Bennett’s marionetts on Cable TV

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gordon Bennett and his marionettes are back and this time on local television.

Bennett has made a name for himself in the world of “puppets” — first from Springfield, Massachusetts to Hollywood, California and then to Pike County, Alabama.

Bennett’s marionette shows have been popular events at his backyard “theater” in the rural hillside near Monticello and at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama.

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Now, at 5 p.m. daily through Christmas Day, Bennett’s marionette shows can be seen on T.V. Channel 52.

“It’s very exciting to have the marionettes on local television,” Bennett said. “A lot of people have seen some of the shows, especially ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ which will be shown on Christmas Eve and Christmas night.”

Bennett has produced 14 marionette shows, five of which are stage shows and nine are for educational television.

“Channel 52 is playing one of the shows each afternoon at 5 o’clock,” Bennett said. “Upcoming will be ‘King Neptune’s Court,’ and ‘Circus on Strings’ which are stage shows that have been very popular and, of course on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, they’ll play the Christmas show, ‘The Night Before Christmas.’”

The educational shows focus on drug abuse, fire prevention, hospital care and other issues that affect children.

Bennett said the marionette educational shows present valuable information in a fun and entertaining way and the stage shows are primarily for entertainment.

People all across the country have enjoyed the Gordon Bennett marionette shows for many years.

Bennett became interested in marionettes when he was only nine years old.

“I went to see the marionette show, ‘Rip Van Winkle’ at the Museum of Fine Art in Springfield, Massachusetts. I was about halfway back in this huge theater but to me the marionettes seemed bigger than life.”

After the show, Bennett went backstage in search of the magical characters but was surprised to see that the marionettes were only 12 inches in height and made of wood.

“The marionette show was incredible,” he said. “That was during the WPA years and Tony Sarg traveled with marionette shows all across the country and he had four or five troops out there, too.”

Even though Bennett had seen the work of a master puppeteer, he, at nine years of age, was sure that he could make wooden people and things on strings.

“‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ was my first marionette show,” he said. “I made all of the puppets and my mother made costumes for them. But I didn’t have a giant. So, I painted my legs green and I was the giant.”

Bennett’s 10-year-old legs towered over the marionettes as he moved them across the stage in great fright. The response from his young audience was all the motivation he needed to keep making puppets on strings.

“My mother made the costumes for me until he was 97 then she said, ‘no more,’” Bennett said laughing.

He moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and his Hollywood Puppet Theater attracted a celebrity crowd.

He did a home show for Barry Gordy of Motown fame with the Jackson Five in attendance. Lucille Ball and Arlene Dahl brought their children to Bennett’s theater.

He was vice president of Puppeteers of America when Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets, was president.

Bending over and pulling strings to bring marionettes to life takes a toll on a man’s upper body and so now Bennett is content to sit back and watch his creations perform on television but he still views them with childlike enthusiasm.

Bennett’s “The Night Before Christmas” is available on DVD for $5.

For more information, call Bennett at 334-243-5300.