It doesn’t matter if you were a child in the 40s, 50s, 60s, or later; all generations have at least one thing in common—they grew up being entertained by puppets! These television shows kept the young ones occupied while building their self-esteem.
Baby Boomers fell in love with Howdy Doody. He was a wooden puppet dressed in blue jeans, bandana, boots, and a cowboy hat. He had a welcoming face with freckles and his ears were a little too big for his face. Robert Schmidt, aka Buffalo Bob, was not a ventriloquist or puppeteer so Howdy Doody’s lines were prerecorded (I don’t think anyone noticed). The show ran from 1947 to 1960 and was filmed in front of a live audience made up of children who sat in “The Peanut Gallery.” In 1956, it became the first show to be broadcast in color and to have live music. One character on the show was Ranger Bob played by William Shatner (who later stared in the television series Star Trek). For 13 years, the show brought laughter to all those who were young in the late 40s and throughout the 50s.
The young ones of the 60s were educated in an entertaining way by the puppet Lamb Chop. The voice of Lamb Chop was done by its creator ventriloquist Sheri Lewis; the two were inseparable. Lamb Chop was a spunky lamb hand puppet with a New York accent who never aged beyond 6 years old. This cute, loveable lamb debuted on Captain Kangaroo in 1956. In 1960 The Sheri Lewis Show ran on NBC until 1963 and on BBC from 1968 to 1975. Lamb Chop was reintroduced to children on the show Lamb Chop’s Play-Along which aired on PBS from 1992 until 1997. Sheri Lewis and Lamb Chop made several guest appearances on the television show Sesame Street.
Near the end of the 60s young ones in play pins, wind up swings, and sitting on the floor, watched Sesame Street. The show introduced them to Jim Henson’s Muppets. The Muppets were large hand puppets with wide mouths. They were made of foam which was covered by material. Their movements were controlled by invisible strings operated by a hidden puppeteer (Muppet performer). The Muppets are a group of puppet characters who, like their predecessors, educated children in a fun way. Some of the Muppets became, and still are, household words. Young and old recognize the names Big Bird, Kermit the Frog, and Elmo. Kids see a trash can and immediately connect it with Oscar the Grouch. Jim Henson’s Muppets had their own television show and specials, as well as full-length movies. It was through these venues Miss Piggy (she never appeared on Sesame Street) became one of Henson’s famous characters.
Hand puppets are easy to make and a great project for family members to do together. Collect all those odd socks and turn them into puppets (easy instructions are on the web) and put on a puppet show. Take your show on the road and visit nursing homes or children in the hospital. You could even take them a puppet to keep. This is just another way to show kindness in your community.