Joe Radle 1935-2011

"Capt." Joe Radle was a frequent contributor to, and good friend of this blog. I just received word today of Joe's death, June 3, 2011. Joe was well known for his photo cartoons that featured his ventriloquist friends making humorous comments about life, usually political in nature (which is why you didn't see more of them here). But they always communicated in a creative manner Joe's enthusiasm for life and his concern for his fellow man. He'll be missed.

Joe was an artist is multiple media. In Joe's honor and memory I have a special prize to award today. It is a framed display featuring photos of two of Joe's pencil drawings from 2006. The subjects are General Robert E Lee (left) and General T.J. "Stonewall" Jackson (right). This is a special interest item, so rather than award it through a general random drawing, a special drawing was held among those specifically interested in owning it.

And the winner is Ron Schultz, Topeka, Kansas. Ron gives presentations on the war for area Middle Schools and High Schools and has participated in reenactments at Wilson's Creek Battlefield in Springfield, Missouri.

Vent in the classroom

By Beth Bentrup

The teacher must take liberties in adapting scripts to particular needs. Skits may be developed from unlimited resources. Children's stories and fairy tales have traditionally been used but current events can be subjects which are quite effective. Incidences that occur in the classroom may be developed into excellent programs. Material should fit the child's attention span and humor can be included when appropriate. The most successful scripts involve the children in active participation. Although teacher-made scripts are valuable, the children will learn just as much from self-written material. A combination of both methods has proven the most advantageous.


Doll Doctor

Question: Please help me find a place in Cape Town (South Africa) where I can have a ventriloquist figure inherited from my father repaired. It is very special to me.

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Mr. D: I'm very aware of the value families place on vent figures. Unfortunately, I do mot know who might be available to repair the figure for you. If there is someone in your area who repairs antique dolls, they might be willing to help you. I know my repair experience is with ventriloquist figures, but I have on occasion, done repair and restoration on antique dolls. The doll pictured here is a recent example. ("Before lower left; "After" right)


Hospital Volunteer

This custom ventrilo-ette was made for Andy Mrkvicka who will be using it to entertain and instruct cancer patients in the hospital. The puppet has a removable wig to better identify with young patients.


We're taking a break for a couple days cool down - Rocky Mountain National Park. (Spraque Lake). How sweet it is...


Beginning the show...

Question: Do you prefer to have the dummy out of the case and placed in the room where you'll be performing prior, or do you include opening the case and taking the dummy out as part of the routine? I am no where close to being able to do muffled or distant voice ventriloquism yet, so will not attempt that kind of stuff.
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Answer: I always preferred to have the dummy out of the case before making my entrance when that was possible. I like enter and exit with dummy in hand. Of course, that's not always possible. My second choice was to have him sitting up, out of view, somewhere in the room, ready to go, either in the open case hidden by the lid, or behind a piece of furniture (desk, piano, etc.). Some inconspicuous place where he was easily ready to pick up and go. When that was not possible, then taking him out of the case and returning him to the case became a part of the show. You can easily have him talk with you after opening lid or before closing the lid - no need to attempt muffled/distant voice before you feel you're ready to do so. Or you can do all the talking yourself until you have him out and positioned for the show. The primary reason I prefer to enter and exit with the dummy when possible is because getting him out of the case off stage prior to the performance allows me to check his clothes, brush his hair, position arms/legs, all the while making "small talk" with him so when we walk on stage we're already in the flow of the act. "Keep it simple and do it well" and you'll never go wrong.


Shop Talk

The only debate was "should he or should he not have a mustache?" The latter won. Lowering eyebrows seemed effective on this figure so I gave him eyebrows that both raised and lowered. Not a happy look, but he isn't meant to be. I worked from a Braylu casting to build this figure.


ConVENTion 2012 - New Location!

I just received word from Mark Wade that a new hotel has been selected for the location of the 2012 (July 18-21) International Ventriloquists ConVENTion. For all the details, go to the Convention web site: http://www.venthaven.com

Shop Talk

You have met "Otis" before. He is the figure I custom built for Pam Sterner some 35 years ago.

He spent the last week or so with me for a mechanical tuneup and repainting. ("Before" photo at left; "after" above.) His eyebrows were tattered so I decided to replace with new if I had a scrap of orange fur from which I could make the new eyebrows. Well guess what - when I checked my fur scrap bin I found the original piece of fur remaining from when I made his wig over three decades ago! A perfect match! Which goes to prove a couple things:

1) My Mother was right when she advised a person should not be too hasty to discard things because one never knows when they might be needed in the future. . . . and,

2) There must not have been a great demand over the years for figures with orange hair!

(Someone asked for a closer look at Otis' mechanics. See below.)

Prize Drawing Winner

Today's winner of two mounted

Convention Coins honoring Jimmy Nelson:

Fran Barger


Still talking to herself...and many others

Teresa McCay surprised us with a nice note several days ago. Teresa was author of several dialogue books published by Maher Studios including Timely Topics and Cheerful Visits. But it has been several years since we have received an updated report on her vent work, so it was good to receive an update.

Teresa and her puppets live and work at the Love Lady Center where she provides art and story time for the large number of residents (about 450). Her puppets are an important part of her story time. She says at times some of the children shy from the dummies, but all, even the babies, love the puppets. Even after writing the dialogues from her early years as a ventriloquist, Teresa comments, "I never realized how important puppets were until I came here. They are a positive way to communicate love, faithfulness of God, family, education, and many ways I cannot put into words. Ventriloquism is very much a part of my daily life, and as long as I can, it will continue to be."


"Hey, Dr D., I think my neck is tightening up!"


How would you answer this?

From Blog Reader: "I have a big dilemma. I crave involvement with vent and wish to start a part-time vent career using the skills I have leaned through the Maher Course. But I have absolutely no support from my wife. She thinks vent is silly and childish, and there must be something wrong with me for liking it so much. My wife acts as though my entire existence should be spent working, either at the office or at home. What is wrong with having a hobby so long as it does not take priority over the important things? Do you have any advice on such an issue?" WL


Getting closer!

This will be the final figure
from my #500 series.
It's been an enjoyable
"throwback" experience!
See completed figure with

price here:


To the rescue ...

"With my car being so packed with products for my dealer table, a guitar I was bringing along for Peter and Mary from Canada to use on the International Show, and my video production equipment for some archival video recording of the Jimmy Nelson celebration for the museum, I had no room at all in my car to take a vent figure and case along to the convention. But ... your Ventrilo-ette to the rescue! It fit easily in the top of my suitcase and I was able to use it for the annual group photo." Lee Cornell
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From Mr. D: Small puppet, big man, bigger stage! And I see there was a return migration for a '70's crazy bird as well (lower left corner). And I see two, maybe three other figures in this photo that passed through my shop as well. Pretty cool ... Thanks for sharing.

Heat stroke?

With the current heat wave smothering much of the US, and warnings to both people and animals to protect themselves from extreme temperature, here's a reminder that the same is true for vent figures and puppets. And it is true for both soft puppets and hard figures. Over my career I've actually had to repair a good number of figures damaged by heat.

The three Mortimer heads in my shop now (pictured below) are case in point. They were stored for a time in an attic (not mine!) where summer temps reached deadly heights, even for a puppet. The owner was preparing to throw these dolls out when I asked if I could have them. They can be salvaged, but it takes a bit of time and work...more accurately, a bit of work and a lot of time.

First step is to remove the rubber bands connected to the mouth, since the tension of the band pulling on the mouth of a heat softened head is generally what distorts the head in the first place. Then the distorted material cools and remains misshappen. I reheat the head (not difficult these days!), and open it to add any inner supports needed to properly reshape the head, then reclose the head and let it cool and rest. I use masking tape to hold the various areas of the head and face in position as it cools. I prefer to let the head wait a good long time, weeks or even months, before doing any additonal work. The longer the material rests, the less likely it is to retain any "memory" to slowly return to the distorted condition.
(The eyes on these heads have been cut out in preparation for eventual moving eye upgrades.)

Much better to care for the figures properly in the first place.


Winkers - conversion figures?

Question: Have you ever installed eyelids in a conversion figure? If so, what method did you use?
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Answer: I assume you are referring to the Goldberger doll conversions. No, I have not, although my son has done so. The smaller size of the heads just do not provide enough room for multiple extra effects. The tighter space also makes it a more difficult job. Installing closing eyes in a full size figure is much easier...yet people expect to pay less for a doll conversion. Not a workable combination. There may be an easier way to do the winkers in the smaller figures than is traditionally done on full size figures, but I've never placed such a project high on my priority list. There are dealers who sell parts, but if I'm going to go to that extra work, I'll do it on a "full size" figure.


FCM 2011 Report

From Dr. Jeff Scott
FCM Ventriloquist Section Coordinator

(Photo left: Jeff with Ida Claire)

The talking coin purses and two cent Maher Studios collectible coins were a big hit among the vents and aspiring vents at FCM this past week in Marion, Indiana. It was fun to watch the new vents pick up that coin purse and immediately begin to squeeze it to make the lips move. What a convenient little novelty figure.

The numbers of folks taking vent workshops was up this year with some classes having as many as 40. While small compared to Vent Haven, the encouraging small group feel, coupled with the wide variety of other classes you can take at the Fellowship of Christian Magicians (magic, clowning, puppets, drama, storytelling, juggling, face painting, balloon twisting, etc.) makes FCM a great choice for individuals and families. Next year the FCM convention will be July 30-Aug. 3rd, so vents can double up by going to Vent Haven and then FCM. The vent section will offer 14 different workshops during the days of the convention including hands on classes on making novelty vent figures and personal performances and encouragement.

In the Late, Late Vent get together this year, Steve Parker led a tribute to Bill Andersen. Videos of Bill performing with his various figures were shown nightly during the week and to a good group. Who will forget Wally Nutt or Hildeguared? Bill, as you well know, was a pro;ific compiler of jokes and vent dialogues. His material was always clean, funny, and stood the test of time.

As you know, the FCM has an evening show for the community and two vents did an outstanding job on the big stage. Steve Parker did an exceptional tribute to Edgar Bergen and Charlie MCarthy with his figure that may have been one of Bergen's actual Charlies. Also on stage was singer/ventriloquist Barbie Franklin with her friend, Nicky. She represented vents well with outstanding lip control and hard figure manipulation. It was a good week for everyone.


From Wilson Kindred

Granny's a hit! They love her! Yes, Granny has made two public appearances to date.

Thank you Mr. D. You have done such an amazing job at creating the Granny figure we asked you for! She's perfect! We love everything about her! I fell in love with her as soon as I opened her case and saw her. Her eyes and her silver hair are fantastic. She is so beautifully crafted.

We love the "crow's feet" at the corners of her eyes and the wrinkles at the corners of her mouth. You did such a fantastic job of creating her spectacles! They look so real!

In the early going, Granny's personality is marked by her aged innocence, expressive (sometimes boisterous) antics, as well as her "foolish pearls of wisdom". Granny has been taking her audience on a stroll down memory lane to the good old days when people cared about people, morals were high, and things in general were, "of course", much better.

The prim and proper, adorable old lady has already surprised her audience with a rough and candid openness. On her first outing, she whispered to the Pastor of the hosting church. When he politely asked her to repeat what she had said, she bellowed, "I said, will you help me? My bloomers are twisted! My knickers are in a not knot!" His face was red and his wife was bent over in hysterical laughter.

We want to thank you, Mr. D, for your creation of such a wonderful character and new addition to our ministry!
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What's wrong with this picture?

Yesterday I was finishing the painting of three pair of hands for figures I'm completing, when I did a doubletake when looking at the hands hanging to dry. "Oh, no!" came out of my mouth!

I asked you readers to see if you could spot my error. I lost count of how many of you responded, but I can tell you that 37 of you correctly spotted that the two larger hands on the left are both right hands. But to quote Curtis Jones, this is a case where "two rights make it wrong"! Indeed. I'd like to say this was the first time I've made such a mixup, but that would also be a wrong, so I won't.

I promised a framed Bergen photo to the first person who would contact me, correctly identifying the error. As I mentioned, 37 of you did so, but Steve Brogan was the very first. Howie Myers caused me to take a double-double-take by creating a modified photo to send with his entry. See the post below.
From Howie Myers: "I think the second second hand from the right is not quite right ... Two rights don't make it wrong ...BUT, three rights make a left ... Right?"


Auction notice:

In 1978 it was impossible for a person to purchase a professional Japanese handcrafted ventriloquist doll unless that person's skills and style of presentation were approved by their personal Japanese "Master teacher". That obviously left me out. So when a mutual friend informed me she had a Japanese ventriloquist friend who would like to trade her newly earned figure for one of the figures we were selling at Maher Studios, I immediately jumped at the chance, sight unseen.

And when the figure arrived, I couldn't have been more pleased. (See photos) This figure was on display in our office showcase for many years. It has also spent time on loan to a Denver area art museum. But it has never been used on stage for performance. Over the years I've had inquiries about possible sale of this rare and unique figure and I always say, "not now - maybe sometime - watch my newsletter (now blog) for advance notice of sale should I decide to do so." Well, this is that notice. I haven't set a date, but I'm thinking it will be 2011.


Otis returns!

Well look who found his way back to his roots - "Otis"!

It was nearly 40 years ago when I first met Doug and Pam Sterner. Back then Pam was using a basic Otis O'Brien doll for her shows. But anyone could see her talent was far superior to the doll she was working with, so I upgraded that first small doll, fitting it with moving eyes, raising eyebrows, hollow body, etc. That was a big improvement, but in a period of a few short years Pam's skill as a ventriloquist was approaching professional level which that deluxe version of Otis could not match. And demand for her shows was increasing as was the size of her audiences. She needed a professional "full size" version of Otis. It was at that point Sterners challenged me to build a custom 38"-40" version of Pam's smaller doll.

With calipers and sculpting tools in hand and several cans of wood dough (Plastic Wood), I went to work. The result was the figure you see here, and of all the figures I have built, this still is one of my favorites. His animations include moving eyes, raising brows, wiggling ears, and stick out tongue. I hadn't seen Otis for several decades, but he surprised me this week by arriving at my doorstep for mechanical tuneup, repainting, and hair styling. I'll enjoy this job and maybe even learn some stories of his escapades over the past 3 plus decades.

A number of years ago Pam donated her original smaller Otis to Vent Haven Museum. If someone reading this sees that figure while touring the Museum Saturday during the International Ventriloquist Convention, send me a photo. With his orange hair, he is easy to spot...check the grandstand display of figures - that's where I last saw him.

The Sterners currently reside in Alexandria, Virgina. Doug is Curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor. Pam went back to school and graduated 2005 with a degree in Political Science. A story about the Sterners is currently scheduled for the September issue of AARP Magazine.


Rare Coin Display

I made up two only of these 8 x 10 framed collector coin displays with both obverse and reverse sides of all four ventriloquist coins on display for the viewer. The coins are mounted behind glass in art foam material without glue to ensure they remain in mint condition. I have one unit for sale through this blog and the other is on display and for sale at Lee Cornell's Convention dealer table as I write this.

The golden 2011 Convention Coin is displayed upper most. Today is the official release date of this beauty and each convention registrant will find one as a gift in their registration packets.

At left in the middle row is the 2010 $5.00 Dummy Dollar Coin, now available only on the secondary market. It is their rare and short supply that limited the number of displays of this type I was able to make. Already this coin is selling at several times its face value.

On the middle row right is the 2011 $7.00 Dummy Dollar Coin, generally referred to as the 7/11 coin. Over time this coin could prove to be the most valuable of the lot since it represents the collector coin with lowest number in circulation (less than 100 at this time).

At the bottom of the framed display is the 2011 TWO CENT Ventriloquist Coin, which was perhaps the most fun for me to produce because so many readers of this blog were involved in the creation of the coin slogans. Also the fact that both the old original plus the modern NAAV logos appear on this coin only. Thanks to the assistance of Dr. Jeff Scott, all ventriloquists attending the FCM Conference in Marion, Indiana this week will receive one of these coins as a gift. Taking inspiration from Hansel and Gretel, I also, most days, in variety of ways, leave a trail of these coins wherever I go. And a couple TWO CENT pieces are packed with every order I ship.

If you are interested in purchasing the eight coin display shown above (made up of one pair each of the 4 coins described), the price is $60 plus $8.00 shipping Priority Mail.

2011 Convention Coins

Today is the official release date of the beautiful golden 2011 Jimmy Nelson Celebration Convention Coins. I'm so very appreciative to Convention Chairman, Mark Wade, for granting permission for the official Jimmy Nelson Celebration logo to be used on the reverse of this coin, and to his staff for kindly inserting one coin into each registrant's packet of official convention materials. The early feedback of excited enthusiasm indicates this will likely be a favorite collectible by ventriloquists worldwide. You can own one or more of these coins whether or not you attended the convention. I have 2011 Convention Coins for sale and ready to ship: $6.00 each or two for $10.00. mahertalk@aol.com
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Convention Coin Comments:
"Clinton - thanks! They are a huge hit here at ConVENTion!" Tom Crowl
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"Clinton, here I am at the 35th annual convention-which is great, by the way. And I got these two beautiful brand new ventriloquist convention coins. Clinton, you did an amazing job! Keep up the great work!" Samuel Vladimirsky


Will Goldston's Magic Shop 1946

Bob Albano sent this link to a video clip you might find interesting:

Should I or shouldn't I?

Dr. Earl Reum stopped by Maher Studios many times over the years, usually unannounced and always a delight. On one visit he surprised me with a gift of this figure. It is a smaller Davenport/Insull with only three animations (upper and lower lip, and eyes). Because it was not in the best of appearance we never put it on display. But I saved it, not only because it was an Insull, but it is also unique in that it was once sold by Maher School of Ventriloquism (Detroit).

The Jerry Mahoney body with a shoulder piece made of red rosin paper machie, is the hand work of Madeleine Maher, and the feature that points to the Detroit School. Someone other than Mrs. Maher attempted to repaint and rewig the figure. More than attempt, they did so, but poorly, and in so doing, the mouth leathers are pretty much ruined.

Looking at this figure now I have to decide its fate:

1) Sell it as is...

2) Restore it...

3) Toss it...

Okay, I won't do #3, but as for #1 or #2, I'm still debating with myself, while leaning toward #2.



This being the eleventh day of the month - time to award seven of the $7 2011 Antique Bronze Collector Coins. But I feel I should do something a bit special since today is 7/11/11. So I've decided each winner in today's drawing will be awarded TWO of the 7/11 coins. And those lucky winners are: Phil Nichols, Kirk Rabe, Mark Souza, Philip Defibaugh, Nancy Rosekrans, Toby Weiss, and Luetta Millheim.

This coin is destined to be the rarest of my collector coin series since the total number of coins being issued is the fewest. They are available for sale: $10 each or two for $15 PP. mahertalk@aol.com

Reminder: If you are not signed up for the prize drawings that take place on this blog, it is EASY to do so. Simply email your name to me, Mr. D., at the above email address.


Carrying on ...

"Danny" (right) was owned and used for several years by Marilyn Roques in her clown/puppet ministry. Danny, originally sold by Maher Studios as "Willie Winkle", joined the team in 2006.

Sadly, Marilyn passed away this past October ('10). Seeking to have her puppets continue carrying out Marilyn's vision, the Roques family prayerfully and graciously donated Danny and his puppet friends to Darrell and Sandy Blatchley's Family Circus Ministry.

All the puppets are now in the Philippines where Sandy, who is the ventriloquist, and the staff she teaches to use the puppets, will lovingly and gratefully put the characters to work, ministering to literally thousands of street children and family members each week:


Joe's new Home

From Hugh Troyer:

"Joe got his new home the other day. I surprised him. I didn't tell him it had come and he was really excited when he saw what it was. Here are the pictures of him seeing his new house for the first time. He said he no longer feels like a homeless person because he won't be living in a box anymore."


Progress report...

My final #500 series figure is nearing completion. I decided to stay with the original style eyes - painted wooden beads with hand painted iris and pupil.

The project will take a "back seat" temporarily while I build a couple special order figures.

More to come...

Pulling Strings ...

This marionette puppet was among the puppets and vent figures the family of Marilyn Roques donated to the ministry of Darrell and Sandy Blatchley. Normally I do not feature marionette puppets, but I thought this one was unique because of the way it was strung. The strings are a bit thicker than those found on most marionettes, which allows them to be simply wedged into narrow slits cut into the wooden control bar (no knots) - so simple to adjust (and when necessary, untangle).

On a couple related notes, Bob Abdou sent me the link to the Hazelle Museum in Missouri, a site he says is a must for any lover of puppets: http://www.hazelle.org/

And our son-in-law, Terry, sent a link to a marionette in action where the operator (and puppet) are quite amazing: http://www.youtube.com/embed/kPvciIdDZAE



Vent Haven Picture Postcards

Can you believe the International Ventriloquist Convention begins just six days from today in Ft. Mitchell, KY?! Vent Haven Museum Curator, Jennifer Dawson, sent me several Museum picture postcards to give away on my blog. The museum has undergone some beautiful upgrades since the "Schoolhouse" photo (above) was taken, but it still is a fascinating picture. "Jocko" (below) never changes, of course. Jocko was created 1939-1941 by brothers George and Glenn McElroy according to specifications by W. S. Berger, Museum founder. By drawing, I am awarding one set of these postcards today to each of the following persons: Frank Westcott, Matt Sponaugle, Holger Kunz, Maggie Forth, Robert Weis, and Rico Ventola. (Contact me within 14 days to claim your prize.)


Introducing ...

Here's Simon with his new look and upgrades - nice! He's 34" tall, with fully lined, contoured, balanced body enabling him to sit alone safely. Side-to-side moving eyes (self-centering), plus very visible and fun raising eyebrows. Hardwood control levers mounted on hardwood head post. Safety headlock. He wears standard children size 2T (or 3T will work, too), and comes dressed just as you see him pictured here. (Additional photos at link below.)


New Life for Old Dummy

Here's a fascinating, emotional story about a 74 year old ventriloquist dummy that was given new life at the hands of Jim Barber. You'll want to read the account and watch the video - trust me: http://www.hamnerbarber.com/2011/07/04/ventriloquist-breathes-new-life-into-old-dummy/