Alba Spinetto was born in Porto Tolle, Rovigio, Italy to a theatrical family in 1928. They traveled Europe as a variety stage troupe called Compagnia.
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Spinetto and entertained audiences with dancing, singing and comedy shows that incorporated various animal acts. Alba Spinetto’s special talent for working with animals, including a stray baby wolf, was established at a young age and was the obvious early motivation for her later comedic work with birds, including cockatoos, macaws and especially parrots.
In 1956, post wartime, Alba Spinetto met her future American husband, Marvin Ballard, at a Vicenza dance club. They married in 1957 and moved to Long Island, NY in 1963 with their young son Claudio. It was at this time that Alba Ballard started dressing and photographing her birds in humorous costumes staged within elaborate theatrical scenes. Eventually, Ballard had up to fifty domestic and exotic birds, although she only used ten to twenty for her feathered productions.
Ballard took her inspiration for bird costumes and stage sets from different television shows, commercials and films. Besides photographs, Alba and Marvin Ballard made 16mm movie shorts. Marvin Ballard recalls one short film called, The First Bird on the Moon, “Claudio built a bird-sized lunar lander, and we rigged cable up in the garage and shot a reasonably good movie of the descent and the first claw print on the moon.” Alba Ballard sent a copy of the short film to Saturday Night Live in the 1970’s. The producers of the show jumped on the opportunity to work with Ballard and her birds, and incorporated some original parrot skits narrated by Bill Murray in their following season.
Other winged claims to fame include many guest appearances by Ballard and her birds on Late Night with David Letterman in the mid 1980’s, and a cameo as an unusual act in Woody Allen’s movie Broadway Danny Rose in the early 1980’s.
Ballard’s desire to theatrically entertain with authenticity and satire by performing her costumed parrots reached outside the limelight and often brought levity to the local arena. She frequently took her show on the road and visited charity events, schools, office parties, nursing homes, and libraries. Marvin Ballard recalled a time when they visited a mental hospital, where suddenly a patient who didn’t speak for over fifteen years responded verbally to the parrots, probably provoked by the bird’s use of taught cursing and singing.
Alba Ballard passed away in 1994 but her legacy of comedic work with birds lives on in a charming book by Arne Svenson titled, Mrs. Ballard’s Parrots,published by Abrams. His curiosity was peaked in 1992 when friends related to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton found photos of the Ballard’s parrots in Taylor’s home in Gstaad, Switzerland and sent the photos on to Svenson. Since there wasn’t any information about the artist who created the parrot photography, Svenson researched until he tracked down Alba Ballard’s story. He keeps her humor and imagery alive throughout the pages of this unique book that’s guaranteed to make you chirp!