Larry Schmidt

1953 – 2019

The San Francisco Bay Area Puppet Guild has lost another kind and generous soul. Larry Schmidt passed away on January 18. Larry was a third generation Californian, born in Berkeley on what he fondly calls “The coattails of The Golden Age of Marionettes”. Marionettes were Larry’s passion, and he produced some of the finest examples for his yearly Halloween show “Driveway Follies”.

Larry grew up watching Ralph Chesse’s “Brother Buzz” and “Howdy Doody” on television, while attending as many puppet shows as he could at Children’s Fairyland in Oakland. It’s no surprise that Larry’s inspiration was Tony Urbano, Ralph Chesse’ and Bil Baird. His grandmother, who built puppets with him, was a puppeteer in the Oakland churches and under served districts of Oakland. Larry also as a teenager, performed for children’s birthday parties.

Larry received a B F A in fine art from The California College of the Arts in Oakland, made costumes for the Oakland Ballet, and joined the San Francisco Puppet Guild where he was further mentored by Lettie Schubert and Lewis Mahlmann. As a young man he studied Indonesian mask dance from Suzanne Suwanda, performed with Leonard Pitt, and then began building marionettes for a production of Stravinsky’s Firebird. In 2007, he first presented “Driveway Follies”, an alternative “site-specific”, as well as “calendar specific” marionette show in the driveway of his Oakland family triplex. The roof of his garages also featured a “Halloween Haunt” that was populated with animatronic Halloween “dark ride” creations that Larry had designed and sculpted himself.

“Driveway Follies” featured vintage trick marionettes and retro music from the 30s and 40s, with the puppets being designed in the style of classic marionettists like Bil Baird. Working alongside Larry could be found puppet talents such as Robin Stevens, Kevin Menegus, Fred Riley III and Jesse Vail. All of them helping to supply a free puppet show in a Halloween safe environment. The show was in its eleventh year, and had received funding grants from many individuals and organizations such as the City of Oakland and The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in San Francisco. Efforts are currently underway to try to keep Larry’s dream alive and well in his Oakland neighborhood. Larry is survived by his many puppets and life partner and inspiration Carl Linkhart.

Videos of “Driveways Follies” can be found on Youtube.

Randal J. Metz
Director of The Storybook Puppet Theater
Children’s Fairyland, Oakland, CA

Attached photos by Joseph Johnston