W. S. Berger and Frank Marshall


With the Vent Haven ConVENTion right around the corner, I was reminded of this blog I wrote a couple of years ago and thought I would share it with everyone again.

We all know how good a figure maker Frank Marshall was and we all know he did many repairs on figures but I had no idea how accomplished he really was until I read the following except as a news flash from W.S Berger in the 1953 January issue of the Oracle Magazine. I have it here for you all to enjoy!!

Flashes From The Vent Haven
By W.S. Berger

FLASH-My visit to Frank Marshall’s shop for one week was very colorful. For a little relaxation from the daily grind at the Vent Haven, decided to go to Chicago, primarily to devote some time with my warm friend F r a n k Marshall, to secure names for the Directory of Ventriloquists and to have an intricate repair job made on a McElroy figure.

Frank turned his files over to me, and a number of new names were found for the Directory. As to the cranial operation on the figure, it looked like a jig saw puzzle, since several controls were disconnected from the intricate mechanism, but Frank finally wound up with a complete and most satisfactory job.

Dr. Joseph Sonntag and his charming wife invited us to their home for dinner, which we enjoyed immensely . . . even a baked apple was served. Mrs. Sonntag is a very good cook and is in competition with Muzz.

After dinner we were entertained with a series of colored slides of vents and others, which were projected on a screen. We were also amazed at the fabulous collection of playing cards, which they have collected over a period of years. Anyone having playing cards, should contact the doctor at 215 E. Chestnut Street, Chicago.

It was a thrill to meet many of the vents that came in unexpectedly, at Frank’s shop. Here they are, Stew Gilliam, Jay Jaxon (he came in twice from Plano, Ill.) Great Chesterfield, Herman Winters, Milt Rowland, Paul Stadelman, Les Lester and wife, Lester Marshall, Jr., Lynn Drew, of
Evanston, Ill., who signed up in the IBV.

Talked over the phone with Stanley Burns from Pittsburg, and George Marks, of Detroit. Both were after their jobs that Frank had in process.

Finally, Frank rearranged his shop for a professional photographer to take some shots to be used in his new catalog, that is in process, and of course Frank insisted that I be in this photograph. I enjoyed being office boy and typist for the duration of my stay, and hope to repeat the procedure again. I was surprised at all the details that are associated with this vent figure making business.



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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This entry was posted in Frank Marshall Figure (Dummy), Ventriloquism/Ventriloquist, Ventriloquist Central, Ventriloquist Figure (Dummy) Makers, Ventriloquist Figure Building, Ventriloquist Figures, W.S. Berger & Vent Haven. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to W. S. Berger and Frank Marshall

  1. LeeDean says:

    Spread the word styrene foam plastic as in the cup causes cancer. The story broke on DemocracyNow yesterday, and how Koch Brothers Industries had fought to keep it unlisted FDA, but now is, has to do with formaldehyde I think and hot coffee in cup. Well, wonder if it includes all polystyrenes like the stuffing that took the place of cotton. If it does I’ll have to take off Kriket’s arms and legs and refill. Might spill coffee on him. I guess there will be a lot of dummies being refilled. Marshall used cotton in the 50’s I believe when he made some figures for me. Berger referred to cotton filled, but I remember at the 1955 Pittsburgh convention that Pat Stillwell from Oklahoma had acquired a Marshall head and his father built the body for it and used wood rods wrapped in foam rubber as padding for the arms and legs. Everybody was so excited about that feature. Foam rubber was something new. The polystyrenes came along later I believe.

  2. bob isaacson says:

    It was nice to see the photo this morning of Frank Marshall & W.S. Berger at Frank’s “downtown” Chicago location in the 1950’s. Frank had his equipment moved from the 5518 s Loomis address to the office bldg. at 192 N. Clark St. in 1950 ( the bldg. was torn down years ago to make room for a new large complex). Frank was at the Clark st. address from 1950-54. As a youngster , I went with my father to see Frank in late 1950; I later returned in early 1951 to see about ordering my Marshall figure. I made made visits to this address to visit Frank; wished I had thought to take my camera with me. The photo shown here , I believe was taken in 1952. What memories it makes. The shop shown here was just one large room. Mr. Berger mentions many of the folks it was my pleasure to meet & know in the ’50’s

  3. Philip Grecian says:

    I love shots like this. Wonder where the three figures we can see wound up? That one does look quite a bit like Jerry.
    I can Identify with Bob’s comment about forgetting to take a camera. I always forget. Back when I was thirteen or fourteen I was invited to visit with Lucille Elmore, who was a vaudeville ventriloquist. I spent a weekend afternoon with her and her protege John Toddhunter (a vent who had won the Ted Mack Amateur Hour and went on to work clubs as Todd Hunter. He died very young).
    Ms. Elmore autographed a program from her club act (I still have it) and we talked at length about figures and vent. They admired my figure, Louie, and I got a chance to see and handle Ms. Elmore’s vent figures. But I didn’t take a camera!
    How wonderful for all of us that we can see this catalogue shot. Thanks, Dan!

    • cv$ says:

      In what year did John Todhunter win Ted Mack amateur hour? I had an English teacher in 1969-1970 in Topeka who did ventriloquism and the rumor was that he won Ted Mack’s show-he later died in Missouri of liver problems. Is this the same one?

      • P. Grecian says:

        It’s three years later, but I finally saw this to answer it. Yes. Same fellow.

      • Lisa Miller says:

        John Todhunter was my uncle who passed away when I was six. Unfortunately our time was short together but would love to hear any stories about him as a teacher, ventriloquist and/or person. We were very close and have quite a few memories of him but only wish I would have had more time with him.

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