KHickey
Wednesday 20th , 2017
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Master puppeteer and puppet builder Pat Brymer has brought a very special guest to Kidspace…Television icon Lamb Chop, who is currently on exhibit in 3063 the Storyteller Studio! Lamb Chop, created by late puppeteer and ventriloquist Shari Lewis, first appeared in 1957 on Hi Mom, a local morning show that aired on WNBC in New York. A professional puppeteer and puppet craftsman, Pat Brymer partnered with beloved entertainer and ventriloquist Shari Lewis in 1978. Pat filmed over fourteen home videos with Shari over a period of ten years. In 1990 they began pre-production on a new PBS series which would win the hearts of children and garner numerous Emmy Awards over a five year period. This was "Lamb Chop's Play Along". Immediately prior to the series, Shari asked Pat to refine the design of the original Lamb Chop puppet, streamlining her for her updated starring role alongside the famous vent puppet. Pat was always close behind or underneath Ms. Lewis as well adding additional life to the world's most famous sock. Let’s find out a little more about Pat and his art…

Hi Pat! How did you get into puppetry?

Puppetry was my first hobby when I was five years old. This continued through high school when I began performing my own variety marionette shows for birthday parties, banquets, scout clubs and the like.

What was the first puppet you built?

The first puppet I built was a marionette; Mr. Boney a skeleton. He was classified as a "trick" marionette because all of his bones could be released and then pulled back together.

How did you meet Shari Lewis?

In 1978 Shari was looking for a puppeteering partner who could not only build and rig her puppets but also be her assistant puppeteer providing additional animations for her puppets such as arm and leg movements. I had just finished doing a prime time television variety series, "The Hanna Barbera Happy Hour" The show had been produced by Ken & Mitzi Welch who were close friends of Shari. They suggested to Shari that I might be a perfect fit for what she seeking. She called me to set up an interview at her home in Beverly Hills and voila, we hit it off! I spent the next 20 years as her Master Puppeteer until her untimely passing in 1998.

Shari Lewis performed Lamb Chop as a ventriloquist, and had a distinctive puppetry style. Can you describe for us the Shari’s puppetry and the experience of performing in that style.

3064 When I began working with Shari, her puppeteering style was primarily "table top" puppetry. She provided the mouth and body movements as well as each distinctive live character voice. This (and the fact that she was a flawless close-up ventriloquist) enabled her to interact very closely with each of the characters.

I was usually positioned underneath or to the side of Shari to provide the additional arm and leg animations for the characters using internal string and rod riggings.

When we got into the "Lamb Chop's Play-Along" series, Shari expressed a desire to unlock herself from the table and be able to operate the characters from below or "muppet" style where the television camera frames out the puppeteers enabling the puppets to move or "walk" across the screen. Although always more comfortable using the table top style of puppetry, I always admired her for wanting to explore new ways to make the characters come alive. Believe me, this was a special honor to educate the Shari Lewis in this style of puppetry...she was my childhood icon!

Can you tell us a little about Lamb Chop, how she’s made and what she is make from?

First off, allow me to explain that I was not the "father" of the original Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy puppets. The originals were made long before I was involved with Shari. After gaining her trust as a puppet builder, she asked me to design new bodies for Charlie, Hush and finally Lamb Chop. To this day I am still building new Lamb Chop puppets for Shari's daughter Mallory ensuring that she keeps the "legend" of her mother and Lamb Chop alive.

Lamb Chop has been dubbed the most "famous sock in history" and that she is; a wool athletic sock with many embellishments, of course. Her curls are made from a custom upholstery braid which Shari commissioned from a mill in NYC. Her red mitts once made from felt but are now made from a fabric named "Tempo" which adheres to the prickly side of Velcro. This came in very handy when Lamb Chop had to hold props.

I would actually "build" Lamb Chop's head on Shari's hand; this was to ensure the custom fit and to allow Shari to create Lamb Chop’s various facial expressions with her fingers in different positions. We would place the eyelashes, nose and ears during these sessions which could take many days to complete. While I was working on the head with Shari, the arms and legs (with the curl braid) were being constructed in my shop and added to Lamb Chop's body during the final process of construction. The entire process of making one Lamb Chop puppet takes approximately 40-60 hours to complete.

Can you tell us a little bit about each of the costumes? What they are made out of, what they may have been used for?

Almost all of the costumes were custom patterned and made for Lamb Chop (and Shari's other characters) in my shop by my wonderful assistant of many years, Sharon Osolnik. Sharon could make anything that Shari ordered including hats, dresses, shoes, swim suits...you name it and she could do it!

Lamb Chop's Dodger jacket and cap is made from satin with custom embroidery. It was used one year for the opening Day of Dodger games when Lamb Chop made a guest appearance at Dodger Stadium. Her fur coat preceded my costumes and was made by a furrier in Beverly Hills to match a life sized coat made for Shari to wear in a the "What Becomes A Legend Most?" print ads in the 1970's. Look carefully and you will see Lamb Chop's name embroidered on the inside of the coat. The trench coat was made in my shop for a sketch on one of the series' episodes when Lamb Chop played a detective. It is made from cotton duct fabric which was pre-washed to remove the sizing and soften the fabric for tiny Lamb Chop. The fiesta dress was again manufactured in my shop for Lamb Chop to wear in a Spanish musical episode of "Lamb Chop's Sing Along Play Along" show. The dress is made from many different materials including satin, eyelash lame´ and various laces. The Kimono was made and presented to Shari when she performed in Japan. It is made from the same traditional kimono fabrics used in life-sized kimonos including embroidered satins. Lamb Chop is also the best dressed sock in history with hundreds of costumes made over her 70 plus years of performing!

You also made costume characters of Lamb Chop and her friends for their Broadway show, what kind of things do you have to consider when turning a puppet design into a costume character?

There are so many things to consider when making the transition from a small puppet to a costume that a performer must wear, primarily the comfort of the costume and as much visibility for the performer as possible. Certain physical traits of the puppet must be adjusted for the performer while trying to make the changes less noticeable to the audience. For example, even though the actual puppet and the large costume character never appeared together, the size of each costume must be consistent with the various sizes of the puppets. LC was the shortest character of the three, so generally a female performer under 5'5" was cast. The performer's head was actually in the LC head and hence her vision was primarily through viewing screens in the eyelashes and through the open mouth to "spot" the floor. Hush Puppy was a bit taller, so a male approximately 5'9" was cast. His head was physically located beneath the characters eyes, so the vision was through the costume's open mouth. Charlie Horse was the tallest, so we could put a male in the suit who could be nearly 6' tall. The head literally sat on the performers shoulders and the viewing was partially through the open mouth of the costume and a viewing screen in Charlie's neck. Of course the fabrics used had to be durable, but soft enough for the dancers to move easily without having to deal with heavy, bulky or stiff fabrics.

What advice would you give to someone looking into pursuing puppetry or puppet/costume building?

Go for it! I spent 17 years pursuing puppetry as a hobby and then another 40 years as a professional puppeteer and builder. I had a great career, lots of 3065 support from friends and family and I don't regret a moment of all those years. There are so many areas of this art to pursue, so educate yourself in as much as you can in puppetry and costume history. I have mentored many aspiring puppeteers/builders and it is always rewarding tosee them advance in the field which many have. If possible, take puppeteering classes, and visit/or work in a puppet building shop.

In our Storyteller Studio “everyone has a story to tell”… we get a chance to share our stories, and one of the ways we do that is by sharing our favorite books. What was your favorite book growing up?

Any books dealing with puppet history and building. My favorite book when I was younger was "The Art of the Puppet" by master puppeteer and builder Bil Baird. It's filled with puppet history. In fact, if you search this book on the web, you will find many other puppet and puppet building books referenced...invaluable!

A few of Pat Bymer’s additional credits include: Team America, Short Circuit, and Caddyshack. We are honored to have Pat share his talents and Shari Lewis’ legacy!

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Anne Pierce, Art Specialist, has been with Kidspace Children’s Museum since 2010. She participated in the Master Planning committee and assisted in the development of the Imagination Workshop. As a theater professional Anne has worked for the Walt Disney Resorts, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Sid & Marty Krofft. Anne is currently serving on the board of the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry.