File puptcrit/puptcrit.0810, message 191

Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2008 18:35:52 -0400
Subject: Re: [Puptcrit] Modified marionettes

I am very happy with my costume-less antique marionettes.  They have kinetic
memory.  They know how to swing dance and will do it for you.  My friend
Clyde who discovered the Harlem Dancers in the random two marionettes I gave
him, restored his figures and one night he was at his trailor at Merlefest
where he was performing.  We had decided that the male dancer was modelled
after the sophisticated legend of the time Bill "Bo Jangles" Robinson and
that his partner was also a ringer for Josephine Baker. Sue never named them
but they do seem to be drawn after them considering Robinson and Baker's
popularity at the time.   Hastings 1939 NY Worlds Fair show was full of
portrait marionettes.  Back to Clyde, he was listening to the live radio
broadcast of the festival back at his trailor and got out the Bo Jangles
figure and danced him to the music.  Then Jerry Jeff Walker who penned the
song "Mr. Bo Jangles" took the stage and began singing it.  Clyde let the
puppet do its thing and he said later that all alone with the marionette he
gave his best performance. The next day Clyde saw Walker walking through the
back stage area and got his attention and showed him the Bo Jangles
marionette.  Clyde wanted to get Jerry to have his picture made with the
marionette, but he refused relating that he had gotten into a lot of grief
for the song because it depicted Bo Jangles as  bum where as the real bo
Jangles was not.  The song it turned out was about a street tapping bum who
had taken on Bo Jangeles moniker.  Jerry Jeff Walker on the other hand
wanted a photo taken with the Josephine Baker marionette and couldn't get
enough of that puppet.  So after 70 years of lying around in a trunks among
a collection of 4000 marionettes. He was reunited with his partner in the
act and met the man who made Bo Jangles name famous again all within 6
months after emerging from a dusty trunk, Sepia getting a plastic wood face
lifted off, and reuniting with his partner, she having been camoflaged for
30 years as Jimmy Carter and her body hiding inside of a Santa Claus
marionette. (including high heels)Not to mention it was Valentines day of
black history month that I gave them to Clyde.    What I cannot fathom is
that Sue's cousin who had worked for the Metropolitan Museum and at the time
of reconnecting with Sue was being interviewed by Dorlis G. for the book on
Sue Hasting and knowing all of that and being an original member of the
company, that she could alter those perhaps most famous Hastings figures (
because of their inclusion in Baird's "Art of the Puppet") into Jimmy Carter
and a Black disco dancer in gold lame.  Perhaps she considered them race
puppets and disdained that, which would be the most generous explaination.
She had also transformed another of the "race puppets".  I really can't say
for sure, but I can see a B&W Hitchcock movie all about it.  Puppets can be
very mysterious.

On Mon, Oct 13, 2008 at 1:02 PM, Alan Cook <> wrote:

> Hobey Ford's archeological adventures with a dozen Sue Hastings puppets
> make for an interesting story. Too many times, someone like Jessie Morrow,
> out of ignorance of the IMPORTANCE of maintaining the original integrity of
> certain puppets, can destroy something of historical/artistic value, and
> create an object of less interest. It would have been better if she had made
> new puppets, using the old ones as inspiration.
> That Hobey has been able to undo some damage and restore puppets to
> something approximate to the original condition, is a real contribution to
> our collective history.
> Some other Sue Hastings puppets have been "modified" by at least one other
> person, alas.
> Sue Hastings is an important American puppeteer. As such, her puppets have
> more value than some anonymous amateur puppets which surface on e-bay or in
> yard sales.
> But sometimes even amateur yard sale puppets need to be preserved, as
> examples of folk art, or rare examples of regional puppetry.
> Around 1979, I visited Grand Rapids, Michigan, to see some marionettes
> created for/by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the Great
> Depression. A local puppeteer, well meaning, had recycled these historic
> figures, turning some into clowns.
> If you repaint a Rembrandt, it is no longer a Rembrandt, and much harm is
> done. Value is lost.
> After my calling this fact to the attention of the puppeteer who modified
> the WPA figures, I hope that she made no further modifications. She seemed
> apologetic.
> Hobey is right on, when he says a puppeteer can often learn by studying old
> puppets and their construction,
> Earlier this year he visited our exhibit in Los Angeles at the Craft & Folk
> Art Museum, and had a chance to study puppets by several important
> puppeteers.
> Hobey has a good eye when it comes to preservation of and appreciation for
> old puppets. He also understands the importance of written or photographic
> material, the available documentation, and the provenance.
> When old puppets are no longer in working condition, they can still have
> something to teach us---they still have value, like old folks in retirement
> homes, they have worthy memories.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Hobey Ford
> Sent: Monday, October 13, 2008 7:29 AM
> To:
> Subject: Re: [Puptcrit] Hastings marionette details
> Sue Hastings took a class taught by Charles (Max?) Searle, Sarg's builder,
> but thought he was holding back the good stuff so she is said to have  told
> Sarg  so on one of his visits to the class, and went right over to his
> marionettes and examined them and satisified, left.  She basically imitated
> his style but didn't get so techical with her mechanisms.  She became his
> biggest competition.   Dorlis Grubidge's book Sue Hastings Puppet Showwoman
> is very well researched and written.  When I was trying to figure out what
> I
> had been given by the State Theater, her book gave me hints and clues.  It
> was so fun.  Here I had this pile of boxes filled with marionette stuff and
> photos and scrapbooks, but it had all been recycled and there were hints
> that these boxes of birthday party gear had more to them.  When my friend
> Clyde popped off Jimmy Carter's plastic wood face and found "Sepia" the
> harlem dancer's face we knew there was a mystery.  It was puppet
> anthropology.   One of the coolest coincidences was this little article by
> Sue's couisin telling of taking one of Sue's puppets that she had bought
> years before on a visit to Sue on her death bed.  By the description I
> found
> the marionette and then with Dorlis' book I glanced at a  date in the book
> which was that days date, Sue 's Birthday.  So here I was holding the last
> puppet she came into contact with the day before she died and I discovered
> it on her birthday.  Thus the title of the article "the secret life of
> puppets".  They seemed to be waiting to be re-discovered.  When you operate
> them stripped down of later post-Sue "modifications" Its like the original
> craftspeoples intentions reveal themselves.  I think much can be learned by
> handling these old figures, which unfortuately is mostly impossible.
> On Sun, Oct 12, 2008 at 5:52 PM, <> wrote:
> > Thanks, Hobey.
> > I also loved your article a while back about the other Hastings
> marionette
> > discovered/uncovered/recovered !  Very interesting stuff. Did Sue
> Hastings
> > learn from Max Searle, Tony Sarg's builder?
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > Rolande
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Hobey Ford <>
> > To:
> > Sent: Sun, 12 Oct 2008 11:14 am
> > Subject: [Puptcrit] Hastings marionette details
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > Have a look at some photos of a  Sue Hastings head and then a black
> > character of Sue's as well.  The knee joints were unusual for Hastings
> > knees
> > because of the ball and socket fit of the joint.  It was originally a
> black
> > character but Sue's couisin Jessie Morrow used it in a Rip Van Winkle
> show
> > for empoyees at The Metropolitan Museum sometime in the mid sixties.  I
> > discovered the body was black beneath a coat of paint and under the
> ribbon
> > covered wax hands.   The black head was an extra when I got it but on
> > careful examination found that it belonged to this once black body.  As
> > with
> > all the figures there was a lot of undoing of Jessie's modifications to
> get
> > down to original parts.  I have around twelve figures and 20 or so heads.
> > None were left intact by her cousin but were recycled into birthday party
> > show figures.  You can find the Cepia and Celephane figures at the photo
> > gallery as well.
> >
> >
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