Thursday, October 7, 2010

Comic Sir Norman Wisdom and Puppeteer Van Snowden

Sir Norman Wisdom

Sir Norman Wisdom, best know for his series of films featuring hapless Norman Pitkin, passed on Monday at the age of 95.

Sir Norman Wisdom was born Norman Wisden in London on 4 February 1915. His mother deserted the family when he was still young, leaving Sir Norman and his brother to be reared by his father. His father would later give up the two boys so that they were raised in a children's home. Going out on his own at 14, Sir Norman served in a number of jobs, including cabin boy, apprentice waiter, and errand boy.

During World War II he served in the 10th Royal Hussars in England and India. It was while he was in the Army that Sir Norman learned to sing and play a number of different instruments. After being demobilised in 1946, he started his career in show business in London music halls. It was at this point he took the last name Wisdom. It was not long before he played the West End. In 1948 he received his own television series, Wit and Wisdom. He made his film debut that same year in a small part in the film A Date with a Dream. In 1951 he appeared in TV show Vic's Grill. It was in 1953 that he first appeared in his signature role as Norman in the film Trouble in Store, whose surname was usually Pitkin, but sometimes bore different surnames even if he was the same character. He would go onto play Norman in twelve more films: One Good Turn (1955), Man of the Moment (1955), Up the World (1955), The Square Peg (1956), Follow a Star (1959), The Bulldog Breed (1960), On the Beat (1962), A Stitch in Time (1963), Norman Wisdom: The Early Bird (1965), and Press for Time (1966). In nearly all of the films Norman, also known as The Gump, found himself in some occupation or predicament for which he was hardly suited. The films were huge in the United Kingdom, at one point even surpassing the James Bond series in terms of box office.

Sir Norman Wisdom also appeared in the films Sink the Bismark (1960), There was a Crooked Man (1960), The Girl on the Boat (1961),The Sandwich Man (1966), The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968), and What's Good For the Goose (1970). Beginning in the Seventies Sir Norman's career shifted primarily to television. He starred in the series Norman, Nobody is Norman Wisdom, A Little Bit of Wisdom, and Last of the Summer Wine. He guest starred on the shows Hudson and Halls, BBC2 Playhouse, Bergerac, Casualty , The Last Detective, and Coronation Street. He also appeared in the films Double X: The Name of the Game (1992) Five Children and It (2004), and Expresso (2007).

Sir Norman also toured for many years with his own cabaret act. He also appeared twice on Broadway, in Walking Happy (1966) and Not Now Darling (1970). He did not retire until he was 90 years old.

Sir Norman Wisdom was never a success in the United States, despite being phenomenally success in Britain. Most Americans' exposure to Sir Norman Wisdom would consist primarily of appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, the movies Sink the Bismark and The Night They Raided Minsky's, and the TV show Last of the Summer Wine. This is sad, as Sir Norman Wisdom had a true gift for comedy, particularly slapstick. The character he played was invariably an everyman who finds himself over his head, only to finally emerge victorious in the end. It was a character comparable to Chaplin's Little Tramp, and one that should have had more appeal on this side of The Pond.

Van Snowden

Puppeteer Van Snowden, who brought to life characters from H. R. Pufnstuf to the Crypt Keeper on Tales from the Crypt, passed on September 22, 2010 at the age of 71. The cause was cancer.

Van Snowden was born in San Francisco County, California on February 19, 1939. He grew up on a farm outside Branson, Missouri. He had wanted to become a Broadway star, but found himself sidetracked into the field of puppetry. He went to work for Sid and Marty Kroft on the movie Pufnstuf (1970), an adaptation of their TV series H. R. Pufnstuf. He would go onto work on several Sid and Mary Krofft productions, sometimes as an actor and sometimes as a puppeteer (often as both), including The Bugaloos, Lidsville, Fol-De-Rol, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Land of the Lost, and The Bay City Rollers Show.

Following his stint with Sid and Marty Krofft, Mr. Snowden worked as a puppeteer on such shows as D. C. Follies and Tales From the Crypt (where he brought to life The Crypt Keeper). He also worked on the  films Beetlejuice (1988), Child's Play 2 (1990) , Child's Play 3 (1991), Dracula (1992), Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995), Casper (1996), Tales From the Crypt: Bordello of Blood (1996), and , and The X-Files (1998).

There can be little doubt that Van Snowden had a huge impact on pop culture, even if the average person does not recognise his name. He was involved in nearly every single Sid and Marty Krofft production. Indeed, Sid Krofft said, "Van Snowden was the heart and soul of our company." Mr. Snowden's career did not end with Sid and Marty Krofft, however, as he brought to life E. C. Comics' horror host The Crypt Keeper in the series Tales From the Crypt and Chucky in the Child's Play movies. Few puppeteers in the late 20th Century have had so rich a career as Van Snowden.

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