Mary Putnam Churchill
December 29, 1930 - November 16, 1997 Mary and the Witch who hated birthdaysFounder and director of the PUPPET SHOWPLACE of Brookline Village, Massachusetts, Mary Churchill was born in Boston in 1930. She was the youngest child of Imogene and Charles Putnam. The family moved to Washington, D. C. where her father worked in the Roosevelt Administration and her mother in care for the blind. Mary went to the Sidwell Friends School and later to Radcliffe College. She married Jack Churchill, a filmmaker, in 1950 and eventually would raise four children with him.

Having settled in Brookline in 1958, she earned an M.A. degree from Simmons College (1968) and then taught elementary grades in the Boston School System. As a reading tutor in Newton, she began using puppets to stimulate interest in books among her students.

But the puppets grabbed Mary's interest. She began to crochet her own puppets in a distinctive style that was to become a hallmark of her work. She wrote and performed her own plays for school age children and founded the Cranberry Puppets in which she served as writer, director, producer and performer all in one. Thousands of Boston area children have come to love
Betsy, Mary's signature puppet, who welcomed children to her gently feminist versions of Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, Billy Goats Gruff, The Witch Who Hated Birthdays, and many other plays. Fellow puppeteers, parents, and especially children were drawn to the soft and comforting, yet powerful voice with which Mary told her tales.

In 1974, having left teaching, Mary founded the Puppet Showplace at 32 Station Street in Brookline Village. Over the next 23 years, the Showplace would grow from a small weekend family operation into a world renowned puppet theater, employing hundreds of puppeteers and presenting puppet companies from many countries. Because of Mary's vision, Boston area audiences were exposed to a diverse range of traditional - and not so traditional - puppet styles; from Japanese Bunraku to Czechoslovakian Blacklight, from Northwest coast native tales to a Puerto Rican family celebration.

Mary brought her passion and dedication to puppetry and puppetry paid her back. At a 1976 Russian Puppet Festival, she met and fell in love with master puppeteer Paul Vincent-Davis. He would become her companion and partner, and the Puppet Showplace's artistic director. Through triumphs and disappointments they kept the vision of a family theater alive in Brookline Village.

Besides her important work in presenting puppetry to audiences, Mary spent a great deal of her time encouraging and nurturing puppeteers. She offered meeting space at the Showplace for the Boston Area Guild of Puppetry, support which allowed that Guild to grow into one of the largest and most active in the country. The Puppet Showplace became a vital educational and communication center for puppetry in New England, and became the obvious place for puppeteers and their audience to connect. She did more than any other person to increase the acceptance and visibility of puppetry in the Massachusetts cultural community. She served one term on the Board of Trustees of Puppeteers of America, which honored her last summer at their convention in Toledo, Ohio. She was also a member of U.N.I.M.A ., the international puppetry organization that fosters understanding and exchange between the puppeteers of different countries.

Contributions to the Puppet Showplace, 32 Station Street, Brookline MA 02146, will be gratefully accepted to keep Mary's life work alive.

Photos: Crocheted Lion, Mary and Friend, and Betsy.
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