The Tumbling Turner Sisters
by Juliette Fay
Pub Date: June 14, 2016
When I was in undergrad, I stumbled into minoring in film studies. It was pointed out by my advisor that I had taken many elective classes that fit in with a film studies minor, so I thought I might as well go for it. I took a History of Entertainment course that was loads of fun – we had sections on minstrelsy, the circus, vaudeville, silent film, and the professor was a barrel of laughs. Ever since that class my interest is piqued when I hear something about any of those topics, and with this book set in the days of vaudeville just as public favor was turning to film, I figured I had to give it a read.
The father of the Turner sisters gets himself injured badly enough he can’t return to work in the boot factory, so their enterprising mother (who once had aspirations of performing on stage herself) decides her four daughters – Nell, Gert, Winnie, and Kit – would make rent by performing acrobatic feats on vaudeville. Each of these sisters is a unique and distinct person, and it seems at the beginning of the story that the family is somewhat dysfunctional. Nell and her baby are waiting for her husband to return from the Great War, Gert is a strong-willed beauty, Winnie desperately wants to go to college, and Kit is so tall she gets mistaken as being older than she really is. Out of familial need, and a sense of adventure, these four sisters agree to their mother’s scheme and start a tumbling act and hit the road.
What was especially fun about reading this book was following the development of the Tumbling Turner Sisters’ act in the eyes of vaudeville. Traveling acts like that form their own special bonds and friendships – they may only be together a week or so, but when you spend hours on end in a theater together, you quickly learn to lean on each other. Each stop they made brought a new learning experience for them, some good and some bad, and new acts to learn from and be amused by. And you see the four sisters develop more into themselves and bond together as a family through all these experiences. The act goes from being a necessity to keep a roof over their heads into a life they want and crave and enjoy.
So ultimately this is a story about family, and growing up, and becoming the person you want to be. With the added incentive of having some great vaudeville stories along the way!