February 1979: Marionettes by Ralph Emory, from left, of Charlie Chaplin, Liberace, Marlene Dietrich, Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel.
These photos and story by Ken Lubas appeared in the March 1, 1979, Los Angeles Times. Lubas reported:
Pinocchio dangled from a hook about the marionette maker’s workbench, but it wasn’t Geppetto who was applying the brushstrokes of color to the puppet’s face.
Ralph Emory, know professionally as Sky Highchief, was welding the brush.
The 56-year-old North Hollywood resident, known internationally for his marionettes and wax sculptures, is preparing his troupe of string puppets for an appearance in the 32nd annual International Folk Dance Festival on Saturday, March 3, at 2:30 and 8 p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center. …
Emery spends between 100 and 125 hours creating a puppet, whether an original or a likeness of a known personality.
He sculpts the head from Plasticine, an oily clay, makes a mold of it and casts it in hard rubber. Body parts are often created the same way, while some limbs are carved from pine or bass wood.
He also makes the puppet outfits, a skill with needle and thread he picked up while working on costumes and headpieces for shows like “Holiday on Ice” and “Ice Vogues.”
Costumes of known personalities are patterned after originals worn either by entertainers in major productions or public figures.
Emory said he’s a stickler for detail and noted that a gown created for a Barbra Streisand marionette required hundreds of sequins.
He said whatever profits are accrued through appearances are funneled back into creation of additional pieces. He already has several hundred.
His entertainer collection alone includes the marionette likenesses of Judy Garland, Carol Burnett, Mitzi Gaynor, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Pearl Bailey, Marlene Dietrich, Carol Channing, Phyllis Diller, Angela Lansbury and Gene Kelly.