Thursday, January 4, 2018

It Should've Been on a Saturday: Kukla, Fran, & Ollie (1947)

Last year marked the 70th anniversary of a franchise that started as a regional entry in Chicago, then went national within a year.

Kukla, Fran, & Ollie split time between NBC & ABC from 1947-57, airing on weeknights at the dinner hour at first, then shifting to Sundays, and a 15 minute format, much to the consternation of its growing audience. Fran Allison was the human foil for puppeteer Burr Tillstrom's creations, Oliver J. "Ollie" Dragon and Kukla. While the little kids were entertained by the puppets, their big brothers were likely crushing on Fran.

As we've previously noted, the trio took their act to CBS to host the network's Children's Film Festival. What memories I have of that series (previously reviewed) come mostly from the skits they did. However, it didn't last long, as CBS began tinkering with the format of the Festival before putting it to bed for good in the 80's.

Later years also saw Tillstrom branch out with Kukla & Ollie without Fran. For example, Ollie went solo to duel with the talking Parkay tub (voice of Michael Bell) in a late 70's ad. Ollie & Kukla were on the panel for a week on Match Game, matching wits with Gene Rayburn and contestants.

Some of the earliest shows are now available on DVD. I wonder if this skit is included.....

No rating.


magicdog said...

I do remember watching an updated version of KF&O in the early 70s. They are rather fleeting however. My mom watched with me because - well, she grew up with their original show!

hobbyfan said...

What little I did see was before 1971, I'm sure of it, since that was the year Soul Train debuted, and the then-CBS affiliate (Now an ABC affil) bumped the Film Festival to make room.

Mike Doran said...

KF&O was never regarded by Burr Tillstrom as a "children's show".

Tillstrom never talked down to his audience.
Sometimes he had to talk down to network types who thought puppets meant "kiddie show".
Tillstrom drove the suits crazy by never moving from Chicago, his home town, to either NY or LA (save for the occasional guest shot).

In 1977, Cyril Ritchard was in Chicago, narrating the revue Side By Side By Sondheim.
Ritchard suffered a massive heart attack in mid-performance one evening; the producers were faced with closing the Chicago engagement early.
Someone had the inspiration of asking Burr Tillstrom to take over the show, bringing in Kukla and Ollie for onstage support.
After a brief rehearsal period, Tillstrom and the Kuklapolitans went on in Chicago - and were such a hit that the engagement was extended, selling out most nights.
Not only that - the producers of the show brought Burr, Kukla and Ollie to Broadway for a brief stay, with the same box office results.
True story ...

hobbyfan said...

What was Tillstrom thinking, then, Mike?

From what I could glean, Kukla, Fran, & Ollie originally ran weeknights ahead of the prime-time programming of the day, before moving to Sundays. I guess Tillstrom didn't want to be compared to Howdy Doody......