Host, writer, puppeteer, puppet-maker . . .
|Luci, Dragon, and Stanley Mouse -- circa 1968
Lucille Gasaway VanLeeuwen was the host and star of Luci’s Toyshop from
1960 to 1972. Many fans may not be aware that she also served as writer and puppeteer
for the show, AND she designed and sewed nearly all of the show’s puppet characters.
Mouse, Dragon, Pierre, Wonder Witch, and others – they all began life as scraps of fabric on Luci’s sewing machine. In addition to designing the puppets, Luci also provided the voices for some of the
characters -- most notably, Stanley Mouse and Wonder Witch.
Luci was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1920. She moved to Ohio
with her husband, Howard Gasaway, and three children in the early 1950s. Luci's early years in Columbus were
spent as wife, mother, dancing instructor, businesswoman, and puppet-maker. Her initial experience in children’s
television pre-dates Luci’s Toyshop by about five years. In the mid 1950s,
Luci was hired to work on a WBNS-TV kid’s program called, All Aboard (later re-titled, TV Kindergarten). While serving as an assistant
to the show’s star, Betty Jones, Luci also put her puppet-making skills to work, providing puppets and puppet voices
for several characters, including Stanley Mouse. When Betty Jones passed-away
in 1960, Luci and Stanley Mouse moved to their own show – and the rest is history.
When Luci’s Toyshop left WBNS-TV in 1972, Luci retired from television
and turned most of her attention to her thriving puppet-making company, Sheram Puppets, which she had started several years before her first TV gig. During her lengthy
retirement, Luci stepped back into her famous red and white-striped pinafore at least two times – around
1989, for a WOSU(820 am) reunion show, and again in 1995 for the taping of The Crystal Palace Tribute to Luci’s Toyshop.
Luci lived with her husband on a 64-acre farm near Bremen, Ohio. She
passed-away at age 83, on September 21, 2003. She was survived by her husband, three children, five grandchildren,
and three great-grandchildren.
At the funeral, Luci's eulogy was offered by Chuck White, who ended his comments
by leading the group in singing the Mr. Tree Song.