Chicago: 1951-1952. Spiral-bound notebook, measuring 9 x 6 inches: (108). Brown paper boards titled in ink, two pastedown typed title labels, typed address label of Patricia Washburn affixed to inner front cover. All pages filled with handwritten diary entries in blue and black ink. Laid in are five folded leaves of handwritten notes from April 1951 (clipped together), three leaves of typed notes from April through August 1951, and two leaves of handwritten notes from August 1952. With: printed spiral-bound yearbook, measuring 11 x 8.5 inches: (64). Original color pictorial paper boards. Illustrated in color and black and white throughout text, annotated by Washburn with an original poem on page 29. With: glossy publicity photograph of Burr Tillstrom and the puppet Kukla, inscribed: “To Pat -- / Sincerely / Kukla & Burr.”.
A fascinating document of early television fandom, chronicling one Chicago woman’s obsessive attention to the improvised daily puppet show “Kukla, Fran, and Ollie.” Created by puppeteer Burr Tillstrom, and featuring radio actress Fran Allison, “Kukla, Fran, and Ollie” began as a local Chicago broadcast in 1947, but was picked up by NBC in 1949, becoming a nationwide sensation among adults as well as children. The show was unscripted, ad-libbed live by Tillstrom (via his cast of Kuklapolitan puppets) and Allison. The surviving kinescopes of the original broadcasts would not be released until 2010, though Tillstrom would go on to mentor many influential younger puppeteers, including Shari Lewis and Jim Henson. This group of materials chronicles Patricia Washburn’s daily viewing of “Kukla, Fran, and Ollie” in 1951, with a few notes from 1952. Her diary opens with an essay explaining her investment in the show, admitting that “when I was first told about, ‘the cute puppet show named Kukla, Fran + Ollie,’ I thought it disgusting that adults should want to watch such childish antics, and vowed never to so much as even look at them.” Washburn had a change of heart, however, as she became fascinated by “genius” puppeteer Burr Tillstrom: “a man who I feel will never truly be appreciated until he is dead, and maybe not even then, in this world of fakes and falsities.” She identifies each of the Kuklapolitan puppets as a facet of Tillstrom -- “the gentle, fatherly, but firm Burr,” “the dramatic, dynamic, tempermental [sic] Burr,” “the sweet, coy, but unpredictable Burr” -- and recounts highlights from some of her favorite episodes to date. The diary itself consists of detailed summaries of live broadcasts of “Kukla, Fran, and Ollie” from January through April, 1951. Also included is Washburn’s copy of the 1951 Kuklapolitan Courier Year Book, an illustrated publication for fans. She has annotated the yearbook with a lengthy original poem about her daily television ritual: “At 6 o’clock from day to day / I fly like mad from work or play. / An eager flip of knob & dial / a breathless flop all in a pile. / ‘Oh hurry set please do get bright’ / It’s ‘magic time’ for me each nite.” A publicity photograph of Burr Tillstrom, inscribed “to Pat,” completes the collection. A compelling deep dive into the early days of television fandom.