I said, “Everyone….play along
with me, we’re going to have some fun.”
As Ray and Barbara walked through the front door at Captain Dick’s I
said, “And that concludes my talk about computers and the
Internet….are there any questions?”
Ray’s eyes got big….then everyone burst into laughter. He looked
around and realized that the joke was on him. He chuckled and I told
him that I was playing a joke on him, I hadn’t actually started the
presentation yet, he smiled and said, “I think I’m going to like
I went ahead and did my presentation. Some asked questions but seems
to me that Ray asked the most questions. I remember he was very
interested in computers and the Internet “craze” at that time. Once
I was finished, everyone started to mingle as they had been most of
I knew I wanted to talk with Ray, but quite a few people were
talking with him immediately after I finished. I remember him
telling me he enjoyed my presentation.
Captain Dick had a bedroom that was converted into a “dummy room”
where he kept most of his dummies and somehow I ended up in there
talking with Ray and Barbara. He was asking me computer questions
and I was asking him dummy building questions.
Ray would keep coming back to the same subject or philosophy of
“character” for the dummy (a subject he talked to me about the first
time I spoke on the phone with him and the same subject I would hear
about many more times throughout the years). His “philosophy” (which
I have found to be true in many cases) is when building or buying a
dummy, most ventriloquists don’t think about the character as much
as they should.
He kept saying you really need to know the “character” of the dummy
you want so that when you start to perform, you can make it seem
alive. Especially when buying a dummy, Ray stated that most
ventriloquists just find a face they like, never really thinking
about what they can do with the dummy.
I found this to be all too true in my case. A year earlier, at
Captain Dick’s, not only did I fall in love with Ray’s “Louie”
dummy, but I also wanted a Brandt Gilmer dog dummy. After some time,
I finally bought the dog dummy. However, it’s only been recently
(about 10 years later) that I could actually come up with a
character for this dummy that I felt comfortable with. I bought the
dog, strictly because I liked it. I guess it’s okay if you’re a
collector or have lots of money.
So, as we are sitting in Captain Dick’s dummy room, a small crowd is
gathered and listening as Ray talks about the importance of knowing
the personality or character of your dummy before you build or buy.
I know for me, as logical as it sounds…..it took a few years for
that concept to really sink in.
I showed Ray the dummy I had built and he was very nice and saying I
had done a good job for my first dummy (years later he would be more
truthful to me and tell me I needed a dummy with “character” as my
first dummy had no “character or personality” in his face….which is
true). I told him I would love to learn more about building dummies
and he offered to show me some tips and to give him a call.
As the evening went on, I didn’t want the night to end. I was
enjoying my visit with Ray and Barbara. But end it did and at the
time I lived about a two hour drive north of Seattle. On the drive
home, my head was spinning. I kept replaying the conversation with
Ray over and over in my head. All and all it had been a wonderful
About three weeks had passed and I was anxious to talk with Ray and
maybe see his “shop”. I knew I would be in his area working (running
a vacation route for one of my salespeople), so I called Ray and we
set up a day and time that would be convenient for me to go over
The glorious day finally arrived. At that time, Ray and Barbara
lived in Kirkland, Washington, on the eastside of Seattle. My heart
was pounding as I found the neighborhood, turned on their street and
parked in front of the house. Walked up to the door, knocked, Ray
answered and invited me in.
When you walked into their house, you could either go straight up a
few steps that would take you to the main part of the house or, turn
immediately to your right and go downstairs. As you walk down the
stairs, there was a door to the right that led you to the garage. If
you turned left and walk straight, on the right was the laundry room
and straight ahead was “Shangri-La” (or it was in my mind)….the
However, when I first arrived, we went straight, walked up the
steps, and turned left, to the living room. Around the living room
were a few dummies, an old Mack figure (now owned by Dan Willinger),
one of Ray’s creations, Farnsworth and some others. There were also
quite a few Mickey Mouse memorabilia items in the living room. I
remember at the time thinking the Mickey Mouse stuff must have been
Barbara’s….nope, I was wrong…it’s Ray’s.
He could probably tell by my eyes that I was memorized by the
dummies in the living room and told me I could pick them up and look
them over. I didn’t have to be told twice, I started picking them
up, working the headstick, pulling the head out of the body,
checking out the controls….having a blast.
As I would pick each one up, Ray would tell me the “story” behind
each one and to be totally honest, I’m not sure that first go
around, I remembered the stories….I was too busy playing. Here I
was…..a forty-something year old man playing with dolls and loving
every minute of it.
Once I was through with the dummies, Ray asked if I wanted to see
the shop. Now, Ray is a pretty smart guy, but looking back, that was
probably the dumbest question he ever asked. OF COURSE I wanted to
see the shop!
So, off we go down the stairs to the shop. As I am typing this
account of the first time I was in the shop, I’m having the same
feelings all over again and yet, it’s hard to describe. I was awe
struck. I’m looking around the shop, seeing dummy heads everywhere.
All in different states of repair. Some partial heads, heads opened,
it was an amazing site. Then there were body parts all around.
Hands, feet, eyes, wigs, you name it…it was there.
As you walked in, straight ahead and slightly to the right was
“Ray’s” table. This is where he did most of his work. Years later, I
always thought of it as “command central”….because from there, Ray
controlled the shop. In the far left corner was a table and in this
area was where most of the mold making, head casting was done. A
couple other tables where in the shop for various reasons.
I forgot to mention that as you walked through the doorway to the
shop, you had to walk around the television set directly in front of
the doorway. I found out later, that evidently to be a “master”
dummy builder like Ray, you have to have the WORSE sci-fi movies
EVER made playing in the background. I’m not talking “B” movies……I’m
talking “C, D, E” movies (more on this later).
I’m looking around the shop and Ray is explaining about each dummy
head, what he was working on at the time, and I was memorized by it
all. I told him once more that I would love to learn how to build
dummies and he invited me to come over and work in his shop with
him. Since I worked during the week and at that time, Ray liked to
have one day off from working in the shop (which was Sunday),
Saturday was the only day available. I told him I would check my
schedule to see when we could start and call him.
And that was the beginning of “Saturdays With Ray”.