LEA WALLACE, Oct. 9, 1916 – Nov. 20, 2012. The Puppetry Community has lost a grand and gracious lady, Lea Wallace — a force for Puppetry as a Theater Art. Born the middle child of a family of eight children in New York City, Lea, at age thirteen was awarded a modern dance scholarship to the School of Industrial Arts in NYC. In her teens, Lea danced with major US companies: Humphrey Weidman, Helen Tamiris and José Limon. By age sixteen, Lea was dancing in the chorus of a Broadway show that starred beloved comedian, Ed Wynn.
From age four, when Lea was taken to a puppet performance by the Modicots in NYC, Lea was fascinated by Puppet Theater and its possibilities. Years later, she would combine her dance skills with Puppetry, to great acclaim.
Lea toured extensively with her first husband, Alfred Wallace; later, with her younger sister, Gia. As a solo artist, Lea created her signature Apron Stage, which, when lifted up and held in place by a cord around her neck, formed a unique puppet stage on which her beautifully-crafted hand puppets danced. Lea became a featured artist, playing the worldwide nightclub circuit, and was a guest on major TV shows.
In 1949 Lea and Gia opened the Village Dance and Puppet Center in NYC, where they combined the arts of dance and Puppetry to create a unique art form. In the nineteen-fifties they joined two USO tours to Hawaii, Wake Island, Japan and Korea. In 1960 Lea set up a showcase for puppeteers at the Greenwich Mews Theater in NYC. In 1962, Lea formed a committee that ultimately led to the creation of The Puppetry Guild of Greater New York. (Others were there from the beginning, but the credit for the Guild’s founding belongs to Lea.)
Experimental Puppetry was always a keen interest of Lea’s. She was a tireless promoter of new and abstract ideas, images and materials in Puppetry, giving lecture-demonstrations at PofA festivals, schools and clubs. Lea was also an Educator, having graduated from Brooklyn College and receiving a Master of Arts in Speech and Theater Education from Hunter College. Lea also taught Puppetry to inner-city school children, whose lives were greatly enriched by the experience.
From 1980 to 1990, Lea ran the Gramercy Puppet Theater, housed in the Moravian Church building in Gramercy Park, performing numerous seasons there. In the summer of 1996 Lea moved to Los Angeles and was active in the local Guild, teaching a workshop on puppets and dance that was very well received.
After moving back east, Lea attended many NYC performances, and was always an engaging and vital presence at Puppetry Guild meetings in NYC.
Lea Wallace was a stylish, attractive personage, who will be greatly missed by all who were privileged to know her.
— Peter Lewis, (PGOGNY). Special thanks to Judy Barry Brown, Bob Brown Puppets, and Greg Williams, The Puppet Studio, for the liberal use of quotes from their splendid articles of 1983 and 1997.