Keeping hope (and the puppets) alive: Bob Baker, his marionettes, and his struggles

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Is there a place in your neighborhood you’ve always wanted to visit, but never have?

For years I’ve driven past the Bob Baker Marionette Theater, just west of downtown, where I live, and never bothered to go in.

Finally, I did it, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the troupe at this location.

Baker is 88 now, and he’s been in the puppet business–making them, performing with them, bringing them to life in

Bob Baker poses with some of his fans
Bob Baker poses with some of his fans (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

movies–for 80 years now, since Bullocks Wilshire hired him out to do birthday parties when he was a little boy.

How many people have passions that carry them for a lifetime? Arthritis has addled Baker’s once-nimble fingers, and the 20-pound puppets are a bit of a challenge for him to hold. 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–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 at the theater, too: it was long ago a warehouse where backdrops were made for Hollywood.)

Hear our interview with Mr. Baker here: