In all my years of telling stories through drama, one of my favorites is the story of “Pinnochio,” the little wooden puppet that wanted so much to be a real boy. In the end he got his wish, but not without going through a lot of difficulty along the road.
In 1903 a child was born on this day who would create his own wooden characters and make his living through them. Edgar Bergen was born in Chicago and appeared in Vaudeville and on the radio in his early years, with his friends, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. I recall hearing his show on the radio as a kid and loved the funny voices of his characters. I was surprised when he began appearing on television to see that his lips moved when he spoke for the dummies. He was never a flawless ventriloquist and used that fact when doing his act. The audiences became so enthralled with the life he was breathing into the dolls that they didn’t really pay attention to the fact that he was also using his own voice. Charlie often gave Edgar a hard time about moving his lips and it became a permanent part of the act.
He also established the comic strip Mortimer & Charlie, which ran in newspapers between 1939 and 1940. His comic timing was the talent that launched his career. He was quick on the draw when it came to words and the audiences loved him because of it.
He continued entertaining audiences in the movies and on television until he was 75 when he retired with these words:
“Every vaudeville act must have an opening and a closing, so I’ll pack up my jokes and my little friends… and say goodbye.”
A few weeks after he retired he passed away. Charlie McCarthy was left $10,000 in Edgar’s will. The money was intended to keep the dummy in good condition and actually went to the Actor’s Fund. One of the Charlie McCarthy dummies is now owned by magician, David Copperfield.
“Nobody seems to know yet how television is going to affect the radio, movies, love, housekeeping or the church, but it has definitely revived vaudeville.”