Ventriloquist Figures and Realism

When you look at a ventriloquist figure are you looking at a character or a real person? In my opinion you should be looking at a character. Everyone knows that the ventriloquist is having a conversation with himself and therefore the alter ego should be a character and not real.

I have collected enough figures from the golden era to say that back then the makers created characters and the figures did not look like real humans. I agree with that and think this is how a figure should look. If the figure looks to real I believe you lose some of the illusion.

Just a thought from a Ventriloquist Figure collector.



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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6 Responses to Ventriloquist Figures and Realism

  1. Keith Suranna says:

    I agree, Dan. I generally think a figure should look more like a character than real. Those are the kind I’ve always wanted/had. In addition, I think they should look more appealing and on the cute side, instead of grotesque. Of course, at times, a certain type of character may call for something more on the ugly side, depending on what the performer wants to do with it.

  2. LeeDean says:

    The current curator of Vent Haven has said most ventriloquists build their own. Fred Russell, the father of modern day ventriloquy, called it a puppet with a personality, but to me a “spirit puppet”.
    A master builder is one who is called to create the puppet which borrows voice and hand to come alive. Frank Marshall has expressed it such as “that figure really lives” and the like. I had an 18″ figure, Little Willie, made by Marshall in 1958, identical in face to Bob King’s “Tiny”. I’m not sure about his puppet’s legs but know that mine had one of the little wooden legs purposely attached in such a way to resemble the polio afflicted leg and face a caricature of the master builder himself. Marshall referred to Brunard’s figure as his masterpiece. Find one that Marshall created for himself and that is the true masterpiece, and maybe Brunard’s was because bought by him at a magic shop.

    This was my response to the June 14, 2007 “master builder” question.
    A Gepetto’s Pinocchio is how Frank Marshall felt about his figures. Features were exaggerated with exaggerations in proportion, caricature style, for readily observable movement and as he said in 1931: “Mouth opens real wide and jaw movement is effective and can be seen from any part of the theatre.” Wee Willy, Fresh Kid, Nosey, Mickey, Girl, Tuffy, Sambo, Sailor, Saucy Kid, another Girl, Walking and Pocket Figures, and the Great Lester tribute character, were all characters as such, but were his family, real as life, all inspired creations.

    If “that figure really lives” as put by Marshall, everything else will fall in line and dummy will carry the show.

  3. Phil Nichols says:

    I agree 100%. For me the ventriloquial illusion is this, the ventriloquist is the conjurer bringing the life force into the doll. It works better when the dummies and puppets are styalized characterizations. People seem accept it easier. I have built hyper realistic puppets, props, and such for movie and theatre work, but in my vent show I would’nt do that accept for the rare type figures…Jay Johsnon’s Long John Lafeet is one of those type acceptions.

  4. Bob Conrad says:

    The more realistic the puppet, figure, the more mechanical he seems . The attempt at realism only draws your attention to the fact that it is not real (human). Some of the most alive puppets are those that are very simple in design, Jeff Dunham’s Peanut, Bill Demar’s Felton the Frog, most of the Muppets, Jay Johnson’ Darwin. None of these are realistic in design, but come alive in the hands of talented performers. Many people refer to vent figures a spooky, I find that realistic vent figures can be spooky, especially those English figures with the living mouths. There is nothing spooky in Peanut, Kermit, Charlie, because they don’t appear real when not in motion, they look like puppets. That’s a good thing.

  5. bob abdou says:

    when a vent brings out a dummy and the audience laughs without the vent saying a word, that is GOLD, baby GOLD!!

  6. David Thrasher says:

    If a figure is too hyper-realistic it can unnerve an audience. It’s much better to have one that is obviously not real with the ventriloquist supplying the believability that it has a real personality.

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