Wednesday, December 29, 2010


My oldest friend PAUL RUBIN passed away on Christmas Eve morning.

He was my running buddy back in the days of early teenage hood when I was young and innocent and Paul was a whole lot more sophisticated about the ways of the world; how to get around New York City and find the cool stuff (like THE MEMORY SHOP movie memorabilia joint) and girls. And most importantly, puppets!!!

(Me, Rowlf, Jim Henson, and Paul on the set of A SUMMER PLACE on CBS circa back in the day)

As everybody knows, I'm a puppeteer and have been since I could stick my hand over the crib. Paul was once a puppeteer too. That's how we met.
To New York City people of my generation there were a few truly magical names. Names like Sandy Becker, Soupy Sales and especially Chuck McCann. These guys had local TV shows with puppets and cartoons and they were on everyday and we all watched them. Some of us were adventurous enough to leave our living rooms and head to the TV studios where these heroes did their shows. I did. And so did Paul.

(That's Paul working the Paul Ashley puppets during a break at Chuck's WPIX-TV11 show LET'S HAVE FUN)

One day, at Chuck McCann's LAUREL & HARDY FIX-IT SHOPPE SHOW, our paths crossed. I went to Channel 5 and saw Chuck, who said I had to sit in the viewers booth today. So I climbed the lonely stairs and there behind the glass window sat a handsome boy about my own age with nicely-combed hair, wearing a well-tailored blue suit, with a pretty girl friend on his arm. When I walked in he turned and said to me "what the hell were you doing down there?" Well, I liked Laurel and Hardy and since I was Chubby I assumed the role of Ollie and said "Well never you mind!" Then skinny Paul began to cry like Stanley. And right at that moment we became life-long friends. We put together a Laurel and Hardy act. . . . . . and eventually performed on The Joe Franklin MEMORY LANE TV Show!

We built puppets, did shows at schools, and met the greats.

We learned "Who's On First" and did it for anyone who would listen.
(with JOEY FAYE in the hallway of WOR-TV9 prior to a JOE FRANKLIN appearance)

We traveled around the city, started a company RUMAR ENTERPRISES. . .

(with Jack Burns from Burns & Schrieber)

. . . met celebrities and even put out a magazine called Celebrity Post!

For almost 4 years we were inseparable.
New friends came into our lives and we went our several ways. Sometimes losing touch for years as craziness kicked in and yet? We never left each others hearts.
We reconnected in a more or less permanent way these past 10 years, talking a couple of times a month, a week, sometimes a day. The last few months were rough when Paul got sick, and then when I received an email from his sister Amy that he was taken to the hospital, I knew I had to visit him. But not just me. Remember earlier when I mentioned the name of kid show host Sandy Becker? When Sandy passed away Olga and I inherited his puppets, and one of Paul's and my favorite was a feisty little German named GEEBA GEEBA. When I walked into his hospital room, he was not alert. Amy rubbed his chest and brought him to consciousness and told him I was there. He struggled to open his eyes and when I caught his attention, I told him I brought someone to see him, and pulled Geeba Geeba from my black bag, put him on my hand and had him say:
"Hello dere Paul! Remember me? I remember you ven you used to be black und vite."
And he smiled. And they talked. And through Geeba, Paul and I reminisced about the highlights of our life together. He held Geeba's little hand and hugged him. When it was time to pack Geeba away, Paul struggled with his hand and signaled us closer. Geeba and I leaned down and Paul smiled and whispered to us "Thanks for the memories."

Paul, I want to say thank YOU, for the memories. You will always be part of my story.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Christmas - - childhood.Dreams.Puppets.Sandy Becker's Christmas Carol.Chuck McCann's Christmas Specials.Jerry Mahoney dummies. Jingle Dingle Dolls. Family. Love.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Paul was - - in my opinion - - the GREATEST VENTRILOQUIST of the 20th Century!

The characters he created - - JERRY MAHONEY, KNUCKLEHEAD SMIFF, and his own PAUL WINCHELL persona, were vividly alive and magically manipulated.
This book is STILL the best written tome on the subject. When I was a kid I would take it out of the library, return it, wait until they restocked it on the shelf and then took it out again. As my birthday approached my dad & mom wanted to get me the book, but they couldn't find one. So he wrote to Paul at the Little Little Theater off Times Square (currently the Helen Hayes) where he did his HARTZ MOUNTAIN SHOW and a few days later the copy above arrived in the mail. Autographed! What a way to encourage a young boy with stars in his eyes (and dummies on his knees).
This picture is from his first TV series for kids "WINCHELL/MAHONEY TIME". He would begin the show coming down on a slide with Jerry by his side. I was 3 years old and remember thinking that the kid is make believe, but he's also alive! Something kicked into my consciousness because right then I said to myself "I want to make other kids feel the way he makes me feel right now."
Paul was also profoundly inventive - - adding moving arms and things to his dummies. He also invented an upside-down chin face he called OSWALD.
Now get this: he was working Jerry, performing his voice without moving his lips while lying upside down on an inverted camera/split screen shot in extreme close-up on national television.
This shot is from his KTTV-11 series. The little girl is his feisty daughter APRIL WINCHELL (today a very funny, biting, voice-over artist.)
How did Paul bring the dummies arms to life? With the help of two talented "PUPPET COORDINATORS" JAY LLOYD (l) & SKIP LUDWIG, pictured below in this ultra rare shot with Paul's wife and April's mother NINA RUSSELL.
Along the way, Paul invented the artificial heart and did the voice of GARGAMEL on the Smurfs and TIGGER in Disney's Winnie The Pooh. But the dummies would continue to make furtive appearances in his life.

The last time we saw Paul was at a party thrown for him by his friend and confidant, producer Burt Dubrow. As he was giving a speech, Burt (an avid puppet collector) reached around the corner with a Jerry Mahoney replica. Winch went "Ohhhhh" like he was seeing an old friend, took him from Burt and launched into an hysterical, impromtu act. Unbelieveable and unforgettable.

Right after this picture was taken of Olga and me giving Winch the hug he deserves, I put my hands on his shoulders and we looked each other in the eyes. I say "Paul, you're the reason." And he said "Craig, you're the result."