Living mouth

Question: Several years ago my ex wife purchased a pro dummy that had a living mouth. The mouth had no lines. Can you still purchase a dummy like this..

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Answer: I'm sorry, but I do not know anyone building the living mouth figures today. I think the lack of production is because the fact that such a feature provides lower lip movement only which limits visibility from a distance. And the living mouth is actually less natural when the figure is speaking because there is no chin and jaw movement. Slotted jaw thus becomes the preferred type of mouth for most owners. So it is lack of demand that caused their demise more than anything. But figures with living mouth are great for close up and photos, I agree.

(The photo of "Brian" here was taken from a 1973 Newsy Vents. Built by Craig Lovik, the Brian figure was retired about a year later when the slotted jaw "Talk-alot" figures were introduced.)


  1. The lower lip could be geared with lower jaw for very slight jaw movement, which with an upper lip movement would be very effective for closeup TV work or parlor room gatherings. The few made by Lovik, couple made by Marshall, and all the British figures that used the living mouth or what Berger called the leather lip were all geared for the unnatural jaw action, like the Insull which Berger called Davenport sold through its magic shop. I can visualize this Lovik shown in the photo with a lip action and so slight lower jaw movement for a very natural look for doing such closeup work.

  2. Anonymous5/20/2010

    I should have said illusion of jaw movement by such gearing, say with lower teeth lowering ever so slightly on fully lowered lower lip. LeeDean

  3. Philip Grecian5/20/2010

    A magician friend who knew I'd been a vent for a few decades approached me a couple of years ago to ask if I'd be interested in buying a professional vent figure for a hundred bucks.

    I said sure!

    Turns out it was a fro-haired young African-American female figure with a living mouth. Said it'd been in his basement since he'd bought it in the 70's from a place "with a name like Mayer or Meyer."
    Well, golly, what place could that be?

    Shortly thereafter I sent a note to you, Clinton, got some history on the figure and asked about the feasibility of turning the African-American female into a white male character (I envisioned pitfalls with a white ventriloquist and a black figure). You gave me some very useful tips on painting.
    I figured to keep the living mouth feature, as I'd never worked with a figure outfitted that way.

    Then, perhaps a month ago I wrote to ask for some tips on converting it to a standard slot jaw. You're right, of course, the living mouth just doesn't carry visually (and, incidentally, is just a little creepy).
    You were generous with advice but pointed out a couple of potential problems to watch for.

    Fools rush in and all that.
    I took out the leather, sawed a ragged hole beneath the lip assembly and set to work.
    I now have the framework for the lower jaw and chin assembled and mounted below the lip. I'll finish it off with Magic-Sculpt (being careful, as you said, about the arc of the swing clearing the top of the neck opening below), then even out the ragged opening into clean slots. This will take awhile; I want to do it right.
    I've decided to keep the figure female, but am changing her into a white wacky old lady.
    I only wish I'd taken a "before" photo. I think this is going to work beautifully!

  4. Easy to imagine; next to impossible to do. Believe me, Lovik tried. I was there.

  5. Anonymous5/20/2010

    Geoff Felix from London builds figures with living mouth from paper machee. Try geofffelix.com. His ventriloquist figures are really funny. Burkhard

  6. Funny how tastes can differ. Some people prefer the living mouth but I think there's something so iconic and charming about the look of the slotted jaw. (There are old illustrations of Charlie McCarthy where they didn't draw his slots and he just doesn't look right.)

    I'm sure if done just right, the living mouth COULD be charming, but I was ruined by the episode of Twilight Zone where an evil, possessed dummy had a living mouth. Also, there was an old book on ventriloquism that I learned from: I forgot the author's name but his vent figure had a living mouth with upper and lower lip movements and that was pretty scary looking, even in still photographs.

  7. I've used an Insull for fifty years (recently, beautifully restored by Ray Guyll) and love the 'living mouth.' Used in combination with the upper lip 'sneer' there is great versatility and multiple expressions can be created. I also have several 'slot jaw' figures, but, for me, the Insull mouth is more effective, for both small and large audiences. (I obtained the figure originally from Mrs. Maher.) Dr. Larry Klock, MD.

  8. Anonymous5/20/2010

    Look on self built pals on this site. I experimented with the living mouth and upper lip sneer. Contact me with questions, he may be on E-Bay in the future... Dave

  9. Anonymous5/21/2010

    And, as I recall, the Insull was one of the favorites of The Great Lester. LeeDean

  10. Note to Adam in the UK: Please contact me directly concering your Storyteller figure. mahertalk@aol.com