William B. Fosser

1928 - 2006

Creator of popular puppet opera

By Gerry Doyle
Tribune staff reporter
Published February 23, 2006

William B. Fosser discovered twin passions for opera and puppetry about the same time most kids are engrossed in cartoons, said his brothers, Tim and Tom.

"He started making his own puppets at a really young age," Tom Fosser said. "He used to put on shows for kids in the neighborhood. He'd charge a penny, two pennies."

He soon discovered that puppets and opera could make an enchanting combination. Later in life, after a distinguished career in set design for movies and theater, he created his own puppet opera theater, a longtime favorite in the Rolling Meadows Park District.

Mr. Fosser, 77, of Edison Park, creator of William B. Fosser's Opera in Focus, died of congestive heart failure and pneumonia Sunday, Feb. 19, in Resurrection Hospital.

Bill Fosser photo with award.

Born on Chicago's West Side, Mr. Fosser attended Austin High School. At age 14 he took a job at the Kungsholm Miniature Opera Theater, according to the Puppeteers of America.

"He lived for theater and in particular grand opera," said Tim Fosser. "That was his main focus. He loved it, like you love breathing."

For decades before he opened Opera in Focus, he worked in set decoration and design in the Chicago area. His craftsmanship appeared in countless theater productions, as well as movies such as "Ordinary People," "Home Alone," "Backdraft" and "Groundhog Day," according to his friend Judy Thomson.

Although he worked alongside famed directors and actors, befriending many, he never became star-struck, she said. Big names didn't make much of an impression.

"He told us he had just done a commercial with these two tall guys who played basketball," Thomson said. Mr. Fosser couldn't quite remember the stars of the commercial--who turned out to be Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.

The set work, although he enjoyed it, never was his primary focus, Thomson said.

"When he was able, he retired from the industry," she said. "Not that he didn't love it, but he wasn't passionate about it."

He was passionate about a puppet opera. When he had saved enough money, he created his show and raised the curtain on it in Rolling Meadows in 1993.

Opera in Focus used puppets to perform scenes and arias from popular operas. The puppets were Mr. Fosser's own design--he held a patent on them, his brothers said--and each was made from scratch. They were operated from below and acted in concert with recorded music.

Mr. Fosser was a devout Catholic and attended mass daily.

He was outgoing and generous and knew how to tell a good joke. But more than that, his brothers said, he was determined. "All his life he had a dream to have a show," said Tom Fosser. "And he did--he ended up with one."

Visitation will be held from 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday in M.J. Suerth Funeral Home, 6754 N. Northwest Highway, Chicago. Funeral services will be held at 9:30 a.m. Friday in the funeral home, and mass will be said at 10 a.m. in St. Juliana, 7201 N. Oketo Ave., Chicago.

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gxdoyle@tribune.com