Mary Ritts and her late husband Paul were the creative duo behind the Ritts Puppets, who escaped the confines of local daytime programming for kids to become well-known on the more adult talk show circuit.
In 1951, Paul Ritts was working as a TV director for WCAU, a new TV station in Philadelphia. While working on a sports program with host Bill Sears, they decided to create a chipmunk puppet which could toss out comments from a filing cabinet on camera. Ritts built the puppet and his wife Mary painted it, and that's how Albert the Chipmunk was born. Several months later, Albert was starring in his own show called 'In The Park', which was supposed to be set in the Central Park Zoo of NYC.
'In The Park' presented morality plays for the children at home, but the Ritts Puppets also delved in more adult material for their appearances with Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin, and Johnny Carson.
It sounds as though the Ritts Puppets at one time gave the Muppets a run for their money when it came to TV exposure.
Paul voiced the puppets Geoffrey the Giraffe, Albert Chipmunk, and Calvin Crow, while Mary was the voice of Magnolia the Ostrich.
Mary Ritts didn't have a background in show business; instead, she had been a fashion illustrator for Bonwit Teller. And yet it didn't take long for her to gain a national audience.
This was given quite a boost when the Ritts Puppets made an appearance in a Jerry Lewis movie, "The Errand Boy". And they owed it to the "friendship" between Jerry and Bobo the Clown, one of the puppet players - Jerry Lewis made frequent appearances on their show just to hang out with Bobo.
The Ritts Puppets also starred in 'Family', which was a live hour-long morning show with guests that aired on WNBC in the early 1960s. Later on in the 1970s, they hosted 'The Pink Panther Show' for NBC on Saturday mornings.
Besides being featured on children's series including 'Exploring', the Ritts Puppets also made regular appearances on 'The Ed Sullivan Show', the 'Tonight' show and other variety and talk shows.
I don't know if there is any truth to the rumors about Albert Chipmunk and Topo Gigio, but I get the feeling Sullivan wasn't the only one keesing Topo Gigio goo'night.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Mary Ritts was 95, and she leaves behind a son and several grandchildren.