Hurvínek celebrates 90 years at the City Museum

A group of Czech puppets has been entertaining audiences since the 1920s

The wooden puppets Spejbl and Hurvínek have been entertaining Czechoslovak children since the 1920s. They may not be so well-known to expats and foreigners, but the duo and their companions are a local institution. The City Museum of Prague will have a special exhibition of the puppets for Hurvínek's 90th birthday.

The exhibition will run to Feb. 19, 2017, and offers interactive features. Visitors can enter large boxes representing the birthday presents for Hurvínek, and see the what Spejbl and fellow puppets Mánička and Bábinka have given him. The walls of the boxes will be covered in memories, but written only in Czech. Žeryk the dog will be there with the other puppets, but he did not bring a present apparently.

Visitors will be able to pose for pictures with the puppets and even try their skills playing with them.

Episodes of evening bedtime stories featuring the puppets used to air on television, and the stage for playing with the puppets resembles an old TV. There are several side programs for schools related to the exhibition, and a few guided tours for families as well, but also only in Czech.

Hurvínek made his first appearance May 2, 1926, at an encore to an evening performance in Plzeň by puppeteer Josef Skupa. Hurvínek is a boy who alternates between being lazy and hyperactive.

The puppet's father, Spejbl, made his debut in 1920. The father is a bit on the slow side. The two when put together made a big hit on the cabaret circuit in Western Bohemia.

They were later joined by two other people who share an apartment with them — a girl named Mánička and Mrs. Kateřina Hovorková, alias granny Bábinka. Plus of course the talking dog Žeryk. The relationship between Hurvínek and Mánička has been compared to that of Bart and Lisa Simpson, a friendship that at times can be antagonistic.

Josef Skupa originally did the puppetry and voices for Spejbl and Hurvínek, and over the years a number of others have taken over.

The actual Spejbl and Hurvínek puppets, as well as Žeryk, were carved by Gustav Nosek, a puppeteer born in Cheb. Mánička as she now appears and Mrs. Kateřina are by Zdeněk Juřena. Unlike the other puppets, Mánička has changed her look over the years to keep up a bit with changing attitudes.

There were several other events this year for the 90th birthday including a concert and another exhibition at a puppetry museum in Chrudim. A private mint also issued some commemorative coins.

The puppets are not entirely relegated to the museum. A theater in Prague's Dejvice neighborhood, Divadlo Spejbla a Hurvínka, still stages shows with them for adults and children. A dispute over the trademark to the puppets was settled by the Czech Supreme Court in 2007. Helena Štáchová now owns the rights to the characters. She has been performing the role of Mánička since 1967 and she took over operation of the Prague theater in 1997, when her husband, puppeteer Miloš Kirschner, passed away. Štáchová also dubs the voice of Lisa Simpson on the Czech version of the Simpsons cartoon series.

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