tv Bulls Bears FOX Business July 23, 2017 6:00am-6:30am EDT
we'd love to hear it. send me an e-mail or go to our website, strangeinheritance.com. >> he makes big-screen magic... >> he was indeed a genius. he had the eye. >> ...but his heart belongs to this tiny stage. >> they're spectacular, down to the finest detail. >> this was the place where he poured all of his love. [ woman vocalizing ] >> so how did these guys inherit his life's work? >> i was a senior in high school, and i was looking for a job that i wouldn't hate. >> you feel like you might be sitting on a gold mine? >> must their show go on? >> it would be...over. >> it would be gone. everything would be dismantled and somewhere in a dumpster. >> or will the fat lady sing? [ operatic singing ] [ door creaks ] [ wind howls ] [ thunder rumbles ]
[ bird caws ] >> i'm jamie colby, and today i'm in rolling meadows, illinois. it's a suburb of chicago. some weather, huh? i'm here to meet two brothers whose strange inheritance had some serious strings attached. >> my name is justin snyder. and in 2006, our friend and mentor bill fosser passed away, leaving my brother and me a sort of chicago institution -- his puppet opera. >> hi, justin. i'm jamie. >> jamie, nice to meet you. >> i'm told that you have something that i may never see again. >> here, follow me. >> i will. justin leads me behind the scenes of a most unusual opera house. >> all these boxes here contain costumes for various, different productions. >> wow! this is my kind of wardrobe. if only it came in my size.
the costumes are so small because the players taking the stage aren't the supersized tenors and sopranos you expect to see at the opera. they're 16-inch puppets. the maestro behind this pint-size production, justin's boss, the late bill fosser. who was bill fosser? >> bill fosser taught me everything i know about puppetry. he had a unique ability to re-create full-scale environments, but in a miniature scale. he was one of my best friends. >> fosser, born in 1928, grows up in a working-class neighborhood on chicago's west side. >> he described himself as a sickly child. he was stuck at home a lot and would experiment with household materials to try to kind of create his own puppets. >> in 1935, when bill is 7, his aunt takes him to his first opera, verdi's "il trovatore."
he's enchanted by it all -- the music, the costumes, and the stage design. >> he fell in love with the art form of opera, but he was always interested in -- in puppets and then, eventually, just combined the two. >> the boy builds a mini opera house with a velvet curtain and assembles his company of players. >> he told us that he used to offer performances to kids in the neighborhood for like a penny. >> turns out, puppet opera is an actual thing in those days. bill sees an article in the paper about a lavish restaurant in chicago that's adding a puppet opera to its bill of fare. the place is called kungsholm. >> kungsholm was a swedish smorgasbord and a puppet theater all in one. >> steve golden was six when he saw his first show at the kungsholm. that led to a lifelong career as a professional puppeteer, who also handles purchases and acquisitions for the
northwest puppet center in seattle. so, steve's childhood experience at the kungsholm left an impression. >> you came to the restaurant and you were given a complementary ticket to the puppet miniature grand opera. >> was it an institution in chicago? >> oh, was it ever? to go there was a highlight of a day. >> how fabulous. opera stars and socialites flocked to see kungsholm puppets perform arias from operas such as "madame butterfly" or "the barber of seville." so, 14-year-old bill fosser takes his best handmade puppet and talks his way into a summer job at the theater. soon, he, too, is hooked for life. he becomes an expert puppetmaker and patents a design for a puppet with more natural body movements than the ones used at the kungsholm. >> this is one of the original kungsholm puppets.
the operator would be underneath and there's a series of rods and strings. >> justin's brother, shayne snyder, is the other heir in our story. >> these two here are made by bill fosser and these were actually two of bill's favorite puppets. this is canio from "pagliacci", and this is lakmè from the opera "lakmè." >> so, it was bill who advanced this technique of the rings and the rods? >> correct. he made many improvements to the design, like giving them a little bit of a joint here and then the walking. >> can you make them walk? >> mm-hmm. >> unbelievable. >> and you can get a lot of range of movement and motions just from lifting and turning the rod. >> ingenious, but it's tough to make a buck in puppets. so, bill only works off and on at the kungsholm, though he pays the bills with another skill he perfects there. he's a sought-after stage designer at full-scale chicago theaters. >> he was indeed a genius.
he had the eye. >> actor tony mockus performed on some of bill's sets in the early days. >> every now and then, you're lucky enough to work with people who have that kind of an ability and bill has that ability. >> eventually, the kungsholm falls into disrepair, closes, and re-opens as a steakhouse with no puppets. >> bill opens his own puppet theater. he's never married, has no kids, so it's his baby. [ gasps ] oh, my! he christens it "opera in focus." >> he had the idea of, like, a camera lens in mind, so it's like looking through the lens of camera at this weird, miniature world. >> bill built this? >> he built all of this, yes, indeed. [ "the pearl fishers" plays ]
bill sort of single-handedly kept the art form alive. >> he didn't have a patron. i mean, if he were in europe, he would have been flooded with cash. >> he needs it. bill's first performances barely break even. luckily, around the same time, hollywood comes calling. >> word got around in california that if you're going to chicago, you get ahold of fosser. >> he designs the sets for "home alone" and "curly sue" and a couple of best picture winners, too. >> "the sting," "ordinary people." >> great credits, but it all was just a way to fund his miniature opera. >> in bill's heart, puppets were number one. it's what he lived for. >> in 1993, at 65, bill takes his dream retirement. he leaves the film biz and moves his puppet opera to the chicago suburb of rolling meadows.
curtains rise and fall, and after a few more years, bill realizes he needs more help and, though he doesn't say so at the time, an heir or two. he places a want ad in the newspaper. it's answered by 18-year-old justin snyder. >> when i told him that i wanted to be a puppeteer, he kind of chuckled and he said, "well, if you're gonna work here, you're gonna have to be an all-purpose evil henchman." >> what exactly does that mean? [ vocalizes ] >> natural puppeteer. >> i'll find out in act two, right after intermission. ♪ >> but first, our "strange inheritance" quiz question. the answer after the break.
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operas with 16-inch puppets for captivated audiences in the chicago suburbs. >> boy, he knew opera backwards and forwards. he knew when the tenor was going to take a breath... when the soprano would hit her high c's. you were just swept away. >> but bill's in his 70s -- the old ticker's not what it used to be, and he has no family to take over his labor of love. so, in the summer of 2000, he advertises for an apprentice. >> i was a senior in high school, and i was looking for a job that i wouldn't hate. >> justin's brother, shayne, is intrigued, too. they both interview with fosser. >> when i told him that i wanted to be a puppeteer, he kind of chuckled and he said, "well, if you're gonna work here, you're gonna have to be an all-purpose evil henchman."
>> oh, my. >> so, right off the bat, it was like a crash-course. >> bill teaches them all he knows -- how to design and mold puppets out of polyester resin, how to operate the sound, special effects, and everything else it takes to run one of the most technically sophisticated puppet shows in the world. you think i could learn how to be a puppeteer? >> we'll have you manipulating the puppets like a pro. >> here under the stage, the chairs have been shaved down until the seats rest inches from the floor. all right, guys, what am i doing here? >> all right, so here's your shot at the big time. shayne's gonna demonstrate here on his puppet. so, basically your left hand is gonna control the central mechanism of the puppets, which is front and back, and then there you go, perfect. >> okay. >> all right, and then this little lever here is the side-to-side motion of the head. >> she's turning her head. wow. >> if you twist this wheel, you'll see that her legs will start to walk. >> okay. >> and -- there you go. >> there she goes. >> then you can control the
direction of the arm by how you twist it, so i'm gonna hand that one to you. >> okay. >> and that's how you control the arm movements. >> [ vocalizes ] it is very complicated. it's a lot of different movements at the same time. >> you're a natural puppeteer. >> natural puppeteer. >> justin and shayne become bill fosser's natural puppeteers. they're hooked. >> he was like a hero to me. >> it was something that i aspired to be like. >> they skip college, remain under bill's wings, and grow into a much bigger role in the old man's life. you feel like you might have been his surrogate sons? >> definitely, and he told us that all the time, that he looked at us like we were the children that he never had. >> and the heirs he dearly wants to carry on his work. >> he just asked, "what would you think about the idea of continuing this after i'm gone?" and i was just like, "sure, you know."
>> that casual offer and acceptance put bill fosser's mind at ease. for five more years, he throws his heart into this labor of love... until it finally gives out. bill fosser exits life's stage at age 77. what was the impact of losing him? >> it was really hard. as good of a job as he did in preparing us for taking over the theater, you don't really know how unequipped you are until you're thrown into that position. >> the puppets, the stage, the costumes, the institution -- their strange inheritance turns out to be pretty valuable, too. looks to me like bill might have invested a lot of his money in this. >> for sure. >> do you know how much? >> bill told me that he had invested over a million dollars into it. it's actually -- >> holy smokes! >> yeah. >> back in the '80s, the puppets were insured by lloyd's of london for $6,000 each. >> how many were there? >> back then, i believe bill had 32 "opera in focus" puppets.
>> that's significant. >> yes. >> 192k significant. and steve golden, of the northwest puppet center, says they would go for a lot more now. at one point, bill had these appraised at about $6,000 each. >> about $6,000. >> do you think that these have held their value today? >> i would say it certainly has held its value because if you just look at every part of the makeup of it, it's worth every penny that's in there. depending on which collector finds out about it, you could possibly get $10,000 for it. >> you're trying to maintain what is a chicago institution, but you feel like you might be sitting on a gold mine? ready for one more plot twist to bill fosser's libretto? it's his final wish for the puppet opera... what did he tell you? >> ...after the break. >> here's another quiz question for you. fantastic mr. fox?
rudolph the red-nosed reindeer? or the evil other mother from "coraline"? the answer when we return. potsch: you each drive a ford pickup, right? (in unison) russ, leland, gary: yes. gary: i have a ford f-150. michael: i've always been a ford guy. potsch: then i have a real treat for you today. michael: awesome. potsch: i'm going to show you a next generation pickup. michael: let's do this. potsch: this new truck now has a cornerstep built right into the bumper. gary: super cool. potsch: the bed is made of high-strength steel, which is less susceptible to punctures than aluminum. jim: aluminum is great for a lot of things, but maybe not the bed of a truck. potsch: and best of all, this new truck is actually- gary: (all laughing) oh my... potsch: the current chevy silverado. gary: i'm speechless. gary: this puts my ford truck to shame. james: i'll tell you, i might be a chevy guy now. (laughing)
>> so... it's "c," the evil other mother from the 2009 movie "coraline." >> in 2006, chicago puppeteer bill fosser dies and leaves his puppet opera to his two pupils, shayne and justin snyder. the brothers want to keep it alive. they even hire their own apprentices. meanwhile, local reporters aren't helping.
they keep reporting it's dead. >> we had to struggle with the media referring to the puppet opera in past tense. all the articles that came out would say like, "'opera in focus' was a puppet theater." >> attendance at their tiny suburban theater hits an all-time low. then, in 2011, a record rainfall floods the theater. justin's sure it's curtains. >> that was probably the end. >> but you had insurance? no insurance? >> no insurance. we had looked into insuring them, but the problem is, the monthly insurance costs were so high that it was unaffordable to us. >> luckily, the brothers had the forethought to stow their uninsured puppets high enough, and they stay dry. but the rest of the place is a mess. >> when the rains finally stopped, they brought in an industrial mold specialist who was basically like, "yeah, we have to tear this place apart." >> no. wait, it gets worse. turns out, before he died,
bill fosser made a highly unusual request to his heirs. what did he tell you? >> well, originally, what he had said is that if the puppet theater were ever to close down, he wanted us to destroy everything. >> destroy, like, "gone"? this? >> everything, yeah. >> why? >> he viewed it as the puppets are instruments, kind of like a violin being stuck in a display case somewhere and not performing its purpose. he found that idea unbearable. >> it would be...over. >> it would be dismantled and somewhere in a dumpster. >> will they need to do that? >> how much do you make doing this? >> showtime! >> that's next. what's your "strange inheritance" story? we'd love to tell it. send me an e-mail or go to our website -- strangeinheritance.com. copd makes it hard to breathe. so to breathe better,
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>> here's where we left justin and shayne snyder, the heirs in this story. a flood in chicago closes "opera in focus," which the brothers inherited from master puppeteer bill fosser. >> we were worried that we might not be able to come back from that just 'cause of the cost involved of rebuilding it all. >> they don't have insurance, but the building does. the landlord agrees the show must go on and pays for the renovation of their 65-seat theater. >> we rebuilt it all from scratch. that was definitely a scary moment. >> but doesn't end their worries. the hiatus further depresses their bottom line. how much do you make doing this? >> we've had productions that have brought in $8,000, maybe, but then we have really poor productions that have maybe brought in $400. >> you must be a pretty wealthy guy to be able to keep this up. >> unfortunately, um, none of us are wealthy. >> are you even breaking even here? >> it's definitely not something you're gonna become a
millionaire doing. >> that apprentice ad they answered years ago led to a rewarding vocation, not a well-paying one. do you have another job? >> i carve stone for a living. my brother works at a toy factory. >> do you see yourself being able to continue this financially? >> as long as there are people out here in the audience, we'll keep doing it. >> we welcome you, our guests of all ages, to this performance of william b. fosser's puppet production of "opera in focus." >> showtime! [ applause ] >> as the lights dim and their newest production, puccini's "turandot," begins, it strikes me that i'm not listening just to opera. it's the call of a siren that proved irresistible to our two young heirs, as it was to bill fosser before them. [ operatic singing ] let me ask you this, steve. do you think that bill left these fine, young men, who were as devoted to him as he was to
them, an inheritance that's a burden or a benefit? >> burdens yield benefits. >> puppeteer steve golden, you'll recall, was seduced by these same sirens. he believes, somewhere, bill fosser is shouting "encore!" >> i think bill would be as pleased as punch that this is happening. >> and no doubt grateful to the two young men he named as his heirs all those years ago. but i wonder about that request bill made, that they should destroy all these beautiful puppets if the opera ever closed. is that a request they could ever honor? the brothers vow, succeed or fail, it will never happen. >> i feel like it's a priceless art form. we could never actually destroy anything here. i think bill knew that these puppets to us, again, just like to him, they're like family.
[ singing continues ] [ applause ] >> bill fosser might not be with them, but justin and shayne want to make sure the art of puppet opera lives on. so, every year, in honor of the man they grew to love like a father, they perform bill's favorite aria, "cielo e mar," or, "sky and sea" from la gioconda. [ operatic singing ] the fact that bill's puppet opera is still up and running, more than 60 years after he started it, that would be music to his ears. i'm jamie colby. thanks so much for watching
"strange inheritance." and remember -- you can't take it with you. [ singing continues ] ♪ >> they hound everyone in show biz. >> look! it's ingrid bergman! janet leigh. there's natalie wood. >> ...and get their autograph... >> audrey hepburn. steve mcqueen. ronald reagan. >> ronald reagan? is that angelina jolie? >> ...thousands of them! >> it really became an obsession and a drug. >> an obsession that fathered this man's strange inheritance. >> i basically got hundreds and hundreds of boxes. >> this is truly unbelievable. what was your reaction when you saw the magnitude of what he had? >> i was blown away. >> but does the heir really know what he's signing up for? >> $4,250. now $4,500.