When should you start charging for your shows?

By Dale Brown

There are some simple ways to gauge your progress as an entertainer and find out if you're really entitled to be rewarded for all your hard work. My formula for finding out if you should be getting paid for your talents is simple ... ask.

The most practical approach to evaluating your ability is to use your free shows to produce tangible evidence about your strengths as a vent, as well as your weakness. Let your audiences tell you what you're good at, and what you may need to improve on, before starting down the path as a professional.

Make a critique form (an example is shown in "Putting Money Where Your Mouth Is") and give to at least five people in the audience. Tell the people they do not have to sign their names. Arrange to have the forms turned in to someone other than yourself ... probably the person who asked you to perform. That will ensure that you don't know who says what, which will tend to generate more honest opinions. You'll want to ask about:
1) Voice contrast (was the ventriloquist's voice significantly different from the puppets?)
2. Entertainment value (Was the show entertaining?)
3. Technical skills (Did the ventriloquist's lips move? Was it easy to understand the ventriloquist and the puppets?)
4. Variety (Did the show offer variety and keep the audience's interest?)
5. Audience appropriateness (If it was a school show, was the program aimed at children, etc.?)
6. Audience participation.
7. Audience reaction.
8. Program length
9. Professionalism (how well did the performer handle himself/herself on stage?)
10. Would you pay to see this show?

Remember ... "It's what the audience thinks of your performance that's important. It's not what you think of your performance."
* * * * * *
The above excerpt was condensed from chapter one of "Putting Money Where Your Mouth Is" (revised 2010) by Dale and Leslie Brown. Thanks to the author, we are today awarding one free signed copy of this book to Tiffany Cox. To order a copy of this book or more helpful booklets or Dale's DVD, visit http://www.dale-brown.com/

NAAV Collector Spoon

They're over 35 years old, still new and in their boxes, these NAAV* Collector Spoons. I don't know if that makes them a "vintage" item or not, but it is fun to own one if you're a collector of either spoons or ventriloquist memorabilia. Today we're giving away six spoons. The winners (who will receive one spoon each) are: Marion MacPherson, Glen Goodrum, Quinn Buffandeau, Donna Calise, Kenny Croes, and Margaret Davis. Please remember, you must confirm your address with Mr. D to receive your prize spoon. (*North American Association of Ventriloquists 1940-2004)


Sliding Mouth

From Ted Nunes:

This is a tomato puppet idea I did recently. It's something I drew, instead of a photo, but the principle is the same. For a photo you would probably want to spray mount it to some card stock (bristol board) to give you some rigidity.
The jaw is the tricky part. I cut it out and mounted it to a strip on which I drew the insides of the mouth. (you could grab this from another photo of somebody's open mouth, or just draw it with markers--it could look funny to have a "cartoony" mouth interior.) I made a track that the jaw would slide along using strips of cardboard glued to the back of the face. I cut out another piece of cardboard the same shape as the head that the face is glued to. The jaw slides between those pieces--the track acting as a spacer--plus that second piece gave me something to attach a stick to (a chopstick in this case.)
This photo is version #1, where the jaw is simply attached to another strip of cardboard that I used to move it up and down. I've modified it to use a lever and string and rubber-band for tension, but I don't have photos of that one yet.
I just used crafts store googley eyes on this, but my ukulele puppet is mostly the same principle and he has moving eyes. I'll try to get a shot of how that works.


Hard Work

From Steve at The Dummy Shoppe

Good morning Clinton,

I stayed up most of the night working on your riddle from a day or so ago. Terry Fator's KHODRRAW. After much HARD WORK I think I finally solved it. I believe that Terry has a lower paid staff member who is constantly searching around the land for the newest GEEKIE type puppet to turn into a star.

This staff member is a bit of a redneck, so he just wanders throughout the land muttering loudly to any puppet who might be listening. WHAR DORK, . . .WHAR DORK, . . .WHAR DORK. Every now in then one will answer. . . . Heer I Is, I be the Dork U R looking for. . . and a Star is Born!!!

KHODRRAW could also be a dyslectic Marine from Oklahoma talking about his latest sketch in Mono sylables.

(As you well know, when we stop having fun. . . we might as well quit.)

Have a great day.

Coin Comments & Note from Mr. D.

"I like the coin very much. I carry it n my pocket all the time now on stage and off. It is the new manipulating coin I carry as a talisman. Love the look, the weight and the size." Jay Johnson
* * * * *

"Received your coin and I can not express my great delight enough. I will treasure it always. I am going to have it framed to hang in my den as a sign of encouragement of continueing in my favorit hobby." Don Jones
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"I just wanted to drop you a note letting you know that I have received the Vent Collector Coin. It really does look better in person. A very nice vent collectible. Thank you for being kind enough to give these out to your readers and friends. They are very nice. Thanks." Jeff Walters
* * * * *
"Many thanks for the $5 coin, I am really thrilled at receiving this in the mail. I was thinking what I could do with this coin, and then I saw on this mornings entry that they would make a good key ring, so I will go and see if I can find a holder to fit this coin. Once again, many, many thanks for this memento." Doug Price
* * * * *
Note from Clinton (Mr. D):
I purposely had these coins dated 2010 and it is my plan to have my entire supply distributed before the end of the year to guarantee their true collectable value going into the year 2011 (when I hope to be able to offer a companion 2011 coin).

"Sliding" mouth

Question: Hi, Clinton. I am currently trying to build a "flat" vent puppet - using a photo of a face. I want to give it sliding moving eyes and a sliding moving mouth. I noticed on your blog you built a talking skull with a "sliding mouth" See Skull here. Are you able to send photos of how you did this or draw some diagrams of how you did it? I know it's a big request; I know you're busy, but....? Any help would be appreciated. Look forward to hearing from you. Kind regards. Geoffrey
* * * * * *
From Clinton: The skull to which you refer, has a jaw built on the slide principle, with a jaw of significant thickness moving downward over the FRONT of the face.

On a photo or picture, however, the mouth will be quite thin, and is best when it slides down BEHIND the picture. I don't think I have anything at hand that was made in this manner. 30 years or so ago I printed up a series of plans for "poster puppets". They did have plans for such puppets with moving mouth and eyes. I don't know if I can find any of them or not, but I will check around.



Comin' along with Fator "magic"

You may remember the three unfinished hard puppet heads I purchased on eBay a few weeks ago - the very same heads I started building over 25 years ago, but never completed and subsequently found their way to eBay auction... Long story short, I'm nearing completion of the work on one of them. Shortly after this photo was taken yesterday, I applied the first coat of paint to the head. I see from this image I was wearing my Terry Fator hat...maybe I was unknowingly hoping a bit of the Fator Magic* would be bestowed upon me as I worked to complete this figure! I can dream, can't I?
Note: *Fator Magic can be spelled with eight letters: KHODRRAW. Unscramble the letters to make two common four letter words and you'll discover Terry's secret of success.

"Hey, Let Me Outta Here!"

I've read many articles about ventriloquists and ventriloquism over the years, but the 10 page feature in the August 1989 issue of The Atlantic Monthy by Cullen Murphy is one of the best. The exquisite illustrations by Bill Nelson (incluing those seen here) make it that much more special for any collector of ventriloquist memoribilia. I sure hope John Iskat is following my blog today because that is the name we drew to receive a free copy of this magazine (provided for this drawing by Dale Brown).


Andersen Script books

Question: "I have found a lot of success harvesting the works of William Andersen for tried and true scripts. Would you be able to list for me the titles you have available by William Andersen?" Jim
* * * * *
Script/Dialogue Books by William Andersen
Short Routines $10
My Favorite Routines $5
Tell Me A Story Gramps $5
School Talk For Dummies $5
School Talk For Dummies #2 $5
School Talk For Dummies #3 $5
From The Birds $5
Animal Sense and Nonsense $5
Ventriloquist Safety Programs $5
Short Bible Routines #1 $5
Short Bible Routines #2 $5
Short Bible Routines #3 $5
David and Goliath $5
"How To" Books that include dialogues:
Ventriloquism For Little Children $5
Ventriloquism For Senior Citizens $5
Gag Files in Dialogue Format:
Silly Riddles $5
Bible Humor #1 $5
Bible Humor #2 $5
Also by Andersen:
Know Your Character $5
Make Your Own Dummy $10
111 Ways To Use Ventriloquism In Church $5
All in stock. All prices include postage.


Question: I have been working with several types of string for the controls for a puppet I am making. The problem I keep getting is that the string breaks due to friction. Any recomendations? Charles
* * * * *

I recommend using only BRAIDED NYLON string. I use a heavy fisherman's line, but braided (not the twisted) mason's line will work as well. I've never had such line break on it's own. It can be cut if it passes repeatedly over a sharp edge or burr so you will want to make certain there is no such happening. Even a burr too small to be seen can do damage, so be sure to sand all edges and replace any screw eyelet that is causing the string to wear.

If there is a sharp turn along the string's path that causes the string to wear by friction, you may need to add a pulley or turning dowel or something similar. Vaseline as a lubricant at such friction points will also prolong the life of the string.


Coin Comment

From Buddy Big Mountain:
"Mr. D. Thank you so much for sending me a "DUMMY DOLLAR" collector coin. I will be keeping it in my medicine bag. I know it was given with a kind heart and it will give me comfort always."

Puppet making "How-To' Book

Reader Comment: I have an idea for you...well you know...You're such a brilliant Puppet maker why not write a book on it and add some of the cool projects you've done off your blogs? Viola! A cool book! It would also be used as a cool text to teach this craft along with ventriloquism techniques. Just a thought from one of your students and fans.
* * * * * *
Reply: Thank you for the idea and your more than kind and encouraging words. Writing a puppet making "how to" book has been suggested to me more than once. But after preparing a lesson on building a simple vent figure for an earlier version of the Maher Course (Lesson 18, copyright 1975), I know only too well how much work it is to put together such instructions. I can't see myself doing that again. I do from time to time try to show on this blog some of the general steps of construction of the puppets without getting into great detail which I fear 95% of the readers would find quite boring.

William Andersen did prepare a book on figure making. It is titled Make Your Own Dummy, published by Maher Studios. I do still have copies which I sell. You will find a more detailed description with price here: http://maherbookstore.blogspot.com/2008/12/make-your-own-dummy.html



From Barb Gregerson:

I received the signed and framed Ventrilo-Buck today (Blog Prize). My husband, Al, and I are thrilled with it. We read it carefully and really appreciated the play on words. We were also impressed with the attention to detail displayed in the matting. What a careful craftsman so you. Al was wondering if you are Lipps R. Still or Wood N. Dummy?

I am having a wonderful time doing small shows for Sunday Schools and Head Start family nights. My little soft puppet, Lily, was invited to two birthday parties tonight after a Head Start event. I suppose I was invited also.

My official retirment from the education profession was June 30th but I have a feeling that I will be as busy as I want to be entertaining/educating small children after that date. I can't wait for the next phase of my life to begin. Of course, my troupe of puppets is anxious to get out and meet everyone.

The decision to sign up for the Maher course and follow through with the lessons was one of the smartest moves I've ever made. Thanks for your support and encouragement along the way.

Official Ventrilo-buck

We printed these in 1995, but they're collector's items now. I didn't have any myself until Bob Abdou sent a packet of the bills to me recently to be used as prizes on this blog. Before giving them all away I'll be certain to stick one in my own scrapbook! If the following people contact me within 14 days to confirm their mailing addresses, each will be sent one crisp new Ventrilo-buck from the "United Studios of Maher": Newell Falkinberg, George Meinhardt, Bruce Miller, Janice Watson, and Sonny Calkins


55 years!

She was from Colorado; he from Kansas. They met as high school classmates and shortly thereafter (55 years ago today) said their vows to one another.
* * * * *
Our anniversary celebration will begin in earnest next week as our family gathers from near and afar.
Our thanks to Donald Woodford for the beautiful 55 anniversary scroll work mantelpiece. How appropriate to have a timepiece mounted in a momento marking the anniversary of passing years. Years are made up of hours and minutes, every one precious. We are blessed.


Abdou Museum

I mentioned Bob Abdou's home museum would be the new home of my Banana Puppets. Here's a small peek of part of Bob's vast collection. His wife said "No puppets in the living room, kitchen, and bedroom," but he got the rest of the house and "ran with it."

They're off...

Today I shipped my two Banana puppets off to their new home: Austin, Texas. There, they will reside on permanent display in the "Bob Abdou International Museum of Puppets & More" (okay, I just made up the name, but the rest is true). Since the puppets are no longer mine, and now belong to another, does that mean we have officially experienced a "banana split"?

Note: The above photo was taken on stage at the 1984 International FCM Night Show (Winona Lake, Indiana) where I was emcee.

Totally different!

Jim Barber provided this DVD for today's give-away featuring the unique comedy of "Barber & Seville" and more, including the precocious "Baby", a charming Chihuahua named "Chico", and more. Congratulations Del Burkholder. You are the winner of this DVD by way of today's drawing.



I was never a big fan of mechanical animations built into the body of a vent figure. However, requests were strong, especially for a "handshaker". The body in the photo was built by Lovik. When the brass lever is pressed downward/forward, the rigid arm moves forward/raises.

Since the arm is rigid with hand solidly attached, the fingers are more at risk for damage and extra care must be used when using and packing the figure.


Convention 2010 in Rhyme

By Joe Radle
© 2010 J.B. Radle
My wife and I, we took a ride to ole Kentuck
Were lots of folks with puppets, just ran amuck
I think it’s only right I mention
We were headed to a ventriloquist convention

We got some rain and then it got sunny
Me and my lady, I call her, Honey Bunny
We made the trek in just one day
Thanks to the maps from the folks at the triple A

I had packed my puppets and you might ask-it
What the heck I’ve got in the casket
Count Vladimir Dracula is his name
In Transylvania he’s got some fame

My Good Friend, Jet, from down Alabama ways
Made him for me, in what seemed like, only days
He’s really not one of those horror type blokes
But made for fun and telling jokes

Little kids he will not frighten
I hope his skits will only brighten
And, while he is a somewhat scary guy
He won’t say things to make them cry

I brought some money, some call it “Geld”
Because Dracula needed a side kick named, Renfeld
You won’t believe the luck I had
I found the perfect guy for, Vlad

Once again, my friend, Jet came through
I saw him, liked him, and bought him, too
The Count and Renfeld hit it off
Just like fire, draws a moth

I’ve got a team to now delight
And, I’ll tell everyone, he doesn’t bite
I’ll write some bits to work these two
To make folks laugh, I hope, don’t you

Growing up

Sometimes a small figure can be made more usable for an adult by simply enlarging the size of the torso. Even a small amount of added space have make a huge difference. Thus was the situation with this figure.

"Pocket Puppet Kit"

During the 40 years I've been in the ventriloquist business, I've had several business cards. But the "Pocket Ventriloquist Kit" card with fold out dummy with moving mouth was definitely the most fun! I designed the card in 1981. Dave Miller provided the original art work. It was a more costly card to produce in both $$ and time to assemble. So after a couple years distribution and several incidents of national attention (both print and TV), we switched back to a more traditional advertising card. I still have several in my personal collection and I'm giving one as today's prize. MARTIN PRATT is the winner.

In addition, I've listed several for sale on eBay Here.


Invisible Improvement

Here's a situation when all the work I did to repair the vintage figure would hopefully go totally unseen when completed. The satisfaction comes in knowing the job was done well when others will never know the job was done at all.

Bergen's Better Bubble Gum!

"Simply delish", was Charlie and Mort's claim about Bergen's Better Bubble Gum. All that we have here is the paper wrapper*, but framed and matted, it's in itself quite "delish" in appearance! Awarded by drawing today to Chris Woodman.

*My thanks to Al Getler for providing this item of ventriloquist memorabilia for today's give-away.
* * * * *
August 11, 2010: "Today my framed original Charlie and Mortimer framed bubblegum picture arrived - it really looks great! I have placed in on the wall above my desk, something good to look at - better than anything in the news." Chris



This figure was created for a customer who sent me a photo of her boyfriend and asked if I could create a "Look-alike" figure. Not a difficult task since I've been looking at a fella similar in appearance every morning for years!


Jim Burke's "It's a Small, Small World"

“Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:11).

I was the only bird perched on the small tree’s limb and couldn’t help but overhear the conversation between Eddie Eastward and Clarence Clutterfield. They were sitting at a sheltered table in the patio area. Eddie tries to visit Clarence weekly.

“What’ve you been doing with yourself lately?” Clarence asked his young friend.
“I’ve been playing all types of games with my buddies,” Eddie answered.
“Like what?” Clarence wanted to know.
“You know, games like ‘pin the tail on the monkey,’ and ‘musical stools,’” Eddie explained.
“Oh yeah, I know what you mean” Clarence grunted. “I play games like that all the time!”
“You’ve gotta be kidding,” Eddie answered. “I didn’t think that’s possible. Why, you’re in a…you’re in a…” Eddie was stumbling for the words.
“Home?” Clarence muttered. “Is that what you’re trying to say?”
“Well, uh, yeah, I guess that’s the word I’m looking for. And because, you’re uh, well uh, kinda..
“old?” Clarence interjected once again. “Are you trying to say that because I’m old and live in a veteran’s ‘facility’ that you don’t think I have fun?”
“Well, uh, I guess so, Clarence. We’ve known each other for a long time, and I know that some things do change. You ain’t exactly a spring chicken.”
“You don’t really think you youngsters have a corner on fun, do ya?” Clarence replied. He seemed to have a twinkle in his eye. “As a matter of fact, we play the same kind of games you do. They’ve just been readjusted for mature adults like me.”
“Really?” Eddie responded. He never really considered Clarence mature. Old, definitely. Mature, never.
“Yep. We play games like, ‘musical recliners,’ ‘spin the bottle of Mylanta,’ ‘red rover, red over, the nurse says bend over,’ ‘Doc, Doc, Goose,’ ‘sag, you’re it!’ and ‘pin the toupee on the bald guy,’” the old man said with a laugh.
“Hum, that’s quite inventive, Clarence,” Eddie had to admit.

“Hey, fellows, what’s up?” Jim had just entered the patio area.
“Well, we were just comparing notes on games we play,” Clarence explained.
“Yeah,” Eddie added. “I can’t wait to get old to play some of Clarence’s games. It must be a hoot where he’s at.” “And that’s a new revelation to you?” Jim smiled.
“I thought people got too old to have fun,” Eddie added sheepishly.
“Fun is a frame of mind. A person’s never too old for that,” Jim replied. ”The real problem erupts when some people play life games where others get hurt.”
“What d’ya mean?’ Clarence and Eddie asked at the same time.

“Some people play ‘King of the Hill,’ thinking that meeting their own needs is all that matters” Jim explained. “They push others away from their ‘hill.’ Other individuals play ‘Tug of War.’ They quickly choose up sides on any given issue and do everything they can to get people to come over to their side. And, some people even play ‘King Me’ ‘and desperately want others to affirm and acknowledge their accomplishments. The problem is, they can never accomplish enough and people resist ‘Kinging’ them.”
“Wow,” Eddie said.
“Gee Willikers” Clarence exclaimed. “Aren’t there some folks in the big World who play some edifying games?” he wanted to know.

“Yep.” Jim was happy to share. “Those who truly know Jesus love to play games like ‘give away’, as they think of new ways to share with others. They play “Who wants to be a Missionary?” as they ponder world needs. These followers also fill their days playing, ‘Whose serve is it?’” and the winner is the one who serves others the most.” With that, Jim had to go back inside (I think I know why, but I’m not telling).
There was a strange silence after Jim left. Eddie was the first to break the spell. “Hey, Clarence, how about playing a game of chess,” he offered. “You can be white if you want.” Clarence had never been given that choice before.
“You’re on!” Clarence replied.

As I flew off, I knew that something had definitely changed within me since their conversation began. As I glanced back at a game between two individuals of different generations, I sensed I was not alone.



Question: Do you really learn from this Maher Course, or is it better to have hands on with personal training ?

* * * * *
Answer: Personal training would be my first choice, of course, but where will you find a ventriloquist who is offering personal training? Even the majority of pro ventriloquists learned from a book or a Course of some sort, at least initially. Once you know what to do (that's what the Course teaches), mastering the skill is a matter of dedicated practice, (and that, only you can provide). Yes. you can really learn from the Maher Course . (Don't put off your purchase too long. I'm selling from my final reserve inventory.)

Today's prize

This is special - a framed and less well known picture of Bergen with Mortimer. Awarded in today's drawing to Nick Dosher. (The red dot on Bergen's eye is a result of my camera and is not on the picture itself - my apologies...)


Voice from the past

"Hi, My name is Ray Hodges and I would love to be on your list for the drawings. Way back in 1973 I won one of your prizes. It was one of the birds* that was based on a tin can head and bleach bottle body (I think). I had just ordered the basic "Randy" figure with living mouth and a pink bird. When the purple bird* showed up I was kinda shocked, but it was the beginning of more than a quarter century of running around making people laugh and winning souls. I have forgotten many things over the years, but your name and the Box 420 address has always been there, and I want to thank you for your faithfulness to the art, to the craft, and to the ministry. Thanks again, Ray"
* * * * *
From Mr. D: The *bird you refer to was one of the popular "Crazy Birds" which I've written about before on this blog. I'm happy to hear he's now been providing faithful service to you and others for over 35 years. We could never have guessed! Thank you so much for the
encouraging update on your work. And, yes, the "Box 420" address is still valid! (Littleton, Colorado 80160)

Improve your routines

Know Your Character

The key to any good discussion is to know the person to whom you are talking. Without knowing the person your conversation will be reduced to things like, "How are you?" or "Nice day isn't it?" But if you know the other person the topics you can discuss are unlimited. The same is true of a ventriloquist and his partner. Knowing who your partner is, what he or she likes and does, will help you write a routine.

There are ventriloquists who purchase a figure which was advertised with some pre-given name. Thinking the doll is already named, they keep that name. They probably also think the figure has a built in personality. If he does, he is not going to tell you! Whatever his name was in the store should not be of importance to you. You have the job of naming the figure and giving him the personality you want him to have as you use him. You decide what his interests, traits, abilities, likes and dislikes are. You decide what the character of the figure will be. Choose wisely.
* * * * *
Adapted from the book Know Your Character, by William H. Andersen. The author goes on to list things you should know about the figure you use, and explains how knowing these things will help you write a routine, including illustrations on how questions can be turned into laugh lines. Some tested dialogue bits you can use are also included. $5.00 postpaid. Buy it now HERE.

Another excellent book on this subject is Creating A Character by professional ventriloquist and performance expert, Ken Groves. I do not have this book to sell, but I did find a new copy that is a duplicate in my library and I'll give it away as today's prize to Graeme Lyall.


In the nick of time!

From Bill Bingham

"I just finished my duck last week, just in time to go to my first ConVention. I sculpted the head out of modeling clay and made molds from that. I cast the head in Magic Sculpt. (Be careful with Magic Sculpt. I found out I'm very allergic to it and broke out in painful hives -- even when I wore rubber gloves.) I wanted to install moving eyes but ran out of time. The body is fabric, reinforced with polyester batting with feathers attached. Head and body are permanently joined. I'm thinking about repainting the head. He looks a little maniacal."

Wubble Duck

Question: I was wondering if you could tell me anything about my wubble duck? He is a Wubble and was created by Lovik World. I can not find any information about him and I thought you might know or know where I could look. Thanks in advance for any info you might have on him! Rebekah
** * *

From Mr. D: I love the 'Lil Wubble Duck - it was, in my opinion, one of the better characters from the "Wubble" family. The Wubbles were created and built by Craig Lovik. (Late '80's-early '90s, as I recall). Sold by Maher Studios. Craig called them "Wubbles" because their flexible latex heads reminded him of a "bubble". Wubbles were unique because the heads were mounted to a headpost with the mouth controlled from a lever (not a hand within the head). After Craig left the figure making business, his son, Keith, continued production of the Wubbles for just a short time. The entire line was retired over a decade ago.

Cleaning a soft puppet

Ronald Butcher (right) asked if I had any tips on how he might clean his well-used duck puppet, Webley. Rather than take a chance with my own untested ideas, I asked soft puppet-makers Steve and Jet of The Dummy Shoppe if they had cleaning recommendations for soft puppets.

In short, they recommend using a Sticky lint removing roller to remove any accumulation of lint and debris. Blotting with a piece of blue painter's masking tape also works for this purpose.

In more extreme cases, you may carefully use a vacuum cleaner on its lowest setting.

For spot removal, the experts at The Dummy Shoppe recommend you blot the spot with soft cloth dampened with warm water. If all else fails add a drop of Johnson's (No More Tears) Baby Shampoo to the water and blot (very lightly) in a circular motion, then rinse lightly, with water only, several times.

You can read these cleaning suggestions in more detail on their site as well as suggestions for good puppet maintenance.

One added note - I was told by another soft puppet maker that she cleans soiled spots on puppets by brushing the soiled area with Baby Wipes.

Coin Winners today!

Today I've drawn the names of ten lucky people who, if they Contact Mr. D to confirm their address, will each receive one "Mr. D's Dummy Dollar" collectible coin! The winners are (in random order as the names were drawn): Jack Austin, David Carruth, Lawrence Harris, Cleve Odom, Doug Morrison, Phil Anderson, Sheree Brown-Rosner, Kelly Houser, Erwin Moody, and Joyce Bowen.

It pays to visit "Mr. D's Daily Blog"! If you're reading this and are not signed up for my prize drawings, all I needs i your name and your okay. It's all free!


Funny (and perhaps sad), but true

From David Nickell

When I embarked on this journey, I went to a couple of local bookstores in search of books on ventriloquism. At two of them -- Barnes & Noble and Borders -- the clerks didn't even know what "ventriloquism" was. I had the same experience yesterday when I went to the local Guitar Center. A young clerk, whose arms were covered with intricate Japanese tattoos and who said he played drums in a local band, had no clue what a ventriloquist was. I asked him if he'd ever heard of Jeff Dunham and he said, "no". Then I said that Dunham was a comedian who used a dummy -- one of 'em an old, cranky guy named Walter -- to tell jokes, and I struck the pose as if I were holding a figure in my arms. The kid then acknowledged that he not only knew who Jeff Dunham was but that Dunham is, in fact, coming to town and that he had asked his girlfriend to go see him. So sometimes you just have to be a little patient and try to guide people to what they know but didn't know they knew.

Little help needed

Question: I am a novice and very afraid of performing. Not because I am afraid to stand up in front of people, but rather because I cannot remember my lines. I tried all kinds of things to remember my lines; Index cards with word cues, tele-prompter, and a story book with all my lines typed on a sheet and glued to the inside pages of the storybook. This is why I do not perform. I don't know how to write funny dialogue and remember it. Anyway, I enjoy reading your blog which often has stories of many different situations new vents experience and share. I will continue to read your blog, maybe one day I will read about someone who shares the same problem I do and come up with a surprisingly easy solution.
* * * *
From Mr. D: Thanks for sharing your problem with remembering lines. Normally I recommend cue cards. With a good amount of practice I found I could remember an individual joke. Once a individual joke is committed to memory, all I need is a key word for each joke to keep me on schedule. 10-12 jokes makes a nice routine.

Another type of program is storytelling. That's where the conversation is much freer. No rigid word for word memorizing is necessary because either you (or the puppet) is telling a story. And the other person in the dialogue makes comments or asks questions. Have you tried that approach?

Now let's ask blog readers for their suggestions. Contact Mr. D

Bubba J Prize

Thanks to Jeff Dunham we are awarding a "talking" Bubba J bottle opener to three persons today: Janet Dearstone, Dan Lee, and Clinton Goodridge. Congratulations and handle with care!
Remember our one prize rule - winners must contact Mr. D within 14 days to confirm your address and claim your prize.


Turnkey puppet business for sale

It is not my policy to promote eBay items that are not family connected, but this eBay offering is too unusual for me to let slide by unmentioned. And the three ventriloquist figures included in the auction were originally purchased from Maher Studios, so maybe that qualifies as the necessary "family" connection.

Jim Burns is offering for sale on eBay an entire puppet entertainment business. It's totally unique. Even if you're not on the market for a business, you'll enjoy seeing and reading about this one!

Jim says he is ideally "looking for a young man in his 20's who loves puppetry, and is a bit lost to where his career will be, has ruled out a college education for whatever reason, has a big heart, enjoys working with the public and would enjoy a year's salary in only 5 months of work." I'm no longer young, and not looking for a second career, but that last phrase still sounds pretty good to me!

Check out the Hillbilly Truck.

Alumni news . . .

"Dear Clinton, This is just a note to tell you that at 84 years old, I have resumed my study of Ventriloquism. It has been 9 1/2 years since I first received the (Traditional) Maher Course. I'm currently on Lesson 19 and memorizing the skit, 'Your Gal & Mine.'"

"As you can see from the picture*, 'Louie' and I are at it again. We were performing for the residents and friends of the Dundee Township Park District Senior Center (IL)."

Marilyn Oates

(*Picture from Couriernewsonline.com )

Nutshell book

"Clinton, I just finished all of Ventriloquism in a Nutshell and I must say I reccommend it to anyone wanting to learn vent. It is precise and to the point. It has great practicing tips, good advice for puppet/figure manipulation, and joke telling. In my opinion a must- read for all. For the money it is extremely affordable and allows people of all ages young and old to learn. Regards, James Tucker"
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At $5.00 postpaid, Ventriloquism In A Nutshell is still a best seller. Contact Mr. D

Freddy Paper Puppet with Book

Today I'm awarding three more of Dave Miller's original Friendly Freddy movable paper puppets. Here's what one previous winner, Susan Mitchell, had to say about his item: "Friendly Freddie arrived safely to his new home and is loved by all. Why, he even folds his arms! What a reverent visual aid."
Since Freddy is the mascot host seen in the illustrations (by Miller) in my book, Ventriloquism In A Nutshell, I'll send a signed copy of the book along with the paper puppet to each of the following winners today: Ronn Bohn, Fred Anderson, and Andreas Ecnomopoulos.

As usual, winners must contact Mr. D to confirm their addresses and claim their prizes.

Note: You can purchase Ventriloquism In A Nutshell for $5 each (free shipping), and I'll sign each copy. Here.


Question: How does one pronounce "Maher"?
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It depends on what part of the country you are in, I've discovered. We've always said "May-hair". Others say "Ma-hur" or "May-her".
Either is correct, I suppose...

Years ago, someone mailed a letter intended for us that was simply addressed "Mayor's Office, Littleton Colorado." And it was delivered to the office of the Mayor or Littleton! It was then forwarded to us only because we were friends of one of the ladies who worked in that office. When she heard her co-workers laughing at the letter received asking for information on "dummies" and how one could be purchased, she spoke up saying, "Oh, I know where that letter should go!" And the letter was then forwarded to us. At the time, I thought that was a good thing...rereading the account I just wrote, I'm not so sure!


Horror stories

From Bob Abdou:

I never leave my dummies in the car, even when eating in a restaurant. I would rather have them in a suitcase under the table than worry about my car being broken into.

Lou Zucci once told me that someone stole his dummy from his car, and days later it was found floating in a creek off a bridge. Now that's a sad sight!

I know puppeteers that have had their whole show stolen from their van in the parking lot at a hotel. Ugh, that must be a horrible feeling.
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From Mr. D: About vent horror stories, I've heard dozens. Fires, Floods, Accidents, stolen figures, gnawing pets, angry ex's. What about those of you reading this? Have you had a "horror" experience with your puppet/dummy that you would be willing to share? Contact Mr. D.

On the flip side are the stories I've heard from vents whose puppets have foiled vehicle thefts. For instance, Louie Palermo (of the singing Palermo Brothers) said thieves were preparing to steal their parked van loaded with sound equipment, props,, etc., but turned and ran when they opened one of the cases and saw "Luigi"!

I've always felt my shop's best security system are the dummies hanging around! Now, that's a reassuring feeling!

Kelly Houser is the winner of today's drawing for this current signed 8x10 photo of Brad Cummings. That's the hilarious Baby Dinosaur, Rex, you see peeking from the egg!


Skinny Dugan #2

Questions: When I first studied ventriloquism with Maher Studios in 1963, I remember how Fred Maher's Skinny Dugan #2 by McElroy became so iconic. Was this figure one-of-a-kind? Did it ever become a figure produced by Maher Studios? Are there more Skinny figures around? I've never seen one for sale. With whom does Maher's Skinny reside? Thanks, Rick.

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From Mr. D: Although Mrs. Maher tried to duplicate and sell the Skinney you refer to, she was never truly successful. How can anyone expect to duplicate the McElroy's masterpieces? (Greg Claassen is the only person I know of who has come close.)

Skinny #2 was the featured figure on much of the Maher advertising through the '40s, '50s and '60s. It is seen on the cover photo of this vintage Maher Catalog (right) which is awarded today to David Wagner. ( Contact Mr. D to claim this prize.)

Oh yes, Fred Maher's Skinny Dugan is now owned by Jeff Dunham. Jeff can be seen demonstrating it in one of the bonus features found on the "I'm No Dummy" DVD available at your retailers. Fascinating!


Will this work?

Question: If you have time, convince me that I can do a conversion on a Lovik's Living Mouth and make it into a standard slot jaw. I THINK I'm inclined to build up the jaw and chin a bit with Magic Sculpt (I may not even have to remove the leather...just build over it...then saw down the slots with extra at the bottom. The Living Mouth mechanism is, as you know, a simple but clever cabinet hinge between two pieces of wood, so it SEEMS to me that it would do the same thing for a solid slot jaw as it does for the Living Mouth without having to engineer anything. Am I missing something here?
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Answer: What you describe should work tp a degree. I've never done it, but I can imagine it. However, (and if you're missing anything, I suspect this is it) - the slotted jaw unit will have action that is more "drop down" than the traditional "rolling"action on a mouth and face designed for slotted jaw.

To say it another way, the jaw unit on a slot jaw figure is normally designed so the underside of the chin turns into the head as the mouth is opened.

I don't believe that is what will happen on the converted living mouth done in the simple manner you describe. Rather, using the current cabinet hinge as the mouth axle will result in a mouth unit which places lips and chin on a greater radius from the axis than a face designed for slotted jaw. I can imagine that something will have to be done under the chin to allow the jaw to move downward. Just what, I don't know - those are the challenges to be worked out as you go...maybe a folding leather piece?


Before & After

Repainted, wig replaced, and eyelashes added.
(Figure made from a Bill Andersen kit, I believe.)

Favorite ventriloquist?

I received an email the other day with a request that I name my favorite ventriloquist. I can't. I've been asked that question dozens of times, and I've found it impossible to answer. I have too many favorites to try to narrow the choice to just one. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to narrow the list to 25! But whatever the number, I do know the very talented and creative Jim Barber would be on my list of favorites. And today's gifts came from Jim, himself.

The signed Show Brochure (left) has been awarded to Carl Richards. And the Hamner Barber Variety Show DVD (right) recorded live at the Hamner Barber Theater in Branson, Mo has been awarded to Richard Glantz.

Contact Mr. D to confirm your address and claim your prize. For more information on the award winning Hamner Barber Show, go to http://www.hamnerbarber.com/


Fake Arm Illusion

Question: I read in some old literature about your, “Complete Lucky Ducky plans and Novel Fake Arm Illusion for the Operator, see Plans # 449 from the Maher catalogue". Are these still available for the novel fake arm. This is the thing I need to make - a fake arm. Doug
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From Mr. D: The fake arm as I built it for my Lucky Duck was the one weak area of its design. I do not recommend it. My fake arm was attached permanently to the puppet. Which meant my suit jacket was attached permanently to the puppet. Not a good setup. The arm was nothing more than a tube stuffed with batting with a stuffed glove on the end. The hand and lower portion of the arm was wired to the Duck's body; upper end of the arm sewn to the inside of the suit coat at the shoulder. As I recall, I used a short strip of plywood to support the arm (bridge) from the shoulder to the duck's body. (My wife always had to adjust it back stage for most natural appearance).

I cut a slit in the side of the jacket just below the arm pit where my arm reached through into the puppet.

It was an awkward arrangement. If I built another, I'd for certain make the arm and jacket removable in some manner. I had a friend who built one, and he used velcro to detach the jacket sleeve at the shoulder. I don't know the details.

I knew another who made a casting of his right hand and attached it permanently to the duck's side, but somehow he had the arm itself detachable. Velcro???

Hopefully, you can overcome all the obstacles this setup presents. You might try an Internet search for "Third Arm" costumes. Clowns use many variations - there may be some plans available.


An experiment

The mouth string, when fastened to the lower portion of the jaw piece, needs to pull in a backward (and even upward) direction, before redirecting downward through the neck to the control lever.

Thus, there needs to be a pivot point for the string somewhere behind the mouth, near the back inside of the neck. I've used more than one method. This was an experiment, using a rigid plastic tube as a horizontal bar over which the string passed. I mounted the plastic tube in a small wooden bracket, then used super glue to secure the unit to the inside of the neck. All work was done through the mouth...

The Neller Course on Ventriloquism

I've always thought Bob Neller's instruction on Distant Ventriloquism (found on his CD) is one of the best instructional tools on this skill. Of his method, Bob had this to say:

"My approach to the difficult field of distant ventriloquism is going to be quite different. If you fully understand the qualities of sound necessary for certain situations and hear the quality demonstrated, I believe you will find a means of duplicating the sounds by trial and error much easier than trying to interpret the complex description necessary to fully explain them. You will know what I mean if you have ever tried to read a description of a complicated magician's sleight of hand trick and from this description do the trick as the writer does it."

In other words, it's much easier to learn the technique of distant ventriloquism by hearing it demonstrated rather than reading about it. And that's exactly what Bob so skillfully does on this instructional CD. Of course, he also teaches Close Ventriloquism with his own unique method. The price of both the one hour CD and the supplemental booklet is just $9.95 (free shipping)! You can purchase now using Paypal HERE!


Price lowered as promised...

Here's Howie! I am offering him for sale in a "reverse auction" on eBay. Every week I will lower his "buy it now" price until sold, and I've just lowered his price again ... which even has him raising his eyebrows! Check it out HERE
Nancee Meyers says this little fellow looks a lot like her husband, Howie, in his younger years and suggested I name him, "Howie." I like it, and I'm going to do just that. (I hope the real Howie takes this as a compliment!) Thank you, Nancee, for the suggestion. I'll be sending you one of my "Dummy Dollar" coins as a thank you!

Inside peek

If you're a figure maker, or have tinkered with such, then I know you like to get a peek into as many vent figures as possible. There's always something to learn by looking at another craftsman's work.
This photo was in my file and I thought I would post it here before retiring it. I believe the head is made of plastic wood and appears to be the work of William Andersen although it may have been a kit, because not all the mechanics appear to be Bill's work. Side to side moving eyes (manual), shell winkers, and open & close mouth - about as simple mechanics as you'll ever see.