The papers and photographs of The Popcorn Theatre, a popular marionette show operated in Southern California for three decades by John D.K. Brunner (1925–93) and his wife Vivian (1926 -2005) along with their son Paris. This collection contains hundreds of original photographs, negatives, sketches for puppets, story concepts, and flyers for promoting shows. Also included is the iconic Popcorn Theatre wooden sign that was used at countless shows and two marionettes.
The Brunner’s, who were both raised in Southern California, married in 1947 and moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne, where they often enjoyed watching puppet shows in the city's parks. When they returned to the Unites States, Vivian worked as a dress designer and John as an art director. Neither was happy, so they quit their jobs in 1962 and founded their touring marionette show The Popcorn Theatre. Their son Paris is seen in photographs assisting with puppets from an early age.
The Popcorn Theatre was a staple at Southern California schools and performed regularly at area malls, parks, and community centers. Their versatile puppet cast included nearly 100 marionettes, all which were hand crafted by the couple. The most detailed puppets took as much as 600 hours to carve, paint, costume, and string. This archive includes two example marionettes. One is a felt green and blue character called a piñata with moving eyes and mouth that stands about 22 inches tall. The second is a 27-inch-tall grizzled old man. The strings and wooden controller are still attached to both; however the strings are badly tangled.
Additionally, the archive contains a variety of ephemera and paper relating to The Popcorn Theatre, including: Three copies of a stapled 8.5 x 11 inch booklet entitled Puppetry written by John Brunner and apparently published by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation. It is 19 pages plus a dozen or more illustrated pages. One of the copies is annotated in ink with a course outline laid in along with a handwritten sheet entitled people at county puppet class; A folder with a few work-related items for John Brunner, including his business card as art director at an advertising agency and a Mattel Inc. profit sharing worksheet; Several dozen half sheet flyers for two different performances of The Popcorn Theater – one for Rapunzel and the other for The Bremen Town Musicians; Several hundred 8.5 x 11 inch flyers promoting The Popcorn Theatre and its performances, many of them duplicates. There are flyers for booking a performance as a fundraiser, promoting the performance at your school, and for the following specific performances: The Bremen Town Musicians; Rapunzel; Who Stopped the Carousel; The Mysterious Hike; The Invisible Hike; Who Took the Golden Eggs?; Canterbury and Oother Tales; Hats a Courtin; and The Burro’s Secret Tale; An 11 x 17 poster promoting holiday shows of Rapunzel; A trifold brochure for The Popcorn Theatre; Stationary for The Popcorn Theatre; Public relations materials for the theatre, including a one page description of the theatre and synopsis of several plays, including The Invisible Hike, Who Tooks the Golden Eggs?, The Burro’s Secret Tale, The Mysterious, Invisible Hike, and Hats-A-Courtin; A half dozen advertisements and newspaper clips for the theatre; Lists of schools with notes about which ones were contacted for performances, along with a one sheet describing appealing to colleges for the performance of Canterbury and Oother Tales; A folder with more than a dozen handwritten pages of notes which appear to be ideas for plays and a book; Six 14 x 17 inch sheets with full color character sketches of what appear to be potential puppets that could appear in a proposed International House of Pancakes commercial – they include The Pancake Gobbler; Two four-page typed story ideas for a marionette show entitled “The Little Jewel”. One is dated 1968 with handwritten notes and the second is dated 1970; A typed letter and handwritten notes concerning efforts to develop and produce a film or videotape program based on The Popcorn Theatre; Sketches, notes, preliminary drawings, and patterns for a show that ultimately became “Ben Franklin’s Dream.”
This archive also includes hundreds of photographs, including: 27 8.25 x 10 inch black and white photos, possibly used as publicity shots for The Popcorn Theatre, with an official stamp on the verso. These photographs show the Brunner’s performing with the marionettes and close ups of the puppets; 31 smaller photos ranging from 3 x 5 to 5 x 7, mainly in black and white and not labeled but showing various aspects of The Popcorn Theatre’s shows; 11 envelopes of varying sizes containing negatives and a few snapshots from shows; An 8.5 x 11 inch envelope, labeled in pencil on the outside “Ben Franklin’s Dream,” which is the name of one of the shows. The content include a few snap shots of the Ben Franklin puppet under construction, more than two dozen negatives, and proof sheets; An 8.5 x 11 inch envelope labeled in pencil on the outside “Prize at the Fair,” which is the name of one of the shows. The contents include a few negatives, a contact sheet, a few slides and a sheet and a quarter of typed paper providing captions for the slides; An 8.5 x 11 inch bag, labeled in red grease pencil “hat show,” which is the name of one of the shows. The bag contains a variety of negatives and a few proof sheets that are cut up related to the performance; An 8.5 x 11 inch envelope labeled in pencil on the outside “Let’s Get Together,” which is the name of one of the shows. The contents include a few negatives and proof sheets that are cut up related to the performance; An 8.5 X 11 inch envelope labeled in pencil “kids shots for newspaper @ Bakersfield.” The envelope includes nine 10 x 8 inch black and white photos of a performance with children interacting with the puppets, along with a few strips of negatives and contact sheets; A 5 x 7 photo with a typed half page sheet clipped to it providing the caption for the photo, which features the puppet character Bloody John, a villainous pirate; Two envelopes with a half dozen photos that appear to be personal; A 4 x 7 inch envelope labeled in pencil “Golden Eggs,” which is the name of a show. The envelope contains negatives and a few clipped contact sheets; A 4 x 7 inch envelope labeled in pencil “The Burros Secret Tale,” which is the name of a show. The envelope contains negatives and a few clipped contact sheets. The archive also includes about a dozen black and white photos of this production and a one-page synopsis of the play. Item #64642