Ann Dvorak Turns Up in the Darndest Places – Turnabout Theatre Collection

Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 291

The photo collection I oversee is massive and is comprised of many collections, one of which includes photos from the Turnabout Theatre.

The Turnabout was a live performance/puppet theatre which operated in Hollywood from 1941-1956. It was run by Forman Brown, Harry Burnett, and Richard Brandon aka the Yale Puppeteers and got its name from the audience seats which could be “turned about” to view the puppet stage at one side of the theater and the human performers on the other side. Elsa Lanchester (above) was the most notable member of the troupe and talks about the Turnabout with great affection in her autobiography.

Celebrities could frequently be spotted at the theatre and the puppeteers would even make puppets in their likenesses, such as Gary Cooper or evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (this is one of my favorite photos in the collection) .

No, I don’t think there was ever an Ann Dvorak puppet. However, the theatre had a large blackboard which the celebs were invited to sign. Back when I interned at the LAPL Photo Collection in 2004, I watched a documentary about the Turnabout which flashed the photo at the top of this post. “There’s Ann Dvorak’s signature!,” I shrieked to my cat who was the only other living thing in my apartment.  She was not nearly impressed as I was, but even all these years later, I am still tickled that Ann Dvorak visited the Turnabout Theatre.

It’s also worth noting the Turnabout’s place in L.A.’s LGBT history. In 1933 Yale Puppeteer Forman Brown penned the novel Better Angel, under the pseudonym Richard Meeker. The book  is now regarded as one of the earliest works of fiction to portray a gay lifestyle in a positive light.

All photos from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection. The entire Turnabout collection can be searched here with great difficulty (we’re working on it). 


  1. Scott October 18, 2013

    Cool! Had never heard of this before.

    After clicking on the link, it took me a couple of minutes to figure out the different photographs of the signatures were actually that of one whole board or wall, broken up into separate areas of it.

    In addition to Ann’s signature, I spotted those of Gene Lockhart, Joan Blondell, Frank Loesser (composer of “Guys And Dolls”), Gladys George, Marian Anderson (the opera singer who gave the famous concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939), Nelson Eddy, Aline MacMahon, Fred Zinnemann, Jane Withers, Theodore Dreiser, Walter Huston, Otto Klemperer, Rita Hayworth and Meredith Willson (author of “The Music Man”).

    So it really was quite an impressive collection of artists, rather than just film actors. Interesting that Aimee (who looks a little like Jean Arthur in the photograph) would, as an evangelist, be included among the other ‘performers’.

    Along those same lines, one of the more interesting autographs or signatures I spotted on the Turnabout’s board or wall was that of Evans Carlson, the U.S. Marine Corps officer and leader of the famed WW2 combat unit “Carlson’s Raiders”. Under his name he added ‘Gung Ho always’. ‘Gung ho’, I believe, is Chinese for ‘work together’.

  2. admin October 18, 2013

    When it comes to Sister Aimee, I usually think of her as a performer more than anything else!

  3. Vienna October 21, 2013

    Fascinating to see all these signatures. Sounds like you have an interesting job.
    Looking forward to the book which ordered months ago.
    Would you be interested in doing an interview with me for my blog, Vienna’s Classic Hollywood? No problem if it isn’t convenient.

  4. admin October 21, 2013

    My job is interesting in many different ways!

    I am always available to talk about Ann! Please shoot me an email:

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