I finally got some time so here's what I can tell you about myself. We arrived in Canada in march of 1953. I guess in reality I along with my twin brother had already entered show biz in Holland since they tell us that we were doing impressions and singing and doing some skits at the age of four and five.
We lived about an hour an a half west of Detriot Mich and one of the first things my Dad did after working about a year in this new country was to buy that magic box that got to be known as the Television. No daytime programs. Only a test pattern and most of the programming came from Detriot Michigan. The first thing we heard on TV at four thirty was, " Boys and Girls, do you know what time it is" Then the music would start and you would hear the song IT;s Howdy Doody time. Well I was absolutely convinced these characters were alive. Howdy, Dilly Dally, Flub a dub and many of the other marionettes just fascinated me. Let me point out that we lived out in the rural area and went to a little red school house were the teacher taught all eight grades.
After a about three years we moved to a city where Dad set up his Butcher Shop and Sausage business. We now lived about an hour from the Detriot. Why do I mention that city so much. Well all programming came from Detriot and they had a lot of local T.V. personalities. Soupy Sales, Bozo, Johnny Ginger and Ted Lloyd who went on to play Sagebrush Shorty with his McElroy figure Skinny Ducan.
I also had been watching Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney. This,once I saw Jerry and Knuck was something I had to learn. I rushed out to the Library and found the hard cover book Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit. I did not want to return this book since it had some great glossy black and white pictures of my idol. I even tried to build my own dummy but since my dads tool box consisted of a hammer, screwdriver and saw, I simply had no skills and no tools. I did make a figure , body and all , and the head was a plastic Jar that once had pickled heering in it. It was about ten inches in diameter and I painted a face on it and cut a slot jaw into it and hooked up a string with a very crude headstick and since the plastic wanted to go back to shape it was , everytime I opened the mouth it would kind of close.
My passion for this art and the make believe world it offered me was something I could not let go. After moving to this large city we made our first trip to Detriot. We went around Christmas time and I had never seen buildings that size before. We went to J.L. Hudsons. It was probably a thirty story department store. It had a floor just for the toy section. And there it was. Just like the Holy Grail, There was a Juro Jerry Mahoney. This was the small one without the headstick and only this year did I learn that the larger one could be gotton with moving eyes. I used this small Jerry at school and entertained friends and family. A couple of years later since I
now knew Hudsons sold Juro we went back and there was the larger one. Thirty five dollars I believe and I was more excited than that young boy who finally got the bb gun in the Christmas story. I used this Jerry for years.
Then as a teenager ( 16) we had a ventriloquist come to the city and entertain at the local fair. This was a big fair for the community and would you believe I saw Johnny Cash with two other musicians on the back of a pickup truck during Johnnys down time. Well the vent was Bill Hart. He worked out of Detriot and we made quick friends. He also told me the had a dummys head he was not using, and that he would send it to me absolutely free. It was an Insull figures head and had lots of movements. I have since sold it to Dan Willinger. Bill shipped me this head and I repainted it and put the wig on and made my own body on this time I had aquired a few more tools. Herbert as I called him and he was a nice full sized figure worked for me for many years. I also had Detriot Vent. John Osbourne repaint him and John did a marvelous job.
About six years later I met Jack Coats at an Abbott Magic Getogether. We hit if off like father and son. Jack Carved me a beautiful figure that I call Leroy ( Jacks real name) Jack told me he had a bad heart and the next year he sold me two more figure heads. I had a young lad who was a wiz at wood working make me the bodies. One was a girl figure with lots of movents and the other a young boy figure. I have since sold the boy Zeke to Kenny Warren in New York. I still have the girl Francine as I call her and of course my main character Leroy. Also a Jack Coats minature figure and one of Jacks Bird figures. I also own a bill boley bird and of course his famous Mask.
Highlights. Well after fifty years there are so many. Performing for fairs, malls, and working with some of the Detriot T.V. personalites that I saw growing up. I have a lot to be thankfull for. Most memorial moment was when I picked up Leroy at Jacks home just outside of Detriot. What a day that was and you can read all about it at Ventriloquist central. Its called a Jacks Coats moment. In my life I have met, Paul Stadleman, Howie Olson. Bill Boley, George Schindler, Garray and Tomio, Cy Leonard, Bob Jepson, Johnny Main and many others. In retrospect I love the art. Puppets , marionetts , vent stuff still fascinates me when done well. I think we should strive for excellence.
I am happy that ventriloquism has had a resurgence with the likes of Jeff Dunham, Terry Fator, Ronn Lucas etc. Thank you for letting me give you this information and I trust you will use it for the benefit of all. John Hopman Sarnia , Ontario. Canada.