Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Puppet Masters at Santa Monica Public Library

The Santa Monica Public Library has a long history of puppets used to entertain and teach a love of literature to the many children who visit us. And, we love our puppets!

Stick figure puppets may have been used as early as 1000 B.C. to tell stories. The most notable sock puppet was created by Shari Lewis, "Lamb Chop," in 1960. Pinnocchio, a complicated wooden marionette, initially appeared in a serial by Carlo Collodi in 1881. Marionette's first appeared in Italy. The story was later popularized by Disney in the feature film.  The Swedish Chef, my favorite Muppet, is the rare human-shaped Muppet puppet. There was the creepiest ventriloquist doll from The Avengers show; 'Henrietta' in "How to Succeed at ... Murder" in 1966. SeƱor Wences was an amazing ventriloquist who drew lips on his hand between the thumb and forefinger and named the character 'Johnny' who was a favorite on the Ed Sullivan Show.

A notable Santa Monica Children's librarian, Virginia McShane,
operated marionettes to tell stories to children, including the famous Kiki the Clown. Mrs. McShane was head of Children's Service in the 1970s. She started working for the Library in 1932 as a library page. She was inspired to tell stories using puppets after seeing the response of children at puppet shows in the 1930s at our library. She started entertaining at children's birthday parties with a friend. She checked books out from the Santa Monica Public Library about puppets and marionettes and made her own.

Another amazing children's librarian and puppeteer is Ilene Cohen. She was also a branch manager and audiovisual librarian in Santa Monica since 1970. It was always apparent that Ilene's alter ego, Woody, delighted generations of children and parents alike. She is a remarkable storyteller and puppeteer with legions of fans.
Ilene Cohen and Woody the puppet at Santa Monica Public Library (2000)
Jesse Nathaniel, or Mr. Jesse as he is best know here by his youthful fans, is a life-long performer with an innate ability to entertain children. Jesse has been a part of the Santa Monica Public Library crew for 20 years. He picked up some basic tips on technique from two colleagues at the Pasadena Public
Library between 1990 to 1992, Genie Sowell and Barbara Martin. Jesse learned about ventriloquist puppetry from Ilene Cohen. She also inspired Jesse to create his current puppet stage.
Jesse describes himself as able to be silly and unselfconscious in his quest to lure children into reading when he is entertaining them with his many puppets. He sees this as a way for children to "Dream Big" and give them positive ideas as they grow. Jesse has many friends in his puppet stable. He says that the youngest fans love "Lamb Chop," the bunny, pig and parrot.

Cody, Mr. Jesse and Ducky, Lester, Lamb Chop, Mr. Book, Romeo, Cuddles, and Polly Parrot