Hermosa Beach author recounts life of puppeteer Alan Cook
by Kevin Cody
When Alan Cook was a boy in the 1940s, puppeteers enjoyed the status of current rock stars. They hosted early television shows such as “Howdy Doody” and were mainstays on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Like many children of his era, Cook was given his first puppet, a Dutch Boy Marionette, as a Christmas gift by his parents. When he started school in South Pasadena, he joined the school puppet club.
On weekends, his mother took him to puppet shows presented at the big downtown Los Angeles department stores, including Robinsons, Bullocks, and May Company. Ferdinand the Bull and Dopey, sold by Disney to promote their feature length cartoons, were among the first puppets Cook added to his collection. Walt Disney was an enthusiastic supporter of puppetry.
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Today, at 85, Cook’s puppet collection contains over 5,000 puppets and over 1,000 books and magazines on the art.
Puppetry Arts Museum founder Nancy Lohman Staub described the collection as one of the largest, most important puppet collections in the country.
But like puppetry itself, Cook’s collection, along with his encyclopedic knowledge of the art, was in danger of being lost. Fortunately, two years ago he and Hermosa Beach sculptor and fellow puppeteer Jacquelyne Marks committed themselves to finding a permanent home for Cook’s puppets and to publishing a book recounting Cook’s career in puppetry.
The collection found a home at Northwest Puppet Center in Seattle.
A signing for their book, “Alan Cook: A puppet collector’s Odyssey,” will be held this Sunday, July 16 from 2 to 5 p.m., at Marks’ home at 702 The Strand, in Hermosa Beach.
Cook began producing puppet shows while in high school and landed his first professional job after returning home from the first National Puppetry Festival in Oklahoma City in 1948.
“Johnny Faust toured little mom and pop appliance stores for Philco (a maker of radios and televisions),” 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 “that was so small the stoves and refrigerators had to be removed to make room for the audiences who sat on wood benches.”
Cook went on to travel the world performing at puppet festivals and puppet theaters. Most of his collection assembled from his travels. He acquired a priceless Italian puppet from the acclaimed 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 valued are 1930s puppets from the Yale Puppeteers Teatro Torito, which was 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 may be purchased by sending $37.50 plus $5 for shipping to IPM Books, C/O Jackee Marks, 702 The Strand. Hermosa Beach, Ca. Include shipping and email addresses. ER