Past Puppetry Persists

Kim and Corky Meet Wilbur and Oscar

When I was a kid in the 1950s I used to watch a cheery television personality named "Cousin Cliff" Holman (who was barely more than a kid himself at the time) perform magic tricks and puppetry for an audience of eager Alabama children who turned in daily to his after-school show, Tip-Top Clubhouse, which was broadcast every afternoon on WAPI, a Birmingham-based TV station with a wide regional reach. Kim and Corky were his puppets’ names. They were shiny and plastic and their mouths moved. A little.

As fate would have it, come 1964 I found myself working just up the hall from that very same Cousin Cliff when I was employed for a while as an assistant to WAPI’s art director. Kim and Corky had been retired by then, and the Tip-Top Clubhouse kiddie show had changed its name twice — first to Cliff’s Clubhouse after Tip-Top Bread dropped its sponsorship, then to The Popeye Show in honor of the animated cartoons that were eventually added to the program’s daily fare.

The art director whom I was assisting, by the way, was Cousin Cliff’s father, who was also named Cliff Holman and from whom I picked up all sorts of graphic design tips, most memorably about hand lettering. Walls of some buildings around Birmingham were still emblazoned at the time with giant, if fading, commercial signs that had been painted during Cliff Sr.’s former career as a sign-painter during the Great Depression.

Cliff Jr. died in 2008, but his early-career puppet co-stars Kim and Corky are now on display at the Tim Hollis Museum, a private memorabilia showcase in Dora, AL, maintained by author Tim Hollis, who chronicled Cliff Jr. in his 1991 book Cousin Cliff: 40 Magical Years in Television.

And whaddaya know! As of last month Kim and Corky have been joined at Tim’s museum by my very own afternoon-television papier-mâché colleagues Wilbur and Oscar from The Sgt. Jack Show (below left), about whom I wrote in last year’s Groundhog’s Day installment of this blog. Unlike Kim and Corky, Wilbur and Oscar’s mouths didn’t move at all, but they had personality.

So if you plan to be hanging out in Alabama and would like to get your own first hand look at the vintage goodies that Tim has amassed for your nostalgic entertainment, you can email Tim the next time you anticipate a swing through Dora. Tim says he’ll be happy to set up an appointment for your tour of his collection.

Stray Drawings From the Past

Above: Back in 2002 I crossed paths with actor Tommy Dewey while I was doing design work for the Chip Deffaa Invitational Theatre Festival in New York and he asked me to draw a portrait to use for display on tee-shirts. (His hair was longer then than it is in this photo.)
Above: Ooooooh! My cat looked strange when I used to draw her while tripping on acid in the ’70s!
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About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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