The Bob Baker Marionette Theater, founded by Bob Baker and Alton Wood in 1963, is the oldest children's theater company in Los Angeles. In June 2009, the theater was designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
Bob Baker (born in 1924) is an American puppeteer whose marionettes have entertained thousands of children and adults worldwide for more than 70 years.
At age eight, Baker trained with several different Los Angeles-based companies before giving his first professional performance for director Mervyn Leroy. While attending Hollywood High School, he began manufacturing toy marionettes that sold both in Europe and the United States. After graduation he became an apprentice at the George Pal Animation Studios. A year later he was promoted to head animator of Puppetoons. After World War II, Baker served as an animation advisor at many film studios, including Disney. His puppetry was featured on TV in Bewitched, Star Trek and Land of the Giants; and on film in the 1944 Bluebeard, in A Star Is Born, G.I. Blues, Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Baker was also instrumental in championing union membership for puppeteers. As a result, Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA now recognize puppeteers as actors with a special skill. He has also provided a place of learning for the next generation of puppeteers, including Scott Land and Michael Earl.
Baker and partner Alton Wood turned a run-down scenic shop near downtown Los Angeles into a family entertainment institution: The Bob Baker Marionette Theater. The Bob Baker Marionettes have performed around the globe (even on Navy ships and submarines), with an inventory of nearly three thousand puppets. Like Bil Baird before him, Bob Baker is an American pioneer in the art of puppetry.
The theater was built in 1953. It is a one-story commercial building of modern Vernacular architecture. The theater is believed to have been built as a workshop for Academy Award-winning special effects artist M.B. Paul. In 1961, Baker and Alton Wood purchased the property for use as a live puppet theater and permanent showcase for hand-crafted marionettes.
The Bob Baker Marionette Theater is reportedly the longest-running puppet theater in the United States.
During the June 2009 Los Angeles City Council meeting at which the theater received its historic monument designation, Baker's marionettes made an appearance. The Los Angeles Times described the scene:
A parade of puppets strung along Los Angeles City Council members today long enough to persuade them to designate a West 1st Street marionette theater a historic cultural landmark. The puppets danced and pranced around the City Council’s ornate horseshoe-shaped desk in the City Hall chambers before officials voted 14-0 to place the Bob Baker Marionette Theater on the city’s landmark list.