Inamorata Tidbit #16 ~ Ventriloquism

by Joseph Gangemi

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Inamorata Tidbit #16 ~ Ventriloquism

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Fri Jan 20, 2006 9:35 am

"Never trust a ventriloquist or a Barber." – W. C. Fields

Ventriloquism is an act of deception in which a person (ventriloquist) manipulates his or her voice so that it appears that the voice is coming from elsewhere. Linguists claim that the technique of making sounds while giving away no clues about actually talking must have been discovered thousands of years ago and was aptly used by early chieftains and tribesmen, who acted as mediums between men and supernatural forces. Religions based on divine communications also rely on this skill which was originally performed from within a template, a circle drawn at sufficient distance from the audience so that the trick would be difficult to discover.

Some claim that possessed people mentioned in the Bible were just ventriloquists, and the case has been made that diviners in many religions were practicioners. Archaeological evidence found in Egypt offers proof that ventriloquism dates back to 2000 B.C. The use of the art probably goes back to the beginning of intelligible language itself. The very early ventriloquists did not have wooden friends and hand puppets, but used their abilities to "throw their voices" for more arcane reasons. Mysterious occurrences that gave rise to superstitions may now be possibly explained as ventriloquism. For example, many people have believed in spirits "talking to them from the other side." More likely, the familiar spirit was a ventriloquist at work.

The temple built at Delphi in the sixth century B.C. had Greek oracles who spoke the words of Apollo through his priestess Pythia. The words came from the sky or out of a sacred stone. The Oracles were obviously ventriloquists. The oracles stood there, words came forth, and their lips did not move. They were practicing gastromancy, a form of ventriloquism. The early Greeks called these belly-talkers "Eurykliden" (named after Euryklides, who produced the sounds of birds and small animals without moving their lips).

Image

Recreation of the Temple at Delphi

The most familiar type of ventriloquist today is a nightclub performer sitting on a stool with a wooden dummy on his lap. This comedic style of ventriloquism, however, is a fairly recent innovation.

The version of ventriloquism with which most people are familiar, ventriloquism as entertainment, began in the days of Vaudeville in the late 19th century. The vaudeville acts did not concentrate on humor as much as on demonstrating the ventriloquist's ability to deceive the audience and his skill in switching voices. For this reason, many of the performers used multiple figures, switching quickly from one voice to another. Jules Vernon was one of the more famous American vaudeville ventriloquists who used multiple figures.

Image

Jules Vernon

Englishman Fred Russell pioneered the use of a single figure with his dummy Coster Joe. Perhaps the most famous vaudeville ventriloquist, however, The Great Lester, used only one figure, Frank Byron, Jr., and it is the Great Lester's success which paved the way for the one ventriloquist with one figure routine which is so common today.

Image

The Great Lester and Frank

Ventriloquism was immensely popular in the middle of the 20th century, thanks in great part to the work of one of the Great Lester's students, Edgar Bergen. Bergen popularized the idea of the comedic ventriloquist, and together with his favorite figure, Charlie McCarthy, hosted a radio program that was broadcasted throughout the 1930s and early 1940s. It was the number one program on the night it aired. Bergen continued performing until his death in 1979, and his popularity inspired many other famous ventriloquists who followed him, including Paul Winchell, Jimmy Nelson, and Senor Wences and Jay Johnson who co-starred on the sitcom Soap with his dummy Bob. (DITHOT note: I loved that show! :lol: )

Image

Edgar Bergen and Charlie

Image

Senor Wences (S’all right? Si, s’all right! :lol: )


Basic Principle

Deception of the audience consists of six elements:
• Substitute some specific sounds, or combinations thereof, by others that are similar but need no lip or chin movement.
• Avoid those sounds which cannot easily be substituted. This is feasible because the text to be spoken is known to the artist in advance, and he therefore can choose synonyms for difficult words.
• Keep one's mouth almost closed with the lips frozen in a 'keep smiling' position, which serves to hide movements of the tongue.
• Hide the movements of the chest while breathing.
• Distract the audience.
Distracting the audience, itself, consists of two elements:
• Use a puppet, which the audience is encouraged to accept as being alive. This is much easier to accomplish if the personality of the puppet is one that the audience already recognizes.
• Significant changes in the pitch of the speaker's voice, used to distinguish the personality of the puppet, are a valuable technique that helps to cover the sounds that have been replaced. People will more easily forgive a puppet for using a somewhat weird pronunciation; people tend to understand what they want to understand, and not what their ears are actually hearing.

How To Do It

A vocabulary of replacement sounds is needed in order to approximate ordinary speech as closely as possible. The phrase 'would you like to come for breakfast' is converted to 'thould you like to cong thor dreakthast?, for example.

The following replacements have to take place:

Sound Replacement

b soft 'd' or 'g'

f very soft 'th', with the tongue retracted a little back from 'th' to the 'h' position

m 'ng' like in 'singing'

p 'kh' or a sound halfway between 'd' and 't', spoken with the tongue touching not the teeth, but the upper gums. Difficult at word beginnings

v another form of 'th'

w yet another 'th' variation, even softer than the 'f' substitute

mb 'ng', ie: same as 'm' alone, forget about the 'b' in there

Some combinations need their own special treatment:
Sound Example Treatment

pp - supper - avoid, or try a soft 'dd'

mp - ampersand - avoid

pl - replace - avoid, sometimes 'kl' will do

ps - lips - avoid, or try 'ts' or 'ks'

sp - speak - avoid, sometimes 'sk' might work

qu - quantity - one more 'th' derivative

gh - laughing - same as 'f', replaced by 'th'

An interesting road trip would be to the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, KY!

http://www.venthavenmuseum.net/index.html
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Unread postby Liz » Fri Jan 20, 2006 1:07 pm

Another interesting tidbit, DITHOT! Thanks for sharing how it's done. :cool:

My favorite ventriloquist was Shari Lewis.
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Unread postby Raven » Fri Jan 20, 2006 2:13 pm

Liz wrote:Another interesting tidbit, DITHOT! Thanks for sharing how it's done. :cool:

My favorite ventriloquist was Shari Lewis.
:lilyrose:


ahhh mine too! thanks DITHOT!
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Unread postby QueenofKings » Fri Jan 20, 2006 2:21 pm

Ventriloquism creeps me out, especially the dummies. I have no idea why, but it has given me the creeps since I was a little kid.

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Unread postby suec » Fri Jan 20, 2006 2:34 pm

Yes I think it is creepy too, QueenofKings. For me, it's the lifeless object performing as though it's alive - like a form of possession. And I'm fairly sure I must have seen a horror movie involving puppets or dolls when I was a kid.
"people tend to understand what they want to understand, and not what their ears are actually hearing".
That's interesting. And true for a lot more than ventriloquism, I think.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Fri Jan 20, 2006 3:22 pm

I thought it was interesting to read some of the tricks of the trade. If you are freaked out by the dummies, I don't suggest visiting the Vent Museum referenced in the tidbit. They have a picture on their website of a room full of dummies sitting in chairs like a classrooom or something. :-O I can take a puppet but those dummies.... :baby: :freaked:
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

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Unread postby Bix » Fri Jan 20, 2006 7:52 pm

Very interesting stuff. I never thought about the fact that it probably takes a great deal of plain old practice to teach your tongue to make those substitutions, just like it does to teach your fingers to play those piano keys. The Vent Museum looks fascinating, but I think you are right about staying away if you have THE FEAR of dummies! Can you image being at the ConVENTion? Yikes!

And thanks for the trip down memory lane! My brother and I dearly loved Senor Wences and would sit glued to the Ed Sullivan Show when we knew he was on the bill. Remember, he had that head in a box, too, and would open the door and ask him, "S'all right?" And I had forgotten all about Bob on Soap, which is still on my Top 10 TV series of all time! (Oops, just finished reading High Fidelity, so I have a tendency to slip off into "list-speak" this week! lol) Another of my favorites is a guy named Waylon Flowers with a dummy named Madam. I think he was actually on something on TV in the 80's, but I saw him with my gay friends in clubs in Boston and on the Cape and his show was, shall we say, somewhat more risque in those places than on TV.

Anyway, very enlightening info once more.
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Unread postby Betty Sue » Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:13 pm

But there's not really voice 'throwing'? (I'm still trying to figure out what was going on in Inamorata. Another lap through the book is in order!!) :-? :dunce:
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:27 pm

Bix, I loved Senor Wences too! That's why I snuck him in the tidbit. Soap is also on my top ten list but I could find a pic of Jay Johnson from Soap. I remember Waylon Flowers too, but not the show he was on. It was probably late night! :-O

BettySue, be assured that we will be trying to figure out what is going on in Inamorata during the discussion!
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Unread postby ThirdArm » Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:31 pm

Very interesting tidbit, DitHot. I had no idea that ventriloquism went back to ancient times, but after reading the tidbit it seems to make sense.

I remember Shari Lewis and Lambchop. They were my favorites. But, I agree that dummies can be creepy. There was a movie out a while back, called Dummy, with Adrian Brody. It was made before The Pianist but released afterwards. That was on the unsettling side, I thought.
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Unread postby gilly » Fri Jan 20, 2006 10:06 pm

I've been trying to do some of those letter/sound replacements..But it comes out as gibberish.. :dunce: Large puppets and dolls creep me out too...They look evil to me. :-O ...Interesting that the priestesses at Delphi were probably using ventriloquism...They were a segregated ,secret priesthood...now it looks like they probably spent alot of their time learning v'ism..
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Unread postby Endora » Sat Jan 21, 2006 9:40 am

Now that I've finished reading the book I'm reading all the tidbits, and have been trying this! Gilly, you're right, it's really hard to do (actually, impossible.)

And yes, the dolls are just plain sinister. I think it's the rgour of expression that makes them so creepy.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Sat Jan 21, 2006 11:27 am

I don't think I'll quit my day job and try it for a living either! :eyebrow:
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Unread postby Gilbert's Girl » Wed Jan 25, 2006 7:09 am

Endora wrote:Now that I've finished reading the book I'm reading all the tidbits, and have been trying this! Gilly, you're right, it's really hard to do (actually, impossible.)

And yes, the dolls are just plain sinister. I think it's the rgour of expression that makes them so creepy.


who was that famous British one Endora I can't recall his name the puppet was a Lord I think with a monacle.
I used to like Shari Lewis and lambchop.
Edger Bergen was Candace Bergen's father and I believe she had to play second fiddle to Charlie McCarthy and resented him, I think I'm right :-?

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Jan 25, 2006 9:44 am

Gilbert's Girl wrote:
Endora wrote:Now that I've finished reading the book I'm reading all the tidbits, and have been trying this! Gilly, you're right, it's really hard to do (actually, impossible.)

And yes, the dolls are just plain sinister. I think it's the rgour of expression that makes them so creepy.


who was that famous British one Endora I can't recall his name the puppet was a Lord I think with a monacle.
I used to like Shari Lewis and lambchop.
Edger Bergen was Candace Bergen's father and I believe she had to play second fiddle to Charlie McCarthy and resented him, I think I'm right :-?


You are right,GG. Evidently Charlie had his own room in their house!
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!


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