Celebrating Celebrities

For most of the Yale Puppeteers’ career, celebrities figured prominently in their story, often championing the trio. When they first landed in Hollywood and founded Club Guignol, silent screen star Colleen Moore encouraged friends to become “members” and helped put their name on the map in Los Angeles. For the subsequent opening of their New York theater, they called upon Marie Dressler, an inimitable actress of stage and screen, who also happened to be a fan. She rallied the troops and helped sell out the opening performance.

Martha Graham and Harry Burnett with puppet of Martha Graham
Martha Graham and Harry Burnett, ca. 1930s (Photo by Jerome Robinson)
Albert Enstein poses with a puppet of his likeness
Albert Einstein, ca. 1930s

Colleen Moore’s enthusiasm for the troupe prompted Harry to create a marionette in her likeness. The actress was delighted with the result and after posing for photos with the puppet, promptly purchased it. Additional marionettes of Hollywood stars were produced and, when possible, were asked to pose with their “twin.” Greta Garbo passed up this honor. Soon, the movie star marionettes became a regular part of their performances. Harry would branch out to create puppets of world leaders, stage performers, and individuals as varied as Albert Einstein and Aimee Semple McPherson, both of whom posed with their puppets.

While operating the Teatro Torito on Olvera Street, the Yale Puppeteers introduced the autograph wall where visiting celebrities were invited to make their mark. This practice of having celebrities sign the walls became a standard feature at all of their theaters and was especially prominent at the Turnabout Theatre. Of the criteria for allowing signers, Forman Brown noted, “His artistic excellence might be questioned, but if he [or she] bore a name the world recognized, on the wall he went.”

Jane Russell, Forman Brown, and an unnamed woman pose in front of the Turnabout Theater.
Jane Russell (right) and Forman Brown, 1955.

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