Ken Spencer

(From the publication of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists - "The Oracle", July-August 1960 issue.)



Ken Spencer was born in Frontenelle, Iowa, August 30th, 1899. At an early age his parents drifted to South Dakota, in a covered wagon, and settled in Highmore, where his father held a claim, in the southern part of town. Ken saw Indians, wagon trains, prairie dogs, coyotes and rattlesnakes, but not a cowboy in that open country wearing a revolver, and no one else so equipped.


It was about World War I, when he opened a small motorcycle business, the venture was not very prosperous, so he gave it up.


In 1919, he worked his way to Chicago, and secured employment in the Excelsior Motorcycle factory, while working 5 1/2 days each week at fair wages, he discovered, that a lady taught Ventriloquism in the Chicago Musical Seminary, then located at 2828 Madison Street. The ventriloquial teacher was Marie Greer Macdonald, the president of the organization. The enrollment fee was $50.00, for lessons in "how to make a figure talk", and $50.00 additional for "distant voices".

 

Ken became fascinated after reading the booklet issued by the school, in which was an explanation of the ventriloquial course, so, Ken enrolled. The teacher was a clever ventriloquist, but imparted very little material and how to present it, so he gave up temporarily. Frank Marshall supplied many figures for the pupils that were taught in this ventriloquial school.


Ken's interest in Ventriloquism started in 1915, and while his first lessons were not entirely satisfactory, he still had a burning desire to become a full fledged ventriloquist. Ken makes his second attempt to master the art, and it bore good fruit with hard work. He contacted Harry Fetterer, a professional ventriloquist working with a colored figure with a soft squeaky negro voice. Harry agreed to teach Ken, for $1.00 per hour, so he invested $188.00 on lessons embracing the various phases of ventriloquism. When he was proficient in the art, Harry introduced him to Bill Zimmerman and wife. This organization worked acts in the amateur night circuit in the Chicago area. The organization was very helpful, it gave the amateurs a chance to overcome stage fright and to gain experience, and Ken received the lions share of it. When an act was razzed by the audience, and made it impossible to finish the presentation, the artist was invited to return the following week to make another attempt to put the act over.


Ken reiterates, that he holds the record for presenting his ventriloquial act in the State Congress, burlesque theatre, 13 Friday nights out of 16. The audience would yell when Ken appeared with his figure "throw out the dummy" "bring on the girls", and if he tried to complete the act, he was greeted with tomatoes, and received the usual ride off the stage in a wheel barrow and to collect the payola of $1.oo. After five straight nights, Ken learned how to heckle back at the audience, and had very little interference in subsequent presentations.


Ken purchased his first good professional ventriloquial figure from Theodore Mack & Son, then located at West Harrison Street, Chicago. The son Charlie was the moving spirit in the organization. He devoted his spare time in carving figures when not engaged in the restaurant business, which he operated with his wife. On Saturday afternoons and on Sunday, Ken loafed around the carving department so much, that Charlie decided to put him to put him to work roughing out hands, etc., and growing out of his figuremaking experience, Ken decided to start a figuremaking business. He severed his steady employment at the motorcycle factory, purchased the necessary carving tools, and in 1934 turned professional in the dual capacities of ventriloquist and figuremaker.


Ken' career is very colorful, having performed in medicine shows, circuses, carnivals, churches, night clubs, was his own booker and finally organized, his own road show. He was famous for his original mechanical novelty production "Rubeville Five"......a barrel of fun with 5 figures. It is noted in the picture that one head in the barrel head has two distinct faces. The cast of figures are examples of Ken's artistry. He joined the I.B.V. in 1941, number 53 was assigned to him. The studio is at 3240 Columbus Avenue, Minneapolis 7, Minnesota. Catalogue will be sent for 10 cents.


 

Ken Spencer - Dummy Maker - Figuremaker - Picture of his dummies