Creator of ‘Kukla, Fran & Ollie’ Dead at 68
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) _ Burr Tillstrom, creator of the ″Kukla, Fran & Ollie″ puppet show that delighted millions during the early era of television, died at his home here. He was 68.
Tillstrom was found dead by his swimming pool shortly before noon Friday, said police Lt. George Neesan.
The cause of death was not known but appeared to be natural causes, said Rene Galvin, spokeswoman for the Riverside County coroner’s office.
The puppeteer worked backstage while Fran Allison shared the limelight with Oliver J. Dragon, a single-toothed serpent, and Kukla, a gentle clown.
″It was a delight working with him from the very first moment,″ Ms. Allison said in a telephone interview Friday night from her home in Van Nuys. ″I had great admiration for what was true artistry. He was so inventive.″
A Chicago native, Tillstrom was regarded as a television pioneer because of the puppet program, which ran from 1947 to 1957. The show garnered three Emmy and two Peabody awards for him.
Tillstrom began his career at kindergarten age with two stuffed teddy bears as his first puppets.
″As a child,″ he once said, ″I always tried to mimic performances and movies I saw with small figures, stuffed teddy bears, dolls, anything I could make move.″
Tillstrom moved to Palm Springs last month and was to have been inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in a televised banquet in March.
Ms. Allison and Tillstrom put their act together the day they met in 1947, she said. They discussed it in a Chicago coffee shop and improvised for the next 10 years.
Tillstrom made all the puppets by hand and did all the voices. Other puppets in his Kuklapolitan Players included Fletcher Rabbit and Beulah Witch.
After graduating from Chicago’s Senn High School, Tillstrom attended the University of Chicago on a scholarship, but left to perform in a puppet show from the WPA-Chicago Park District Theater.
Funeral arrangements by the Palm Springs Mortuary were pending.