Harry Burnett, Forman Brown, and Richard “Roddy” Brandon pose in front of the Turnabout Theater
Yale Puppeteers, ca. 1940s

Life Offstage

Harry, Forman, and Roddy were a cohesive unit professionally and personally for nearly six decades. They performed, traveled, and lived together. Following the demise of the Turnabout Theatre, they remained committed to promoting the art of puppetry. In their twilight years, they would always call Los Angeles home and celebrate continued achievements with their Turnabout Family.

The trio never hid the fact they were gay, but hostile discriminatory attitudes prevented them from being open about this for most of their lives. Forman and Harry were distant cousins who engaged in a brief adolescent romance, but it was Forman and Roddy who would develop a deeply personal connection. After Roddy’s death, Forman would comment, “Roddy Brandon was my great love and we were together over 50 years.”

Typed letter from Forman Brown Letter to Richard “Roddy” Brandon
Forman Brown Letter to Richard “Roddy” Brandon, ca. 1930s
Typed on paper
Book Cover of "Better Angel" and "Torment" by Forman Brown
Forman Brown Better Angel, 1990, Book - Forman Brown Torment, 1950, Book

Forman continued to put pen to paper later in life, publishing a history of the Yale Puppeteers and the Turnabout Theatre, along with a children’s book about a young boy with two dads. In the late 1980s, Better Angel, the novel Brown had published in the 1930s under a pseudonym, was rediscovered and eventually published under his actual name. Though always guarded about their private lives, the release of the book was a welcome one. “I’m delighted to have it out in the open at long last,” Forman noted at the time. “There’s nothing like coming out of the closet at the age of 86, is there?”

In their later years, their friend Jean Butler purchased a house where the trio could live. True to form, the Yale Puppeteers transformed the residence into the Turnabout House where they could hold performances and continue to delight audiences. They resided at the Turnabout House for the remainder of their lives, with Roddy passing in 1985, followed by Harry in 1993 and Forman in 1996. Following Forman’s death, the archive of the Yale Puppeteers was donated to the Los Angeles Public Library by Michael Bridges, a longtime friend and the executor of the estate.

A Smiling Harry Burnett poses with arms extended surrounded by Puppets
Jerry Fredrick Harry Burnett and His Puppets, 1977

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