Paul Winchell Week: Monday
Ventriloquist, comedian, voice artist, and artificial heart inventor Paul Winchell should be better known known today. Easily one of the greatest and most innovative ventriloquists of all time, his legacy has been sadly neglected, largely because the bulk of his television career has gone up in smoke. The loss of so much of Winchell's career as a ventriloquist can in part be chalked up to the pitfalls of having spent one's peak years on live TV, but, disturbingly, a great deal of the loss was also by design.
Winchell's ventriloquy act differed from most in that he, as the ventriloquist, generally chose not to fade into the background. Instead, Winchell established a genuine double-act with his dummy, Jerry Mahoney, generating laughs not just from Jerry's wisecracks, but also from the friction between their personalities. Jerry was less a hellraiser in the Charlie McCarthy mold than he was a precocious smart aleck. Not mean-spirited and more than a little endearing, Jerry provided a counterpoint to Winchell's comically vain and rather autocratic taskmaster.. something akin to a father to Jerry, but more like an older brother. Winchell was capable of splitting his personality more vividly and convincingly than any other ventriloquist in the profession and, aided by his near-flawless technique and nuanced puppetry, the results were remarkable and extremely funny. Winchell could hold two sides of a heated argument, be convincingly taken off-guard by one of Jerry's barbs, and even sing duets with his dummies. My first Winch Clip this week is a 1953 ad for Cheer detergent taken from an episode of NBC's The Paul Winchell Show. It's a nice resume of Winchell's performing abilities. His delayed take at Jerry's slight of his ventriloquy technique is perfectly timed and wonderfully real. A word of warning: the jingle, performed on xylophone and ocarina, is a charmer that will stay in your head for weeks.