Ventriloquism, Stan and Danny
I took an interest in ventriloquism way back in 1976, when I lived in South Africa. I found a little book in a library by Douglas Craggs entitled, “Ventriloquism from A to Z”. As a kid I had been fascinated by the art, but didn’t study it. I managed to get a personal copy of this excellent little book, which I still have on my shelf, and which served to teach me about the art. I started studying the techniques and the only thing that I lacked was a figure. At that time it was totally impossible to purchase a figure in South Africa. I started off by purchasing a small Pinocchio rubber doll from a toy store, and cut out the mouth, which I attached to a spring and a ring. I detached the head and put it on a post, and lo and behold I had a simple figure, which I used when I started my vent career.
It just happened that I undertook an international business trip in 1976, and high on my list was to find a suitable figure. I thought I would find one at the well known magic firm of Davenports in London, which had become famous for its ventriloquist figures, but alas, when I got there, I found that they no longer supplied vent figures.
I ended up at Tannen’s magic shop in New York, and lo and behold, as I walked in, there was this figure sitting on the counter and looking at me. I took one look and said “I want it”, and was prepared to pay anything for it. – And so was established a wonderful relationship. Danny, as I named him, became very well known and I got so much pleasure from him that he became virtually a member of our family. He was as alive as any inanimate object could be – but – well you must understand that ventriloquists do form special relationships with their puppets. Danny has been all over the world and appeared on television in South Africa and the International Puppet Festival in Israel.
Danny is made of a very heavy molded head, and leather mouth, which you don’t see so much of any more. In fact, his head was so heavy that I attached it with a spring mechanism for ease in manipulation and also attached a lever to operate his arm from within, and some other gadgets to allow him to blow up balloons and party toys. He can raise his eyebrows, blink and wink and can move his eyes from side to side. He rests on a flat wooden base, unlike the modern, light figures that can be easily carried around.
Unfortunately, after about 30 years of constant talking, Danny started to show signs of wear and tear. His leather mouth started to deteriorate as well as his eyes, and I found that I had to constantly retouch his features. As I progressed with my ventriloquist career, I decided that he needed to be retired gracefully, and I acquired some new figures and puppets. We moved from South Africa to Canada, and Danny was relegated to his suitcase in a cupboard, which seemed to be a rather unfair and ignominious way of ending a beautiful career. And then I hit on the idea of donating him to the famed VentHaven Museum in Kentucky, which houses hundreds of ventriloquist figures and puppets which once belonged to world famous artists in this field. I contacted the museum and they were delighted to accept him and promised him a place amongst his peers where he would be able to spend his retirement on display amongst these wonderful relics of this fascinating art. You will be able to see him if you visit the museum, but you can see their fascinating website at www.venthavenmuseum.com, where you can select the Multimedia option and then pan around the museum and see all the displays simply by moving your mouse.
Yes, I do miss Danny, but I know that I have given him the most fitting tribute by affording him the chance to retire with dignity, surrounded by his peers, with whom he can communicate in whatever way these little people do.