The reader's almanac; 10
It's time for the reader's Allman AKh with Warren Bauer. Originally broadcast over station WNYC in New York and distributed by national educational radio the readers Allman act is America's oldest consecutive book program. Here now is Mr. Bauer. In all my years of dealing with books concerned with the arts such as poetry and fiction with music and dancing mime and drama this is the first interview I've conducted on the general topic of puppetry. I dare say this is true in part because while there are many books in this field most of them are specialized and call for considerable enthusiasm and knowledge for their proper appreciation. This is understandable because the subject is vast in the history of puppets and puppetry is full of fascinating Lorin fact. But what is plainly been needed for years as a book on puppetry written out of a love for this in gauging art and intended for ordinary people who would like to know more about the ancient mimicry and drama of the mechanical simulations of people
and animals which we call puppets. Now the sort of book I mean which frankly sets out to stir up a deep interest in the subject and to build a solid support for a devoted attachment to the art of puppetry and an insatiable curiosity about both the Old and the new developments. Well such a book has now appeared it has been worth waiting for because it is a beautiful example of bookmaking full of illustrations and color which are the best I've ever seen. And because it is written out of the love and knowledge from first hand experience with a great variety of puppets there is history in it with much of the range that the art of puppetry has achieved suggested in words and color plates. This book is The Art of the public. It is a ridge press book and is published by the Macmillan company. Its author is Bill Baird And this is the real recommendation of the book for there is no more highly esteemed puppets here in America than Mr Baird. But that's not the way to put
it. For everyone who knows anything about puppetry in our time puts it this way. Bill and Cora Baird a team that is remarkable for their accomplishments in an art that most conspicuously demands teamwork for its greatest excellence. I am reminded however that the reader's Allman aunt has a radio book program. However much this occasion calls for a color television. So I'm happy to have Bill Barrett here as the author to talk about the art of the puppet and the writing of the book by that name. But there is much to say about puppets much to learn in know even if Mr. Baer does say in the last sentence of the introduction to the book. That no book of words and pictures can compete with actually sitting in an audience and seeing a live show in action. But if these pages can in some measure intrigue more such artist to create for puppetry and as a result to intrigue more people to see it they will have served their purpose.
Now in other words to Baird You're not only one of the great puppet peers of our time you're also a very frank pitchman for the art isn't that so. I'm a pitchman or and this is this is a show business thing as well as an art and I'm very very. Much excited about getting America to know more about it and see more of we might just as well have the advantages of this other means of communication and entertainment as the rest of the world. And I think America has been short changed up to now. You have suggested in the book once advised that. Do you think that America is not as far along in the development of puppetry as in the rest of the world. Well only in certain ways now as far as mechanics go. We're way ahead of the rest of the world I mean we can we can mechanize our show business as we have done in television and we also have a lot more means of transportation and means of multiplication.
But as far as the actual. Working out of different. Different ways of showing puppets and different styles and things like that we have a lot to learn yet because. First of all the in old Europe and old Asia time didn't mean much and people could go on doing and doing and doing. And that was the only means of in many many countries puppetry was the only means of theatre. We should not be extended greatly through television Hadlee. Oh yes yes that's right but I mean aware of it along a certain thin line I mean much of the stuff that we see on television is like other things that we've seen on television is just happens to be more of it. Just as we many of our shows on television are like each other puppets on television are pretty much like each other too and we need to experiment more and we need to try more more
styles and more ways of expressing ourselves and mainly I'm interested in getting more dramatists of stature to write for us because they can expand themselves that way. You know you can you can write for people all your life and get certain results. But when you write for a character who can take his head off and put it on the table beside and talk to it well that's that something else. If he can. They extend his he take himself apart or anything like that those are things that people have a very tough time doing whereas puppets can do it. Well I think we probably got ahead of ourselves just a little bit although it was interesting to do so. Let's assume that in our audience there are some who know little or perhaps even nothing about puppetry. So let me ask you this question. What is so distinctive about this art. What is so distinctive about it is the fact that it is a free art. It can fly. It can talk about it isn't it is an art that is
non-personal. And it is pop it actually has no personality he is an archetype he is a reflection of the person who operates him but he can he can be any he can be an idea he can embody a sound or a wish or. He can be very explicit let us say. If it's if it's a puppet about a bad person or a villain it's a real all villain. It's a. And or if it's a good person he can be a extreme hero. As as we as the myths tell about it. He can go farther than any actor or less far let's say. Yes. Now we might as well be clear quite clear about the several types of puppets. I assume that we are still talking for this individual who may not know very much about puppets. I assume that puppet is a generic word and
covers all types that is in a manipulated figure and hints that derive meaning and we're all familiar with of course someone who can be manipulated at will. But there are four puppets can be broken down into several classes. You describe these kinds in your book no world general classes yes. I suppose the type of puppet that most of us are familiar with in America is the marionette which is the puppet on strings. Then there's the hand puppet which is worn like a glove over the hand. Which is probably the second best well known then there are Rod puppets which are the type used originally in Java and in Indonesia where a rod goes through the puppet to the head and that the arms are operated by also by sticks from below and the operator is not seen. Then there are shadow puppets but these are merely the big Well then there's a like Charlie McCarthy who was also a puppet because he is manipulated from the back by a person. But there are many many sub classifications.
I suppose if you wanted really to. Write them all down you could probably get 16 or 17 different types of pop but I've recently been to Rimini and seen as at least that many types at the. Third International public conference in Bucharest. I was a good puppet you're familiar and can work all of those types of good puppets here may only work one type it depends a bit on whether he's able to express himself in the method he chooses. If we happen to use as many as we can in my company anything we can use to express ourselves one way may be right. One may be way may be stronger. I don't limit myself but many companies do. Many companies stick exactly to one in fact I know certain. Public companies who have no more than five figures all together in their companies and repertoires of 50 60 place that they do with a five figure is that it all depends. I have my company has 2000 figures
but that that is not good or bad. And one other element I think we ought to mention that as a side I I take it that size doesn't matter with what we're talking about. Up at Mary I think assume that it has to be in good proportion with the stage set where he is presented. How do how big do puppets grow anyway. I would say that puppets sizes should be determined by anything but human size humans have a certain space to fill in there in between but some of them anything that you can see I think are some of the oldest puppets in Egypt that were used in tin away when they were found in a tomb are probably only about six inches high made out of ivory and they were simply a religious thing that this was a religious play about Osiris used. For the priests and I don't suppose maybe they were more in four or five priests around to watch it maybe maybe more but this was specifically for them. On the other
hand they have the biggest puppet that I ever made was one hundred twenty five foot Macy balloon which was operated from below an upside down puppet which we pulled with strings from below. Getting back to habit though I think probably the puppet's range generally from between 18 inches and 9 feet that that seems to be the kind that you can handle best. Yes when they get bigger than that for instance. You may remember a mobile funnel who lived here in the village do Ramo built some figures designed by Robert Edmund Jones for the Stravinsky's Oedipus. These figures were about. 50 some of them were 10 to 15 feet high. Now they required several people to operate the strings and when one of the figures had to raise his arm somebody up on the bridge had to run about eight feet with this. I've had the same experience with a dragon at Radio City where we had to run actually two to
raise the tail or the head or anything like that up that it gets a little tough after a while. Just jumping around a little bit now the derivation of the word marionette interested me in what you said in the book and I think it would interest our listeners because it suggests that religious views to which puppets have been put little Mary's Yes the little Mary in the Nativity is probably the derivation of the reason for the fact that we use the word marionette both from Italy and France where the. In the churches the actors were considered rather profane people and actors have only recently begun to achieve dignity here and in the rest of the world and actors in general during the medieval times in the time when the church decided to use theater in order to tell their stories. Puppetry was the only way that was was open to them without using actors and the people that they didn't want in the church. And
besides here were stories of myths and archetypes. How do you call an archetypical people. I suppose that it might well you should be able to tell me because that's your I think. Market typical maybe. Anyhow these are. Don't say MAYBE I'm sure you know these these are the kind of stories that and ideas that have to be expressed in when telling a Bible story and therefore the pope is doing very well. It's a statement of of an idea. But I take it it's rather more characteristic overall at any rate of puppets to be mocking and satirical and highly critical of the world of their time and and getting away usually with the most vigorous and bitter comments because they are funny and in good loud fashion and because they are puppets not man. Now this may seem curious this latter because there are obviously men behind the puppets but it works out that
way. Penchant Punch and Judy have been very subversive in authority in Cannes and sobriety in their time which have been a very long time hasn't it. Would you say something about how long Punch and Judy had been around. Punch and Judy in some form or other have probably been around for over a thousand years but not as not just as Punch and Judy they may have been as characters in how divide in Turkey who were city recall and critical of petty authority and that's where Punch and Judy come in they never really knock the king down for the real top authorities because if they did they would be closed out and have been closed out many times. But when they went Punch and Judy make fun of the sheriff or the local law keepers or the landlords or some things like that well then they can get by with it and punch came to England. Now we have definite knowledge of punches coming to England in Samuel peeps diary. Three hundred years ago. That as in.
In 62 it was the three hundred thousand nine hundred sixty two it was a three hundred anniversary and peeps wrote about it and mentioned several times how fascinated he was with this character which had been brought over to England by an Italian player. And they played in England for a long time the English took over the idea of punch and made it their own. And right today there are some 60 punch men active in England at the anniversary I believe in Covent Garden some 40 punishment all came out of the same booth to signalize the event in England. But a punch has come up through France and Italy and probably from the Orient with and I assume it came he came. His progenitor were in the Middle East. You suggest India is one of the places that it probably is might be called the birthplace of the puppet. That's right. Before we get back to that though you said that I'd like to just sort of finish off one point only Punch and Judy can be very satirical that's perfectly true and with.
With great ease because people don't don't die out there. There are. Sincerity I mean isn't like an actor being satirical it's an idea being satirical On the other hand they can be very much for something for instance that is a reason that American advertising uses a great deal of puppetry for selling things or even for for instance putting across the idea of courtesy and things like that I've done films for the telling. Telephone Company one of one of my biggest films with a telephone company is telling people about how to be courteous to each other. And these ideas are certainly ideas that they can accept from a puppet which they might not accept from from a human being. Therefore the puppet can attack or advocate as easily one of the other. But getting back to India. I believe I'm sure that there are plenty of other.
People who have studied the art of puppetry who would say that puppetry came from somewhere else but after having travelled in India and studied the situation over there I'm convinced that they came from India myself. There are so many different styles over there and then we found found instances I found one instance of a proto puppet that I think is 4000 years old. A toy nevertheless operated by a string. Puppet is I suppose truly international. Probably as close to universal as one can get in the world of art in a theatre. Is there any place where the puppet is not. Well I would not really know there are plenty of places where they are not used in a professional way but in a C originally puppets are always religious. That is they come from the mask. The mask is an attempt by a man or a priest or somebody to make himself stronger by
putting on an addition to himself an extension of himself. And the mask the mask has been used. Early in early days in hunting and then in religious ceremonies long long before they became before it became a puppet by taking it off of the head and holding it in front or putting it on a string or something like that. There are places where in the in the world today were puppetry this is very thin you might say. Such as in South America the west coast of South America there are places in Africa for instance where the people have stayed with the mask and it has not left the body and not become a puppet. Although there are puppets in Africa and very good puppets in Africa the general tendency is to stay with the mask and for the mask dancer to wear the mask and be the puppet himself and I would say that's possibly because of. Maybe a little less
self-consciousness on these people's parts. Maybe maybe the Western European to hold the puppet farther away from himself and extend himself that way where the African is perfectly content to be the puppet. That's a very interesting idea that mask is perhaps a stage in the development of the pup. I'm sure it is. Yes and we've laid it all here on a very enormous subject that a lot of us know much too big for the time we have. So I would like to get you to talk about your life with puppets a bit of the blurb tells the readers I am a veteran reader of blurbs that you've been 31 years and this business and what led you and well a lot longer than that really. I starred with Tony Sarg right here in the village in 1928 and I before that time I had my father built me a puppet when I was a kid and I had a show in college I was playing banjo in a jazz band in an intermission I put on a puppet show a purely pantomimic show
which I believe puppetry to be first of all I think words were superimposed on it later. But I went through all the phases that most every puppetry does of the dancing skeleton and snake charmers. Piano Player those are those are standards with almost every show and those are some still some of the most effective things that people do because they are pure pantomime that everybody understands. And I was amazed to find a lot of stuff that I thought I had invented was 2000 years old and the same gambits But actually my first Puppetry of any extent started right here in the village. Actually on Mercer Street and we're on Greene Street right now so it's just one block removed where Tony Stark had his shop and we. We started out with Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves to travel all over the United States. He's one of the great names in puppetry s.c.s you know he's the one who taught America about theatrical puppetry we had had a lot of vaudeville puppetry and Punch and Judy here from England but I mean one of the first Americans beside the Leno family.
But Tony Sarg was one of the popular writers of puppetry in this country. And remember a father a mother finally ought to mention and then mention a moment Ramo Indeed yes Tony and Ramos always feuded a little bit during their lifetimes Raima was more experimental and Tony was possibly more practical his output was solider and greater but I believe Ramo had greater flights of fancy in mind. You've appeared in all sorts of places I gather not merely theaters but in films and television in a very wide range indeed. Let's go back to that idea of talking about television and what it has accomplished it has made people perhaps aware of puppetry and yet it is all preserved. How shall I say a kind of mystery about puppets I simply presented you don't see the how they work and that's one of the fascinating things about puppetry. Well possibly it is. I think that the sooner people
know how things work possibly the less they the less they are conscious of it want to show is on. People talk about when people know very little about puppets they say oh you can see the strings when people have seen enough shows. Then they forget about the string if it shows any good you forget the string source. Because if. Some of the Europeans who use rod puppets tell us very nice show but we could see the strings Well it's a very nice show we can see the same thing. It's your method really doesn't matter as long as your idea comes across. How many puppets did you said you created. While I have about two thousand now but I've created a lot more than I made a lot more for Tony. And then of course they constantly become other puppets. We can't do that we humans can do certain bit of changing about but I we can't change heads or one of the problem I want to get to to talk about a little bit what are the chances for a successful repertory puppet theatre in
America or in New York. Isn't this one of your dreams. Yes it is. I don't know what the chances are but I'm taking them. We're building a theater right now on Barrow Street and. In my building I have happen to have a six story building over there which is busy with puppets all the way through but our ground floor has been storage for seven years and just storage and shipping and I figured that we might as well make a theatre out of it and and use it and do some of the experimental things and some of the exciting things that I know we can do. Some of the things that they're doing in Europe right now going to York will certainly welcome that when that development comes about. Mr. Baird thank you very much for this much too brief talk with you about your life enthusiasm puppets. But it does but it does enable me to present your book which is the occasion for our talk the art of the puppet published by Ridge press and Macmillan. It is quite literally one of the most beautiful books with the best color plates that I've ever seen and the words too are bright and colorful pungent and
- The reader's almanac
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Identifier: 69-18-10 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- Chicago: “The reader's almanac; 10,” 1969-05-08, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-zc7rst1n.
- MLA: “The reader's almanac; 10.” 1969-05-08. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-zc7rst1n>.
- APA: The reader's almanac; 10. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-zc7rst1n