The Gifts of Tony Sarg | American Experience | PBS

The Gifts of Tony Sarg | American Experience | PBS


The word was that something suddenly was happening out to sea. The Inquirer and Mirror newspaper reported that a sea monster had been sighted off of Nantucket. The news went across the nation on the wires and was printed in everything from Cape Cod to California. Footprints were on the beach that made people wonder, “What is this thing that is coming to us?” I don’t know how it had suddenly arrived on the beach, but it must have been in the night that it arrived. It was somehow waiting. I know I was taken, probably midday to see this extraordinary creature on the sand. Everybody was there, surrounding it, looking at it, poking it and just enjoying it. And everyone realized this was a big hoax. It was a big moment on Nantucket. I think it was sharing and giving a gift to his island he loved. This was very much part of Tony’s makeup. Tony Sarg was born to German diplomats. His family was an artistic family. He had married an American woman from Cincinnati and so they decided to move to America. In New York, Sarg was an illustrator for the magazines and the newspapers. He was sent to illustrate a marionette show and liked it so much that he asked if he could go backstage. They didn’t allow Tony to watch the show
from backstage. What he did was go to the show about 50 times. Sat in the front row and made sketches of what he was seeing on the stage and basically figured out how to make the marionettes. Tony Sarg’s career as a marionettist and string puppeteer was underway. Tony was working out of New York and he very quickly became an important name in entertainment. And so Macy’s turned to him to help them celebrate the Christmas season. Initially, shows he designed for Macy’s were performed in the windows. His relationship obviously was very good with Macy’s and he proposed doing some balloons for the parade they normally had at Thanksgiving. He’s the one who brought the Thanksgiving Day balloons to us that we now celebrate with Kermit and Bullwinkle and all the other characters. Anytime he needed a vacation he would go to Nantucket. He had a curiosity shop on the island where he made things and sold things. My brother and I haunted the shop of Tony Sarg. Always creating things… endless humor, endless energy, endless creativity. Sometime in 1936, he designed a sea monster balloon and they decided to do a publicity stunt. They did a lot of planning to get this set up. The balloon was created in Akron, Ohio, by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. It was shipped by railway express with 9,000 pounds of compressed air to Nantucket. They inflated the balloon in the north part of the harbor and it was floated across the harbor. And everyone realized it was a rubber balloon from the parade. Tony Sarg is remembered, at this point, as the Father of modern American puppetry. He wanted people to see how the magic was created. Tony’s original balloons he considered to be upside-down marionettes. He set down the foundations for the art form. And inspired so many different people to get involved in puppetry. The puppeteers who worked with him, Bill Baird, Margo and Rufus Rose, all went on beyond Tony to continue to expand the art form. The Roses were mentors for Jim Henson. He made a special world for everybody and certainly for puppetry. He was the impetus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *