Ollie the Dragon is friendly, worry-wart and braggart of a dragon with velvet lips, sleepy eyes and one large single tooth featured on the NBC/ABC children’s puppet series KUKLA FRAN AND OLLIE (1947-1957).
The program began locally in 1947 on WBKB in Chicago as “Junior Jamboree” and was renamed “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” when it moved to WNBQ (the predecessor to WMAQ) on Nov. 29, 1948.
A graduate of Dragon Prep, Oliver “Ollie” J. (Jethro) Dragon, Esq. sang with a baritone voice, liked to play pranks and “detec-a-tive” and was an authority on dragon lore.
Ollie also made romantic overtures to such illustrious celebrities as Margaret Truman, Nina Foch, June Valli, and even “dahling” Tallulah Bankhead. When Ollie talked, he stammered, snorted but never breathed smoke or flames.
Incidentally, neither Ollie nor his family are fire-breathing dragons because his father swallowed a great deal of water while swimming the Hellespoint a long time ago and extinguished the flames in Ollie’s branch of the family for all time.
Ollie hails from Dragon Retreat, Vermont. His family home is a rambling old house (since turned into a popular resort) that is set on a high plateau in the Green Mountains. It was built by one of his ancestors after they fled Boston during the unpleasant times when that town was persecuting witches and dragons.
Each year, Ollie and his Kuklapolitan friends spend the summer vacation at Dragon Retreat. At Christmas time, Ollie’s family go into the nearby woods and cut down their own Christmas tree.
Ollie’s family members included his mother, Olivia Dragon (debuted August 24, 1952) and his cousin, Doloras Dragon (debuted June 19, 1950).
During each KFO show, Ollie the Dragon interacted with Kukla, a cute, bald hand puppet with a large red-nose and Fran Allison, the show’s beautiful human hostess. Puppeteer Burr Tillstrom manipulated Ollie and the other hand puppets from behind the scenes.
While most traditional dragons were ferocious, amiable puppeteer Burr Tillstrom specially wanted his dragon to be kindly. As he reported “I wanted one which would not scare even the most timid child. So Ollie got what he now calls his ‘prehensile tooth’.”
The Oliver J. Dragon puppet joined the troupe in 1938 as Burr Tillstrom performed at Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago and soon after debuted at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.
Ollie was modeled from a variety of materials over the years. The 1956 version featured jaws from a warped pear crate hinged with leather, a face of yellow satin, a chin of chamois, spotted skin from a phony ocelot coat, hair from Mongolian wolf, eyes and tooth from kid’s gloves, and lashes and brow made from pieces of wool felt. The interior lining of Ollie’s puppet was real gold cloth. (TV Guide 11/13/1956).
Some notable career highlights of Oliver J. Dragon include:
- On June 7, 1953, Ollie and the Kuklapolitan Players performed the operetta St. George and the Dragon with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall in Boston. Later, on August 30, 1953, Ollie and his friends performed the same operetta when it aired as part of the first public color experimental broadcast of a TV program.
- On March 28, 1968, Ollie and The Kuklapolitans Players aired an adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon on NBC.
- In 1984, Burr Tillstrom published the 48 page book “The Kuklapolitan Players Present: The Dragon Who Lived Downstairs” (Illustrated by David Small; New York: Morrow) about an impoverished princess and her mother who are aided by a kindly dragon in vanquishing a wicked witch who wants to steal their castle’s gold.
- On October 23, 1985, the American Center for Children and Media, sponsored the first annual “Ollie Awards” ceremony that honored the best in children’s television.
Oliver J. “Ollie” Dragon
c/o The Dragon Family (Olivia and Doloras)
Dragon Retreat, Vermont