Puppet master


Maryland Gazette
Saturday, January 10, 2004

Reprinted by permission

Linthicum man looks
back on decades of

delighting kids, adults

By JENNIFER DONATELLI
Staff Writer

Bernard Paul slowly climbs the ladder, steps onto the platform behind the stage and makes Queen Ivy dance like she did decades ago, "Oh, look out there," he says in a high‑pitched voice as he makes her wave.

She bends and bows, stretches her arms and glides across the stage, all at his command. After a couple minutes performing, it's time for Queen Ivy to go back to the storage bag hanging stage right.

The vast array of puppets in Mr. Paul's Linthicum Heights home is now quiet.  It's not hard, however, to visualize the work that delighted and amazed children watching the antics of "Paul's Puppets," the show he ran with his wife, Edith, from the 1930s until the 1970s.

For years, "Paul's Puppets" ‑ featuring Queen Ivy and hundreds of other marionettes and puppets ‑ was a popular mainstay on WMAR‑TV Channel 2 from 1948 to 1957. The Pauls also played at area hospitals, schools and even at the White House. "Paul's Puppets" was the entertainment for Eleanor Roosevelt's first Easter egg roll in 1933.

"They liked it very much. We have a picture over there she gave us," Mr. Paul said, referring to one of several pieces of memorabilia on his studio walls.

Hundreds of puppets and marionettes, each labeled according to the show, fill drawers and rest in bags in Mr. Paul's immaculate studio. Other stages are stored in cabinets.  Machines Mr. Paul used to create the puppets sit silent.

"We still have all our puppets, maybe 500 or so," he said, sometimes speaking about his wife, who died in 11 years ago, in the present tense.

Mr. Paul first became interested in puppetry as an instructor in stagecraft and dramatics at Maryland Institute of Art and thought he could improve upon what was available.

"I looked in books and saw how they were done and improved their joints," he said.

Mr. Paul, however, couldn't sew. So he turned to Edith Rogers, who taught classes in making stage costumes. Their partnership grew, on and off the stage.  They wed in 1929, had two sons, and had been married 63 years when Mrs. Paul died in 1992 at age 85.

"She did the costumes because I couldn't do costumes. I did heads and bodies," said Mr. Paul, who's shy about revealing his age. "With hand puppets, I had legs and feet. Otherwise, it was just a sock sitting up there."

However, those heads and bodies didn't come without the Pauls researching the shows they performed, typically fairy tales. Some of the cabinets in Mr. Paul's studio are still filled with storybooks like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," "Cinderella," and Rudyard Kipling's "The Elephant Child."

"We made everything, the costumes, the scenery," he said.

Mr. Paul delights in showing off the puppets, including the wolf from "Little Red Riding Hood." He pulls out the hand puppet and leers, "You have a nice, fat, juicy old grandmother."

Growing up, Larry Paul, the couple's youngest son, never gave much thought to his parents' unusual occupation.

"It just wasn't that interesting to me," he said, adding he learned later how special what they did was. "I'm sure children of brain surgeons aren't that impressed with their parents either."

The shows, however, impressed plenty of others, including Linthicum resident Irv Meseke, who remembers it playing at Ferndale Elementary School about 70 years ago.

"It was very good, the only one of its kind," he said. "All I can remember is I really enjoyed it. It was very funny and made you laugh."

Skip Booth, who writes a history column for the Linthicum‑Shipley Improvement Association's newsletter, began researching the show after meeting Bernard Paul. He said the Pauls' contribution to the region is indelible.

"I really think they have a fascinating legacy," he said. "I can't imagine a couple working together like that. In puppet shows, you've got to anticipate what your partner does. And him carving the little feet and her sewing the clothes, they were quite a team. I know that's why they were so successful. "

The Pauls eventually began doing more shows with hand puppets than marionettes because of the ease in transportIng them. Many of the shows were at Hutzler's department stores.

"It was a way to do advertising. We didn't do much advertising for them. We said, 'Brought to you by Hutzler's,' Mr. Paul said.

Mr, Paul's favorite shows, however, were ones put on for sick or disabled children, Larry Paul said.

"I remember some couldn't hear the show, but they could feel it with the vibration and the ones that were blind could hear it," he said.

The Pauls took summers off from performing locally, using the time to make puppets or travel to Maine to perform.

"It was so darn hot here. They didn't have air conditioning in those days and school was out," Bernard Paul said. "We liked Maine. I went up there with an uncle who had a month's vacation at a time."

Mr. Paul has no plans to part with his collection, saying he'll leave it to his sons rather than donate it to a museum.

"The Smithsonian, if you give it to them, they'll store it away. They won't have space to show these things," he said.

In a way, his home is a sort of museum, he said.

"Oh yeah, I'm just a junk collector," he said, chuckling. "I'm Linthicum's version of the Smithsonian."

jdonatelli@mdgazette.com

An unidentified girl smiles with delight as she looks at Bernard and
Edith Paul's puppets in this photo taken at the Portland (Maine)
Museum of Art on Aug. 16, 1963. Mr. Paul, and his wife, who died in
1992, performed hundreds of shows from the 1930s to the 1970s
as part of "Paul's Puppets." He still has all his puppets and
equipment.

 


email address:
rpevans@att.net

Updated 02/12/2004
This information is not to be re-used for commercial purposes
Copyright © 2004 Ron Evans
URL: http://rpevans.home.att.net/index.html