On December 12, 1937, Mae West described ventriloquism pioneer Edgar Bergen’s famous dummy Charlie McCarthy, as being “all wood and a yard long” and complained that she had gotten splinters from him the night before. She was banned from NBC radio for 12 years.
A replica of that racy dummy–in a top hat, tux, and monocle–is one of hundreds at the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. It is perhaps the only place in the world where you can walk into a room and see rows and rows of ventriloquist figures sitting in chairs, all with their signature trigger-operated mouths and heavy lidded rolling eyes.
Vent Haven was born from the collection of William Shakespeare Berger (1878 - 1972), a Cincinnati area businessman, as well as the former president of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists (“vent” is slang for the profession). Berger spent six decades collecting ventriloquism ephemera, some of it incredibly rare. The collection now numbers over 900. The museum’s mission is twofold: to catalogue the history of this art form and to keep it alive. Every July, the museum hosts a “ConVENTion” attended by over 600 ventriloquists to hone their craft, see performances, and of course, laugh.