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

4. Unknown, Yale Puppeteers, “Buster” Jensen, and “Celebrities” at Club Guignol, 1929

Transcript below

b/w photo of the Yale Puppeteers with their young neighbor Buster Jensen, puppets in hand, at their new home in the Hollywood Hills



After a year of touring the East, the Yale Puppeteers headed West to Los Angeles in a small truck they dubbed Camille, after the lead part in Alexandre Dumas' play The Lady with the Camellias. They came up with the name, because the engine of the truck 'died so beautifully.'

Here we see them with their young neighbor Buster Jensen at their new home in the Hollywood Hills. They primarily performed in schools, but when summer break hit and audiences dried up, they opened a tiny, makeshift theater in their own basement. They called it Club Guignol after a character in a late 19th century French puppet show.


They're wearing their shiny shirts which Forman Brown called the 'Hollywood influence.' They were glitzing it up a little bit.


Their fame spread by word of mouth, and their audience soon included silent film stars like Colleen Moore and Theda Bara. It was their first brush with Hollywood luminaries, and Harry immediately started making puppets of them. In this publicity shot, they show off some of their celebrity marionettes. The one on the far right, dressed in white, represents the Pentecostal evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, who was then raising spirits at her Angelus Temple in Echo Park, one of the first megachurches in the country.

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