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The magic of Bob Baker Marionette

Maybe you’ve seen it. The old, washed out building with blocky, colorful letters plastered across the front, the text faded and inviting. Surely then, you’ve taken a peek inside the dark hall, past the red curtains, to be greeted by the bright eyed smiles of faces that will forever fascinate you.

This, is Bob Baker Marionette.

Image courtesy of Los Angeles Conservancy

Since the old building, the puppet show has moved to Highland Park, closer to us. I don’t know about you all, but Bob Baker was kind of part of my childhood. My parents would take me to shows there, and there was always one of two outcomes: 1) I was terrified and could not go to sleep at night, or 2) I was utterly speechless because it was so amazing. 10/10. Oh, and the ice cream. For any of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a brief summary.

Bob Baker Marionette Theatre was a puppet theater established exactly 60 years ago in 1963. Bob Baker and his partner Alton Wood made it specifically for family shows, ranging from classic works to completely new and captivating. The shows even then were colorful and musical and took you to places you could only imagine. The best part about the show, of course, are the puppets, each one with their own very unique personality. After Bob Baker passed away in 2014, the Theatre Moved to Highland Park, and still continues to do shows now.

Image courtesy of the Bob Baker Website

Bob Baker

When Baker was just a little boy, he built a theater in the backyard of his home in LA called the “Petit Theatre.” Many people when they were younger, I’m sure, did something similar, but Baker's talent got him to his first professional performance when he was just 8 years old, and in highschool, Bob started creating marionettes which he sold in multiple countries. Throughout the time before he started the theater, he worked as an animation advisor and director at different studios along with many other hollywood productions. When he and Alton Wood got eyes on that building in LA, they knew exactly what they wanted to do.

The History of the Puppets
Image courtesy of Time Out

The very first puppet to come into the light from the Bob Baker assembly line was Coco, and after her, Bobo, a smiling, satin-pants wearing clown. Bobo was the result of boredom from seeing Coco’s face, and immediately, everyone fell in love. Bobo was a hit. From the Bob Baker Marionette site, “Three wallpaper companies put him on a children's line of wallpaper. He had his own TV show, The Adventures of Bobo, which was the first television series to originate on the West Coast, televised from KFI-TV: Los Angeles.” Bobo was essentially a comfort character for a lot of kids who came to see the shows. Even when the other marionettes proved scary or unfamiliar, Bobo would come out to comfort them. After Bobo and his entourage, more puppets were carefully handmade for the shows, all eerily entrancing. The most interesting thing about the marionettes, I feel, are the expressions on their faces. They are so full of life, and if you have ever gone to see the shows, you know that once you’re watching, it’s almost as if the puppets have come alive, and you forget the puppeteers are even there.

The Shows
Image courtesy of the Larchmont Chronicle

The selection of shows playing at the theater changes from time to time, but some of the most memorable are the holiday themed ones. Talking to my friends, I realize most people have seen the Halloween or Christmas shows, or remember them the most.

“I remember there was this weird looking sexy cat,” said my friend Lilah, referring to the Halloween show. “That's what I remember…”

On another note, most everyone I asked says that they enjoyed the Christmas shows the most.

“The Nutcracker!” reminisces my friend Ray. “The most entertaining rendition of that story I’ve ever seen.”

Along with holiday shows, the Bob Baker Marionette theater also has some long standing stories that are really well known at this point, particularly, the Circus.

This show has been going on since 1948, and I have seen it a grand total of 3 times. Why? I don’t know, but I loved every single second. This show consists of various feats and tricks being performed by the marionettes, trapezing, a number of flips and aerobics, and you know…circus things. As the Bob Baker Marionette site says, “’s fun! Fun! FUN!”

Along with sexy cats and monkeys who can tightrope walk, the theater also showcases various pop ups, animations, and different events. To check out what shows are playing now, you can visit here.

The Stories

“My friend's parents got MARRIED there…” says my friend Sophie. And, surprisingly, this is true!

Additionally, many other people had stories they wanted to share about this fantastical place.

“It’s a tradition for my family to go there every year on my sister's birthday,” adds 10th grader Jayden after showing me photos there from each year. “Every time we go I’m just as excited.”

Image courtesy of Trip Advisor

Others have…more strange stories to share.

“I associate that place with when I got over my fear of monkeys,” says 10 year old Lia, and upon asking her…why, exactly, she says, “I don’t know. I guess I was always scared of them when I was really little for some reason, but when I went there and I saw the monkey puppet, it was not scary.”

Similarly, someone else says that the marionettes made clowns less frightening somehow, and it continues to be the show they credit for getting over their fear.

9th grader Sarena says that she passes by the theater in Highland Park during her walk home on Thursday, and fantasizes about working there: “It looks so…colorful. I would love to be someone who could bring things to life like that.”

After hearing everybody's stories and memories from Bob Baker Marionette, I realize that I wasn’t the only one who cherished this magic as a kid. Being able to see shows like this, entertainment that is so unique…something about it is so enchanting.

And, if you haven’t been to a Bob Baker production yet, well, I suggest you put down your device and change that.

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