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Subject: Archive: Fran Allison, June 13, 1989

One third of Kukla, Fran & Ollie
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Date Posted: Thursday, June 13, 01:59:18pm

Fran Allison of Kukla, Fran & Ollie Dies At 81
June 13, 1989

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Fran Allison, best remembered as the warm-hearted human foil for puppets on Kukla, Fran & Ollie, the live, unscripted show that helped see television through its infancy, died Tuesday at the age of 81.

Death was blamed on bone marrow failure, an inability to produce sufficient numbers of white and red blood cells, said Sherman Oaks Community Hospital spokeswoman Johna Rogovin.

Miss Allison joined Burr Tillstromfs popular puppet show, originally known as Junior Jamboree, when it began on local television in Chicago in 1947.

It was a delight working with him from the very first moment, she said after Tillstrom died in Palm Springs in 1985. In nine years of daily shows, they never worked from scripts, she added.

Miss Allison had worked as a singer and radio personality in shows originating from Chicago during the 1930s and 1940s, and was particularly known for her role as the gossipy Aunt Fanny on Don McNeillfs Breakfast Club.

The whimsical puppet program, featuring Tillstromfs Kuklapolitan Players emerged from the early age of television to become one of the mediumfs longest-running childrenfs programs.

Kukla, Fran & Ollie ran from 1948 to 1957, followed by reincarnations as late as 1976, and garnered Tillstrom three Emmy and two Peabody awards.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said she was synonymous with Chicago, delighting several generations of children as well as their parents. With Bert Tillstrom she created a unique and wonderful segment of entertainment history that will long be remembered.

Miss Allison co-starred with a bald, gentle clown named Kukla and an exuberant bucktoothed serpent, Oliver J. Dragon. A menagerie of Tillstrom- inspired characters appeared in supporting roles, including Ophelia Oglepuss, Cecil Bill, Col. Crackie and Mercedes, the troupefs ingenue.

Miss Allison essentially played herself, standing in front of the puppet stage, and her concern, joy and infinite patience for her co-stars enthralled millions of young viewers.

She was so honest, I think that was what made it work so well, said Jon Stone, a Sesame Street creator and producer at the Childrenfs Television Workshop. She took the puppets at face value.

Fran was a bridge character between the audience and the puppet characters, said Jim Henson, who created Sesame Streetfs troupe of Muppets and who called Kukla, Fran & Ollie my major influence in terms of puppetry.

You have a person who takes those characters as real, and that helps make the characters more believable, Henson said. We have continued to use that technique.

Stone, who worked with Tillstrom and Miss Allison as producer of The CBS Childrenfs Film Festival during the 1970s said Miss Allison never got self-conscious about talking to puppets.

Tillstrom, on the other hand, used to insist that the puppets were real, Stone recalled. You couldnft say eBurr, move the puppet to your right.f Youfd have to say fOllie take two steps to the side.‴

Peggy Charren, president of Action for Childrenfs Television, said she is beginning a June 20 seminar on childrenfs television at the Museum of Broadcasting in New York, with clips from the show.

I am using it as an example of the concern that the broadcast industry used to have for children and their families, Ms. Charren said. It was one of those wonderful ideas that happens rarely, when something that appeals to children also appeals to adults.

Miss Allison was born in LaPorte City, Iowa, in 1907, and was married 35 years to Archie Levington, who died in 1978, said Nan Calvin, Miss Allisonfs niece.

She had been living in Los Angeles about 10 years, and hosted a local show on KHJ-TV for senior citizens called Prime Time.

She is survived by her brother, Lynn Allison, Ms. Calvin said.

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