Published on Monday, 22 November 2010 11:44
"Kukla, Fran and Ollie" was a Chicago television treasure that started here in the late 40's. Now, many of those old black & white episodes have been carefully restored and are on DVD for the first time ever. "Burr Tillstrom's Kukla, Fran and Ollie - The First Episodes: 1949-54"
was just released this weekend.
Puppeteer Burr Tillstrom began by performing puppet shows for customers at the Marshall Field's store on Chicago's famed State Street and for the Chicago Park District in the mid-1930's. In 1939, he performed with his unique puppet creations, the Kuklapolitan Players, at the New York World's Fair. In 1940, he performed from Bermuda to on the first ever ship-to-shore broadcast. Tillstrom then created a TV show to showcase his puppets called "Junior Jamboree," which first aired on October 13, 1947 on WBKB-TV (now WBBM-TV) in Chicago. The show featured Tillstrom controlling and voicing all of the puppets, Fran Allison, a comedienne and singer from NBC Radio in Chicago and the only live human to appear on the show, and music was written and performed by Jack Fascinato on piano (off camera). The main stars were the puppets, including the clown leader Kukla, the funny one-toothed dragon Oliver J Dragon aka "Ollie," Buelah Witch, Fletcher Rabbit, Madame Ooglepuss, Cecil Bill, and many others.
One year later, "Junior Jamboree" was renamed "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" and the show moved from KBKB-TV to WNBQ-TV (now WMAQ-TV). A couple of months after that, the daily Chicago show went national, airing on the NBC network from 1949-1954. It aired on the ABC network from 1954-1957. The majority of the shows were improvised and it appealed to adults just as much, if not more, than it did to children.
The show had a bit of a comeback in the late 60's and early 70's, but never again achieved the popularity it had in the 40's and 50's. The show has won both Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award.
The episodes chosen for the DVD come from the show's original run. Many of these episodes on the DVD set have not been seen since they first aired decades ago.
In the early 80's, Burr Tillstrom hand selected eighty episodes of the classic series, including all of his favorites, to have them cleaned up from their original kinescope recordings for a planned VHS tape series -- some of which were eventually released on VHS. The twenty episodes on this new DVD set were selected from the larger group of eighty episodes. All of these episodes from the DVD underwent an extensive restoration process to clean up the audio and video tracks as much as possible.
The twenty episodes included on the new DVD are...
Salute To Television - 12/5/49
Screen Test - 9/8/49
Madame Ooglepuss Loses Her Wig - 9/26/49
Lemonade - 8/17/49
Ice Cream (with Dave Garroway) - 10/6/49
Halloween - 10/31/49
Kukla Kiddish - 11/30/49
Making A Christmas Tree Stand - 12/20/49
Hansel and Gretel - 12/28/49
Puppetry Festival - 6/28/50
As You Like It - 11/3/50
Winter Carnival - 12/20/50
First 15-Minute Show - 11/26/51
Guppies Gavotte - 12/5/51
Fran Practices Christmas Singing - 12/12/51
June Lockhart - 4/22/52
Leaving New York - 5/12/52
Fifth Birthday - 10/12/52
Fran As Miss VUHF - 1/3/54
"The Mikado" Dress Rehearsal - 2/21/54
Homecoming - with Gene Rayburn (excerpt) - 10/21/49
Sweet William (excerpt) - 10/27/50
"Here We Are" (excerpt)
The DVD "Burr Tillstrom's Kukla, Fran and Ollie - The First Episodes: 1949-54" was produced by the Burr Tillstrom Copyright Trust, with assists by Mark Milano from the Kuklapolitan Website
and the Chicago History Museum
. The two-disc set is priced surprising low at only $14.95. It is not sold in stores, however! It can only be purchased at the store inside the Chicago History Museum (1601 N. Clark St., Chicago) or online at this link for Amazon.com
. It can also be found on the Chicagoland Radio & Media Amazon store at this link HERE
Supplies are very limited as only 1,000 of these DVD sets have been produced. Some of the proceeds from the DVD's sale will go to charities that Burr Tillstrom supported before his death in 1985.
The DVD was released on November 20th -- which just happens to have been Fran Allison's birthday. (Allison passed away in 1989.)