Craig Marin, Master Puppeteer Gets his Start on Wonderama at 14.
I first met puppeteer, Jimmy Nelson….…who suggested I call WONDERAMA – – which I did. to set up an audition, which I got. The next week didn’t get here QUIK enough.
I practiced my ventriloquism in front of the mirror for hours. I also figured I’d do my puppet act as well. This is when it pays to have a younger brother. My bro, Lowell, is six years my junior as well as my captive assistant. I’d get him up at all hours to work my puppets so I could see my puppets work. Everyone should have a serf – – except younger brothers. Anyway, off we headed – – suitcases in hand – – to 205 East 67th Street:
This was not only the self-same studio where WONDERAMA originated, but it was also home to SANDY BECKER & SOUPY SALES. I met with NORMAN BERGER (producer of Wonderama) in the lobby, and he and his assistant took us down to the basement, and for some reason FLASH! those offices really stuck in my memory. I’ll tell why it matters later. Well, I did my vent act which had something to do with taking my dummy, RAVENAL VALPOLE Jr (!) to the dentist (ME: I’ll have to give you the gas. HIM: OK, check the oil too.) It was really my adaptation of a comedy bit from my favorite book:
When I finished Norman said “excellent” (woohoo!) We then did the puppet act, and he said we should do them both on the show and that we’d be on in a couple of weeks. When the big taping day finally arrived, they kept us away from the rest of the kid rabble (heh heh) in the studio audience. Soon they called me down to stand next to SONNY FOX.
Sonny was the host of the show; a somewhat intimidating presence who kept the proceedings moving at a good clip. He said to me “when I introduce you, say something funny.” HoBoy, had to write something fast! Next thing I knew, Sonny was saying. . . “14 year old ventriloquist Craig Marin” and he tossed it to me. I took a deep breath and said “Well, Ravenal, what do you think about being on Wonderama?” He rotated his head and quipped “If you can’t do Ed Sullivan, I guess this will do.” The audience cracked up, and it was intoxicating!
Next thing I knew Sonny was saying “Headlining on the show is puppeteer ADDIS WILLIAMS.”
WOW, a professional puppeteer! With a stage. When I auditioned we hid behind a table, and I figured I’d just figure something out at the studio. Addis, one of the nicest kindest people I ever met in these make-believe arts asked if I wanted to use his stage for my bit. Problem solved! I’ll never forget his generosity. Or his act. He had a CHEF hand puppet that I think looked something like this:
He was trying to bake a cake, and at the end of the bit the candle blew up and the cake collapsed! The Chef “oh well” rested his chin on his fist. It was inspiring! When it was our turn to puppetize I remember the bit going over well. Then we stood up to take a bow, and little Lowell’s head didn’t make it above the playboard!
Sonny called us out front and interviewed us, finally asking if my puppet would like to throw it to the commercial. I watched the monitor as the camera pushed in. My character says “and now, here’s a word from K-E- double L, O Double Good Kelloggs best to you.” Sonny cracked up at what was my first blend of Art and Commerce!
I mentioned the basement office where my brother and I auditioned? Fast-forward BLIP years later and I’m doing the DJ Kat show from the self-same studio where I performed on WONDERAMA those BLIP years ago. And where is my new office? In the basement at Channel 5. I had come home to where I remembered the future to be .
Craig Marin master puppeteer whose work includes the Flexitoon Puppets, performs with them on TV, Commercials, Film and Onstage. Shows include “Shining Time Station” (with George Carlin & Ringo Starr) on PBS and “Pinwheel” on Nickelodeon.