The classic puppet-based kids' series Kukla, Fran and Ollie
has had two lives on television: the original black-and-white show in the late '40s, and the color incarnation of the program in the late '60s. A bit over a year ago, the second series received a 5-disc DVD release
with five of the thirty-nine color episodes which aired on PBS. But what about the original version? So far there have been no official releases; just collections of public-domain episodes such as this one
. But now that's going to change!
Today a Chicago Sun-Times article
reported that Amazon.com will begin selling "Burr Tillstrom's Kukla, Fran and Ollie: The First Episodes 1949-1954
" on DVD later this month. The release is exclusive to the big online e-tailer, according to Misha Davenport's write-up there, with one exception: it will also be sold at the Gift Shop of the Chicago History Museum (at 1601 N. Clark), too (they provided the source material reels, which Tillstrom had donated to them). The title will be available to order from Amazon
beginning Saturday, November 20th
(although we're not certain if that is also the ship date, or just the date that orders begin to be accepted). The cost will be $14.95 for a 2-disc set, and the article specifies near its end that the initial DVD run is being limited to just 1,000 copies, making it a collectible!
In the Sun-Times
report Davenport also says, "The 20 episodes on the two-disc set were chosen from 80 episodes hand-selected by Tillstrom that were transferred to videotape before his death in 1985.
," and mentions how the DVD set was co-produced by the Chicago History Museum, the Burr Tillstrom Copyright Trust and webmaster Mark Milano of Kukla.tv, the official "Kuklapolitan" website. Milano, speaking in the story about the audio/video restoration of these episodes, is quoted as saying this: "The audio cleaned up fairly well, but the video quality varies from episode to episode as the original films varied, depending on whether the guy operating the Kinescope camera knew what he was doing or not
at Milano's website confirms the box cover art AND the list of contents/extras that are shown at Amazon; you can find all of that below. Both there and in the Sun-Times
it is described that a portion of the proceeds will go to charities that show creator Burr Tillstrom supported. Visit Milano's page for the disc-by-disc breakdown of the 2-DVD set, and for the rear cover art as well. The latter is also found at Amazon; below is the information and front art as provided by the e-tailer. Our thanks to reader Rob Mican for drawing our attention to this!
Here they are, back with you again!
The Kuklapolitan Players and their creator, Burr Tillstrom, in the first DVD of the earliest episodes of the Peabody and Emmy-award-winning "Kukla, Fran and Ollie."
KFO is unique in television: a live, ad-libbed, daily puppet show watched by more adults than children. Filled with references to the theater, opera, and current events, it counted Orson Welles, Katharine Hepburn, John Steinbeck, Tallulah Bankhead, and Adlai Stevenson among its many adult fans.
Today, it's hard to imagine a simple puppet show being so popular, but KFO evoked loyalty and a deep belief in its characters from viewers. After Kukla sneezed in one early episode, over 250 fans sent in handkerchiefs. At its peak, the show received 10,000 fan letters in one week.
Burr Tillstrom's ability to create over twenty distinct characters and voices (he was the only puppeteer) and his rapport with Fran Allison were essential to the show's humor and believability.
The 20 black-and-white kinescopes in the set have undergone extensive audio and video restoration to provide the best possible presentation of the early films included in this two-disc set:
Salute to Television - 12/5/49
Screen Test - 9/8/49
Madame Ooglepuss Loses Her Wig - 9/26/49
Lemonade - 8/26/49
Ice Cream (with Dave Garroway) - 10/6/49
Halloween - 10/31/49
Christmas Tree Stand - 12/20/49
Hansel and Gretel - 12/28/49
Puppetry Festival - 6/28/50
As You Like It - 11/3/50
Winter Carnival - 12/20/50
First 15-Minute Show - 11/26/51
Guppies Gavotte - 12/5/51
Fran Practices Christmas Singing - 12/12/51
June Lockhart - 4/22/52
Leaving New York - 5/12/52
Lemonade - 9/14/52
Fifth Birthday - 10/12/52
Fran As Miss VUHF - 1/3/54
The Mikado - 2/21/54
Bonuses: Homecoming w/ Gene Rayburn (excerpt) - 10/21/49
Sweet William (excerpt) - 10/27/50
"Here We Are"