Known for playing Lester the Rat on 'Beakman's World'

Writer, producer, director, actor and puppeteer Mark Ritts, known for playing Lester the Rat on childrens’ science show “Beakman’s World,” died of cancer Dec. 7 in Los Angeles-area home. He was 63.

Ritts, who was also an Emmy Award-winning television host, got his start in show business as a youngster, working in TV and film with his parents, Paul and Mary Ritts, creators of The Ritts Puppets.

He developed the character of Lester, the tattoo-armed, irreverent oversized rodent on “Beakman’s World,” an educational show that mixed science with zany antics and starred Paul Zaloom as playful mad scientist Beakman.

The show started in syndication on the Learning Channel in 1992 and was picked up by CBS in 1993, running through 1998. “Beakman” won two Emmys, two Cable Aces for “Best Children’s Series” and the Jim Henson/Unima-USA Award for Puppetry.

In the 1990s, Ritts voiced and manipulated the puppet Kino, co-host of “Storytime,” the PBS series for preschoolers who read alongside such guest storytellers such as Kirk Douglas, Angela Bassett and Jason Alexander. Ritts won an Emmy Award as Best Series Host and the show itself won a Best Children’s Series Emmy. Ritts was also a writer for the series, which ran for 82 episodes.

Ritts career ranged from producing documentaries to co-authoring a parenting book to making industrial films for Fortune 500 companies. He served as creative director of Aniforms, where he wrote and directed videos, theatrical events and multimedia presentations from 1989 to 1992.

Among his other credits were producing and co-writing and co-directed the Barney the Dinosaur special for PBS and Fox in 1998-99 and co-writing, producing and directing PBS documentary “Intimate Strangers: Unseen Life on Earth.”

Ritts was born in West Chester, PA., and raised in Princeton, N.J. He graduated from Harvard.

He is survived by his wife, singer Teresa Parente, two sons and a daughter.

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