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 is worked.

IF YOU 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 McCarthy remained.

 

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 crackling dialogue.

 

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 coast-to-coast hour.

 

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 throwing.

 

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 McCarthy. 

 

Above - Diagram of a dummy's movable eyes.

 

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 his

dummies, the bashful rustic Elmer Snurd

 

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 successful.


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



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