My Five Favorite Dummies

Autonomatonophobia is the fear of ventriloquists’ dummies, animatronic creatures or wax statues – anything that falsely represents a sentient being. Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns.

Puppets and ventriloquist dummies, like clowns, have always terrified me, but there are five that scare me a little less. Perhaps this has to do with their kindly personalities. Or maybe it is because they do not remind me of my imaginary wooden friend who fell into my family’s favorite rapid feed wood chipper. Oh the humanity!

In any case, for your edification and recollection my five favorite puppets and dummies with links to videos are (from top to bottom):

Howdy Doody (a freckle-faced boy marionette with 48 freckles, one for each state of the union, until January 3, 1959);

Charlie McCarthy (Edgar Bergen’s wooden sidekick, based on an Irish newspaper boy he knew. Here shown with Mortimer Snerd);

Kukla, Fran and Ollie (Fran Allison, on whom I, at three years old, had a crush, is the sentient being; Kukla and Ollie are an alligator and little bald man, respectively; the puppets were created by Burr Tillstrom);

Jerry Mahoney (Paul Winchell, a tv personality, created Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff – not shown here because he wanted too much royalty. Mahoney was carved by Chicago-based figure maker Frank Marshall);

Danny O’Day and Farfel the Dog (Created by Jimmy Nelson, Danny and Farfel are best known for television commercials for Nestlé’s Quik which ran from 1953 to 1965. Farfel’s mouth would close with a distinctive clap).

(Read about the Starbucks logo makeover here.)

(Sunday’s Daily Heller on the power of seemingly benign symbols here.)

6 thoughts on “My Five Favorite Dummies

  1. Sara Davies

    Every single one of the above-mentioned characters is like something out of a horror show for me. They all give me nightmares. There’s a reason Stephen King chose a clown for the evil character in one of his books, you know. Dummies and puppets and wax figures and creepy porcelain dolls with their beady eyes, and the way they look at you…it’s horrible. How did these terrifying visages come to be seen as a form of entertainment – especially for children? Makes my skin crawl. There are no safe or happy clowns. Ronald McDonald? The ultimate anti-marketing mascot. [shiver]

  2. Cliff Abrams

    My mom worked with Fran Allison in the early days of TV in Chicago. I got to meet her, Burr, Kukla (Russian for “doll”), and Ollie (who was, i think, supposed to be a dragon) and still have a photo autographed by the gang.

  3. Kevin Glasgow

    As a child, I shared your fear of vent’s dummies and could bee seen tearing from the living room during our family’s weekly repose in front of “The Ed Sullivan Show.” I outgrew the phobia, but was able to revisit it with a kind of dark nostalgia by watching the Anthony Hopkins psycho pic “Magic.”

  4. dana jenkins

    oh my, I haven’t thought of “CHHHHOOOOCCCClate” SNAP in a long time. thanks for that little trip in the way back machine…but how could you have included puppets and not have included lamb chop in your favorites, or topo gigio???

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