To the left
of the main entryway, a refrigerated room holds a butter sculpture,
which changes every year to reflect the fair's main theme. The center
of the building features two kitchen areas separated by a wall.
The one facing the entrance serves as a stage for cooking demonstrations
performed by local chefs while the other side contains several ovens,
stoves, and microwaves for cooking contests. Some are traditional
and others are offbeat. Some of the categories include chocolate,
spam, pie, cake, biscuit, chili, cookie, egg, Tex Mex, barbecue,
ice cream, and pizza.
the back of the building, there is a theater capable of seating
250 people. It has served as the home of a puppet show called World
on a String for twenty years, produced by a man named John
Hardman. Raised in Wichita
Falls, he first gained his inspiration to become a puppeteer
after watching a performance at the visiting circus. His father
saw his enthusiasm and got him a set of marionettes, which he later
used to perform Little Red Riding Hood in the family garage at a
charge of five cents a person. Because John could not do the same
show repeatably and expect big crowds, he went to the library to
research puppetry, but became interested in magic. Hardman then
began the practice of performing as a magician in addition to a
puppeteer. During the summer of his junior and senior years at high
school, he filed records at radio station KFDX and learned all about
the business as his duties expanded.
After John Hardman graduated, he worked for the city's first television
station while attending Midwestern State University. He started
as a floor man but worked his way up the ladder, serving first as
a cameraman and ultimately becoming a director. He also performed
magic acts on a local show while dressed as a clown.
Hardman graduated from MSU but decided to join the Marine Cops because
his friends had joined the military. After spending three years
in South California, he moved to Dallas
and performed a cabaret show at a theater called the Eighth Day.
While working at the McKinney Avenue location in Uptown Dallas,
John received an offer to do a Punch and Judy puppet show at Six
Flags Over Texas. He agreed to the proposition and started working
for the Arlington
theme park in 1963.
Between the Punch and Judy shows, in an effort to break the boredom,
John brought in a puppet named Argyle the Snake. He used the character
to talk with the audience members and tease them. Argyle became
so popular, the park's owner told him to ditch the main show and
focus on the snake. The result was a program centering around a
snake that enjoyed teasing and insulting audience members and passersby.
Argyle became an instant hit and gained statewide recognition. In
1967, Rainbow Bakeries asked Hardman to promote the 1968 Hemisfair
using his famous puppet. John agreed and spent the entire year traveling
from town to town promoting Rainbow Bakeries and the Hemisfair through
Argyle the Snake. Once the tour was complete, the snake performed
at the grand event in San
After the Hemisfair was over, John received an offer from magician
Mark Wilson, an acquaintance who had just obtained a television
show from CBS. The program was called The Magic Land of Alakazam
and Wilson wanted Hardman to help him with the show. Hardman agreed
and moved to California. While collaborating on the program, which
lasted for six years, he worked with Sid and Marty Krofft. The future
television producers had acquired a contract with Six Flags to produce
puppet shows for its two parks. They wanted Hardman to be the head
puppeteer at the one in Arlington
and started training him on how to produce large shows.
He returned to Texas and started doing the Argyle show in addition
to his other duties. When the Krofft Brothers left for television,
Hardman was eventually put in charge of all the puppet shows at
location. He soon became responsible for all the shows of the Six
Flags chain. After Magic Mountain was acquired, he moved again to
California to help build its puppet theater and put together its
first show. His responsibilities continued to grow as the franchise
expanded. At one point, he was producing thirty-five shows a year.
It eventually became too much for him to handle and he quit his
job. He moved back to Texas, then spent
some time relaxing while his wife taught drama at a high school.
John Hopkins opened Le Theatre de Marionette in 1993 at an Arlington
mall. Because of its popularity, the owner tripled the rent, forcing
him to seek another venue. He contacted Hardman, his friend and
former supervisor, for help in this endeavor. Because he performed
an annual Scrooge show at Northpark Mall, Hardman was able to persuade
the owners to allow Hopkins to move there. A few years later, he
bought the theater and made it a place where kids could enjoy marionette
shows based on fairy tales. In addition to running the theater and
performing the Scrooge skit, he established World on a String
at the state fair and later presented The Bufford Buzzard Show.
All seemed well for John Hardman until 2013 when he discovered that
he had cancer. Despite the prognosis, he refused to stop performing.
He fought hard for two years but ultimately lost the battle, thanks
to a case of pneumonia. He may have passed away, but the memories
he provided throughout the years will remain.
December 23, 2016
© Clint Skinner
All the pictures that are not mine are either public domain or creative
commons. I provided the photographer's name.