I am turning my blog over this time to the wonderful Australian puppeteer, Marianne Mettes. A few years ago she toured the states going to festivals and meeting puppeteers everywhere she went. She spent a day with Bob Baker and wrote about her visit with him. See you next time- Camilla
From Marianne: Bob Baker’s story – how he told it to me in a one-on-one conversation on the 3rd of July, 2010. For more info on his life and theatre and performance credits – visit his website. When Bob was 6 years old, already trained in piano and dramatics – he went to see a puppet show and was so entranced, he went back twice after, so he could understand how it worked. Having an understanding mother, he received his first puppet and lessons in puppetry every Sunday for a year. After much training and passion, he did his first puppet show for the payment of $15 in the affluent Bel Air and continued on doing shows until WW2. Bob went with his puppets to every movie star’s home in Los Angeles, taught puppetry when he was in high school, manufactured puppets and became an accomplished Vaudeville performer before even turning 17. When he turned 17, he was in the army airforce camouflage division, teaching camouflage to older men. After the war – he worked on movies, receiving credits as a puppeteer, alongside some of the world’s greatest entertainers, such as Elvis Presley, Shirley Temple and Judy Garland, just to name a few. He was responsible for moving animated objects in box-office classics such as Bed Knobs and Broomsticks, Adams Family 2, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and many more (see his website).
He also became well-known as the ‘Butterfly Man’, when he would make little ‘butterflies’ with bits of mono-filaments or cellophane at the end of long rods and strings, and dangle them over dogs in order to get them to do tricks for the camera. Bob was also one of the first people to start using Technicolor, and realized that TV could be a pre-recorded medium and not just live. This opened up a whole new world for the art of puppetry and his work appeared in many TV shows, television variety shows and commercials. Bob also had a very fruitful manufacturing line and supplied puppets for large companies, such as Walt Disney. More recently, Bob supplied a series of puppets for the animated motion picture The Polar Express. But after the company asked if they could have the copyright to his creations and Bob rejected them, they ended up ditching his puppets, while changing them only slightly to get out of crediting Bob. Bob told me about his frustration with such practices and more generally with a world of computer-generated imaginary (CGI) and 3D animation. When I asked him what he thought of the future of puppetry and if it had a future, he gave me a cheeky smile as if he had been to the future and seen puppets being ingrained in entertainment again and said; “We just need to wait it out”. To hear this coming from a man in his mid-80s confirmed my own view that puppetry is much more precious than we may think it is and we all need to help keep this world alive.