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Puppet Power: Raise Your Hand�Preferably With A Puppet On It
|Written by Stephanie Finnegan|
|Tuesday, 14 September 2010 18:42|
Yes, I am a sucker for sock puppets, shadow puppets, rod puppets, marionettes, ventriloquist dummies (oooh, I hate that term, very politically incorrect). I adore seeing an object that has been whittled or stitched, painted and varnished, morph into a miniature person with a large, dominating personality.
I first fell for puppets when I saw the film “Lili,” starring Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer. It tells the tale of a lost, waiflike girl, portrayed by Caron, who wanders onto a carnival fairgrounds. She is desperate and despondent, and she finds herself brought back to life by her interaction with a puppeteer, but, more important, it is actually the puppets that she is captivated by. She becomes besotted with Carrot Top (who bears an uncanny resemblance to CSI’s David Caruso), Reynardo the fox, Golo the Giant, and Marguerite the ballerina. Unable to deal with reality and real-life problems, Lili grows up and becomes a well-adjusted adult due to the nurturing of this motley crew of puppets. She, in turn, helps their puppeteer (a bitter but extremely handsome wounded war veteran) learn to love and trust again. Sappy? Yes. Beautiful and haunting and able to turn a second grader’s head? You betcha!
After this initial introduction to the world of stagecraft, I clamored for puppets of my own, and my obliging parents . . . well, they obliged. I played with bumblebee hand puppets, monkey marionettes, canines and felines, and people representing all ages, genders and costumes. I was a little Shari Lewis in training, and in solidarity with her “Lambchop” puppet, I stopped eating the traditional Easter lamb dishes. (Yes, puppetry was the advent of my becoming politicized as well. More on that later.)
One of the greatest breakthroughs in puppeteering was the broadcasting of Jim Henson and his marvelous Muppets. Initially a local TV performer, Henson and his talents exploded globally throughout the late 1960s, 1970s, into the 1980s. His most famous creations, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, launched feature films, records, TV specials, books, dolls, and, of course, puppets.
A couple weeks back, Henson’s family donated the original Kermit the Frog puppet to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. The capital city, known for its relentless pursuit of greenbacks and empty promises to go more “green,” gave the green amphibian a hero’s welcome. Back in 1955 in Washington, that little frog figure made his TV debut on a local program called “Sam and Friends.” The endeavor ran until 1961, and many of the characters that cavorted on the show became forerunners for “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show.” This old-time crew is now part of our national archive.
I was delighted to read this because I used to live in Washington, DC—some of my happiest memories revolve around that crazy town. And I was fortunate to be a resident there when a slew of pupp...