Rootie Kazootie—The Beginning
Paul & Rootie Kazootie,
who started it all.
“The Rootie Kazootie Club”
WNBT (1950-1951); NBC (1951-1952); ABC (1952-1954)
Paul Ashley arrived in New York just after World War II to pursue a career in theater. With acting jobs hard to come by, Paul relied on his talent as a sculptor to support his young family. Word of his sculpting expertise got around and when producers of a new children’s television program were looking for someone to create puppets, Paul was an obvious choice.
Originally named the Rootie Tootie Club, Rootie Kazootie first aired locally on the New York NBC affiliate WNBT on October 14, 1950 with hosts Todd Russel and John Vee. NBC began broadcasting the show nationally on July 2, 1951 until November 1952. It was picked up by ABC beginning that December. The last telecast was seen on May 7, 1954. It was wildly popular with an estimated audience of 2-3 million viewers.
Paul not only designed and created the puppets, he was also one of the principal puppeteers.
The Rootie Kazootie Puppets were acquired in the fall of 2019. With a few rare exceptions, the Paul Ashley Puppet collection now contains every puppet Ashley made that is still in existence. Paul occasionally made puppets for commercial purposes and for other clients like Bob Smith, for whom Ashley created a Howdy Doody puppet for the revival of the show in the 1970's.
It was during Rootie Kazootie that Ashley fell in love with puppets and puppeteering because it was a brilliant way to combine his love of acting with his talent as a sculptor. Thus, his career as a puppeteer was born.
Paul worked with a team of artisans to create the amazing Rootie Kazootie characters: Rootie Kazootie, Polka Dottie, Gala Poochie Pup, Poison Zoomac and El Squeako Mouse.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore”
DuMont TV Network WABD, April 8, 1956
Paul’s next puppet project was the television “spectacular”, an all puppet production of the HMS Pinafore. Ashley created and operated all of the puppets, and was involved with all aspects of the production.
Paul Ashley & Chuck McCann:
An Extraordinary Partnership
For videos of the puppets in action and clips from the Chuck McCann Show, click here.
Paul and Chuck as Laurel & Hardy.
On the WNEW set: “You Wanted It, You Got It” skit with Paul as “Sid Slick” and Chuck as “The Great Bombo”. Watch the video here.
Beginning in the late ‘50’s, Paul Ashley and Chuck McCann created some of the most groundbreaking children’s television programs of all time. They starred in a series of live, shows broadcast in the New York metropolitan area that were a hit with children and adults alike (‘kidult’). Their unique blend of hilarious live sketch comedy, sight gags and interactions with the fabulous Paul Ashley Puppets™ have stood the test of time and are as funny today as they were then.
Paul and Chuck were not only business partners, they were best friends. There is no better way to describe their relationship than in Chuck's own words in the video below.
WNTA-TV Newark, NJ, INDEPENDENT CHANNEL 13
“The Puppet Hotel”
Weekday afternoons, Starting in November 1959,
Paul and Chuck’s first show together was the “Puppet Hotel” featuring McCann as a frustrated desk clerk who tried to do his job while coping with the crazy antics created by the hotel’s guests and staff, portrayed by the Paul Ashley Puppets.
WPIX, NY CHANNEL 11
“Laurel & Hardy & Chuck”
Weekday and Sunday Afternoons
September 7, 1960– December 31, 1962
Guest performers and personalities would visit the show and would be engaged in warm and witty interviews with Chuck and Paul Ashley’s Laurel & Hardy puppets.
“Let’s Have Fun”
September 18, 1960– August 15, 1965
A four-hour comedy/variety show backed by the ‘Paul Ashley Puppets, this show combined stand-up routines, radio and comics.
“The Chuck McCann Show”
September 9, 1963 –1965
Set against the backdrop of a cartoon village, Paul and Chuck would perform character comedy skits, silent visual gags and interviews with guest performers. They also ran Krazy Kat, Beatle Bailey, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith cartoons and reruns of Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges and Abbott and Costello films. In addition, Chuck hosted a game show segment instead called the “Kookie Cookie Fortune Cookie Contest”. Run-ins with WPIX management caused Paul and Chuck to move to WNEW channel 5 in 1965.
WNEW, NY CHANNEL 5
“The Chuck McCann Show”
1965– Friday September 9, 1966
This time their show was set in a junk shop in an office building. Chuck and Paul did their hilarious comedy and puppet skits in between the reruns of Casper The Friendly Ghost and Space Angel cartoons and Republic movie serials.
Chuck McCann’s Laurel & Hardy Show
September 12, 1966–June 9, 1967
Set in “The Laurel & Hardy Fix It Shop,” Paul and Chuck played Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and interacted with their puppet counterparts in the skits. Other features of the program included guest entertainers and the Dialing for Dollars telephone quiz.
In addition to their television work, Chuck and Paul had a successful concert series, with look-a-like celebrity puppets giving live concerts in a theater in New York City, starring "Judy Garland", "Elvis Presley" and more!
TV, Broadway & Other Projects
An original set of Remco's wildly popular Beatle dolls from 1964 owned by Paul's daughter. They can also be found in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Nashville.
Paul and his puppets were frequent guests on many popular television and variety shows:
Home Show with Arlene Francis (NBC)
Armstrong Circle Theatre (NBC & CBS)
Good Morning! with Will Rogers, Jr. (CBS)
Robert Montgomery Presents (NBC)
The Today Show (NBC)
The Tonight Show with Jack Parr and Johnny Carson (NBC)
The Perry Como Show (NBC)
The Steve Allen Show
(NBC & ABC)
The Peter Lind Hayes Show (NBC & ABC)
The Mike Douglas Show (Westinghouse Broadcasting)
The Sammie Davis Show (ABC)
The Gumby Show
(NBC appeared for 26 weeks)
HBO Special: I've Got The World on a String: The First Annual All-Star Puppet Spectacular
Still of Ben Vereen and "Ben Vereen" from the HBO special. Paul gifted the puppet to Mr. Vereen.
Commercials and Industrial Shows
The Paul Ashley Puppets were featured in many commercials for Kelvinator Appliance, Harts Mountain, Ford, Chevron, Proctor & Gamble (Gain Detergent & Prell Shampoo), Fruit of the Loom, Borden's, Manichewitz Wines, Coca-Cola (Fresca), TastyKake and many more. The video below features the TastyKake "Tasty Baker" with Paul puppeteering and doing the voice.
In addition to the commercials, the puppets headlined in industrial shows for major corporations. Most notable are New York Telephone Company, National Retail Merchandisers Association, Eastman Kodak, Metropolitan Life, US Plywood and Brown Forman Distilleries.
Assistant Stage Manager:
“The Marriage Go Round”
In the late 50's, just before his television and puppet career took off, Paul was the Assistant Stage Manager for the hit play “The Marriage Go Round” before it came to Broadway and during it's Broadway run. It starred Claudette Colbert, Charles Boyer, Julie Newmar and Edmon Ryan. The show premiered on the Great White Way on October 29th, 1958 at the Plymouth Theater. It ran through 1959 and closed after 700 performances.
Acting & Modeling
As much as he loved working with the puppets, Paul continued to pick up acting jobs that would come his way. He often appeared in soap operas such as the early soap, Portia Faces Life and later on, Ryan’s Hope and One Life to Live.
Paul also did a substantial amount of commercial work with and without the puppets. With his classic good looks he appeared on the cover of LOOK Magazine portraying a surgeon. Most of his face was covered but he was chosen because he had such expressive eyes.
He was also chosen to be one of the iconic Marlboro Men for Marlboro Cigarettes. Wearing a Stetson with his arm casually draped over a saddle on a split rail fence, the ad appeared in national magazines, newspapers and on billboards. The inside joke was that aside from an occasional pipe, Paul didn’t smoke!
“To Tell the Truth”
In the late ‘60’s, Paul appeared as himself on the game show “To Tell the Truth”, in which the celebrity panel, Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Orson Bean, and Kitty Carlisle asked questions of 3 contestants, one of which had an unusual occupation, in this case, a puppeteer.As the “subject”, Paul had to be truthful when asked questions about his job. The other contestants could just make up stories. It was up to the panel to determine which contestant was telling the truth. Unfortunately someone guessed Paul’s occupation so he didn’t win the money!
Supervisor of Special Effects: Freedomland USA 1960-64
In the early 60’s Paul worked at Freedomland USA, an amusement park in the Bronx, NY. Billed as the “Disneyland of the East”, it was actually 20 acres larger than Disneyland.
Paul helped design and build many of the parks most popular "dark rides" such as the San Francisco Earthquake, Mine Caverns and Tornado Adventure. He also supervised the special effects, most notable the "Chicago Fire" of 1871 (below) which was a star attraction. Every 20 minutes, a building would burst into flames, to be put out by "Chicago firefighters" in period costumes using reproduction firefighting equipment of the era.
Image courtesy of Freedomland USA-The Worlds Largest Entertainment Center
Model Making & Display Work
In between shows, Paul was always able to find work using his incredible gift as a sculptor. He did a lot of display work, such as Macy's windows as mentioned earlier but he also did model making for the toy industry.
When Beatlemania hit the US in the mid 60’s, Remco hired Paul to sculpt the heads of the fab 4 for their Beatle Dolls Collection. Just about every teenage girl had a set and if she was smart, she saved them because they are quite collectible today. In fact, there is a set in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Nashville, TN!
Paul sculpted heads for other Remco dolls including The Dave Clark 5, The Addams Family and The Munsters, as well as heads for a series of dolls for Hasbro called Show Biz Babies: The Monkees, The Mommas and The Poppas (below), Bobbie Gentry, Spencer Davis, Mitch Ryder and Herman’s Hermits.
Although Paul never worked on the original Howdy Doody show in the 50's, he created several Howdy Doody puppets for the revival in the 1970's. One of his creations was auctioned at Christie's in 2002.
This newspaper clipping from 1954 is of Paul's daughter Vicky on the Howdy Doody Show—one of the perks of having a fellow puppeteer as a dad. She is identified as the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul A. Sposeto which was the surname the family used in private life.