Happy Anniversary, Kukla, Fran and Ollie!

January 13, 2010 3:29:56 PM PST
It was early television at its simplest: a couple of puppets, a pretty lady named Fran Allison, and just one camera catching all the action. "Kukla, Fran and Ollie was one of the first smash hits in television history. It was a puppet show. Burr Tillstrom was the puppeteer. Fran Allison was the up front personality and Kukla and Ollie were part of the Kuklapolitan Players," said Bruce DuMont, founder of Museum of Broadcast Communications.

In 1947 present day WLS-TV Channel 7 was called WBKB-TV. And, this is where Kukla, Fran and Ollie got their start. Two years later in January of 1949, exactly 60 years ago, the show went network. It was unbelievably successful.

"It would not be surprising to have seventy percent of the people watching Kukla, Fran and Ollie. There were not a lot of sets. But then again the vast majority were watching Kukla, Fran and Ollie."

Over 70-percent of the TV sets were tuned in to watch Oliver J. Dragon and the rest of the cast. Today if a show scores a 10-percent rating it's a huge success. But it wasn't just a big hit ; this show changed a young television industry.

"Kukla, Fran and Ollie changed the industry in that prior to that ... most television sets were in taverns and bars. But networks wanted to have televisions in homes. And Kukla, Fran and Ollie when it was one appealing to a family audience ... Not just sports fans ... helped moved television sets and sell television sets," said DuMont.

The totally adlibbed show was aimed at all ages.

"It was a more serious kids show. And it was show parents liked probably even more than kids," said DuMont.

Tillstrom's network show, which started 60 years ago, ran for more than a decade.