When Alan Cook was a boy in the 1940s, puppeteers enjoyed the status of today’s rock stars. They hosted early television shows such as “Howdy Doody” and were mainstays on the “Ed Sullivan Show”. Like many children of his day, Cook received his first puppet, a Dutch marionette, as a Christmas present from his parents. When he started school in South Pasadena, he joined the school puppet club.
On weekends, her mother would take her to puppet shows performed at department stores in downtown Los Angeles, including Robinsons, Bullocks, and May Company. Ferdinand the Bull and Dopey, sold by Disney to promote their animated feature films, were among the first puppets Cook added to his collection. Walt Disney was an enthusiastic proponent of the puppet.
Today, at 85, Cook’s puppet collection contains over 5,000 puppets and over 1,000 art books and magazines.
Puppetry Arts Museum founder Nancy Lohman Staub described the collection as one of the largest and most important puppet collections in the country.
But like the puppet itself, Cook’s collection, along with his encyclopedic knowledge of the art, was in danger of being lost. Fortunately, two years ago, he and fellow Hermosa Beach sculptor and puppeteer Jacquelyne Marks pledged to find a permanent home for Cook’s puppets and to publish a book chronicling Cook’s career in puppetry.
The collection found its home at the Northwest Puppet Center in Seattle.
A book signing for their book, “Alan Cook: A Puppet Collector’s Journey,” will be held this Sunday, July 16, from 2-5 p.m., at Marks’ home at 702 The Strand, Hermosa Beach.
Cook began producing puppet shows while in high school and landed his first professional job after returning from the first National Puppet Festival in Oklahoma City in 1948.
“Johnny Faust visited small mom and pop appliance stores for Philco (a radio and television manufacturer),” Marks writes. “His assistant Don George was arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to 30 days in jail. In desperation, Johnny phoned the Bob Baker Marionette Theater in Los Angeles for a replacement.
Cook’s first performance was “Alice in Philcoland”, staged at a Santa Barbara appliance store “which was so small that stoves and refrigerators had to be removed to make room for the audience seated on benches in wood”.
Cook then traveled the world performing at puppet festivals and puppet theaters. Most of his collection gathered from his travels. He acquired a priceless Italian puppet from the famous Teatro de Piccoli during a visit to Bucharest for the first UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionnette) Festival. But some equally valuable puppets he acquired closer to home. Among his most beloved are the 1930s puppets from the Yale Puppeteers Teatro Torito, located at 27 Olvera Street in Los Angeles. Cook met the Yale Puppeteers when he was in high school.
“Alan Cook: A Puppet Collector’s Odyssey” contains over 100 photographs of puppets from Cook’s collection, as well as his personal history of puppetry. The book can be purchased by sending $37.50 plus $5 for shipping to IPM Books, C/O Jackee Marks, 702 The Strand. Hermosa Beach, approx. Include shipping and email addresses. Emergency room