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Fab Four take puppet form to celebrate 'invasion'

Clintonville's Bob Abdou, billed as world's only Beatles puppeteer, part of 50th anniversary event

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RYAN M.L. YOUNG/THISWEEKNEWS
Columbus-area puppeteer Bob Abdou shows off his Beatles puppets in their full Sgt. Pepper regalia at his home Jan. 22. Abdou has been putting on puppet shows as part of national Beatles fan event "The Fest" since 1996.
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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band introduced us to the one and only Billy Shears.

Now, 50 years after the Fab Four's arrival in the United States, the one and only Beatles puppeteer is part of the celebration.

Clintonville resident Bob Abdou, 53, a full-time entertainer since 1996, will perform Feb. 7-9 in New York City and later in the year in Chicago and Los Angeles as an official act of a long-running festival that celebrates the groundbreaking British band.

This time around, the events mark a half-century since John, Paul, George and Ringo first came to America.

The Beatles landed at the recently renamed John F. Kennedy Airport on the afternoon of Feb. 7, 1964, and two days later performed live on The Ed Sullivan Show with an astonishing 73 million people looking on.

Abdou, who was 4 years old at the time, doesn't remember being one of them. In fact, he didn't care all that much for the band when he was a young man.

"I was actually a Paul fan," Abdou said last week. "I was not a Beatles fan."

A friend turned him on to Paul McCartney's 1978 solo album London Town, and Abdou was hooked.

After becoming a ventriloquist and puppeteer, Abdou eventually made the Beatles part of his act, although the only marionette is Paul, with John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr as hand and body puppets. He now calls himself "the only Beatles puppeteer in America."

Creative differences led Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr to go their separate ways in 1970, a scant decade after they formed the band in Liverpool.

Only four years after that, major Beatles fan Mark Lapidos, then the 26-year-old manager of a Sam Goody record store in New Jersey, launched "The Fest" to celebrate his favorite band.

The first in what is billed on its website as "The Original and Longest-Running Beatles Celebration" took place in New York City in September 1974.

The original festival was attended by more than 8,000 Beatles fans, according to its website, and all four Beatles donated instruments to be auctioned for charity.

Abdou, who moved to Columbus in 2011 when his wife, the Rev. June Wilkins, became minister of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Clintonville, attended his first Beatles convention in 1994.

"It was like going into another world," he recalled. "These aren't Beatles fans; these are Beatles fanatics.

"There's a difference," Abdou said. "Everyone knows everything about the Beatles."

While he enjoyed the experience, Abdou noticed it was mostly single men and women in attendance, and not a lot of families. That was because, he decided, there was very little for children to do.

During the next year's Fest, he approached Lapidos and suggested adding a Beatles puppet show would increase attendance and encourage people with children to stay all day.

"The promoter realized that was a smart move," Abdou said. "He didn't want to know details. He just wanted me to entertain the children."

Abdou has been part of the Fest since 1996, and has performed 26 different Beatles acts since that time.

"I didn't want people to say, 'Well, we saw the puppet show last year, let's not go this year,' " he said. "There's a lot of audience participation in my show. It's like one big party."

Abdou has two new acts to debut as part of the 50th anniversary celebration, which will continue April 15-17 in Chicago and conclude Oct. 10-12 in Los Angeles.

He has different versions of all four Beatles, including one set as they appeared in 1964; another in full bright silk Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band military regalia; and yet another with Lennon and Harrison as they looked shortly before their deaths, and McCartney and Starr as they look today.

Abdou, who will be joined at the first 50th anniversary celebration by Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon fame, Donovan and Chad and Jeremy, all of whom also were part of the British Invasion of the 1960s, said he is looking forward to the opportunity to gain some recognition as a performer.

"Once I cross over the George Washington Bridge, I'm going to have a puppet on my hand," he said.

For more information about Abdou, visit his website, mrpuppet.com.

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