Since the beginning of the use of ventriloquist figures the mechanics inside the head were done with cord and springs and either a ring pull or a lever on the head stick to make them work. For the most part makers were smart enough to use a small pulley over which the cord would ride to make the mouth function.
Many of the makers, Frank Marshall included used sewing machine pulleys. They are small and were readily available. The cord used was usually a 3 ply twisted and then waxed cord. I have figures that are from the first quarter of the 20th century that still have the original cord which to this day works well.
The McElroy brothers in the mid 1930’s made figures and used direct linkage. Many think they were the first but in actuality they copied the design of the controls from a German made figure (Click here for Were the McElroy Brothers the First??). I don’t know for sure but I assume W.S. Burger gave them one of these German figures to go by.
They were engineers even at early ages and put together their mechanical functions that have stood the test of time. But in making comparison for the type of mechanics I can’t say that the all metal direct linkage is better. The metal makes the heads very heavy, they are noisy and the soldered joints do break after continues use.
Some of today’s makers use the metal direct linkage and I know from my own experience that they do fail. I had to do repairs on soldered joints. That is where all the stress lies.
Yes there have been instances when a cord will break for a mouth movement and a female performer back in the 1950’s through 1980’s named Vicki Taylor had maker John Carroll ad a second cord inside just in case of cord failure. It never happened.
So to sum up I really don’t believe one style is better than the other but you will certainly pay much more money for a figure with full metal direct linkage.
On an afterthought I must tell you that Len Insull made figures with multiple functions and if you remove the head from the body you will see wire running from the levers through the holes in the bottom of the neck giving the appearance of metal direct linkage but inside the head it is all cords and pulleys.
What are your thoughts?
Dan Willinger 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. Because of his love for the art of ventriloquism, Mr. Willinger created the website Ventriloquist Central. For more information about the website, go to: http://www.ventriloquistcentral.com
Copyright 2011 by Dan Willinger
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If you use cords you definitely want to do what you can to prevent them from rubbing. I worked on a cheaply made penguin figure that had, for the most part, wire loops and screw eyes for the cords to run through and the cords had definitely frayed. If you can remove as much friction as possible the cords should last a very long time.
I’m a beginning figure maker, and as such, I’ve done a lot of research into both kinds. As far as functions go, I also can’t say whether one is better than the other; just different, and people have their preferences. As a maker just starting out, though, I have to say that using nylon cords is much easier, and does make the head lighter, and light weight is one of the primary features most of my clients have been looking for these days.