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

9. Unknown, Theatre Patrons “Turnabout,” N.D.

Transcript below

b/w photo of theatre with crowd patrons



When the Yale Puppeteers returned to Los Angeles in 1941, the city was a rapidly growing center for the production of aircraft, ships, and war supplies as the nation prepared for WWII. Hollywood thrived on the burgeoning war effort and audiences yearned for cheerful diversions.

When the Yale Puppeteers opened the Turnabout Theater, they were eager to present both puppet-shows and live review entertainment. Charles Taylor, the trio's stage manager, noted that such a combination act posed formidable technical problems.


In those days there was a concept of having a rotating stage, like a carousel. And so they thought, well, they could have the puppets stage in one half of the circle and a live revue act on the other circle and rotate it so that you could change the act very quickly. The carousel became one of their icons in advertising.


As they were debating, they also kept thinking about what name to give the new theater.


They came up with Carousel Theatre, Theater in the Round, Round Theater, Turning Around Theater. And then finally it occurred to them that the circle would be too complicated. But if they had a stage at each end, the audience would simply turn about from one direction to the other direction. So that's how they came up with the concept of Turnabout having chairs that would flip back and forth.


Serendipitously, the Pacific electric street cars were being refurbished at the time and they had seats where the seat backs flipped back and forth so nobody would have to ride the street cars backwards. This proved to be the perfect solution. So the puppeteers purchased these discarded Pacific Electric seats and installed them in the theater.


Each chair had a name embroidered on the blue seat cover, like 'Bread & Butter,' 'Salt n' Pepper,' or 'Skip & Jump.' When patrons reentered the theater after the intermission, Forman would humorously remind them to find their old seats. 'Okay, if you're seated in 'Flim & Flam' be sure that you don't wind up in 'Hot & Bothered.''

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