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

7. Harry Burnett, Simon Legree Marionette from "Uncle Tom's Hebb’n," Ca. 1930s

Transcript below

color photo of puppet of Simon Legree



This is a puppet of Simon Legree, the vicious plantation owner from Harriet Becher Stowe's 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Harry created it in the early 1930s for their adaptation of the story, a jazzy musical set in the 1920s.


This is possibly the oldest puppet that we have in the collection. All the puppets were personally made by Harry Burnett and he would often use papier mâché or lots of different mixed media, although the clothing would be made by somebody else. They would often employ Harry's sister Mary to make the costumes for the puppets.


Notice that Simon Legree doesn't have a moving mouth. That's because Harry didn't know how to make one. If an articulated mouth was called for, he would usually bring someone in to help him.

Over the course of his long life, Harry made thousands of puppets, but Simon Legree was among his favorites. When people came over to his house, he enjoyed exposing this despicable character as the insecure and small man that he was.


He would take out Simon Legree and have him be the diabolical villain that he was with his slave-driving whip, and then he would have the character go on his knees and beg for mercy and make sure people were looking at him as he was doing that.

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