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Guest Frank Tashlin

Errand Boy Puppeteer Dies

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It's been a rough year for puppets. First Velvel, now Bobo. Will Lester be next?

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That (Bobo) looks like the hand-puppet JL used in the episode of "Ben Casey" I just watched yesterday on tape. I had never seen it, even though I used to watch "Ben Casey," so a friend sent it to me.

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"ALL RIGHT! SO I'M A COMIC NEUROSURGEON!" :newroll:

 

Bobo appeared in both shows in addition to several Telethon appearances.

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Pioneering television puppeteer Ritts dies

Los Angeles Times

 

LOS ANGELES - Mary Ritts, who with her husband, Paul, created and performed the Ritts Puppets, a popular act that appeared regularly on television for three decades beginning in the early 1950s and made a memorable appearance in Jerry Lewis' film ''The Errand Boy,'' has died. She was 95.

 

Ritts died May 14 of natural causes in a retirement home in Pasadena, said her son, Mark Ritts.

 

The Ritts Puppets, a menagerie that originally included Geoffrey the Giraffe, Albert the Chipmunk, Calvin the Crow and Magnolia the Ostrich, debuted on ''In the Park,'' a Sunday family TV series on CBS from 1951 to 1953 starring Bill Sears.

 

Mary Ritts supplied the voice for Magnolia the Ostrich, a quintessential Southern belle with long eyelashes and a beautiful soprano singing voice. Her husband provided the voices for the male puppets.

 

The Ritts Puppets were hosts of ''The Pink Panther Show,'' an NBC Saturday morning series, for several years in the early 1970s. They were featured performers on ''Exploring,'' an NBC science series for young people in the '60s, and ''Watch Your Child/The Me Too Show,'' a daily program for preschoolers on NBC in the '70s.

 

In addition to regular appearances on ''The Ed Sullivan Show,'' ''The Tonight Show'' and other variety and talk shows, the Ritts Puppets starred in three network TV specials.

 

Paul and Mary Ritts also were the co-hosts of ''Family,'' a live, daily show featuring celebrity interviews, puppet vignettes and live keyboard music played by Mary that aired on WNBC in New York for three years in the early 1960s.

 

A number of guest shots on the show by Lewis led to two of the Ritts' puppets appearing in ''The Errand Boy,'' Lewis' 1961 comedy set in a movie studio.

 

''Bobo the Clown originally was just a throwaway prop that my father made for one of the puppet bits for the 'Family' show,'' Mark Ritts said. ''He was a little rubber clown hand puppet that he bought at a 5-and-10-cent store and repainted. He was a mute character that just did pantomime.''

 

During one of Lewis' appearances on the ''Family'' show, he said, ''(Jerry) went nuts for Bobo.''

 

As a result, he said, ''Bobo became much more prominent than my parents ever intended him to be because of the love affair between Bobo and Jerry.''

 

Paul and Mary Ritts' puppetry career began in the early 1950s, when Paul, a former Armed Forces Radio announcer, was directing a sportscast at WCAU-TV, the CBS-owned station in Philadelphia.

 

''They wanted a hook for the show, and they thought it would be funny if a little animal lived in the filing cabinet of the sportscaster to help deliver the sports news,'' Mark Ritts said. ''No one was a puppeteer at the station. But my father, who had had built model airplanes as a kid, said, 'I'll make you a puppet.' ''

 

He went home and carved a puppet named Albert the Chipmunk out of balsa wood; Mary Ritts, a trained artist, painted it.

 

Viewers fell in love with Albert the Chipmunk. Paul Ritts and sportscaster Sears then decided to expand the concept and create more puppets for what became ''In the Park.''

 

Mary Ritts, whose maiden name was Donnelly, was born June 16, 1910, in Philadelphia. After graduating from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, she became a fashion illustrator for Bonwit Teller, John Wanamaker and Stetson Hats, and her work appeared frequently in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

 

In the 1940s, she played organ and piano on a series of radio programs in Philadelphia and Dallas.

 

Paul Ritts, who was 10 years younger than his wife, died in 1980 at age 60.

 

''They were so inextricably a duo that when my dad died, the (puppet) act pretty much died with it,'' Mark Ritts said.

 

In addition to her son, Mary Ritts is survived by three grandchildren.

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