2. Daddy – Mad Artist and Shy Genius
Arthur Grimwalt was an artistic genius. He created the Grimwalt Monsters, the original puppets and the huge helium balloon characters and subsequent animated series and related merchandise.
Dad started out as a primary school science teacher. Although the kids loved him, he was painfully shy and used an alter ego puppet, Gordy Grimwalt, to explain and illustrate scientific principles to his students. It worked wonderfully the first few weeks of school, but kids get bored easily. And poor Dad just couldn’t function effectively without Gordy by his side.
He had worked his whole life so far to be a teacher, to share his love of science with young minds. He neglected every other part of his life and his career was spiraling. It ended after the first semester the day before Christmas break when he found Gordy face down in the teacher’s lounge toilet with “Gordy Eats Wood” written in red Sharpie across his forehead.
Arthur had not yet met Enid and being alone in the world, decided to make new friends.
He made them from wood, polymer, string and fabric.
First, a revamped Gordy with a snappy lab coat and a can-do attitude. Then his creation creation made a creation and “Grimwalt’s Monster” George was born. George looked like Karloff’s Frankenstein creature, but was hungry for knowledge and always looking things up to answer “Why?” Heinrich the German Ghost was a tattle-tale and troublemaker. He was always haunting Castle Grimwalt and accusing George of malfeasance. There was Jellybean, the talking horse who loved puns. Wanda the Witch showed kids how to make fun “potions” at home; slime, modeling clay, and vinegar and baking soda volcanoes.
Arthur started doing free puppet shows at the community center and parks. The local cable access channel filmed his show and offered him a weekly spot. Seven weeks in, he was offered a move to Kids Network. 26 episodes and good money. Dad and his Monsters ran the whole contract and kept going. Science and horse puns brought him fame and fortune. Arthur was not much on fame and he stashed the money in a rusty toolbox in his workshop, living off only what he needed
.My father ate off-brand oatmeal for breakfast every day of his life. He hardly spent a dime. For interviews or public interaction, the network gopher would drag him from his workshop, hose him down and fix him up. On one star-crossed occasion, that network gopher was Enid Shields.
She was 26 and bulldozing her way to a comfy lifestyle. Arthur wouldn’t even look at her at first and when he did, he felt like his guts had been hit with a tornado. No living person he had ever met was as pretty or as forceful.
She manhandled him out of his overalls and into new clothes, fixed his hair and gave him a proper shave. She took him shoe shopping for shiny black patent leathers. She made him floss and attend to himself in all things surface-related.
Enid stood by him, awaiting his turn on the interview couch. He was shaking, dreading the spotlight.
“What’s wrong?” She brushed a hair from his shoulders.
“I hate publicity. Hate it. I look like that dumbass on the Yahtzee dice-cup. I want to go home.”
She quickly whipped out her compact and showed him his reflection in the mirror. “Do you see that dashing gentleman? Go be him. You don’t have to be Arthur Grimwalt for the next 13 minutes. Just be this guy. Pretend.”
The she kissed him.
It worked. Arthur’s natural talent for characterization took over and he suddenly was the Dashing Gentleman. Dean Martin and James Bond had a baby and it was Arthur Grimwalt. He was her puppet.
The network wanted a “pretty girl” character puppet in the mix. It seems Wanda the Witch with her purple skin and carrot nose, wasn’t pulling the 4-8 girls demographic.
Once again, Enid stepped up and got herself chosen to do the voice of lady geologist, Opal Earthquake. Opal was a pretty, blond expert on rocks and plate tectonics.
Arthur crafted the puppet lovingly, even pushed back network deadlines to make her just right. And just right looked a hell of a lot like Enid Shields.
I have to give Enid credit for her effort in giving Opal’s lines meaning. She worked hard to understand the science and exude confidence as a behind-the-scenes starlet. Although what Arthur was teaching was geared toward children, Enid had never cared nor paid attention to her education. She found herself admiring this shy genius.
Arthur was on an upward trajectory in every way. And a year after Opal showed up, he made a last minute script change and Gordy proposed to Opal right in the middle of a skit about the Earth’s core, crust and mantle.
And Enid, for the first time in her ladder-climbing life, was caught off guard and flooded with love for him. Opal said yes. And Enid said yes. And Arthur could not have asked her any other way.
He bought the sprawling ranch house and woods on the land that backed up to his work shed or La-BOR-a-tory as he called it. He gave her free rein to decorate and furnish and have people over.
She was happy. He had squirrelled away a lot of dough. He warned her, though, that he may still spend most of his time in the work shed. He slept there most nights and that did not change. Once, Enid said that he only slept in the house two nights during their entire marriage. That’s how Louis and I showed up.
And I spent most of my toddler years in the workshop with him. Aside from dressing me up and showing me off, Enid wanted little to do with maternal work. She named me Dahlia after her favorite flower. Arthur called me “Dolly Daisy”, his best creation.
And as soon as I could hold a saw or a screwdriver, he taught me to build and fix and help. Once, I saw the skeleton of Heinrich the German Ghost and began to cry. Dad hurried in and showed me how it was just a machine.
“Look, Dolly.” He flopped the legs about. “It’s just what holds up the mask and the sheet. His knee wasn’t bending, so I am fixing him.”
I was fascinated. It wasn’t scary at all. I never did like Heinrich, and in a way, it was like seeing him naked. He came from my dad’s imagination; that shadow place where all attention seeking bad behavior lives. And this was his physical body of polished wood and metal hinge wrapped in a skin of fabric and rubber.
Every puppet’s face was a complex build of sliding planes that worked together to copy human expressions. I could see the love that Arthur put into their creation. Oh I wanted to be a creator like Dad.
“Oh Dolly, you will have more to do than this. You are so loved! The world is big and you will not live in a shed with puppets like I do!” He smiled and winked at me, but it was clouded with abject loneliness.
“I love you, Dad. Louis loves you!” This was true. Although Louis was very small and very afraid of the puppets. He would not come out the shed unless Enid left him alone in the house.
“So many people love you, Dad.” I hugged him. Arthur did not like being hugged, except by his children. Preferably the ones not made from wood and metal.