In Praise of Puppets
The first puppets I can recall, who made even a rainy day fun, was Kukla, Fran, and Ollie. Fran Allison starred in the television show, created for children, but watched by more adults than youngsters. It didn’t have a script and was entirely ad-libbed. I fell in love with Ollie, a roguish one-toothed dragon. He would slam his flat chin on the stage in frustration or roll on his back in an endearing way.
It wasn’t, though, until ventriloquist Shari Lewis introduced television viewers to a new character that, for me, the word “puppet” changed. Lamb Chop was a sock puppet sheep, both feisty and vulnerable. And you know what they say about fools rushing in where wise men fear to go? That was Lamb Chop. She’d leap into trouble, then scream for help.
She served as the blueprint for future enterprises. True, the puppets my friends and I made weren’t exactly Punch and Judy, and we weren’t drawing a crowd in a park in Paris. Still, find us some old socks or brown-paper bags and markers. We were all set. The neighborhood, like most safe havens constructed after the war—track homes amid cow pastures and wildflowers—welcomed a troop of puppeteers. Our shows sparked one of childhood’s most precious resources: imagination.
By the time I had children of my own, other puppets had appeared on TV. Sesame Street with Elmo, Grover, Kermit, and Cookie Monster became a favorite. My kids might remember puppet shows, but I think we had more stage plays in those days.
When my eldest son joined the Army and moved from place to place with his family, I didn’t see the grandchildren as much. That’s why the kid’s visit was an awfully big deal. I wanted to make memories to be cherished long after. A puppet show seemed the way to go. My husband secured a refrigerator box. I painted it midnight blue and adorned it with moons and stars, cut a hole for a window, and made the curtains from a discarded velvet gown. We discovered an array of puppets from the dollar store. I wrote a play called Princess Zanzibar. When our grandchildren bolted through the doorway, there stood the theater in all its glory. With different types of puppets in swirling, dancing fabrics, they presented quite a show.
I still have them tucked away in a trunk. Grandkids, nieces, nephews, and our friend’s children have slipped them on their tiny hands and acted out a story they have created themselves. As children become dependent on the internet and electronic games, puppets, I think, are an alternative to machines that do little to stimulate the imagination. And although kids can’t control the world, they can maneuver a puppet. So, I believe we should keep them in our homes for those children who are dear to us.