Karen Waterman and Daniel Wood of Waterwood Theatre Projects, Toronto are credited with creating Dudley the Dragon for The Conserving Kingdom.
But the man who brought the lovable character to life was Alex Galatis. In 1983 budding young actor had graduated from the theater program at York University. The following year, he embodied the 8-foot-dragon suit and delighted young audiences across Ontario province. Ten years later, he reprised the role on television for another five years.*
“It was scary how easily I got into it then,” he told the Toronto Star. “Now, it’s like Yul Brynner: He didn’t realize he’d be playing The King and I forever.”
Galatis gave the dragon a personality, and a voice, and charm. Dudley was innocent, naïve, stupid, skittish and a little selfish, but he was fun-loving, friendly, and funny. Who could resist such appeal?
Did I say “stupid”? Here’s Dudley waiting at a bogus traffic light in the middle of a forest.
© Breakthrough Entertainment.
Sources: Judy Nyman, Toronto Star, “Play on Energy Conservation a Big Hit,” October 21, 1984, p. E19; Kathy Kastner, Toronto Star, October 2, 1993, “He’s No Dud,” Section C, pg. SW4; Toronto Star, May 13, 1995, “Waterman, Wood created Dudley,” p. C2.
*Kirk Dunn wore the costume in the final three seasons, while Galatis did the voice. That’s Dunn as Dudley in the photo, above.
Want to know what Dudley the Dragon looked like in The Conserving Kingdom? Photos of his early appearances can be found at the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s Art of Puppetry exhibit:
Waterwood Theatre Projects. Scroll through the images in the middle and click on the image to enlarge it.
A shot of Dudley entertaining the kids at a presentation. Click on the image to enlarge it.
Another shot of Dudley bowing after the performance. Click on the image to enlarge it.
Jim Rankin and Dalia Gesser are credited with creating the body puppet. Its measurements: Height 200.0 cm, Width 100.0 cm, Depth 185.0 cm.
Years later, for the TV series, Rankin is credited for designing the puppets, with construction by Rankin, Joan Parkinson, Matt Ficner, Noreen Young, Dalia Gesser, Janet Nisbet, Lea Carlson, Jennifer LeBlanc and Spice Maeby.
Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Ontario’s Ministry of Energy sponsored The Conserving Kingdom stage show. Here’s an advertisement for one of the performances. Probably the only similarity between this illustration and the “live” Dudley was the sneakers.
Source: The Toronto Star, September 9, 1986.
When Mr. Crabby Tree was human, he told his friend Dudley, “Ohhh, do you think I could fool Grandpa Robin? Wooo, that would be goooood,” he said gleefully.
Grandpa Robin was the eccentric know-it-all of the forest. Spunky and spry, he dispensed his wisdom with good humor and patience, which he especially needed with dimwitted Dudley the Dragon. The elder Robin wore glasses and his beak sported a beard, oddly enough. He’d often say, “I’ve been around the world seven times plus two” and “Oh, cheddarsticks.” He also had access to magical items, which, of course, led to adventures for Dudley and his friends. If Grandpa could be fooled …
So the Dragon introduced his crabby friend to the bird and they engaged in a chat. Grandpa had his suspicions about “Mr. Apple Pie” but said, “You seem like a very nice person. Ta-ta,” and he took off. Crabby was delighted. He had just received the Grandpa Robin seal of approval. “I did it!” he exclaimed, then reflected, “I guess this means I’m not a tree anymore.”
Crabby soon becomes disenchanted with the human lifestyle and he changes his mind. He returns to the Wishing Well. She recognizes him and refuses to grant a second wish.
Luckily, Grandpa Robin flies by. He learns Crabby has changed into a human, but wants to be a tree again. Once again, the Well refuses another wish. “Oh no,” says the Robin, “Mr. Crabby Tree has made his wish. Mr. Crabby Person hasn’t.” On cue, lightning flashes and thunder claps. Crabby is elated. “That is a brilliant idea. The rules are one wish per person, so Mr. Crabby Person gets a wish, too, right?” “That’s how I see it,” Grandpa says.
What Grandpa Robin says, goes. The Wishing Well does not argue with the Wise Old Bird.
Mr. Crabby Person plunks a coin in the well and POOF! He’s Mr. Crabby Tree again.
Was there more to Grandpa Robin than just a dispenser of wisdom? We never found out.
This was his last appearance on the show.
Although The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon addressed social concerns in its plots, the show was at its best when the story was vital, or life-changing, to a character.
In this fifth-season episode, Mr. Crabby Tree has found a second wishing well. But it had one iron-clad rule: Only one wish per customer.
Dudley, our simple-minded dragon, has a simple wish. He wants his basket to be full of dragonberries year-round. Mr. Crabby Tree thinks bigger. He wishes to be … a human!
Finally, after four-and-half seasons, viewers got to see the man inside the rubber tree outfit. Actor Graham Greene was now fully exposed—with clothes, of course. Alas, Ms. Wishing Well had poor fashion sense. She had given him a red shirt, fatigue pants and a tacky yellow tie.
Mr. Crabby Tree at first had great difficulty walking with human legs. But he soon adjusted. He relished the freedom he had in wiggling his fingers and toes and hopping and swinging from vines like a demented Tarzan. But he became frustrated (which for Crabby was not unusual). Being human also meant being social, like eating with silverware or not sticking stinky feet on a table. He didn’t want to move to a city where there weren’t as many trees.
Crabby had second thoughts. He missed being strong and sturdy like a tree. He had the body of a human but the heart of a tree. He cried out in anguish, “I made a terrible mistake! I want to be a tree again!” He returned to the Wishing Well and pleaded for another wish.
Ms. Well was emphatic. She could only give one wish per customer. No refunds, no returns. He could not change back.
What was Mr. Crabby Man going to do?
We interrupt our Dudley the Dragon coverage for this item of interest.
Children’s book author and agent Mandy Hubbard has compiled a list of what editors are looking for today. Read about the latest trends here.
Since Mr. Crabby Tree was a plant, rooted to the ground, he couldn’t go anywhere. He couldn’t go to the action. The action had to come to him.
In Season Three, “Mr. Crabby Tree’s Really Great Adventure” changed all that. By wishing on a shooting star, he was magically released from the ground, and he spent the rest of the episode doing all the things he wished to do for umpteen years: play tag, hockey, hide-and-seek, dance, do gymnastics, fish, and surf on a whale, of course.
Terry, Julia, Sally, Matt and Sammy the Frog were amazed—not just because the tree was mobile, but because he wasn’t crabby!
Alas, Mr. Crabby Tree had wished for just one day to be ground-free. That day ended. He had to stick himself in the dirt again, the poor fellow. But this was the world of Dudley the Dragon. Here, dreams come true. And so it happened another shooting star appeared and Mr. Crabby Tree could make another wish. “Here we go again,” said Dudley.
That was the last time Crabby was stuck. The next time we see him, in Season Four, “Dudley and the Tiny Raincloud,” a four-leaf clover has enabled him to walk. In “Good Knight Dragon,” he’s moving around after wishing on a lucky rabbit’s foot. After that, in “Mama Crabby Tree,” Crabby became mobile after throwing a penny in a wishing well. In his next two appearances he’s fully mobile, with no explanation. His independence was a fait accompli.
But the Crabby Meister had yet another wish.
One night by a campfire, Dudley the Dragon wrapped up a game with little Julia, who recently joined the cast. Nearby is Terry, another newcomer, who’s gazing at the stars through a telescope. And next to him is Mr. Crabby Tree, who wants to play a game. But, being anchored by his roots, he can’t play tag or hide-and-seek.
“I’m stuck in the ground,” he complains. “And you know how that makes me feel?”
“Crabby?” says Terry.
“That’s right,” the tree bellows. “CRABBY!”
Luckily, a shooting star streaks across the sky. Julia tells him if he wished upon a shooting star, you might get what you wish for.
Does Mr. Crabby Tree get his wish? Find out.
Graham Greene played Mr. Crabby Tree for some 13 episodes. At the time he was best known for his work in Dances With Wolves, for which he was nominated Best Supporting Actor in the Oscars in 1990. In 1992’s Thunderheart, Greene played—oddly enough—a gruff cop on an Indian reservation. He played a Rambo-type soldier named Cherokee in Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Episode 2, “Wardogs.” But Dudley fans of all ages will forever remember him as the irascible tree whose bark covered a heart of … sap.
“With Mr. Crabby Tree, there was lots of ad-libbing and adding to the story,” Greene told The Lethbridge Herald. “We’d act really stupid until the kids came on set, and then have to settle down and act like adults.”
Executive producer Peter Williamson told The Vancouver Sun, “He really likes this job. He’s really enthusiastic. He actually phones us and says, ‘When are you shooting?”’
“I just love doing it,” Greene said to the Toronto Star after spending four hours in the rubber tree outfit. “You can be as broad and as cheap as you want to be. I can act out, go crazy . . . and I get recognized now. Not for Dances With Wolves or Die Hard 3, but as Mr. Crabby Tree.”
Seven years later, in 2005, Greene told an audience at Humber College, “I bust my tookus with all these major roles and they give me an award for being a goof in a tree costume. Two of them.”
Indeed, in 1994, Greene won a Gemini (the Canadian equivalent of the Emmy) for Best Performance in a Children’s or Youth Program or Series. He won again in 1998 for performing Crabby in the episode, “The Tiny Raincloud.”
For Greene’s 1994 victory, Williamson said, “I couldn’t resist it. I’ve told him it was the first time an actor has ever won an award for being wooden on stage.”
Sources: Bob Sokolsky, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA, June 26, 1995, “Dragon’s Show is Taken Off Endangered List,” p. B5; Greg Quill, Toronto Star, Toronto, Ontario, June 1, 1997, “Dudley the Dragon Fires Up Cast and Crew Shooting Final Season of This Hit Children’s TV Series is Both an Art and a Business,” p. B8; Kathy Kasner, The Lethbridge Herald, December 4, 1994, “Letting the Genie Out of the Bottle,” p. 3; John McKay, The Vancouver Sun, June 29, 1996, “Dudley Does Right in U.S. Market,” p. C12.
Sesame Street had Oscar the Grouch.
Dudley the Dragon had Mr. Crabby Tree.
Yes, this unhappy crabapple tree had good reason to be unhappy: He was the only apple tree in the forest. A nearby orchard had been cut down to make room for a highway. Those trees were his friends! Not only that, but people were abusing wood byproducts, like wasting paper. Nobody visited him except Didi the Woodpecker who jackhammered his bark all the time. No wonder he was so crabby. Hmph.
Crabby’s catchwords were usually “What th—?” and “Don’t touch the bark!” and a raspy laugh that went, “Hehhhhhhhhhhhhh.” And he would instantly fall asleep with a snore that ended with a “meenymeenymeenymeeny.” Or something like that.
One time, Dudley and the gang saved him from being chopped down by a nutcase who called himself the King of All Living Things. Even so, Crabby Tree tried to sour everyone’s Christmas by giving out poisoned apples—the kind that made people crabby. But the persistent duh-ragon managed to make him sorry for his misdeed, and together they restored everyone’s holiday cheer.
That Crabby Tree was a good fellow for the remainder of the series, even if he was, well, crabby.