Larry Smith, who entertained thousands of children with his Hattie the Witch, Teaser the Mouse, Snarfie R. Dog and Nasty Ole Thing puppets, died Monday. He was 79 years old.
Smith’s Puppet Show was the first program broadcast by WXIX-TV in 1968 and helped make Channel 19 the highest rated independent station in the country within a year.
The Dayton native started at age 14 on WHIO-TV in 1952. He came to Cincinnati in 1957 to work the weekday morning “Uncle Al Show.” By the time he retired in 2006, Smith had done puppet shows for Channels 9, 12, 19, 25, 48 and the former Northern Kentucky Storer Cable (now Spectrum).
“Over his 54-year career, Larry has amassed approximately 6,319 hours of live television. That’s live television. No tape, no post edits, no reruns, just LIVE!”, Boston puppeteer Wayne Martin wrote on Facebook.
Martin, a Cincinnati native, was inspired and mentored by Smith.
“It was Larry Smith who ignited the spark in me at age three and started me on my life’s journey as a puppeteer. When I was four, my dad took me to the Pogue department store where Larry was appearing. Seeing Larry’s puppets in person and in color for the first time just blew my mind and it was here that I first met and spoke with my idol,” wrote Martin, who will speak on “Larry Smith and His Puppets” on Saturday, March 3 at the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting. The event had been planned for months.
Smith founded the Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild in the early 1970s. His puppets Rudy and Teaser were part of the Media Heritage exhibit at the main public library in downtown Cincinnati in December and January. Smith had been in failing health for several years, says Mike Martini, president of Media Heritage, the local television and radio archive. Media Heritage presented Smith with a lifetime achievement award in 2008.
“The nice thing about getting this award is that I can accept it”, “Often they honor people after it’s too late. I can enjoy it while I’m still alive he told me in 2008, when I visited his Westwood home before the presentation and saw his workshop in the basement.
Smith learned to make papier-mâché puppets in Bible school and started doing puppet shows with Cubs. “It was a hobby, but thanks to TV I was able to make a career out of it,” he said.
At age 14, he took a high school bus to Dayton’s WHIO-TV to appear with Joe Rockhold (“Uncle Orrie”) at his weekday “Tic Tock Toy Shop.” After studying for a year at Ohio State, he moved to Cincinnati in 1957 to work on Al Lewis’ “Uncle Al Show”. He was seen on national television when ABC picked up “Uncle Al” in the late 1950s. “All my puppeteer friends in New York and California could tune in and see what I was doing,” he said. declared.
In 1960, Smith left Channel 9 to work in New York with Burr Tillstrom (“Kookla, Fran & Ollie”) in a Broadway stage show. He also produced a 40-episode adult television puppet series in 1962 called “Contemporaries”.
On Channel 19, Smith was so popular that pop music stars Tiny Tim and Bobby Sherman performed on his show. “16” magazine “made a page of photos about us” from Sherman’s visit to the old Woodlawn television studio.
“Those were crazy days,” he said.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 3 at Bolton & Lunsford Funeral Home, 3042 Harrison Ave., Westwood. Start of visits at 1 p.m.
At 7:30 that evening, the VOA will host “An Evening with Wayne Martin on Larry Smith Puppets” and a tour of the new “Larry Smith Puppets – The Works” in the Media Heritage section of the museum, 8070 Tylersville Road, West Chester Township . Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.