”Keesa me goo’night, Eddie.” Cooing that vaguely unnerving plea in a fey little voice, shyly waltzing on Sullivan’s arm, Topo Gigio became the most famous TV rodent of the Ed Era through his omnipresence on the Sullivan Show. The little Italian mouse seemed to disappear after Sullivan left the air, but Topo Gigio lives — in fact, he’s been even more active around the world in recent years than he was in his heyday here.
Brought to Sullivan’s attention by a talent scout who’d seen him on Italian TV, Topo had been in action for only two years when he made his American debut in April 1963. The secret engine behind the mouse, never revealed on the air lest children be disillusioned, was a team of black velvet-clad puppeteers (including Topo creator Maria Perego) who used rods to move Topo while Giuseppe Mazzullo provided a voice off stage. Through 91 follow-up appearances — the last of which closed the final Sullivan Show in 1971 — Topo was Ed’s McMahon, a deferential foil designed to humanize the mannequinlike host. The plan worked, although Topo never caught on solo, despite starring in an aborted CBS pilot and an Italian-made movie, Topo Gigio Goes to the Moon.
Topo’s has-been status Stateside hasn’t stopped creator Perego from keeping her mouse a household name elsewhere, especially in South America, Spain, and Japan. ”There is no one who does not know him,” said Perego by phone from Monte Carlo. Topo appears on a weekly Italian TV show, and a late-’80s Japanese-produced animated series is still molto famoso in Japan. Perego is trying to pitch it to U.S. cable TV, but right now her fondest ambition is to have Topo do public announcements ”all over the world, speaking out against drugs and all scourges that debilitate children.”