Bob Baker

Puppeteer Bob Baker may not be as well known to the public as, say, Bill Baird, Gerry Anderson, or Jim Henson — he never had a weekly television show. He has entertained audiences since the early ’40s, however, and his movie and television work includes such highly regarded cult films as Edgar G. Ulmer’s Bluebeard (1944), George Pal’s renowned Puppetoons films of the 1940s, appearances in (and on) such ’60s pop culture touchstones as the original Star Trek television series and Bewitched, and work with the Disney studio for decades. His theater and production company, Bob Baker’s Marionettes, founded in 1963 by Baker and his partner, Alton Wood (1912-2001), has become one of the more renowned sources of puppet-based entertainment in the country, and has served as a training ground for artists who have gone on to work with George Lucas and other major producers and directors in the field of fantasy films. Baker’s own interest in puppets started before the age of eight — he was already a budding puppeteer before he was in his teens and worked with local companies in Los Angeles. While a student at Hollywood High, he also began designing and manufacturing marionettes that were sold in America and overseas. Baker gave his first professional performance for director/producer Mervyn LeRoy. At the age of 18, soon after graduating from Hollywood High, Baker went to work for producer/director George Pal on the latter’s near-legendary Puppetoon shorts, which delighted audiences during the early and mid-’40s. Baker’s talents also got him a showcase in one of the most beautifully played B-pictures of the decade — in 1944, he was engaged by director Edgar G. Ulmer and the art department at Producers Releasing Corporation to design and, in association with another puppeteer, perform the puppet show attributed to John Carradine’s mad Gaston in the film Bluebeard (1944). Meanwhile, he advanced quickly through the ranks of Pal’s organization, moving from apprentice to head animator on the Puppetoons in barely a year. Baker was employed by several movie studios (including the Disney organization) after WWII as an advisor in the art of animation. In 1949, he met his older contemporary, Alton Wood, a musician who switched his field to puppetry — the two formed Bob Baker Productions, with Wood serving as the chief performer as well as business manager and Baker doing the designing and manufacturing.

They played county fairs and art festivals and, beginning with the B-thriller Hunt the Man Down (1950) at RKO, their work also moved them into feature films, 400 at last count, including Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks and the Elvis Presley feature G.I. Blues. Almost as soon as television became a viable medium, they moved onto the small screen, in commercials, series, and variety shows, including The Hollywood Palace and The Dinah Shore Show. Baker’s puppet of a one-eyed, tentacled sea monster graced Roger Corman’s first film as a producer, Monster From the Ocean Floor (1954), and was just convincing enough to make the ultra-low-budget movie a success. He also provided the giant bat-rat-spider that moved so eerily and hauntingly through Ib Melchior’s The Angry Red Planet (1959); and it was Baker manipulating Beauregard, the highly animated plant spooked by the “salt-vampire” in the first Star Trek episode ever broadcast, “The Man Trap.” His work was featured in “Night of the Puppeteer,” an episode of The Wild Wild West TV series; and Baker made an on-camera appearance as a puppeteer in the 1971 Bewitched episode “TV or Not TV.” Bob Baker’s Marionettes, which Baker founded with Wood in 1963, is the oldest children’s theater company in Los Angeles, and has been a training ground for such renowned younger special effects and puppetry experts as Trey Stokes. Baker continues to work with film organizations, including Disney; he has designed a line of collectable marionettes that are still sold by Disney, and he was also responsible for the marionettes in the movie Geppetto (2000), starring Drew Carey. In 2000, he was interviewed on camera for the DVD release of Ulmer’s Bluebeard, and provided color home movies that he had taken at the time, of the shoot and the cast and set, and, of course, his puppets. ~ Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide