How Could A Ventriloquist Make It Big On Old Time Radio?
It really does seem far-fetched to expect a ventriloquist to succeed in an audio-only medium such as old time radio, but that is exactly what happened to the Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy show.
Bergen was born in 1903 and learned the art of ventriloquism at a young age. Edgar commissioned the creation of a dummy from a craftsman who lived locally, called him Charlie McCarthy, and gave him the cheeky personality of a boy and womanizer who was able to get away with double entendre.
Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy first became a duo when they appeared on talent shows in the Midwest while Bergen was still at college in Northwestern. Eventually Bergen finished his schooling and started to perform his act full-time.
In the 1930s he performed in New York and even toured Europe and South America with his show, but slowly vaudeville lost popularity due to new forms of media such as film and radio.
It is safe to say that radio wouldn’t normally be the first choice medium for a ventriloquist, but that didn’t seem to put Bergen off. In the mid 1930s Bergen and his dummy made an appearance on the Royal Gelatin Hour on NBC. As odd as it seemed to have a ventriloquist on the radio, his humor and wit made him a fan favorite instantly.
In 1937 he was rewarded with his own spot, The Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy Show, on NBC, which became an overnight success. The show was so popular that it ran on various networks until 1956.
In the first year of the show, Bergen was involved in a controversy while performing the Mae West ‘Adam and Eve’ skit. He made remarks that were considered inappropriate, which brought unwanted attention from the Federal Communications Commission in 1938. However, the controversy passed and the show gained even more popularity.
Over the years, Edgar added more characters to his act. The most famous of these were the man-eating Effie Klinkerthe and the slow-witted but loveable Mortimer Snerd. Under normal circumstances one would be right to assume that a ventriloquist act was dependent on visualization, but the show proved to be huge success on radio, and although it would seem a natural progression he did very few television performances.
In the late 1970s, Bergen decided to retire and
he donated Charlie to the Smithsonian Institute. A week later he passed away after performing in a show with Andy Williams.
Today, Charlie and two other puppets, Mortimer Snerd and Effie Klinker, are on display at the Radio Hall of Fame and Museum in Chicago and in 1990 The Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy Show was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.
By: Ned Norris
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Ned Norris is the webmaster of www.rusc.com, one of the oldest and most highly regarded old time radio web sites on the Internet. It’s a place where you can relive the golden days of radio at your leisure, download or listen online to 1000s of classic shows, and enjoy regularly updated editorial and reviews on old time radio and related topics.
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While some couples spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on elaborate wedding details, there are plenty of ways to cut down on the costs of matrimony. More and more individuals are assuming more control over the details of their wedding by taking on some of the aspects normally handled by a hired professional. One of the easiest things to undertake includes the creation of wedding invitations that utilize special software to produce thoughtful masterpieces.
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