What Really Makes The Ventriloquist

Ricky Layne and Velvel

I just had to write this up after reading an article published in the Sept.-Oct. 1948 Grapevine news. In this particular issue there is a review of the now famous (unfortunately deceased) Rickie Layne.

Rickie Layne became one of the most famous ventriloquists in the 1960’s having appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show many times with his side kick Velvel.

Velvel as we all know was a toy figure which Rickie used his entire career. Velvel was just as well known as Rickie for his quick Yiddish quips to Mr. Sullivan.

Review Of The Month
Rickie Layne, Bal Tabarin, N.Y.C.

He just closed eight weeks here at the Bal Tabarin. He uses a stock “Willie Talk” dummy which is the biggest fault of the act. He has a good chance of voice but at times speaks too loud with his own voice. He has lots of good gags and presents them with good showmanship.

He has plenty of ad libs which is the highlight of his some odd fifteen minutes he is on stage. He makes a very fine appearance in a neat blue suit, but he should replace his doll with a professional dummy. Rickie has also mastered some very fine Hollywood imitations, and should try to add a few more to his act for the audience ate this up. He ends the act with the dummy singing in a very comical parody of “Old Man River.”

His local gags about the place, the people and the food with a few funny insults about the boys in the band all hit home,and his encore for the audience did want more. A few minor changes and this boy could be one of the Top Ten.

This was written by Roy Douglas

Having read this article we can say it makes no difference what figure you use as a ventriloquist because it is the ventriloquist and NOT the figure that make the illusion work.

With lots of hard work and practice you can turn any inanimate object into a ventriloquial partner. I am sure that Roy Douglas would loved to have taken his words back some 15 years after the review was written.



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 2012 by Dan Willinger

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9 Responses to What Really Makes The Ventriloquist

  1. P. Grecian says:

    I was honored to speak (via internet) with Ricky Layne’s daughter awhile back, and was able to tell her how much I’d enjoyed her dad on the Sullivan show all those years ago.
    I never paid any attention to the fact that Velvel was a Willy Talk. In fact, I’m not sure I ever thought about it, as he was so vitally alive and so specific a character that it made no difference at all.

    • Evan Hutchinson says:

      I have to agree with Roy. Rickie was a great talent but, having a better figure would not have hurt. I never understood the appeal of stock figures. Seeing multiple ventriloquists with the same figure breaks the illusion for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the aesthetic of most figures, but I don’t understand why someone would spend a minimal amount (a conversion figure) or a maximum (ex. Sellberg) for a figure that many other folks are using.

  2. Teri Layne says:

    Dan, Great article!! I left you a “tip”. Have a cup of coffee on me!! :)

  3. Rickie and Velvel were among my favorites growing up watching the Sullivan Show. I read this article about Velvel being a toy Willie Talk and I guess, I don’t understand. His head was on a headstick and as I googled photos of Willie Talk, they don’t look like Velvel. Could you please shed some light on the subject for me………I appreciate it!

    • Bill Matthews says:

      Yes, I was wondering the same thing. I have a Willie Talk figure that I upgraded with a head-stick and hollow body for my 10 year-old to learn with, and he still doesn’t look anything like Velvel.

  4. bob abdou says:

    goes to show everybody that not all critics are correct, they also said John Lennon didn’t have a future in music. My limited time with Ricky showed me that a real pro can do more with little. He had the ‘it’ factor that Jack Benny said you either got it or you don’t to make it in show business.

  5. Dan Willinger says:

    Well to you folks that don’t know it, Velvel was a conversion figure. Because Ricki DID make it and went on to Giant Fame the fact that his Willie Talk was a conversion figure meant nothing. I am not sure who did the rework for Ricki but Madeline Maher did many conversions of these figures. Could she have done it for Ricki? Who knows. Maybe Ricki did it himself. All this being said his figure was NOT a pro made figure from the likes of Frank Marshall or Spencer ect ect.

  6. Bill Matthews says:

    All so true. Look at the original Charlie McCarthy. He was a slightly modified stock figure by Charles Mack and only had a moving head and mouth, no extra features (side to side moving eyes, raising eyebrows, stick-out tongue, etc.). Yet look how alive he seemed to be. It’s all in the ventriloquist’s manipulation and acting ability.

  7. Teri Layne says:

    Actually, I think my Mom painted Velvel!
    I remember some sort of a re-model when I was about 9. (1969). There were also an extra set of “eyeballs” in his tool chest from that time!

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