(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.