The Turnabout Family

The Yale Puppeteers may have been at the helm of the Turnabout Theatre, but countless performers and stagehands played a vital role in the venue’s 15-year run. A lot went into the nightly performances, but the cast and crew were a dedicated lot who would always look back on their time with Harry, Forman, and Roddy with great affection. Those fortunate enough to contribute to the story of the Turnabout were more than just staff – they were family.

Dorothy Neumann, Harry Burnett, Frances Osborne, Elsa Lanchester, Forman Brown, and Lotte Gosler sit in the Turnabout Theater, with the autograph wall in the background.
Turnabout Mainstays: Dorothy Neumann, Harry Burnett, Frances Osborne, Elsa Lanchester, Forman Brown, and Lotte Gosler, ca. 1940 (Photo by Otto Rothschild)
Elsa Lanchester Performing "When a Lady has a Piazza."
Elsa Lanchester Performing “When a Lady has a Piazza,” ca. 1940s

In addition to the array of people who floated in and out of the Turnabout’s orbit, there were a handful of mainstays for whom the Turnabout was a home away from home. Affectionately referred to as the “Fourth Turnabouter,” Dorothy Neumann served at the trio’s business partner for the entire run. Frances Osborne and Lotte Gosler were longtime performers along with stage and screen actress Elsa Lanchester, who signed on for a brief guest starring residency but stayed for a decade. A teenager who assisted her mother with caretaking tasks at the theater would one day be known the world over simply as Odetta, largely due to Harry Burnett.

Despite long working days together, the Yale Puppeteers would frequently spend their days off with their Turnabout cohorts, often in the San Jacinto Mountains at the Idyllwild cabin Elsa Lanchester owned with husband Charles Laughton. Throughout the years following the glory days of the Turnabout, the trio maintained contact with those who contributed to their success. “I do not know what I would be doing today,” Odetta later recalled, “had it not been for that family.”

Portrait of Odetta playing guitar
Odetta, ca. 1950s
Group photo of the Turnabout “Family”
Turnabout “Family” Gathering, ca. 1950s (Photo by: Roddy Brandon)

This group shot of the Turnabout family was likely taken by Roddy Brandon as he is missing from the photo. In addition to Harry, Forman, and Dorothy, pictured in the photo (alphabetically) are: Ethelyn Bassett (box office), Charles Booker (performer in Tommy Turnabout’s Circus), Pat Brown (Forman’s mother), Flora Felious (caretaker), Lotte Goslar and husband William Seehaus, Leota Lane (performer), Gene Maiden (performer) Joseph Marais and Miranda (folk music performers), Elizabeth Talbot-Martin (performer), Odetta (performer), Gita Perl (performer), Lothar Perl (composer), Jack Ramsey, and Christine Malcolm Wilkes (costumer).

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