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

2. Unknown, Yale Puppeteers, Ca. 1940s

(Transcript Below)

b/w photo of Yale Puppeteers in tuxedos



The Yale Puppeteers were three: Harry Burnett, Forman Brown, and Richard 'Roddy' Brandon.

They first came together in the late 1920s. Harry Burnett, on the left, was the puppet builder; Forman Brown, in the center, wrote the satirical texts, lyrics and music; and Roddy Brandon, on the right, was the company manager. All three also performed, delighting audiences with their infectious energy and musical talent.

Curator Christina Rice:


The troupe is called the Yale puppeteers because two of them went to Yale. Harry and Forman were distant cousins and they reconnected when they were both at the University of Michigan. After Harry graduated, he enrolled in the drama school at Yale, where he met Roddy Brandon. And it was initially Harry and Roddy, who went out and were performing under the name The Yale Puppeteers. And when Forman officially joined the troupe, the name just stuck.


Harry had fallen in love with marionettes as a young boy, after seeing the famous puppeteer Tony Sarg perform in his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan.


I was so impressed that I went home and took a tennis racket and made a puppet with a wax head and a wooden body, no shoes, sticks for legs. And I put some strings on him and put them up to the tennis racket, with a brass ring on every joint, so I could take the tennis racket around the house and the neighborhood and pull his puppet legs up.

Of course, that grew into a hobby right away as I naturally liked to make things, so in my basement workshop I made puppets, and I've made them ever since. I guess I made two or three thousand at least.

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