File puptcrit/puptcrit.0801, message 200

Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2008 19:14:00 GMT
Subject: [Puptcrit] Wolo murals

Oh boy--rushing does not pay. I goofed on the address to puptcrit (I am supposed to be raking leaves instead of puptcritting).

John Burton has two WOLO murals from the walls of a restaurant, and I do not have expertise pricing them. But for MANY puppeteers, especially those of us on the West Coast, Wolo was one of our legendary puppeteers.

Below is info about Wolo I sent to John Burton---some of this is repetition of Olvera Street puppet history, but will be new to newer puptcritters

Until pictures of the murals are available I don't know if the animals are from Wolo's books, but it is a possibility.


-----Original Message-----
From: Alan Cook
Sent: Friday, January 18, 2008 11:01 AM
Subject: RE: Wolo canvas murals

Dear John  Burton,

Your news about two Wolo Murals that you have is most interesting. Do you know what restaurant they had been in? Are the two wallpaper panels flat now or rolled?

I am sharing the information with a web chatline for puppeteers and the Editor of Puppetry Journal.

I certainly have heard of Wolo---I even photographed him decades ago at  Puppet Day in Oakland's Fairyland Park at Lake Merritt.

I don't know how much informatioin you have about him. Before there was a/were national TV network(s), there was Chicago (where Kukla Fran & Ollie pioneered TV), and an eastcoast network (Boston, NY, Philly) where Puppet Playhouse began in December 1947 and became HOWDY DOODY. The West Coast had a TV show called Panorama Pacific which was seen in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego. Each City had local contests for puppeteers to be on the show--this was 1955 or 1956---I was one of the L.A. auditioners, scheduled to go on at 6 pm, but waiting til 11 pm for my turn.

Anyway, WOLO was the eventual winner and did his puppet show there for quite some time.

In 1930 a group of artists under the leadership of a local woman whose name I think was Mrs Sterling (easy to verify) brought the oldest part , actually the birthplace of Los Angeles, OLVERA STREET back to respectability, rescuing ths area from flop houses, opium dens and brothels. Somewhere around 1933-5, WOLO was doing caricatures of tourists on Olvera Street. There were several puppet companies working on Olvera in the thirties---first the Yale Puppeteers, then Paul Walton & Michael O'Rourke followed by The Olvera Puppeteers. 

Movie stars, Albert Einstein, and starlets like Deanna Durbin and Ginger Rogers visited the puppet shows (not aimed at kids, but rather for their parents).

One visitor was Eleanor Roosevelt. Another was Edgar Bergen, already famous with Charlie McCarthy on radio. Edgar was a big fan of Walton & O'Rourke. He was a friend of Velma Dawson (actress, dancer who bcame a puppeteer after seeing Walton & O'Rourke, later working with the Olvera Puppeteers and in 1948 redesigning HOWDY DOODY for some obscure show in NYC.)

Bergen took a particular fancy to one marionette in the Walton & O'Rourke show, had WOLO make sketches of it, probably with considerable changes over time. Virginia Austin (originally from the Austins of Austin TX) found a job as puppeteer with the OLVERA PUPPETEERS and ended up as sculptor of the first Mortimer Snerd for Bergen, using the WOLO SKETCHES to bring Mortimer to life.

A teenage Frank Paris worked with Olvera Puppeteers along with Velma Dawson too, and in 1947 was the first puppeteer and the original designer of Howdy Doody #1. 

So there were two versions of Howdy Doody, designed by puppeteers who knew one another, and Mortimer Snerd was a result of other puppeteers who knew each other, and they ALL had worked on Olvera Street.

I believe that WOLO began writing and illustrating his famous children's books as an offshoot from his Olvera Street caricatures

When his first book was published, he was sent on a book promotion tour. Being rather shy, he was terrified before his first public appearance before a crowd, as a writer/artist. He turned a white towel at his hotel into a hand puppet animal from his book. He dyed it with a bottle of brown Scripto Brand ink which was in his hotel room, and went off to meet his public.

The first appearance was a success, but Wolo recalled that when he took the  puppet off his hand, his fingers and palm were dyed brown.

I saw Wolo at the Pasadena Central Public Library in the 1940s and he did a charming show with Amanda and other book characters. He also had a puppet draw individual characters on a huge pad of newsprint paper, which were handed out to lucky kids in the audience---I didn't get one, but my sister did.

For a National Puppetry Festival I helped run at Cal Poly U in San Luis Obispo, 1981. Wolo drew some Ink sketches of famous puppets like Polichinelle and Guignol, and The Guignol one was turned into a special pictorial postmark available during the Festival Week.

Wolo ran a shop called HAPPY THINGS on upper Grant Street which became a tourist attraction in the 1960s. Lettie Connell worked with him, and did hand puppet shows in the display window. Gage Schubert bought the shop, married Lettie who was a major puppet influence in the Bay area and had mentored Jerry Juhl and Frank Oz, who were among the first to join Jim Hensons MUPPETS.

So you see WOLO had connections to many in the puppet world. At least one of his stories was performed by Lewis Mahlmann, a longtime director of the Fairyland puppets in Oakland, now retired.

So yeah, I know who Wolo was.


-----Original Message-----
From: jr burton
Sent: Thursday, January 17, 2008 9:56 PM
To: Alan Cook
Subject: RE: Wolo canvas murals

Alan: The largest is about 2' x 11', the next one 2' x 6'... They were displayed on the wall of a restaurant is San Francisco-- painted on the heavy wallpaper, actually, then apparently cut off the wall in sheets when it was painted. They depict numerous cartoon-ish characters, against a green backdrop. I can take some pictures and get them to Walgreens... Have you heard of Wolo? Thank You, John Burton
Subject: Wolo canvas murals
Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2008 05:31:55 +0000

I am not knowledgeable about pricing murals---were these mounted on walls or were they ever displayed somewhere?  Are photos available? What are dimensions?

Alan Cook

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