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The Puppetry Career of Bob and Judy Brown

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For more than 50 years, Bob and Judy Brown have been delighting audiences with their unique style of puppetry. For more than 50 years, puppeteers have been regaled with one hilarious war story after another straight from the lips of the authors. This is the book I, legions of fellow puppeteers, and even "civilians," have been waiting for!

Always funny and often tear-inducingly, bang-the-table hysterical, the stories in "A Pair of Cockeyed Optimists" are for puppeteers, would-be puppeteers, entertainers of any stripe, and fans of entertainment. You need know nothing about puppetry when you start this ride, but you'll possess a world of knowledge you never knew existed when you exit it!

Have you ever performed a children's show in front of teenaged juvenile delinquents bussed in specially for the occasion? Played the role of a Henny Youngman-like potato chip? Been forced to wear only pajamas on a cable TV interview program? The Browns have, and much, much more!

"A Pair of Cockeyed Optimists" is a must-have. Buy it today! You'll love yourself for it in the morning!

- Richard J. Morse


" For many of us blessed or afflicted with a lifelong love of puppetry, it would seem like Bob and Judy Brown lived our dream: spend your life doing the thing you love, make your living as a full- time puppeteer –with your own company and theater, and finding yourself in demand by the theater, music and television worlds. But as this book demonstrates, the dream is not a gauzy sentimental onea, As the story of their career vividly illustrates, carving out a full-time career in puppetry is not for the faint-hearted, the weak-willed or the undisciplined. In addition to the talent and skill required to design, build and perform shows, running a puppet business demands a shrewd grasp of marketing, public relations, accounting and human psychology.

The book tracks the fascinating 50-year odyssey of Bob and Judy's lives as puppeteers, first as individuals and then as husband and wife and partners in Bob Brown Puppets.

It starts with Bob as a young kid with an unshakable passion for puppetry, the 12 year old taking the bus into New York City, standing outside the studio of the legendary Bil Baird, only to turn around and go home – to shy to knock: then Bob as a young man, working with various companies in New York, touring shows with Len Piper, being hired by Bil Baird, travelling to India with him, and somewhere in there getting drafted into the army.

Judy, born to the theater, drawn to puppetry, working for a number of eccentric and colorful puppeteers in New York. Bob and Judy together: their chance meeting at a PofA (Puppeteers of America) festival in Miami in 1964, making the connection that evolved into marriage, and the adventures that would follow over the next several decades as partners and parents – creating shows, establishing a resident puppet theater at the Smithsonian, performing with symphony orchestras around t he country, appearing many times on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and countless other enterprises, along with raising three kids – Michael, Krista, and Peter. It all unfolds in entertaining detail. And within the details are great lessons: about dealing with bureaucrats and boards, successfully marketing your shows, protecting your good reputation, and in general surviving and thriving as a business as well as an art.

The book came out of many hours of interviews with Bob and Judy. Recorded by their good friend Jean Reges Burn, transcribed and edited by Luman Coad, with Luman writing some chapters, Judy Brown writing others. Bob, a talented cartoonist has created drawings to illustrate some of their stories and observations, and the book is rich in photographs. The result is a multi-faceted reading experience.
Tracking the arc of the Browns' career is just one way to enjoy it. I also found the book intriguing as the story of a relationship between two quite different people, but whose match-up is based on a mysterious chemistry that has obviously worked for more than 45 years. In the company's operation, Judy is generally the writer, director, promoted and sometimes performer. Bob is the designer, puppet-maker and principal puppeteer.

The characters of Bob and Judy come to life in their own words. Judy, a strong personality – outspoken, sometimes quick tempered and impatient, traits counterbalanced by an irrepressible, sometimes wicked sense of humor. Bob: mild-mannered and in Judy's opinion, not only a wonderful puppeteer but one of the kindest people in the world, who can never the less infuriate her by ignoring or forgetting her stage directions. Their upfront, exchanges, just on the edge of bickering, come across as good natured and often funny.
But the real fun, the moments that make the book a hoot (in the words of the late, great George Latshaw), are the war stories, peppered throughout the pages of the book. In fact, they are so much fun that you find yourself hoping and anticipating the next one. In talking about “war stories” Judy recalls an observation by their son-in-law, Todd Robbins, a well-known magician, that amateur performers love to exchange stories about their successes, but seasoned professionals love to tell about the times when things went terrible wrong, especially if the story is at their own expense. And as Judy says, “Do we have war stories for you!”

Both Bob and Judy are great storytellers, but Judy especially has a gift, whether she’s regaling an audience in person or in print., a gift developed at an early age. Her parents were in show business, sometimes working in vaudeville and burlesque. She recalls as a little girl being awakened at midnight by the noises of their apartment door opening and her parents' show business friends tumbling in to spend the late night hours around the table spinning one story after the other, each attempting to top the other.  Judy says that if you couldn't tell a story by the time you were four-years old, “you’d be drummed out of the family in a heartbeat.” So she developed the eye, and the ear, and the memory for creating word pictures that make a story come alive in hilarious detail.

It would be impossible to give you the full flavor of any of the war stories in the context of this review.  They cannot be served condensed.  You need to enjoy them in Judy and Bob’s own words.  And finally, Judy and Bob provide an extra treasure in the final chapter of the book, a section called “The Ten Things We Know Now and Wish We Had Known Fifty Years Ago.”  It’s a goldmine of advise for every puppeteer and possibly reason enough all by itself to buy the book.   Although you don’t want to miss the stories.

- Paul Eide - The Puppetry Journal

"I am up to page 100 of "A Pair of Cockeyed Optimists," and it is hysterical. Judy is one of the funniest people Elise and I have ever met, and she is a great writer as well. We have had tears running down our faces at many of the stories they have told. Do yourselves a favor and get a copy of their book. "

- Bob Nathanson

" The WONDERFUL book "A Pair of Cockeyed Optimists" about the career of the Bob Brown Puppets is now available on Amazon. There were production problems that caused a delay in making it available, but they have now been corrected. 

This book is a MUST read for any puppeteer or anyone interested in theater. The Browns have done it all very successfully - shows for symphony orchestras, tours for school assemblies, regular appearances on "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood", TV commercials, preschools and birthday parties. Judy Brown is one of the funniest and most delightful writers ever. Her "war stories" are great. 

Don't deny yourself the terrific experience of owning this book as you will be reading it over and over and laughing just as hard as the first time."

- Jim Menke

" Well so far up to page 160, but I'm going to save a little bit for tomorrow. Everyone, and I mean everyone who wants a career as a professional puppeteer needs to read this book. The "war" stories are very funny, but each one is a lesson to be learned. For any long time pro we can nod our heads and remember when we were in a similar situation. Kudos to Bob,and Judy Brown and Luman Coad, this book is a treasure."

- Dave Herzog

"I finished A Pair Of Cockeyed Optimists this AM. While the whole book is wonderful, the last Chapter is a must read and read again for anyone who wants to go into this business. The book is a gem. My favorite story [ of those I have not heard Judy tell in person] Is the Symphony Show for inner city kids preceded by a two hour long sugar filled Christmas Party"

- Dave Herzog


All Content / Photos © 2010 Bob Brown Puppets