Floppy may be out of sight, but for thousands of fans across the country, he is certainly not out of mind. And they are not afraid to wear their loyalty to the iconic puppet on their sleeves - literally.
For 30 years, Duane Ellett and his puppet Floppy entertained children of all ages on WHO-TV 13. For much of that time, the duo hosted as many as two shows each weekday, as well as weekend programs, on the Des Moines station. Others became familiar with them from the 200 public appearances they made each year in communities throughout Iowa, or from their annual shows at the Iowa State Fair, which drew huge crowds.
Ellett died suddenly in 1987, shortly after the pair celebrated their 30th anniversary as Iowa television icons. In 1994, Ellett's three children donated Floppy and other memorabilia to the State Historical Society of Iowa, which created a display of the items. Despite being one of the Iowa Historical Museum's most popular exhibits, this summer officials decided it was time to put Floppy into storage so the exhibit was taken down on June 10.
Duane & Floppy made as many as 200 personal appearances a year during their 30-year partnership, delighting children in hundreds of Iowa towns.
Word quickly spread through social media, and in only a day, a special "Save Floppy" Facebook group had garnered 4,000 members. Public outcry was so loud that Gov. Terry Branstad was even asked about it during a statewide television interview that week. The Wall Street Journal carried a front page story about the fuss and NBC late night host Jimmy Fallon has called for Floppy's return.
"Like many others, we were disappointed to see the end of the 'Where's Floppy' exhibit at the Iowa Historical Museum," a statement issued by the Ellett family on Facebook read. "We have been touched by the show of support for Duane & Floppy and the knowledge of his impact on the lives of so many."
A prized possession of many children who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s was the Floppy-logo T-shirt they bought when Duane & Floppy came to their hometown's community festival. After Ellett's death, the shirts were unavailable for more than 20 years. A special printing in conjunction with two "Duane & Floppy Film Festival" events held in 2009 and 2010 showed there was still interest in the vintage shirts.
Now, in the aftermath of the "Save Floppy" movement, "requests for Floppy merchandise have been overwhelming," the family's statement said.
As a result, the Ellett family has partnered with Totally Iowa to again offer Floppy T-shirts and other items for sale via a new website, www.TheFloppyShow.com. In only three weeks, Totally Iowa has already received orders for shirts from 21 states and the District of Columbia, and 41 different cities in Iowa alone.
Totally Iowa was founded by former Marshalltown resident Jeff Stein, which makes Iowa-themed items available for sale on line at www.TotallyIowa.com. Stein is an author and broadcaster who worked at KFJB in Marshalltown from 1980-1983.
"Iowa holds a special place in the hearts of those who have lived here," Stein said. "Totally Iowa gives people a place to go online to find items with a distinctly Iowa flavor, and there is nothing that says 'Iowa' more than Duane Ellett and Floppy."
Other Duane & Floppy items, such as DVDs and photos, are also available. Plans are in place to expand the website's offerings this fall, including items such as Floppy-logo caps and additional DVDs, if demand warrants.
Totally Iowa has also partnered with WHO Radio to offer fans the last autographed copies of legendary sportscaster Jim Zabel's autobiography. Award-winning books and DVDs Stein has created are also available, as well as a dozen items created by Mike Chapman, founder and publisher of "Iowa History Journal" magazine.
While the national outpouring of support for Floppy has been strong, museum officials remain noncommittal about the chances of the puppet being put back on display soon.
"A major part of our motivation in donating Floppy to the State Historical Society of Iowa was to accommodate those wishing to continue their appreciation of Duane's creative efforts," the family wrote to fans. "It is our hope that any necessary conservation efforts can be accomplished quickly and Floppy can be returned to display for the enjoyment of current and future fans."
Stein said, "If we've all learned anything from this incident, it's that you don't get between baby boomers and the things they hold dear from their childhood."