweiser, Miller, Sunmaid Raisin, a recent Spanish language video pilot, and large props for touring rock artists.
East of the Mississippi, he performed for thousands on behalf of IBM, Standard Oil of Indiana, Prudential Insurance, Scientific Research Associates, Clark Equipment, International Harvest, API Security Services, the Baltimore Police, and Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. In the Los Angeles area he worked with Bob Baker and Tony Urbano and performed for the Los Angeles Children's Museum and local schools, parks, and libraries with his varieties and popular rod puppet version of Peter Rabbit.
Rand had hoped to produce an elaborate Christmas/Holiday show last year, incorporating many of his holiday puppets, adding many new figures and using good-sizes set pieces and five puppeteers. Having to cancel was a big disappointment.
He was able to produce multiple sets of monkey and parrot puppets used during the past year by Hagenbeck-Wallace Inc. for the Walt Disney's World on Ice touring shows of "Aladdin."
Rand was a perfectionist who drove himself harder than his co-workers, but beneath a gruff exterior he could be a pussy-cat. Rand faced his declining health with courage. He was a unique talent who will be missed by me and others who knew or worked with him. A celebration of his life was held in early September at his apartment.
back to top
Punch and Judy Master Bob Mason died in Dayton Ohio in February 1998. He was 74 years old. Born Robert Stenner, he was one of America's best Punch & Judy performers. He did other puppet acts, a vent act, magic, mind reading and, in earlier years, worked with the circus.
Mason worked in Los Angeles including the first version of Bob Baker's "Something to Crow About," performed at Laguna Beach's Pageant of the Masters Art Festival. An inimitable wit, Bob Mason's late-night ad libs delighted adult audiences. Mason also did school shows.
In Los Angeles, he did portrait photos for actors' 8X10 glossies and stayed in touch with fellow magicians and circus performers as well as puppeteers.
back to top
Baby boomers lost three icons this summer: Roy Rogers, "Buffalo Bob" Smith and Shari Lewis.
Shari Lewis made an indelible impression on America from 1960 - 1963 when she had her own Saturday morning show on NBC. Her talent and humor created delightful characters like Lamp Chop, Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse. And when she added guests like Dom DeLuise (his first time on TV) and Margaret Hamilton, the series became an instant classic.
After her first generation of fans grew up, Shari got her own PBS-TV show and made new and younger fans. She filled her time in-between playing Vegas and Tahoe, touring with national companies of shows such as Funny Girl and Bye Bye Birdie and guest-conducting hundreds of symphony orchestras around the world. If one creative door closed, Shari opened another.
Her father, Abraham B. Hurwitz, was a professor of education at Yeshiva University and New York City's official magician, while her mother, Ann, was a music coordinator for the city's public schools. They encouraged Shari and her younger sister, Barbara, now an interior designer in Los Angeles, to study whatever they liked, and Shari took lessons in acrobatics, piano, violin, dancing and juggling. ''Anybody who knew anything, my father would hire them to teach me,'' Lewis says.
She learned ventriloquism from a crusty legend in his 70s named John Cooper, with whom she would practice on a park bench after school. Lewis's skill with puppets earned her first prize on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts TV show in 1952. But her act didn't take off until she put a sock on her hand. That happened on Captain Kangaroo in 1956, when Lewis created the delightful Lamb Chop. Four years later, she had her own network TV show, a goofy mix of joke-telling, singing and dancing.
Lewis won many awards, wrote 60 children's books and created 24 home videos. Last year she sold Shari Lewis Enterprises to Golden Books family Entertainment. This will keep Lamp Chop and Shari's other characters alive, to be sure. Alan Cook writes: "Music Pizza" was taped in Canada. It was up there that Shari learned of her illness. Her daughter, Mallory, proudly spoke of her mom's great courage doing the final rehearsals at 1:00 p.m. and doing the final taping."
back to top
"Buffalo Bob" Smith died at the age of 80 of cancer. He was on the air with the redheaded marionette from 1947 to 1960. Born Robert Schmidt, he eventually adopted the name of his birth city, Buffalo, N.Y.
A musician, Smith worked as a pianist and master of ceremonies in vaudeville shows with Kate Smith before winding up on NBC radio in New York. As Buffalo Bob, he started each of his 2,543 Howdy Doody shows with "Say, kids, what time is it?" He presided over a happy cast of Doodyville citizens that included puppets and actors. At the same time, he sold Ovaltine and Wonderbread. Fifteen million preschoolers watched him around the country in the formative years of television. The show demonstrated the power of medium to teach.
Bob Smith attempted a syndicated reconstruction of the Howdy Doody show in 1976, but it failed. He toured college campuses and made special TV appearances after that.
back to top
Emmy-nominated Roland Sylwester, nationally known for his puppet shows illustrating Bible stories, died October 31 of unreported causes at his home in Granada Hills. He was 73.
Intrigued by wooden marionettes, he created his first marionette show called "And Then Came the Smog" in 1965 as an art teacher at Lutheran High School in Carson. A year later, he considered the religious applications of puppetry when he was asked to produce a puppet show for a religious arts festival in Huntington Beach. His first religious drama was "Elijah and the Prophets of Baal." Plays illustrating the birth of Christ for the Christmas season and the crucifixion for Eater soon followed.
Over 25 years, Sylwester gave more that 1500 performances in schools and churches with his two troupes, Marionette Theater of the Word and Puppet and the Word. He made about 15 films on puppetry and was a writer and puppeteer for the television series "Sunrise Ways" on KABC TV in Southern California that earned him an Emmy nomination.
Sylwester also wrote two books, "Teaching Bible Stores More Effectively with Puppets" and "The Puppet and the Word."
He sculpted, painted and costumed his puppets in his garage. He also wrote the plays and prerecorded the dialogue, music and sound effects. His wife, Verna, was in charge of the lighting.
After Roland retired from teaching in 1990, he and Verna devoted all their time to performing religious plays with marionettes and smaller hand puppets.
Ted Salter did a wonderful interview with Roland in the Jan-Feb. 1982 issue of the Puppetry Journal. Salter writes that seeing Roland demonstrate how a short puppet play could be performed with two sticks of wood left a lasting impression.
As a designer, Sylwester created Pasadena Tournament of Roses parade floats from1970-1974 that earned a Queen's Trophy and International Trophy Awards. He was a religious puppetry consultant to the Puppeteers of America for many years beginning in 1975. He and Verna were also member of the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by five children and 12 grandchildren. The Los Angeles Guild extends our deepest condolences to Verna and the family.
back to top
The sad news of Mike's passing reminds how so many people loved him. Guild members Tony Urbano and Gayle Schluter, two people dear to Mike, give us some reminisces.
Tony stressed that one could not talk about Mike without mentioning his late wife Frances. The couple formed an anchor for puppetry in Northern California. Their home in the Bay Area was a puppet center. Parties, receptions and informal hang-outs revolved around the front room. A parade of puppeteers from all over the world made themselves at home at the Oznowicz. Mike was the genial host and Frances, the wonderful cook and surrogate mom. Everyone coveted an invitation to the Oznowicz house. The couple made themselves family to talented puppet people in the area including Lewis Mahlmann and Lettie Schubert.
The place served as a breeding ground for talent. Muppet writer and comic force, Jerry Juhl, and Tony Urbano developed in the Oznowicz front room. No small talent was the Oznowicz's middle child, Frank Oz. Mike was tremendously proud of Frank's huge accomplishments.
Tony Urbano lived with the Oznowicz's for two years. Tony met Mike the day before he went into the army. They both attended a puppet festival in Fairyland. That's how well Mike knew Tony when he opened the family's door when Tony got out of the army. Urbano recalls with affection the huge fights he and Mike would have over which was better, American puppeteers or Czech puppeteers. Mike loved the avant-garde performers.
Both Mike and Frances had escaped from the Nazis TWICE During World War II. The couple, Mike a Jew and Frances a Catholic, finally made it to England. Mike immediately joined the resistance and went back to fight.
After the war, the couple moved to California with their family, Ron, Frank and soon-to-be Jenny, For a living, Mike designed store windows up and down the Bay Area. His station wagon was always piled full of wood, styrofoam, foam rubber and paint that spilled into the Oznowicz home.
A master of the malaprop, Mike's style of speaking has been woven into many a performer's repertoire, including son Frank's. Mike and Frances performed marionettes around the area. Frank Oz got his training doing puppet shows with his family. When the Oznowicz performed in Yosemite during summers, other troupes like the Mitchells with their young daughter Nancy joined them.
Gayle met Mike in the Œ60s at a San Francisco puppet festival where he did the displays. She feels Mike's enthusiasm for Puppeteers of America was a great asset. Mike got into a lot of battles with people. His passion for the guild drove him. He was Regional Director for the Pacific Southwest Region and president of the San Francisco guild. He served as president of Puppeteers of America, with Gayle was his vice-president, for two years starting in 1974.
A real firebrand who mellowed with age, Mike worked for the good of puppetry. Mike and Frances often traveled to give workshops for our guild in Los Angeles. They were very supportive of us. Gayle's fondest memories are Mike's showing San Francisco to her and her family. He gave Gayle her love for the place Both Gayle and Tony mention that Mike was the world's worst driver. He could never drive without looking at you as he talked. Mike's wild car rides during a snowy weekend retreat in Tahoe made Gayle a religious woman,
There is so much more to Mike than this small space can possibly accommodate. He was a wonderful man. His legacy and love continue. Friends gathered December 6 in the Bay Area to remember Mike Oznowicz. Hope they had a great time.
back to top
World-renowned puppet designer, creator and artistic director Arlyn Coad died at her North Vancouver home May 27.
Coad and her husband, Luman, founded Coad Canada Puppets in 1966, creating more than 30 original works and winning international awards for them. Recognized as one of the foremost puppet troupes in Canada, Arlyn's inspired designs and careful construction combined with Luman's graceful manipulation to bring joy and magic to audiences around the world.
Born in London, England in 1927, Arlyn developed a childhood interest in puppetry. She moved to Canada when she was 19. She married George Kuthan and had one son and two daughters with him. After her first husband died suddenly, Arlyn married Luman in 1966. She had met the puppeteer at the stage door of Oakland's Fairyland in 1964. Luman was then the director of that popular puppet theater.
Besides her puppet making and teaching skills, Arlyn was a prolific writer and co-authored several books on puppetry.
Luman will carry on their schedule with a performance at the national puppet festival in Seattle this August. A trust is being set up to fund an international award in Arlyn's name to be presented annually for outstanding puppet design. Donations to this fund may be made to the North Shore Arts Commission, 148 East Second St., North Vancouver.
back to top
Shirley Dinsdale Layburn
Emmy-winning ventriloquist Shirley Dinsdale Layburn died at the age of 72 in Stony Brook, N.Y.
As Shirley Dinsdale, she won her Emmy for Most Outstanding Television Personality in 1949, the first year the awards were given. Her show, named for her ventriloquist character "Judy Splinters," appeared on KTLA from 1947 to 1950.
Born in San Francisco, Shirley first began performing ventriloquism on radio there with a show called "Judy in Wonderland." Layburn also entertained wounded soldiers for the USO in stateside hospitals during World War II.
She bore lifelong scars from being severely scalded as a child requiring a 14-month hospitalization. She said the experience made her never afraid of a handicap.
In 1950, she moved to New York where she had her own children's shows until her marriage and retirement from television three years later. After her children were grown, Layburn earned a degree in health care and from 1973 until 1985 was head of the respiratory therapy department of John Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson.
back to top
Senor Wences died in his New York home on April 20 at the age of 103.With not much more than his voice and his hand, he created his most famous character, Johnny.
Born in Spain, Wences became one of the most endearing entertainers in the TV variety show era with 50 appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show alone.
A bullfighter before he discovered ventriloquism, he polished his act in American vaudeville theaters during the Depression. Television's golden age made him a media star.
His act was a precise and economical 19 minutes with a one minute encore. He did the same act for the rest of his life. Royalty loved him as did the general public.
Though poor health hobbled him in his later years, he performed at the age of 90 in the road company of Sugar Babies. New York, Los Angeles and Atlantic City all honored him on his 100th birthday.
back to top
Margo Rose: Grand First Lady of American Puppetry
by Fred Thompson
Margo died on Saturday, September 13, 1997 in New London Connecticut, from complications of pneumonia following remedial surgery. Her son, Christopher, was at her side.
Born Margaret Skewis Rose on January 31, 1903, Margo Rose began her career in puppetry as a student at Cornell College in Iowa. She was "bitten" while operating a marionette her sister Dorothy had made from a doll. Margo said, "I could make then come alive. I was sunk. That was the rest of my life." And so it was.
She was hired by Tony Sarg in 1927 where Matt Searle, Sarg's company manager, suggested she change her name to Margo, the name she used ever since. She toured with The Tony Sarg Marionettes until 1931, taking the 1929 season off to study sculpture at the British Academy in Rome.
Rufus Rose joined the Sarg company at Christmas, 1928. He and Margo were married in 1930. In 1931, the Roses formed their own company.
The Roses toured the United States in the 1930s, '40s and '50s as the Rufus Rose Marionettes, billed as "America's Foremost Artists of the Marionette Theater." The rest is history.
Much will be written about Margo in future issues of the Puppetry Journal. Any mention of Margo must include Rufus, as their lives and work were so wonderfully intertwined. And they were a great team. Although the process wasn't always smooth, the results were always rewarding. Margo, as evidence by her work, brought a thoughtful and brilliant artistry to her modeling and designs. Her capable eye and knowing hand created some of the finest marionette figures ever. Her delicate, careful but sure manipulation of a marionette has won the admiration of many a puppeteer, and brought to life so many wonderful characters. Rufus an outstanding craftsman, mechanic, inventor and enthusiastic" manipulator of marionettes, proved to be the perfect partner for Margo. Through his collaboration, they produced many wonderful productions and entertained thousands of people over the years.
Consistent throughout their work was this "completeness" of design. This attention to detail in the design and fabrication of their marionettes, when coupled with the wonderful costumes, scenery, scripts and music, made their productions magical, with characters as believable and worthy of our attentions and sympathy as any living actor. They were true artists and professionals in every sense of the word.
Beyond the gifts of their performances and persons, many have benefited from their generosity as colleagues, teachers and friends. True to the tradition of puppeteers, they gave freely of their knowledge and experience. Patient and supportive, firm but kind, Margo continued teaching this summer, where her daily visits to the marionette workshop at the National Puppetry Conference were eagerly awaited. "Keep it simple," she would coax.Margo gave of her time and talents to further the art of puppetry, the occupation of her lifetime.
She never thought the Roses were famous. "We just did what we had to do." Always self-effacing, Margo had little time for flattery. She seemed, at times, embarrassed at the attention. At a reception held in her honor a few years back, she was asked what all the "fuss" was about. She replied, "I dunno."
Margo is survived by her sons, James P., Rufus R. and Christopher S. Rose, several grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Her husband, Rufus Chapel Rose, passed away in 1975. There will be no service. Plans are underway for a celebration of Margo's life and that information will be posted when plans are complete. For those desiring to remember Margo through a gift, the family has suggested that The National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, The Eugene O'Neill Theater and The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut were all close to Margo's heart.
Jim Rose asked Margo what she though the Rose legacy would be to puppetry. Margo thought awhile and replied, "Well, we made good puppets." Yes, they did.
Fred Thompson of New Haven, Connecticut, was a close friend of the Roses since his childhood. Additionally, he has devoted much of his time and writing about their work. He shared the news of Margo's passing by email. Paul Eide printed it in the "Twin City Puppet Monitor" and it is reprinted here with permission. Thompson also edits the newsletter "Playboard" for the Puppeteers of America.
back to top