Some Random Notes on Ventriloquism

Some of the threads that are talked about all the time on the different vent lists are choosing a suitable figure, right kind of movements in the figure, breakage of string that control the mouths on figures etc, etc.

In looking back a great publication called the Grapevine News, it had this wonderful article in it and it was written in January of 1949.

When you read this article you will be amazed that everything discussed is still being talked about today!!

Sit back and have a cup of coffee and read this nice piece.

Random Notes On Ventriloquism
By Dennis T. Ellis, I.B.V.

When a musician contemplates the purchase of a musical instrument, he invariably spends much time and thought upon deciding what type, etc., will best suit his purpose. This careful selection is adopted by most public entertainers. The queer thing is that when a Ventriloquist – and I am speaking for the large majority-purchase a Vent figure he just sends away for a Vent “doll” and just leaves it at that.

Now I maintain, rightly or wrongly, that the selection of a Vent figure is of the utmost importance. The best way of purchasing a “head” is to have one made to fit the character and personality of the voice and type you intend creating.

This of course is costly and beyond the pocket of some amateurs or semi-pro’s. The next best thing is to see a number of “heads” and complete “figures” and decide on the one that best suits your figure voice and personality. This may need a little adjustment–that is your figure voice and personality may need altering slightly. When you inspect various figures, say to yourself “Now-if this figure could really speak, what would the voice and personality be like?” If you feel you could create these-then that is the figure you need. If you cannot -then the figure is best left alone.

A perfect example of correct “matching” of figure and voice is “Charlie McCarthy.” One cannot imagine this figure talking or behaving in any other way. A Vent figure that “speaks” and has a personality different to its appearance is as incongruous as a small man speaking in a deep bellowing voice-it just does not fit.

Your figure must “Live”. If your lip control, patter, showmanship is good-a poor “head” of figure will spoil the show. If you intend your figure to look “Alive” then do not purchase a head with wagging ears, nose that lights up, sensation wig or any other “un-natural” movement. These effects cause a laugh – but you have destroyed the illusion that you have tried to create.

A real person does not do these things – then why should your figure? A good mouth movement, glass eyes to move, tip lip for smiling, and on eye to wink are quite adequate.

Another thing to avoid is the Vent head with a “glossy” painted finish. Many professionals are using such a head-why-I cannot understand. See that the head is “mat” finished-in other words-see that the texture is the same as the human form.

When you have decided upon the right type of head, you will find- (unless the head has been made especially to your specifications) that the lever controls do not exactly fit the natural position of your hand. The obvious thing to do is to alter the position of all levers so that no fumbling takes place. If you wish the eyes to move whilst the figure is talking, then both levers must be under perfect control. It is not good to pause for a moment whilst the lever is located.

The length of the pole or staff too is most important. See that it is short enough to give good balance. This may need adjustment.

Now a little tip regarding the strings. I always use “pike cord”. This will take a great strain-much greater than will be used on the head, but better a strong string than one that will break during a performance. To prevent strings fraying – I always draw the string through wax (a candle will do) before fitting, I also always fit two cords to the mouth movement – one about one eighth longer than the other. Should the working string break-the other string comes into operation. This may seem superfluous but-well it only takes a few minutes to fix – and better safe than sorry.


Have you seen the Frank Marshall Tribute DVD, click here


Ventriloquist Central is the brainchild of Dan Willinger and Steve Hurst. Dan is a ventriloquism enthusiast and ventriloquist figure collector. He has been collecting for over 25 years. He created the Ventriloquist Central Collection. It now has over 100 ventriloquist figures and over 50 of them are Frank Marshall figures. Steve is a ventriloquist as well as builder of ventriloquist figures. He also has a background in sales, marketing, building websites and computers. Because they both love the art of ventriloquism, the website Ventriloquist Central was born. For more information about the website, go to:

Copyright 2013 by Dan Willinger and Steve Hurst

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One Response to Some Random Notes on Ventriloquism

  1. Bob Conrad says:

    Good article, still true today.

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