Storied organ gets second life at Bob Baker Marionette Theater

| January 27, 2022 | 0 Comments

LIVELY SOUNDS heard from the massive theater organ at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater are enjoyed by children of all ages. Photo: Ian Byers-Gamber

During a recent visit to the Bob Baker Marionette Theater (BBMT), Los Angeles’ famed puppet theater, Brookside resident Vivian Gueler took note of something she hadn’t previously clocked. An organist was playing “upbeat, old-timey music” on an ornately detailed and colossally-sized theater organ. Situated to the left of center stage, it appeared to be a centuries-old antique.

Gueler did some inquiring and learned that the organ is on permanent loan from the Los Angeles Theatre Organ Society (LATOS).

“This is such a cool story and a little piece of history,” Gueler, who happens to be on the board at BBMT, told me at our kids’ school pick-up one day.

It just so happened that — around this same time — a copy of the brand-new book, “Enchanted Strings” was circulating here at the Larchmont Chronicle office. The book is generally available this month. It details the history of BBMT and its master puppeteer / founder, Bob Baker. Chronicle Managing Editor Suzan Filipek reviewed the book in our January issue.

The organ, however, is deserving of its own story, and I contacted BBMT resident organist Ed Torres to get that story. Torres explained to me that this particular organ is a digital replica of a theater organ from the early 1900s, and it was donated via LATOS from the private estate of a musician and author named Jack Darr.

I learned that theater organs were built for playing during the showing of silent movies. They were also a cost-saving measure, enabling theaters to replace an entire orchestra with one instrument and one player.

“These were not like church or concert organs,” Torres explained. “They had all sorts of bells and whistles and drums attached. They were extremely versatile — you could play anything. They could play jazz and all the tunes of the day.”

This jibes with what Gueler experienced at the BBMT theater. “The music coming from the organ (played by Torres) was lively and created a convivial atmosphere for all ages to enjoy,” she shared.

Torres, who has been playing organ since he was 13, was thrilled at the chance to come and play at BBMT.

“My mother had taken me to the original theater downtown when I was about six,” he said, “and I always remembered it fondly.”

Torres had spent many of his formative years “hanging out and volunteering” at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, ultimately becoming the head organist there until the pandemic struck.

When he found out BBMT was opening its doors again in September (after its pandemic closure), Torres immediately contacted BBMT Executive Director and Head Puppeteer Alex Evans to let him know he was available to come and play.

When I spoke with Torres during Christmas week, he was about to play his 100th show at the theater.

“This is such a specialty, and I’m really happy to introduce an instrument from a bygone era to a new generation of listeners,” Torres shared.

Mr. Darr would undoubtedly be happy as well. His estate made clear that he wished the organ to be placed “where people would enjoy it.”

Chevalier’s March 7

Author Randal Metz will sign copies of his new book about the Bob Baker Marionette Theater, “Enchanted Strings,” at Chevalier’s Books, 133 N. Larchmont Blvd., at 7 p.m. on Mon., March 7.

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Category: Entertainment

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