Bob Baker – the legendary puppeteer of stage and screen, and co-founder of the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre, the oldest and longest running children’s theater company in Los Angeles and the world – died Friday of natural causes. He was 90 years old.
Baker, who started acting with his girlfriend Alton Wood in 1963 his performances were featured in films including Disney’s Bed knobs and brooms, Dating of the Third Kindthe 1954 version of A star is born with Judy Garland, as well as many TV shows and commercials. He was also a governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, in the animation division, and served as an animation consultant for numerous film studios.
See more Notable Hollywood Deaths of 2014
The Los Angeles native first encountered puppets at the age of five, when his father took him to a puppet show at the downtown Barker Brothers store, and he met his first teacher, Henry Gordon, a year later, when she performed at Bullock’s Wilshire toy department. After his first professional performance at age eight for producer-director Mervin Leroy, Baker then trained with several local companies during his youth and won the Orpheum Theater talent competition several times in 1939 and 1940. The Hollywood High School graduate went on to serve in the Army Air Corps during World War II , but an early medical discharge due to a chicken feather virus prompted him to take an animation apprenticeship at George Pal Studios. He became one of the best animators of puppets one year later.
Baker left Pal during labor disputes and began making toy puppets sold throughout Europe and the United States, with window displays in department stores in Los Angeles. The performance of its circus window displays in the downtown Millirons department store drew so many attendees that the store built risers to accommodate them. Baker went on to create the now famous Disneyland Main Street storefronts.
Baker turned to television in 1947 with KFI’s Adventures of Bobo, and soon after, he was using his Santa Monica studio as a hub for TV hosts like Bob Clampet, Daws’ Butler, Stan Freeburg and June foray. And during a performance at Ronald Reaganhe convinced the president of the Screen Actors Guild at the time that the puppeteers belonged to the performers’ union.
See more Hollywood’s 100 Favorite Movies
Baker is survived by his friends and loved ones, his dedicated employees and his handcrafted puppets. In lieu of flowers, donations to support the Bob Baker Marionette Theater can be made here.