Maria Perego, Italian puppeteer who created the Topo Gigio mouse, dies at 95


He was 10 inches tall, had blonde hair, bright blue eyes, oversized ears like Mickey Mouse, and the rosy cheeks of a child who had played too long in the snow. His name, Topo Gigio, was Italian for Louie Mouse, and during his dozens of appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the 1960s and early ’70s, he seemed, indeed, to be a mouse from cartoon coming to life, touched by Blue Fairy Magic like Pinocchio.

In recurring sketches with Sullivan, he trotted on two legs, wiggled his ears, rolled his eyes, mocked the variety show host, and rolled up the covers on his little bed. When Sullivan once greeted him with a kiss on the cheek, he balanced on his hands and kicked with delight – stunning millions of viewers who tried in vain to spot the ropes or the wires controlling his movements.

“The first thing everyone wants to know is how Topo Gigio works,” Sullivan told Popular Science in 1967. “Even after all the times I’ve worked with that damn little mouse,” he said. he added, “I sometimes forget that it’s not real.

Notable deaths in 2019: Elijah Cummings, Cokie Roberts, Toni Morrison and others we’ve lost this year

Don Imus | Don Imus, who spent more than half a century skating on radio and television on the edge of propriety and sometimes falling into the abyss of the unacceptable, died on December 27 in a hospital in College Station, Texas. He was 79 years old. -a roller-coaster career in which he befriended high-profile politicians, was repeatedly suspended or fired for offensive cracks, abused drugs and touted health foods, Mr. Imus earned a loyal audience, earned millions and transformed himself from a bad-boy DJ into a host whose program has become an almost obligatory stop for presidential candidates. Read the obituary (Richard Drew/AP)

The bubbly, childlike mouse was part puppet, part puppet, created by Italian puppeteer Maria Perego, who took out a patent for her design and operated Topo with the help of one or two other performers, plus a voice actor. She was 95 and working on a new Topo Gigio series for Italian television when she died on November 7.

Her death was announced by her lawyer Alessandro Rossi, who did not give a specific cause but told Italian news agency ANSA that she fell ill at her home in Milan.

Ms. Perego had experimented with papier-mâché and plaster before using soft, smooth foam to create Topo Gigio in 1959 with the support of her husband, Federico Caldura. His character appeared on Italian television programs before spreading to Swiss, German, Dutch and Spanish programs, eventually becoming a hit in Japan and a staple of “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the United States.

“I guess in the 18-year history of our show we’ve never had a star who’s won such loving acceptance as our little Italian mouse, Topo Gigio,” Sullivan said in a 1967 episode. , years after his program helped introduce Elvis to the public. Presley and the Beatles.

The host allegedly hired Ms Perego after seeing a tape of one of her Topo Gigio performances in Europe, leading to a run of 94 appearances from December 9, 1962 until the show’s final episode on June 6, 1971, according to the official . Ed Sullivan and Topo Gigio websites. Almost every appearance ended with Topo asking, “Eddie, kiss me goodnight.”

While Sullivan was sometimes criticized for his rigid stage presence and wooden delivery, he seemed to relax while speaking with Topo Gigio, voiced by Italian actor Peppino Mazzullo. The couple discussed modern art, Topo’s love of spaghetti and lasagna (as well as gefilte fish and chow mein) and the intricacies of show business.

“How long, Topo, do you think you’ll last on TV if you can’t sing or dance or act?” Sullivan asked in one episode. The puppet replied, “Eddie, how long have you been on the air?” — prompting Sullivan to retort, “Topo, nobody likes a smart mouse.”

In his book “Impresario: The Life and Times of Ed Sullivan”, biographer James Maguire credits the character of Mrs. Perego with helping to broaden Sullivan’s appeal to young viewers, allowing the TV host to display a softer and more endearing side of himself.

“On the face of it, the Topo-Ed law was a contradiction,” he wrote. “Here was Ed, a man his detractors (and even his friends) had called every variation of stiff, who had cursed and worked his way to stardom, burning through an ulcer, but on stage with Topo he was a ball of sentimental sweetness, being childish for a live audience of forty million viewers. . . . Topo opened it.

Ms Perego has remained almost entirely out of sight even as her character rose to worldwide fame, singing alongside Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Italian star Raffaella Carrà. For most performances, she used two fingers of her left hand to control Topo’s legs; with her other hand, she operated a device similar to a clothespin to open and close her mouth. One or two other puppeteers controlled his arms and hands through a set of rods, depending on the complexity of the scene.

All the puppeteers wore black velvet robes, using gloves and hoods to conceal themselves against a black backdrop that made them invisible to onlookers. And while Ms. Perego wrote many Topo stories, her character’s “Ed Sullivan Show” appearances were also developed with the help of other writers, including comedian Joan Rivers, who enjoyed Topo less than most. young viewers of the show.

“I lay on the floor and wrote a sketch about this comical Italian puppet mouse, with a little Italian accent, that had become semi-fashionable in America,” she recalled, according to Sullivan’s website. . “I had him ask Ed Sullivan to explain football. I put Topo in a little football shirt that said ¼ in the back. Topo Gigio paid my car payments for six months. God bless this ugly little mouse.

Ms. Perego was born in Venice on December 8, 1923, and in the mid-1950s worked as a puppeteer for the Italian public broadcaster RAI. She invented characters such as Picchio Cannocchiale, a riff on Woody Woodpecker, and traced her breakthrough in puppetry with a Christmas tree she spotted in a barber shop window, made from a piece of green sponge.

She began using the material for the puppets, while slowing down and speeding up the recordings to come up with new ideas for characters and situations, including “insects, fish, singing flowers, cacti with large sombreros and [guitar]-imitating the Mariachis,” according to his Topo website.

Topo began to take off in 1961, appearing in Italy that year in the popular television program “Carosello” and in a film, “The World of Topo Gigio”, co-directed by her husband. “Put it all in as a treat for the kids,” wrote New York Times critic Howard Thompson. “And while we’re at it, who said a mouse couldn’t act?”

His character then starred in a 1967 Japanese film, “Topo Gigio and the Missile War,” by famed filmmaker Kon Ichikawa, and appeared in comic books and magazines.

Ms Perego continued to work on him until his death – information on survivors was not immediately available – and said she considered Topo to be “a naïve character”, with shades of Don Quixote and Little Tramp by Charlie Chaplin.

“With his optimism, he tries to justify himself, to invent, to present himself and to enter into fantasy and the absurd,” she says. said recently in the Italian TV show “Le Ragazze”. “He is always on the border between imagination and reality.”

Read more Washington Post obituary

Robert Freeman, photographer who helped define the Beatles’ image, dies at 82

Gert Boyle, head of Columbia Sportswear known as ‘One Tough Mother’, dies at 95

Jennifer Davis, exiled heroine of the anti-apartheid movement, dies at 85


Comments are closed.