File puptcrit/puptcrit.0810, message 221

Date: Wed, 15 Oct 2008 09:00:59 GMT
Subject: [Puptcrit] Walton & O'Rourke

We googled Paul Walton & Michael O'Rourke tonight. References came up for MGM's LILI, of course, noting that Paul worked Marguerite, Michael worked the Fox, Wolo worked the Giant, and George Latshaw did Carrot Top. The full credits do not appear at the end of the movie.

Jim Menke has already pointed out that LILI is based on a short story in the Saturday Evening Post in 1950, called "The Man Who Hated People" written by Paul Gallico.

Helen Deutsch wrote the LILI script for MGM (1952). The words for "Hi Lili, Hi Lo" basically appeared in a story she had written previously, and were set to music by Branislau Kaper. Because the words were not original to the movie, the song was not eligible for an Academy nomination, but the film score was.

During the filming, Helen Deutsch had lunches with George Latshaw, asking him lots of questions about hand puppetry--the techniques and the philosophy behind the art, how characters are created, etcetera. I like to think a bit of George ended up in the script. It would be part of the reason LILI is highly regarded by puppeteers. And of course, Leslie Caron proved to be an ideal audience of one, the way she related to the puppet characters in LILI. 

Like Fran Allison  & the Kuklapolitans, Leslie had no interest in seeing the puppets when they were not onstage.
That helped to keep them alive.

AFTER the film's 1953 release, Gallico expanded his short story into a novel. I think he incorporated some of Helen Deutsch's script concepts. The original magazine short story was set in a TV studio, if I remember correctly,  so it would appear that Helen Deutsch really did study up on puppetry and contributed much to the film's story development.

In one printing, he dedicated the novel to Burr Tillstrom, who was an influence on the whole thing (pioneer puppeteer on American TV from Chicago, where a great deal of American TV was invented).

Burr surprised me once, that he had considered suing for basing the LILI puppet show on "Kukla, Fran & Ollie". You had puppets on their stage, and a human being out front talking with the puppets. Early TV in America was a very LOCAL affair, with LOCAL stations (no networks) and many of them had their own puppet shows based on the same format. Bud Root worked that way in Topeka KS, just to mention one example.

A hundred years earlier, a Punch Show might have a person out front. G I BLUES with Elvis used the same format with Bob Baker puppets on the puppet stage. The format could be considered generic. I'm glad Burr gave up the thought of a lawsuit.

Michael grew up in Seattle. The Mantell Manikins appeared on Vaudeville programs there and were born in nearby Everett, W and made 3 tours, reaching Australia & Singapore as well as crossing the USA where a young Bil Baird saw them.

Michael (then known as Carlyle) drew numerous sketches, including renderings of his sister Huberta Swensen's husband, while living 4 years in the Swenson's Seattle household. Those sketches became the basis for one of Walton & O'Rourke's marionettes which still exists.

Michael went to sea with the merchant marines, visiting Japan, where he got to look at traditional puppets there. Probably Bunraku puppets, since he spoke of puppet hands with moving fingers, animated eyes, mouths, even transformation heads which could look like lovely maidens, then change into horned and toothy beings. 

I really don't know when either Michael or Paul began puppet work. Both were artists to begin with. Paul attended Otis art school in Los Angeles. At some point, Michael worked in movie special effects, and spoke of a mentor who must have been Charles Cristodoro. That seems to have been before puppet work. But Cris also built puppets.

I wish we had thought to ask Paul where he grew up, or how he got into puppet making. His girl friend Stella (who lived in Pomona then), later ran a doll & puppet shop in Los Angeles, and Paul & Stella were lifelong friends so that could be a factor?
(In old age they were married).

Michael loved the mechanics aspect and the design element.

They were both so good at what they did, and already had a fine reputation when I met them, it just seemed that they always had been puppeteers.

Kaper's music certainly deserved an Oscar, for the way the score related to each scene, some people saying that it held the movie together. Actually just about everything fit together and worked together....the cast, the puppets, the dances, the music

At the time of the MGM Auction, it was possible to wander about the back lots. Lot #3 had the bridge, and the shops and harbor (without water) featured in the film. For a fan, it was thrilling to tread the area.

 I just wish they had let Walton & O'Rourke make the dancers' masks. They would have looked more like the puppets.

In some references on the internet, it is stated that Walton & O'Rourke founded their Olvera Street Puppet Theater (1935) in Hollywood. Well, their address at #21 Olvera Street is right in the center of the birthplace of LOS ANGELES, not in Hollywood. You can easily walk from there to City Hall.

I can see why many think of the LILI score as equivalent to an actor in the film, since it has many emotions.


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