Monday, November 29, 2010

KUKLA FRAN & OLLIE - FRAN ALLISON BURR TILLSTROM


Happy birthday to Fran Allison, born November 20th, 1907. And if you think it's a little late, coming nine days after the event, that's ok. Fran's a little late, herself. She died June 13, 1989. However, for many whose sand is predominantly on the bottom of the Grim Reaper's hourglass, she is not forgotten. She was the charming Donna Reed mother-figure or Dinah Shore hostess supervising the antics of her extended puppet family, the most famous being a one-toothed red-headed long-necked "dragon" named Ollie, his balding, fretful clown-friend Kukla, and a befuddled witch named Beulah. Behind the scenes, the puppets were moved and voiced by Burr Tillstrom, whom we also salute as we near the 25th anniversary of his death (December 6th, 1985). He was born Franklin Burr Tillstrom in Chicago, on October 13, 1917.

Kukla Fran & Ollie began their TV career locally in Chicago, but were soon beloved throughout the nation. After their initial fame in the 50's and 60's, a new generation wanted them to return, and so they did in 1975, with new adventures in color, and the release of VHS tapes. In 2009, just when it seemed as if KF&O were a distant and obscure memory, the U.S. Postal Service decided they deserved commemoration on a postage stamp. So now Fran and her friends are helping stubborn, old-school writers to get their letters sent across the street or around the world.

Back in the day, RCA Victor, also home to Howdy Doody, happily issued some 45's on KF&O. Some of these hold up a bit better than the vintage video material does. Your twelve minute download is the double 45 that featured a medley of hits as well as solo songs. It opens with the familiar piano chords and music box theme song. It segues into their cheerful "Here We Are, Back With You Again," and the typical 50's pop of "Mr. K and Mr. O." From there, we get Ollie's ridiculous "Hello Cutie" (he was quite an obvious ancestor to Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent). Next, "Take a Look at Me," a Broadway-type ballad showing that KF&O also knew adults were in the room along with the kids.

Following a tango (with the now inappropriate suggesting from Ollie "Let's make it a threesome") we get to two highlights. On "Am I Getting Through To You," Kukla and Fran show us the lost art of the comic duet, as Kukla insists on telling anecdotes while Fran feigns paying attention. This was the era of "Go to Sleep" by Arthur Godfrey and Mary Martin, duets between Rosemary Clooney and Jose Ferrer, and some other things perhaps best left in the record box. Our journey back in time ends with "Dragon Retreat," another song that seems much too sophisticated for kids…if too ridiculous for adults. Ollie tells us that he likes to go on vacation to "Dragon Retreat," which is located…no, not in a Disney Never-Neverland, but "in Vermont."

(Update: check the comments section. Just a few weeks ago the first collection of VINTAGE KF&O material was released on DVD.)

Those unfamiliar with the characters may not get so much out of the download. You guys won't have the familiarity and nostalgia that makes this kind of thing not only enjoyable but downright lovable. So if you didn't spend some early time with Kukla, Fran and Ollie, their songs probably won't make much of an impression. But for those already smiling just seeing the photos of KF & O, this stuff will definitely be O.K.

KUKLA FRAN & OLLIE

6 comments:

Mark Milano said...

Disappointed that you didn't mention the new KFO DVD of shows from the '50s that was just released a week ago. It contains live performances of many of these songs - did our efforts to get the word out fail?

kukla.tv/dvd.html

Ill Folks said...

JUST released...didn't know!

I was aware of the VHS set based on the later color shows. And the "Here We Are" CD (now under $3 at Amazon) which is also a 70's item and doesn't have the classic RCA tracks such as "Am I Getting Through To You" or "Dragon Retreat."

Folks, Mark's DVD set at kukla.TV/dvd..html looks like a GREAT find. Called "The First Episodes 1949-1954" it features 20 restored kinescopes. I know this stuff will be totally new to me. I don't go back THAT far.

Special guests include June Lockhart and Dave Garroway and..."Madame Ooglepuss" (not Google Puss). Here they are, back with you again!

Thanks for leaving a comment.

Allen's Corner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allen's Corner said...

Just got the new DVD set yesterday and am knocked out by the sound and picture restoration. Incredible job! Really takes me back. This was probably one of the first things I ever saw on TV back in the 40s, along with Hopalong Cassidy movies. KFO was, perhaps, the greatest improve "group" of all time! I don't think Burr and Fran ever used a script, at least not in those days.

Many thanks for posting this and for the memories.

Mark Milano said...

Hi Allen,

So glad you enjoyed the DVD - if you could cut and paste your review at Amazon, that would be great!

Anonymous said...

There was a brief mention of the theme song... has anyone ever commented on the similarity of the theme to the song "Hi Diddle Dee Dee" from Disney's Pinocchio? It bugged me for a long time until I figured it out. Way too close to be a coincidence. The KFO theme was either inspired by it, or they were both inspired by something else (but I'm pretty sure all the music for Pinocchio was original with Leigh Harline). It's just odd I've never heard this mentioned by anyone.