Creator of ‘Kukla, Fran & Ollie’ Dead at 68
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) _ Burr Tillstrom, who created ″Kukla, Fran & Ollie,″ a puppet televison show starring a bucktoothed dragon, a bald, little clown and a gracious hostess, died at his home here. He was 68.
Tillstrom was found dead near his swimming pool on Friday, said police Lt. George Neesan.
The cause of death was not known but appeared to be natural, said Rene Galvin, spokeswoman for the Riverside County coroner’s office.
″Kukla, Fran and Ollie″ delighted millions of children and their parents in the 1950s and was one of the early television shows credited with building an audience for the new medium.
″We never had a script,″ said Fran Allison, who shared the stage with with Oliver J. Dragon, the single-toothed serpent, and Kukla, the gentle clown. ″It was just one of those very perfect things that once in a great while work out.″
″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 Los Angeles.
″NBC is particulary indebted to Burr Tillstrom,″ said Grant A. Tinker, chairman of NBC, the network which carried his shows for seven seasons.
″When television was just beginning, and there was a curiosity about how good it could be, we were fortunate to have his unique skills to establish a standard of excellence (that) the medium has worked to equal ever since,″ Tinker said Saturday.
The show, which ran from 1947 to to 1957, followed by reincarnations as late as 1976, garnered Tillstrom three Emmy and two Peabody awards.
Tillstrom, a Chicago native, had an early start as a puppeteer.
″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 scheduled to have been inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in March.
Ms. Allison and Tillstrom put their act together the day they met in 1947, she said, and they 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.
″We never beamed the shows toward any age group,″ Ms. Allison said. ″The children that were attracted were attracted by a dragon that talked and a rabbit that talked. But many of our greatest fans were people in the arts who I was in awe of.″
Tillstrom created the bulbous-nosed Kukla in 1936. Ollie came shortly after. They toured state fairs, vaudeville and nightclubs before settling down in a Chicago department store theater.
He started working in experimental closed-circuit television programs in 1939. His puppet show was broadcast as an exhibit from the 1940 World’s Fair in New York.
Tillstrom is survived by a brother, Richard, of Grand Rapids, Mich.