The Burr Tillstrom Copyright Trust and The Kuklapolitan Website announce the release of the third volume of "Kukla, Fran and Ollie: The First Episodes," including "lost" episodes of show's seasons on ABC and never-before-seen color footage. The two-DVD set contains 24 black-and-white episodes of the classic television puppet show broadcast from 1949 to 1957, plus bonuses.
Recent discoveries make this volume particularly exciting. Creator Burr Tillstrom moved the show from NBC to ABC in 1954, and it was thought that no kinescope recordings of those later shows existed. Fortunately, several have been found in the archives of the Chicago History Museum, and 10 are included in the set. They feature Carolyn Gilbert and Caesar Giovannini as music directors, since Jack Fascinato did not move to ABC with the show.
In addition, director Lewis "Gommy" Gomavitz's widow has donated behind-the-scenes films taken by Gommy in the 1950s, many in full color. They contain the only color footage known to exist of KFO and other shows from that time, and feature the troupe with such guest stars as Perry Como, Ethel Merman, Irene Dunne, and Yul Brynner. Also included is color behind-the-scenes footage of the 1955 "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production of "Alice in Wonderland" with Burr as the Mock Turtle. These silent films are accompanied by radio interviews Burr gave Garrard Macleod in the early 1980s.
Other highlights include guest appearances by Jose Greco, Dennis Day, and H.V. Kaltenborn, black-and-white clips of two KFO episodes that were the first color television shows ever broadcast, and a "World's Fair Fun Reel". Finally, Rich Maisel has donated one of Tillstrom's final recordings: a musical version of "The Dragon Who Lived Downstairs" featuring songs by Maisel.
The DVD set is available at Amazon.com and will be at the Chicago History Museum soon.
The second volume, released in 2011, contains 22 digitally restored episodes transferred directly from the 16mm kinescopes, most unseen since they first aired from 1949-54.
One of Burr's colleagues, Academy Award-nominated Lyle Conway, acted as Creative Director for this volume and has given the DVD a true "Kuklapolitan" look, featuring Ted Drake's original illustrations. He also worked with Buelah Witch to create a Wiki containing many details on the history of the show and its creators.
In addition, Burr's relatives opened his never-before-seen personal photo collection, which was used to create a Photo Gallery. The DVD also includes some of Burr's 5-minute Kukla and Ollie shows from 1961 and other treats.
The first volume, released in 2010, contains 20 episodes chosen by Burr himself for preservation. In addition, three episodes, Lemonade, First 15-minute show, and The Mikado have just been retransferred directly from the 16mm kinescopes to ensure the highest quality of these signficant episodes.
Step back in time to the earliest days of television, and you'll see why James Thurber once wrote that Burr and Fran Allison were "helping to save the sanity of the nation and to improve, if not even to invent, the quality of television."
Watch clips from the DVD on our youtube channel
Critical response to Volume 1:
Sun-Times story on the DVD release
"They've been unseen for the most part since they were first broadcast live in the early days of television, but episodes of Kukla, Fran and Ollie, one of the most beloved of Chicago children's shows, finally are making their belated way to DVD."
Tom Shales in the Washington Post
"Now, after decades of never being seen except in a museum, some of the earliest and most authentically classic episodes are being released and they are, encouragingly, as wonderful as a former fan is likely to remember them."
Dave Kehr in the New York Times
"Irresistibly appealing...the Kuklapolitans must have seemed like welcome emissaries from a world where violence was unknown, and tensions could be resolved with the nuzzle of a felt nose. They scarcely seem less so now."
"Among the bonus features on Volume 3 are fascinating home movies (some in color) taken by the show’s longtime director, Louis Gomavitz. We get to see Kukla, Fran & Ollie ... with an impressive lineup of human [guest] stars including Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Perry Como, Yul Brynner, Ethel Merman, and Irene Dunne ... This material is irresistible, especially if—like me—you have fond memories of this endearing program."
DVD Talk review
"This is a great set that will hopefully find its way into a lot of DVD collections. A highlight in early television, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie are woefully ignored today, and hopefully this set will expose a new generation of viewers to the amusing comedy of this fantastic show. Highly recommended."
"This two-disc set includes two of what are considered the finest shows. Lemonade is a spot on satire of our over-hyped capitalist society (and this was the fifties!) while The Mikado is a hilarious send up of the back stage turmoil involved in putting on an opera, a catty and clever performance worthy of an episode of Frasier."
TV Worth Watching
"Kukla, Fran & Ollie is finally on DVD in its earliest form, demonstrating how even independent rights owners can use the internet's smaller scale to get releases to the public at low cost. This simple show couldn't be wittier or more clever. What a surprise delight!"
The two volumes include the following shows:
12/5/49 Salute To Television
9/26/49 Madame Ooglepuss Loses Her Wig
9/8/49 Screen Test
10/6/49 Ice Cream - with Dave Garroway
11/30/49 Kukla Kiddish
12/20/49 Making A Christmas Tree Stand
12/28/49 Hansel and Gretel
Bonus: Homecoming - with Gene Rayburn (excerpt)
6/28/50 Puppetry Festival
11/3/50 As You Like It
12/20/50 Winter Carnival
11/26/51 First 15 Minute Show
12/5/51 Guppies Gavotte
12/12/51 Fran Practices Christmas Singing
4/22/52 June Lockhart
5/2/52 Leaving New York
10/12/52 Fifth Birthday
1/3/54 Miss VUHF
2/21/54 "The Mikado" Dress Rehearsal
Bonuses: Sweet William (excerpt)
"Here We Are" (excerpt)
2/28/49 Back From Richmond
10/4/49 Library Day
11/1/49 Milton Caniff
1/16/50 New York, New York
6/6/50 4th of July
9/10/51 Raking Leaves
10/11/50 Destination Moon
Bonuses: New Yorker Article (excerpt)
Mercedes' Growing Pains (excerpt)
Kukla and Ollie 5-minute shows
12/11/51 Christmas Shopping
12/24/51 Christmas Eve
12/26/51 Ollie Has Amnesia
4/11/52 Jack Not at Piano
4/23/52 Modern Dance vs. Classical Dance
5/12/52 Mrs. Dragon Organizes the K.P.
8/24/52 First Half-hour Show
2/14/54 Valentine’s Day
2/28/54 Fletcher's Lament
4/10/55 Bunny To Bunny
6/25/52 Paul Pookenschlagl Visits
6/27/52 Last Show Before Summer Vacation
Bonuses: Buelah Wiki, Burr's Scrapbook
9/29/49 Tooie Talk
12/1/49 Salute to Utica
9/12/50 Oliver J. Dragon, Television Consultant
12/8/50 Oliver Twist
2/12/52 Jose Greco
4/1/52 April Fool's Day
4/16/52 Buelah's Electronic Hair Dryer
6/20/52 Buelah Goes To The Aragon
1/4/53 Female Trouble
2/15/53 Dennis Day
Bonus: First Color Broadcasts
3/22/53 H. V. Kaltenborn
11/8/53 The New Neighbor
12/13/53 Cecil Bill Trims the Tree
9/12/55 Kukla's Secret
9/14/55 Tea Party
9/15/55 Kukla Tells Fran
9/16/55 The Big Reveal
9/26/55 Packing Fran
9/27/55 Fran in California
9/28/55 Fran Comes Home
9/29/55 Keep It Gay
9/30/55 Earl Backus
2/11/57 The Four Jacks
Bonuses: Caesar Giovannini interview
Gommy's Home Movies
The Dragon Who Lived Downstairs
Perhaps Burr himself best described the show:
KFO is not a spectacular, nor is it a situation comedy. It is not a children’s show, nor is it a culture-conscious program for intellectual adults. It has a magic of its own which enchants not only the friends who watch it, but all of us who are responsible for its creation. It seems to attract all ages and all kinds of minds. We’ve never expected the largest audience in television, but we’ve had a consistently loyal and strong audience of moderate size. (As a matter of fact, when we ended our five-a-week show, two years ago, we had one of the top ratings for a strip.)
Kukla, Fran and Ollie have quiet voices and gentle ways. If we have any purpose on the American scene, it is to satirize in a a kindly way, our lives, the lives of people everywhere, to kid some of the little annoyances and foibles that often grow out of proportion in the world today. We can comment on what we see, and give our impressions of what we think and feel about contemporary happenings and people. We don’t try to educate, we don’t claim any overwhelming philosophical undertones. We only hope to entertain.