RSS Feed

‘Puppets’ Category

  1. Mike Mercury and Supercar

    September 20, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Yes! Another puppet post! This one is about a TV show that debuted in 1961 called Supercar. Supercar was produced by Gerry Anderson who, with his team of puppeteers and model builders, would later create Thunderbirds. Like Thunderbirds (1964) and  Four Feather Falls (1960), Supercar utilized Anderson’s signature “Supermarionation”.

    Supermarionation used marionettes suspended and controlled by thin wires. The fine metal filaments doubled as both suspension-control wires for puppet movement, and as electrical cables that took the control signals to the electronic components concealed in the marionettes’ heads. The heads contained solenoid motors that created the synchronised mouth movements for dialog and other functions. The voice synchronisation was achieved by using a specially designed audio filter which was actuated by the signal from the pre-recorded tapes of the voice actors; this filter would convert the signal into a series of pulses which then travelled down the wire to the solenoids controlling the puppet’s lips, creating lip movements that were precisely synchronised with the dialogue.

    The one flaw in the system was that its simulation of walking was rather ridiculous looking. This  weakness was likely the inspiration for a show where the hero spent most of his time sitting in a car. The hero is pilot Mike Mercury who lives in a secret base in Nevada with two scientists (Prof. Popkiss and Dr. Beaker), an orphan boy (Jimmy Gibson) and a weird monkey-like creature named Mitch.

    The show aired on ITV in the UK and was syndicated to local channels in the US. The show spawned a comic strip in the British magazine TV Comics that outlasted the show itself by two years. In the US Gold Key published a Supercar comic book  that lasted four issues.

    Here is episode one (in two parts) in which Mike and the Supercar rescue young Jimmy and his monkey Mitch. Even if you’re not inclined to watch the entire episode be sure to, at least, treat yourself to the opening titles and the theme song sung by Mike Sammes. 



  2. Visual Thinking with Kermit and Harry and Jim

    August 25, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    For some reason I have puppets on the brain lately. I guess it started a few weeks ago when I first discovered Sid & Marty Krofft’s 1961 nudie puppet show, Les Poupées de Paris. The discovery was only enhanced by the fact that the Brothers Krofft would spend the rest of their careers creating product for children’s television programs. In fact (despite the “creepy” factor)  there has always been an association in my mind between puppets and children’s entertainment. Growing up with Sesame Street and the Muppet Show did little to disabuse me of that impression.

    Sure, Jim Henson‘s creations were always cool enough to appeal to adults but I would never have called the humor deep or sophisticated. My opinion changed as soon as I stopped reading about Henson’s early work and started watching it.

    Jim Henson was working in television before he even finished high school, creating puppets for a local station’s children’s show. By the time he was a freshman in college, he was producing a daily five-minute puppet show called Sam and Friends for Washington DC station WRC-TV.  The show ran from 1955 to 1961 and it was the birthplace to almost all of the revolutionary developments in televised puppetry that Henson is famous for.

    Equipped with the details in the previous paragraph and having grown up with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, I assumed that Sam and Friends was a children’s show.  That assumption was either wrong or the kids of 1961 were a lot hipper than I’ve been giving them credit for.

    Here is a sketch from a 1961 episode starring a primordial Kermit and his friend Harry the Hipster:



  3. Sid & Marty Krofft’s World of Topless Puppets

    August 10, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    “Think about it—a dirty puppet show. An evil puppet chains a lissome nude to a pillar and tickles her to death with a long pink feather. A vast bat helps tear the clothes off an undulating stripper, then flies away with her. A bawdy Balinese girl is seduced in a swimming pool. Bare-breasted beauties hang in bird cages over the audience, or parade around the stage, heaving, wiggling, sighing, shaking, and saucing the house!” – Time Magazine, 1962

    Les Poupées de Paris (The Dolls of Paris) was a musical puppet show created, produced and directed by Sid and Marty Krofft in 1961. Yes, the same Kroffts who would go on to make their mark on the history of saturday morning children’s television with shows like H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos, Lidsville, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and Land of the Lost.

    In the late 1950s, The Brothers Krofft were a rather successful opening act for Las Vegas performers like Judy Garland and Sammy Davis Jr. Like most Vegas acts of the time, the Krofft puppet shows were tailored for an adult audience and many of their puppets were modeled after the showgirls and celebrities they shared stages with at the Flamingo and other casinos. By 1961, they were offered residency at a San Fernando dinner club called The Gilded Rafters. An entire theater there (called “The Krofft Theatre”) was dedicated to a musical puppet show inspired by Paris revues like those performed at the Lido and Folies Bergere. Before packing up their puppets and leaving for L.A., the Kroffts recorded hours of dialogue by their celebrity acquaintances in Las Vegas; Pearl Bailey, Milton Berle, Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly, Liberace, Jayne Mansfield, Tony Martin, Phil Silvers, Loretta Young and Mae West,  among others. It’s uncertain whether any of the actresses concerned knew that they were giving voice to naked puppet doppelgängers of themselves.

    According to a program from the show (with “Adults Only” printed on the cover), Les Poupées de Paris consisted of a prologue and seven acts:



    ACT I featured a full puppet orchestra and a line of can-can dancers. Each of the 17 dancer/puppets have their names and head shots listed in the program. Paulette and Marion are fresh-faced and eager looking.  Chantal and Toni have the weary appearance of showgirls who are no longer quite girls. And Patricia (shiver), creepy, bug-eyed Patricia looks for all the world like one of those evil ventriloquist dummies that crawl out of their steamer trunks in the middle of the night and strangle their owner’s girlfriend.

    ACT II was entitled Une d’Horreur (Night of Horror) and consisted of gags and musical numbers performed by a mad scientist, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and dancing skeletons.


    ACT III was a juggling act. ACT IV featured a puppet named Mr. Showmanship and some more showgirls:

    ACT V was the really juicy part of the show called L’Amour Exotique, full of satyrs and tree nymphs and featured two mostly naked lovers named Antoinette and Lamas.

    With ACT VI things get really racy. Not more risqué, but “race-y”. This is the “colored” segment of the show with dance and musical numbers entitled Une Visite a la Boite de Chocolats (“A Visit to the Chocolate Box”) and Le Caramels. The star of this segment is a Rue Pigalle prostitute known simply as “The Pick Up”.



    ACT VII stars a topless Mae West and a reprise of some of the puppets who appeared earlier in the show.





     Les Poupées de Paris was such a success, it became a major attraction at the 1962  Seattle World’s Fair , and again at the New York World’s Fair in 1965. The touring production cost $200,000 to produce and the sets (which included a revolving theatre, elevators, an ice-skating rink and waterfall) took three months to install.  The Reverend Billy Graham attended a World’s Fair performance of the show and immediately denounced it, complaining that ”the women don’t wear bras!”  He failed to mention that the “women” were puppets. The Reverend’s backhanded endorsement and the write-up in Time Magazine guaranteed that the show would garner record crowds.  Marty Krofft concluded every interview with the instruction; “Be sure to mention it’s dirty.”

    This might be a good place to note that the program credits Tony Urbano as puppet designer. You might not be surprised to learn that Urbano was lead designer for Parker and Stone’s film Team America which (in my limited judgement)  features the best marionette sex ever put on film. I can only make this claim because,  although Les Poupées de Paris  traveled around the country for ten years and was seen by almost 10 million people, no film or video of a complete performance has been discovered.  How sad!