For the last fourteen years, I’ve shared my home with 53 puppets, originally the property of Jeanne Charlton and the Lakewood Puppeteers.
When my friend Jeanne, founder of the Lakewood Puppeteers, left this world in 2015, she took a lot of light and laughter with her. Jeanne was my first friend in Lakewood. The Army had just transferred my family from Thailand, when I read iconic columnist Denny McGougan’s story in the Tacoma News Tribune about Jeanne and her puppets. Since I had a puppet troupe in Bangkok, we were natural pals. That was how she signed all of her notes, “Your pal, Jeanne.”
Over the course of 30 years, Jeanne and the Lakewood Puppeteers entertained more than 300,000 delighted children. Audiences ranged from schools and libraries to the governor’s mansion. Jeanne recruited community members and friends to be puppeteers. Her daughter, Lorraine, and husband, Bill, were part of the show. Bill and Jeanne described themselves as best friends for the 69 years of their marriage. On many days, after Bill got the stage and equipment set up for performances, he did double duty by wearing a plush octopus puppet that fit over his head with the legs bouncing around his shoulders as he moved. Now that’s love.
Originally, we had planned to repair and renew all of the puppets but advice from Dmitri Carter of the Northwest Puppet Center in Seattle cautioned that be done very sparingly, if at all.
When the puppets are repaired, they are changed, Carter told us. They are no longer the same work of art that performed in Lakewood for 40 years. So the puppets appear just as they were on stage, and if there are scuffs and nicks, and there are, that shows those puppets were real performers.
When my daughter, Gina, was 6, her father’s death left her lost and desolate. We spent a lot of time with Jeanne and her creations. Gina remembers the puppets popping out of every nook of Jeanne’s house, especially the towering Merlin the Magician that Jeanne had created after research in England. Merlin is nearly 5 feet tall with hypnotic eyes. Gina recalled, “When I was very little, Jeanne had me look underneath her beautiful Merlin puppet, which I remember as being enormous, and underneath him she had hidden a Danny O’Day ventriloquist figure, with which I practiced ventriloquism and puppetry.” Today, a professional ventriloquist, performing nationally, Gina still has that puppet and credits Jeanne with starting her career.
Soon after Jeanne’s death, her Bill passed away, and unbelievably soon, Lorraine was gone, too, so the puppets came to live with me until permanent homes could be found. Some went to the Lakewood Historical Museum. The family of Jeanne’s partner Dorothy Tveten received the puppets she designed and created.
There are still more than two dozen puppets including the towering Merlin the Magician, available to an organization that might like to display this bit of Lakewood’s history. The puppets cannot be used for performance today because the material many of them are made from is asbestos clay. It was not known in the days those puppets were created that many of the materials used were unsafe for performers to use so they are not for children to play with. They do need to go to a home or organizations, that will display this vital part of Lakewood history. How about it, City Hall?
Now, I’m nearly packed to move from the Pierce County home I’ve loved for the last 20 years, and the puppets must have a new home. Right now, they’re living with foster parents, Kathleen and Don Denning of DuPont, but if you belong to, or know of an organization that would enjoy providing these puppets a permanent home, please contact me at Dorothy@itsnevertoolate.com.
PS. Even though I’m leaving Pierce County I’ll keep up with everyone and everything through the Suburban Times. I want to take this minute to thank my friend Ben Sclair for following in his parents’ footsteps and making this venue available to the community. There’s nothing like it. Gosh, you guys, I’m going to miss you. D