Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Take my dummy, please

In the beginning, was the clown.

But the clown didn't provide quite enough horror.

So there was the ventriloquist dummy.

I haven't thought of the ventriloquist dummy in many a year. Maybe not since I last turned my eyes and covered my ears to avert the specter of Ricky Lane and Velvel on the Ed Sullivan Show. (The horror. The horror.) And, not that I have an obsession with Ricky Lane and Velvel or anything, but I just googled "them" and an old Pink Slip post came up #1. (The horror. The horror.)

But then there was that recent The NY Times article on Kentucky's Vent Haven Museum, home to 700 ventriloquist dummies, where "the unsettling amazement is unremitting."

I'll bet.

Edward Rothstein/The New York Times

Not that I am anti-ventriloquist.

In fact, as a child, I longed to be able to throw my voice. As did, I suspect, every other kid sitting in a 50 kid classroom listening to a nun - often even scarier than a clown with a ventriloquist dummy combo would ever have been - spout nonsense or completely lose her cool.

How marvelous it would have been, on so many occasions, to throw a voice from the PA system or the statue of the Blessed Mother, saying "I'll just bet."

Like when Sister Saint Wilhelmina was giving us fair warning about shoplifting at Woolworth's by insisting that there were midgets in baby buggies with cameras snapping pictures of kids light-fingering rubber daggers, globe pencil sharpeners, or Hardy Boys mysteries.

These pictures would be developed, and store detectives - every bit as savvy as the PI's on 77 Sunset Strip - would spot the Our Lady of the Angels uniforms and zoom right over to nab the miscreants.

I'll just bet.

Or when Sister Mary Florence told us that if you bit your finger- nails, broke your fast, but said to heck with it and went ahead and received Holy Communion, you would go to hell if you happened to get hit by a rogue bus or a drunk-driving public school grad on the way home.

Really 'sta?  Really?

Or when Sister Aloysius Patrick told us that the fire that had killed a hundred of so kids at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago was actually intended for us. One of God's few mistakes, don't you know.

Sister, sister, sister: you are nuts.

So I did harbor an occasional desire to vent, and even practiced a bit.

Alas, I never completely mastered the closed mouth. Although I was deft enough to have become, like Edgar Bergen, a radio ventriloquist, where it was okay to move your mouth. It was radio, after all. (I could also, I suspect, have been a tap dancer on radio. Too bad radio days were over.)

There is apparently a precedent for Catholic-based voice-throwing, by the way.

Cardinal Richelieu is said to have used a ventriloquist in 1624 to frighten one of his bishops.

We could have used a little Cardinal Richelieu at my school.

Ventriloquism would, of course, also have served me well during my professional career.

All those meetings when I wanted to call BS.

Hmmmm. Come to mention it, I mostly did call BS, which may be why I never had the brilliant career I could have.

I will say that, while I do find most ventriloquist dummies completely and utterly creepy - and thus would not be apt to seek out this museum, if I were ever to find myself in Kentucky - I actually don't mind puppets.

With the exception of Howdy Doody, who to me was nothing more than a ventriloquist dummy with strings attached - the same slack jaw and bug eyes - I was rather fond of Kookla, Fran, and Ollie.  (Fran was a person, by the way.)

I loved Farfel, the puppet-dog - a version of which is displayed in Vent Haven - who shilled for Nestle's chocolate.

I loved Shari Lewis and her sidekick Lambchop, who was cuter than cute and didn't look anything like Jerry Mahoney or Mortimer Snerd or, God forbid, Velvel.

And the Muppets. What is not to love about the Muppets?

But ventriloquist dummies, I'm afraid...While I'm not exactly afraid of them, I do find them, for the most part, nasty, brutish, and short. Smart alecky I can live with, but there's a real malign aura to the "classic" dummy.

I did note on the Vent Haven site that modern dummies - as evidenced by the snapshots taken at their annual ConVENTion - are more varied and interesting than the wooden creature that most comes to mind when one thinks "ventriloquist dummy."

Which, thanks to The NYT, I have been thinking for the last week or so.

(The horror, the horror.)

1 comment:

valerie said...

Farfel and Lambchops -- two favorites -- made me big smile just to remember. Lambchops' mom was mensa, did you know? And a current favorite, the begging dog (I'd open the bag but I don't have fingers ...) reminds me of Farfel. Your vault brain is a huge source of entertainment. thanks again.