vintage tv

The Good Time Gang, with Ginger, Valerie and Bubba!

When I was growing up in Atlanta in the 70’s and 80’s, we had The Good Time Gang on Channel 46 to entertain us between shows;Valerie and Ginger were the fun TV moms for us latchkey kids. A little spaceman puppet named Bubba was later added to the cast, and I once had my artwork featured on the show. Loved it.



Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit”

So, anyone else get the living daylights scared out of them by this video when they were a kid? This video was creepier to me than most horror movies. Still, it’s some great work with robots.

Here’s a brief behind-the-scenes look:

Dragon Con and Gary Gnu!

I have been insanely busy–so much to talk about, but not time to post. I have mainly been getting ready for Dragon Con and working at Netherworld. Right no I am attending Dragon Con, with Jamie Walrus and and Vapor the Ghost in tow.

I met Jim Martin, one of my puppeteer heroes, yesterday. He was Gary Gnu  and M.T. Promises on The Great Space Coaster, which I watched every morning as I got ready for school.

He was absolutely one of the nicest celebs I have ever met. He came around to to our side of the meet-and-greet table and talked with Steve and me for well over an hour; practically a mini-puppetry workshop. Oh, he was wonderful. Jim, enormous g-hugs to you. 😀

Henson donates ORIGINAL Kermit to the Smithsonian!

From Associated Press comes this amazing bit of news:

By BRETT ZONGKER, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – The original Kermit the Frog, his body created with an old dull-green coat and his eyes made of pingpong balls, has returned home to the nation’s capital, where the puppet got his start.

The first Kermit creation from Jim Henson’s Muppet’s collection appeared in 1955 on the early TV show “Sam and Friends,” produced at Washington’s WRC-TV. Henson’s widow Jane Henson on Wednesday donated 10 characters from the show to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

She said the original characters provided five minutes of fun each night after the local news.

“I think people realized that if you put Kermit’s face up there, it was just as powerful,” Jane Henson, 76, said. “We were mostly just doing it to entertain ourselves.”

The Hensons attended the University of Maryland and got into the TV business with Willard Scott and other pioneers while in college. Their connection to the area makes the Smithsonian a perfect home for Henson’s original puppets, friends said.

“It’s not just the puppets coming home, but in a way it’s Jane and Jim coming home,” said Arthur Novell, executive director of the nonprofit Jim Henson Legacy in New York City. “They started their careers, their lives in Washington.”

Even though they were in Washington, Kermit deliberately did not do politics or dabble in religion, Jane Henson said.

The Smithsonian already has a familiar Kermit the Frog puppet made famous on “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show.” But the original Kermit was more lizard-like, and a duller green. His body was made from an old coat thrown out by Henson’s mother.

Some of the other early Muppets donated to the museum include the puppets that inspired Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch, as well as Sam from “Sam and Friends.” The puppets mostly mimed and would lip-sync to popular music.

Their first hit was “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face,” by Rosemary Clooney. Donning a wig, Kermit took the lead as “Kermina,” Jane Henson said. In 1969, Kermit made it big and joined “Sesame Street.”

Curator Dwight Blocker Bowers said the Muppets will be a boon for the museum’s collection.

“It certainly shows the Muppets at the beginning of the career of a large family of entertainers,” he said. “More than anything, I think it shows the genius of Jim Henson.”

Bowers said the museum plans to have the original Muppets on display by November in the pop culture gallery.

Visitors will recognize the original Kermit, though he didn’t have his trademark collar and webbed feet. But they probably won’t recognize the other characters, so the museum will help introduce them, Bowers said. Future plans call for adding clips of their early shows.

A traveling Smithsonian exhibit of Muppets opens Sept. 24 at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Novell, who was Henson’s publicist for more than 20 years, said the puppeteer was a history buff and fond of the Smithsonian.

Other puppets from Henson’s collection will eventually be given to the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta to create a Henson gallery there, perhaps as soon as 2014, Novell said.

Still, the Hensons plan to give the Smithsonian about a dozen more puppets in the years to come, possibly including a Miss Piggy to join her boyfriend, Kermit. Part of that will depend on plans by the Walt Disney Co., which has owned rights to the Muppets since 2002.

“We would like very much to get them out while they’re still in relatively good condition,” Jane Henson said. “I think when you grow up in Washington, you get the feeling that everything important in the country goes to the Smithsonian.”

Senor Wences.

A Spanish ventriloquist with lightning speed and flawless comedic timing, often having two or even three characters present in his act at once, was born Wenceslao Moreno in 1896 (he died just one day before his 103rd birthday in 1999).

He most famous puppets were Johnny Martin, who was a little puppet body with a derived from Wences’ own bare hand; a comical face was drawn onto the hand with marker and lipstick; and Pedro, a head in a box who came to be as a result of Wences being forced to suddenly invent the character when his regular, full-sized dummy was destroyed during a train accident en route to a performance.

Wences was famous internationally for many years, but truly gained a following in America when he appeared on variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show and a memorable appearance on The Muppet Show.

He often built to a big finish in his act with juggling and plate spinning while his characters heckled him from their boxes and cases or from under a table. Wences was able to throw his voice with such speed and agility it was hard to believe he was the only being actually occupying the stage.

Here is one of those Ed Sullivan performances:

Topo Gigo!

Topo Gigio, sweet and childlike mouse character, was very popular in Italy for many years — not only on TV but also in children’s magazines, animated cartoons, movies, and merchandising. His popularity spread to the world after being featured on Ed Sullivan’s weekly TV show in the U.S. Today Topo Gigio still is an icon of Italian and Spanish pop culture. He performs regularly at Zecchino d’Oro festival and other programs created by Antoniano and RAI. In 1965, a feature length motion picture Le Avventure di topo Gigio (The Adventures of Topo Gigio) was released internationally.

Created by a highly creative troupe of Italian puppeteers, it took four people to bring the 10″ tall character to life, three to manipulate him and one to create his voice. The puppet stood in a special “limbo” black art stage with black velvet curtains, designed to absorb as much ambient light as possible, which helped hide the puppeteers, who also dressed in black from head to toe. Each puppeteer operated a different part of Gigio’s foam rubber body by using several wooden dowel rods (also painted black). The illusion was quite remarkable, since unlike traditional hand puppets, Topo Gigio could actually appear to walk on his feet, sing, make subtle hand gestures, and even walk up Ed Sullivan’s arm and perch on his shoulder. Careful lighting and TV camera adjustment made the “black art” illusion perfect for the television audience, though on at least one appearance, Ed asked the puppeteers to come out and take a bow, revealing their black-clad appearance.

The best way to experience Topo, however, is to see him in action. Photos do not do him justice.(the cacti are pretty darned adorable, too)

Freaky-Armed Grimace!

I’ve often had mixed feelings about the McDonaldland characters. I hate clowns, but I always thought the earlier Ronald was okay. I liked Grimace, even though he was just…odd, and I could never figure out how he, as a big purple blob, related to hamburgers and fries and such in the way Mayor McCheese and Hamburglar did. And I hold great respect for The Ronald McDonald House.

The McDonaldland characters were much cooler in the 70’s when I was a kid; now, they’ve been cutened, dumbed up, primary-colored,watered down and chubbified as if that’s all kids want to look at these days..seems every cool character franchise got the “cute n’chubby” treatment eventually. Do all children prefer their characters this way today, or have marketing adults frantically decided all children might be disturbed and need counseling if their characters might look a little mean and gritty, or if they’re funky and asymmetrical, or even worse…skinny,bumpy, scaly or a have muted colors?

Even so, we’ve all got a character here and there from our childhood that did scare us for various reasons, and although me and Grimace were cool, I might be persuaded to think, “yeah, this commercial might have flipped me out when I was a wee one”. Count Grimace’s arms!