Conny Ray

As a testimony of the long term faithful service of Len Insull figures, Conny Ray (Sweden) sent me the photo above. The head of the figure on the left (above), "Agaton", was purchased in 1960. Conny made the body himself following Paul Winchell's directions in the book Ventriloquism For Fun and Profit. In 1963 he purchased the head for "Jonatan" (above right). Conny tells me the heads are still in good condition after these many years of performance.

During the 1970s, Conny began to add puppet characters to his act as well.
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Detweiler Dummy gives up retirement

From Dave Boiano (photo right): I purchased this figure from a man who lives in Canada. He said he purchased it from you in 1972 and hardly ever used him. What was the model name of this figure, and what would he have sold for back in '72?

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From Mr. D: Yes, that's a figure I built. And from the photos, it appears to be in nearly new condition, wearing it's original clothes, too. Even a light-up bow tie! Change the battery and the tie will most likely work. It appears to be a "Ray" or "Russell" character. Hard to say from the photo (and my memory - ha). I tried to locate a price list from that period, but without success. I'm going to guess he sold for $295-$350. What would make that in today's dollars? $2,500 or so? I may be slowing down but I'm glad this figure of mine (now yours) is going to re-enter the work world. That's show biz. Enjoy!


From Bob Walsh

31 years ago I bought Maher's book "Ventriloquism With A Purpose." I also bought Robert Hill's book from Maher titled, "You Can Be A Ventriloquist." I bought Bill Boley's audio tape from Maher which taught me how to be a ventriloquist.

I have performed character, faith and safety shows in California and Virginia, and have had routines translated into 6 languages including my visits to the Peoples Republic of China Schools.


Miller Ventoon

Note: This original Ventoon by Dave Miller came from Vol. 5 Ventoons, of the Ventrilopedia, published 1977 by Maher Ventriloquist Studios. One copy of Vol. 5 (out of print) is being awarded today via prize drawing to: David Thomson.

This photo of Dave Miller and friends was taken nearly 35 years ago. I copied it from the Ventoons book mentioned above. But someone asked me recently who made Miller's figures. While Dave has changed in appearance over the past 3+ decades, the figures not so much. And since this is about them we'll use this photo, and here's the info as Dave shared it with me:
ANDY (in the tux) was carved by Victor Rosian who was over 100 years old before he passed away.
HERKIMER (with the cap) was made by Ken Spencer.
OTTO, the big dog, was made by a wonderful teddy bear maker, Alice Michaels.
Not shown here, but you may have seen him elsewhere is WILLIE (later renamed LUCKY THE LOGGER) who is a Ray Guyll masterpiece.


Lap of choice?

Hugh Troyer says Murphy was the best cat he ever had and loved to sit on everyone's lap, even Joes!


Speaking while drinking

Question: I saw on your past blog that you would email the trick to speaking while drinking to Maher students. Could you fill me in on that trick yet?

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Answer: Without using a trick drinking glass (available at magic shops) I don't know that its possible to speak or sing words while "appearing" to drink water. (It's not physically possible to do such a thing - a trick must be employed).

It is possible, however, to pour a limited amount of water (or other liquid) into your mouth while humming a tune or holding the tone of a note for an extended time. Your tongue will close off the back of your throat. Then as the audience applauds, you bow your head slightly at the same time swallowing the water. Drinking glasses with thick sides, which make a small amount of liquid appear to be much greater, are often employed when perform the "drinking bit" in this manner.

Impressing the audience with this feat is as much about presentation and acting as it is the skill of the trick itself.


Red Rosin Body Question

Question: How do you make a red rosin body? I used red rosin to make a head. I thought about covering a plastic trash can about the size of a body with red rosin but haven't tried it. I am just curious about how you did it. John
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From Mr. D: The body (see post below) is made of builder's red rosin paper. It comes in a roll same size as roofing tar paper. I have a partial roll left from 1973, but I believe I have seen it at Home Depot. Tear strips a couple inches wide from the roll (torn edges are better than cut edges), soak the strips in water and use wallpaper paste (or similar) to layer the wet strips over the form, just like the common paper machie method using newspaper, paper bags, etc. I have a torso form which I cover with aluminum foil and then apply the layers, usually one layer a day (letting it dry some between layers) until it was about 4 layers thick. A wastebasket of proper size and shape would certainly have possibilities as the body form. Whatever works. Then when completely dried, I cut (Xacto knife) down the middle on both sides making a front and back half. Remove from the form and then glue the two halves together using either glue, or another layer of paper mache over the seam, inside and out (or combination of both).

"What do I do next?"

Forty years ago Adelia lined all the bodies (inside and out) for the figures we made. She also made the arms and legs.
Today, as I need them, she still makes the arms and legs for the figures, but lining the bodies is up to me. I can tell you that after lining the fully contoured body for the Insull figure, I have a new appreciation for the work Adelia did back in the day!


Thanks to Jeff Dunham, I have two Achmed Talking Pens for giveaway today. Three guesses as to what it says (and the first two don't count).
The winners are: Janet Dearstone and Carol Jordan.


Hand in hand...

Hands in the hands of their maker. These are the hands on the Insull figure that will go up for auction tomorrow. I carved the hands of Plastic wood nearly 40 years ago. In the 1980s they were used as the master hands for a latex mold I made and used at that time. After making the mold I stored this pair away in case they would be needed again. And now their time has come. You see them here the way I see them, freshly painted, ready for their new assignment.

Note: The Insull figure is finished and ready to sell. The bidding begins 1/25/2011! I've set up a separate page on the completed Insull figure with further description and some 20+ photos. Click Here


Accent resources

From Natalie Miller: Its been 21 years this year since my parents bought my first ventriloquist doll off you. I now tour the world and have DVD's in Christian bookshops in 2 countries! I have a question. You used to have accent tapes a long time ago. I need to learn a cockney or British accent. Do you have any suggestion of a source for teaching CDs?
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From Mr. D: The accent tapes we sold (and they were excellent) were produced by David Alan Stern. Try http://www.dialectaccentspecialists.com/ I believe amazon.com also carries some of his work. I highly recommend Dr. Stern's products.

The Christian and Ventriloquism

Question: I was reading how ventriloquism had its roots in the occult. Is it still okay, as a Christian, to use this art form? What are your thoughts?
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From Mr. D: While I have no doubt those who practiced the occult may have used ventriloquism to dupe their seekers, I personally feel the roots of ventriloquism are found elsewhere. I am confident that the use of the voice to misdirect is as old as mankind itself although the manner is which the talent was used changed as societies came and went over the centuries. The human voice is a miracle of God's creation. Every individual is the recipient and stewards of that amazing tool - and that is what the human vocal apparatus is, a tool. It can be used to encourage, or discourage; to heal, or to wound, to promote truth, or deceive. Sadly, the occultist will deceptively use his or her voice as a messenger of the darkness. The Christian ventriloquist has opportunity to use his or her vocal skills to convey joy, hope, and the promise of eternal life made possible by the Light of the world. There is no doubt in my mind that God is pleased with the person using this unique talent to share the light.


Like mother, like daughter

The ventriloquist logos featured on my 2011 collector coins have been longtime favorite images. They are the original work of ventriloquist David Miller. The silhouette renderings were first created in the '70s (I don't remember the exact year and didn't take time to look it up) as the official logos for the NAAV (North American Association of Ventriloquists) and the members of that organization.

So whenever I print or produce something that displays either or both of those images, I always send one to Dave for his personal collection. Thus, he was one of the first to receive one of the new $7.00 coins for 2011.
This week I received a thank you note from Dave along with a brief update on his and Linda's retirement.
Dave says the highlight of their week is Friday when 2 1/2 year old granddaughter, Finlee, comes to visit. Finlee loves to go upstairs to Grandpa's office and talk to her little wooden pals (top photo), very much like her mother, Shannon, did when she was Finlee's age (bottom photo).
Thanks, Dave, for sharing the photos, and thanks for sharing your amazing artistic talent with the vent world for nearly 40 years!
PS: Are you taking family photos that include your vent puppets? It may not seem that important now, but the day will come when you'll be very glad you did.

Charlie T-Shirt prize

Today's prize* is a bright red T-shirt sporting the silhouette of Charlie McCarthy. Size 2XL. And the winner is: Dave Allen (IA)

*T-Shirt provided by Keith Suranna.


You made my day!

Yesterday I received this photo along with one simple note: "I like my dummy, thank you very much. Cason Pate"

That was one of the most encouraging emails I've received in a while. Why? Because it came from a youth!

Years ago I would hear daily from youngsters excited to try ventriloquism. But over the past 20 years or so, most of my correspondence is with adults. Less frequently a youth. Today's kids enjoy watching a ventriloquist perform, but as for taking up the art themselves, most are too busy with other things, mostly electronic and sports.

When I wrote about "Favorite Ventriloquists" several days ago, a number of readers made comments and included names of their favorite ventriloquists. I think I counted over 3o different ventriloquists that were named. That's quite amazing. And there are a good number more who could be added to the list. And of those 30+ professional ventriloquists named, nearly all took up the art as teens and pre-teens. By the time they were in their 20s, their professional careers were well under way. It's so important for the longevity of the art that there is always a new wave of talent on the horizon.

But name one professional ventriloquist today under the age of thirty. Twenty or so years ago you could have named a dozen or more, and they are, by the way, now included on the "favorites" list. Ventriloquists can be successful beginning at any age. But those who begin as a youth definitely have an advantage.

So, Cason, you keep your new little pal, "Jack", busy today and each tomorrow, and he'll keep you happily busy for years to come! Thank you for writing. You made my day!

"Who is it?"

Question: Here are some photos of Daniel. (Of course, I have no idea what his original name was!) I purchased him at Abbott's a few years back. If you can identify him, that will solve a mystery that has plagued me for years!
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From Mr. D: Okay, I can tell you for certain that your figure was made by Craig Lovik, and quite likely sold originally through Maher Studios of which I was owner. "Daniel" probably passed through my hands when first sold. The exact year I do not know, but because his neck is what I call the "drop through" style I know he was built in the mid 1970s. I'm pretty certain he was sold with the catalog name of "Buford Buckworth." The name O'Leary on the headpost would have been added by his owner at some point, and may have been the name of the owner or perhaps it was the name of the figure. More than likely, the owner. If only these guys could really talk!



At this point in my career, I don't often have opportunity to work with a figure that is older than I am, but this was one. Very special. I thought I was finished...although in reviewing the before and after pictures I believe I need to return to my paints tomorrow and paint the upper lip fuller. Otherwise, Renee, he's ready to come home.


deja vu

If you have a set of the Figure Making plans from the 1975 edition of the Maher Course of Ventriloquism (Lesson 18) then you have seen photos of the inside of the very same head. But it has changed, as you can see here. I added raising eyebrows and changed the self-centering spring(s) on the eyes. All has been restrung and new levers installed. Works superbly!
Note: Most figure makers mount the moving eyes on a shelf. A perfectly fine arrangement. But I have always suspended the eyes on the figures I build and while I've had 40 years over which to change my method, the fact that I have never done so seems to indicate I'm happy with the service this setup provides. And the fact that it is an easy install doesn't hurt!


Comment & Question: Clinton, My name is Bryce Gardner and you may or may not remember me from FCM (you made a custom figure for me when I was a teen.). Years ago you sold a booklet on how to make items into figures (wagon, bat, etc.) I'm guessing you are not printing it anymore, so are you able to run that off and give me a price? Eagerly awaiting your reply, Bryce (who had a former buddy named Rusty Styles).

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From Mr. D: Of course, I remember you, Bryce. In fact I have an early photo of you with the figure I built for you in my photo Gallery! (Click here and scroll all the way to the bottom of the first page.) As for the booklet you are referring to, that's my little "Creating Speaksakes" booklet. It was actually prepared for one of my lectures presented at FCM and elsewhere. No, I'm not printing that booklet any more, but I do still have a handful of copies. $5.00 each. I'll also give two copies away as today's prize(s). You receive one, and the other goes, by drawing, to Steve Case.



This is the original pristine Len Insull head (sold by Davenport, London) that I will soon be offering for sale by auction. It was built in the early 60s I believe. For years I kept it on display in our Maher Studios office showcase. It was also for a time on loan for display at the Arvada (CO) Art and Cultural Center. Over the years I've declined several offers from prospective buyers as I would use this very special historical figure as a display piece at various workshops and lectures I presented. But it has now completed that very useful service to me, and has been in storage for the past decade. The time has come for me to find this happy fellow a new owner and home.

This full size head (for a 38"/40" figure) is in perfect working condition. All original, including paint, leather, and hair; the strings are not even soiled! The animations are typical of Insull figures: Lower lip movement, upper lip movement, eyes move center to left, raising eyebrows, left eye winker, right eye winker, and closing eyes. (It does not have flapping ears.)

I intended to sell the head alone, just as I purchased it in 1972, without a body. However, as a result of several reader inquiries, I've decided to build a body for the figure so it can be sold as a complete figure, just as did Fred and Madeleine Maher who imported the Insull heads during the 1950s and early 1960s, fit them with bodies they built, and sold the completed figures through the Maher School of Ventriloquism, Detroit, Michigan. I will build the naturally shaped red rosin paper body torso in much the same manner as I was taught by Madeleine herself.

My construction of a body for this head is well under way. The hands (which I carved) received their first coat of paint today. Torso is nearly complete. I plan to have the full finished figure ready to list for auction in 5-6 days. I'll introduce the auction with full details and photos on this blog.


Max Fact

Just for the fun of it, I pulled out one of my file photos showing a Max Headroom makeover I completed a couple decades ago (left). The biggest challenge on Max's "senior" look was making his very ridged head smooth. Auto body filler once again came to the rescue. No well-equipped puppet shop should be without it!
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Note: My eBay auction for the Max Headroom shown at right ends in two days: Click Here.

Missing photos

My apologies for not posting the photos of the Insull head this morning as promised. I got caught up on a couple other projects over the weekend, including a new computer, and ran out of time (and energy :-). I'll try for tomorrow! Mr. D


75 Duo-Scripts: Only $10 for set of 3 books. Free Shipping

Three 40+ page books, each containing 25 different scripts best suited for the younger age audience. All scripts require 2-3 puppets of any gender and most can be used as ventriloquist scripts as well. Scripts written by Marty Wilson and Lewis Lansford. Copyright 1984. Published by Ubsurd Productions. Reg. price $6 each. SALE: $10 for the set of all three Puppet Show books. Click Here.

Vol. 1: 25 scripts teaching good relationships, proper attitudes, Pleasing conduct, family living, growing up, good manners, etc.
Vol. 2: 25 scripts. Subjects include Bible stories, parables, Christian attitudes and worship skills including praying, singing, giving and listening.
Vol. 3: 25 scripts for church, including a series on service: serving God at home, at school, with friends and at Church. Also a series on attitudes: sharing, truthfulness, obedience, respect and kindness.


Shop Update

This is the quartet that will greet me when I go to my shop today (unless they've moved themselves around from last evening). The figure on the right is the "mystery" figure that was shown on a post here about a week ago. Repairs have been made to the mouth and head and he is now in the process of being repainted.

The figure on the far left has unique Maher history. The head is actually that of the figure I constructed in 1975 in the process of writing Lesson 18 on How To Build A Dummy which was added to the Maher Course of that same year. I'm now converting that head to ball/socket neck and I've refined the self-centering mechanism on the eyes, added raising eyebrows, and will hopefully have it ready for sale in a couple weeks. The two fellows in the center receive my attention ATIA ("as time is available").
I'll also be taking photos today of the Len Insull (Davenport) head I'm preparing for auction. I plan to post those photos on Monday.


"Certified Professional Ventriloquist"

Would you like to be a Certified Professional Ventriloquist? It's easy to find someone offering quickie degrees in many fields. With a few dollars you could cover your office wall with a variety of impressive certificates bearing your name in distinguished lettering. Years ago I received a request from a ventriloquist who wanted to purchase a document showing that he was a Certified Professional Ventriloquist.

As if money could by professionalism. Unfortunately (or fortunately) it's not that easy. A professional is know by the quality of his or her work. When one does an outstanding job of performing they will quickly be recognized with the deserved reputation as professional. They don't have to tell the world they are a pro because the quality of an entertaining show speaks for itself.

Others may feel the term professional applies to anyone who is paid for the performance. But you and I have both witnessed paid entertainers who gave shabby shows. Would you call them professional? It's the performer, paid or unpaid, who presents a superbly entertaining act to the delight of their audience that I personally consider a pro. Titles mean very little; talent and showmanship mean everything. Will this be the year for you?

Today's Prize

Today's prize is a framed vintage product photo that Juro Novelty Company sent to dealers to promote their "Velvel" ventriloquist doll that came with his own carrying case and wardrobe. The entire kit was sold for a dealer price of about $10 in its day. I saw one (doll only) advertised for sale on eBay last week priced at $400.00! (I don't know if it sold at that price.) The framed photo shown here came from the Madeleine Maher collection and has been won through today's drawing by Des Bradley.

By the way, if you are a regular visitor to this blog and have not already registered for the weekly prize drawings, it's easy to do so. All I need is your name: Contact Mr. D


Favorite Ventrioquist?

Question: Who is your favorite ventriloquist?

Mr. D: Oh my, I've been asked this question often over the past 40 years, but I have yet to answer it with a single name - there is just no way I could pick one favorite.

Question: Then who are some of your favorite ventriloquists?

Mr. D: The list is LONG - do you have a couple hours? Unfortunately, I don't. So here's what you can do...name YOUR favorite ventriloquist - I'm quite certain that person will be on my list, too! Similar to ice cream, I enjoy all flavors - just give me some of each!

Max Headroom For Sale

I purchased a large quantity of the Max Headroom ventriloquist doll busts after they were discontinued by the manufacturer. I wrote in my eBay description I thought the year was during the '70s?, but as I rethink the matter, it may have been the '80s (years become a bit hazy in the memory archives!).

I sold a number of these dolls as original, made others into banks, head-in-box, a desk lamp, and several into full body figures. This is the last from my inventory and he only hung around my shop this long due to a manufacturing flaw on the left side of his jaw. I've now completed needed repair and touchup of that area so he's working perfectly. I also installed a new cord and rubber band for the mouth. Clothes are original. So he'll be a nice collector's display piece for the winner of my auction. Click Here


Insull figure sale alert!

I have a like new, never used, multi-movement figure head built by Len Insull and sold by Davenport, that I will put up for eBay auction next week. It's an all original head I've owned for over 35 years. Very nice. I will sell head only, or for a price, I'll build an appropriate body for it. I'll have photos soon.


7/11 Coin Winners!

What better day to award the first free Mr. D's $7.00 2011 ventriloquist collector coins than the 11th day of the 1st month of 2011!
Today's seven lucky winners are: George Vanderwoude, Shawn Kraemer, Bert Lloyd, Robert Fletcher, Ron Moor, Rob Pickman, and Bill Bantel.

(Remember to Contact Mr. D within 14 days to claim your prize. The next drawing for seven additional coins will be 2/11/11.)

While supply lasts I am also selling coins for $7 each or 3 for $20 postpaid. Contact Mr. D

From Mark Wade

"The brand NEW 7 dollar collector's coin from Maher Studios is a 'must have' item! Not only is it a handsome addition to my private collection, it proudly touts the famous Maher Studios logo. I have it it right next to my 5 dollar coin...and I wouldn't part with either of them whether they were worth 5, 7, or a hundred dollars! You need to get one too!"
Mark Wade
"America's Foremost Children's Ventriloquist"


Coming up: Texas Vent Get-together

Texas continues to be the state from which many vents come and/or reside. With that thought in mind, Bob Abdou has decided to have a simple gathering of ventriloquists on February 19th.
The day's festivities will begin at noon for lunch, followed by a tour of Bob's amazing collection (you see several pictures here). Maybe a movie or two and a possible show at a senior facility if there is a crowd.
Everybody is invited. (If I was within 500 miles of Austin, Texas I'd be making plans myself).
If you have any questions, please contact Bob directly: mr.puppet@mindspring.com

Lunch location will be the private dining room of "Ramos Mexican Restaurant", 116 West Parsons Street, Manor, Texas 78653. (512) 272-4495