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‘Life on a String’ Los Angeles Public Library’s signature legacy collection

The story of the Yale Puppeteers and their Turnabout Theatre was quintessentially a part of LA’s story, its people, and its legacy

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The Turnabout Theatre in 1942 from the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library

LOS ANGELES – The voice was almost giddy, “they kept everything!” That ‘everything’ is the Los Angeles Public Library’s famed ‘Yale Puppeteers and Turnabout Theatre collection’ and the voice belonged to the library’s Christina Rice, senior librarian for its amazing photo collections. The story of the Yale Puppeteers and The Turnabout Theatre covers nearly 70 years of a unique personal and professional relationship and the incredible 15 year tenure of a landmark LA theatre.

Driving by 716 North La Cienega Boulevard in today’s modern day West Hollywood, one would hardly notice the non-descript off white building with a black iron gate in the centre leading to an inner courtyard.

Handmade model of The Turnabout Theatre from the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library

But from 1941 until 1956, the Hollywood elite, dignitaries from every field of endeavor as well as the general public would flow through that gate after stepping out of limousines, taxi cabs, and private cars into that inner courtyard.

They were congregating to attend a unique theatrical performance comprised of magical puppeteering on one stage after which there was an intermission where they’d make their way back into the courtyard for refreshments and then they would return. However, they would flip the seatbacks of repurposed former streetcar seats to face the second stage at the opposite end of the theatre for a musical revue and hence the reason for the venue’s unique name- The Turnabout Theatre.

From the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library

The theatre and its three founders alongside a cast and crew which considered themselves family, won international acclaim with their beloved productions, music, comedy, and atmosphere created in that very special venue.

The story though had its beginnings in the 1920’s when Harry Burnett and Forman Brown, Brandon would form an enduring partnership in college, first at the University of Michigan and then later at Yale University where the duo were joined Richard ‘Roddy’ and the moniker of ‘The Yale Puppeteers’ was born.

In an interview with the Blade, John F. Szabo, City Librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library remarked that the story of the Yale Puppeteers and their Turnabout Theatre was quintessentially a part of LA’s story, its people, and its legacy. “The collection reflects LA’s place central to entertainment and film, it marks the history in the city that was hidden or not known- but it also is very much a part of LA’s LGBTQ history and legacy,” Szabo said.

Forman Brown and Richard ‘Roddy’ Brandon were lovers and partners during a time when being openly gay simply wasn’t possible and in fact exposure could have serious ramifications including imprisonment as homosexuality was illegal. It wasn’t that the three men necessarily hid their orientation, it was more that knowledge of it was not generally known outside of certain circles of those who knew them well. Harry Burnett was himself also gay.

That legacy Szabo felt is the essence of LA and is a valued part of the library’s ongoing efforts to share with the public in the current exhibition ‘Life on a string, the Yale Puppeteers and the Turnabout Theatre’ currently housed at the Central Library, Getty Gallery.

Szabo said that he is thrilled with the hard work that Christina Rice, senior librarian the photo collection and her staff were able to execute in the creation of the exhibition curating an impressive array of artifacts that tell the story.

The library acquired the collection in 1998, two years after the death of Forman Brown, when the executor of his estate and longtime friend Michael Bridges donated it.

Rice told the Blade that curating the collection for display was a thrill. ‘The coronavirus pandemic stopped their ability to present the exhibition for the public in-person so instead Rice said that the library did a limited virtual presentation with audio tours on the library’s website. Now people can visit the library to see this unique entertainment treasure for themselves.

The Turnabout Theatre collection is extensive Szabo acknowledged, but it is also unique owing to its diversity of artifacts. “From the whimsical nature of the puppets to the amazing photographs, posters, and other memorabilia, this exhibit is museum quality,” he said.

In addition to the exhibition, the Library is also showcasing Forman Brown’s efforts as a published author. Szabo said that the uniqueness of his personal background as a part of the Yale Puppeteers coupled with his inability to be open about his sexual orientation forced him to use a pseudonym for his first book, ‘Better Angel’ an autobiographical novel that chronicled Brown’s awakening as a gay man.

First published in 1933 by the Greenburg Press, Brown, writing as Richard Meeker found a modest audience Szabo wrote in the new forward of the LAPL’s republished 2020 version. The book gives a rich sense of contextual reference to the author and his times Szabo related. Interestingly enough, the book had been rediscovered by Alyson Publications in the late 1980’s and after a search to find ‘Richard Meeker’ despite the fact that the book was in the public domain and permission was not needed, Alyson published it.

In his forward, Szabo described an amusing anecdotal story that after Alyson had put the book out in the marketplace, Forman Brown patronized a local book shop to get a copy and was told by the clerk that he’d enjoy the book as it was well written. Brown responded with “I’m sure I will, I wrote it.”

Both Rice and Szabo told the Blade that they were deeply pleased that the exhibit is able to bring the story of the Yale Puppeteers and the Turnabout Theatre to life with the visual presentations of the artifacts, especially the puppets themselves, and the plethora of show bills, newspaper adverts, photographs, and memorabilia and now have the public see it for themselves.

Rice, in addition to her curatorial and librarian duties, is a published author who wrote a book that chronicles the collection.

Published by Photo Friends of the Los Angeles Public Library Publications, the 170 page book in rich detail with photos and text gives an overview to the collection and the uniqueness of the story of the men and the family that was the Turnabout Theatre.

Fittingly, Rice ends her book with a poem written by Forman Brown titled ‘Walls, II, Puppeteer.’

The vastness and completeness of the collection marks a time and a moment in LA’s entertainment history.

For more information please visit the Library’s website here: [Link]

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Online Culture

Twitter adds monkeypox info panel on searches

GLAAD has reached out to Meta, TikTok, and YouTube to add similar information and resources to searches related to monkeypox

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Courtesy of Twitter

SAN FRANCISCO – GLAAD announced in a media statement Monday that the social media platform Twitter added a “Know the Facts” HHS info panel for searches on monkeypox. The panel appears when users search on Monkeypox or MPV and links to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) information about monkeypox (MPV).

“Twitter’s action will not only help stem the tide of MPV misinformation, but is also a clear example of leadership underscoring that institutions across all of civil society can play roles towards addressing this public health emergency,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Though anyone can contract MPV, it is disproportionately impacting the LGBTQ community, especially men who have sex with men, and it is urgent and critical to get the facts around vaccines, treatment, and prevention widely and equitably distributed.”

Screenshot/Twitter

According to GLAAD, it had reached out in publicly shared calls for Meta, TikTok, and YouTube to add similar information and resources to searches related to monkeypox.

“Social media platforms have an opportunity to step up now and be part of the solution, instead of allowing misinformation about MPV and stigmatizing posts about LGBTQ people to run rampant. The window is closing for Meta, TikTok, and YouTube to make good on their commitments to protect LGBTQ users, and everyone, by implementing tools they have used to help curb other public health emergencies,”  Ellis added.

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Celebrity News

Anne Heche dead; Actor removed from life support after organs harvested

“Hopefully, my mom is free from pain and beginning to explore what I like to imagine as her eternal freedom”

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Screenshot/YouTube Inside Edition

LOS ANGELES – Actress Anne Heche died after she was removed from life support on Sunday, nearly 2 weeks after her Mini-Cooper crashed through a two-story house in L.A.’s Mar Vista neighborhood. Investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department believe she was intoxicated at the time.

She sustained a severe anoxic brain injury along with severe burns and was being treated at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital, near Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley.

The 53-year-old actress who was a star of films like Donnie Brasco, the political satire Wag the Dog and the 1998 remake of Psycho, had been declared legally dead under California law on Friday, however, her family kept her alive long enough to be an organ donor.

In a statement Friday, the LAPD announced that: “As of today, there will be no further investigative efforts made in this case. Any information or records that have been requested prior to this turn of events will still be collected as they arrive as a matter of formalities and included in the overall case. When a person suspected of a crime expires, we do not present for filing consideration.” LAPD detectives had previously made public that investigators into the crash found narcotics in a blood sample taken from Heche.

The actress’s family released a statement on Friday:

“Today we lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend. Anne will be deeply missed but she lives on through her beautiful sons, her iconic body of work, and her passionate advocacy. Her bravery for always standing in her truth, spreading her message of love and acceptance, will continue to have a lasting impact,” the statement added.

Heche was married to camera operator Coleman Laffoon from 2001 to 2009. The two had a son, Homer, together. She had another son, named Atlas, during a relationship with actor James Tupper, her co-star on the TV series “Men In Trees.”

Laffoon left a moving tribute on an Instagram reel in which he also gave an update on how their 20-year-old son Homer Laffoon is coping with the loss of his mother.

“I loved her and I miss her, and I’m always going to,” he said adding: “Homer is okay. He’s grieving, of course, and it’s rough. It’s really rough, as probably anybody can imagine. But he’s surrounded by family and he’s strong, and he’s gonna be okay.”

“Rest In Peace, Mom, I love you, Homer,” the actor’s 20-year-old son, Homer, said in a statement after Heche was declared legally dead on Friday.“ My brother Atlas and I lost our Mom,” read the statement. “After six days of almost unbelievable emotional swings, I am left with a deep, wordless sadness. Hopefully, my mom is free from pain and beginning to explore what I like to imagine as her eternal freedom. Over those six days, thousands of friends, family, and fans made their hearts known to me. I am grateful for their love, as I am for the support of my Dad, Coley, and my stepmom Alexi who continue to be my rock during this time. Rest In Peace Mom, I love you, Homer.”

James Tupper a Canadian actor who starred alongside Heche in the ABC television series Men in Trees, had a 13-year-old son, Atlas, with her. “Love you forever,” Tupper, 57, wrote on his Instagram post’s caption with a broken heart emoji, which shared an image of the actress from Men in Trees.

Between 1997 and 2000, Heche was also in a relationship with Out talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. “This is a sad day,” DeGeneres posted on Twitter. “I’m sending Anne’s children, family and friends all of my love.” The year after her break-up with the comedian, in September 2001, Heche recounted in her memoir “Call Me Crazy,” about her lifelong struggles with mental health and a childhood of abuse.

KTLA’s entertainment reporter Sam Rubin noted that over the past two decades, Heche’s career pivoted several times. In 2017, she hosted a weekly radio show on SiriusXM with Jason Ellis called “Love and Heche.”

In 2020, Heche made her way into the podcast world. She launched “Better Together” which she cohosted alongside Heather Duffy Boylston. The show was described as a way to celebrate friendship. 

She also worked in smaller films, on Broadway, and on TV shows. She recently had recurring roles on the network series “Chicago P.D.,” “All Rise,” and was a contestant on Season 29 “Dancing With the Stars.”

People Magazine reported that several of Heche’s acting projects are expected to be released posthumously.

These include Girl in Room 13, expected to be released on Lifetime in September 2022, What Remains, scheduled to be released in 2023, and HBO Max TV series The Idol, created by Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd) and Euphoria creator Sam Levinson.

In her Insta post from earlier this year Heche stands between her sons Atlas, 13 and Homer, 20.

From KTLA:

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Television

For Gaiman fans, ‘Sandman’ is a ‘Dream’ come true

Netflix series offers fantasy space where all feel welcome

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Tom Sturridge makes a dreamy Morpheus in ‘The Sandman.’ (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

For the millions of fans who have embraced Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” and its darkly beautiful, queer-inclusive mystical universe since it debuted in comic book form more than three decades ago, the arrival of a new Netflix series based on it is a very, very big deal – even if, for the uninitiated, it might be hard to understand why. After all, the streaming giant has already unleashed such a vast array of LGBTQ-friendly fantasy movies and shows that one more, welcome though it may be, hardly seems like anything new.

As any of the above-mentioned fans will quickly tell you, however, “Sandman” is not just any fantasy series. Initiated by DC Comics as a revival of an older comic book of the same name, it was handed over to Gaiman – then still a budding writer of comics with a few promising titles under his belt – with the stipulation that he keep the name but change everything else. The comic series he came up with went on to enjoy a 75-issue original run from 1989 to 1993, an era when an expanded literary appreciation for such works gave rise to the term “graphic novel”, and it joined “Maus” and “Watchmen” among the first few comics to be included on the New York Times Best Seller List. Arguably more important, it also generated a huge and diverse fan following, and its incorporation of multiple queer characters and storylines has inspired subsequent generations of comic book creators to envision new and inclusive fantasy worlds of their own.

Despite that success, it’s taken 33 years for it to finally be adapted for the screen. Beginning in the late ‘90s, attempts were made to develop “The Sandman” for film, but though a few scripts initially managed to win Gaiman’s approval, creative differences inevitably led to a dead end, and the Hollywood rumor mill began to buzz that the story was ultimately “unfilmable” – until 2019, when Netflix and Warner Brothers (parent company to DC Comics) officially reached a deal to bring it to the screen as a series, with Gaiman fully on board and a creative team in place that was determined to faithfully adapt the much-loved original for a contemporary audience.

The show that came from that decision, which premiered on Netflix Aug. 5, makes it clear that the long wait was more than worth it.

“The Sandman” of the title refers to the story’s leading figure – Dream (known also as Morpheus, among other names), one of seven elemental siblings whose mystical realms overlay and intertwine with the human world. As ruler of the dream world, he holds hidden power over all mankind – until a human sorcerer manages to trap him and imprison him on Earth for more than 100 years. Finally freed, he returns to his kingdom to find it in disarray, and he sets out to restore order and undo the damage done – a quest that will require him to enlist the aid of numerous (and sometimes less-than-willing) allies, both human and immortal, to save the cosmos from a chaotic force that has been unleashed in his absence.

Like any good myth cycle, it’s both an epic story and an episodic one, making it a much better fit for the long-form storytelling capacity of series television than for any of the one-off film adaptations that it almost became. In his sweeping, unapologetically allegorical saga of the ever-dueling forces within our human psyche, Gaiman uses broad strokes in composing his plot, recycling and reinventing timeless motifs and themes while relying on our comfortable acceptance of the familiar tropes of myth and magic to get us all on board; the narrative is a massive structure, but it’s not hard to follow the basics. Where “Sandman” becomes complex – and exceptional – is in the details Gaiman gave himself room to explore along the way, the human moments caught in between the monumental cosmic drama. 

It’s these parts of the story that have made his graphic novel iconic, more even than its gothic melancholy or its layered personification of primal forces into complex human archetypes; it’s there, too that he was able to explore a broad and diverse range of human experience, including many queer characters in a time when comic book literature was far from a queer-friendly space. It’s these things that made Gaiman’s comic a touchstone for a wide spectrum of fans – and they would have been the first things that would have been jettisoned had any of the potential “Sandman” films seen the light of day. Because Gaiman has held out for so long to make sure it could be done right, series television has finally given him the chance, as co-creator and co-executive producer (alongside David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg), to make it happen.

The big-budget Netflix production values certainly help, too, allowing the striking visual aesthetic of the comic – in which even the horrific can be exquisitely beautiful – to come thrillingly alive. The show’s many baroque and gruesome deaths bear testament to that, as does a fourth episode sequence when Morpheus’s quest requires him to descend into a Hell that evokes the macabre beauty of Dore’s illustrations for Dante’s “Inferno,” the very landscape itself made up of the writhing and tormented souls of the damned. The artfulness of this show’s scenic design lingers in the memory, appropriately enough, like images from a dream.

Still, it’s all just scenery without the players, and “Sandman” assembles a top-drawer cast capable of bringing Gaiman’s characters to life with the level of depth they deserve. Tom Sturridge makes for a compelling leading figure, capturing the titular character’s complex mix of coldness and compassion without ever losing our loyalty; he’s supported by an equally talented ensemble of players, including heavyweight UK stalwarts like Charles Dance, Joely Richardson, David Thewlis, and Stephen Fry among a host of less familiar faces, and there’s not a weak performance to be found among any of them.

As to whether the show’s writing does justice to the original, different fans will surely have different opinions. The story has been remolded to fit the modern world, and many elements of the comic have been reconfigured in the process. This is particularly true in terms of representation; though queer characters were always a part of the “Sandman” universe, the comic debuted 34 years ago, and much has changed since then. In bringing the story to the screen, the author and the rest of the creative team have brought things up to date, bringing more nuance to its queer representation even as it expands it wider, and reimagining many of its characters to reflect a more diverse and inclusive vision of the world. Inevitably, these choices may upset some die-hard fans – there’s already been the inevitable toxic outcry against the show’s gender-swapping of characters and the decision to cast actors of color in roles originally depicted as white.

Still, for those who loved the original for providing a fantasy space where ALL could feel welcome – exactly the way Neil Gaiman intended it to be – it’s hard to find a reason to complain.

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