Puppet Lewis Mahlmann Dies: Puppeteer Lewis Mahlmann died in Oakland, CA last week, on March 18, 2014, at age 86. Many children’s librarians knew Mahlmann, from the time he performed at libraries, as well as his stint from 1967-2006 as the master puppeteer at Children’s Fairyland. Mahlmann also mentored many other puppeteers, including Randal Metz of the Puppet Company, and Kevin Menegus of Il Fratello Marionettes. Mahlmann also authored several books on puppetry that Bay Area libraries still have on their shelves.
Lewis Mahlmann was exceptionally talented, smart, and kind. I was very lucky to work with him at Children’s Fairyland; later when I was a children’s librarian he would invite me to be a voice for one of his shows from time to time. Mahlmann prerecorded his puppet shows, using several actors to portray the various characters, which made sense since one show would be performed at least three times a day, five days a week, at Children’s Fairyland.
Lewis would hold the recording sessions at his home, making the actors a lasagna dinner with the help of his partner David Cadwalader Jones. David often co-wrote the puppet scripts with Lewis; Lewis also composed the music for the shows. He would play the music for us on his piano and we would record the songs and dialogue around the piano. Often his scores would be based on classical music compositions.
The puppet shows by Lewis Mahlmann were often based on folktales, or on ballet or opera stories, adapted for the child audience. These stories as well as the classical music adaptations made the fine arts accessible to young children. I am sure he hoped that later in life they would enjoy the full length versions of these tales, operas, or ballets. His puppet shows were often a child’s first experience with the fine arts.
Perhaps Lewis’s greatest achievement was the number of young actors and puppeteers he mentored. Many Bay Area puppeteers learned their craft from Lewis. So did many young actors, who either provided voices for his puppet shows, or worked as characters at Fairyland. Many of them also went on to become teachers.
Lewis Mahlmann has a wonderful legacy in the children he performed for and who he inspired. He will be missed.
Penny Peck, San Jose State Univ. School of Library and Information Science