|Fran Allison is perhaps
for playing the warm-hearted human foil to the Kuklapolitan Players, a
troupe of puppets familiar to almost every viewer in the early days of
U.S. television. Allison appeared with the puppets on the children's
program Kukla, Fran and Ollie, which aired regularly from 1947 to 1957,
and in subsequent reunions in the late 1960s and mid-1970s.
Born in Iowa, Allison began working as a songstress on local Waterloo, Iowa radio programs and eventually moved to Chicago in 1937, where she was hired as a staff singer and personality on NBC Radio. Audiences became familiar with her from numerous radio appearances, first as a singer on such programs as Smile Parade, The Ransom Sherman Show, and Uncle Ezra's Radio Station (also known as Station EZRA), and later on The Breakfast Club as the gossipy spinster Aunt Fanny--who loved to dish gossip about such fictitious townsfolk as Bert Beerbower, Orphie Hackett and Ott Ort--based on a character she first created for a local Iowa radio program. Allison appeared on both the radio and television versions of Don McNeill's The Breakfast Club for more than 25 years. The Aunt Fanny character was briefly spun off on her own 1939 30-minute radio program, Sunday Dinner at Aunt Fanny's.
While her husband, Archie Levington, was serving in the army, Allison worked on bond-selling tours, during which she met and became good friends with puppeteer Burr Tillstrom. When the time came to choose an appropriate sidekick for his new television series, Tillstrom wanted to work with "a pretty girl, someone who preferably could sing," someone who could improvise along with Tillstrom and with the show's informal structure. According to Tillstrom, when he and Allison met four days later, she was so enthusiastic about the show and working with her friend that she never asked how much the job paid. With only a handshake, they went on the air live for the first time that very afternoon.
Allison's radio and television work continued after the initial run of Kukla, Fran and Ollie. In the late-1950s, Allison hosted The Fran Allison Show, a panel discussion program on local Chicago television, telecast in color and considered, at that time, "the most ambitious show in Chicago's decade of television." She also continued to appear on television musical specials over the years, including Many Moons (1954), Pinocchio (with Mickey Rooney in 1957), Damn Yankees (1967) and Miss Pickerell (1972). Allison was reunited with Burr Tillstrom and the Kuklapolitans for the series' return in 1969 on Public Broadcasting and as the hosts of the CBS Children's Film Festival on Saturday afternoons from 1971 to 1979. In the 1980s, Allison hosted a local Los Angeles (KHJ-TV) program, Prime Time, a show for senior citizens.