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The Man Behind The Mosquitoes Pt3

Link - Posted by David on February 26, 2015 @ 6:00 am in

By 1975, Ralph Oppenheim’s Magic Puppet World had been going strong in the Poconos. One thing leads to another, and as with most things in his life, Ralph had veered off in a new direction—furniture making.

Magic Puppet World turning to furniture world, too

The Pocono Record, The Stroudsburgs, PA • 2 August 1975


Ralph Oppenheim finishes handmade chair in his barn workshop.

SCIOTA – Always at work on another project. Ralph and Shirley Oppenheim have patience.

They have a reputation for creating fascinating mechanized puppet shows but they have turned their talents lo making hand-tooled furniture, including luxurious dog beds.

They always seem to get involved in time-consuming projects. First it was puppet shows that take months of delicate adjustments and modifications before the figures act flawlessly. The latest is the construction by hand of a 26-piece dog bed wilh a modern art design. The project took three weeks.

The Oppenheims are asking $1,000 for the bed. They have beds of several designs on sale at the Animal Gourmet, a restaurant for dogs in New York City.

The furniture for humans appeals to people of more modest means. They are making tables, stools and chairs just as they were made in early America. No power tools are used to shape the wood and neither nails nor screws are used to piece it together.

All of the furniture is made with pine, either clear, knotty or Southern. It is fitted together with blind pegs. Like the other work the Oppenheims do, they design the furniture together. Ralph does the carpentry and Shirley does the finishing.

“You rarely see furniture that someone puts any artistry into.” Shirley said.

The furniture-making started after people saw their dog beds and suggested they make furniture for people too. Oppenheim, 68, has been a skilled carpenter and tinkerer with machines for years.

After World War II, Oppenheim gave up a career writing Fiction for pulp magazines to put together puppet shows, the thing that really interested him.

Mrs. Oppenheim helped out and 11 years ago they opened the Magic Puppet World. The attraction, on Bus. Rte. 209 between Snydersville and Sciota, was oriented toward children until a few years ago.

Then, the Oppenheims started working on a series of displays of modern sculptures in motion. To their surprise, their original art-in-molion creations appealed to children as well as adults.


Hand-carved statue of modern design.

Because of the changes, the place was renamed the Oppenheim Gallery and Puppet World. Oppenheim describes the new sculptures as expressionistic studies in motion. They are much more abstract and sophisticated than the earlier more conventional pieces.

“We feel we haven’t completely developed it even now,” Oppenheim said. They will continue to make mechanized pieces when their attention is diverted from the furniture they are making now.

“Whatever we are doing at the time seems the most important.” Oppenheim said.

The early pieces are miniature shows. Lasting about a minute, the two- and three-inch high figures move and interact on a stage, their movements guided by an intricate network of fine silk threads.

Five of the shows are circus acts. The rest are children’s storybook scenes. An aerobatic act and an assembly line of a sausage factory are among the shows. A half dozen figures guided by 25 or 30 strings, each with a specific purpose, comprise each show.

The first one made was an animal circus act. It uses a motor-driven rotating cylinder with cams that push levers connected strings that manipulate the figures. The cylinder rotates once, taking about a minute, to create all of the movement of the figures.

To design such a piece, it is necessary lo plan the motion of several figures at once and prevent all of the strings from becoming tangled.

“By the time you get finished, you have to go back and do it over again, usually,” Oppenheim said. He slowly became experienced in selecting motors and other parts for the displays, accepting advice from parts dealers.

Oppenheim began the work without any mechanical training. Computer experts vacationing in the area who stopped to see the show told Oppenheim that the cam design is similar to cam designs used in some modern computers, Oppenheim said. They assumed he had some background in engineering, which he does not have, Oppenheim said.

“When it came to these things, I didn’t even know about gears, how they work,” Oppenheim said. “It was all trial and error up to a point.”

In one of the shows, a lion tamer sticks his head in a lion’s mouth. In another, a balerina walks down stairs and her partners dance. All are coordinated to music, accomplished originally with use of a stop watch.

“It took three months to get her to walk down the stairs to the tune of the music,” Oppenheim said. “The entire piece took over a year to make” working off and on, he said.

Major industries, including the Ford Motor Company, AT&T and Westinghouse, several years ago contracted with the Oppenheims to custom make puppet shows for display at trade conferences, museums and at the New York World’s Fair in 1964-65.

Always, they would work together, sometimes day and night for weeks, to complete the projects on time, they said.

“Both of us tear each other’s work apart and it really becomes a collaboration.” Mrs. Oppenheim said. She attended Cooper Union, a New York City art school, majoring in design.

Recently, the Oppenheims discontinued making ceramic and copper jewelry. They had no time for that project along with all of the others they have going.

 

With Ralph’s death in August 1978, Shirley closed up the Oppenheim Gallery and Puppet World and moved back to New York City to be near family. She passed away in 2006.

The Man Behind The Mosquitoes Pt2

Link - Posted by David on February 25, 2015 @ 6:00 am in

All three of these articles from The Pocono Record cover essentially the same ground. (Today’s and tomorrow’s have pictures of the man himself included.) Here it’s been six years since the first article, and the Oppenheims—Ralph and his wife Shirley—have expanded upon The Magic Puppet World, now adding The Jewelry Fair with handcrafted jewelry; The Luck-Lore Center where patrons can buy amulets and other objects of luck from age-old beliefs; The Humorosity Mart which featured the Oppenheim’s own line of hilarious souvenirs and gift-novelties; and The Trinketorium—exciting jewlry, puppets and novelties for children.

Puppetry reaches zenith at Oppenheim’s

By BILL ZELLERS (The Pocono Record, The Stroudsburgs, PA • 22 July 1972)

SNYDERSVILLE – Puppetry, which can be traced back as far as Greece in 300 B.C., has reached its culmination in the animated figures of Oppenheim’s Magic Puppet World.

Ralph and Shirley Oppenheim have devoted 15 years of their lives to developing this form of entertainment and they have been running their automated show in the poconos for eight years now.

Oppenheim is not sure just what to call the shows he puts on since some of the figures are moved by strings like marionettes, but the fingers pulling the strings are automated and are moved by cams on a drumb.

He takes a couple of months to set up just one of these shows, Oppenheim says. First he has to think up a story for the little figures to act out. After this he must program the figures for each of their moves, each movement of the figures requiring weeks of work.

The intricate moves of each of the puppets has to be gone over time and time again to get them right, he says.


Ballerinas twirl in mini-theater.

One of his creations, a ballet with seven ballerinas, took a year to create. It look him three months just to get one ballerina to move down a set of stairs.

The staging is also important in these shows. Oppenheim likes the small three-inch puppets better, because they can be moved more easily and can act out a more detailed story on the small stage and are more impressionistic.


Fearsome Gulliver, four-and-a-half-foot marionette, glares down from stand along Lilliput Road at Oppenheim’s Magic Puppet World—one of many puppets moved by automated mechanisms.

The larger puppels such as a four-foot Gulliver and a shoemaker and elves are controlled by wires from underneath. This allows for more fluid movement, he says.

Seventeen shows make up the program at the puppet world. Lilliput road goes by the stages of the three-inch puppets, which act out shows that run for one minute each.

All the stories for the shows are ones that Oppenheim has thought up or that come from fairy tales. Other are acts, such as the lion tamer act, and some acrobats.

Oppenheim carves all his figures himself and has put on industrial shows for companies such as Bell Telephone and Westinghouse.

His shows are not only for children, but interest adults as well.


Ralph and Shirley Oppenheim take in the sun in front of the Magic Puppet World and a board bearing examples of good luck charms sold in the World adjunct, Luck Lore Center. (Staff photos by Bill Zellers)

In front of the barn which holds the automated puppetry is the Jewelry Fair and the Luck Lore Center. The Jewelry Fair contains ceramics and wood earrings, pins, rings and Bobos for string ties made especially for children.

The Luck Lore center is a new feature at the puppet world. Here are replicas of all sorts of amulets and good luck charms based on ancient beliefs.

There are signs of the zodiac, African fetish charms, South American and Middle Eastern amulets, a tranquility amulet and a Teraphim with divining stones which is supposed to help people make important decisions.

“I don’t guarantee that they will work,” Oppenheim says, “but the psychological effect of believing in one might leave you with a better feeling.”

Magic Puppet World is on business Route 209 between Snydersville and Sciota. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from May 30 until Labor Day.


An ad for Oppenheim’s Magic Puppet World from 1972 showing the diversification that the Oppenheims had expanded to.

The Man Behind The Mosquitoes Pt1

Link - Posted by David on February 24, 2015 @ 6:00 am in

In researching the life of Ralph Oppenheim, the elusive creator of The Three Mosquitoes, the first bit of information I found on my road to finding the man was an article in The Pocono Record (Stroudsburg, PA) from 1975 (which is part three of this series of articles) which made reference to his pulp writing career. That article was the key to finding the man behind The Three Mosquitoes. There was enough information to trace him back ultimately to his birth on March 29th, 1907!

While we’re working on a more detailed biography of Mr Oppenheim, here’s a bit of a preview. We have a series of three articles over the next few days that covers what he was doing after he left writing behind with the demise of the pulps during the last couple decades of his life—running a Magical Puppet World featuring 17 different annimated vingettes. Using a process Ralph Oppenheim had developed and patented!

In 1965 he moved with his wife Shirley to the Poconos in Pennsylvania, where he set up his varrious puppet shows in an old stone barn and christened it Oppenheim’s Magic Puppet World!


Early ad from 1965.

Pair creates magic world

The Pocono Record, The Stroudsburgs, PA • 25 March 1966

Editor’s note: In keeping with Pennsylvania’s Tourist Preparation Month this March, when residents are urged to become familiar with attractions In their area, The Pocono Record is presenting this series on Pocono attractions. It has been prepared by the Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau.

Take the age-old art of puppetry, harness it to the modern science of automation, put this unique combination in a beautiful old barn in the scenic Poconos—and you have Oppenheim’s Magic Puppet World.

Here, to absorb and delight the visitor, are the results of 15 years of creative work by Ralph and Shirley Oppenheim, originators of Automatic Puppetry, a new entertainment medium wherein marionettes perform without puppeteers—their strings pulled by automatic precision “fingers.”

In the past, the Oppenheims have won national recognition for their Automatic Puppetry in special projects commissioned by some of the country’s leading industrial companies.

One such project has run for several years at Chicago’s famous Museum of Science and Industry; another was featured at the recent New York World’s Fair.

However, the Oppenheims always had as their goal a full entertainment presentation that could truly offer all the unique aspects of this new medium. For this they worked over a period of many years to create the 17 automatic puppet shows at the Magic Puppet World.

Visitors walk along a rustic “road” in the barn to see these shows arrayed in gem-like stages. Each has its own colorful setting, costumes, and lighting effects. All depict pantomime stories with whimsy, humor, and absorbing action.

The road winds through Lilliput, “The Littlest World in the World,” where a four-foot Gulliver introduces the Lilliputian marionettes—less than three inches high—performing in original stories: “The Cannonball Clowns,” “Rival Romeos,” “Rookie in the Royal Guard”—to name only a few.

Then there is Old Story Road, where favorite classics—Miss Muffet, Cinderella, and others come to life in this new medium of puppet story-telling.


This scene is from the “Doll Ballet” at the Magic Puppet Theater run by the Oppenheims between Sciota and Snydersville. The dolls and puppets move by automatic machinery that the Oppenheims have built over 15 years. It is one of the newest attractions in the Poconos.

And, in Ballet Square, the “Doll Ballet” is performed by eight-inch marionettes in true ballet technique. As part of this performance, the audience is invited “backstage” to see the automation machinery actually controlling the little dancers.

In harmony with this unique puppet entertainment is the new Puppet and Gift Shop which has its opening this season.

Set up in the “barn lobby.” this shop features a fantastic variety of puppets, decorative figures, and unusual souvenirs-all designed and handcrafted in the Oppenheims’ burn workshop.

Located six-miles west of Stroudsburg, on Business Route 209 between Snydersville and Sciota, the Magic Puppet World—in keeping with Governor Seranton’s proclaimed Tourist Preparation Month—is busily preparing to open its 1966 season on May 28.

At this time, the automation machinery will begin pulling the strings that will bring to life in continuous performances all the marionettes at the Magic Puppet World.