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Paul McPharlin and the Puppet Theater

Ryan Howard

About the Book
Paul McPharlin is one of the 20th century’s most important contributors to the art of puppetry. Over a period of nine years he created some 20 productions with marionettes, rod puppets, hand puppets and shadow figures. He was also a prolific writer whose technical, theoretical and historical works contributed significantly to a puppetry revival. His book The Puppet Theatre in America is considered the definitive history of American puppetry. Though shy and aloof, McPharlin was also energetic. He had an ability to bring people together and used this knack to found a national puppetry organization, Puppeteers of America.

Besides the author’s extensive research on McPharlin and puppetry, the book draws on significant contributions from McPharlin’s wife, puppeteer and author Marjorie Batchelder McPharlin, who allowed the use of her 18-year correspondence with Paul in the creation of the book. Chapters take the reader through McPharlin’s childhood as a loner in Detroit, his maturation and education in New York, and his early, erratic and often unsuccessful attempts at making a living. His puppeteering years, 1929 to 1937, are detailed, as are the later years that saw him first working for the WPA and then being drafted into the army to serve in World War II at age 38. He continued making important contributions to the art of puppetry until a brain tumor took his life at age 45 in 1948.

Appendices present two of McPharlin’s plays, The Barn at Bethlehem: A Christmas Play and Punch’s Circus. Another appendix details puppetry imprints, including yearbooks, plays, handbooks, worksheets and books. A fourth lists Paul McPharlin’s Puppeteers, members of the Marionette Fellowship of Detroit.

About the Author
Ryan Howard, professor of art emeritus at Morehead State University, is an art historian. He is the author of numerous articles and reviews on the puppet theater and lives in Morehead, Kentucky.


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