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

3. Unknown, Yale Puppeteers on the Road in New Hampshire, 1928

Transcript below

b/w photo of the Yale Puppeteers on the road in New Hampshire in from of covered wagon



Before radio, television, and the internet, puppeteers entertained audiences around the country. In the 1920s, vaudeville and live reviews were all the rage, and enterprising puppeteers like Tony Sarg, Ellen van Volkenberg and Helen Haiman Joseph toured the States with sizeable ensembles.

In 1928, the Yale Puppeteers embarked on their first tour of the East Coast, performing in barns, hospitals, prisons, schools, and churches. Here, we see them on the road in New Hampshire.

Harry Burnett:


We had a Ford touring car and we managed to get a little touring puppet show in the back seat somehow and made quite a hit doing scenes from Shakespeare.


They also performed adaptations of the French folk story Bluebird and the 17th century German fairy tale Puss in Boots. You'll find some of their early playbills in a case nearby.

According to Forman Brown, their goal was first and foremost to enjoy themselves while also making some money.


We passed the hat and some days we made 15 dollars and sometimes 25 and sometimes practically nothing. But it was all good fun.


They also played in up-scale towns like Bar Harbor, Maine, where actors and musicians from all over the country entertained wealthy summer vacationers.


They performed for Mrs. John D. Rockefeller and Mrs. Edsel Ford and were paid more than 50 dollars for that. Early on they just wanted to perform and would take any gig that they could get.

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