Pookie the Lion

They were made of cloth, glue and wood, but in our eyes they were as real as their flesh and blood counterparts. And to the chagrin of their human partners, often received more fan mail. Let’s take a look at some of Detroit TV’s classic puppet stars.

   In the mid 1950s Lytle Hoover attended Wayne University, where he majored in radio and television. Between classes Lytel worked part time at WXYZ-TV.  When Soupy Sales first hit Detroit’s airwaves in 1953, it was Lytle’s job to play the music and sound effects for his TV show, 12 O’clock Comics. Lytle’s official job title was ET man, named for the 16-inch acetate electronic transcription discs that all music and sound effects were recorded on. When White Fang hit Soupy with a pie, it was Lytle’s job to have the gunshot record at the ready, and play the recording so that the shot rang out at the exact moment that pie met puss.

  Like many great moments in television history, Pookie the Lion’s first appearance on 12 ‘O’clock Comics was a “happy accident,” created when Lytle Hoover and a stagehand decided to play a practical joke on Soupy. The real back story of the creation of Pookie has never been told, on television, on the internet or in print. Even Soupy himself failed to mention Pookie’s history in his autobiography, “Soupy Sez! “

 I am very pleased to present Lytle Hoover’s story of the birth of one of the iconic puppets from the early days of television, Pookie the Lion.

  Pookie the Lion was created by a stagehand and I pulling a practical joke on Soupy. Actually, Pookie, as he was later named, was really a stuffed toy of Charlemane the Lion, a puppet created by Bil Baird for CBS' The Morning Show, that had been tossed into the stagehand’s prop box. One of the crew showed it to Soupy, asking if he might want to use it.  He had removed the King's costume & crown and slit open the back to put his hand inside.  Soupy said that he would think about it for the future. 

 

   As Soupy walked back to the set, the stagehand told me that he was going to sneak behind the set during the show to do something with the stuffed toy.  I suggested that he hold it up outside the window during the live show.  I found a lion’s roar sound effect from my stack of 78rpm records and had it on standby. 

 

  During the show, while Soupy sat at the table describing his lunch, the stagehand raised the puppet up at the window directly behind Soupy where he couldn't see it.   He then made the puppet peek around Soupy’s shoulder where it could be seen on camera, then immediately jerked it down out of sight. The rest of the crew saw what happened, but Soupy didn't.  After doing this several times the crew started laughing, and White Fang started waving at the window.  Soupy knew that something was up, so he started playing along with the gag, trying to turn around fast enough to see if he could see what was happening. 

 

   He placed his hat on the windowsill, and suddenly it disappeared.  I let out one lion roar on the record, and the hat came flying back thru the window.   Soupy then placed the hat back on the windowsill. The stagehand repeated the hat disappearance a couple more times.   He then appeared at the window wearing the hat.  Soupy reached out the window to grab the hat.  The stagehand grabbed Soupy's arm as a gag, and wouldn't let go. The entire floor crew broke out in uncontrolled laughter at what was happening. Soupy struggled for 10-15 seconds, and when he realized the stage hand wasn’t going to let go of his arm he jumped up, yelled and leaped through the window, pretending the lion was pulling him out.  I turned on the lion roars full blast while Soupy and the lion  bobbed up and down outside the window, as if the lion was beating him up.  I then gradually faded out the lion roar. The director had a cover shot of the empty set.

 

  For about 15 seconds the room was totally quiet, except for low giggling sounds from the camera crew, waiting to see what was going to happen. Then the doorknob started rattling, and the door slowly opened.  Suddenly Soupy came staggering into the room.   He had messed up his hair, one pant leg was rolled up, his shirt tail was completely hanging out, his sweater hung off one arm, his hat was caved in and his bowtie was twisted to the back of his neck.   The crew screamed with laughter and applauded, because Soupy had out joked the crew in doing their practical joke.   Soupy staggered over to a close-up shot on the camera and said, "So remember boys and girls, when you go out to play this afternoon, don't play with lions. They are no fun."  This brought an additional laugh from the crew.  The director faded to black, and went to commercial.   Needless to say, another lion bit was added to the show the next day, then Clyde Adler took over as puppeteer, and the rest is part of Soupy's history.  

 

-Lytle Hoover

 

Copyright © 2011 Edward Golick Jr. and Lytle Hoover. All Rights Reserved.