Puppeteer Bios

The list below is only a fraction of the puppet artists in the United States and abroad. These links provide information and samples of work from many of the artists whose work can be found in collection of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry.

Hermann Aicher

Hermann Aicher (1902 – 1977)

Professor Hermann Aicher, perhaps the foremost Austrian Puppeteer, watched his father, Professor Anton Aicher, create and perform elaborate puppet shows from the early age of ten. The Aicher family became infamous for their productions, even though they were modestly performed in their home. The family eventually created the Aicher Family Theatre in 1913. Hermann Aicher took up the puppetry tradition created by his father and headed their theater. His wife and daughters all pitched in to sustain a troupe that delighted adults and children alike, with their repertoire of over 150 operas, play and fairy tales.

The creation of these puppets involved the whole family; while the girls created the costumes, Hermann molded the bodies, and various artistic talents of the region were enlisted to create the faces so that each puppet would have a distinct image and personality all it’s own. Aicher believed the marionette is an abstraction of the living actor. The puppet, being ideal rather than flesh and blood, provides the marionette with an increased power of illusion. The precise and delicate control system above the marionette combines genius and decades of experience: it is the head, heart and soul of the marionette. The creative will of the manipulator flows through these controls, into the puppet, and brings forth life.

This group is best known for their involvement with the Salzburg Music Festival and for the innovation of over sized puppets. These puppets were used for large stages and audiences allowing puppetry to be more widely appreciated. His over sized puppets were approximately three and a half feet high. The family obtained its own theater in 1951 (now the Salzburg Marionette Theatre) providing these puppets with a permanent home in Salzburg, where Hermann Aicher continued to direct. After Hermann Aicher’s death in 1977, his daughter Gretl Aicher took over the artistic direction and maintained the theatre in keeping with the intentions of her grandfather. Some of the troupe’s listed shows were, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Rumpelstiltskin, and The Wizard of Oz, for the children, as well as The Nutcracker Suite, The Blue Danube, Don Juan, and The Dying Swan for adults. However, the troupe’s specialty focused on the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, The Abduction from the Seraglio, and The Magic Flute. In addition to his published works, the troupe interpreted various episodes of Mozart’s life, most notably his audience with the Empress, and show called Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Wonder Child.

This modest band of traditional players has been seen all over the world, making enough trips to have gone around the world three times. Seen in Great Britain, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Italy, Turkey, Scandinavia, they were even brought to Carnegie Hall, and have played over 2600 performances in over 600 towns to over 2,000,000 people.

Frank Ballard

Frank Ballard (1929 – 2010)

“A puppet is the artist’s soul set free.”
-Frank Ballard,
Puppeteer, Designer/Director, Teacher

Frank Ballard with puppets, created by Bil Baird and Sergei Obratsov. Part of the museum’s diverse collection. Photograph by Fran Funk

In 1956, Frank W. Ballard was appointed to the faculty of what was then the Department of Speech and Drama. He was hired as the Set Designer and Technical Director of the new Harriet S. Jorgensen Theater. At that time, there were five professors in the Department.

In 1962 the Drama, Art and Music Departments merged to form the School of fine Arts. With the creation of a graduate program in Drama, Professor Ballard added puppetry to the University of Connecticut’s curriculum offerings.

Classes in Puppetry were first taught in 1964. The popularity of these classes necessitated the addition of extra class sections. After three years, the department had to limit the class enrollment because of inadequate classroom facilities and the inability of one professor to oversee so many students.

More than 400 student puppet productions have been presented since 1964.

The Mikado (1968), designed by Mr. Ballard, was the first full-length puppet production to be presented in Jorgensen Theatre as part of the Department of Dramatic Arts’ season. With the intention of introducing the audience to the scope of puppetry, all types of puppets were utilized.

Frank Ballard’s puppet productions include:

  • MACBETH (1961, television)
  • HANSEL AND GRETEL (1962, television)
  • A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (1963, puppet sequences only, University of CT)
  • PEER GYNT (1963, Hotchkiss School)
  • CARNIVAL (1966, puppet sequences only, University of Connecticut)
  • THE MIKADO (1968, University of Connecticut)
  • SAMPSON AND DELILAH (1969, University of Connecticut)
  • THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES (1970, University of Connecticut)
  • PEER GYNT (1971, Fine Arts Festival)
  • PETROUCHKA (1971, Nashville Symphony), (1972, Hartford Symphony)
  • PETROUCHKA/CARNIVAL OF ANIMALS (1972, Annhurst College)
  • KISMET (1975, University of Connecticut)
  • FROM THE TOP (puppet sequences only, Channel 24 TV, Hartford, CT)
  • TWO BY TWO (1976, University of Connecticut, State Capitol, CT and National Festival)
  • THE GOLDEN COCKEREL (1977, University of Connecticut)
  • THE FANTASTICKS (1979, puppet design and direction only, University of Connecticut)
  • THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG (1980, University of Connecticut)
  • BABES IN TOYLAND (1982, University of Connecticut)
  • PIPPIN (1983, University of Connecticut)
  • THE BLUE BIRD (1984, University of Connecticut)
  • THE MAGIC FLUTE (1986, University of Connecticut and Wesleyan University)
  • H.M.S. PINAFORE (1989, University of Connecticut and M.I.T.)

Bil Baird

Bil Baird (1904 – 1987)

“When a human performer and a puppet share the same stage,
the puppet cannot compete… especially if the performer is ‘on’.”
-Bil Baird,
Puppeteer, Artist and Technician

Bil Baird

Bil Baird is one of the world’s most famous living puppeteers. He was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, and educated at the State University of Iowa and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. His career, spanning more than fifty years, began with Tony Sarg and has brought his own puppetry into every aspect of the theatre world–night clubs, touring and trade shows, fairs and vaudeville, television and films, and Broadway musicals. In 1962 the Baird company toured India, Nepal, and Afghanistan, and, in 1963, Rusia, under the auspices of the U.S. State Department. Since 1966 his activites have been centered in his 6-story puppet theatre at 59 Barrow Street in New York’s Greenwich Village.

[From Toward an Art of the Puppet: New York’s Heritage Exhibition Brochure, 1970ish, p. 4]

“Bairds Make It a Holiday for Strings”

Bil and Cora Baird opened their Christmas present to New Yorkers young and old a day early yesterday. It is a tiny puppet theater at 59 Barro Street in Greenwich Village, and it is a gem. The Theater, which seats 193 persons, is on the first floor of a six-story building near Sheridan Square that the Bairds bought eight years ago. Upstairs are workshops, storage space and an apartment for the puppeteers and their children…

The hall, designed by Mr. Baird and Will Steven Armstrong, is long and skinny–no more than 30 feet wide. But the seats are comfortable and well spaced (lots of legroom for adults), and the floor is raked sharply enough to allow even small youngsters at the back to see well. The paint is fresh; so—thanks to a quiet conditioning system–is the air, and the bathrooms are large enough for all but the heaviest traffic. It may be the most realistic children’s theatre in New York. The Baird’s opening show is “Davy Jones Locker,” first seen here in 1959. After the intermission, there is a “pageantry of puppets”– a selection of some of the Bairds’ choicest short subjects. “Davy Jone’s Locker” has everything that a god children’s show needs–a clear story, exciting characters, chuckly dialogue, bright tunes, even a moral.

The Cast

Marionette musical based on story by Bil Baird
Book by Arthur Birnkrant and Waldo Salt
Music and lyrics by Mary Rodgers
Musical arrangements by Alvy West
Staged by Burt Shevelove
Production conceived by Mr. Baird and Mr. Shevelove
General production manager, Carl Harms
Presented by the American Puppet Arts Council, Inc.,
The Bil Baird Theater, 59 Barrow Street
Nick……………………….Franz Fazakas
Billy………………………..Bil Baird
Capt. Fletcher Scorn…Bil Baird
Mr. Merriweather………Frank Sullivan
Paddlefoot………………Franz Fazakas
Miranda…………………..Cora Baird
Sea Monster……………..Bil Baird
Davy Jones………………Frank Sullivan

In action, the puppets are magic. Despite the visible strings, the little people have a life of their own–and not necessarily the herky-jerky life of Punch and Judy, either. An underwater ballet in “Davy Jones’s Locker” looks as graceful as the real thing, seahorses languidly flipping their tails, Portuguese men ‘o war drifting to the ocean’s floor like collapsing lace curtains. The postintermission vaudeville includes a parade of foreign puppets–from India, Bali, Italy. There is also some memorable miming to rock ‘n’ roll (the Bairds know what the kids are really listening to), and a most effective demonstration of what would happen if the trapezoids and rhomboids in the geometry book ever took it into their heads to start dancing. There are enough flashes in this children’s show to suggest that the Bairds’ determination to do adult programs in their new theater will be more than just an interesting experiment.

[Exerpts from “Bairds Make It a Holiday for Strings”, by Dan Sullivan, The New York Times, December 25, 1966]

Basic purpose of theater is to continue the creation of an adult audience for live puppetry. Besides this and in the same effort we set out to attract the best playwrights, designers, composers and lyricists to the medium–feeling that their interest will up the quality all over the U.S. I don’t have to tell you why Marjorie, you know very well how we look in the world field. Our first step must be to keep the house filled and make it a popular thing for adults to attend live puppet theater. As soon as the trend seems to be set, then we will invite other companies to perform here.

The only way I can see for pupetry here is to employ the best talent possible. In our rich country anybody can be a puppeteer and have a company. And more power to the principle—but when we show our face to the public we must be selective. I say that our festivals or performances where the public is concerned must be filtered–preferably by a UNIMA committee. At present we are working as though we were including home movies of the kiddies and the cat in competition with—De Sica or Ustinov. Otherwise we constantly run the risk of our pitiable showing at Bucarest.

In a half hour I go downstairs to get onto the bridge. It’s a happy circumstance to live over the store.

[Excerpts from Bil Baird’s letter to Marjorie McPharlin, February 13, 1968]

Bil Baird Conquers Earth and Space

NEW YORK—The United States is the one country in the world where people think entertainment is only for children. Yet a few weeks ago part of the biggest TV audience in history watched an epochal performance by two lifelike marionettes. The occasion was the Apollo 12 moon landing on Nov. 19 and 20. When the space television transmission broke down, NBC switched to the puppets which Bil Baird and his craftsmen had designed and built months earlier at their theater and workshop in Greenwich Village. “Afterwards we were amazed to learn that many watching the telecast didn’t know the two men in space suits weren’t real,” Baird recalls. “NBC projected the work ‘simulation’ on the screen at all times, but it seems most TV watchers don’t know what it means.

[From Bil Baird Congues Earth and Space”, by Norman Nadel, Columbus Citizen-Journal??, page 17]

Pauline Benton

Pauline Benton (1898 – 1974)

“Miss Pauline Benton, daughter of a president of the University of the Philippines, studied Chinese shadow manipulation with Lee T’uo-ch’en, the leading shadow player in Peking before World War II. Upon her return to New York in the early 1930’s, she formed a troupe using these traditonal shadow figures, the Red Gate Shadow Puppets, later called the Red Gate Players. For 35 years Miss Benton’s shadows were seen in authentic productions, performing throughout the United States. Plays included The Burning of the Bamboo Grove, Ch’ang O’s Flight to the Moon, The Drum Dance, The Empty City, The Monkey Stealing the Peaches, The White Fox Spirit, and The White Snake. The Red Gate Players continue to perform under the direction of Mercina Karam.”

[From Toward the Art of the Puppet: New York’s Heritage, exhibition brochure, 1975ish?, pg. 8]

“A visit to Pauline Benton at her Carmel, California, cottage unrolls as an adventure. Other “guests” also greet you, colorful and distinctive; and animals, too, like a horse, a rabbit, a white snake, a crow and a playful, benevolent dragon. This esoteric cast of characters, two-dimensional and of delicate parchment, all live in traveling cases carefully labeled “Demons,” “Ladies,” “Entertainers,” “Emperors” and other diversified categories such as “Clouds.” They make up part of Miss Benton’s cherished collection of traditional Chinese Shadow Play Figures. Pauline is much more than a collector. She is a rarity – a China-trained American animator who, with the expertise of 50 years, is today held in reverence and respect as a world authority on Chinese Shadow Play. . . . . . . . .” SHADOW WOMAN by Lucile Fessenden Dandelet

“From blue cotton bundles piled in rickshaws, the troupe set up a stage and a paper screen. Then, with a lantern to shine through the translucent, richly dyed figures, they made the actors perform by manipulating wires from below. The audience out front saw only jewel-bright figures in flexible poses sometimes humorous, sometimes poetic. With music. And dialogue, including male falsettos.

On her next trip to China, Pauline stayed nearly a year to train with Mr. Lee T’uo-ch’en, master shadow player. No woman had trained before and in the ’30s, social taboos forbade a man’s touching a woman’s hand. This meant that Pauline had to learn by watching, and be corrected in sign language. She became fascinated with pantomime.

Home again, she couldn’t wait until she had given a Shadow Play herself. She found an American actor and a musician, William Russell, who loved Chinese instruments, and the three worked on adaptions and translations, first for friends and then coast-to-coast for schools, colleges, clubs and museums. A full-time profession by 1932, her Red Gate Players were booked into 33 states.

Later, Pauline began giving slide shows at elementary schools, but popular demand was such that a new troupe was born, this time with the inspiring addition of Lou Harrison of the National Academy of Arts and Letters who did all the music.

Today, no longer performing or teaching, Pauline is directing her energy into the completion of a book on Chinese Shadow Theater. Richly illustrated with color photographs, it promises to reward its readers with its unusual firsthand experience in a country newly reopened to North Americans, as well as with its authenticity as a resource and its charm as folklore.

For new generations who will be creating their own legends and designing figures more often from plastic than parchment, it will be Pauline Benton’s unique legacy.”

[Exerpts from Shadow Woman, byLucile Fessenden Dandelet, NRTA Journal, March-April, 1976, p. 51]

Forman Brown

Forman Brown (1901 – 1995)

The story of the Yale Puppeteers is told in Forman Brown’s book Punch’s Progess (1936). This partnership began in 1923 at the University of Michigan, continuing at Yale University. Their early work, which they toured by truch, included a production of Bluebeard designed by Norman Bel Geddes. In 1932 the company performed for a brief season in their own puppet theatre in Manhattan’s east forties. In 1933 they did a puppet sequence in the film I Am Suzanne. In 1936-1938 they performed in repertory at the Barbizon-Plaza Hotel and the Cosmopolitan Club in New York. On July 10, 1941, they opened their permanent Turnabout Theatre in Los Angeles, where their marionettes performed satirical adult musicals until 1960. Forman Brown was the writer for the company and Harry Burnett the designer.

[From Toward an Art of the Puppet: New York’s Heritage, exhibit brochure, 1975ish, pg. 52]

Harry Burnett

Harry Burnett (1901 – 1993)

The story of the Yale Puppeteers is told in Forman Brown’s book Punch’s Progess (1936). This partnership began in 1923 at the University of Michigan, continuing at Yale University. Their early work, which they toured by truch, included a production of Bluebeard designed by Norman Bel Geddes. In 1932 the company performed for a brief season in their own puppet theatre in Manhattan’s east forties. In 1933 they did a puppet sequence in the film I Am Suzanne. In 1936-1938 they performed in repertory at the Barbizon-Plaza Hotel and the Cosmopolitan Club in New York. On July 10, 1941, they opened their permanent Turnabout Theatre in Los Angeles, where their marionettes performed satirical adult musicals until 1960. Forman Brown was the writer for the company and Harry Burnett the designer.

[From Toward an Art of the Puppet: New York’s Heritage, exhibit brochure, 1975ish, pg. 52]

Sydney Chrysler

Sydney Chrysler (1915 – 1999)

Sydney Chrysler as told by Frank Ballard

Edited by Crystal Tiala

He was exposed to the most wonderful culture and all the highest principals of education, but he was just as weird as the rest of his family. He worked a little bit as a librarian and was a great opera buff and of course I am a great opera buff. So, we met him shortly after we got here [1956] and he would invite us over. We had been to see half a dozen of his operas and he did so many more since I had last been there. He invited about 25 at a time to his studio theatre. In the wall of his studio was a permanent proscenium with an orchestra pit. The orchestra raised up at the beginning revealing all the orchestra members equipped with all their instruments.

There were bleacher type steps where we would sit on chairs. He stocked opera glasses. We watched this miniature opera where everything was in the exact detail and size that it would be if you were in the family circle at the Met. So after a while you really got the feeling that these were live performers. They were 3 inches high.

He was a researcher and everything had to be exactly right. These were his own designs built with everything exactly according to period. He had shelves and shelves of catalogued research; i.e.: shoes 1850’s, women’s wear 18th century, men’s wigs, 17th century.

His talent in doing these toy theatre operas was just unsurpassed. This was his big hobby. The basic figure began with a pipe cleaner and then were dressed in [crepe]paper. He did the work with tweezers, added jewels and lace and they were just exquisite. The stage had its own running system, its own fly system. The music was recorded. Spot lights were made out of toilet paper rolls and he would have whole banks of them. He had cycloramas, sky drops, that would fly. Everything flew or slid in. Above the stage was a hole cut in the ceiling to accommodate controls for the scenery and puppeteers up in the attic. The storage was all under the eaves and as far as you could see there were sets.

Major characters were like marionettes. They had strings and little cardboard controls. The choruses were on sliders, cardboard pieces that would pull them across the stage. The grand march from Aida had sliders about 6 feet long, 6 of them, filled with figures; elephants, ivory carriers, slaves, and it just goes on and on and on. Most of the figures were stiff, of course, and just stand there, but then as he said, so do opera singers. Many others, however, had movement. Solome could take off her seven veils and she could strip. Tosca moves her arms. She could go over and pick up the candelabra and set them on either side of Scarpia. This is all 3 inches tall and all of them are different. The chorus in La Traviata were dressed in these beautiful hoop skirts, all in lace and jewels, and they are able to waltz. He had a double track system that brought them on and turned them so they were able to spin around, each one. There must have been a dozen waltzing couples.

Usually something would happen like a string would catch on something and force him to reach in to rectify the situation. All of a sudden this huge form would appear in your opera glasses and it would make you jump. This would make him very mad at the operator.

Important Facts The port scene in Manon Lescaut had a ship which sailed in and unfurled its sails. He had an 18th century woman walking her three poodles, each one a little different style, different color, and a puppy that trailed behind her. The stage coaches in Manon Lescaut, besides having horses and people inside them, had exact replicas of what would be in the luggage rack outside, suitcases, hatboxes and sword cases. It was just amazing. He had very long fingers for doing detailed work. He was a beautiful artist and the sets and costumes were exquisite.

He did some manipulation, but he depended upon his friends and neighbors to be his main manipulators. They came in to help him but if a mistake was made you had better watch out. His neighbors would help him with his house, also. They took care of his furnace or mowed his lawn and he would get mad at them and they wouldn’t know why. All of a sudden they would go to do whatever they had been doing all these years and he would chase them out of his yard. They where on his black list for some unknown reason.

He was very persnickety and you could get on his black list very quickly. One time, he invited us in to listen to the opening of the Met which had commissioned Samuel Barber to do a new opera and called Antony and Cleopatra. He had a big listening party that night and you came in and he met you at the door and said, “No one talks while the opera is on or out you go.” So all his friends sat there petrified. Anyone who had to go to the bathroom kept crossing their legs but no one would dare speak up and say they had to go. They just sat there and they would listen to the opera. When it was over he said, “Well, it wasn’t very good, was it?”.

Sydney Chrysler born June 20, 1915 He earned a degree in Interior Decoration from the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY. Received an honorable discharge from the United States Army on December 10, 1945, where he had worked as Supply NCO, never served in a battle or campaign, and was awarded the American Theater Ribbon, the American Defense Ribbon and the Victory Medal.

Excerpts from:The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry acquired what remained of the Chrysler collection from his estate in December of 1997. Despite earlier wishes that the operas be burned, the Museum was able to convince the estate of the importance of its preservation. Many of the items stored in the attic were attacked by mice and mold and could not be saved. But the number of operas created by Sydney Chrysler was so great that much could be recovered and it is now in the process of being restored. It is a painstaking process that will take many years. Frank Ballard dreams of recreating the stage to a working condition so that the Chrysler tradition of opera can be continued.

“Chaplin Impresario Stages Grand Opera With Performers Three Inches High”
by David H. Fowler, The Hartford Courant: Sunday, November 25, 1951

Grand opera, with 800 singers and a 75 piece orchestra, is in rehearsal in this town of 712 under the guidance of impresario Sidney Chrysler. Connecticut music lovers will find it hard to believe that statement, but Chrysler can prove it: on a stage three feet high and three feet wide, with his 800 miniature actor singers, each three inches high. . . . . . . . . “A friend calls me a ‘miniature impresario’” said Chrysler. “I’m just another stage-struck person, a frustrated one. I’ve directed amateur plays, designed scenery and I do interior designing. And I do all my own work on these miniature operas. They’re not puppets, you know; most have only one string to move them, and they’re much smaller than regular puppets.” Chrysler has combined his artist’s eye, his craftsmanship and a thorough knowledge of grand opera and ballet in staging his miniature productions. Both the little figures, which are of wire, covered with paper, and the settings show elaborate and accurate detail.

Interior sets, he said, are completely furnished with specially made pieces. Furniture intended for doll-houses can never be used since it is out of scale and generally too large. Exterior sets sometimes have three dimensions, depending on the opera. The backstage is built on two levels; the drops rise above the second floor of the building, and the persons manipulating the strings which move the figures are on the second floor. Stage settings are assembled on wheeled wagons and are rolled into place for speed. The orchestra, with instruments in proper proportion, rise to the pit in front of the stage from below. Many different lighting effects can be produced with the 30 stage lights, such as a moon rising and crossing the sky, or fires on the stage, as in Wagnerian operas.

As many as 200 actors appear on the stage during the performance of Verdi’s Aida. Other productions include Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Tannhauser and Die Walkure and Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Salome. Also Verdi’s La Traviata, Massenet’s Manon , Bizet’s Carmen Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel ballets to music by Bach, Tschaikovsky and Ravel, and a Nativity pantomime designed as a Flemish fifteenth century alterpiece.

In the planning stage are Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice, a royal progress on the Thanes to Handel’s Water Music, and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe ballet.

Federico Fabbrini

Federico Fabbrini (unknown)

Frank Ballard’s brother met Fabbrinni while on business in Italy. When Fabbrini learned of Frank’s work as a puppeteer in the United States, he sent these 6 inch tall ceramic figures as a gift.

The figures, each one unique, is hung in a decorative wooden box for display. They are not intended to be used as a puppet.

Wayland Flowers

Wayland Flowers (1939 – 1988)

Wayland Flowers, ventriloquist, is the creator of the immortal loud-mouthed puppet known as “Madame.” Seen on the Johnny Carson show and various other venues around the country, he was one of the most visible puppeteers of this century.

Born in Dawson, Georgia on November 26th,1939 he was the second of three children. Flowers received his first marionette set and learned to manipulate them at a very early age of 7 or 8. He began carving his own figures and using a variety of mediums. He also began to take lessons in dance, music and movement in an effort to better understand the puppetry process and different production styles.

When he finally graduated from Terrell Country High School, he had a working knowledge of puppetry stagecraft and its procedures.

College confirmed his desire to become an actor and after a trip to New York, he decided his future was there. However, acting proved not to be profitable and Flowers returned to his first love, puppetry. He worked in construction and design of puppets with different puppetry troupes around the area including the Captain Kangaroo Show. During this time, he was given a puppet by a dear friend; “It looked like a frog with yarn hair and a black velvet shroud. But the way he had painted it, the eyes had such depth. It really looked at you.” With puppet in tow he traveled to bars and sat around entertaining the customers. There he met an older woman with an explosive vocabulary: he found his puppets character and named her “Madame.”

By adding a bit more clay and fabric, the character was ready. He put on his first show in 1971, Kumquats, “the world’s first erotic puppet show.” The show was somewhat falsely billed, yet it was Madame’s ribald personality that rocketed Flowers to stardom. After winning an Emmy and working in movies and on the West Coast, he was billed as “highly entertaining and often hysterically funny… Madame, whom Flowers manipulates with amazing precision, is crème de la crème of high ‘camp’.”

Flowers was featured on The Andy Williams Show, Hollywood Squares, Laugh-In, Solid Gold, as well as Madame’s own featured specials. In addition to Madame, Wayland created Crazy Mary, Jiffy, Mr. Mackelhoney, and Baby Smedley. Madame, however, was always closest to his heart. By the end of his career, Wayland had won two Emmys, a “Specialty Act of the Year Award”, a “Jimmy” Award, the Sebastion International Fabulous Imagery Award and had played such venues as the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Radio City in N.Y., Symphony Hall in Atlanta, the Universal Amphitheater in L. A., the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and the Warner Theater in D.C. When he died at 48 he was buried with his dummy, Madame.

Jero Magon

Jero Magon (1900 – ?)

“Jero Magon was born in 1900 in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. He was educated at Pratt Institute and New York University. From 1936 until 1956 he taught art and puppetry, first at the School of Industrial Art and later at Erasmus Hall High School. Jero Magon began his career in puppetry with Fannie Goldsmith Engle. His many productions include The Emperor Jones (1933), Marco Millions (1938), and The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife (1948). In 1951 he produced Shadowland, a film on the shadow theatre. Jero Magon has written widely on puppetry, including a book Staging the Puppet Show (1976).”

[From Toward an Art of the Puppet: New York’s Heritage exhibit brochure, pg. 25]

Magon was a man of many talents. Within the puppetry world, he was a renaissance man, an author, director, builder, teacher and instigator. Beginning his career in 1949, late in his life, he participated in productions for the stage, for film and for television, performing on Channel 2 as well as Carnegie Hall. A teacher to the stars, he was mentor and friend to the famous Paul Winchell, who used Magon’s initials as homage in his famous dummy, Jerry Mahoney. He valued all experiences, touring with children’s’ shows, as well as creating a documentary for film on the development of Shadow puppets.

He also served as a lecturer around the Greater Miami area. Some of his most memorable efforts can be seen in the shows in which he experimented with light and shadow . Magon experimented with marionettes and flat figures for the staging of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and Marco Millions as well as Hamlet and King Solomon’s Secret.

Magon served as the Puppet Theater Editor of the PLAYERS MAGAZINE for 9 years from 1951-1960. He was as president and founder of The Puppet Guild of Greater Miami. Founded on March 19, 1965, it boasted over 20 professional puppeteers as members and held meetings every two months which showcased the Guilds talent and featured guest lecturers, films and demonstrations. The Guild funded the annual Miami Regional Festival yearly was eventually sponsored by the Greater Miami Cultural Arts Center, making it a integral part of the Miami community.

Marjorie Batchelder McPharlin

Marjorie Batchelder McPharlin (1903-1997)

“In the puppet theatre there is an unlimited scope for the imagination.”

Paul McPharlin

Paul McPharlin (1903 – 1948)

“Let it have its own way,
let it be the small image of man,
saintly and vicious, noble and ridiculous,
and it will open the eye of the spectator, no matter his age,
to an amazing self.”
Paul McPharlin
(from Toward an Art of the Puppet: New York’s Heritage)

Sergei Vladmirovich Obraztsov

Sergei Vladmirovich Obraztsov (1901 – 1992)

Sergei Vladmirovich Obraztsov, famous Soviet puppeteer and puppet theatre director, showed an affinity to puppetry at an early age. At nineteen he began his work with puppets in earnest, following the Russian puppetry tradition half a century old.. In 1931 he founded the State Central Puppet Theater in Moscow, an educational center of professional and amateur theatre groups. The center houses the museum of theatrical puppets, a library on the theme, manuscript and pedagogical departments, and one of the world’s largest collections of theatrical puppets (over 3,500 from 50 countries). In 1937 his troupe was given their own performance hall and gained autonomy creating an environment for Obraztov to explore puppetry geared towards adult sensibilities and themes. As a remarkable painter, one of the leading actors in the musical studio of the Moscow Arts Theatre, a variety star and the founder of a whole artistic school of “parody in puppets”, a splendid writer (he is author of about 20 books), a screenwriter and a prominent public figure, Obraztsov led his theatre until the last days of his life. He put on 61 plays, including performances such as “An extraordinary show”, “The magic lamp of Alladin”, “At the rustle of your eyelashes”, “The devil’s mill”, “Don Juan” and many others. The Sergei Obraztsov Central Puppet Show has entertained tens-of-thousands of fans in 50 different countries, with a witty program that parodies slipshod variety performances.

His book, My Profession, describes his artistic development from childhood through all his puppetry productions.

“My mistake – my fault – was that I did not have a real goal. Of course, I did have a goal of sorts: I wanted to be a success. But success must not be a goal: it can only be the result of achieving a given goal. The goal in creating a work of art can only be its idea, or more correctly, conveying it fully to those for whom the work is intended. It is necessary therefore to feel this idea as the work’s primary goal and to be carried away by the theme that resolves this task.

Unfortunately, although the blows were painful, I did not immediately come to the conclusion that the most important thing in performing or staging a play was to know what you want to say. Without having a clear idea about this, one should not begin work on a performance.”
-Sergei Obraztsov

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan, who followed a rather circuitous route through fifty jobs in six states over eighteen years, finally returned to the love of his youth—the theater—in 1991 and now holds degrees in Puppetry (BFA ’95) and Design (MFA ’01) from the University of Connecticut. He is self-employed as a freelance theater artist, focusing variously on the areas of performance, design, construction, and technical, for both human and puppet theatre applications. Beginning in 2001, he added teaching to the mix as well, periodically joining the adjunct faculty of Eastern CT State University.

David mostly divides his time between Vermont and Connecticut, maintaining ongoing relationships with Sandglass Theater and Crabgrass Puppet Theater, both as a designer/builder and performer, touring in the US and Europe, and with Integrity Designworks, with whom he has helped create puppets and masks for, among others, Boston Ballet, Donna Karan International, Houston Grand Opera, and the Martha Graham Dance Company.

Most recent credits include:

Butterfly Dreams, a dual performance with the creator of the piece, renowned Chinese puppet artist Hua Hua Zhang. Technical direction for The 2nd Northeast CT Festival of International Puppetry.

Scenic & puppet designs and construction for Sandglass Theater’s One-Way Street, based on the writings of philosopher Walter Benjamin, which premiered in Strassbourg, France in March, 2002.

Joyce Fritz Ritz

Joyce Fritz Ritz


Joyce Ritz is a freelance designer and builder, specializing in puppetry and costumes. Originally from Baltimore, where she spent a number of years designing costumes, she earned her BFA from Maryland Institute, College of Art. In 1993, Joyce entered the University of Connecticut Graduate Program where she pursued a course of study in Costume Design and Puppet Arts. Her thesis production, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” involved the design of over two hundred puppets, ranging in height from two to eight feet.

Since graduation, Joyce’s designs have been seen on the stages of Hart School of Music and the Harry Hope Theatre (Costumes) and Maryland’s Open Space Arts (Puppets). She also maintained a steady working relationship as a fabric artist with the Hartford Ballet, and it was this relationship which led to the assignment of technical design and construction of six over-sized puppets for the world premiere of “Kirk Peterson’s American Nutcracker”. The magnitude of such a project provided the impetus for the formation of a company by Joyce, her husband Bob Ritz (UCONN MFA Scenic Designer & ECSU Professor) and established puppet artist Susan Doyle Tolis (UCONN BFA Puppetry & MA Design). Thus, in 1997 INTEGRITY DESIGNWORKS was established. Theirs is a full-service design and production company, specializing in puppets, masks and mascots, and operating from a home base in Ashford, CT. Their statement of intent involves bringing an awareness of the beauty and possibilities of the artform to companies unfamiliar with puppetry and striving to employ as many non-toxic and environmentally friendly methods and materials as are available while maintaining the highest standards of craftsmanship.

You can reach Joyce, Susan, and Bob at INTEGRITY DESIGNWORKS (860) 487-4807 or visit their website at integritydesignworks.com.

Bart P. Roccoberton, Jr.

Bart P. Roccoberton, Jr.

Bart. P. Roccoberton, Jr.

Bart Roccoberton has been a professional Puppet Artist for almost twenty-five years. He holds a B.A. in Speech and Technical Theatre from Montclair State College in New Jersey and an M.F.A. in Puppet Arts, which he earned at The University of Connecticut, where he studied under Professor Frank Ballard.

For more than 20 years he has toured popular puppet performances to schools, libraries, colleges, theaters and museums from Washington, D.C. to Montreal with his own troupe, The Pandemonium Puppet Company, and with the students of The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s Institute of Professional Puppetry Arts and The University of Connecticut’s Puppet Arts Program. He has created and performed characters for television programs, New York theatre productions and special commissions; his workshops, which are presented for elementary, secondary and college students and teachers are in demand across the United States and have been published in national magazines; exhibits he has organized of his own work and the work of others have been presented in both extended and permanent runs; as Founder and Director of The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s Institute of Professional Puppetry Arts (1984-1990), he became recognized, internationally, as one of the leading advocates for the Puppet Arts in the U.S.. He continues to serve as Managing Director of The National Puppetry Conference at the O’Neill Center.

In September, 1990, Mr. Roccoberton succeeded Frank Ballard as head of The University of Connecticut’s Puppet Arts Training Program, the only degree-granting program of its kind in the United States. In June of 1992, Bart Roccoberton was elected to the Board of Directors of UNIMA-U.S.A. (Union Internationale de la Marionnette), served as a delegate to the international plenary of UNIMA in Ljubljana, Slovenia and was appointed a counselor of the UNIMA-International Professional Training Commission. In July of 1993 he was appointed UNIMA liaison to the 1994 Henson International Puppetry Festival, which took place at Joe Papp’s Public Theatre in New York City in September 1994.

In the summer of 1994, Mr. Roccoberton worked with Ms. Zhang Ze Hua, one of China’s leading puppet artists, to produce a television program for China, which will show its audience true aspects of real American life through the vehicle of an adventure story based upon trust and friendship.

Most recently, Bart Roccoberton has been appointed as a delegate to the 1996 international plenary of UNIMA, which will take place in Budapest, Hungary.

Rufus and Margo Rose

Margo and Rufus Rose (1903 – 1997, 1904 – 1975)

Margo and Rufus Rose

“Rufus Rose was born in Connecticut and educated at Antioch College. Margaret Skewis Rose, his wife and partner, was born and educated in Iowa. In the late 1920’s both Roses were members of the Tony Sarg Company. They were married in 1930, starting the Rufus Rose Marionettes in 1931. Their touring productions continued until 1942. In 1938 they produced a full-length advertising film and in 1948 a telecast of Scrooge, on Christmas Eve, over ABC-TV. In 1952 they became associated with the Howdy-Doody Show, continuing until 1960. Margo and Jim Rose, the oldest of three Rose sons, are associated with the current revival of this show.”

[From Toward an Art of the Puppet: New York’s Heritage, exhibition brochure. 1975ish?, pg.32]

The Puppetry of Rufus and Margo Rose

Puppeteers Rufus and Margo Rose, of Waterford, Connecticut, the leading husband and wife puppeteer team of their day, were often billed as ‘America’s Foremost Artists of the Marionette Theatre’. Trained in the pioneering Tony Sarg Studios in New York City, where they met in 1928, the Roses established their own puppet company in 1936 and remained active until the mid-1970s.

Their work first gained public attention during the 1936 World fair in Chicago. The Roses’ production of Scrooge made television history in 1949 as the first live broadcast of a full-length marionette production. The best-known Rose creation is the character of ‘Howdy Doody’, who appeared on every American child¹s television screen in the 1950s. Margo designed and sculpted the characters for the Howdy Doody show, and Rufus operated ‘Howdy’.

Margo Rose

Margo designed and modeled each figure for their productions, and was a superb manipulator whose delicate handling of a marionette was reminiscent of ‘plucking a harp’. Rufus built all their puppets and developed many innovative approaches to manipulate them in order to create an impression of realism.

The Roses’ national touring shows included Aladdin (1934), Pinocchio (1936), Snow White (1937), Treasure Island (1938), and Rip Van Winkle (1939). Following Margo’s death in 1997, their collection was donated to the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry.

Margo Rose

Margo Rose, born in 1902 in Iowa, attended Connell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa studying English and Art. It was there that she met Professor Hull, who encouraged her to attend a showing of the Tony Sarg players performance of Don Quixote. She was intrigued and read Tony Sarg’s book on puppetry. Her sister, a schoolteacher, also read the book and proceeded to make a set of Goldilocks and the Three Bears marionettes out of old teddy bears and dolls. It was then the Margo realized the wonder of these “dolls” and that she could literally bring them to life.

After graduation in 1924, she mounted her own production of Snow White, which was “awful”, in her own words. She wrote to Tony Sarg and to surprise he granted her an interview. In 1927 Sarg offered her a job as a traveling artist and one of only five puppeteers. She became involved in productions of Ali Baba, Rip Van Winkle, Alice in Wonderland, Christopher Columbus, and various variety shows.

Through this experience Margo had the chance to meet many of the top puppeteers: Tony Sarg, Burr Tilstrom, Bil Baird, Charles (Matt) Searle, Martin and Olga Stevens and the Tattermans, many who she continued working relationships with for years. In 1929, Rufus Rose, her future husband, joined the Sarg company and they married a year later.

Deep in the throws of the depression, Tony Sarg was forced to make pay cuts, and in an effort to make more money, Rufus and Margo split off in 1931 to create their own company, the Rufus Rose Marionettes. Their first show was Dick Whittington debuting in the 1931-32 season. As they traveled to various venues in all fifty states, they were offered 50% of the take, with spaces charging ten cents for children and fifty cents for adults. In 1933 the World’s Fair in Chicago signed Tony Sarg to do a show, and Sarg hired the Roses to do a variety act; a fifteen minute show thirteen times daily. It was steady work in a time when work was scarce. The Roses had their first child, James, in October 1933 and their second child, Rufus, the next year.

In an effort to do more projects near home, Rufus and Margo created the first full-length movie with no human characters. “Jerry Pulls the Strings” was triumph for the puppetry community and brought marionettes into the public eye. As World War II rocked the country the Roses put their puppets on hold. Rufus worked with electrics and Margo worked with the Red Cross volunteers.

After more touring, the Roses were again given a golden opportunity; to handle the strings of Howdy Doody, from 1952-1959. They also took part in the production of the syndicated television show, The Blue Fairy which provided them with a Peabody Award for excellence. Treasure Island and Aladdin were among the many films they created.After the Allied victory life went back to normal for the Roses beginning with a tour of Rip Van Winkle, Treasure Island and Aladdin. ABC asked the Roses to do the first live performance of a marionette show on television and they entertained America for one hour on Christmas Eve, 1946, with their adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. In that same year, the Roses helped found the Connecticut chapter of Puppeteers of America and gave over their home for the yearly festival of that organization.

When asked what they had contributed in their long career to the world of puppetry, Margo Rose replied “we made good puppets.”Rufus was elected to the Connecticut State Legislature in 1961 and served for 12 years, and Margo continued to teach at the Institute of Professional Puppetry Arts (IPPA) in addition to teaching workshops all around the area. In 1974 they were awarded the Presidents Award from the Puppeteers of America and in 1997, when she was 95 years young, Margo was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

Tony Sarg

Tony Sarg (1880 – 1942)

Born to a German father and English mother, Tony Sarg learned creative skills from both of his parents. He rebelled against his military training to seek his dream of becoming an illustrator. Then, to distinguish himself as an artist and to promote his career, he took up marionettes as a hobby and performed them for his friends.

Little information existed on puppetry early in the 20th century as puppeteers regarded their craft as secret material to be guarded by those in the business. Tony Sarg, however, spent many days watching a well known puppeteer in England, Thomas Holden, and figured out for himself the tricks of the trade. With this knowledge and fleeing from the anti-German attitudes in England at the outbreak of World War I, Tony Sarg immigrated to America with his family.

In New York City, Tony Sarg continued to distinguish himself from other artists with his puppetry hobby. He gained a reputation in all the social circles as a friend, practical joker and the life of any party. His indefatigable work ethic and countless ideas made him a business man with the Midas touch for making a profit.

Puppet technology played a major role in his varied business ventures. Such ventures included making animated cartoons, mechanical figures in window displays, advertising ideas and parade balloons for Macy’s Department Store.

Tony Sarg produced and toured puppet shows throughout the United States. He wrote and illustrated children’s stories and ‘how-to’ publications on marionettes, making it possible for children to participate in puppetry as a home or school activity. Unlike his European peers, Tony Sarg believed in revealing how his tricks were produced. This along with his charming personality and keen business ideas, Tony Sarg helped popularize puppetry in America on a grand scale.

Many talented individuals began in Tony Sarg’s studios. The most notable examples must include:
Bil Baird and Margo and Rufus Rose who later ventured out on their own and became well renowned puppeteers. Bil Baird joined Tony’s group as a puppeteer in 1927 and became a supervisor to many New York ventures that included the parade balloons. Rufus Rose joined the group in 1928 where he met the already employed Margo, married her, and together they became famous for their creation of the 1950’s celebrity, Howdy Doody.

In 1939, Tony Sarg’s business went bankrupt. Puppets were sold or given to employees to settle his debts. Tony Sarg died in 1942, three weeks after an emergency appendectomy.

The production of Alice in Wonderland emphasized the abilities of the marionettes as opposed to remaining true to the original story, a point which drew much criticism. The character of Alice began the show as a real actress and was replaced later by a look-alike puppet.

Suggested reading:
Tony Sarg: Puppeteer in America 1915-1942
by Tamara Robin Hunt
Charlemagne Press

Brad Williams

Brad Williams (1951 – 1993)

Remembering Brad Williams: A Heart That Twinkled, represents another “first” for BIMP, being the first retrospective honoring the work of a former student of the Puppet Arts Program. Bradford Cody Williams, who died in 1993, was a graduate student in the program at the University of Connecticut between 1975 and 1980. He attended Hope College in Holland, Michigan, as an undergraduate, where he met and worked with Burr Tillstrom who encouraged him to pursue a life in puppetry.

Brad’s creativity flourished and his imagination and whimsy delighted all whom he met. First Lady Barbara Bush toured the country with the puppets “Rex” and “Rita Readasaurus,” which Brad designed for the American Literacy Program. Brad also developed puppets, graphics, scenery, and acted for the first Pinwheel, which was part of the inaugural programming for the Nickelodeon channel.

He was a master calligrapher and logo designer. Nancy Laverick, director of the 1989 Puppeteers of America Festival (held at M.I.T. in Cambridge, MA) engaged him to design the festival logo. The results: a traditional Mr. Punch being manipulated by a space age robot.

20 years of exquisite productivity, this artist has had a lasting effect upon his colleagues in the field of puppetry. Brad’s early work includes Punch and Judy shows that performed in Michigan in 1975 and continued his work through 1993 when he designed the poster for the Hope College Theater subscription series. He died before seeing the final printed version of the poster.

Over 180 pieces which included puppets, masks, and scenery pieces in addition to scores of examples of his calligraphy were viewed at BIMP’s exhibit in his honor. Biographical notes and descriptive quotes from friends and fellow puppeteers enhanced the viewer’s appreciation of this talented artist.

The opening of the exhibit was made special by the attendance of Brad’s parents, Bob and Pat Williams; his sister and brother-in-law, Ken and Lorma Freestone with their children; and Judyth Thomas, Director of Publicity for Hope College Theater. The family, which traveled from Holland, Michigan for this event, brought “Zabar”, the hand and rod puppet that was Brad’s alter ego.

“Zabar’ has an extensive wardrobe–including a tuxedo and, of course, his space suit–but in a special nod of recognition to his creator, he chose to go on display wearing his Hawaiian shirt and a necklace made of miniature pizza slices. Hawaiian shirts were favored apparel for Brad.

Based on this exhibit, current Puppet Arts Director Bart. P. Roccoberton, Jr. was able to arrange the completion of Brad’s MFA degree, posthumously.

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