4 July 2012

The Bil Baird Legacy

Bil and Cora Baird in The Ziegfeld Follies, NYC 1944
The Ziegfeld Follies were a series of elaborate theatrical productions on Broadway in New York City from 1907 through 1931. In 1943, Ziegfeld introduced a puppetry number, The Bil and Cora Baird Marionettes into its show.

Bil Baird was primarily known for his puppets, appearing with them on television shows with Ed Sullivan, Jack Paar and Sid Caesar and in his own 1950 series, ''Life with Snarky Parker,'' together with his wife Cora.

''He was really the dean of marionettes and puppet making,'' his son George Baird said after his death in 1987. ''He's been at the top of the heap for a long time as far as puppets go. I don't believe anybody has come up to Bil in the making of puppets.''

Baird teamed up with the leading puppeteer of the time, Tony Sarg, to help build and direct the puppets in a show at the 1933 Chicago's World Fair. In 1936 and 1937, he appeared in Works Progress Administration projects, where he met Cora Burlar, who in 1937 became the third of his four wives. They remained together until her death in 1967.

I was privileged enough to meet Bil Baird at the 14th UNIMA Congress in Dresden, East Germany in 1984. It was there too that I met Jim Henson for the first time. American Puppeteer and director, Roman Paska penned his prediction after the Congress: "We left Dresden convinced that the stakes were finally high, that the puppet could and would proclaim a new era, that puppeteers would pave the way, and that puppet theatre was indeed destined to be the theatre of the future."

Baird was the author of a 1965 book, 'The Art of the Puppet,'' considered a classic in its field. In the early 1960s, he toured the Soviet Union and India as a State Department cultural ambassador. It was during this time that LIFE Magazine covered his tour and you can find remarkable photos of his visionary work here!

He received an Emmy nomination in 1958 for ''Art Carney Meets Peter and the Wolf,'' and the Bairds received the Outer Circle Award in 1967 for their permanent puppet theatre. You can also get a taste of Bil and Cora's television work, which also made a great impact on the future work of Muppet creator, Jim Henson, here!

No comments: