In 1930, Bob Baker saw his first puppet show in his native Los Angeles and shortly thereafter established his own “Petit Theatre” in the backyard of his home on New Hampshire Avenue. By age eight, Bob had trained with several different Los Angeles-based companies before giving his first professional performance for legendary Hollywood director Mervyn Leroy.
While attending Hollywood High School, Bob began manufacturing toy marionettes that sold both in Europe and the United States. Following graduation, he began an apprenticeship at George Pal Animation Studios that resulted in a promotion to head animator of Puppetoons, a landmark studio that produced animated stop-motion puppet films.
After World War II, Bob served as an animation advisor at many film studios. His company’s work spanned decades of creative projects across Los Angeles and the world, from puppetry and design on Disneyland’s Main Street to countless contributions in television including Bewitched, Star Trek, Land of the Giants and NCIS, and on film in Bluebeard, A Star Is Born, G.I. Blues, Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Bob was a tireless advocate for continuation of the puppet arts, providing mentorship and instruction for generations of puppeteers and was instrumental in championing union membership for puppeteers. As a result of his efforts, the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists now recognizes puppeteers as actors with a special skill.
In 1963, Bob and partner Alton Wood transformed a run-down scenic shop near downtown Los Angeles into a family entertainment institution: The Bob Baker Marionette Theater. Since named an official Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2009, the Theater has served over ONE MILLION children with original shows ranging from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker to a musical journey through the history of Los Angeles.
When Bob passed away in 2014 at the age of 90, rather than allow the Theater to disappear, the next generation of puppeteers and supporters banded together to keep the show alive and continue the Bob Baker legacy. In 2018, 55 years after the original grand opening, the final curtain fell on the Theater’s historic location. However, imagination continues to dwell at a new location in Highland Park: a 10,000 square foot former Vaudeville Theater that now provides a permanent home to the legacy of Bob Baker, an American pioneer in the art of puppetry.
More information, including extensive resources on the history of puppetry, can be found in our in-house library archives, accessible by appointment only (for now!).