Back in my initial posting here about Kukla, Fran and Ollie, I wrote about how puppeteer Burr Tillstrom won an additional Emmy Award that was not involved with KF&O, but for his work on his own. It was for one of the "hand ballets" that he performed on occasion for the satirical news series, That Was the Week That Was.
That Was the Week That Was was a smart, pointed, very sharp British sketch-comedy show which was brought over to the U.S. in the early 1960s. Among other things, it introduced to American audiences one of the original British cast members, David Frost. It's also the show that introduced Tom Lehrer to most Americans. He wrote periodic songs for the series, and then recorded them for his now-classic hit album, That Was the Year That Was.
And it also brought Burr Tillstrom into the national spotlight in a way people hadn't seen or expected.
His hand ballets were little vignettes that didn't use any puppets at all, but merely Tillstrom's bare hands, using them alone to evoke some story in the news he wanted to get across. It was done with great artistry, often movingly. And one of them so artistic and moving that it won him an Emmy Award.
In 1963, two years after the Berlin Wall had been erected, a very brief concession was made. The Wall would open for the Christmas holiday and allow those in the West to travel into East Berlin and visit family and loved ones, needing to return a few days later.
This is what Burr Tillstrom did a hand ballet about shortly after. And I found the video of it.
I was planning to post it at some point soon...but then I realized what better time to do so on Christmas day.
The quality of the video is a little rough, especially at the beginning, but it's fine. And ultimately, as you watch -- one brilliant artist using only his hands -- the quality of the video won't matter one whit.
And if anyone ever wonders where the humanity of Kukla, Fran and Ollie came from, to bring such life into puppets, now you'll know.
Here it is.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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