Jun 17, 2015

History of Marionettes and Puppets

In the early days of national television the Howdy Doody Show was first broadcast in the United States from 1947 to 1960, being the first successful children’s show and also when NBC pioneered the first color production, which helped RCA sell its pioneer color television sets in the 1950s. Howdy Doody was a western dressed puppet, a marionette featuring one freckle for each state of the union (48 freckles) and whose original voice was made by Buffalo Bob Smith, who was the show’s host. Other puppets characterized on the show were Heidi Doody, Howdy’s sister; Phineas T. Bluster (mayor of Doodyville), Princess Summerfall WinterspringDilly Dally and Flub-a-Dub, a combination of a duck, cat, spaniel, giraffe, dachshund, seal, pig, and the memory of an elephant. 
The various human characters on the show were Clarabell the Clown, who honked horns instead of speaking and Chief Thunderthud (Bob Keeshan). Originally a puppet, Princess Summerfall Winterspring was later portrayed by Judy Tyler, all members of Doodyville. Clarabell was portrayed by Bob Keeshan until a salary dispute in 1952, and until the show ended on September 24th, 1960, Clarabell was played by Lew Anderson, a jazz musician. But Bob Keeshan’s career on children television continued and became successful when he became Captain Kangaroo at CBS.
Howdy Doody puppet was sold commercially in stores and as years went by became a collector’s item. The show made puppeteering popular in its long history. Then the Muppets came on the scene changing and enhancing the world of puppets entertaining children all over the world created by Jim Henson. First appearing on television on The Muppet ShowSesame Street and Fraggle Rock, the characters represent a unique puppet type made of foam representing real and imagined animals and human characters as well. After 2004, Disney owns the Muppets. The Muppets appeared in film as well as television specials and guest appearances. Muppets entertain children and adults alike. There are many Muppet Show characters, the most well known are: Kermit the FrogMiss PiggyFozzie BearRizzo the Rat,Gonzo the GreatRowlf the DogDr. Bunsen HoneydewBeakerScooter, Statler and WaldorfSwedish ChefSam the EagleAnimalJaniceZootFloyd Pepper.Sesame Street characters are: Big BirdOscar the Grouch, ElmoZoeBert and ErnieCookie MonsterGroverCount von Count, as well as main characters from Fraggle Rock.Oscar Wilde wrote of puppets:
There are many advantages in puppets. They never argue. They have no crude views about art. They have no private lives.

Types of Puppets

Disney Marionette
Black Light Puppets – Where puppets are operated on a stage that is only lit by ultraviolet lighting, which hides the puppeteer and enhances the coloring of the puppet. The puppeteer dresses in black against a black background so as not to be seen. The original concept originated with Bunraku puppetry. This form of puppetry was used periodically on the Captain Kangaroo children’s television show.Bunraku Puppets – Wood-carved puppet that was illuminated with torch light and developed in Japan over a thousand years ago. It was accompanied by shamisen music near the end of the 16th century.Carnival or Body Puppets – These puppets can be seen at parades and other special public functions. One or more performers are required to move the body and limbs. This type of puppets is featured in the nightly parade at Disney World and Disneyland theme parks. Big Bird on Sesame Street is an example of a body puppet.Chinface Puppets – This type of puppet is drawn on or attached to the face.Finger Puppets – A puppet that fits on a finger, and has no moving parts, consisting of a hollow cylinder designed to cover the finger.Hand or Glove Puppets – Puppets controlled by one hand from the interior of the puppet. A familiar example of a hand puppet would be Punch and Judy, famous British puppet duo. A sock puppet is also operated by the hand.Human Arm Puppet – It is similar to a hand puppet but is larger and requires two puppeteers to operate.

Marionette – Puppets that are suspended and controlled by strings and attached to the head, back, hands, and legs. It is a complex form of puppetry that is operated on a specially built stage.Marotte – A puppet operated by a wooden rod or stick that is just a head or a body on the stick. Sometimes a string is attached to the mouth to make it open.Paper or Toy Theatre Puppets – An old form of puppet cut from paper and stuck onto card material and then fixed to a stick, operated by pushing it from the side of the puppet theatre. Sheets were produced for puppets and scenery in the 19th century for children to use.Señor Wences – A hand puppet created from a human hand where the puppet is drawn on with the thumb and forefinger used as a mouth.Shadow Puppets – A figure is cut from material and then held between a source of light and a translucent screen. Shadow puppets can also be utilized as shadows on a wall.Ventriloquist Dummy – This puppet is operated by a ventriloquist performer and is controlled by one hand.Water Puppets – A form of puppetry invented by the Vietnamese called Múa rói nuóc, which means puppets that dance on water that dates back to the 10thcentury. A large rod supports the puppet under the water and is used to control them. When the rice fields would flood, the villagers would entertain children and each other by using water puppets.

History of Puppets and Puppeteering

Chinese Shadow Puppet
The earliest use of puppets seems to be traced to China; however puppets or some form of it probably goes back farther in when people may have entertained themselves and others by hand shadow puppets on cave walls in the shadowy light of a fire. Some attribute the birthplace of puppets in India. Puppets in some places were ritual masks with hinged jaws used in religious ceremonies. Native American Indians used puppets for their corn festivals as well as ceremonial dances. Egyptians used Terra Cotta to make jointed puppets. Puppets were mentioned in ancient Greece by Plato and Aristotle. China made shadow puppets from donkey, sheep, water buffalo, and pig skin. Shadow puppets were first used in China and Japan. The Turks used rod-stick puppets with moving arms. From the shadow puppets evolved the three-dimensional rod puppets and then the marionettes. In ancient Rome it was not uncommon to see puppet shows with puppet theatres on wheeled carts to travel about entertaining the public for donations. After the Roman Empire dissolved when the barbarians destroyed Rome, puppeteers traveled with jesters, jugglers and other entertainers across Europe, sometimes entertaining the king’s court. In the Medieval period and the spread of Christianity, the Church used puppets to teach doctrine and tell biblical stories. Sometimes monks and priests were the puppeteers. 
The favorite Christian puppet show was the story of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, known as The Christ by Christians, in a tale called The Nativity. It was around this time that someone invented marionettes – jointed puppets operated with strings and the traveling puppet stage-theatre became more elaborate, with curtains like a full-size stage in a theatre.

Puppets and Political Activism

Comedy puppeteering emerged in the 14th and 15th centuries, where the theme was something else besides religious, and sometimes was satirical expression of the monarchy and existing political conditions. Sometimes puppeteering was condemned as an instigation of sedition by the peasants. In 1643 the English authorities ordered theatres to be closed because they feared a revolution due to the content of the plays and puppeteering acts that had become popular. In 17th century England, a puppet by the name of Punch had become popular and provided an outlet of how the common folk felt about social conditions. Punch was a hunchback character with a large, hooked nose, quite ugly and terrible manners, but a hero of the lower class people. He mocked the king’s law, as well as religious doctrine. Punch was later joined by a puppet named Judy, and the Punch and Judy team had become famous and a symbol of subversive jesting.  
Punch & Judy
George Speight wrote in his Punch and Judy: a History that Punch was
the simpleton who could answer back to Bishop and King, the fool with the license to poke fun at anyone.
Punch was a Medieval Don Rickles.
France, in the 18th century had its own Punch character by the name of 
Guignol. In almost every show political dialogue would be portrayed according to the book Popular Theatre in Europe, 1800-1914 by John McCormick and Bernie Pratasik. By 1852, the French government demanded that texts for puppet shows be written on paper, a script, and approved before use – and no improvisation was allowed. Guignol puppet shows were under surveillance especially in places in France where revolution was occurring, like Lyons. Puppeteers, who set up their stages in marketplaces, a common custom in Europe, soon found themselves not only harassed by law enforcement officials, but merchants as well. Since the gypsies of the time traveled in caravans, sometimes puppeteers would join them in their camps to make money from their entertainment endeavors with puppets to avoid harassment from city officials and merchants.

Political criticism via puppetry continued into the early 20th century, like in Germany where puppeteer 
Gerhart Hauptman performed plays criticizing the Kaiser. In Portugal, Rosado criticized the Portuguese government as well.
Anti-Nazi marionette show

Puppetry became popular in Czechoslovakia in the 19th century and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire banned puppeteers from using the Czech language. When the Nazi took over Germany in the 1930s, puppeteers soon found they were unable to perform in the many theatres of Germany, but still continued their anti-fascist performances in plays by 
Karel Capek by taking their acts underground with other theatrical entertainment banned by the Nazi.
Italy is considered the origination of the marionette puppet, influenced by classical Roman puppetry. In Sicily, puppet shows were given from decorated donkey carts complete with painted scenery and with themes from Frankish romantic poems, such as 
The Song of Roland. It was in Sicily that the Opera of the Puppets (Opira di pupi) began in the tradition of cantastori (sing stories). Today the classical art form of puppet theatres can still be seen in Palermo, Sicily. Operas were originally composed for marionette puppet shows in the 18th century. Famous composers created adult operatic music for marionettes, like MozartGluckHaydnde Falla, and Respighi. Renaissance of the marionette puppets in the 20th century was instigated by W.H. Whanslaw and Waldo Lanchester, the founders of the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild. The Salzburg Marionette Theatre was founded in 1913 by Professor Anton Aicher, inspired by the Munich Marionette Theatre in Germany in 1855.
As one can see, early puppet shows were originally designed to entertain adults, as well as make political statements through satire and comedy. Puppets were later a major entertainment for children, as well as adults, until human acting in theatres and film took its place. In the turbulent 1960s, the 
Bread and Puppet Theatre became a venue of the peace movement and protest against the Vietnam War. The founder, Peter Schumann, had maintained his Domestic Resurrection Circus for a period of thirty years incorporating themes that depicted the horror of war, events like the Kent State shootings, and mythological topics.
In the early days of television, puppeteering regained popularity, focusing on children’s entertainment and children were soon asking for puppets and marionettes for commercially made puppets. Children in the 1950s (like in the 1930s) put on puppet shows in their backyard to entertain neighborhood children. Unlike the backyard puppet shows of the 1930s that helped children forget the economic hard times, 1950s backyard puppet shows were inspired by the 
Howdy Doody Show on black-and-white television. Stages were made from scrap lumber or merely cut out of large cardboard boxes with adornments and material on string used for curtains. Some puppets and marionettes were purchased from puppet manufacturers and others were hand made from socks and paper maché. 
When the Muppet Show became popular, so did the return of interest for home puppet shows and home-made puppets, replacing wood and paper maché with puppets made from foam and children’s clothing.
Famous marionette TV series like 
Fireball XL5Stingray, and Thunderbirds had radio-controlled mouths and were preludes of modern animation films designed for children entertainment, but adults watched them too. 

Dark Crystal characters
A modern puppet film that has become a classic is The Dark Crystal inspired by the Muppet characters, but with more human-like puppets being used as the main characters. It was a good film, but puppetry didn’t take off as well as computerized animation has done and with realism as depicted in Beowulf
Star Wars film series also used mechanical puppets for the alien beings.
Famous puppeteers and puppets in the United States include 
Howdy Doody and Buffalo BobKuklaFran and OllieGarfield Goose with Frazier ThomasPaul Winchell and Jerry MahoneyEdgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy (with Mortimer Snerd), Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop; Shadow Puppets and Captain Kangaroo (with Mr. Green Jeans); and of course, Jim Henson and his Muppets.
Puppets have been around for a long period in human history, and despite the advancement of technology, it will remain a hallmark of children entertainment.

Source Links and Suggested Reading

Timeline Results – History of Puppeteering
 – Wikipedia Puppeteer – Wikipedia A Short History of Radical Puppetry Kerry Mogg The Muppets Wikipedia Surprising Stories Behind 20 Muppet Characters CNN How to Make a Muppet Style Puppet Wiki- Howdy Doody Wikipedia Classical TV Fifties Web Marionette
The Art of the Puppet 
 by Bill Baird Dolls House Theatre 
PuppetVision Blog
Puppeteers of America
Union Internationale de la Marionette 
Puppetry Lab
Puppets and Puppet Performance for Kids Sunnie Bunnie ZZ King’s World, Theatre de Marionettes
Doodyville Historical Society – Jeff Judson

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