People and dummies

Comment: I took a Mortimer type figure to show my Mom at the rest home. She and another lady are roommates. I had finished with Morty and out of necessity sat him in a wheel chair next to my chair - the one chair in this room. Then a staff lady all of 35 to 40 years old comes in, asks to touch his nose. "No, " I said, explaining dummies cost LOTS of money, are irreplaceable and people who never use a dummy could break them. While I was saying that she had to fulfill her compulsion and touched his nose. Then she asked if his mouth worked, but before I could even reply she opened the mouth by moving the jaw. Why is it that people can't keep their hands off the figure? Larry
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From Mr D: To some people, "hands off" becomes a challenge. I'll bet every vent reading this has a story to tell. Am I right?


Something changed?

Observation: Just an observation here - as I've just returned to vent, I seem to notice that other vents seem less inclined toward responding to others. I remember back in the early '80's, I'd write to many pros, like Willie Tyler, Ronn Lucas, and Shari Lewis, via snail mail and they were always very gracious in writing back and offering bits of advice. However, it just doesn't seem to be the case now - even with the ease of electronic communication. I don't know - perhaps it's just me (maybe it was because I was a child then), but it does seem something has changed. Keith
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Mr. D's comment: In the early 80's there was little (if any, email/Internet). Letters and phone were the top methods of communication. Thus, there were fewer contacts so even the busy pros were more likely to respond. Today communication is so easy and inexpensive it's nothing for me to receive 50 or more emails a day, (sometimes several from the same individual) and I'm retired! The pros must receive 100s - thus it's impossible for a busy working and travelling performer to respond to every daily contact and certainly impossible to respond to more than a few with anything of length. While I certainly would not want to trade today for yesteryear, you have pointed out one of the down sides of a good thing.


Practicing Conversation

By Michael M. Rzeminski

It will be important to work on your dialog until the conversation between your figure and yourself is so natural that the audience will think it is actually two different people carrying on the conversation.This is where your acting ability will show up. Work on each line to get it down in your mind. Work in front of the mirror to see your facial expressions. Remember that your facial expressions should be opposite of what the figure's voice is expressing.

It is good to practice conversation with a friend or relative so that you can start thinking as another personality. Do this by carrying on a simple three way conversation between you, your figure, and a friend. Make sure that you do not do more talking than your figure. Try to get the conversation to the point where the third party will speak to your figure without hesitation or with awareness that your figure is not real.
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The above excerpt is from Izzy Rizzy's Home Study Course in Ventriloquism, copyright 1975. A copy of this 42 page collectible book has been provided for today's prize by George Boosey, and the winner by way of today's prize drawing, is Jose Moraga.


Just in Case!

For a time, I'm back in the Custom Cases for Figures business. This was the scene last week after I finished padding and lining cases for orders. I did have an assistant, as you can see, but he was more company than actual help! For more Case information, Click Here and scroll down to the Custom Carrying Case photos, sizes, and prices.


The "monster" in my shop

Meet Jamison. He's the one with the mustache. When I agreed to repaint his head and hands, I did not know fully what I was getting myself into. For one thing, this is the heaviest figure I've ever handled (and that includes Finis' work), and the head is permanently attached to the body so there was no practical way to separate it and support it. Repainting had to be done in stages so there was always a dry side upon which it could rest, while the other side, freshly painted, could fully cure.

During the job process Jamison became an imposing presence whom I semi-jokingly referred to as "the monster in my shop". But, the job is finished. Here you see the old cowpoke with his fully refreshed finish. He's now back on the job with his boss (Wayne Francis), and I once again have some much appreciated extra working space in my shop.


Today's Prize

Bob Ladd, editor and publisher of Dialogue magazine, outdid himself with this issue. Fall of 1997, the magazine featured Paul Winchell on the front cover, and inside was special convention coverage of the 1997 Vegas Ventriloquist Convention where Paul Winchell was the honored guest. Many pictures. 50 pages. Dale Brown furnished this mint copy of Dialogue for today's drawing. The winner is John Thompson.

"Cartoonsville" (below) was page 50 of this same issue.



Colorado offers many great sights and events for both residents and tourists. But if you are a fan of puppets, and you visit our state without visiting The Simpich Showcase Marionette Theatre in Colorado Springs, you will have missed one of the top Rocky Mountain experiences! Don't let that happen! It is Live Puppet Theater at it's very best.

All shows are Designed and Performed by artist puppet master, David Simpich, at the Showcase Theater, 2413 W. Colorado Ave. in historic Old Colorado City. This past Wednesday, Adelia and I, plus granddaughters, Nicole and Hannah, enjoyed the unique and moving dramatic presentation by David of The Pilgrim's Progress.

Using some 30 marionettes, all exquisitely designed and built by David, and each a work of art in themselves, David brought this classic work to life before the audience that filled the seats of his intimate threater. We watched and listened as the traveler, Christian, set out on his dangerous journey toward the Celestial City. Each character speaks with its own unique voice and personality - all voices performed live by the puppet master as he skillfully provides life and movement to the puppets! The two hours of dramatic onstage intrigue and adventure seemed to pass in half that time! A appropriate presentation for any time of the year, but especially so this Easter week.

The Simpich Summer Season 2011 will consist of Hansel and Gretel (June 10 - August 6), and Portraits: A Gallery On Strings (August 12 - September 9). For more information, click here: Simpich Showcase


Contest Update

The winner(s) of the Two Cent Coin slogan contest has been postponed, pending artwork design and approval on the coin itself. I can tell you the new Two Cent Coin will be the same size as the Dollar Coins, but of a different color and metal alloy. I'm as eager to get actual product in hand as some of you - thank you for your patience!

Here are a few more honorable mention entries:

"I speak for two. You can too!" Darl Bennett

"Ventriloquism: so centsible." Geoffrey Moran

"Ventriloquism: Coppertunities for fun or profit." Tom Basso

"Ventriloquism, you can bank on it." Capt. Joe Radle

"Ventriloquism an art for all ages" J. D. Haile

"The CENT-sational art of VENTRILOQUISM!" Mark McClintock

"Our VENTing is worth something!" Ron Scherer

"Two cents, two heads, no tails!" Tiffany Cox

"A penny for both our thoughts" Robert Baker

"Heads or tails? I'm calling headsticks" Bruce Burkett

New Easter Greeters?

Unless you live in a certain part of Pennsylvania, you'll probably never guess where these photos were taken. Ventriloquist figures, "Snoozy" (left) and "Abe" (right) appear to be patiently waiting to greet the Easter church throngs who will enter for worship tomorrow morning. Abe even went so far as to make a trip to the barber in order to look his best. Both are wearing their new custom sewn clothes.

These figures belong to Del Burkholder, and are used not only in churches, but also taken with him in his prison ministry. Del tells us the prison required security does present a unique challenge since everyone, including ventriloquist figures, must be searched both coming and going!

Now for the location of these photos. The pictures were both taken in the waiting room of a Cloister Car Wash! While the chair and pews are actual, the rest is 3-D painting by a full time artist whose specialty is the 1900-1920 era. The wash where these pictures were taken was featured a year ago on History Channel's Modern Marvels - Car Wash Tech (without Snoozy and Abe, but both have been featured on this blog is the past, so they have no complaints).


Alumni news

Tom Crowl dropped us a note to tell us he continues to practice what he learned from the Maher Course everyday, and how the Course helped turn his career around. Tom has just put together a new web site for his corporate shows. Very nice. I know Tom looks at the professional site with pride and expectations. But I'll be honest, having been involved with his career behind the scences in a very small way, we are pleased in a special way as well. That's always true as we observe the career successes of those who have studied the Maher Course!

You can check out Tom Crowl's new web site Here.

Today's Prize

Of the many Charlie McCarthy collectibles, the spoon is still one of my favorites. Here's one from my collection, awarded today to Grant Walsh.


Uncle Earl variation

He's sold, but I thought I'd give you a quick peek at an "Uncle Earl" figure I completed this week. Another variation.

Thank you Steve & Dan!

I have to tell you - I found myself pretty much speechless when surprised with the Article posted on Dan Willinger's Ventriloquist Central about Maher Studios, and our year's of ownership in particular. Written by Steve Hurst, and titled The Reason Ventriloquism Is Still Going Strong , the article is for Adelia and me, both encouraging and humbling. When we purchased Maher Studios in 1969, we certainly had no illusions of grandeur. I simply wanted a work-at-home business that allowed me to stay at home during the years our children were at home. Then by the time the years passed and the last of our four kids left the nest as adults, I discovered I didn't know any vocation other that what I'd been doing for all that time, so I just stayed home and with Adelia's help, we just kept on doing the business of ventriloquism! Even if we had tried, we could never have dreamed how our lives would be blessed through our ownership of Maher Studios and the hundreds, even thousands, of wonderful people we would meet. Friends around the world. Just amazing. After 40+ years in the business (plus 10 years as a ventriloquist prior to purchasing Maher Studios) I'm fully aware that the number of years ahead of us at this point are few compared to those behind us. But I continue to thank God for each day and the joy they bring, largely through the people we meet and correspond with. And along the way we are blessed to experience some of the nicest surprises! Thank you again, Steve and Dan!


Scrubby's back!

By Kevin Detweiler

Have you ever scratched your head for a new idea, or said to yourself, "what a mess I'm in"?

Brush away your worries and let your creativity bloom. Let this guy turn things around for you. Mop up the competition and clean house with "Scrubby".

Several years ago we came up with this little fellow, then he was placed in the cleaning closet and the door was shut. Now he is back, better than ever. New and improved.

"Scrubby" is made from two Plungers. He has Scrub Brushes for feet and Cleaning Brushes for hands and arms. All can be turned in any direction. A Pot belly (body) and two types of hair. Plus eyes, of course. You assemble him quickly in view of the audience - all a part of the act. His creative mouth design allows it to be opened and closed. Lots of creative FUN!

Ministry routine and special song included. For price and any further details, contact Kevin Detweiler: animatedpuppets@charter.net

Today's winner

I still haven't gotten over that feeling of mild surprise when I'm asked for my autograph, but it does happen from time to time. With that in mind, I will today be forward enough to offer one as a prize, crossing my fingers that it will actually be claimed! :-)

By way of today's drawing, the winner of this framed and signed Clinton Detweiler Collector Card is Jane Hollembeak. Jane recently won at an auction one of the vent figures I built, so perhaps she is the appropriate winner of this piece as well.


Introducing Todd

Until now I've been referring to this fellow as the "Maher Studios retro-figure", but now that he's complete, this one will be known as "Todd".

36" tall, he wears size 3T clothes. Side-to-side moving eyes, head turns full circle, raising eyebrows. $495.00 (This figure is now SOLD, but I can build similar.)

It's just a "sew-sew" job

I'm the eldest of four siblings. As a child, I was happiest when my hands were busy. Recognizing that trait, and not yet having a daughter, my mother taught me early on many of her creative skills. Which included the skills of handling needle and thread. As a pre-teen it was a fun pastime. Who would have guessed then that the skills of needlework would eventually become part of my career? One of the most valuable tools in my shop is my sewing kit. Not a week goes by that it is not put to use. Guess what - it's still enjoyable and relaxing, too!


Rare photo of the Maher Ventriloquist Studio in Detroit, Michigan, 1950, with Fred Maher at his desk, dictating a letter. (Secretary unidentified.)


And the winner is...

"You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing."

While it may raise some eyebrows, I selected the above caption submitted by Kirk Rabe as the winner in this photo caption contest. The caption is actually a quote from the Bible (Deuteronomy 25:4) and refers to the Old Testament law that oxen should be allowed to eat grain to satisfy their hunger as they tread upon the grain at the threshing mill. A mean, miserly owner might muzzle his work animals, forcing them to go hungry while he gathers all the threshed grain for himself, but this law instructs that the laborer, too, must be provided for fairly. A modern day paraphrase of this caption for this blog might then go something like this:

"The puppetmaker must eat also; repay him fairly for his service, otherwise he's left with nothing but to talk to himself through mask muzzle. "

For his winning entry, Kirk Rabe will receive a copy of the book Dummy Days by Kelly Asbury. Congratulations Kirk, and thanks to all of you who submitted captions. You are a creative group!

Frustrated Freddie

Several days ago I wrote about the importance visuals have when communicating a message. We used to sell several such products at Maher Studios and here is one that I found remaing in my desk drawer. It's a card trick that deals with the dangers of drug abuse.

Freddie jumps all around in the card packet in the most surprising manner but winds up just saying "NO". Great fun and lasting impact. Cards with instructions. Awarded as today's prize to Doug Working.


Kimberly Yeager Miller

Thanks to a tip from Steve Axtell, I enjoyed reading the feature article in Liberty Education News about Kimberly Yeager Miller, one of the ventriloquists featured in the movie, Dumbstruck. Check it out Here.

Photo Caption Entries

I'll announce the winner of the Photo Caption Contest tomorrow, but here are several "honorable mention" entries out of the nearly 100 entries I received. In random order:

"In my house, I'm in control." Walter van der Hoven

"Now where did that dummy go?" Lila Shaw

"Look Ma. No cavities!" Tom Basso

"Me and my BIG MOUTH!" Mike Palma & David Boian0

"Sigh ... another give away. Me and my big mouth." James Hess

"People always said I talked for two." Joshua Minetree

"Speak for yourself!" Abhijeet Deshpande

"Now who's the dummy?" Ronald G. Arnold, Jr.

"Who was that masked man?" Tom Farrell

"Who's the dummy now?" Rolan Corley

"I always wondered what it was like on the other side!" Ron Butcher

My sincere thanks to all who took the time to enter - you're the best! Winner to be announced tomorrow.


Retro Figure update

Well, he's almost complete - this Maher "retro-figure". He was delayed a bit when, following the suggestion of a blog reader, I took the time to make up eyes of the same type Fred and Madeleine were using during the early years of Maher Studios.

Black marbles are inserted into wooden beads to create the black slightly raised pupil with its unique sparkle and character charm that cannot be duplicated in any other manner. Now that I've worked with this one for several days, I've fallen in love with these characters all over again.

This figure has side to side moving eyes and raising eyebrows. When completed (this weekend is the plan) it will be approximately 36" tall. $495.00. (Photos of the completed figure to follow.)


"It's in the genes"

Maybe we're all visual learners, but I know I am. As a child, many of the lessons that impacted my life and are remembered to this day, are those that involved visuals, at home, in school, and at church. I well remember one series of revival meetings held at our country church where the preacher would use some sort of object lesson in each of his sermons. Object lessons that always had a surprising and amazing conclusion. I never heard them referred to as "magical", although when seen through my very young eyes, they were nothing less.

My parents yielded to my pleas to be allowed to sit in the front pews for each evening meeting. I didn't want to miss anything. And I would plead with the preacher after service until he gave me some tips on how his seemingly impossible lessons were achieved.

I do not know the name of the preacher who made lifetime impressions on me through both word and visual lessons. But I believe it was one of two men. Either Mennonite Bishop S. G. Shetler who was also a teacher and school principal. As a mentor of teachers, he taught teaching techniques, also using visual, sometime "magical" object lessons.

One of Bishop Shetler's students was my ancestor, Waldo Hostetler, who himself went on to become a teacher who used "magical" lessons to reinforce his teachings. My mother was a Hostetler, and two of mother's younger brothers learned some magical tricks from Waldo. (Exactly how Waldo was related to my grandfather, I do not know.) It was while yet in grade school that I was inspired and taught several magic tricks from my uncles. But there in my heritage the threads of destiny can be clearly seen, as it was my own use of magic lessons to teach that eventually led me to take up ventriloquism.

In 1946 Waldo Hostetler wrote a simple little 24 page book, Rudiments of Magic, in which he explained how and why he took up the art of magic. And he includes ten magical effects with the secrets for preparation and presentation. No lessons applications are included - only his thoughts on the value of using magical visuals, which seems to be his primary motivation for writing the book. I am so thankful he did so. If not, rather than writing this blog post I would likely be on my way out to the barn to milk the cows! (Both of my uncles who taught me magical tricks were dairy farmers. I learned to milk cows as a youngster, too, but trust me, magic and ventriloquism are more fun!)

I have five copies of Rudiments of Magic. One I am awarding via today's prize drawing to Brian Zimmerman. The other four I am offering for sale: $10.00 each PP.


Putting on some weight

I received a figure's body made of lightweight fibre glass with the request to make it "more substantial." Fibre glass is strong and this torso was nicely contoured, but it was so lightweight that with the heavier head in place, it wanted to topple at the slightest touch. I solved the problem by adding weight to the base with two 3/4" plywood inserts.


Two Cent Update

Here, for your enjoyment, and in random order, are a few more of the creative slogans that were submitted in my Two-Cent Coin slogan contest:
"Two 'cents' for the price of one" Barb Gregerson

"Vent Cents ... twice the fun" Kirk Rabe

"A penny for each of your thoughts" Steve at the Dummy Shoppe & Jim Mauer

"Ventriloquism - Talk to the power of 2" Tom Farrell

"Vent cent - It's worth twice as much" Kenny Croes

"I'm a Ventriloquist, 'So To Speak'" Dan Leighly

"Too much to say; two mouths to say it" Scott Bryte

"Put your money where my mouth is" John Degel

"Ventriloquism - you'll just flip over it" Kevin Detweiler

"Here's my two cents for your nonsense" Joshua Minetree

(To be continued)


April 11, 2011

It's the eleventh day of the month -

time to award seven more of my

7/11 $7 Collector Coins.

The winners, via today's prize drawings, are:

Kenny Warren, Dan Schworn,

Mark Truman, Roy Langer, Johnnie Kelley,

Carol Jordan, and Dan Lee.


An invitation...

If you have not already done so, I would like to invite you to sign up for a chance at the FREE prize/gift drawings that take place on this daily ventriloquist blog. I give away ventriloquist items & memorabilia weekly. Sometimes more often. No cost; no obligation. All I need is your name and your okay. All you need to do is check my blog from time to time to claim your gift(s) should your name be drawn. Mr. D. mahertalk@aol.com


Coat of Many Colors

By Kevin Detweiler

A couple weeks ago in our Children's Department I came up with a routine that worked very well, and I thought I would share it with you all. "Caleb", my vent figure, was telling the story of Joseph, how his father loved him and made for him a coat of many colors. As I finished the story of Joseph, I explained how our Heavenly Father loves us so much, too, and I proceeded to use the Coat of many Colors to explain. The coat's colors are the same as the "Wordless Book" colors:

(Black) Because of sin we are in Darkness.

(Red) The Blood of Jesus that was shed.

(White) Represents our lives because we are forgiven.

(Green) We should Grow in the Word of God daily.

(Gold) A Promise we have one day walking on the streets of Heaven.

All the kids liked it so much, I thoght you might also. If interested in owning and using a Coat of Many Colors we have made them available for you. You can e-Mail us at animatedpuppets@charter.net for more information. Cost is $35.00 (includes shipping and handling). The size will fit most all vent dolls (Caleb shown here is a 38" figure). We can make larger if needed.


Closing the gap

I believe this Knee Pal came with the name of "Theodore Bump". And the figure you see here also came with extra space alongside the mouth. I closed those gaps with thin wood lengths glued to either side of the cheek. Then came considerable sanding and filling, followed by an overall repainting. You can see the improvement in the above "before & After" photos.

Today's Prize

Congratulations to Daniel Carpenter, winner of this Peanut talking keychain from www.jeffdunham.com


Raking in the laughs

From Harris Deutsch:

Your novelty puppets have inspired my over the years to see potential puppets everywhere. Here's one of the puppets I wrote about last month.
In June we shared "Splish Splash, the Puppets Were Taking a Bath", at area libraries. As I mentioned, I took the Maher Course back when it was on tape cassette. Puppetry is a great connector. I have shared my nearly normal puppets from preschools to prisons. I got special permission to bring some of my props to Lansing Correctional Facility, when I worked there as a counselor. It took pulling a few strings, but finally I was able to bring them in.
These days we are combining music more with our Doctor of Laughology Programs. The newest addition is the Nursery Rhyme Blues.


For sale:

Our grandson, Jordan, has this 33" vent figure listed on eBay. It has the usual moving head, mouth, and eyes. But the doll's unique features are it's bouncing bright orange hair (obvious from this photo), and removable front tooth (not shown on this photo).

The doll is a custom upgrade conversion by Kevin Detweiler, Jordan's Dad, and owner of Animated Puppets .

For just two more days you can see more closeup photos of the doll and it's unique features, and/or place your bid to own this wild and crazy fellow. Click Here.



Some weeks ago I wrote about the three unfinished heads I bought back from my son on eBay, heads I started some 25 years ago but never completed. I gave them to Kevin. But he never completed them either. So last year I agreed with his decision to sell the unfinished heads on eBay - but when I actually saw the listing I struggled with the decision of not finishing them myself. So, I bought them back! Buyers remorse in reverse! Anyway, one was completed and sold last year. And now I am finishing the second of the set (shown here). The eyes will be installed this week. I hope to have an update soon.

Today's prize

I have two "glow-in-the-dark" NAAV (North American Association of Ventriloquists) key rings from the 1970's to offer as today's prizes. One each to two lucky winners: Peter Rich and Penny Lubben


Shoe shine

Here's a ventrilo-tip sent to me by a reader. Unfortunately, I lost the name of the sender. Proper credits (and permissions) are very important to me as I publish these posts, so if this was your idea, please let me hear from you. Or, if you have a tip you'd like to share with other ventriloquists, I'd like to hear from you, too! Tip: "Hair for Men", the dye to change hair color, works too on other things. My figure's hair and shoes were brown, now they are black.


Rubber Band Replacement for Mickey

Question: I have two 1973 Horsman Mickey Mouse Ventriloquist Figures. Their rubber band is broken and I am unable to make their mouth move anymore. Is there a simple way to replace the rubber band inside the head ? Is it possible to convert into using spring instead of rubber band ?

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Answer: Both Mickey and Simon Sez (right) were made by Horsman. And they both had the plastic headpost with trigger control. There's not an EASY way to replace the rubber band on the mouth of the Mickey or Simon doll. I've fixed several, but I have always removed the plastic head post to do it. That's not easy either. I use a Xacto knife to split the upper part of the headpost at the seams so the upper part of the post can be spread apart and removed from the neck. The rubber band as originally mounted stretches from the wire ring on the rear of the mouth unit, downward to slip around one of the round plastic horizontal rods inside the headpost. With a bit of creativity, I imagine a spring could be used in place of the rubber band. Once repaired and returned to position, just a couple drops of super glue will hold it all in place. Use the super glue carefully and sparingly. Keep it away from any moving parts for obvious reasons.

Speaking of Speaksakes

Yesterday I referred to my book, Creating Speaksakes From Throw-aways. I originally wrote and published the book as a set of lecture/workshop notes used both a Vent Haven Convention as well as FCM conference and elsewhere. Today I have a signed copy to give away, and the winner is: David Sheppard.

I also have a handful of additional copies I can sell: $5.00 each PP.


Random Coin Slogan Entries...

"It takes two to make sense (cents)" Brian Brolin

"Ventriloquism: Your voice or mine!" Daniel Peters

"Money talks, with a little help!" Dave Showler

"For what it's worth" Curtis Jones

"I'm bent on vent!" Doc Lowery

(more to come...)

Greatest Gift

Several days ago I posted a photo of myself with yellow bird puppet and a large red gift box I used as a prop. In looking through a copy of Creating Speaksakes (1986), I found that I had published the directions for building this prop. Condensed here, they are:

Six thin plywood* squares are assembled as shown to make a cross. Hinge the squares so they can be folded into a cube. A shallow lid is made to slip over the4 cube. This holds the cube in place and gives the appearance of a gift. A bow on top adds realism.

When the lid is removed, the box will collapse, showing it was empty. But when lifted into view, the six hinged units will form a cross.

*To keep the cross arms extended without aid, I stretched a strong rubber band between two screws (B). The head of the screw was raised slightly above the surface so the rubber band could be hooked over the raised heads of the screws.

The puppet and I discussed the value of precious gifts as we viewed several letters on the sides of the gift box:

S- Silver



But these have little true forever value (lid is raised; box collapses). There is only one true forever gift with priceless value (Lift cross by grasping square with letter "G". I cut a finger slot on the upper edge of this panel to get an easy grip with one hand.)

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For a simple object lesson you can easily make this same effect from a folded piece of heavy paper. Enjoy.