The show must go on: Bob Baker’s supporters vow to keep the puppets moving

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Young puppeteers keep Baker’s work alive. The theater is home to 3-thousand marionettes.

At 88, unable to lift his creations and relegated to the wings: Puppet master Bob Baker at his theater in 2012
At 88, unable to lift his creations and relegated to the wings: Puppet master Bob Baker at his theater in 2012

In his last days on earth, puppeteer Bob Baker waxed poetic about shows he hoped to stage and moved his hands for a hospice worker as if he were still manipulating one of his marionette creations. Though the 90-year-old with a life-long passion for puppets passed away last Friday, his imprint on the industry he helped to craft won’t soon fade away, says trustee Greg Williams, who learned the art of puppets from Baker starting at age 14. “The machine is decades running.  The show will go on as long as possible,” he said. “Everyone’s gung-ho to keep the work going.”

The culturally-landmarked Marionette Theater  that Baker’s troupe called home for over 50 years was sold in 2013 to keep the place operational, but Williams is hopeful that after their lease runs out in March they’ll continue. Perhaps the shop will become a puppet center celebrating not just Baker’s work, but that of others in the field. There’s even been interest from a Japanese investor in setting up shows in Asia.

Young puppeteers keep Baker’s work alive. The theater is home to 3,000 marionettes.
Even after he could no longer handle the puppets, Baker loved to pose with the fans
Even after he could no longer handle the puppets, Baker loved to pose with the fans

Before he died, Baker donated his vast collection of photos chronicling the history of puppeteering in Los Angeles, as well as of his beloved hometown, to the Los Angeles Public Library. Perhaps these gems will one day be showcased for public view somehow.

One thing is for sure: Baker did not want any memorial services. A celebration of his life might occur down the road, said Williams, who plans to write a biography of his one-time mentor. For now, he and other devotees of the puppet master are keeping the puppets going during what’s always the busiest season of the year. “We’ll see what the universe allows,” said Williams, who added that even if they lose their home, they’ll keep touring the shows. “There’s no reason this can’t go on forever.”

More: Our KCRW story about Baker from 2012