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Monday, August 3, 2009

WILMA SWARTZ IT WAS A PLEASURE TO MEET WITH YOU AT THE 2009 VH CONVENTION A SHORT BIO

1-what was your growing up years like that includes school and your friends and the vent influence?
My school years I was a very shy child and I hated going to Speech Class because I couldn't pronounce my "R's" and "L's". When they did away with the A's and B's for each grade, I was moved up ahead to the following year. I had many friends and many bullies. During elementary school is when I saw Paul Winchell on TV and told my Mom that that was what I wanted to do. Dad was rarely home because he was working long hours driving a trolley car and then a trackless trolley before he became a supervisor. I remember my first vent figure was Jerry Mahoney and we got it out of the Sears catalog. I, then, found a toy store next to my parents' favorite furniture store that sold all types of hand puppets. Whenever I got my allowance, a new puppet was added and the furniture store supplied the refrigerator boxes that later became my puppet stages. The thing that really amazed me was that when I was performing in the schools, the bullies were my friends because they wanted to help assist me. It was a total transformation of the bullies because they asked politely if they could assist me. From then on, I had no problems except with one bully. My vent influence was definitely Paul Winchell who in later years became my mentor, my friend and fellow vent. Jimmy Nelson was someone I used to imitate when he did the Nestles' commercials. Also Shari Lewis brought ventriloquism to a different level by her characters like Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse. However Edgar Bergen I steered clear of. He just wasn't inventive enough for me.What is a trolley car for the sake of our younger readers...I bet when you were younger you watched many other vents on Hollywood Palace, Ed Sullivan and other variety shows and talk shows tell us your feelings about that

I did watch Hollywood Palace because it was forced on us by our Mom. Ed Sullivan was watched off and on if there was someone we wanted to see.

2-Are there any siblings? What was their feelings of your interest in ventriloquist?

Oh, there are siblings but now that Mom and Dad have passed away, they keep to themselves. I'm the oldest with my brother, Rick, coming 3 years after wards followed 3 years later by my sister, Cathy. On Mom's death bed, I asked my Mom if she could have any wish in the world, what would it be? Her response was that she wanted to talk to Jeff Dunham and Walter. After putting an APB out on Jeff, Steve Axtell got hold of Jeff who called me at my home and we set everything up. At 5 P.M. that day, Jeff called my cell phone and I put the speaker on and Jeff and Mom talked for about 5 minutes then Jeff put Walter on the phone. Mom caught Walter in a Kodak moment where Walter didn't have a comeback for Mom. By the end of the call, Mom had gotten new strength and my Dad was so thankful that I could grant Mom's last wish. This didn't go over at all well with Rick or Cathy though. Jeff even sent an autograph picture and an autographed talking Walter doll. As soon as Mom passed away, Rick and Cathy came up to me and told me that if I didn't remove all of Jeff's stuff from the house, they were going to destroy them. It was at this time I asked them what would happen when I pass away? Their answers were that they'd totally destroy all my characters. I had Rick and Cathy removed from my will. I know that I did right by granting Mom her last wish and many thanks go out to Jeff and Walter for their part. I'm curious though when this docuVENTary movie comes out called "Figures of Speech" because it's very possible that there will be a picture of me and my characters on signs attached to the buses my brother drives.
IT GIVES ONE MUCH PLEASURE TO BE ABLE TO RESPOND TO SOMEONE'S LAST REQUEST ESPECIALLY YOUR MOMS HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT OF DOING VENT OR A PUPPET SHOW FOR 'MAKE A WISH'

I have thought of doing a show for various organizations including the local Salvation Army's kettle drive however the SA has never responded to any of my requests. As for the "Make A Wish" foundation, I'd like to do that although I'm not sure who the right contact person is near me.

3-Did you perform in your school shows, was it in puppetry or ventriloquism?
When I performed in my schools, I actually did both. One time it was vent and the next time it was puppetry.
WHAT TYPE OF SHOW DID YOU PERFORM IN SCHOOL ELEMENTARY-MIDDLE SCHOOL AND HIGH..DID YOU GO TO COLLEGE WITH YOUR ACT

My school shows had themes and you got graded on it however I never performed while I was in college for a short time. Since turning pro, I have done one college in Hartford, Connecticut and this Christmas season will be performing for the staff of Suny College, Canton, N.Y.

4-Who was your first vent here/heroine?
Without a doubt it was Paul Winchell.
WHAT TURNED YOU ON TO PAUL WINCHELL I WAS FORTUNATE TO BE IN ONE OF HIS SHOWS AS WELL AS HOWDY DOODY'S PEANUT GALLERY..WERE YOU?

What turned me on to Paul Winchell was his unique style of venting using live arms and hands, having Jerry dance with him etc. Paul was a real inventive vent which I try to be as inventive in my shows and give the public something no other vent has given them in a show. Unfortunately I never met Paul Winchell in person however we talked every month on the phone for one or two hours. I really would have liked to meet my mentor, fellow vent and friend but it never happened because of how sick and frail Paul was in later years. Howdy Doody I never got a chance to be in the Peanut Gallery.

5-How did Ventriloquism change or your younger years?
Venting actually helped my speech problems by finding new ways to pronounce words I had trouble with.
MANY PEOPLE TURN TO VENTRILOQUISM OR IS TAUGHT DICTION BECAUSE THEY HAD A SPEECH IMPEDIMENT, I HAD A VERY BAD LISP SO I TURNED TO THE STAGE AND SINGING AS A YOUNGER CHILD IT CARRIED ME THROUGH SCHOOL....

6-Was Vent part of your growing up years in school and out?
Vent was part of me while growing up in school however I became an Art Major because my dream was to draw animated cartoons for Disney however at that time Disney only hired male cartoonists. Women were only good as secretaries. When I graduated, I put venting on the back burner but it came in handy sometimes when I needed to tell off a boss. It, also, saved my life once when I had a burglar point a gun at me point blank range and I had no help. That voice inside of me came up with a plan and I threw my voice and made it seem like my assistant was pointing a gun right behind the burglar. The burglar turned to see and that's when I forcibly removed the gun from his hand.
YOU SAID YOU PUT VENT ON THE BACK BURNER.....FOR HOW LONG AND WHAT DREW YOU BACK TO IT...

After high school and a bit of college, I became a private investigator so even though ventriloquism was still with me, it rarely was used except for the time I had a gun pointed point blank range and I used ventriloquism to fool the burglar. I returned to my vent roots after a life and death fight I was in when I surprised two burglars at the Chart House Restaurant on Penn's Landing in Philadelphia. I was knocked down a two story waterless, concrete, waterfall landing in critical condition. The doctors told me that I should have laid there until help arrived but I didn't have that option. The burglars were coming downstairs to finish me off. I did manage to handcuff one of the burglars but the other got into a row boat and rowed across the Delaware River to New Jersey. I had to tie a blanket around the head rest and my neck just to keep my head up. The list of injuries was plentiful but for 1 1/2 years I had my mouth wired shut. The only way to speak was using my ventriloquist skills. When my mouth was freed from the wires, my late husband, George, told me that I should go pro so after putting venting on the back burner since 1968, I went pro in 1993.

7-When was your first professional gig and for who?
My first gig as a professional was in early 1993 for Re Max who managed a trailer park in Quakertown, PA. It went over really great and I was loved by all who attended.
PLEASE ELABORATE ON THE GIG WHAT DID YOU DO AS A PERFORMER AND HOW LONG WAS IT?

I used mostly vaudevillian skits like the "Makeup! skit where Pinelope tricked me three times into saying the word, "Makeup" and then an audience member would hit me with a big powder puff. I did songs, and near the end of the show, did something I haven't done since which was open the floor to questions put to Pinelope. The show lasted for around one hour with plenty of photos taken after wards.

8-What type of vent do you prefer?

I'm presuming you're referring to the figure type. Lately I mostly use the soft figures however later this month, I'll be performing with both my soft and hard figures down in Bridgewater, Virginia. The soft figures have more facial features you can use and in walkarounds, they are a lot lighter.
DO YOU FIND MANIPULATING THE HARD PUPPET MORE DIFFICULT THEN THE SOFT

Manipulating a hard figure is more difficult because the face is not as flexible as a soft puppet which can give you many more facial expressions without additional cost to have installed.
9-tell us a little about how a typical show runs for you how does it open, how you involve your different characters is there songs a how does it close?
Most of my shows start with Sandy Twinkletoes, my 6' ostrich and I walking through the audience and greeting them followed by Sandy getting the entire audience to dance either The Ostrich Dance (Chicken Dance without the chicken), The Mr. Six Dance (from 6 Flags), The Mummers' Strut (a Philadelphia tradition at New Years), The Hora, Zorba The Greek Dance and The Holy Bible (Hokey Pokey with the words changed in it). I, then, go into several skits using audience members with surprise endings for them. I do have songs in my shows that work with the particular theme I'm doing. The closing, if it's religious, ends in a hymn. If it's not religious then I usually play the theme to Young and The Restless as I tell the audience that I'm now giving them enough time to drive home to see their favorite soaps.
DOES YOUR PERFORMANCE HAVE A SET ROUTINE THAT YOU STICK TO WHEN YOU DO YOUR DIALOG? HOW DOES THAT GO?

I don't like the word, "set" because I basically create my shows using an outline then I put in the substance then go back and insert the jokes. Because my shows are interactive with the audience, each show is different but does follow a pattern.
10-Who were your favorite ventriloquists then and now and who do you see coming up for the further of vent.
My favorites then were Paul Winchell Shari Lewis and Jimmy Nelson and now I like Jeff Dunham, Jim Barber (who didn't live very far from where I live now before he went to Branson), Bob and Marty Hamill and Terry Fator. As to who I see coming up in the future of venting, why me of course!
AND THERE MUST BE OTHER VENTS THAT WERE LESS POPULAR THAT YOU MUST HAVE LIKED WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER DUE TO THE WORLD OF TELEVISION WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN'S SHOWS THERE MUST HAVE BEEN A REGIONAL SHOW OR TWO YOU LIKED

There were tons of children's shows here being produced out of Philadelphia. Shows like Bertie The Bunyip with vent, Lee Dexter (met and became friends in my adulthood), Captain Noah and His Magical Ark (Met him and his wife where I worked in a camera store and it was Captain Noah who talked me into doing puppet ministries. On his 35th anniversary of show business, I presented him the first puppet ministry script I had ever wrote.) Cartoon Corners General Store with Gene London was a must see on Saturday mornings, Sally Starr and the Popeye Theater (a favorite of Moe Howard's), Lorenzo (a clown looking similar to Emmet Kelly and did the Lorenzo Stump).

11- If there is one thing you want to share with the readers that could help them in the world of puppetry and vent what would it be?
Don't get discouraged if one of your shows doesn't go over as you hoped. Keep performing and don't give up. You can do it.
OK AND A SPECIAL MESSAGE TO THE YOUNGER VENTS IN THE WORLD HOW WOULD THEY LEARN, WHO WOULD BE THEIR MENTORS AND HOW WOULD THEY FIND THEM

All they need to do is one of several things...get a Maher Course....go to Vent Haven Ventriloquist ConVENTion one year (and they;ll want to return year after year)...or join Christianvents@Yahoo.com or Christpup@Yahoo.com or Worldvents@ Yahoo.com.

12-Tell us what Wilma has in store for the futher in ventriloquism...
Wilma's going to be seen in England on the TV special that Nina Conti's doing. We filmed the spot outside in the parking lot of the Drawbridge Inn during the ConVENTion and after talking with Nina and her crew, managed to get the Rev. John Lutton a part in it too. I'll, also, be seen in the mid 2010 docuVENTary, "Figures of Speech" full length feature film. I'm, also, working on several possibilities of starring in a children's TV show as well as a TV Variety Show starring my characters and me. That one I'm trying to get a different vent to guest star with me each week.BE MORE ELABORATE
At this moment I can't be more elaborate because of confidentiality reasons. We don't want someone to rip us off.

13-Thank you Wilma for sharing with us your world of ventriloquism

You're quite welcome. My goal in life is to get at least one person to forget their troubles and laugh during one of my shows. The world's too stressed out and needs to have us there to break the stress hold on them. DOES WILMA HAVE A WILMAISM THAT IS STRICKLY WILMA'S LIKE MINE IS NO PERSON IS TOO TALL THAT THEY CAN'T STOOP TO HELP ANY CHILD WHAT IS YOURS?

My "Wilmaism is, "Where's there a Wilma, there's a way!"

Wilma Has left the building. Thank you and good night.

HEY WILMA 'WHERE YA GOIN??'

To rest all my characters roaming and playing in my head.

1 comment:

Ribbons Believe It Or Not... said...

Wilma you are soooo silly! Just think I could have been as famous as you IF I only made it to the convention to help you marry off your puppets.......I am happy to hear of your success. YES I still want an ostrigeeeeeeee however you spell it. Her name is Ester.
Ribbons the clown
Rev. Robin E. Bremer
Hey check out my updated web site and new DVD for sale.