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Turnabout Theater

Many thanks to Luman Coad, Mark Levenson and Matthew I. Cohen for the following information on the Turnabout Theater.

From Luman Coad:

Turnabout Video

"Turnabout" produced by Shire Films is (or was) available from
Filmakers Library
124 E 40th Street
New York, NY 10016
Tel: 212-8008-4980
Fax: 212-808-4983

A copy is in the
P.of A. Audio/Visual Library
30207 - 27th Ave. S.
Federal Way, WA 98003-4212


The book, Small Wonder by Forman Brown, is available from

The Puppetry Store
1525 - 24th S.E.
Auburn, WA 98002-7837
Stock No: POA 094m 262p. $12.50

Forman also published several Turnabout marionette scripts in a long out-of-print book. (For those unfamiliar, the Turnabout Theatre featured a marionette stage at one end and a live stage at the other. The seats were salvaged from old street cars. During the intermission following the marionette performance, the seatbacks were flipped for the audience to watch the live review at the other end. Performers included Elsa Lanchester, Lotte Goslar, Harry Burnett, Frances Osborne, Odetta, Dorothy Neumann and others. Forman wrote the scripts and music, accompanied the live review on the piano, as was one of the marionette perfomers. The shows were reportedly witty and timely. (I was, unfortunately, not able to see a performance even when they moved to San Francisco after closing in Los Angeles after so many years.)

Luman Coad

From Mark Levenson:

There was recently some discussion ... about the Yale Puppeteers, one of the more prominent names in American puppetry. Yes, that's Yale as in New Haven, but they played Broadway, across the country, and eventually established a famous theatre in Los Angeles for both puppet and human theatre reviews. Called "Turnabout Theatre" because the seats were reversible trolley car seats; after watching the puppet show, the audience turned their seats around and saw human theatre review on the stage at the opposite end of the theatre. The Yale Puppeteers were also famous for their puppet impersonations of the day's celebrities, and for the real-life celebrities who worked with them, esp. Elsa Lanchester.

Forman Brown's autobiographical report of their early years was published as Pilgrim's Progess in 1936 and then expanded and updated as "Small Wonder: The Story of the Yale Puppeteers and the turnabout Theatre" in 1980 (foreword by Ray Bradbury). There's also a documentary available on video.

As for the dust jacket's claim that these are the first adult puppet pieces in America -- well, that may be an interesting topic for this board. my impression is that it's slightly hyperbolic. certainly the Yale Puppeteers deserve very major credit but, at the same time, Ralph Chesse' was performing adult classics (Eugene O'Neill, etc.), and Remo Bufano was doing original adult works as well as family oriented work. but we have scholars on this board (PUPTCRIT) who can provide more authoritative answers to this question.

Mark Levenson

From Matthew I. Cohen:

I recently purchased a copy of a book entitled "The Pie-Eyed Piper and Other Impertinent Puppet Plays as Produced by the Yale Puppeteers" written by one Forman Brown. It was issued in a limited edition of 400 copies, each numbered and signed by the author, by Greenberg Publishers (New York: 1933).

In addition to the title play, the book also includes plays entitled Caesar Julius, Mister Noah, My Man Friday, and Uncle Tom's Hebb'n. Little information is provided about either Forman Brown or the Yale Puppeteers, but enough to make me curious. Apparently, the puppets used were marionettes, constructed by Harry Burnett. While the name Yale Puppeteers seems to indicate a New Haven connection, the blurb on the jacket states that the plays have been "[p]resented before capacity audiences from New York to California", attended by "[c]elebrities as diverse as Greta Garbo and Albert Einstein". This suggests that the group did a fair amount of travelling.

The dust jacket states that the plays "hold the unique distinction of being the first puppet plays written in America for a sophisticated adult audience."

The press comments also suggest that the plays were quite unusual for their time. Don Herold in Life notes "Either I am getting quite childish or this lad Forman Brownis doing something awfully adult-- and I don't think I'm getting childish."

Matthew I. Cohen

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