Turnabout Theatre

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The Turnabout Theatre was a company of marionette puppeteers who performed in Hollywood from 1941 through 1956.[1][2] The company's shows began with marionette performances, and concluded with a revue.[3]

The name of the theater derives in part from the fact that the theater seats were former streetcar seats that could be turned to face a puppet stage at one end or the live revue stage at the other.[4] Adjacent seats were labeled with humorous names (e.g., "Hot 'n Bothered," "Salt 'n Pepper," etc.), and after intermission theater-goers would "turn about" to see the show continued at the opposite end of the house.[5]

The Theater originated with a group known as the Yale Puppeteers composed notably of Forman Brown, Harry Burnett,[1] and Richard (Roddy) Brandon. Many artists, some quite well known or soon to be well known also participated, including Odetta and Elsa Lanchester, whose brother Waldo Lanchester was a famous puppeteer in the UK.[5]

The history of the theater is documented in the film, Turnabout: the Story of the Yale Puppeteers, directed by Dan Bessie (a nephew of Harry Burnett). Brown wrote a book about the puppet troupe,[6] and Bessie discussed the puppeteers in his memoir of his family, Rare Birds.[5]

Prior to opening Turnabout Theatre, the puppeteers had toured with their shows.[6] Their puppets also appeared in the 1933 film I Am Suzanne.[7]

Harry Burnett was the brother of advertising executive Leo Burnett.[5]


  1. ^ a b "Harry Burnett, Master Of Puppetry, Dies at 92", New York Times, 1993-06-01, retrieved 2018-03-05
  2. ^ Blumentha, Eileen (2005), Puppetry: A World History, Harry N. Abrams, p. 91, ISBN 0-8109-5587-3
  3. ^ "Elsa's Gazebo", Time, May 24, 1948
  4. ^ Goslar, Lotte (1998), What's So Funny?: Sketches from My Life, Taylor & Francis, p. 75, ISBN 978-90-5702-177-0
  5. ^ a b c d Bessie, Dan (November 2000), Rare Birds, University Press of Kentucky, ISBN 978-0-8131-2179-6
  6. ^ a b Brown, Forman (1980), Small Wonder : the story of the Yale Puppeteers and the Turnabout Theatre, Scarecrow Press, ISBN 0-8108-1334-3
  7. ^ Slide, Anthony (2003), Lost Gay Novels: A Reference Guide to Fifty Works from the First Half of the Twentieth Century, Haworth Press, pp. 129, ISBN 978-1-56023-414-2

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