During a conversation I recently had with Dirk Golden, “The Strolling Ventriloquist”, we talked about how he got involved in a dream of his. Dirk, considered one of the better strolling ventriloquists, hails from California.
Dirk was a fan like most of us old enough to remember Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show ‘Winchell Mahoney Time’. He watched the show with his cousin Larry, who owned a Jerry Mahoney Doll, made by JURO, to help him with his speech impediment. Dirk got his inspiration while working with his cousin. He got the ‘VentBug’ and he wanted to learn more on how to do ventriloquism. He bought his first figure for $11.95 from the Sears catalog. However, due to a Truck Drivers strike at that time, Dirk had to wait for his new friend to arrive.
Dirk was 11 years of age, and in the 5th grade, when he found his love for ventriloquism blooming with his Danny O’Day doll. He tried out for his 5th grade talent show and was surprised that he actually got in. He used to walk around the neighborhood and entertain the people on his block.
At age 12, Dirk saved up some money, and for $21.50 at Toy World, he bought his first hollow body figure, a JURO Danny O’Day that he named Dennis. It had a counter weighted mouth. Dirk remembers how he had to pull the string to close the mouth and not the other way around! He went out in public with his figure just to practice and noticed that people were fascinated by it. Occasionally he would go door-to-door in his neighborhood putting on 5-minute shows just for practice. The neighbors loved it!
As Dirk entered his high school years, he was still practicing his vent work. He even won the High School talent show his jr. year. Dirk liked the attention that he got with his ventriloquism. About this time he realized he wanted to have a pro figure, so he bought a figure from Story Teller Studios. He saw one he really liked, which came without the slotted jaw. This was back in the early 70’s, the price for this figure back then was about $260. It was his first Craig Lovik figure. This was before Lovik was associated with Maher Studios.
Dirk said that back in the early to mid 70’s,The Hollywood Magic Shop, on Hollywood Boulevard, would stock a few of these figures. He informed me of something I was not aware of, that my figure from Maher Studios, who I have finally come to call Chipper, after various changes from JC to CJ to Joey, that he was a converted Howdy Doody, which sort of makes me happy in a way, because when I was the ripe old age of 6 I was a member of the Peanut Gallery (the children’s audience) on the Howdy Doody Show.
For 30 minutes, Dirk and I went off on a tangent talking about Chipper. When we went back to his story, Dirk did not miss a beat, right where we left off. Without a cue, Dirk picked up on his world of ventriloquism.
Dirk bought his first Pro figure back in 1973, and he said he has owned about 4 or 5 Lovik figures altogether over the years. Dirk shared with me that he still has a box in his garage, that’s loaded with his ventriloquist memories of the past 30 years.
In 1979, Dirk upgraded to a basswood, it was a Chester Figure from Lovik Maher catalog. Dirk named that figure Joey and worked with it for 20 years !
Right out of High School he began working at Disneyland, his life-long dream since he was 11 or 12. Some friends at his High School got jobs at Disneyland, and Dirk followed suite, applied, and got accepted in March of 1977 as a ride operator. He used to work the Sky Way Ride, Through the Matterhorn. The reason why he did that first was because he wanted to get his foot in the door and audition to become a Disney Character. In May that same year, he went for the character audition and was surprised he made the cut, he felt he was so blessed that he was going to be a World Famous Disney Character! Well, he got the job and worked for Disney 14 ½ years. When he was hired back in 1977 he made about $2.50/hour. How he made it on that small salary he didn’t know, but he loved the FUN of the job he was doing. During his stay at Disney, he did everything from In Park Characters to Launching & Catching Tinker Bell for the fireworks. When he left in 1991 he was making a little over $12/hour. During his stay at Disney he married his first wife Lorraine, in 1980. Sadly, was divorced about 10 years later.
After working for Disney he changed careers and got into the Health Care Industry, working for Kaiser Permanente, where he is still working today. In May 1999, Dirk married for a second time to his current wife, Rita Marie. They have four adult sons.
About two years after Rita and Dirk got married he was looking for a way to make some extra money. So, he retrained himself back into ventriloquism. However, he needed some better equipment. His figure, Joey, was already old, 20 years, still worked just fine. Dirk bought his figure Joey from the Lovik catalog for a little over $500, and sold him for between $700-$800 on ebay, Ventriloquist Bob Carroll bought it. Dirk wanted a Selberg figure but couldn’t afford it at that time so he bought a Kem Poyner figure, a Virgil, named it George, but for Dirk’s type of Strolling Ventriloquism, the figure was nice, but a little too heavy.
Getting back to Dirk’s days at Disney, he did work as the Ventriloquist with the Dog puppet at the Golden Horseshoe Review, Dirk would fill in for Jim Adams, who was the full time Ventriloquist there.
Anyways, so now Dirk needed a replacement figure, so he and a Sammy figure, from Selberg, he named it “Charlie”. While on his way to Las Vegas, Dirk made a stop at Victorville to see his friend Jim Adams, who told Dirk that he needed to add more characters. So Jim introduced Dirk to Steve Axtell’s Puppet characters. Dirks first two Axtell characters were Reginald the RAT, and the Old Storyteller, Clarence.
So, for the last 5 or 6 years, Dirk has been back into ventriloquism and seriously working it. He feels that if you like your puppet characters, your audience will like them too. If you move your mouth just a little, the crowd will overlook it because they build a relationship with your character. Dirk went from Charlie to Stanley, also a Selberg, because he was doing more kids shows and needed a figure that was a little more kid sized. His latest additions to his family of puppet characters are Rocko the Mafioso Bulldog, and Link the Chimp, both from Axtell. Dirk is having Tim Selberg create a new figure for him, a Rupert, and he’s looking to add the hang on monster from Axtell.
He feels that the Vent Haven convention is a treasure of vital information that one needs to move forward as a ventriloquist. He enjoys doing strolling ventriloquism at carnivals, grand openings, fairs, and churches. If you are ever in California e mail Dirk who you can find on face book for his schedule of appearances he always welcomes his friends and fans.