Deceased May 12, 2023
Ralph Lee (July 9, 1935–May 12, 2023) will live forever among our nation’s creative heroes. He dazzled audiences with menageries of puppets and masks portraying creatures of myths and folktales from all cultures—lizards and wizards, sorceresses and spiders, cockroaches and kings. Many loomed larger than life, gracing stages from the Metropolitan Opera to St. John the Divine; strutting the streets of Greenwich Village in the renowned Halloween Parade he created; or performing at venues in Upstate New York with the Mettawee River Theatre Co., founded in 1975 by Bennington College students, including Casey Compton. Ralph became the company’s artistic director, and the couple made it their life’s work; they married in 1982 and in 2023 won an Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement. But Ralph’s most “notorious” puppet was the “land shark” he designed for Chevy Chase to wear on Saturday Night Live; in several sketches airing in 1975, it showed up without warning to eat any female victim who opened her door.
Ralph was my Amherst roommate. That good fortune forged my path as a translator of ancient Greek plays, and we remained lifelong friends. Our first collaboration at Kirby Theater was my version of Euripides’ satyr play Cyclops; the second was Nostia, a play I wrote based on an episode of the Odyssey; Ralph directed and also danced and sang in the role of the minstrel Demodocos. In 1958–59, we connected briefly in Paris, where Ralph studied mime, and we traveled together to Spain. Then, in 2013, we collaborated on Taliesin, adapted from a Welsh tale by Ralph and Casey, for which I wrote the script.
Ralph is survived by his wife, Casey, and their daughter, Dorothy Louise Compton Lee ’06; children from his first marriage (Heather, Jennifer and Joshua Lee); six grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.
Robert Bagg ’57