Once upon a time, children’s toy boxes contained charming puppets made right here in Kansas City, and sold around the world.
It’s not make-believe that Hazelle Hedges Rollins (1910-1984) created a business in her parents’ basement, trademarked her name, and received four patents for her marionette designs.
In 1934, Hazelle was a recent graduate of the University of Kansas with a Fine Arts degree. She made her first marionette at the request of a young neighbor to accompany an Italian marionette he had just received.
A year later, she trademarked her name, created her first characters, and began applying for patents. US2113839A introduced the “airplane” style controller, which made it easier for children to operate a marionette, reducing the problem of tangled strings.
She took her designs to the toy show in New York and received orders from major department stores such as Macy’s and Gimble’s because her designs were affordable and sized just for children.
By the time Hazelle Inc. moved its puppet factory to its final location at 1224 Admiral Blvd. in 1957, she had married and had two children. She employed 50 workers in the factory, making heads and costumes, with a sales team of 11 that sold 250,000 puppets at 1,800 stores across America and beyond.
Hand puppets were added to the line of marionettes in 1956. At the peak of production, 300 different styles of marionettes, puppets and finger puppets carried the Hazelle label.
At the factory store, everything a child needed to produce their own shows was available, including stages and plays. Familiar storybook characters were offered as marionettes or puppets, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or Jack and Jill.
Shown here, the duck was available for $3, or as a set with other animals and a farmer. The finger puppets sold as a set of 4 for $5.
In 1975, Hazelle retired and sold her remaining designs to Creative Animations. A gallery of Hazelle creations is on display at the Puppetry Arts Institute, 11025 Winner Rd. or at www.puppetryartinstitute.org.