Bob Baker, veteran film and television puppeteer and famed owner of the Los Angeles Puppet Theater, died Friday of natural causes. He was 90 years old.
Baker’s puppets have been featured in several films, including Disney’s “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” for which he won an Oscar, “Close Encounters of The Third Kind,” 1954’s “A Star Is Born” starring Judy Garland, and numerous TV shows, including KFI’s “The Adventures of Bobo” and commercials.
His Santa Monica studio became a creative haven and workspace for other talented puppeteers and artists, including “Beany and Cecil” creator Bob Clampett and voice actors Daws Butler, Stan Freeburg and June Foray.
Baker also served as governor of the animation division of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He was also an animation consultant at many film studios, including Walt Disney, which launched his long film career.
Along with partner Alton Wood, Baker founded the Bob Baker Marionette Theater in 1963, one of the oldest and oldest children’s theater companies in the world and has become a cultural institution for many Los Angeles residents. In June 2009, the theater was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Landmark.
Early in his career, the Hollywood High School graduate served as a private in the Army Air Corps before becoming an animation apprentice at George Pal Studios. After a year as an apprentice, he became one of the best animators of “Puppetoons”.
He left George Pal Studios during a labor dispute in which he sided with Pal, which made his job difficult to accomplish. He would then go on to make toy puppets, which were sold in top department stores in the United States and Europe. His window displays in Los Angeles stores drew huge crowds and led to the creation of the famous Main Street window displays at Disneyland.
Baker would also be instrumental in convincing Ronald Reagan, president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s and 1950s, that the puppeteers belonged to the performers union.
The pioneering puppeteer leaves “to mourn his friends and loved ones, his dedicated employees over the years and his handcrafted puppets, according to his representatives.
In lieu of flowers, donations to support the Bob Baker Marionette Theater can be made by visiting GoFundMe.com.