Children's television pioneer and puppet master Burr Tillstrom was born in Chicago on Oct. 13, 1917. He attended Senn High School and the University of Chicago where he became interested in puppetry. In 1936 he created a puppet with a mostly bald head and a large round nose. A Russian ballerina named Tamara Toumanova called the puppet "kukla" which is the Russian word for doll.
In addition to Kukla, Burr created other puppet characters including Oliver J. Dragon, Fletcher Rabbit, and Beula Witch. The ensemble cast was later called the Kuklapolitan players. In 1939 Burr was invited to have the Kuklapolitan players perform at the World of Tomorrow World's Fair at Lake Success in New York. In the late 1940s, Burr went looking for "a girl who could talk to a dragon" and auditioned a singer from the Don McNeill Breakfast Club called Fran Allison. Fran has just the sparkling personality Burr needed to host an improvised show with his puppets. Based in Chicago, from 1947 to 1957, Burr produced and directed the Kukla, Fran, and Ollie Show. The show appealed to both children and adults since the humor was directed to both audiences at a time of day when both groups could tune in. The Kulapolitan Players continued to appear sporadically in various TV formats both with and without Fran Allison until Burr died on Dec. 6, 1985 in Palm Springs, California.
For more information on Fran Allison, see her profile below by clicking on The Illinois Hall of Fame series at right or click here.