FINAL CURTAIN Don "The Puppet Man" Wallis, 74, a fixture of the SLO County arts scene who performed more than 9,000 puppet shows in his long career, has taken his final bow.
Farewell to The Puppet Man
Don "The Puppet Man" Wallis, 74, was born in San Luis Obispo in Oct. 1946, and passed away on Aug. 18 in French Hospital after a coronary following a long battle with COPD.
Wallis was a fixture of the SLO arts scene. He founded two local theater groups, acted in 100 roles on stage and radio, including one-man shows as Mark Twain and John Muir, and performed more than 9,000 puppet shows. He wrote hundreds of poems, more than 60 of which were published in newspapers and magazines, and many more in two poetry collections, Two Provincial Voices: Selected Poems of James D. Owen and Don Wallis and The Puppet Man: New & Selected Poems.
Wallis studied Intellectual and Cultural History of the Modern World, Literature, and Theater Arts at Cuesta College, Cal Poly, and UCSB. He was also a peace activist. During the Vietnam War, he did alternative Conscientious Objector service in Berkeley, suffered a mental breakdown after the '69 Berkeley riots, and eventually returned to and recovered in SLO where he threw himself into the arts.
As a spokesman for children, mental health, and social change, Wallis was deeply empathetic and used his art to make sense of a senseless world. Close friend Mike Cowdrey recalled, "We sat and talked for more than an hour on Monday afternoon [two days before his death]. The current plight of children in Afghanistan and Haiti was high among his concerns."
He is preceded in death by his father, Robert R. Wallis; his mother, Emma H. (Tillman) Wallis-Mazza; and his brother, Milo W. Wallis. He's survived by his brother and sister-in-law, John L. and Denise Wallis; his nieces, Melissa (Wallis) Dasker and husband Dale, Mona Wallis, Kelly (Wallis) Castro and husband Paul; his nephew Robert L. Wallis; great-nieces Jazmine Castro, Alexander Dasker, and Holly Sullivan; and his great-nephews Miles Dasker, Vaughn Wallis, and Thomas Wallis
Published by New Times San Luis Opisbo from Aug. 26 to Aug. 31, 2021.