Who's The Dummy?

Candice Bergen Visits The World's Largest Gathering Of Ventriloquists

Among the highlights of this visit was a trip to the Vent Haven Museum several miles from the convention site, for a tour with curator Lisa Sweasy. This place is to ventriloquists what Cooperstown is to baseball fans. It was like home sweet home.

Here, silence isn't just golden; it's eternal. These figures will never perform again, by decree of the museum's founder, William Shakespeare Berger, a Cincinnati businessman. He loved the craft so much that he turned his house and adjoining cottages into a kind of permanent nursing home for figures abandoned by their owners through death or retirement.

"It's a little creepy," Bergen tells Sweasy. "I mean, I know you love it here, but even for me, like this guy…and that guy with the top hat is…the stare… It's, I guess, it's the corpse-like quality before they're being manipulated by the ventriloquist."

"They are inanimate objects, but at some point, you get suckered into believing they're alive," says Sweasy. "And so now, it's still the idea of, is it staring at me? Is it looking at me when you know it's not. But it's a wonderful compliment actually to talented ventriloquists that you bought in. So it's a good thing."

"OK, all right," says Bergen. "I feel better now."

Sweasy then takes Bergen on a tour of the Bergen memorabilia.

"Now, the story goes, of course, that it was Walt Disney who told Edgar Bergen that the money wasn't in the performances, the money was in the merchandise," says Sweasy. "And that Charlie McCarthy was only the second character in American history that was copyrighted, that Mickey Mouse was first and then Charlie McCarthy."

"I have the salt and pepper shakers," says Bergen.

"Do you have the Charlie McCarthy with the arrow?" asks Sweasy.

"Yes, I do," says Bergen.

"We don't have that," says Sweasy. "We just have Mortimer with the apple."

"Yes, I have Charlie McCarthy with the apple somewhere, they were lamps," says Bergen. "We had them made into lamps. I also have a lot of spoons."

Next, Bergen notices the museum has Farful, who along with his creator, Jimmy Nelson, are legends in the vent world. That stuffed dog sold a lot of Nestle chocolate decades ago, when many people believed ventriloquism was dead.

But Nelson says he doesn't think vents will be out of business any time soon: "I think the fact that everybody loves to believe. Everybody's a believer. We love puppets. We love ventriloquist figures because we know they're not real."

"But we like to believe we are," says Farful.

"That's right," says Nelson. "That's true. It's a little kid in all of us."