Who are the Ron and Mary Kay Puppets? For almost 15 years that was the “stage name” my mom (Mary Kay Day) and dad (Ron Day) used when they performed puppet shows on TV and throughout New Mexico at schools, fairs and special events. Many people remember my parents and their puppets, but they had no way to get any information on them. Until now.
I’m their son, Stan, and I made almost all the puppets my parents used for their shows over the years. I helped out at shows and in the studio when they shot TV shows and ads. I even played a few instruments on some of the musical tracks they used in some of the shows.
I saw all the work they did from the first inception of an idea to the final end product. And now I want to let others out there who remember them (and those who do not) read about what is an incredible story of success in spite of all the odds against them.
So, how did all this start? Well, it began in the late 60’s with a small marionette puppet stage my sister Karen and I got for Christmas from our parents. My dad got help building it from Roger Eaton (see the Hilarys below) and they stored the finished stage in Roger’s garage so Karen and I wouldn’t see it before Christmas morning. I’ve recently gotten together with Roger and Daton about the Hilarys and their memories of that time. I hope to expand on them and the Hilarys in the near future.
First puppet stage
We played with that for awhile but mom and dad took more of an interest in it than we did! Eventually they recorded the audio for a show and put on a live performance for (as I recall) our church. Things started to roll from there and eventually my dad and some friends who worked with him out at Sandia Labs put together a much bigger stage. That small original stage was eventually given to Judy Elder‘s kids Scott and Janet.
The “Hilarys,” a bluegrass/gospel singing group Ron and Mary Kay were in that receded the puppets. The name “Hillarys” was derived from the Latin word hilarius meaning “cheerful”.
Left to right, Mary Kay, Ron, Daton Hill, and Roger Eaton.
At this time they were using only marionettes, but a new show had come on the air called Sesame Street, and with it were something called Muppets created by Jim Henson. My parents loved the Muppets but you couldn’t just go out and buy a Muppet or anything resembling a Muppet. PBS eventually aired a show about how the Muppets were made. After that show was over I’m sure mom and dad were saying “I wish we could do something like that” or words to that effect. I remember telling them hey, if you get me the materials I can do one of those puppets for you, no problem.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, they took me up on the offer. And as it turned out, I made a puppet for them and it was indeed, no problem. My dad originally called that first puppet “Big Red,” since he was red in color and my dad’s initials were R.E.D. Soon after they renamed him “Albert” after a good friend of the family, Al Wyer, and that was the name that stuck.
Albert (the later, second version with working hand)
My parents continued to do the marionette shows (since they only had the one large hand puppet). The shows were always the same format, 10 minutes of puppets, 10 minutes of live singing with the audience, and a final 10 minutes of puppets. Now that “Big Red” (a.k.a. Albert) was there, my dad used him during the middle 10 minute segment with the audience. After a couple of shows mom and dad wanted more large hand puppets like Albert made. Fast.
Original Pelham (made in England) marionettes. I made the robot on the right. It was the only marionette I ever made.
Turned out the audience loved Albert, and Albert was BIG. The audience could see Albert easily, whereas little 10″ to 12″ high marionettes were very hard to see. With the large hand puppets they could play to a much larger live audience, and as it turned out later, an even larger TV audience too.
So I was in the puppet making business whether I wanted to be or not! At the time I was not extremely interested in it but of course now I look back on it and I realize how unique and special it was. I got busy and since my mom needed a puppet I think the next puppet I made after Albert was called Mary Lou or Mary Ann.
The first 2 puppets made, Albert and Mary Lou Photo from December 1971
Soon after came some monsters and one of the crowd favorites, Dracula. And it wasn’t long before I made mom’s alter ego, Zelda. Zelda, along with pop’s alter ego Albert, were the puppet anchors for the puppet shows my parents were doing. While I was building a stable of puppet characters for my parents to use, my dad was busy building a new stage just for the hand puppets.
Albert, Dracula, Lester and Zelda
They hung onto the marionettes for awhile, but it became obvious that dragging 2 large stages to every live show wasn’t going to work and the hand puppets were by far the more popular. So the marionettes were finally retired and the large hand puppets really took off.
December, 1971 Christmas show with both stages. At left, the second (big) version of the marionette stage and the first version of the hand puppet stage on the right. Mom is probably singing “Alice, Where Art Thou Going?”
Mom and dad’s lyrics to the “Alice, Where Art Thou Going” song differs a bit from what I found online. Theirs went this way:
Alice, where art thou going?
Upstairs, to take a bath.
Her form, was like a toothpick,
Her head just like a tack! (popping sound)
She stepped, into the bathtub,
She slipped on the soap (whistle sound)
Oh my goodness, oh my soul,
There goes Alice down the hole!
Alice, where art thou going?
The kids just loved that song!
Second version of the hand puppet stage. This is the one that still exists today. This stage may be the original stage that was simply repainted and updated.