Wanted: Wayfarers and a dummy body

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.

15 thoughts on “Wanted: Wayfarers and a dummy body

  1. Surprisingly, on the last season of “America’s Got Talent” (don’t ask, I don’t know how I ended up watching FAR too many episodes) the winner was one of the best ventriloquists I have ever seen. He not only could make the dummies talk (he had several, with different personalities) he would do impressions of famous people, and actually make the dummies SING. Lucky for him they have this ridiculous show, because otherwise I don’t think anyone would have heard of him. His name is Terry Fator, check him out on You Tube. Copy this link http://video.aol.com/video-detail/terry-fator-friends-in-low-places-americas-got-talent-2007/3486367080 . You will be amazed. Meg, maybe your child will one day win a million dollars for toting around a dummy!

  2. This is really funny that you write about this because my four-year-old is really into ventriloquists as well. I have a half-written post about it sitting in my drafts. He thinks they are they are a crack-up.
    I had the same impression of them, thanks for posting the story. Especially the part about Paul Winchell.

  3. Marsha and Aimee – Thanks for those links, I will check them out as part of my personal issue confrontation therapy program! Srsly though, I mean it – thanks.

    Marsha – there’s a joke somewhere in there about getting a million bucks to “tote around a dummy,” but it’s rather unkind so I’ll bump.

    Suz – I look forward to your eventual ventriloquist post! I have no idea how my son (the 10 year old) decided that was what he wanted to be.

  4. I’m no help on the dummy thing but I must say how impressed I am with the creativity of your costume ideas. I’m also of no use in how to locate anything super-cool because that would imply that I associate with anything remotely super-cool.

    Can’t even figure out how to use a mouseless laptop

    p.s. Good luck and maybe you can take a picture of the finished product (the dummy).

  5. Could you stuff something into long pants and a long-sleeved shirt of [youngest son]’s, maybe tie on some sneakers? You could stuff the “hands” in the pockets for a nonchalant look.

    Is Paul Winchell the guy who developed a heart valve or some other major medical device? I don”t have time to research it now, but I believe he’s the one.

    Send photos.

  6. I want to put the dummy head on the body of this Darth Varder doll-like thing we have. Because, I’m with middle son, a Chuckie-like creature would be really cool.

    We’re all agreed, however, that mimes suck, right?

  7. I always thought that Paul Winchell was also the voice of Tony the Tiger, but I just checked and I am wrong about that. The artificial heart thing is surprising. This from a Wash Post obit from when Winchell died:

    “In 1963, he patented an artificial heart that he said was a collaboration with Henry J. Heimlich, inventor of the maneuver for choking victims. Mr. Winchell’s device was considered the prototype for the one designed by Robert K. Jarvik that was successfully implanted in a human in 1982. Heimlich later said: “I saw the heart, I saw the patent and I saw the letters. The basic principle used in Winchell’s heart and Jarvik’s heart is exactly the same.”



  8. I’m with Curt, generally speaking. But while a Chuckie-like creature would be really cool, what would be even cooler would be to put the human head on a stuffed animal’s or even a robotic body. The possibilities are literally endless, and super-creepy.

    And yes, mimes do suck, except for the one from “The Aristocrats”. But that is for a non-family-friendly blog.

  9. Y’ALL, thanks for the comments! I obviously did not research my subject thoroughly enough – check this out, from http://www.povonline.com/cols/COL063.htm: “At some point, he turned his fine, clever mind to callings above and beyond show business. He devised and patented a great many inventions, including an artificial heart valve that earned him the title of Dr. Paul Winchell. All very impressive but, of course, I couldn’t respect him more than I already did.

    “Doc Winchell also occasionally did cartoon voices, among them Tigger in the Winnie the Pooh cartoons, Dick Dastardly on Wacky Races and Dastardly and Muttley, and Gargamel on The Smurfs. ”

    Did someone say Gargamel?!

    Anyway. Love the idea, mom, that may be what ends up happening. Bets, thanks for the Amazon link, but I don’t want to pay the shipping at this late date…

    CBW – the ideas were all the boys’s – no influence from me. Where I come in is they say, “Hey, Mom, I want to be a… ventriloquist!” And I must wave my magic wand and move heaven and earth to make it so.

    Fortunately, youngest son is willingly wearing a ten-year-old skeleton costume previously worn by his two older brothers.

    Scott – now that’s just gross, dude!

    Curt – yes, we all agree; mimes suck. But an abuse victim turned ventriloquist, voice-over actor and heart valve inventor? That’s quite a man.

  10. Move heaven and earth to make a Hallowee’en costume happpen? Isn’t that what mothers do? Do you remember the Crayola box costume?

  11. I was the crayon box. Best costume ever!

    Meg: drive all around greater Washington in the Suburban, or pay $5 shipping. What’s the difference?

    Keep us posted, and we will definitely need pictures here.

  12. Bets – I dunno, I thought one of the coolest costumes was me with the upside-down thing going on. Although my arms got REALLY TIRED from holding them up through the entire Halloween party in the church basement.

    Halloween parties in churches? How weird is that?

    Photos forthcoming!!

  13. What? Halloween in Church, weird?

    All Hallow’s Eve. The day of the dead. The day before All Saints’ Day, November 1st. I think it’s a natural. Kinda like a mini, non-sacred death & resurrection exercise for the rest of us! A fun l’il reminder of our mortality…

    I love this holiday – sanctioned buffoonery – enjoy!

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