World-famous puppets on public display in East Portland

Here’s where you can see, up close, famous TV puppets — including from the Howdy Doody Show, Topo Gigio, and Lamb Chop. And, you’ll meet puppeteers who create some of the puppets you’ve seen in the movies …

Steven Overton, curator of Ping Pong’s Pint Size Puppet Museum at the “Olde World Puppet Theatre Studios” brings “Terrible Tessie” from the 1950s TV show “Pixie Playhouse” to life.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
While youngsters may be mystified about why their parents are fascinated in the first puppets ever shown on the Howdy Doody Show, or in “Topo Gigio” from the Ed Sullivan Show – they’ll probably delighted to get an up-close look at “Hermit Crab” from the 1994 “Wee Sing Under the Sea” video, from the “Wee Sing” series.

As they build puppets for their own productions – such as their “Tales of Belvuria” stories, and as they create puppets for other puppeteers around the world – Sellwood-based puppeteers Steven Overton and Marty Richmond also have been collecting puppets of all kinds. “We decided to put them on display, in two-month long themed exhibitions,” Overton explained.

With his partner, Marty Richmond, Overton has produced both live shows, as well as a feature-length movie featuring marionette actors and realistic sets.

  • See our previous story on this fascinating duo, “East Portland puppeteers release locally-produced movie”: CLICK HERE.


“This exhibition is really special, because we have the first puppets actually seen on the 1950s Howdy Doody Show – the drummer and the monkey,” Overton said. But, due to a licensing dispute, he added all of the original marionettes of the central Howdy Doody character created by Frank Paris have been destroyed.

“But, Paris went on to create another TV show called ‘Pixie Playhouse’, and we’re fortunate to have on display ‘Turkey Vulture’ – and the witch ‘Terrible Tessie’, who ‘tortured’ her victims in her dungeon by telling them corny old jokes.”

“Topo Gigio” from the Ed Sullivan Show sits on Marty Richmond’s shoulder, while his partner, Steven Overton, animates it.

But, visiting with “Topo Gigio” from the Ed Sullivan Show was the highlight of our own tour, when Overton worked the puppet as we mimicked the little mouse’s voice.

“Our Topo is only one that we know of its kind – in the exact scale and with the exact ‘working’,” enthused Overton. “We’re really glad that we have it.”

The puppet he was proudly holding was Topo Gigio’s “stunt double”, Overton explained. “He was created by the original puppeteers, to be used on the television set while the crew set the cameras and adjusted the lighting.”

The “live action” versions of the beloved little mouse who bantered with Ed Sullivan while sitting on his shoulder was brought to life by five puppeteers, dressed head-to-toe in black velvet. “With the special lighting, the TV audience couldn’t see the puppeteers. That’s the reason why Topo Gigio always appeared against a black background,” explained Overton.

Other puppets on display include a reproduction of the late Shari Lewis’ sock puppet “Lamb Chop”; a 1977 version of Muppet “Miss Piggy”; and beautifully-crafted marionettes from the duo’s own shows.

Every two months, the displays at Ping Pong’s Pint Size Puppet Museum changes, featuring a new theme.

In August, Overton revealed, “We’ll explore the puppet world of fairy tales, with fabulous puppets from Europe – including giant ‘Wizard of Oz’ characters.”

As long as the weather cooperates, the puppeteers continue to present live evening weekends in an intimate outdoor theater at their home.

On The first weekend in August, the puppeteers will present a show they call “No, No, No, Pinocchio!” in their back-yard theater. “You’ve never seen Pinocchio told quite like this,” Overton told East Portland News. “Staying close to Carlo Colodi’s original Italian story, we perform with our Olde World Puppet Theatre jewel-like marionettes as we tell our very Italian version.”

On Friday, August 3, the show starts at 7 p.m. On Saturday, August 4 there are shows at both 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Then on Sunday, August 5, show time is at 3 p.m. Tickets are $6, all ages (and the show is easily worth twice the price!).

“We love sharing our world of imagination,” Overton grinned.

All you need to know about Ping-Pong’s Pint Sized Puppet Museum

  • Location: 906 S.E. Umatilla Street
  • Hours: Museum hours are 2 until 8 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays.
  • Charge: Free museum admission.
  • Contact: (503) 233-7723
  • To see their website: CLICK HERE.


© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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