Ventriloquist Figure Functions

When is it too much? This is something I am asked all the time about functions on ventriloquist figures and this subject certainly has been covered before but since I was asked I thought I would chime in on the subject.

The earliest of figures, knee figures, had more than just the mouth movement. Figures in the 19th century had moving eyes flip wigs and winkers. I have both LeMare figures from England and Shaw and Grannat from the US and these makers are from the 19th century to prove this fact. The working of these added functions on the early figures was there but primitive.

As time marches forward so does the quality of the mechanics. This is seen in the number of functions that were installed by the golden era makers such as Marshall, Spencer and the McElroy Brothers.

Were all of these extra movements beside the mouth needed? Of course not but from the builder’s perspective it was a great way to make more money. The more it does the more it cost. The same is true today. Do the added function mean you will be a better ventriloquist? Of course not but they certainly are a lot of fun to play with.

Edgar Bergen was a master manipulator and his figures Charlie, Mortimer and Effie only had mouth movement and in his hands that is all that was needed for him to bring them to life. Paul Winchell and Jimmy Nelson also in my humble opinion were and are the best ventriloquists and the had figure with minimal functions yet oh how they brought and bring their characters to life.

All the added toys are great but you must be able to find the right material for them to work. Think about this how many times in a routine would you flap the figures ears, cross its eyes or stick out the tongue or flip up its hair? Maybe once and if you were able to come up with a routine to use all those functions I think you may have to be on stage for a few hours.

Well this is my take on multiple functions. You know as a collector the more functions the better but for the performer……well I don’t know.



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:

Copyright 2010 by Dan Willinger

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7 Responses to Ventriloquist Figure Functions

  1. Ony Carcamo says:

    I’ve performed using a loaded Selberg, with 6 or 7 movements on the head, and though it was fun at first, the more I used it the more I realized I didn’t need those extra effects.

    I sold it. And since then, I preferred my hard figures to have minimal movements. Mr. Parley (one I made), my Marshall Tommy Knots, my Hartz, and my Marshall replica have mouth movement only; while my Boley bird and Spencer boy have just eyes movement, apart from the mouth.

    With these simple figures, I learned how to manipulate them easily and was able to focus more on my script and building their characters. Figures with multi-movements may work well for other vents, but I found out they’re not for me.

  2. Bob Conrad says:

    All those moving features on figures like the McElroy’s are really impressive and quite ingenious but rarely are usable in actual performance.
    Side to side eyes, winking, maybe eyebrows, anything else is kind of just there because you can do it. Bergen did it without them, and made the figures come to life. Kermit the frog is the most alive puppet I have ever seen, and only the mouth moves.

  3. Ventfly says:

    My very first doll like many, was a Charlie McCarthy. He had only a moving mouth. My first pro dummy had moving eyes and a mouth. My second Pro dummy had just moving eyes and mouth. Its true thats all you need! Thats all I had till I think I was 37 years old. I started Vent at around 10 yrs old? I attended quite a few Venthaven conventions in the 80’s. Since then and after many years of only pulling the dummies out for my kids, I decided to get back into Vent in 2005 or 2006. I really didnt get back into it though till I bought a new figure in 2007, well old figure but new to me! This new figure (1980’s model) was amazing for two reasons! First he was made by John Osborne, who had made my very first dummy back in the 80’s! Secondly, he had one more feature than anything else I had ever owned a “winker”! Not two winkers, but only one! Trust me you can get by with one “Winker” if you know how to use it! (sorry he told me to say that lol) Since aquiring that figure I have aquired others with as many or much more features and animations. It took me 30 years to to get a figure with more than just “moving eyes”. Im having a blast with it. Does a good vent need it? Absolutely not! Is it fun to have? Absolutely Yes! I enjoy it so much, that Im now designing my own type of internal mechanics for a new “Fats” figure Im building. The trick of having all of those really cool features is learning to use them! If you dont learn to use them, dont pull the trigger! It will only draw attention to that feature and how poorly you use them. With much practice, you can operate a decked out figure using most of the features or variaitions of these features. I have actually combined some features with others to lighten the load at the stick so to speak. Its really a matter of choice and comfort for the vent. I remember when “moving eyebrows” used to be an add on. I guess it still is with some figure makers but Its really hard to find a new figure now adays that does not come with moving eyebrows. To each their own just keep it fun! Brian

    • John Osborne says:

      Did you get he second figure I made from me or someone else? I only dealt with winkers a couple of times. (Possibly it’s not my work, or maybe someone else added the winker.) Once on a huge bird. Another time a young lady who had one of my figures had a well-known Hollywood maker put winkers on it. Later she had me remove them! Go figure.

      Many years ago I made a talking violin for Karrell Fox. It had a moving mouth, moving eyes, and raising eyebrows. He had me remove the raising eyebrows. The New Tops magazine once had a picture of me with Shari Lewis holding the violin. What do you suppose something like that would fetch today? Karrell had done a guest spot on the Ed Sullivan show and was looking for something really different for his second appearance on the show. He never got called back; the show ended a long, long run not too long after that.

      John Osborne

      I visited W.S. Berger a few times, but I’ve never been to one of the conventions in Fort Mitchell.

  4. Dan Leighly says:

    I build my figures with a bit of Old School Charm, and a bit of proven mechanical techniques. I believe that Simple is Better, in the long run.

    My figures are custom made and built with the idea that they will be used.
    I do not add a lot of features, as I think it takes away from the actual art of Ventriloquism.

    Many builders build their figures with all the bells and whistles that they can squeeze into that tiny little head. My figures are simple, moving mouth and moving eyes. I believe that with practice and manipulation of the puppet, you can achieve a very realistic looking appearance.

    I use quality materials and make sure that the figure will last a long time without any breakage. I use a nylon pulley and a medium-duty spring that will stretch with use, but will still remain strong as time goes on. The eyes are built without a self-centering mechanism, and are engineered to move left and right, but without any strain on the inner linkage. They are designed to be moved using the thumb and index finger, or just the thumb.

    The mouth is also operated with the thumb giving you an easy and comfortable one hand operation. Push up with the thumb on the eye lever and the eyes will look right. Pull down on the lever and the eyes will look left. When the lever is centered. The eyes are also centered.
    The mouth is operated with the thumb, if using the right hand, or the index finger if using the left hand.

    The control stick can be turned 360 degrees, and can also move slightly back and forth, and up and down. The control stick is attached to the inside of the body with a heavy-duty rubber band. This allows for a lot of movement, and easy control of the figure with one hand.

    My opinion is that Simple is Better in the long run, but, thats just my opinion. MontanaDan

  5. Duane Echols says:

    Less is actually More!

  6. Nick says:

    extras are fun but to me it is a toy, simple is better, focus on script and story telling, that to me makes a better vent

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