Monday, June 29, 2015

Classic Television : Bible Puppets

Bible Puppets

(nationally syndicated dramatized bible stories for children)
Syndicated: c. 1950 - mid 1960s
Production: Mabel Beaton, Les Beaton, Protestant Radio Commission, c. 1949 - 1950

This may have been the first "animated" (in one sense of the word, using puppets) Bible based series in television history and the first one geared towards children that was not produced live.  The root of all Christian puppet series to follow.

Portsmouth Times, Oct 7, 1950.
Mabel Beaton handling the puppet of Jesus Christ. Portsmouth Times, Oct 7, 1950.

This was a series of short films with Bible stories re-enacted by the expert puppeteers Mabel and Les Beaton and the Peningo Puppeteers. They were commissioned by the Rev. Everett C. Parker of the Protestant Film and Radio Commission to create these short films. The first short premiered at a Broadway theater in New York, and the shorts begin appearing on television in 1950. A few years later these shorts were made available to the home and church market by the Religious Film Association, Inc in both color and black & white copies. Examinations of New York state and regional newspaper television schedules show that these films were broadcast on Sunday morning schedules for children as late as 1964.

ABOVE: The Story of The Prodigal Son (1950), rediscovered by A/V Geeks around 2011, and perhaps the only one of these shorts to exist today.

There were 9 to 13 shorts produced, all reportedly in color. They were:

The Parables
The Good Samaritan (This may have been the first one produced, in 1949)
The Ten Talents
The Prodigal Son
The Lost Sheep

The Story of Joseph
Joseph And His Brethren
Joseph In Egypt

The Story of Moses
Moses in Egypt
Moses And His People
Moses And The Ten Commandments

Survival Status: A black and white print of one short, “Story of the Prodigal Son” was unearthed by A/V Geeks very recently, and is downloadable from and YouTube.  Other shorts; unknown, none are listed in World Cat, but copies may still survive in the hands of private collectors. Please check your church basement!!!

Below is one half of a color television special called "The Spirit Of Christmas" which tells the story of the Nativity and was sponsored the Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company. Made the same year as the Bible Puppets series by the Beatons, it is unknown if "The Nativity" was one of the Bible Puppets entries or a separate production.


Advertisement: Religious Film Association, Inc. (1952, November 1). Educational Screen, 385-385.

Advertisement: Religious Film Association, Inc. (1952, September 1). Educational Screen, 385-385

Erickson, H. (1989). Syndicated television: The first forty years, 1947-1987. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland.

Hess, B. A Brief History of Christian Films: 1918-2002.

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