When Topo Gigio gingerly descended onto The Ed Sullivan Show stage on December 9, 1962, no one could have predicted that the little Italian mouse puppet would go on to become one of the show’s most memorable acts. In time, Topo would go on to star in a feature film, an Italian TV show and Japanese and Latin American animated series.
One of the most famous puppets in history, Topo was just ten inches tall, with Bambi eyes and a precocious personality. Viewers wondered how he could walk, talk, roll his eyes, wiggle his ears and toes – all without visible strings. The little mouse was as complicated as he was cute. His creator, Maria Perego of Milan, Italy, controlled his legs with her fingers and opened and closed his mouth with her other hand using rods. Actor Giuseppe Mazullo voiced Topo while two other puppeteers moved his arms. They all were dressed in black velour against a black curtain to stay invisible. An impressed Sullivan stated, “When he’s on my arm, I actually feel that he’s a living thing, and that I’m talking to somebody. I’ve never had that feeling before with any puppet or dummy.”
Topo was originally brought onto the show in an effort to make Ed more engaging to his audience – especially kids. The producers thought that a more interactive host would allow The Ed Sullivan Show to better compete with The Wonderful World of Disney, which had switched to Sunday nights in 1961. With writers such as Ed Sullivan Show guest Joan Rivers scripting his act, Topo quickly became a hit, exposing a side of Sullivan that audiences had never seen.
The man who critics described as “stiff” or “dull,” seemed to transform whenever the adorable mouse came onto his stage. Topo’s presence turned Ed into a much softer figure, and brought out his playful side. The two talked to each other like old friends and their humorous and playful exchanges remain a signature of The Ed Sullivan Show.
Topo’s appearances covered many subjects. He often spoke of his Mama and family back home, his girlfriend Rosie, and rock and roll. He also sang classical music, discussed income taxes, Renaissance art and even played the violin.
“Eddie, Kiss Me Goodnight”
Nearly every Topo appearance on the show ended with these four words, sung in the mouse’s signature squeaky voice. Topo had a magical 11 year run on The Ed Sullivan Show. And on June 6, 1971, millions of loyal viewers sat in front of their television sets to watch The Ed Sullivan Show for the very last time. As the episode came to a close, Topo made his final appearance, begging Ed to once more kiss him goodnight. Topo’s farewell was also Ed’s.