Keeping hope and the puppets alive: Bob Baker and his marionettes

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Bob Baker Marionette Theater is just west of downtown where I live. I had driven by the theater for years before I finally had the chance to go inside on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the troupe.

Baker is 88 now, and he’s been in the puppet business–making them, performing with them, bringing them to life in movies–for 80 years now, getting his start as a little boy when Bullocks Wilshire hired him out to do birthday parties.  How many people have passions that carry them for a lifetime?

Arthritis has addled Baker’s once-nimble fingers, and it’s become challenging for him to hold the 20-pound puppets. Young puppeteers, trained by Bob, now dazzle the audience.

A few years ago, Baker almost lost his theater in a bum financial deal, and things aren’t much better for him now as audiences are down due to school budget cuts.

Still, every day, the kids arrive, sometimes with their parents or grandparents, who have fond memories of attending the shows as kids themselves. (A bit of movie history, too: this theater was once was a warehouse where backdrops were made for Hollywood.)

And below you can watch a rare video of Mr. Baker showing off his skills as a puppeteer: