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Vivian Brunner, 79; Ran Popcorn Marionettes With Husband

October 19, 2005|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Vivian L. Brunner, who with her late husband John operated the Popcorn Theater Marionettes for three decades, has died. She was 79.

Brunner died Sept. 24 of natural causes in North Hollywood, her son Paris Brunner announced.

Born in Downey, the former Vivian Hypes studied mathematics at Stanford and in 1947 married John David Brunner. In the mid-1950s the couple moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne and often enjoyed watching puppet shows in the city's parks.

After returning to Los Angeles, Vivian Brunner worked as a dress designer and her husband was an art director for an advertising agency. But neither was happy.

They quit their jobs and founded their touring marionette show in 1962, with John Brunner making the puppets by hand and his wife fashioning the costumes.

Their versatile cast included about 100 marionettes, some valued at $1,000. The most detailed puppets took as much as 600 hours to carve, paint, costume and string. When they were not performing, maintenance consumed most of the couple's waking hours.

"The marionettes are a labor of love," Vivian Brunner told The Times in a 1968 interview, "and a 24-hour-a-day job."

The first year was financially rough, and it took three years before they matched their former income. The couple wrote their own shows and sang the songs as they pulled the puppets' strings for about 200 shows a year throughout Southern California.

In one show in Santa Ana in 1977, they presented their musical version of "Ben Franklin's Dream" with 19 marionettes not only acting out the play but jumping off the stage and interacting with the audience.

Although most of their productions were aimed at children, they also created a popular show for adults based on Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales."

In the 1980s, the Brunners utilized their marionettes to create special effects for motion pictures and television shows -- including many unsuitable for their former child fans.

Vivian Brunner was credited on the special effects crew for the 1985 science fiction vampire film "Lifeforce," starring Patrick Stewart. She also provided the special effects for the murderous dolls in the 1987 horror movie "Dolls."

Widowed in 1993, Brunner is survived by her son and a granddaughter.

Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the First Christian Church of North Hollywood.

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