Kukla, Fran & Ollie, a show that debuted January 12, 1949 on NBC, is now on DVD thanks to Martin Tahse Productions.
The ad-libbed show initially ran five nights a week at 7 p.m., and was just as much for adults and kids. Of the initial run, there were 720 shows produced in black and white, first for NBC and then ABC. It was a one-camera show. The shows were improvised, with Burr Tillstrom as the puppet manipulator and voice and Fran Allison interacting. Other characters appeared, including Madame Ooglepuss, a crooked-nosed old opera singer, and Colonel Crackie, a Southern caricature.
In August, 1953, it became NBC’s first color show with the operetta “St. George and the Dragon” starring Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops.
The show was revived in 1970 in color on PBS, and the puppets were known by most of Generation X as the intro to the weekly CBS Children’s Film Festival.
Martin Tahse, a producer of ABC After School Specials bought the shows and produced 13 more for syndication. They became the last 13 shows of the series. Burr died a few years later, followed shortly after by Fran. The DVDs today are now issued by Tahse; more information is at kuklafranandollie.com.
This year, the United States Postal Service created a Kukla, Fran and Ollie Commemorative Stamp for its 60th anniversary.It’s an interesting question if the show could be revived as an actual show, as Allison and Tillstrom are dead, but with the recent revival of the Muppets (without Henson, thought he was rarely on TV with them) it might make for a potent franchise as it is known by adults 40 and up, and could be re-introduced to children who would appreciate its humor. It would have to be a clever comedienne with a sassy, hip sense of humor who doesn’t go over the top with too many adult references.
We wonder, however, who could run the puppets, and who could be Fran?
Leslie. Thanks for the comment, and glad to know that there are many more episodes in the archives that have not been destroyed. So much of early television history has been lost.
I know nothing of the Tillstrom will, but find it a bit sad to hear that the trust doesn’t allow use of the puppets by the historical society. It’s just my opinion, but I do think that it would be good to have the new versions of the puppets appear on television, if only to talk about their old DVDs, even without a new “Fran”, if the trust would permit.
While it is always risky to recast iconic characters, I find that things that are not refreshed just disappear from the popular consciousness altogether. The news that there would be an updated Mickey Mouse is quite scary to many, but it does keep him alive.
It would be impossible to do a completely new Kukla Fran and Ollie show. For one thing, Burr Tillstrom has a stipulation in his will that no one ever be allowed to work the puppets after he’s gone. From a fan’s standpoint, I don’t think that anyone today could match Burr and Fran’s ability to charm their audience. There are plenty of old shows that have not been released. Better to do that than try to invent a 21st century KFO.