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