Can you decide which style of head stick is the best? Being a collector I have found there are four distinctly different style of head sticks that have been utilized by the makers over the years. I would like to discuss them and have you give me your thoughts.
The early Mack figures, which we all love, had a long head stick which fastened to the seat board with an ability to turn on an axis bolt. This gave the head a full 360 degree rotation ability but no side to side movement of the head. The function though was clean and smooth and no noise of any kind.
The English figures, Insull, Brighton etc, etc, … used a floating style head stick . The hole in the neck was large enough for the figures neck to pass through and then you had to hold up the head by the head stick as well as control the levers to make the figure come to life. Even though the heads are paper mache they do still have some weight so I would assume that if you had a show that was 30 minutes long your arm would certainly get tired from suspending the head. I did have a Brighton figure once that had a spring which stretched across the body and went through an eye hook on the bottom of the head stick and gave the head a marvelous suspension and the head did bob around in a very lifelike manner but I never saw this on any other figure.
Then we have the ball and socket neck. This is what is most common today and was also used by many of the earlier makers as well. This gives the ease of head movement but you must still attach the head with a rubber cord or band or spring to keep the head from falling off if you let go. Should you keep the head attached by the head lock when you bring the figure out, you certainly lose the mobility of the ball and socket. I always keep the band attached but I do not perform with my figures.
Foy Brown, created what he called a rocking clavicle which was that the top board that has the socket hole was actually connected to the body of the figure by springs, which allowed you to pull the head stick back and make the figure appear as if he was looking down. Very ingenious.
The McElroy brothers developed a cradle for the head stick to lock into. This gave the figures head all around movements including side to side tilting of the head or front to back tilting of the head and also 360 degree rotation of the head. It also locked the head on so it could be carried around from inside the body and the head not come off. This cradle was designed much like a gimbals for a sailing vessels barometer. The cradle was bolted to the sides of the neck hole but then the system had rivets to hold everything in place yet give mobility.
So these are the four styles. Which do you like??
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 2009 by Dan Willinger
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A direct, complete tie-down to bottom board severely limits all head movement except turning head. I use combination ball & socket tie-down using 1/8th inch steel lateral rod about an inch from control post with stiff coil spring at end of the post and coil spring eyelet attached to rod to allow both forward and back motion and to slide on the lateral rod for side to side motion. Because I have a standing/walking figure it is important to have this type of firm connection to transfer force from the control post to the body for body movement.
I remember when I had Davenport figure in 50’s I set a round plastic whipped cream container on bottom board so headstick could slide on it, later a spring all way to bottom board Great Lester tore loose in 1955.
I like the ball and socket style :)
I also had a Mack before and I find the flat neck on a board is very interesting to manipulate. It gives the head a lot of movements :)
I have yet to try other styles of headsticks…so I really can’t say which one is the best style for me. :)
I also noticed that even figures with the same style headstick e.g. Payes, Poyner, Selberg, Hartz etc…will still have a difference in manipulation. I particularly like the feel of a Selberg, manipulating one is heaven :) Maybe because of the size of the head and the body. The next style I like would be the Hartz :) The Poyner and Payes are entirely different…and not as easy to manipulate compared to the Selberg and Hartz.
Ball and socket… particularly with my 1960s Spencer figure because his head is heavy. With the ball and socket I’m not carrying the head and just swiveling the wooden post around inside the body.