Theater Legend, Author and Activist leslie Shreve Passes Away at 79

A simple homemade memorial left on a bench overlooking Riverside Park celebrates the life of Upper West Sider leslie Shreve, a popular fixture in the New York City theater world who passed away at the age of 79 on March 31. Her obituary begins by noting that Ms. Shreve liked to spell her name without capital letters.

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Tied to the bench are a black and white photo of Ms. Shreve and her obituary, both laminated for protection. Several small bouquets of flowers tied with ribbons rest on the wood slats. She lived on West End Avenue, just a block from the park, according to public records.

Ms. Shreve was an actor, make-up expert, announcer, voiceover artist, voice double, director, author and more. A tribute to her from the League of Professional Theatre Women called her a cable television pioneer for her award-winning children’s program “Leslie the Shreve.” Her acting roles included playing Harpo Marx; Mabel in The Pajama Game; Mrs. Diana Trapes in The Beggars’ Opera; Eva Tanquay in “A Salute to the Palace Theatre”; Mrs. Banks in Sunday in the Park; and Kay Sybers in HBO’s Autopsy 8. She earned a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Makeup Design in 1998 for her work on “All My Children,” and an outstanding actor award from Business Week for her portrayal of Harpo Marx. Among her directing credits was documentary Healing Ground Zero.

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She was a graduate of the theater department at Ithaca College, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Drama. From there, she “successfully and happily pursued her dreams in New York City,” reads her obituary.

She was also a respected and successful activist, for years fighting for the rights of women in theater. Among the many boards and committees she served on were those for the Screen Actors Guild and for AFTRA (later SAG-AFTRA). (AFTRA stands for American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.) In fact, she served in leadership roles in SAG-AFTRA for over 40 years. The organization, in a tribute to her, called her a “champion for women’s equity and a dedicated and eager volunteer for over four decades.”

“A performer, altruist and activist, leslie Shreve will be remembered for her commitment to woman and the performing arts as well as her broad, beaming smile,” said SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher in the union’s tribute. “She exemplified what it means to be a SAG-AFTRA member, and our union is deeply grateful for her decades of service.”

She was also president of the New York Coalition of Professional Women in the Arts and Media.

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Ms. Shreve was married to TV director Joel Willis, whom she met in New York City. He died of Parkinson’s Disease four years ago. She leaves a sister and brother, several other relatives and many friends.

The bench, which sits along the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Plaza, also has a metal plaque that reads, “leslie Shreve from Erie, PA and Joel Wills from New York City invite you to ENJOY THIS MOMENT!”

“leslie Shreve was a bright light, a perpetually radiant spirit, who never lost her joie de vivre or her huge smile, even as she valiantly stood by her husband as he slowly lost his battle with Parkinson’s (he died almost exactly four years ago), and then herself battled cancer the last few years,” reads the tribute from the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Her obituary includes her own closing message which reads, “So, to you friends… I wish each of you to notice the magic in your life… I send you love.”


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