See Hundreds of Ventriloquist Dummies at Vent Haven

Atlas Obscura
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Aug. 27 2013 10:43 AM

Come Face-to-Face With Hundreds of Ventriloquist Dummies at Vent Haven

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Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, is the only place in the world where you can walk into a room and see rows of ventriloquist figures sitting in chairs, all staring goggle-eyed in the same direction.

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The museum's displays grew out of the personal collection of William Shakespeare Berger (1878 - 1972), former president of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists. ("Vent" is slang for the profession.) Berger, known to his chums as W.S., purchased his first figure in 1910. Over the next six decades he amassed hundreds of dummies, ranging from a cigarette-smoking granny made in the 1850s to Woody DeForest, a figure used by Don Messick -- a.k.a. the voice of Papa Smurf and Scooby Doo. 

The most popular dummy at the museum is a replica of Charlie McCarthy, a figure in a top hat, tux, and monocle. Charlie and his human partner, ventriloquism pioneer Edgar Bergen, appeared on the Chase and Sanborn Hour radio show from 1937 to 1956. (The fact that a ventriloquist act achieved prolonged success in a non-visual medium is one of the great mysteries of showbiz.)

Charlie's banter with Mae West on the December 12, 1937 show led to the actress being banned from NBC radio for 12 years. Her description of him being "all wood and a yard long" and teasing remarks about him giving her splinters the night before were deemed vulgar and obscene by the FCC.

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