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Maria Perego (1923–2019), puppeteer created Topo Gigio

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Topo Gigio was a favorite of "The Ed Sullivan Show," with dozens of appearances in the 1960s and '70s

Maria Perego was an Italian puppeteer best known for creating Topo Gigio, a mouse puppet beloved by viewers of “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The 10-inch-tall mouse, a combination puppet and marionette, appeared on the variety show dozens of times from the 1960s through the show’s finale in 1971. Perego, as one of two or three puppeteers controlling Topo Gigio’s movements, was rarely seen. Instead, dressed in black velvet to disappear into the background, she operated the puppet's legs with one hand and mouth with the other. Perego continued working with Topo Gigio throughout her life, reportedly planning a new sketch with the mouse in her final months.

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Died: November 7, 2019 (Who else died on November 7?)

Details of death: Died in Milan at the age of 95.

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Creating Topo Gigio: Perego had been a puppeteer for several years when she created Topo Gigio in 1959. She had recently discovered that sponge material was idea for her puppet creations after seeing a Christmas tree made from green sponge in a shop window. Topo Gigio, though small, was intricately controlled by several puppeteers, via both marionette strings and direct contact with the puppet. The result was an agile character that could skip around, turn cartwheels, and even present facial expressions.

Notable quote: “With his optimism he tries to justify himself, to invent, to introduce himself and to enter into fantasy and the absurd. He’s always on the edge between imagination and reality.” —from a 2019 appearance on Italian TV show “Le Ragazze”

What people said about her: “Bereft at the passing of Topo Gigio (aka Maria Perego). You may have watched Ed Sullivan for the Beatles, but I begged to stay up late for the mouse.” —author Shari Grayden

“R.I.P. Maria Perego, creator of Topo Gigio, the little mouse whose name I can’t say aloud without doing an Ed Sullivan impression. (Like I’m the only one…)” —journalist Will Harris

“RIP, and thank you from my little kid self, who loved Topo Gigio. Every time the Sullivan show came on, all I hoped was that Topo would appear…” —actress Leslie Hendrix

Full obituary: The New York Times

Related lives:

  • Ed Sullivan (1901 - 1974), legendary TV host
  • Jim Henson (1936 - 1990), puppeteer created the Muppets
  • Fred Rogers (1928 - 2003), host of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”