William "Bill" Andersen

By Clinton Detweiler

William H. Andersen, known to his friends as Bill, wrote vent columns for both Newsy Vents and the Christian Conjurer on a regular basis. He wrote eight books of routines, three gag files, a script writing manual, books on how to perform vent as well as how to build a dummy. Plus three gospel magic books. His sharp wit and keen sense of humor are reflected throughout his still popular books. Bill once told me he had written a 20 minute routine containing 70 laugh lines, although he admitted not all of them ALWAYS got a laugh.

Bill Andersen, (the spelling of his last name reflects his Danish heritage), lived in Racine, Wisconsin. He grew up in what he described as a "happy family". His own love for laughter may have been genetic; his father loved to tell jokes. Their family looked forward to the Edgar Bergen Show and laughed together as they listened. The show was on radio, of course, "BTV - Before T.V.", Bill liked to joke.

During High School Bill started what became his lifelong practice of collecting jokes which were kept in notebooks. Never was he without 3x5 cards upon which he recorded jokes the moment they were heard. He also made note of funny incidents he saw or read about. "Some of the funniest material comes from life itself," he would chuckle.

It was during a college speech therapy class in 1947 that Bill first learned the secrets of ventriloquism. His professor was explaining how a person with certain physical speech handicaps could learn to form "substitute letters and sounds, just like a ventriloquist." "So that's how it's done", Bill thought. "If that's all there is to it, I can do that!" And a career was born.

Truly Self-taught, Bill went on to build his first vent figure from a cheese box, designing the mechanics himself. A librarian gave him his first book on ventriloquism: Ventriloquism For Fun & Profit, by Paul Winchell. As he eagerly read the book he was pleased t find that his self-taught method was quite accurate.

Bill graduated from college with a degree in Speech. Following a stint in the service, he began his lifetime career as an educator in Wisconsin schools. In 1990, during retirement, he was honored by being selected as a member of his High School "Hall of Fame".

When I asked him during an interview how many vent figures he owned, he laughed as he replied, "A basement full." There was "Wally Nutt," a young boy who joked about living in the Nutt house with his Nutt family. Wally claimed, "the whole family is Nutts!" Then there was "Johonas J. Johonoson", a full loving old Danish man. And "Hildegaard Hanson", a gossipy Norwegian old lady. "Johonas" and "Hildegaard" did their part in keeping the feud between the Norske and Danes alive and well. More than once I heard Hildegaard exclaim, "You can always tell a Dane - you just can't tell him much!"

Bill built all his own figures, and each of his three main characters were built in two sizes. The larger full size 40" versions were used for stage shows. But he traveled with their half-pint 20" counterparts which were just right for living room chats and visits with shut ins and seniors. All three of the smaller figures traveled together in one suitcase not much larger than a business-size briefcase.

"Johonas" was made in a third even smaller size, and it was this pocket size version Bill would carry for hospital visitation. If a patient felt like talking the mini Johonas would make his appearance. If not, he simply stayed in Bill's pocket.

During his retirement years Bill would do as many as 200 programs a year. Most were for Senior groups, but school shows, parties, banquets and churches made up a sizable percentage of his programs as well. Most shows were 30-45 minutes in length, a combination of ventriloquism and magic.

If you were to ask me, I believe one of Bill's greatest success secrets was the support and encouragement of his wife of 65 years, Vena. And after all that time, she was still laughing at his jokes! In fact, Vena's chuckling would often begin during the setup lines, so to be alerted in advance to some of Bill's best jokes, all you had to do was keep one eye on Vena!

While their health allowed them to travel, the couple was frequently seen a one or more of the summer conventions. They thoroughly enjoyed the friends they made and considered the conventions a family reunion of sorts. Bill was well known for his popular figure making class he offered several years at the FCM conference. He also presented lectures and workshops, appeared on panels, and when not attending his dealer table you would often find him off in some corner with his recorder, interviewing a subject for his "Great Unknown" column which he wrote for Newsy Vents.

What motivated a man to give of himself to fellow ventriloquists and others for a lifetime? Bill told me, "I just enjoy making people happy." And there's a genuine thrill I receive from performing." And he lived a full life fulfilling those goals for family, community, church, and, yes - ventriloquists.

Thank you, Bill Andersen, for your support of our art and its artists; for being a friend to so many for your entire lifetime. You were an inspiration and will continue to serve as such. As you begin now enjoying your great eternal unending reward with the Master of the Universe, we, with respect and gratitude, add your name to our personal "Hall of Ventriloquist Fame".


  1. Bill was the ventriloquism lecture chair for a number of years at the Fellowship of Christian Magicians. While not able to attend in recent years, he is still loved by many and remembered for his wit and willingness to encourage others as Christian ventriloquists.
    --dr. jeff scott

  2. I have the pleasure to own many Andersen figures and chat with Bill and Wally Nut at the convention, he was doing what vents are doing now, making their own dummy's. Is there an address to mail a card to the family?

  3. I do have an address but hesitate to publish it publicly. I'll send it to you by private email.