Lou Bunin: Alice In Wonderland and Other Strange Tales

Produced in Paris in 1948, Bunin's Alice combined a live actor (Alice) with stop-motion animation. Disney tried numerous times to block this production, but both the Disney version and Bunin's were released in 1951. Unfortunately, Disney had the power, and he used his leverage to prevent Bunin's version from being widely distributed in theaters at the time. Bunin's version never faded away though - it has been restored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and has a "cult" following around the world.

Lou had a fascinating life - he studied art in Paris in the early 1920's; mural-making in Mexico with Diego Rivera in the late '20s; worked in Hollywood at MGM on the Ziegfeld Follies in the 1930's; lived in post-war France in the 1940's - where he made Alice in Wonderland; was blacklisted in the 1950's, and re-focused on painting and sculpture from the 1960's on.

In this blog, you will find rare photographs and other interesting bits of information from the family archives.

Check for information on the auction of Bunin's puppets and artwork from this film (June 10-12, 2010).

Clips from Lou's films are available at:

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Well, I'm told that there are spiderwebs gathering on my blog. This blog thing is new to me, and it's a little bit like exercise - you start off strong, then miss a day or two... and then... well, you can see what happens. Don't ask me about the exercise program...
For starters, the auction at Profiles in History was fabulous! Thanks so much to the folks at PIH and to everyone who participated... My husband and I were screaming like football fans when we watched it online. :)
I thought I'd upload a note that I found in my father's files recently, describing his contribution to the stop motion field. I don't know to whom he was writing, but it seems pertinent still.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Olde Bangum

As much as he loved stop motion and special effects, Lou always kept his fondness for marionettes. One day he and his good friends, folk singers Jean Ritchie and Oscar Brand, were visiting and decided to do a film together. The life-size (if you're a baby) marionettes used for the film are up for auction in June. A version of the film that Jean Ritchie and her husband, George Pickow distributed many years later is on youtube:

Lou liked to tell the story about Peter Pickow (Jean and George's 15 month old son). He had just learned to walk when the filming started, but by the time it was over Peter was steady on his feet. He is supposed to trip and fall at the end, but the filmmmakers (Lou and George) couldn't get him falling on film. So, Oscar came to the rescue and rigged a string to trip him! Would that fly these days? ;-)

Here is a publicity piece that Lou wrote about the film when he was distributing short films to schools in the 1960s:

And here is a picture of the Dragon (my favorite) today:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The birth of Foodini

In the early 1930’s, Lou returned to New York from Mexico and founded the Bunin Puppets. He enlisted his former girlfriend, Hope Shippee, and his younger brother Morey to travel and perform with him. One of the puppets Lou designed was an organ grinder, named Spudini. Spudini was featured in a puppet show in Albany in 1933, and again in a show at Sterns Department Store in NY. Lou left the Bunin Puppets a few months later, sometime after Hope married Morey. Morey renamed the puppet Foodini and developed a character around him; Foodini and his sidekick, Pinhead, later became one of the first children’s shows on an exciting new medium – Television! The original organ grinder puppet is also in the June 10 Profiles in History auction, along with these photographs and articles.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Ziegfeld Follies

In the early 1940s, Lou was hired by MGM producer Arthur Freed to create puppet versions of some the the stars of the Ziegfeld Follies. He designed charactures of Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Fannie Brice, Bert Williams, Lady Astor, and others. They can be seen on

Eddie Cantor is the only puppet left in the family; he will be on sale in the June auction. My mother, Florence, designed the costumes for all the puppets. Here is one of my favorite pictures of her:

 It took over a year to animate the roughly 10 minute sequence for MGM. Lou claimed that, when W.C. Fields saw the preview, he turned to a friend and said, "Those damn puppets! Why couldn't live actors get those jobs?"

And by the way, many thanks to John Canemaker for the wonderful article he wrote on my father, published in PRINT Magazine in September 1987. I refer to it constantly when I write about Lou. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Insight TV

So, these puppets were in my attic for about thirty years, until I consigned them to auction (PIH). But my sisters and I don't know anything about the TV series. Any "insights" from my readers? I'd love to know more about it...


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Disney Problem

Lou began working on Alice in 1946, just after the end of World War II. The way he told it, French francs were “frozen” after the war, and couldn’t be exported. They also were terribly inflated, and worth less every day. One way to get money out of the country was to invest in an American film, which could be produced in France and then shipped to America. Lou was working at MGM on a stop-motion puppet prologue to Ziegfield Follies (more on that another day) when he was approached by a French film writer, M. Aisner. The plan was to make a film of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland in both French and English, using a live actress for Alice and stop-motion puppets for all the other characters. Lou loved the idea, and began collaborating with his Hollywood colleagues right away. He hired Art Babbitt, a former Disney animator, to design the motions of the puppets. He also had Bernyce Polifka and Gene Flury, a husband-and-wife design team from the Warner Brother’s cartoon studio, design the stylized sets and characters (these original sketches, drawings, paintings and collages will be part of the Profiles In History auction on June 10-12, 2010).

Unfortunately for Lou, Walt Disney also had plans to do an animated Alice. When he got wind of Lou’s plans, Disney promptly took Lou to court, claiming that he had the rights to the story and Lou should not be allowed to proceed. Of course Alice was in public domain, and the case was thrown out of court. This did not please Disney, who was notoriously ruthless when he didn’t get his way. Disney controlled Technicolor, the only good color film process around, and would not permit Lou’s production to use it. Lou was forced to use an inferior quality film process, Ansco, which was a technical disaster – the color was never crisp, and it varied from reel to reel – sometimes Alice would look tinged with red, sometimes blue. Worse, Disney used his influence to prevent theaters from showing the film on its release in 1951 (the same year as Disney’s version).

And yes, in case you are wondering, the venerable Walt Disney was always considered the “bad guy” in my house.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Mexico Years

In 1928, Lou and a friend, Morey Sostrin, saved up enough money to buy a used Model-T Ford and drove from Chicago to Mexico City, where he had lined up an apprenticeship with the world-famous muralist Diego Rivera. One of Lou’s favorite stories about the trip was how, at some point in the countryside of Mexico, he and Morey got lost. They couldn’t figure out where they were on the map, and they didn’t know which road to take, so they looked up “lost” in their Spanish/English dictionary (“perdito”) and asked directions of a local man. To their dismay, the man started laughing hysterically and called over all his friends to tell them of their predicament. All his friends laughed too. It seems that the word they found meant “spiritually lost on the road to Hell,” not “where is the road?” lost. For the next few hundred miles, whenever Lou and Morey pulled into a village, they were immediately surrounded by throngs of laughing villagers, calling to each other to see, “Los Americanos Perdidos!” Lou never figured out how they knew about him before he arrived – he traveled much faster in his car than they could, and there were no phones – but they always knew!

Lou stayed in Mexico for two years. He studied murals with Rivera, but he also became deeply involved in puppet shows. While there he met Rene d’Harnoncourt, who later became director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Lou put on a puppet show at the American Embassy with d’Harnoncourt, and hired a very young Ann Morrow (who later married Charles Lindbergh) as his assistant. He also collaborated with photographer Tina Modotti, who took many pictures of him and his puppets. Here are some of the better known photos.