How To Become A Ventriloquist In One Hour

By Jon Conlon

Playing with puppets (no matter how old or young) is fun and simple to do. Little girls/ boys have forever enjoyed dolls, teddy bears, toy soldiers–by making them talk the talk and walk the walk. And that is basic , as natural to children as breathing.

It is not difficult to learn for any one, at any age. Most people have the ability to become a beginner ventriloquist with just one hour of concentrated, serious hard work and study. Of course, the performance will improve later with additional practice and experience.

The foremost internationally star of the art in modern entertainment, Edgar Bergen, explained in his 1938 book that there are two types of “throwing the voice,” the near and the far technique. He says that the near art is easy and relies on merely an illusion created mostly by the dummy or puppet who appears to speak; it’s like a short toss of the voice across a table rather than a long pitch to another room. Using this technique, Bergen fascinated much of the world–and always moved his lips.

The following guidelines, based on Bergen and other professional advice, will enable a serious student to learn the “near” style in sixty short minutes and to amaze friends, family–or at least you.

    1. Start by finding a proper puppet voice. Growl deep in your throat–grrr (like a dog) and adjust tone up or down until you find a comfortable range and can speak clearly in your new voice for an extended time. Do not strain too much.
    2. Sit sideways to audience but with your puppet facing forward at them. Look at the dummy when he speaks but look at the audience when you respond.
    3. Move your lips freely (without worry at first).
    4. Make the puppet exaggerate his head, body movements when he/she speaks.
    5. When you reply or explain, however, do it calmly, slowly in order to keep the focus of the audience attention on the figure. This trick glues the audience’s eyes to the puppet.
    6. Maintain, for the most part, a rapid tempo or fast interchange in repartee with the dummy/doll that again forces an audience to watch the dummy and not you. Make the dummy’s speeches long and yours short.

Soon after learning these starting guidelines you will be prepared for a first performance. Of course, later, you’ll want to practice the basics: voice production, easily speaking the memorized dialogue, and careful control of the figure. Paul Winchell, who inherited the crown from King Bergen, suggests several other tips, such as rehersing in front of a mirror, moving your dummy’s mouth with each syllable to speak for it, avoiding words beginning with BMPVF.

No doubt, few students will be ready for network television, New York stage, or Vegas in just one hour of ventriloquism study but most can enjoy the satisfaction and personal enjoyment that the mastery of the art offers. And there are thousands of children in schools, hospitals, orphanages who might be over joyed to hear you and your puppet pal “throwing your voice” at them.

The Mysterious, Marvelous World of Ventriloquism

From The Puppet Studio by Jon R. Conlon

As for ancient beginnings, ventriloquism remains highly speculative, and no one really knows details. Historians guess based on interpretations of old Greek/ Roman writings that mention various incidents of “sounds from the belly” and knowledge of various cultures practicing vocal manipulations–from Zulu in Africa to Morie of the Pacific ocean islands. Even in the Bible (Acts.xvi. 16) reference is made to a woman speaking , yet not moving her lips, with a hidden voice. What is completely factual is that the term “ventriloquist” appears defined in English language around 1656: “0ne that hath an evil spirit speaking in his belly or one that BY USE OF PRACTICE can speak without moving his lips.”

It appears, even then, the theatrical, entertainment quality of the art of “throwing the voice” did not go unnoticed. In 1772 facts show, Baron Mengen at Vienna produced a doll with a moveable mouth that could be controlled “by movement under the dress.” What is more, he held dialogues with his figure! Surely this marks the birth of ventriloquism as it is understood presently. However, for the following 150 years the practice did not really flourish.

During that time in the world of puppetry marionette and hand puppet productions gained great popularity; Punch and Judy (in various names and various countries) became a standard, favorite ever lasting popular show. Massive string puppet stage extravagances from England, France, Italy, and Spain toured the world. The ventriloquist, however, played second banana in bars, beach spas, street corners, music halls, and mid ways. A person talking to his doll apparently could not compete with folk opera, stage show, band performance, circus, zoo, and not to mention a cheap street corner riotous Punch and Judy play.

Sadly, it was not until the 1940s in America that the Talking Doll took to the center stage in show biz. Amazingly, it happened on the radio! The ventriloquist Edgar Bergan and his smarty dummy Charlie McCarthy soared to international stardom, playing movies, stages, television screens, magazine/news paper advertisements all over the world. And he MOVED his lips! And remains, in his way, the King.

For the student of vent history, however, he was even more important because he redefined the understanding of “belly” art. He said basically that there was two kinds of ventriloquism, the near and and distant. The near, he explained, depended on the illusion created by the puppet figure not the vocal technique. or trick

During the following years many followed Edgar’s dictate, and hundred of performers popped up on local television stations in America and Europe, one fine example being Stan Freeberg and his space alien. Others, however, did not and perfected the old time “high artistry” to become famous masters: Paul Winchell (assisted by Jerry Mahoney) and Danny O’day and Farfel (assisted by Jimmy Nelson) to mention just two of the greatest.

No matter its old beginnings the “magic” of ventriloquism is still today fun, fun, fun.

Santa Con

Christmas is comprised of many things. Families setting aside their busy schedules and sitting down. A sweating ham resting on a platter sitting on the table top. Wrapped gifts. And, of course, the bringer of those gifts, Santa Claus. However, for some people, Santa Claus doesn’t only make an appearance when the days become short and the temperature drops. He also has his very own convention to call home.

SantaCon was founded in the mid-90s by a group of San Francisco street performers as a way to celebrate the season in a uniquely off-beat manner. The first SantaCon consisted of guerilla street theatre performances, pranks, and capped off with a surreal parade of Santas in various states of dress and physical fitness.

That first meeting spread rapidly. The novelty of seeing a multitude of Santas cavorting around town was reinforced by the fun of a carnival-esque atmosphere and the extensive coverage given to early SantaCons, the novelist Chuck Palahniuk writing about the experience in several instance, spread awareness about the convention.

Today the standard SantaCon involves a large number of people dressed as Santa Claus, although a certain naughtiness in alteration of aid costume is encouraged. A good deal of alcohol is also involved in the day’s event with the convention attendees generally basing their operations at several bars. Calling the event a convention is misleading since that can imply a dreary tradeshow floor with bad fluorescent lighting. Most of SantaCon takes place in the bars and in the streets.

Performances of Christmas carols, often sauced up with colorful language, is added to the giving of gifts to strangers by attendees. A good approximation is that SantaCon is simply a St. Patrick’s Day parade for the holidays.

Yet, SantaCon isn’t just about drinking and pulling pranks. Organizers claim that the event is a rejection of the droll and commercialized Christmas season and an embrace of the merrier and absurd side of the holiday, giving people a chance to unwind rather than stress over gifts and dinners.

Westmore Beauty Book

The famous Westmore brothers, a brood of five experts in the field of Hollywood hair and makeup, impact during the 1950s cannot be underestimated. Through their collective efforts, these brothers defined the look of silver screen stars in the post-war period. Their renown was such that they were able to publish a book that documented their various techniques and experiences in making people beautiful. Long out of print, this book has finally been reissued for a new generation.

The contents of the book alone are wroth the purchase price. Unlike most makeup and hair manuals that are several decades old, trapped in their context, this beauty book is as applicable today as it was back in 1956. Most of the techniques detailed in this 250 odd page book are not only timeless but extend beyond the simple application of makeup or hair spray.

There are beauty techniques to make women look younger sans plastic surgery. Perhaps these tips are more valuable than the actual makeup secret which are, despite the richness of the results and descriptions, relics of their time. Maybe useful for someone seeking a decidedly retro look.

Nevertheless, the beauty tips in this book are quite valuable. I’d wager that the most insightful and useful for modern readers is the ability to tailor one’s natural appearance, complete with blemishes and flaws, into strengths. This holistic and naturalistic tendency is likely to strike a chord with modern readers.
Makeup manuals often have the tendency to clone its readers into little copies of the models pictured. More of a template than a guide, the results generated can be ill-fitting and discouraging, especially when compared against professional models and a legion of stylists and photographers to make them look beyond the means of the average person.

No, this book enables readers to build their appearances based on their needs. Customization is key and this book provides you with the tools to do so.

Manual of Ladies Hairdressing

It’s interesting reviewing a piece of history such as this. Manuals can tell a lot about the time period they were written in. Not only does one get a glimpse of what constituted the standard craft of the time, but the style of a manual can give you a greater sense of what the expectations and assumptions the writer of the time made on his or her audience. Such is the case with this particular manual.

Stating that the contents of this manual are a little out of date would be a supreme understatement. Hailing from 1899, the styles detailed in this manual are far from in vogue. I doubt very many hair dressers would find clients interested in these elaborate hair styles.

Yet, there is something very interesting in how the manual is presented and an inherent, anachronistic charm, to hair styling instructions such as:
“To make the Virgin bandeau, divide the hair, by a front parting, in two equal portions; make a plait on each side, well smoothing down the hair from the temples to the ears. The plaits may either fall down over the shoulders, or be pinned up at the neck, chignon shape. Another way is to make a front-parting, and cross-parting, and a fastening. It is sufficient to smooth the front hair down; bring up the ends as high as the ears and pin on to the fastening, and arrange a chignon.”

Despite the lack of helpful illustrations, some styles being illustrated while other, inexplicably, are illustration free, this passage says a lot about the audience. There is no step by step layout akin to contemporary how-to books. Instead, the diction is authoritative and conversational, as if one was watching a mother in action or a television show.

Again, one shouldn’t expect to come away from reading this manual with an arsenal of new hair styling tricks. Instead, some to this antique manual for an appreciation of the evolution of the craft and a look back in time to some of the Victorians cosmetic norms.

Change in Women’s Measurements

Women’s fashion is the center of the clothing world. However, the evolution of women’s fashion and the cuts of clothing marketed to women are tightly bound to their social standing in society. The degree of freedom, equality, and openness has a near direct correlation on women’s fashion. Charting the course of that evolution is an interesting exercise at charting the course of sexual equality and the advancement of women’s rights.

For most of history, women have largely been subordinate to men in a vast majority of cultures around the globe. Women were regarded as caretakers, cooks, and housekeepers. The sexuality and sensuality of women was also subdued, partly from a desire of jealous husbands to exercise further control over their wives and also out of fear from an independent female sexuality that could threaten male power. Hence women’s fashion tended to suggest modesty and restraint.

This can be seen reaching a height of excess during the 19th century, especially in Victorian England. Women’s clothing was constricting and binding, showing essentially nothing aside from the face of the woman.

Yet, this trend changed over time. Developments in economic conditions and educational standards led to the incremental advancement of women’s rights. Moving into the 20th century, women’s fashion became less restrictive, first with bloomers, allowing women a greater sense of mobility than cumbersome layers of underwear and garters, and then with shorter dresses, such as the image for the iconic flapper of the 1920s.

Women’s fashion has constantly evolved over time, approaching its modern incarnation. Yet, it continues to wrestle with society’s preoccupation with sexual inequality. Female fashion may be more open, expressive, and sexually charged today compared to a century ago, but there is that continuous tension between what women chose to wear and what their parents, husbands, and authority figures tell them to wear.

Men’s Cuts in Fashion

Men’s clothing sits at an interesting place in the world of fashion. The big waves are undoubtedly made in women’s fashion. Female models strut down the runway in an almost climatic fashion, capstones to an evening ogling runway-side the latest and most groundbreaking. Men can often get lost in the shuffle with their usual trousers and suit coats. However, men’s fashion is just as dynamic as women’s, it just take a more discerning eye to notice the incremental changes over the years.

Men’s fashion revolves around a small number of components. Slacks or trousers start off the ensemble and are followed up with a button up long sleeve shirt. A vest can be placed over this shirt depending on the occasion. Finally, a coat rounds out the standard male outfit and may be joined by a necktie.
Bearing in mind this somewhat formulaic outfit, men’s fashion may seem pretty dull and static. Nevertheless, there is a huge variation within these pieces. The biggest variation if likely to be the style of the cut, the shape this cut takes, and the material used. Based off the sheer options available when it comes to materials utilized, one can see how men’s fashion has a great range of diversity to it.

Considering cuts, men’s fashion changes incrementally. Pants cuffs and the number of buttons on suit coats may bounce around from time to time, cuffs either gaining or diminishing in diameter and suit coats going for the single or double breasted look, but the core look remains the same. Today’s men’s cuts largely opt for a slimming look, with tapered trousers, unpadded suit coats, and patterned tops that contrast with the solid colored pants and coat.

Cotton and silk are favored contemporary materials but polyester and wool are still utilized in blends. The heyday of polyester in the mid-20th century has passed, as had padded shoulder suit coats that puff up the appearance of its wearer.

Despite the small range of men’s fashion choices, men’s clothing has a timelessness to it. This enables men to get by despite a lack of fashion knowledge.

William Tuttle

Hollywood makeup artist can often fly underneath the radar. Their work is highly visible, often key to the visual aesthetics of film, yet the person behind these effects can get lost in the shuffle alongside the more prominent actors and directors. However, the personality of a makeup artist can shine through, growing so large that they almost become a brand name. Such is the case with William Tuttle, a makeup artist so well regarded that he won an Academy Award for his work a while seventeen years before an official category for makeup effects existed.

Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Tuttle lived a hard scrabble existence for most of his early life. At one point, he had to drop out of school to help support his family. Nevertheless, this hardworking young man was finally able to piece together enough money to make his way to Hollywood. Although it isn’t clear if a personal affinity for makeup effects or economic self-interest brought Tuttle under the tutelage of Jack Dawn at Twentieth Century Pictures, the fact remains that Tuttle was exposed to a huge number of opportunities at this post.

Working during a hotbed of creativity in Hollywood, Tuttle cut his teeth on “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Father of the Bride”. Eventually, Tuttle became so accomplished, working with stars such as Judy Garland, Esther Williams, Gene Kelly, and Katharine Hepburn, that he surpassed his old teacher.
The highlight of Tuttle’s career came in the 50s, when he provided makeup services for such classics as “Singin’ in the Rain”, “North by Northwest”, “The Time Machine”, and “Forbidden Planet”. These roles cemented his stature as one of Hollywood’s premier makeup artists, culminating in the 1964 granted of a special Academy Award for his work on “7 Faces of Dr. Lao”.

Tuttle also provide makeup effect for episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and the films “Logan’s Run” and “Young Frankenstein”.

He passed away at the ripe age of 95 in 2007.

Walter Plunkett

Walter Plunkett is, to this day, one of the most well remembered costume designers. Originally he studied law at the University of California but he came to discover that his true calling was found in the world of theater and movies.
On June 5th, 1902, Walter Puckett was born in Oakland, California.  It was there that he started his studies in costume and set designs. For some time he moved to Greenwich Village where he began working in his field of study. And upon his return to California he found him spending time in Hollywood. It was a small start, but he was given the roll as a movie extra in the 1925 film, “The Merry Widow”.
Through out his career, had worked on more than one-hundred and fity projects. The two works he is best known for however are designs featured in “Gone with the Wind” as well as “Singin’ in the Rain”. Other works of his include “Little Women” in 1933 and then again 1949 (which is what helped him to get the job for “Gone with the Wind”), “The Hunchback of Norte Dame”, “The Secret Garden”, and “Annie Get Your Gun”. The duration of his career was from 1927 to 1966, with all thirty nine years dedicated to his passion. Eye-catching and beautiful costume designs gave him his name in the design world for media. And it all started with his first credit job as a costume designer in the 1927 film “Hard-Boild Haggerty”.

Although, while wildly regarded for his designs and works, out of the eleven times he was nominated for the Oscar for his respective cateory, he only won one. The award was shared with Orry-Kelly and Irene for the film “An American in Paris”. His works are also found on Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera.

In 1966 Walter Plunkett had decided to retire from his life of design where he passed away in 1982 at the age of seventy-nine.

Movies For 2012 And Their Costumes

This year looks like it’s going to be a big year for movies. And I know there are far more movies coming out than what I’ve listed below, but I tried to restrict my criteria to two main points. The first is that the movies on this list have a release date set. And the second is how elaborate of an arrangement in costume styles I can present to you, the reader. There are more movies I wish to add but I may try for another list later this year.

The Hobbit – Fans of the trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien are already getting hyped for this prequel hitting the big screen. The trailer having debuted in December of last year, we have an entire year to wait for it’s release. But that doesn’t stop us from getting our costumes ready while re-reading the book! Between familiar faces returning and new ones to behold, this first half of the fantasy adventure is sure not to disappoint!

The Dark Knight Rises & The Avengers – One is the conclusion to an epic trilogy while the other is the collection of multiple movies coming together. And both are super hero movies that are sure to blow us away and have us on the edge of our seats! Super heroes have always been a popular choice when it comes to dressing in costumes, with these two being no exception. Whether it’s for the midnight premiere or a Halloween party you can bet your cape that these heroes will be walking tall this year!

The Hunger Games – The plot of this movie may not exactly scream costumes there are definitely a few things to look out for! Yet another book adapted to film, “The Hunger Games” is a grim story but it still manages to shed light on eccentric characters and eye-popping costume designs! Effie Trinket alone could have an entire line of costumes dedicated to her unique style of clothing and make-up. But keep an eye out for Katniss’ dress and the outfits for the other tributes too!

Brave – This is a big deal for anyone who is a fan of Pixar’s works. Why? Because this is their very first Princess movie. Disney is usually the one to handle this genre but now Pixar is having a go. And based on the trailers and images released online, this is going to be one stunning movie of a heroic princess tale. Not to mention the outfit designs for all of the characters? Simply amazing.

Mirror, Mirror & Snow White and the Huntsman – This year should come with the subtitle of “Year of the Snow White Movies” because somehow we’re getting two of them! And they could not be any more different from each other if they wanted to. One has the light-heart and bright feel of a whimsical fairy tale. And on the other side of coin there is the darker, more adult tale that has the feel of a Grimm tale. But both films promise us a delightful array of costumes and designs!

Are there any movies you think that should have made this list? Anything you would have changed? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear your opinions!