Do you remember the events that led up to your being bitten once and
forever with the art of ventriloquism? Each has his own story to
tell, and yet the story is universal isn’t it? For this generation
it was Lester, Bergen, Winchell, Wences, Lewis, Weston, Ketch and
As I think of my
own journey, I remember, like many, the impression that Winchell
made on me in those early days of television. I thought Jerry was
real, but a paraplegic. I was drawn to him like the proverbial moth
to the flame. As I became aware I wanted more than anything to be
able to ‘throw my voice.’ Perhaps it was the desire to accomplish
something that my friends could not do. But, this was a day before
computers, the internet and instant information. I did not know
where to look to find out about this fascinating folk art.
can play a role in such yearnings. And, as time passed, this world
was slowly, if not accidentally revealed to me. Finding a copy of
‘Practical Ventriloquism,’ by Ganthony, and then adding to the
collection Winchell’s ‘Ventriloquism for fun and profit,’ Olin’s
book, Vereker’s book, (not to mention Van Rensselaer’s) all added to
this journey of discovery.
about the first time you realized that you ‘had it.’ You ‘had’ the
distant voice. You
could create the
illusion and the opportunities that opened themselves to you at the
moment of that awareness.
played a role. Discovering a small ad with a picture of the
Waterloo, LA store that had a sign that said: “The
End of Gloom.” Getting the Robinson catalog and being
amazed at all the different figures that could be made and then
being outrageously intrigued to see a picture of his daughter in
which ‘ jaw lines’
had been drawn on either side of her mouth!
And then there
were the other ventriloquists. Hearing a recording of The Great
Lester and trying my best to imitate his telephone voices. Hearing
‘stars’ of ventriloquism on a 78 rpm record where there were
snatches of John W. Cooper, Fred Ketch, Bruno, and Phil D’Rey! And
of course, every week when the
TV Guide arrived, scouring the variety shows (Sullivan,
Hollywood Palace etc) looking for any appearances by
ventriloquists. And, never missing a single one of them.
And of course,
there was the Vent-O-Gram.
Waiting for each issue to arrive, mimeographed and stapled
together. Reading every article over and over again and when
finished, anticipating the next issue. How did I find out about
such things? I don’t recall, only that a subscription did find it’s
way to my door step.
I remember the day
I sent a publicity shot of myself to WS Berger. I was just a kid,
but he wrote me back and assured me that the photo would find it’s
way into Vent Haven. In his letter, he recommended Paul Stadleman’s
book. That prompted a telephone call to Paul and resulted in an
invitation from him to stop by and say hello if I were ever in
Chicago. I never did, but the invitation demonstrated enormous
graciousness from him to a runny nosed kid learning ventriloquism.
As time passed,
ventriloquists did come through town. Bergen as well as did Dick
Weston. And DeMar. Well, Bill actually stayed and I had the
pleasure of seeing my first Marshall (Bill’s Chuck Norwood) and
watching him create his ‘Feldon the Frog’ routine, which wowed folks
at the conventions years later. ( Bill, if you’re reading this,
hello, it’s been a long time.)
All of these
musings and more are firmly locked in my memory now. When I think
of these things, it is like being a collector of ephemera. It
takes me back there
emotionally. And those are very fond memories indeed.
The art of
ventriloquism is no different than any other art form. No different
than the nobility of the painter, the musician, or the dancer.
Ventriloquism is an art form with all the intricacies of all the
fine arts. It is a shallow person indeed who diminishes this. So,
may I be so bold as to say: “carry on.” Practice, perform, teach,
so that those who come after shall continue the legacy of those that
have gone before.