It’s five days before Halloween and I’m scrambling to complete two costumes this year. My oldest son wants to be a Blues Brother, and would you believe that wayfarer shades are nowhere to be found? I guess they are so 1980s. Silly me – I thought they were still cool! The hat, we found at the mall, and the skinny black tie at an off-price clothing store. But the shades? Nope.
You think that’s tough? Wait till you hear this. Middle Son announced he wanted to be a ventriloquist for Halloween. Yeah. I think he has visions of carrying around a sneering, Chucky-like doll, but I’m not having that, and neither will his elementary school (even if he is a fifth grader).
Frankly, I have always found ventriloquists a little creepy. I place them in the same general category with clowns and mimes, and marionettes and puppets. Nevertheless, my son was unrelenting insistent on this costume, so I figured, if I could just find a dummy, the costume part would be easy – he would just have to wear a suit jacket and tie.
But where to find a dummy without breaking the bank? (Because here at casa de Soup Is Not A Finger Food, we are all about doing Halloween on a budget!) I turned to my local Freecycle group, and posted a “WANTED” message. Lo and behold, a lady replied to my post, stating she had available an original, vintage, 1950s Jerry Mahoney head! Only problem? NO BODY. Did I want it? Sure! We could figure out the body part later. Probably.
I picked it up on the way to work and rode around with a disembodied dummy head in my car all day. (No, not ME, silly -Jerry Mahoney! Shut up.) As he stared, unblinking, at me, I got to thinking about this 50-year-old artifact, a relic from another era. I mean, isn’t ventriloquism kind of a dying art? When was the last time you saw a ventriloquist show?
Still curious, I Googled Jerry Mahoney when I got home and found the official website of Paul Winchell, Jerry’s ventriloquist. Turns out, Winchell was also the voice of Tigger in Winnie the Pooh.
I clicked around on the site and found this page, where he talks about how he became a ventriloquist. It seems this poor kid’s mother was really, really terrible to him when he was a child. Here’s an excerpt (but you’ll want to click over and read the whole thing):
There wasn’t much about my childhood that I enjoyed. I think I was majorly abused by my mother, while my Father, a good person in general, did not have the courage to intervene. I remember her making such warm, thoughtful statements as this: “You are a stupid boy who can never do anything right. You’re a lame piece of shit that trips over your own feet. You’ll never amount to anything because you’re not clever enough. You’ll always be a bum like your father”. Now one of the reasons I did “trip over my own feet” was that I had polio as a child, so her comments were not appreciated. Even then, I realized, to a degree, her excessive cruelty.
Nice lady, huh?
Winchell’s nature enabled him to triumph over the utter lack of nuture, and in ventriloquism, he found his escape, and, eventually, great fame. I love that he figured out a way to triumph over a depressing family life. He could have let the negativity defeat him, but he chose to rise above it.
Go, read the whole story! I know I will think a little differently about ventriloquists’ dummies from now on.
MEANWHILE: If anyone has ideas for me about making my vintage Jerry head into a dummy, or where I can find some super-cool wayfarers, leave a comment or email me. Thanks.