Monday, March 19, 2007

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.

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Blogger Joe said...

Aaron: Thanks for the words about Paul Winchell. I read his "Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit" as a kid and was able to master the rudiments pretty quickly. I often wish I had kept studying.

Joe Thompson ;0)

8:54 PM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

Stay tuned this week for plenty more of Winch. Having long had a fascination with ventriloquy, discovering Paul's work as a ventriloquist was something of a revelation to me. I had grown up hearing Winchell's voice everywhere but had no clue about his original career. Does anyone else recall that he was the voice of Jack and all of the other characters in the animated Jack in the Box TV ads in the 70s?

9:16 PM  
Anonymous east side said...

Still remember Winchell's Saturday morning show sponsored by Quick chocolate mix.

You do know his daughter, April, is a radio personality in L.A., right? She's also got her own blog,

4:47 AM  
Blogger East Side said...

Regarding my last post: I think I'm confusing Winchell with Jerry Nelson there. There were a lot of ventriliquists around then... Maybe I need to lie down.

3:43 AM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

Jimmy "N-E-S-T-L-E-S" Nelson had the show for Quik. I have his Juro how-To ventriloquy album.. Not bad. Not brilliant. Edgar Bergen's how-to album is a little sad as it was recorded sometime in the 60s and Bergen sounds extremely tired. I don't believe Winchell ever recorded one, but he did release a how-to video in the 80s.

7:43 AM  

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