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Tony Sarg: The Puppeteer

14 December 2011 No Comment

By Joshua Cornelius

Where would Macy’s be without artist and puppeteer Tony Sarg?  Indeed, would we even have Miracle on 34th Street?  Sarg appears to be nearly single-handedly responsible for the enduring Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Christmas traditions Americans all know and love.  Over a series of articles, we’ll discuss the many facets that comprised the talented and prolific artist, Tony Sarg.

The Puppeteer

Perhaps Mr. Sarg’s most enduring invention is that of the helium parade balloon for the Macy’s holiday tradition.  As a German immigrant, Sarg brought with him a love for puppetry, a passion he indulged, in addition to his work as an illustrator.

Tony spent some of his youth in England where he became intrigued with puppetry and followed a marionette troupe around to various London music houses. Later, in New York City, he established a studio, building his own marionettes and developing a show, known as “Tony Sarg’s Marionettes,” which traveled throughout the country performing Ali BabaRobin HoodAlice in Wonderland, and many other famous stories to the delight of audiences of all ages. Sarg also created animated store window displays for Macys, and, from 1924 to his death in 1942, he was the genius behind the big floating balloons for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which he called “giant, upside down marionettes” because the strings were below instead of above them. Such balloons, of course, still are a tradition of Macy’s parade. His biggest show, viewed by more than three million people, was put on in 1933 at the Chicago World’s Fair, and, in 1936, an organization called the Puppeteers of America was formed and promptly awarded Sarg the title of “Master Puppeteer.”

- Source: Recess

My own favorite bit of Sarg’s career in puppetry involves an elaborate hoax staged in Nantucket during the summer of 1937.

Sightings of a sea serpent were advertised… footprints were found… stories published…

Then, the serpent appeared on South Beach (now Washington Extension – not where it was intended to land!): it was one of Sarg’s Macy’s Day Parade balloons.

What a terrifying beast!  Click on the image below to enjoy a gallery of snapshots taken by tourists of the grand event.

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