As the 1930s wound down, the Yale Puppeteers sought to expand their horizons by supplementing their marionette shows with revues featuring live performers. They knew their elaborate puppet stage could not be struck down and replaced with a full one in a reasonable amount of time, so instead they envisioned a space with a puppet stage on one end and the revue stage on the other. The concept for the Turnabout Theatre was born.
Looking back on the warm reception they had received in Southern California, there was never any question that Hollywood was the place for this latest venture. Countless locations were scouted but failed to yield suitable results, many times because the property owners, according to Forman Brown, “regarded the whole project as crazy, and us, its promoters, even crazier.” Finally, they found a parcel owned by a man who, “entered into our scheme with an eagerness unusual and unexpected in a landlord.” The building at 716 N. La Cienega was a little off the beaten path for those days, but designed to their specifications and came to be a perfect fit.
The trio knew their knowledge of live theater was limited, so Dorothy Neumann was brought on as a fourth partner. As someone familiar with all aspects of running theater productions, including directing and costuming, “Dottie” proved to be indispensable. Serendipitously, at the same time the Turnabout was being constructed, the Pacific Electric Railway was in the process of refurbishing the cars on their lines, including the replacement of passenger seats. Seventy-seven discards were purchased for $3.50 apiece. The flipping mechanism on the seats enabled theater patrons to literally “turnabout.”
Operating from 1941-1956 and featuring a steady stream of guest performers, including actress Elsa Lanchester, who became a mainstay, the Turnabout Theatre was a smash success. Attracting repeat visitors, including some of the film industry’s top personalities, the Turnabout brought the Yale Puppeteers international attention and proved to be the pinnacle of their careers.
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