Tommy Atkins (nee Ruth Atkins), female ventriloquist and magician, was a TV pioneer and a Storytown fixture.
Atkins wrote and directed USO Shows after graduating Syracuse University in 1947. She moved to Schenectady and took a job as a receptionist at WRGB. Within a year she was writing and producing her own TV program, “Story Time for Children, ” which aired every Monday afternoon until around 1952.
Here’s how the show was described:
“With a group of small children seated beside her, Tommy tells a fairy story. As she relates the fable, other children at the blackboards portray what they think these characters look like. Children at home before television receivers are also asked to draw pictures of the characters and send them to the station. The three to make the best pictures are invited to the studio to participate in the following week’s show and each is rewarded with a membership and button in the WRGB-TV Club.”
When her TV show ended, Tommy took her puppets and went on the road for General Electric, entertaining at trade shows, product seminars, and customer presentations. To fill in time between her GE gigs, she established Tommy Atkins Productions, a professional entertainment agency in Scotia in 1955. Atkins became a familiar local figure, performing at a myriad of events for schools, car dealers, fairs and charities, with such productions as “A Trip to Outer Space” (starring Cookie and Oogie the Astronaut) and “Cookie’s Christmas Castle.”
Tommy spent many hours entertaining at children’s and veterans’ hospitals, and for the American Red Cross, and was a regular on CP and MD telethons. Here’s one from the early 1990’s.
The latter half of Atkins’ career was spent in Lake George, dressed as a cowgirl. Several generations of happy kids got to know her as Deputy Sheriff Tommy Atkins (or Lady Marshal Tommy Atkins), sidekick of Marshal Windy Billy McKay at Storytown’s Ghost Town, and later the Great Escape. For thirty years, McKay, Atkins, and puppets Oogie and Cookie did several shows daily and interacted with the audience, handing out tin stars and “deputizing” children.
Tommy Atkins was co-founder and past-president of the Capital District Ring 186 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, founder of All Magic Day and recipient of the Merlin Award from IBM. She was a member of Puppeteers of America and the North American Association of Ventriloquists.
Tommy worked well into her seventies. She died February 22, 2000 at Ellis Hospital. (Wild Windy Bill McKay passed in 2011). Fellow ventriloquist and magician Bob Carroll inherited her entire act and ended up selling most of it over ebay.