Life on a String: The Yale Puppeteers and the Turnabout Theatre Audio Tour

1. Introduction

(Transcript Below)


Life on a String exhibit promo poster with illustration of puppeteers and marionettes



Hello, and welcome to Life on A String: The Yale Puppeteers and The Turnabout Theatre. I'm John Szabo, City Librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library.

I'm thrilled to share with you one of the great collections here at Central Library: the archives of the Yale Puppeteers and the Turnabout Theatre. You may never have heard of it, but this was a legendary puppet and live entertainment theater. Founded by the Yale Puppeteers —Harry Burnett, Forman Brown, and Richard 'Roddy' Brandon— it operated in Hollywood from 1941 to 1956. Some of the most glamorous celebrities of the day adored it, including Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Lionel Barrymore, and Albert Einstein.

The theater was called 'Turnabout' for its unique seating—streetcar chairs that could be turned to face a puppet theater on one end of the room and a revue stage on the other. Harry Burnett's delightful 'Haydn Trio' of marionette musicians opened each performance. Mister Noah, The Pie-Eyed Piper and Caesar Julius were among Forman Brown's many whimsical and funny musicals that enchanted L.A. audiences.

The archives of the Yale Puppeteers came to the Library over 20 years ago. They consist of hundreds of photographs, letters, scripts, playbills, musical notes, books, and posters, many of which have never before been exhibited. The collection also includes some of Harry Burnett's rare, hand-made puppets that have been painstakingly conserved specifically for this exhibition.

Your guide on this tour is Emmy-award-winning actor James Reynolds, best known for playing Abe Carver on Days of Our Lives. You will also hear from Christina Rice, Senior Librarian of Los Angeles Public Library's Photo Collection and the curator of this exhibition, and from Charles Taylor, who served the Yale Puppeteers as a stage manager in the late 1950s and 1960s.

I hope you'll enjoy this fascinating, once-in-a lifetime exhibition. I hope you will return to the Library often to experience the vast collections and resources of this important city institution.

Life on a String Audio Tour Credits

  • Produced by the Los Angeles Public Library
  • Written by Claudia Bohn-Spector
  • Edited by Acousticguide, Inc.
  • Interviews with James Reynolds, Christina Rice, John F. Szabo, and Charles Taylor recorded at the Central Library Octavia Lab
  • Interview files edited by Sye Gutierrez, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
  • Archival audio of Dan Bessie, Forman Brown, Harry Burnett, Odetta, Dorothy Neumann from the documentary Turnabout: The Story of the Yale Puppeteers (1993). Used courtesy of Dan Bessie.
  • Images of puppets and costume taken by Keith Kesler, Los Angeles Public Library Public Relations Department