Bob Isaacson & Charlie McCarthy

As told by Bob Isaacson

 

As most ventriloquists, especially the "older set"; all were fascinated by Edgar Bergen's amazing career. I too, enjoyed the "Radio Days" of Edgar & Charlie, Mortimer & Effie; especially seeing them on the "big screen" in the movies and their too few appearances on television.

My opportunity to become more closely associated with Charlie McCarthy began in 1982. That year a made for TV film by ABC titled " A Day with Mae West " starring Ann Jillian appeared on television Dennis Alwood appeared in it as Edgar Bergen. At the time, not known by me was the fact that the Charlie used in the film was the actual fiberglass copy of Charlie that Edgar had used for many years.

Also not known by me was the fact that Mrs. Frances Bergen had loaned this Charlie, along with one of the original Mortimer’s and Effie Klinker to Edgar's alma mater, Northwestern University, located in Evanston Illinois. The figures were have been put on display there for a permanent display.

A few short weeks after the filming of the "Mae West"  film; I received a call from Dennis Alwood (we had known each other as fellow vents since we were high school students, even though we didn’t attend the same school). Dennis informed me that Northwestern had reported that when Charlie was returned to the university, one of Charlie’s fingers had a crack in it. I was asked to look at the cracked finger, to see if it could be repaired.

An excited trip to Northwestern and look at Charlie showed me that the crack was old; Dennis told me that Edgar used to put a small band aid on the crack. I discovered that the hands on Charlie were heavy solid fiberglass resin; they couldn't be drilled for repair or they would shatter.

Subsequently, duplicate pair of Charlie’s hands (chalk white in color) was sent to me to replace the original hands. Since there was a huge insurance policy on the figure, Charlie could not be removed from Northwestern; therefore, I had to remove the old hands, try to match the paint and replace the hands at Northwestern, which I did.

I asked to see Mortimer & Effie while I was there replacing the hands and was told "they can't be taken from "the vault". I periodically checked with Northwestern to see when the Bergen display would be ready, but the display never happened. I believe Mrs. Bergen loaned the figures to the university a year or two after Edgar passed away in 1978.

In 1983 I decided to carve my own Charlie which proved to be a real challenge. I bought as many good photos as I could obtain from collectible shows, etc. showing good photos of Charlie from different angles. This where I discovered that there were several Charlie’, as the photos showed there were slight facial differences.

I spent about 2 years of spare time carving my Charlie, until I thought I had a cross section of the several Charlie faces that I viewed. I then did the same for my version of Mortimer, which turned out to be easier, since Mortimer’s features were so exaggerated.

Being interested in "Old Time Radio", I became acquainted with The "Old Time Radio Guru " in Chicago, Chuck Schaden, who had a radio program that played the old radio shows.

I had heard rumors that a Museum of Radio was going to be installed in Chicago. Chuck confirmed the fact that, yes one was be set up in the South area of the Chicago "Loop". It was tentatively going to take place in 1987. This was now 1986; I mentioned to Chuck the story about the 3 figures of Mr. Bergen‘s sitting locked up in a vault at Northwestern for the past several years, where no one sees them.

I told Chuck "perhaps Mrs. Bergen would like to know this fact. Indeed she did and she took the figures back from Northwestern where they were put on display at the new Museum of Broadcasting at the South Loop location known as "River South". The museum opened in June 1987 with the 3 figures featured in a beautiful cylindrical display case.

Chuck Schaden broadcast his old time radio programs on Saturdays from the new museum. The program was called "Those Were the Days". In early January 1982, Schaden announced over the air that he was thinking of starting some groups of folks interested in performing old radio scripts for nursing homes, churches, libraries, school, etc. at no charge, to promote & keep the "good old days of radio alive".

About 100 people turned up at the Museum to organize groups. Chuck had asked me to bring my Charlie and Mortimer to the Museum to appear before the people to "sort of advertise the possibilities of performing shows. That was the beginning of "Those Were the Days Radio Players". Groups got together at various Chicagoland areas and. began getting scripts and practicing their shows. l formed a group locally where I lived.

We performed many different shows, comedy, mystery, etc. went to many retirement, nursing home, churches & libraries. After 5 years, the Museum moved to a much larger location & studio in the new Cultural Center in Chicago (the former Chicago Library) a new library had been built a few blocks away.

Since the new facility was much larger, there were many displays of radios, early TV’s and of course Bergen's trio. Also Schaden decide that one of the groups of TWT'D players would perform at the Museum on Sunday afternoons; performance were open to the public at no charge. Since Charlie & Mortimer couldn’t be removed from their huge heavy display, I was asked to bring my figures and perform at the Museum. Many shows were performed of various content at the Museum.

Unfortunately, the Museum of Broadcasting lost their lease for their section of the Cultural Center and closed the end of 2003. The artifacts of radio and the Bergen figures were put in storage.

The new location for the Museum is located in the near North area of the Chicago Downtown . However, since it is a totally publicly supported venture; the millions of dollars needed have not yet be received to construct the facility. Hopefully the monies will come. You can find information about the Museum at "Museum of Broadcasting Chicago".

 

 

Click here to see Bob Isaacson's Charlie McCarthy & Mortimer Snerd