Trick? Or treat?

Today being Halloween, I looked around for something appropriate to picture on this post.   I do have several heads hanging in my shop, but that's the norm - I find nothing spooky about that.  Then I spotted the head in my shop vise.  It belongs to my ventriloquist lawyer cousin who brought it to me this past Thursday for repair.  Now, THAT job is a frightening sight!  For me, at least.  Not to imply that the workings are so repulsive in appearance.  No, it is the nature of the required repair itself  that is a bit daunting.

The maker of this figure built the jaw unit from a block of rigid styrofoam (my screwdriver points to the back of the styrofoam in the picture).  Clever idea, but styrofoam simply will not provide long lasting support for the control arm which was inserted and glued into the styro.  I find it amazing that method even withstood the several thousand openings and closings of the mouth this long (according to the date on the head post it was built in 2004).  So, finding a permanent repair will be the trick, and when finished successfully, my treat.


Those in need

Joe Overfelt is children's minister at one of the largest homeless shelters in Virginia.  Currently he is working with 50-75 homeless children as well as their parents.  He also works with homeless men and women in the drug and alcohol rehab program using the characters you see in the photo above.

But Joe feels an old man figure could be very effective in communicating with those he ministers to who sometimes are very angry.  Through a vent figure with similar character issues he could demonstrate in a fun way how God can transform lives. 

While Joe is a paid staff member, the shelter receives no government funds.  Rather the shelter, http://www.rescuemission.net/, is entirely supported by donations.  As you might imagine, the staff salaries are meager.  So I am wondering if there is someone reading this who might have just the hard figure character Joe is looking for that they would be willing to sell at a discount, or even donate.  I know it's a long shot, but I thought I'd mention it.

What I've suggested to Joe is what I've suggested to many in the past who have similar need, and that is that he make his need known to local volunteers who either tour or give some hours' time to the shelter.  It is not uncommon for a person or group of persons to take on the project of funding a new vent figure for a worthy recipient.  Over the period of 40 years I'd estimate we sell one or two figures each year that were paid for in this manner.  The funds are much more likely to come from a local contributor who knows firsthand the ventriloquist and his or her service ministry.



#256 and counting

Digital cameras are great!   I've been able to document with photos almost all the jobs that come through my shop since acquiring such a camera.  Of course I'm thankful for the trusty Nikon 33mm camera I used for many years, and with it I captured hundreds of images, but that was only a fraction of all the characters that passed through/from my hands over the course of 30+ years.

July 10, 2007 was the day I once again started numbering each figure I built, and documenting the character with a photo.   I began with number one, and this week I will complete #256. 

#254 is pictured here.  I've just completed #255 and #256.  You can see these and others on my page of figures for sale:  http://mrdsfigures.blogspot.com/


The time is now

Reader Comment and Question:  I am currently unemployed and I have considered doing vent shows full time as an alternative career.  I have performed vent in the past for churches, civic organizations, senior citizens and so on as opportunities came along.  I am 54.  Any advice as to my chances of beginning a full time vent career?  Is the idea feasible, and if so, how and where should I begin?
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From Mr. D:  I'm going to invite readers to comment on your questions, but I'll begin by saying realistically, one does not, at any age, simply one day decide to "go full time" as a ventriloquist and do it.  Rather, you start with one show followed by another and then another.  One show performed well most likely will lead to one or more additional future opportunities.  As your calendar fills with advance bookings, a full time career may develop over time.  But initially, you will have to get the ball rolling by deciding to whom you would like to offer your services and then make yourself known to them.  People cannot request or accept your services as a ventriloquist until they know of them.

You have named three very logical venues/groups.  Your past experience in these venues is an obvious plus.  You may still have the names of some contact persons.  You may have to offer your services free to a couple select groups to help get your name out there (see Mark Wade's post 10/24/11).  It will take some time, effort, and legwork to get things off and rolling, but now is the time to do it.


Triple treat

Salvation Army Officer Major Wes Green sent me this photo showing his three vent figures with the new outfits and hairdos he has provided for them.  The two Selberg figures on the right certainly have greater dollar value than the refurbished Lovik figure on the left.  But I have to say, I'm still partial to the guy in uniform - and not because of his hair style (although I do feel a sense of kinship in that regard as well).


Bug outta here!

Chances are, you've had the experience of having one of your shows interrupted unexpectedly, but probably nothing quite like what Deputy Bob Walsh experienced last week.  Bob is China and was doing a show for staff and students of the Hong Kong Yew Chung International School.  While using "Grandpa" for the finale of his presentation, a giant flying Chinese cockroach flew across the room causing one of the students to jump up which in turn caused the whole row to stand up!  Bob had Grandpa improvise until the big bug was silenced and the show could resume as planned!  Grandpa must certainly claim that audience bugged him more than most!


Mark Wade Writes


I took two years of Latin in high school and I'm still not sure what Julius Caesar said in all of his written documents!  But I found out that "pro bono" means virtually "for the public good", or in layman's terms ... FREE.  That's right, I am advocating using strategically placed free shows to help build your vent business.  Usually speaking I don't think much of free shows.  I don't want free shows to upset the balance of my fee structure.  But if you have serious plans, and control the "pro bono" shows in the correct way, the occasional free show can help your regular business grow.

Let's say you want to work a certain market but have no way to capitalize on it to do a show.  A free show given to a group, especially one that has many contacts like a Rotary Club, Lions, etc., can be viewed as a showcase.  Because the club has many well connected members, a free show is a good way to introduce yourself.  When I first moved to Grove City, Ohio, I did a free show for the local Rotary Club.  The show was a rousing success ... and it led to at least three paid shows at full fee.

"Pro bono" programs can also be used to help a loyal client who has been hit hard by the recession, especially if this is an "every year" customer.  I will give them a free show because we have established a bond, a friendship.  What kind of friend would turn his or her back on a friend when they are having troubles?  I do the show and chalk it up to good will.  More than once has my loyal customer remembered how I helped them and they came back to me with paid shows when things straightened up.  This means I had to look beyond the immediate dollars and look to the future with this company.  When things got better they brought me back.  I had staying power with them.

Consider ways in which a free show can help you and others.  If you use your free show as a win-win with your clients you will definitely be in the game of performing for a long, long time!




From Brent Vernon

Sam 2.0 arrived in excellent condition.  I picked him up on Sunday, took a day or two to rehearse with him, and put him back to work on Tuesday in northern Minnesota ... not too far from Canon John at Thunder Bay!

Sam is beautiful and I am really thrilled with the job you did customizing and making the necessary changes.  Thank you so much!  It is good to be reunited!


Wake up!

When Bob Abdou saw the 1977 Howdy Doody "talking" alarm clock I advertised (and sold) on eBay earlier this week, he sent me several photos of his vast Howdy Doody collection.  Included was a picture of this "Clock-A-Doodle" which Bob says in "my most prized possession".

The two Bobs, (Buffalo Bob Smith and Bob Abdou) were pen pals for several years before Buffalo Bob's death in 1998 and Abdou received a number of photos and toys from the famous man himself.


Ventriloquist Partners

Childhood friends, Cindy Cooper and Lisa Clark, shared the same hobby and from 3rd grade through college they did many shows together.  That was 30+ years ago.  While still great friends, time and distance make it impossible for the two to be together today.  But Cindy (now Cindy Maluschka) is making a current effort to bring her ventriloquist hobby out of retirement as a solo act, but it will mean starting over with a different vent figure since it was her "Dennis" (not shown) who met his demise when felled by a tree during Hurricane Katrina in August, 2005.  We're discussing several options for Dennis' replacement - updates to follow.


"Lazy eye"

It is interesting how common it is to find figures with one eye a bit out of line.  Some figuremakers have a tendency to do this more than others, and usually it is the same eye that drifts to one side.  That's one reason I try to take photos of all jobs.  I am able to spot details in a photo that I don't see as readily first hand.  And vice versa.  This Storyteller figure ("Randy" from the early 1970s) came in to have raising/lowering eyebrows added plus a fresh coat of paint.  I'll adjust the eyes while installing the eyebrows.


"Someone's been sitting in my chair ..."

"... and he's still there!"

Normally when I paint a pair of hands for a vent figure, I find a way to hang them from my shop ceiling so they can drying evenly on all surface areas.  But repainting the hands on an existing figure always presents an extra challenge because they are attached to a cumbersome body.  The hands could be removed from the arms, but that's far more work than necessary.  I simply let the figure borrow my shop chair for the job, hanging the arms to the rear, over the back of the chair while the paint dries. 

You can see I have a "supervisor" for this job - standing on his head so he can double check my work from all angles.

Of course, my "customers" have to take a number for this job since I only have one chair for them to use.  And the painting is always done near the end of the day when I'm ready to leave the shop so the painter doesn't back into the freshly painted hands and end up with paint on his end - a lesson learned by experience!


Bergen Coin

 Mark Cahill shares this photo of another coin from his collection.  The nickel silver "palming coin" was produced in the '50's and the coins were given out by Edgar Bergen, comedian, ventriloquist, and practicing magician.  This coin was obtained at the Magic Castle where Bergen sometimes performed.

The obverse with Charlie's likeness reads: WITH THIS COIN GOES GOOD LUCK.    $.75 PIECE

The reverse with Mortimer's likeness: MORTIMER SNERD, YUP - THAT'S THE WAY IT GOES

I see the images on these coins are Full Sculpted Deep Relief  - high quality work.  To produce such a coin today, the dies alone would cost $1,000 or more per side.


"Love the Charlie T"  Brian

Not simply for kicks

Melissa Nichols sent me this photo of herself and "Charlene" in their "doboks" (martial arts uniforms).  Their Grandmaster, Pyung-Soo Kim, is currently teaching in Korea, but will return in December, when the three will team up to produce a DVD for kids on the subjects of bully prevention and stranger danger.  I have a feeling when this trio makes their presentations, listeners would be well advised to pay close attention.


What time is it?

I'll tell you what time it is ...time to place your bid for this Howdy Doody "talking" alarm clock - if you'd like to win it.  It's from my collection and I now have it listed as a 5 day auction on eBay.  The wind up clock works, but even with new battery, I have been unable to get the "talking" alarm to function.  Otherwise it is in excellent condition as is its original box.  http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=260874545529

The three faces of Scotty


I promised the customer who ordered this lay-away figure that I would post a photo of the head when completed.  This week I will finish work on the figure's body.   Eyebrows that both raise and lower offer many expressions!


Travel by Airlines

From Steve at The Dummy Shoppe

We were recently contacted by an Evangelist friend who had completely stopped flying with his hard figure because of the problems he was having with damage inflicted by TSA people.  He wanted to keep going, but had gotten where he would only travel with his figure when his engagement was one where he could drive.

He sent us a picture of his figure (left) and we did him a remake in soft sculpture puppet and now he feels completely comfortable in flying with the new old guy (right).  Problem solved.


Any advice?

I had a question from Hugh Troyer about the best way to travel by airlines with his vent figure, "Joe".  It's been so long since I have flown, I am hesitant to offer advice in light of today's travel regulations and restrictions.  If you have experience in airline travel with your vent figure(s), both Hugh and I would appreciate your comments.


Professor King Token 1875

When Mark Cahill made inquiry as to how he could order ventriloquist collector coins to be added to his collection, he sent me pictures of a couple rare ventriloquist coins from his collection.  The photo here shows one, a copper & brass token (about the size of a US one cent piece).  The obverse side reads: PROFESSOR KING IS THE BEST VENTRILOQUIST LIVING.  The reverse side reads: KING THE GREAT PRESTIDIGITATEUR (SIC) AND MODERN SAMPSON. 

Dated 1875, I would be curious to know how many of these were placed into circulation initially and what their value night be on today's market. 

I'd be even more curious to know what the collector coins I'm putting into circulation today will be selling for a century from now!  Of course, I'll never know, but I can tell you they will likely be even more rare at that point than the coin you see here is today.  Especially this year's $7  2011 7/11 coin - less than 100 are in circulation even now.  Do you have yours?    See the margin listings at http://maherstudios.blogspot.com/


Charlie T-Shirt Poll

Thank you to all of you who participated in the voting to select the winner of the Charlie McCarthy T-Shirt. 
Congratulations to Brian Brolin, winner!

(I have now added all four applicant names to the 10/6/11 post containing their entries.)

More than skin deep

Perhaps I should have added Neale Bacon to the list of candidates for the Charlie McCarthy T-shirt prize.  And person whose admiration for Bergen results in tattoos of Charlie and Mort certainly reflects more than surface fan enthusiasm!


Can you indentify the maker?

This is "Harry", owned by Willem Stapleberg of South Africa.  Harry has moving eyes and he can wink.  Both top and bottom lip move.  Teeth are made of wood.  I'm wondering if someone reading this can identify the maker?  At first glance, I thought it might be an Insull, but all the figures built by Insull that I have seen had teeth made of metal.


Sam's back!

You may remember the sage of Brent Vernon's figure, Sam (far left) being stolen during the night from his vehicle. A few weeks later Canon John Jordan came to the rescue by offering to sell his "Sweeny," a very similar character (below) to Brent. But Sweeny's hair and eye colors did not match Sam's. So Sweeny was sent to me for a make over.

But then came the problem of trying to duplicate the plastic brown iris for the eyes which the manufacturer had discontinued. Several of you sent iris' to me, for which I am very grateful. But none were a perfect match in size, shape, and or color until Keith Lovik sent me several pair from his remaining stock along with several small vials of paint with which to paint the back side of the iris for a perfect match.

Sweeny has now been fully repainted, new wig in place, eyes changed out and - presto - Sam's back! Only the people involved and, you, the reader's of this blog know the full story!


Technical question

Question: During practice rehearsing vent, I am working on the resonant areas in the head.  I am trying to hollow them out as much as possible, but frequently they seem to "clog up" fast.  I can't keep the resonant areas open long until I hear that area close.  Is there a remedy or is this some kind of a medical issue?  While working on that, I sometimes hear my jaw snap some.  I know some ventriloquists work hard at some things, but should I continue this?  JP
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From Mr. D:  The sinus cavities provide the resonant areas.  I suffer similar issues with my sinuses at times.  This is primarily a medical issue as you suggest.  I'm sure people have suggestions for favorite remedies - everything from nasal irrigation to over the counter medicines.  Best to check with your physician or pharmacist.

Setting that issue aside for the moment, I am going to suggest you simply go ahead and practice your vent voice using other qualities to achieve voice contrast: tonal pitch, vocabulary, inflection of speech, tempo of speaking, dialect, etc.  Perhaps you will not feel resonance, but there likely will be some and when performing closeup, in the classroom, or with a sound system, the amount of resonance (or lack thereof) should not be a major issue.

Try to keep your jaw motionless, but relaxed.  If you feel "snapping", I fear you are holding it too tightly and forcefully rigid.  There is no need be that forceful.  If you feel that happening, take a break and perhaps try a few short "stretching" exercises with your jaw (opening and closing the mouth widely several times, etc) to help relax the facial muscles.

Hard work is important and will be rewarded, but try to keep it enjoyable.  Practice with your vent figure as much as possible.  Ask him questions, have fun with his answers.  As his character and personality develop, so will your skills of voice contrast and manipulation.  Enjoy!


It was worth it!

After spending far more than the usual amount of time required to wig a vent figure, I did finish this fellow, and I must say, he did end up looking pretty sharp.


Vote for the Charlie T-shirt winner!

Yesterday I posted a photo of a  tee shirt with Charlie McCarthy's silhouette, offering to give it to the person who could give me the best reason why I should choose them.  Well, a good number of you responded and I must say, you made the choice difficult.  So much so that I'm going to ask you, the reader's of this blog, to make the decision by voting for the winner.  Please!  I've selected four applicants from which to choose and printed excerpts from their entries below.  Read them, make your choice, and cast your vote in the voting box provided in the top margin.  Voting has ended (see post for 10/11).
Applicant #1:  "While still in my early teens I would help an older lady with odd chores on weekends.  Turned out, she was Marion Schreyer, the daughter of Lester The Great.  I often helped clean out boxes stored in her closets ...always fantasizing about suddenly finding a figure of her Dad's stashed in a dark corner!  She eventually told me the things from her father's vaudeville days were all gone, off to museums.  She also told me several times that her father had taught a guy named Edgar Bergen how to do ventriloquism.  Long after her death I came across a book that confirmed her story.  I always watched Bergen and McCarthy with a sense of connection to performing in public.  The "shadow" of Charlie McCarthy falls on me too in a very small but significant way.  I would wear the Charlie t-shirt and remember the strange connections God gives us through our journeys."  Brian Brolin

Applicant #2: "I am a Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen fan.  I would love to wear it in the Subway sandwich shop in the WalMart where I sit with my friends nearly every day with my conversion Charlie McCarthy and my other figures.  The shirt would look really great and be a conversation piece."  James Tucker

Applicant #3:  "The Charlie t-shirt is just my size and as I wear it around the children in my church they can ask who it is.  Some who have been in my office might recognize the shadow on the shirt to be like the picture on my wall (Smithsonian cover of Charlie) and I can tell them about Charlie, Edgar Bergen, and ventriloquism.  The shirt is a discussion starter that ends in encouraging boys and girls to take up ventriloquism and have a lifetime of fun and service."  Dr. Jeff Scott

Applicant #4:  "My fiance introduced me to Charlie McCarthy.  Every night I listen to Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen's old 1930 tapes and fall asleep.  I completely fell in love with Charlie without knowing anything about ventriloquism.  I actually thought Charlie was an adorable little boy, unknown to me that it was Edgar.  My favorite shows are 'Edgar Gets Amnesia' and when Charlie tries to have a frog farm.  I always loved listening to Charlie and W.C. Fields go at it.  We have our living room decorated in dolls and collectibles of Charlie McCarthy and other famous vents.  Now, after being exposed to the art of ventriloquism, we make a special vacation to the Vent Haven every year, in July.  I would love to have the Charlie McCarthy t-shirt."  Tamara Mann

Quick Change

Vent Comment: I am putting snaps and fake buttons on the clothes of my vent figure so my assistants can make a quicker change of the clothes during the program. Del B.

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From Mr. D: Excellent idea. If you will be making costume changes on your figure frequently (during shows or between shows even), I can give you another option that many vents use effectively. That is to purchase a second duplicate body for the figure. You can then permanently dress the bodies in different costumes and to change clothes, you simply move the figure's head from body to body. Generally speaking, an extra body costs approximately 1/3 the cost of a full figure.


Tuesday Gold

Yesterday Adelia and I took a road trip into the nearby mountains to enjoy the beauty of the Creator's Fall colors.  If you care to take a peek, I've posted a few photos here: http://tuesdaygold.blogspot.com/ 

All pictures from the Golden Gate State Park and Central City area.

Could you use this T-shirt?

This T-Shirt with Charlie McCarthy silhouette is actually a past prize that went unclaimed. Rather than draw another name, I'm going to let you decide who wins it.  See blog post for Thursday, Oct. 6th. 


For Sale

"Talking" Jack-o-Lantern Puppet for sale.  This puppet is one I built as a prototype several years ago.  I've decided to sell it now knowing I won't be building any others of its type this year.  You will find it listed for eBay auction and when the auction ends I'll ship it to the winner by Priority Mail (free shipping) to insure speedy delivery by mid-October. http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=290616458480
P.S. And for this one auction can we pretend that his name is "Gummy"?  :-)

Funny but true

From Wilson KindredIt was at one of the venues during our 'VBS' trip through central and eastern Canada a father came to my wife and me, and reported that his four year old daughter had come home from 'Evan's Clubhouse' and asked her daddy if he had a black suitcase that wasn't being used.  When the girl's daddy asked her why, she said, "I want you to fold me in half and put me in the suitcase so that I can be just like Evan."  I don't know how the little girl knew about Evan being folded in half, because I do that out of the children's view.


Question: I'm interested in purchasing more cases - probably at least five of the size that holds a 40" figure. Is it possible for you to produce more?
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From Mr. D: As I announced last Spring, I've retired from the Custom Carrying Case business - at least for now. I hope to concentrate on building figures during the next few months. Come Spring 2012, who knows, I may review my decision on custom cases...
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From Wes Green: "The two new 'homes' arrived in good condition. Thanks for creating a safe haven for my friends. My family will receive instructions that in case of emergency, after my pets, they need to search for the black boxes with my friends."


Vintage Suit For Sale

I've had an inquiry concerning purchase of the hand sewn vintage suit pictured in a previous post. That particular suit in blue tone colors has been sold, but I do have this similar style suit, hand made by the same seamstress, red, black & white plaid. (Sold)

Number two

If you have followed this blog for any time at all, you know the story of the set of three unfinished heads I started building 25 years ago, eventually gave to my son, and then more recently obtained back from him in the same unfinished state.

I now have completed the second of the trio (photo left). You can see additional photos at: http://mrdsfigures.blogspot.com


Amazing Lady!

Lottie Moon was born in 1840 and in 1861 was one of the first women in the South to receive a master's degree. After teaching school in Kentucky, Georgia, and Virgina, she left for China in 1873, where she served 39 years as a missionary to the women and girls of that country.

Lottie frequently wrote letters to the United States, detailing Chinese culture, missionary life and the great physical and spiritual needs of the Chinese people. She challenged Southern Baptists to go to China or give so that others could go. By 1888 the Southern Baptist women had organized and collected funds to send workers needed in China. This tradition continues today and a Christmas offering in Lottie's name is collected every year to help support about 5,000 missionaries worldwide.

When Jim Burke first contacted me about building a "Lottie Moon" figure for his presentations about this amazing missionary pioneer I was a bit challenged as to how to approach the task. But as I learned more about the work of this lady, small in stature (only 4 feet, 3 inches tall as reported by someone who knew her), but a giant in missionary history, I felt an increasing desire and inspiration to complete a figure in her semi-likeness. Thus, today's "Lottie Moon" came to be. Jim has several engagements lined up for the fall to use her in presentations regarding support for international missions. The programs will be entitled, "Lottie Moon Alive (almost)."


Older Catalog Merchandise

Reader Comment & Question: I was thumbing through some of the older Maher Catalogs I collected. There were some ideal puppets I am still interested in - some bird and monkey puppets. Are they still available? I am also interested in replacing a teaching tape by Liz VonSeggen. John P.
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From Mr. D: I enjoy perusing through the old Maher Catalogs myself, and am glad to know I'm not alone in doing so. However, please do not try to order from them, because while I can deliver on a few of the products, the puppets are not among them! Prices have likely changed as well. :-) The bird and monkey puppets were probably from Steve Axtell. His puppets can be seen and purchased at www.axtell.com

Liz Von Seggen's teaching tapes, CD's, and DVD's were produced and sold by One Way Street. One Way Street did close its doors August 31, 2011. But Dale and Liz Von Seggen assumed the remaining OWS inventory and are providing many of the same products and services under the name of their new business, Creative Ministry Solutions: www.creativemin.com