Above - Three different expressions of
the famous Charlie McCarthy.
Below - Builder of dummies setting
head in place. This shows how
controls are worked by slipping
the hand though the dummy's back.
Above - Diagram showing how the dummy
own a radio, you're acquainted with Charlie
McCarthy. He's the impudent little dummy who sits upon the
lap of Edgar Bergen, his creator, and entertains millions weekly
with his comedy.
To Charlie goes credit of reviving an
ancient are, ventriloquism, which was practiced in the temples
before the coming of Christ. Before he became radio's
man-of-the-hour, ventriloquism was on its last legs.
When the vaudeville halls went out, ventriloquists could not work.
Radio was not for them; the charm of
their art lay in seeing the dummy talk.
One by one, the wooden Mickeys, Noseys,
and Sambos were forced into retirement. Only Charlie
His boss wasn't ready to throw in the
sponge. He'd revamp his act and try the smart supper clubs.
In the back of his mind was a fantastic notion of getting on the
radio, making the invisible audience visualize the dummy through
The plan was carried out. Armed
with some new routines, Bergen, after dressing Charlie McCarthy in
white tie and tails and giving him a monocle and an English
accent, captured the cabaret crowds. Then Bergen attempted
to get into radio. The broadcasting executives were
dis-interesteded, but finally, he was given a hearing. Two
appearances on a New York station brought an offer to appear on a
Before turning the microphone over to
them, the master of ceremonise impressed upon the listeners that
the voices were coming from the same man. Then Charlie and
Bergen began their patter with the former doing most of the
talking. To everyone's surprise, with the possible exception
of Bergen, Charlie was an immediate success. Within a short
time, the dying art of ventriloquism was reviving. Veterans
dusted off their wooden stooges and stepped into engagements.
And once again, youngsters began probing the mysteries of voice
Charlie and his quiet, self-effacing
boss have a three-year contract on one of the air's big shows,
Hollywood is paying handsomely for their services in motion
pictures, and they can name their own terms for theater
engagements and personal appearances.
Edgar Bergen with the dummy, Charlie
Above - Diagram of a dummy's movable
Charlie McCarthy charms, dolls, games,
and other items are being rushed into production.
"Ventriloquism," explains Bergen, "is
a pressure on the voice- a sort of grunt voice. The term
correct, in my opinion. I prefer to call it 'voice
diffusing.' Because the voice comes from the stomach, it
appears to be coming from a distance. Through the power of
suggestion, the ventriloquist makes his audience think the voice
is coming from somewhere else."
Top - View of Bergen and McCarthy.
Center - Builder shows dummy's
controls, including air bulb with which
operator can control dummy's mouth
movements from a distance.
Bottom, scene from color movie in
which the dummy appears.
A ventriloquist usually has one voice
and the dummy - face and figure - must be fitted to it, Charlie's
creator says. "Many ventriloquists," he adds, "have made the
mistake of making the dummy first and then trying to fit the voice
to it. Their acts flop because the words that are put in
their mouths do not seem to fit them. A definite personality
should be established first and then the dummy built to fit the
ventriloquist's conception of him."
RADIO REVIVES AN ANCIENT ART
Above - Edgar Bergen and another of
dummies, the bashful rustic Elmer
To fill in on encores, Bergen, Snurd
was his next protege. "As soon as I had his voice perfected." he
relates, "I tried to translate the personality I had build
up in my mind into a sketch. Elmer was the adenoid type; his
voice called for a 'goofy' face, droopy eyelids, buck teeth and a
large-size Adam's apple. When I had drawn a sketch that
pleased me, I proceeded to model him in clay. He didn't
click - there was something wrong. It was his thin upper lip
and his firm chin. A thin lip, you know, connotes meanness
and any character expert will tell you there's strength in a firm
chin. So I gave Elmer a thick, protruding lip and a receding
chin and he was perfect."
Charlie McCarthy is blessed with a
fortunate expression. From the front view he has a pert,
smart-alecky look that fits his character perfectly. When
his head is turned toward Bergen he appears to be quizzical and
when his mouth is opened slightly, he gives the impression of
being on the verge of tears. There's something about him,
too, that defies duplication. A half dozen woodcarvers have
been commissioned to make copies of him but none has been
If the dummy can be copied, Bergen has
a plan that will give him a greater field of expression. He
would like to duplicate his face in four moods. Then, if
Charlie were in love a head with a moonstruck expression could be
used. A sorrowful countenance could then be substituted for
the next scene while Charlie were airing his troubles, and so on.
An experiment is also being made with a dummy made of rubberized
composition to achieve this same result.
The association of this famous pair
dates back to Bergen's high-school days. Whit a longing for
a medical career, he decided to use his gift as a means of
furthering his education. To the shop of Ted Mack, a
woodcarver, the student went with a charcoal sketch of a newsboy
who sold papers near his school. Could the woodcarver make
him a head with that expression? The woodcarver could and
did - and Charlie McCarthy was "born." Delighted with the
result, Bergen paid him thirty-five dollars and then went home and
built the body himself.
The head was cared from a block of
basswood. It is in sixpieces, glued firmly together and
reinforced with screws. His eyes are of brown glass and his
complexion ruddy. The entertainer visited shops in many
cities looking for a paint that wouldn't shine in the spotlight.
He finally worked out the solution himself by loading the paint
with pumice stone. Periodically, he gets a new paint job; a
very special one for his appearance in a colored motion picture.
The manner in which Charlie is
manipulated is fairly simple. The lower portion of the jaw
is operated by a paddle on the stick that connects to the head.
This is held by the manipulator through an opening in the back of
the dummy's coat. Although Charlie's eyes are stationary,
Elmer's can be moved from side to side and up and down by means of
a special arrangement. Bergen is building a dummy whose
actions can be controlled by a key board arrangement in the head.
Theater bookings have carried the pair
all over the world, England, Canada, Russia, Lapland, Stockholm,
Iceland and Venezuela
March 1938 Popular Mechanics