recess radio program

04/24/06
Tony Sarg, Master Puppeteer
    by Rita Smith

Although Tony Sarg wrote over a dozen children's books, and, as a youngster, dreamed of becoming an illustrator, he possessed and displayed a mechanical ingenuity, even as a little boy, that lead him in another direction. Tony lived the first years of his life on his father's sugar and coffee plantation in Guatemala. When he was six, his father decided it was time to give Tony a chore, and this chore was feeding the chickens. He was given an alarm clock set for six a.m. and admonished to jump out of bed as soon as it went off and get to his work. It didn't take long before Tony decided that feeding chickens at six o'clock in the morning was not the least bit fun, but he also knew there wasn't any use trying to get out of it, as his father was a tough disciplinarian.

Trying to figure out a way to get the chickens fed without getting out of bed kept him busy for days with a vast amount of tinkering and one day, voila, when that terrible alarm clock rang, he simply reached out, pulled a cord, turned over, and went back to sleep. Beside his bed was a string. It led out the window and, by a rather complicated system of pulleys, reached the chicken-yard. Here it was fastened to a sliding door. When he pulled the string, the door opened noisily, inviting the chickens into the yard where, the night before, Tony had spread grain for their breakfast. Thus, young Tony displayed at a very early age a mechanically inclined mind, which, in later years, proved invaluable to him as the creator of puppets and marionettes.

Tony spent some of his youth in England where he became intrigued with puppetry and followed a marionette troupe around to various London music houses. Later, in New York City, he established a studio, building his own marionettes and developing a show, known as "Tony Sarg's Marionettes," which traveled throughout the country performing Ali Baba, Robin Hood, Alice in Wonderland, and many other famous stories to the delight of audiences of all ages. Sarg also created animated store window displays for Macys, and, from 1924 to his death in 1942, he was the genius behind the big floating balloons for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which he called "giant, upside down marionettes" because the strings were below instead of above them. Such balloons, of course, still are a tradition of Macy's parade. His biggest show, viewed by more than three million people, was put on in 1933 at the Chicago World's Fair, and, in 1936, an organization called the Puppeteers of America was formed and promptly awarded Sarg the title of "Master Puppeteer."

Sources:
Backes, Karen, "Tony Sarg." Written as a Puppeteer profile for the TC Puppet Monitor, Spring 1998, available on the web at www.tcpuppet.org/NewFiles/Sarg.html
"Tony Sarg," The Junior Book of Authors. Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, eds. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1940. p. 321-322.

Copyright 2006 Rita Smith

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