Puppeteer Bob Baker, whose marionette theater near downtown Los Angeles was an institution serving generations of kids, died Friday of natural causes. He was 90.
Baker, who launched the Bob Baker Marionette Theater in 1963, offered puppet shows in what was billed as one of the world’s oldest and longest-running children’s theater companies. In 2009, the theater’s location on First Street was named a Los Angeles Historical Cultural Monument.
An L.A. native, Baker traveled the world with his famous marionette troupe. His work was featured in prominent films, ranging from Disney’s “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” to Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” to the 1954 version of “A Star Is Born.” He was said to have an archive of more than 3,000 puppets.
Baker’s interest in puppetry was sparked at the age of 5 when he saw a puppet show at a downtown Los Angeles department store. Within a few years he was studying the art and competing in local talent shows.
Baker graduated from Hollywood High School and served in the Army Air Corps during WWII, when he worked at Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank. After his discharge, he worked for the George Pal Animation Studios. Amid labor unrest, he left Pal and began marketing his own line of marionettes. He created window displays for prominent retailers around the country — and he did the same for storefront windows on Disneyland’s Main Street, USA.
Baker’s workshop on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood became a magnet for future showbiz stars, including producer Bob Clampett, Stan Freberg and Daws Butler, who who would go on to create a TV sensation locally with the KTLA-TV hand puppet series “Time for Beany.” In the late 1940s Baker also worked in local TV with the series “Adventures of Bobo.”
In the early 1960s, Baker teamed with Alton Wood to launch the marionette theater. He worked as an adviser to Disney and other studios, and was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences as well as the Television Academy.
Friends of Baker request that donations be made to help supporters preserve his legacy and purchase the building that houses the theater. More information can be found at this link.