Harry Burnett, a Yale Puppeteer and co-founder of the Turnabout Theater, which had its heyday in the 1940s, has died. He was 92.
Burnett died May 28 at the Orchard Gables retirement home in Hollywood after two years of declining health, said nurse Bernadette Dickey.
The three Yale Puppeteers started in 1920 at the University of Michigan, where Burnett and his cousin Forman Brown were students.
Burnett transferred to Yale University and the third partner, Richard (Roddy) Brandon, joined the duo. Brandon died in 1985.
They toured the country with their puppets in the 1920s, settling in Hollywood in 1929. Burnett designed, Brown wrote satirical songs for the repertoire, and Brandon handled business arrangements. They all pulled the strings.
The trio performed at El Teatro Torito, a small Olvera Street theater, in 1930, charging $ 1 a ticket.
“We entertained Charles Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Lionel Barrymore,” Burnett said in 1965. “We presented a special show for Dr. Albert Einstein when he visited the street while teaching at Caltech.”
Many of Burnett’s puppets caricatured Hollywood stars.
“We did it with tongue in cheek, poking fun at them,” he said, “and they always took it good-naturedly.”
In 1941, the three puppeteers opened their own stage, the Turnabout Theatre, at 716 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Turnabout presented a marionette play at one end, then invited audiences to “turnabout, turnabout” to watch Burnett and other live performers do vaudeville songs and gags at the other end.
The 160-seat theater was packed throughout the 1940s. It was the first full-time marionette theater in America.
As television increased in popularity in the 1950s, audiences dwindled until the theater closed in 1956. The three men lived together in a large home they called Turnabout House and continued to produce shows for friends.
In his later years, Burnett taught puppetry to children, senior citizens and the handicapped.
In 1988, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle gave Burnett and Brown its first lifetime achievement awards. Brown is the only surviving member.
Burnett is survived by seven nieces and nephews.