Gilda Radner, Adam Sandler, and Billy Crystal are just a few Jewish comedic actors known for their knockoffs. Here’s another talented Jewish impersonator: Ginny Weiss. St. Louis’s great-grandmother mastered 100 different voices, ranging from Dr. Ruth to Roseanne Barr, Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore.
Weiss is a puppeteer who works her magic behind a curtain. She also volunteers, bringing fun and good humor to children and adults throughout the St. Louis community.
âI’ve always been involved in the theater,â Weiss said. âI am a ham and I love to play. I like the interaction with people. But I also love the people I work with who are so wonderful and talented and it’s great that we give money back through charity. I also love to work with children. They are so honest. A little girl from the city center came up to me and said “You are more fun than my grandmother”. I wasn’t a grandmother at the time, but it was a nice compliment nonetheless.
The outgoing and effervescent Weiss was actually quite shy as a child. When Weiss was five years old, his mother sent him to a junior theater in University City. She quickly blossomed. Weiss loved the stage. As a student at Clayton High School, she performed in several plays. Like many residents of Saint-Louis, she also attended productions of the Opera Muny with her family, always in the free seats.
After attending college majoring in theater at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Washington, Weiss became an English teacher in the Normandy School District, then taught in the innovative Springboard to Learning program. The initiative was developed in 1965 to help students experience arts and culture from around the world.
Weiss’s mother was a volunteer with the Jewish Federation and president of the women’s division. Her volunteer work influenced Ginny Weiss to do the same.
âI started volunteering about three years after I got married,â she said. âI joined the National Council of Jewish Women and they had a theatrical production where I got the role of a tiger. The following year they asked me if I wanted to attend a puppet show on the road. I had never done puppets, but when I was a kid, but I loved the TV show “Kukla, Fran and Ollie”. I thought, âOh, that sounds fun! So we did the show for a year and I loved working with the puppets.
Weiss was able to perform many voices and therefore developed his skills in puppetry. Then she decided to do a puppet show for her daughter’s birthday party. It was a huge success and her daughter’s teacher learned about it.
âI quickly got a call from his teacher,â Weiss said. “She asked ‘Would you do a 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, âYou should be a professional. So I said, ‘Well, I’ll try.’ When I turned professional and had my own business, I decided I was going to do a number of volunteer shows as well.
Weiss has been a huge hit on the Kindergarten and Preschool circuit. Then she discovered the Guilde des Marionnettes de Saint-Louis. She joined and learned a lot more about the trade.
âIt was a great way to learn more skills and also a way to give back to the community because we have had a number of ‘puppet days’ festivals. I have been doing this for 45 years and have been the President of the Puppet Guild Program for 10 years.
âThe Stepping Stone to Learning program also allowed me to teach puppetry to downtown kids and it was wonderful. I did this 27 years. Then I made the same hostel in the Parkway and Hazelwood school districts. I was with Springboard until a few years ago. It was then that I retired. I always wanted to perform live, so I was able to participate in charity shows.
It started with the Shaare Emeth congregation where Weiss participated in a fundraising performance. She is also a perfect fit for 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 the proceeds going to the Siteman Cancer Center. These lasted until COVID put an end to the live shows.
Working with the Puppet Guild has allowed Weiss to give back to the community by volunteering at puppet festivals. After 45 years of working with the Puppet Guild, she is still going strong. Her fellow puppeteer Dug Feltch said Weiss has a whimsical outlook that makes her ideal for the world of puppetry.
âGinny is so kind, so generous, and she gets along so well with children,â said Feltch, partner in Bob Kramer’s Puppets. âAnd of course his talent with puppets. She has over 40 years volunteering with the Puppet Guild, organizing workshops and shows. It’s just magical because puppeteers have a whimsical, childish side that never really goes away. She’s just quick and funny and interesting and charming and a great lady.
Leanne Schneider grew up next to Weiss in Clayton and the two remained friends for over 70 years. She said Weiss has a perpetually positive attitude.
âShe has given herself to so many different groups with her time and talents and she does it with such joy,â said Schneider. His is a joyful vocation which always returns. She is always full of smiles.
Weiss also represents the definition of an unsung hero, said Dug Feltch.
âI can’t think of a more perfect person to get this recognition,â Feltch said. “A lot of times the puppeteers are behind the curtain and they don’t get any adulation or notoriety and it’s definitely Ginny, and she does it all so well.”
Family: Weiss has two daughters, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren
Fun fact: Weiss’ classmates at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama included actress Mariette Hartley and Ellen Travolta, John Travolta’s sister.