In the first season, Dudley sauntered around the woods with his right arm constantly resting on his chest.
Likewise, the same thing had happened with Big Bird on Sesame Street.
“When we first started, the first few months, his right arm was pinned to his side, so that it looked like Big Bird had a broken wing,” recalled puppeteer Caroll Spinney. “A couple of years ago there was a show called Dudley the Dragon on PBS. I remember someone said to us, ‘It’s nice that they have this handicapped dragon (because his right arm was motionless).’ I said, ‘No. They haven’t discovered how to move the arm like we did.’ ”
The solution, Spinney pointed out, was attaching a line to the otherwise-useless arm. “It does move, thanks to that monofilament, which is fishing line. It shows once in a while—the light will glimmer on it. Of course, we don’t like that to happen. That way when I move my left arm (because that’s the only free arm I have left) it merely seesaws on the string. But at least that way it’s not totally inert.”
According to Spinney, Jim Rankin’s team applied the same solution and he observed, “And sure enough, about a month later [Dudley’s] right arm was moving.”
The modification occurred for Dudley‘s second season. In addition, the eyelids became flexible, giving the dragon a greater degree of expression and less of a constant bug-eyed look. But it wasn’t until “The Living Doll” that Dudley’s eyelids could move at will. They could blink.
In later episodes, further modifications added some bulk to the front, but also eliminated the gashes in the neck through which the puppeteer could see. How the puppeteer could see through the costume is no longer apparent.
The end result: Dudley looked a little less like a puppet and more like a creature. For the audience, it became easier to focus on the character and not what he was made of.
Source: Robert Hatch and William Hatch, The Hero Project, McGraw-Hill, 2006, p. 112.
Trivia: Dudley, at eight feet in height, is two inches shorter than Big Bird.
One advantage of being a member of SCBWI-Los Angeles, and a member of their listserv, is receiving tips from the writing community.
Literary agent Jennifer Laughran has just posted her recommendations for word counts in various fiction categories. Noted for future reference.
Alex Galatis wore the costume for Dudley the Dragon‘s first two seasons. After that, Kirk Dunn performed the character while Galatis continued providing his voice. The blend was seamless.
In May 1999, Dunn recalled winning the role: “I showed up for this audition. They put me into a body puppet. My right arm went up inside the dragon’s head. And they pointed a camera at me and pointed a video monitor towards me and said, ‘OK, you’re going to be Dudley. Go ahead.’ And I tried. … Sometimes I could get the lips to move right but then he’d be looking at the ceiling and then I made him look at the ceiling but then his lips wouldn’t move. I thought it was a disaster. I ended up thinking, well, that was one for the books. I’ll just forget about that and try to continue on with my life.”
As it turned out, Dunn got to play the lovable dragon after all. “Actors will do virtually anything for money,” he said. “The Dudley gig was great because it was a regular gig on TV, which was more money than on stage, so I was thrilled to get the audition.”
Dunn performed the character at schools and other public venues. As he did, he discovered Dudley had fans. Lots of them. The kids saw him as more than just a puppet. He was a friend. When Dunn wore the dragon suit for a school visit in Atlanta, Georgia, hundreds of students and their parents crowded into the gym and chanted Dudley’s name.
Executive producer Peter Williamson was stunned. “I was quite taken aback because I didn’t realize he was quite that famous,” he told John McKay of the Canadian Press.
Working the cumbersome dragon suit was challenging. Dunn had to operate the dragon’s mouth, arms and hands, and eyelids, remember the dialog, pour emotion into the dialog, watch where to step with his vision restricted, and react with comedic timing, all the while smothered in a bulky eight-foot costume with oversized sneakers.
“A lot of the time the process doesn’t allow for art,” Dunn told CBC Radio One. “For example, on the TV set, they’re interested in speed, and getting it down quickly and doing it effectively. So I’m worried about the speed and hitting your mark and saying all the right words you can’t worry about the artistry of it. But that happens after you get comfortable and that’s something you try to put in there to keep it alive because that’s so easy to get in there to begin with. I think anybody who gets in there to do art for art’s sake—I think we all do—we become really frustrated and somewhat bitter when we’re not allowed to find that art again; when it gets beaten out of it. It’s up to you as an actor or an artist to make sure you keep it in there in whichever way you can.”
Dunn was glad the costume hid what he really looked like.
“If you’re going to be goofy, it’s good that people don’t know who you are. So they would say, ‘Oh, he’s a goofy guy; he can only do goofy stuff.’ Which is a good thing about nobody seeing my face because they can’t typecast me as Dudley.”
Beyond his skills as an actor, Dunn has extended his creative palette as a writer, textile artist and corporate coach.
“The money has come and gone for Dudley; I think it’s in RSP [Retirement Savings Plan, a Canadian account] somewhere, so it’s still working for me, somehow,” he said on CBC Radio. “Now I’m doing some writing to keep the money coming in; I’m doing lots of auditions again so if anybody wants to audition me, please feel free.”
Learn more about Dunn’s talents at his website, here.
Sources: Kirk Dunn interview on CBC Radio One, Monday, May 31, 1999; John McKay, The Vancouver Sun, June 29, 1996, “Dudley Does Right in U.S. Market,” p. C12. Special thanks to Kirk Dunn.
Joseph Barbera and his partner Bill Hanna have entertained millions with Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, the Flintstones and hundreds of other cartoons. One reason for their success, Barbera revealed, was in choosing appealing voices for his characters.
“Voices make or break your show,” he said. “When I’m casting a voice, I close my eyes and listen. If you can’t smile when you hear that thing, then you haven’t got a hit.”
Though he was not a Hanna-Barbera creation, Dudley certainly passed the Joe Barbera test. Close your eyes. Listen to Dudley. Do you smile?
His voice combined several cartoonish qualities. It had the goofy tones of Bullwinkle, as if you could hear the echoes in his brain. It had the giddy effervescence of Wally Gator, pitching up and down like a yo-yo. It had the rustic accent of Gomer Pyle. That is, he would sometimes add an extra syllable to words. With Gomer, “Shazam!” was “Sha-ZA-yum!” With Dudley, “Dragon” was “Duh-ra-gon,” “there” was “they-er,” and “tired” was “ti-yerd.”
Said Alex Galatis, “I know the character so well that performing him is like slipping into a comfortable bed. Dudley’s worst quality — though I find it charming — is his tendency to be dramatic, to be a little histrionic. For Dudley, things don’t just taste good, they’re DEE-licious.”
The actor gave Dudley a loopy sense of humor, engaging in one-liners and pithy observations, particularly in the early episodes. Kind of like a spontaneous improv routine. Sally: “We’ll help you find a new home.” Dudley: “Yaayyy.” Sally: “But we don’t know where it is.” Dudley: “Boooo.”
Galatis did more than just perform the duh-ragon. He co-created Dudley’s TV series, served as its story editor and wrote most of its episodes, plus contributed lyrics to some of the songs. The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon was truly creator-driven.
Sources: Digby Diehl, People Weekly, v. 27, n. 11, March 16, 1987, “Joe Barbera: He’s America’s Busiest Baby-Sitter—the Prolific Craftsman of TV Cartooning” ; Justin Smallbridge, Maclean‘s, February 19, 1996, “Dudley is No Dud; Children Love the Goofy Canadian Dragon,” p. 62.
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?