‘She’s just magical’: Veteran puppeteer Ginny Weiss uses her talents to give back


Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

Gilda Radner, Adam Sandler and Billy Crystal are just a few Jewish comedic actors known for their impersonations. Here’s another talented Jewish impersonator: Ginny Weiss. The St. Louis great-grandmother has mastered 100 different voices, ranging from Dr. Ruth to Roseanne Barr to Winnie the Pooh to Eeyore.

Weiss is a puppeteer who works her magic from behind a curtain. She’s also a volunteer, bringing entertainment and good cheer to children and adults throughout the St. Louis community.

“I’ve always been involved in theater,” Weiss said. “I’m a ham and I love to perform. I love the interaction with people. But I also love the people that I’m working with who are so wonderful and talented and it’s great that we give money back through charity. I also love working with kids. They are so honest. One little girl in the inner city came up to me and said ‘You’re more fun than my grandma.’ I wasn’t a grandma at the time, but it was still a nice compliment.”

The outgoing, effervescent Weiss was actually quite shy as a child. When Weiss was five years old, her mother sent her to a junior theatre in University City. She quickly blossomed. Weiss loved the stage. As a student at Clayton High School, she performed in a number of plays. Like many St. Louisans, she also attended Muny Opera productions with her family—always in the free seats.

After attending college as a theater major at Carnegie Mellon and Washington University, Weiss became an English teacher in the Normandy School District, followed by a stint teaching in the innovative Springboard to Learning program. The initiative was developed in 1965 to help students experience worldwide arts and culture.

Weiss’ mother was a volunteer with the Jewish Federation, and was chairman of the women’s division. Her volunteer work influenced Ginny Weiss to do the same.

“I started doing volunteer work about three years into my marriage,” she said. “I joined the National Council of Jewish Women and they had a theatre production where I got the role of a tiger. The following next year they asked me if I would like to take a puppet show on the road. I had never done puppetry, but as a child, but I loved the TV show ‘Kukla, Fran and Ollie.’ I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds like fun!’ So we did the show for a year and I loved working with puppets.”

Weiss was able to perform many voices so she developed her skills in puppetry. Then she decided to do a puppet show for her daughter’s birthday party. It was a huge hit and her daughter’s teacher learned about it.

“I quickly got a call from her teacher,” Weiss said. “She asked ‘Would you do is show for the class?’ After that she contacted other teachers in the Clayton School District, and they asked me to do shows. The first teacher said to me ‘You should be a professional.’ So I said ‘Well, I’ll give it a try.’ When I became a professional and had my own company, I made up my mind that I was going to do a certain number of volunteer shows, too.”

Weiss was a huge hit on the kindergarten and preschool circuit. Then she found out about the Puppet Guild of St. Louis. She joined and learned a lot more about the craft.

“That was a great way of learning more skills and also a way of giving back to the community because we did a number of ‘days of puppetry’ fests. I’ve been doing that for 45 years and I’ve been the Puppet Guild program chairman for 10 years.

“The Springboard to Learning program also allowed me to teach puppetry to kids in the inner city and that was wonderful. I did that 27 years. Then I did the same inn the Parkway and Hazelwood School Districts. I was with Springboard up until a couple of years ago. That’s when I retired. I still wanted to perform live, so I was able to get into charity shows.”

That began with Congegation Shaare Emeth where Weiss participated in a fundraising performance. She also has been a perfect fit in the role of Ether’s mother in the Shaare Emeth Purimschpiel program, which ran for several years.

Eventually, Weiss qualified by age to join Broadway Fantasies and St. Louis Showstoppers, with proceeds going to the Siteman Cancer Center. Those lasted until COVID put a halt to live shows.

Working with the Puppet Guild enabled Weiss to give back to the community by volunteering through puppet festivals. After 45 years working with the Puppet Guild she’s still going strong. Fellow puppeteer Dug Feltch said Weiss has a whimsical outlook that makes her ideal for the world of puppetry.

“Ginny is so kind, so generous, and she relates so well to children,” said Feltch, partner in Bob Kramer’s Marionnettes. “And of course her talent with the puppets. She has over 40 years volunteering with the Puppet Guild, doing workshops and shows. She’s just magical because puppeteers have a whimsy and childlike side of them that never really goes away. She’s just quick and funny and interesting and charming and a great lady.”

Leanne Schneider grew up next door to Weiss in Clayton and the two have remained friends for 70-plus years. She said Weiss has a perpetually positive attitude.

“She’s given of herself to so many different groups with her time and her talents and she does it with such joy,” Schneider said. Hers is a joyful avocation and that always comes across. She’s always full of smiles.”

Weiss also represents the definition of an unsung hero, said Dug Feltch.

“I can’t think of a person more perfect for getting this recognition,” Feltch said. “Many times, puppeteers are behind the curtain and they don’t receive any adulation or notoriety and that’s definitely Ginny, and she does everything so well.”

Ginny Weiss

Age: 82

Family: Weiss has two daughters, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren

Home: Creve Coeur

Fun Fact: Weiss’ drama school classmates at Carnegie Mellon University included actress Mariette Hartley and Ellen Travolta, John Travolta’s sister.