The Complete Book of Marionettes

The Complete Book of Marionettes

by Mabel and Les Beaton


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"Highly recommended." — Library Journal
Marionettes, those beguiling, animated little actors on strings, have endeared themselves to puppet show lovers for generations. Constructed to approximate most nearly the movement and appearance of humans and animals, the jointed figures appear today in a variety of places — in the theater, motion pictures, schools, and even as an advertising medium. This instructive and engaging guide, written by professionals with a passion for their art, provides everyone from beginners to veteran performers with all the information needed to create these beloved figures and the stages on which they perform.
Enhanced with more than 200 sequenced photographs and diagrams, the comprehensive manual contains valuable advice for making heads, bodies, wigs, and puppet clothing and includes entire chapters on how to manipulate the puppet, set up and furnish a stage, light scenes, and even how to build miniature pieces of furniture. A production chapter tells how to incorporate music, put on sketches, parody celebrities, and arrange programs. There's even a complete script for Beauty and the Beast, as well as a section on the history of puppeteering.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486440170
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 11/02/2011
Edition description: Unabridged
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Complete Book of Marionettes

By Mabel Beaton, Les Beaton

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1976 Mabel and Les Beaton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-31764-9


1. Preface to Puppeteering

This is a book about marionettes, those beguiling little, animated puppet actors who create for us in miniature theaters of their own the comedy, the tragedy, and the fantasy of all time.

This is a chronicle of how marionettes are constructed and how they are made to perform according to the ideas of their human creators (and occasionally, according to inscrutable ideas of their own). It is also the story of a group of grown-up men and women who discovered puppets anew for themselves out of a world of tiresome, adult humdrum, and of the joy and youth and gaiety it brought into their lives and the lives of others.

This is the age-old story of Mr. Punch told over again for our own immediate time.

That marionettes can be puppets but that puppets are not necessarily marionettes is a curious contradiction of the puppet world; so let us hasten to clarify that old, but inevitable question, "What is the difference between a puppet and a marionette?"

The word puppet is commonly conceded to be a broad, general term, covering every type of moving image, usually of humans or animals, that is actuated by human effort for the purpose of play-acting and entertainment. Puppets may be made of cloth, wood, leather, paper, clay, wax, stone, or any of countless other such materials. Human control may be effected by rods, sticks, strings, or wires, singly or in combination, and even by the human hand inserted inside the figure; and the puppets so controlled or actuated may be known as rod puppets, push puppets, shadow puppets, hand puppets (Punch and Judy are familiar examples of these), and string marionettes. These are all puppets, representing the ones best known to modern usage. In modern times the one who animates or operates any of these is called a puppeteer.

Of all these different types of puppets, the string marionettes have endeared themselves best to puppet lovers for many generations, no doubt because they are constructed so as to approximate most nearly human and animal movement and appearance, and because they are made to move with almost invisible strings which serve to enhance the illusion that they are living beings. It is string marionettes with which this book is entirely concerned.

In order to approach this simulation of human and animal forms, string marionettes must be so contrived as to be flexible in the same parts of the anatomy as their human or animal counterparts. The ordinary jointed doll or animal toy is a familiar object to everyone. If you can imagine such a toy figure with joints loosened so that they would not stay fixed and if you can imagine tying a string around the hand or knee of such a loose-jointed creature and suspending it by another string attached to the head, you will know that by pulling up or outward on those strings you could give it some sort of animation.

Among the simplest marionettes to operate are the typical Sicilian ones. While the puppets themselves are sometimes most elaborate, demonstrating the careful craftsmanship of the wood carver, the seamstress, and the armorer, they are made to move by a sturdy rod which extends upward from the puppet's head and by one cord tied to its right hand. Just these two simple devices to animate the entire figure, one grasped in the puppeteer's right hand and the other in his left! As you can well believe, these figures are very stiff, jointed only at the neck, elbows, and knees; and, of course, they cannot be made to behave in a very natural fashion.

So in order to achieve the naturalness and flexibility of figures that most audiences think desirable, it is necessary to attach strings to head, shoulders, back, hands, and knees and to suspend the puppet by them from a wooden contrivance, consisting of one or more pieces and known as a control.

If you want to get the feel of a marionette without buying or making one, just loosen the neck joint of a stuffed doll by removing the cotton in that area. Tie a string around the neck to keep it loose and wobbly. If the doll is not already jointed at the shoulder of the right arm, remove enough stuffing so that it will swing freely in all directions and tie it at the shoulder as you did the neck. Now, tie about a yard of string to each of two small safety pins and attach one pin to the top of the doll's head and one to the right wrist respectively. There, you have a string to hold in each of your hands and your loosejointed doll is a reasonable facsimile of a puppet. But now you may begin to feel some queer symptoms preliminary to the disease called "puppetitis."

For example, you will no longer be satisfied with jerking your puppet doll up and down in a grotesque jig step. You will wish to make this figure take a bow, let us say; so it is perfectly easy to see that a string attached to its back would, when pulled upward with the head string relaxed, permit it to perform that feat. But what to do? You are holding the head string in one hand, the hand string in another, and there is nothing left with which to hold that back string unless you resort to holding it in your teeth! But wait a minute! Here is a stick or a ruler. Loop the head string over one end, the hand string over the other and tie the back string around the middle. Now, one hand holds all three and the other hand is free to pull at the strings and make the puppet do as you wish. Why not tie a string to the foot too, and maybe the other hand? This begins to look like fun! ... but there must be a better way to suspend these strings than this!

And there! Having a puppet and a control of sorts, you arc searching about in your mind for a better way to make both, for certainly this stiff characterless doll could never be a good actor. How, then, you will ask yourself, can one build a moving figure that will have the strong personality of a storybook character? How can we best attach strings to make him move as our heart's desire him to and where shall we find a place for him to perform? When you have asked yourself those questions, then you are ready for the chapters that follow in this book, for you are aware of what it is you wish to accomplish.

There is a man, Frank Paris, famous in modern professional puppetry, who works entirely alone. He usually handles one figure at a time and he has no marionette stage at all, which certainly represents the barest essentials. Yet he performs upon the largest theater stage in the world, New York's famed Radio City Music Hall. How does he do it? He is dressed in black from head to finger tip to toe and he performs his remarkable marionettes against a black backdrop, so that all the audience sees in that vast place is the amazing actions of these beautiful marionettes in the skilled hands of their invisible operator.

Unfortunately, what appears to be such a simple idea does not lend itself well to a home, school, or club performance since the success of such a presentation depends on more highly polished techniques of operation than even the most accomplished amateur is likely to acquire. So we should do better and have more fun in the bargain if our plans for puppeteering include the creation of a theater to give our little homemade figures the glamorous trappings they deserve.

What, then, does our small performer need in order to present himself to the best advantage as an actor? We can begin by thinking in terms of the theater proper which we all know. First of all, your marionette needs a little stage, built in proportion to himself so that he will be on eye level with his audience—about table height, let us say. He needs some sort of frame for that stage, a proscenium as it is called in theater parlance, and he needs a background and something to cast light upon his antics.

But since the puppet cannot walk upon that stage and carry on his histrionics without the puppeteer who manipulates him, something else must be added to the theatrical stage as we know it. This is the puppeteer's bridge, a sort of strong high bench that is placed directly behind the backdrop. Upon this the puppeteer stands, his lower portions concealed by the backdrop and his head and shoulders made invisible by the proscenium arch. By the puppeteer's holding his control out over the stage, Mr. Puppet can be maneuvered into any position the puppeteer desires, giving the illusion to the whole world that the motivation is all his own. The end papers in this book* have been especially designed to give you an all-over picture of the marionette show as a whole so that you can comprehend at a glance its structure and operation. We hope you will take time to study these drawings with care in order to familiarize yourself with all the special terms that apply to a puppet show.

There are many ways to devise simple theaters at home and these are covered in the chapter on stages in this book. If you have ever "played show" as a child, you will undoubtedly add some ideas of your own to those outlined here. Certainly, being the owner or manager of a marionette theater is "playing show" in the grandest manner possible; for it gives you the opportunity of being casting director, stage manager, scene painter, costume designer, producer, playwright, and actor all combined. By and large, the puppet show is a veritable carnival of the arts and as a leisure-time occupation it can hardly be surpassed. We earnestly believe that it can provide the most fun for the most people at the smallest cost of any indoor sport yet invented.

You need have no fear that your marionettes will be thought childish, akin to playing with dolls! For you have the example of many of our most illustrious great for whom the drawing-room puppet show has provided a medium of expression. The poet Goethe surrounded himself with marionettes from childhood and wrote of them and for them most charmingly. The great Socrates was an early forerunner of Edgar Bergen in his use of a puppet for a mouthpiece. George Sand and her son, Maurice, employed a portable theater to give voice to the sly and racy commentary of her day and even Voltaire, who hated puppets at first, became a devotee when he found they could be made to take the responsibility for some of his more daring opinions.

The list is endless ... Archimedes and Plato, Michelangelo and Goldoni, the composer Brahms, Shakespeare and Hans Christian Andersen, Molière and Anatole France, and more recently George Bernard Shaw, Gordon Craig, Maurice Brown and his famous wife, Ellen Von Volkenberg, are just a few great personalities in various fields who have worked with and fallen victim to the inimitable charm of the marionette.

For centuries the puppet theater has occupied a place in the adult world far exceeding its inconspicuous spot in the schoolroom and the nursery; but, for a time in the last generation, it was relegated almost entirely to the kindergarten world.

Since the early nineteen twenties, soon after Tony Sarg came to this country carrying his wonderful kit of marionettes and a head full of inspired ideas, puppetry has been restored to America with great vigor. Under the guidance of Mr. Paul McPharlin, founder and head of the Puppeteers of America, it has expanded almost to the point of being a native folk art. We owe much to his tireless efforts in encouraging and popularizing this ever-fascinating craft.

Today, marionettes are familiar to almost everyone through their use in the theater, movies, and schools, and as a medium for advertising. They should be found with increasing frequency in home and community groups, where they provide an outlet not only for the artist and craftsman of the neighborhood, but also for the musician, the writer, the wit, the actor, and the philosopher.

However, it was not for any such altruistic purpose that our own Peningo Puppeteers came into being. We were bored—bored, among other things, with the inevitable bridge game which we were not clever enough ever to learn to play well.

Our first efforts were tentative, timid, experimental. We made a couple of marionettes just to see if we could. They were clumsy and unbalanced, but in them we saw all the possibilities of the things that were to come. We knocked out a stage opening through a wall in our basement game room to make a stage proscenium. Needing a fine-sounding title to appear on our newly painted proscenium arch, we invoked the Great Spirit of the Peningo Indians who used to camp hereabouts to lend us theirs. Delighted kabitzers appeared from all around to help with planks and draperies and two-by-fours, lights, transformers, and wiring. As the needs of such a little theater became apparent among our friends, they hastened to extend suggestions and offers of help, discovering in themselves hitherto unsuspected potentialities as puppeteers.

Because together they contribute all the various skills, temperaments, and talents necessary to the production of marionette show and because they represent types of people that can be found in any community, the Peningo Puppeteers may serve as an example of a typical neighborhood puppet group. To present them without order or priority of office (which, incidentally, is nonexistent) they are:

Bob: An inveterate collector, whose library of books and clippings from every known source has been of inestimable value and whose expert craftsmanship in the making of props and furnishings could not have been spared.

Dot: A skilled needlewoman of superlative taste and imagination and a great person for hitting on just the right idea.

Mimi: Her previous career as a fashion expert in New York lends ideas of glamour to our productions, but her chief qualification is her instinctive skill as a puppet operator.

Mac: The quiet and efficient member who tries to keep us neat and in order and who, while the rest of us are settling affairs of state, may saw out a whole season's supply of puppet feet.

Phil and Alice: Mentioned jointly, because they are our voices. Professionally trained, they have found in the Peningo Puppeteers an outlet for their talents which does not take a fraction of the time they formerly gave to amateur theatricals and which they had to eliminate from their too busy lives. Phil, the man of many voices, has been known to take as many as four parts in one production without anyone being the wiser. Alice, the spellbinder, has been known to cause strong men to weep at a puppet fairy tale.

And ourselves ... LES: artist, mechanic, and electrician, rigs up lights, turntables and microphones, makes strange and wonderful props out of nothing at all, and paints the scenes and puppet heads.

Mabel: Models the heads and other body parts, designs costumes, and, in general, plans, writes, and directs the shows.

In addition to these specialized tasks almost everybody takes a hand in all the other departments. Bob and Dot, Phil and Alice have all written scrips and we have all contributed our voices when occasion demanded. All of us can make props, contribute ideas for the show, and operate puppets.

To recapitulate, in the forming of a neighborhood group, you will want an artistic person or two, a seamstress and designer, someone good at mechanics and wiring, a male and female voice for leading parts, and someone who loves working with tools. Given these capabilities and with a modicum of cleverness and originality all around, you should be able to turn out a creditable puppet show that will reflect great glory on all concerned.

There have been successful puppet companies of one and successful companies of sixty. The lone puppeteer will, in all probability, want a small portable kit of puppets and effects and his efforts most likely will be confined to the drawing room, the small club, or the schoolroom. There have been outstanding one-man puppet shows such as the one operated by William Simmoncls, the great English showman, who builds his own figures, operates them all, sometimes several at once and takes all the voice parts as well. In America there is Frank Paris, mentioned previously in this chapter, who has made a phenomenal success of his one-man puppet show.

So if you are the subjective type who is happier working in solitude, don't hesitate to undertake the venture alone. There are innumerable solo numbers that are effective; and, even if you feel unable to take voice parts, there is always the portable phonograph with a vast repertoire of songs, dances, and monologues on records that puppets can dramatize.


Excerpted from The Complete Book of Marionettes by Mabel Beaton, Les Beaton. Copyright © 1976 Mabel and Les Beaton. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. Preface to Puppeteering
2. Here's How
Types of Marionettes
Choosing a Marionette Character
Equipment and Materials Needed
3. Head Start
Proportion and Size
Portraying Facial Characteristics
Doing the Modeling
4. The Papier-Mâché Head
Applying the Papier-Mâché
Painting the Head
Removing the Clay
Attachments on the Head
5. Plastic Wood: Its Uses and Technique
Materials Needed
Making the Head Mold
Making the Plastic-Wood Shell
Other Uses for Plastic Wood
Making a Movable Mouth
6. The Body Beautiful
Proportion and Size
The Cloth-Bodied Puppet
The Jointed Wooden Body
Variations to Add Character
7. Wigs—Of All Things
Modeled Wigs
Crepe-Hair Wigs
Crepe-Paper Wigs
Yarn Wigs
Absorbent-Cotton Wigs
Miscellaneous Wigs
8. The Well-Dressed Marionette
Women's Clothes
Men's Clothes
Miscellaneous suggestions
Sources of Material
9. Everything under Control
How to Make the Control
Stringing the Marionette
Extra Strings
The Multiple Control
Storing Marionettes
10. Let Me Tell You about My Operation
What It Takes to Be an Operator
How to Operate the Control
Using the Puppet's Hands
Walking the Puppet
Sitting the Puppet
Picking up Objects
What Puppets Can and Can't Do
11. Easy Stages
Planning the Theater
The Proscenium
The Stage Floor
The Puppeteer's Bridge
The Permanent Theater
Stage Decorations
Safety First
12. Light Magic
Christmas Tree Lights
Low-voltage Lights
House-Current Lights
13. Gay Gilded Scenes
The Neutral Backdrop
The Painted Backdrop
Painting the Backdrop
Making Painted Props
Stage Smoke
Underwater Scenes
Transparent Gauze Panels
14. Apropos of Props
How They Are Created
Props from the Toy Counter
Making Your Prop Authentic
Things to Save
The "Propeteers" Workshop
Keeping Props to the Minimum
15. We Go into Production
The Revue
Planning the Complete Program
Selecting a Play
Recording the Program
Instrumental Pieces
Original Sketches
Portrait Puppets
Celebrity Portraiture
Adjustment to Audiences
16. "Beauty and the Beast"
17. Of Ancient Lineage
Ancient Puppetry
Oriental Puppetry
18. The Rest of the Story
19. About Mabel Beaton

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