Today's column deals with this former well-known ventriloquist and who became well-known from the many tours he made as an American performer:
The recording is a 1964 Juro Celebrity Record: JCR 101, 33.3 RPM High Fidelity. I acquired the album while I was living in Melrose Hall at the University of Tennessee.
“Yes, simply by listening and following its simple instructions, you could learn to amaze and fool your friends; and actually learn how to perform in front of an audience.
“This system, used by by Jimmy Nelson and other top ventriloquists, is revealed for the first time on this recording. Once you, yourself, have mastered it, you'll find you'll find you've opened the door to hours and hours of fun for the whole family.
“The record cover said to ‘go to it, and good luck!’ ”
Band 1. The First Lesson. Position of the Mouth. The Beginner's or Simple Alphabet. Band 2. The Difficult Letters, The Letter B,” Band 3. The Letter “F,” Band 4. The Letter “M,” Band 5. The Letter “P,” ”Band 6. The Letter “V” and Band 7. The Letters “W” and “Y.”
Band 1. Review and Ventriloquial Voice. Band 2. The Last Lesson. Band 3. Instant Ventriloquism-Explanation. Band 4. Routine for Danny O'Day. Band 5. Routine for Farfel. Band 6. Routine for Danny O'Day and Farfel.
James Edward Nelson (Dec. 15, 1928–Sep. 24, 2019) was an American ventriloquist who appeared on television in the 1950s and 1960s. He was famous for commercials for Nestle Chocolate, featuring Farfel. He also hosted a children's show sponsored by Nestle. Nelson was born in Chicago.
When he was 10 years old, his aunt won a toy ventriloquism dummy named “Dummy Dan” in a Bingo game and gave it to her nephew for Christmas. He learned ventriloquism, and a year later, his father upgraded the dummy's mouth control from a simple string-and-loop to a lever-system like those used in professional ventriloquist's dummies.
Nelson began taking “Dan” to school, where his fourth-grade teacher allowed him to use the dummy when speaking in front of the class. In this way, Nelson taught himself to overcome his fear of public speaking. He soon started using jokes in his presentation, discovering that he could make his classmates laugh.
James then started performing for church groups, schools, and American Legion posts. By the time he was a teenager, he started earning money competing in amateur talent contests held at the local movie theaters, where the prize was a dollar for the most popular act.
In 1945, Nelson asked famed Chicago ventriloquist figure maker Frank Marshall to make him a professional-quality dummy. Marshall, who had made Paul Winchell's Jerry Mahoney, did this after seeing the ventriloquist work. He came to one of Nelson's theater performances and was very impressed, so he sold Nelson a custom-made dummy, which he always carved to bear a resemblance to the ventriloquist.
Nelson, gave Dummy Dan's replacement the full name, Danny O'Day, which he chose because it contained impossible for ventriloquists to say without moving the lips, unlike “McCarthy” and “Mahoney.” He then hired a manager and started touring professionally.
In September 1950, Nelson released two LP records, one being “Pinocchio,” and the other being “Jokes and Riddles.” On one faithful night, Nelson came across a stuffed dog and it was not long before Farfel joined the act.
In 1950, Nelson was hired as a regular on the Texaco Star Theatre TV show hosed by Milton Berle. He acquired the name, “The Dean of American Ventriloquists.” Tragically, he died on Sept. 15, 2019.
The records' front and back sides were 33.3 RPM. Both were recorded on the front and back sides. Each side was noted as “A Juro Celebrity Record, Jimmy Nelson's Instant Ventriloquism.”
The front side was designed to educate the reader the art of ventriloquism for the beginner. Much practice was provided. The back side of the disc provided much text to help the learner become a ventriloquist. This required constant practice. Likewise, the back side of the disc was more in-depth and provided even more practice.
Side 1 provided for much text so as to become highly proficient, thus allowing new ventriloquism ample practice. Side 2 was a little different from Side 1 as the focus is to provide much practice.
The alphabet was not like the one we were used to. It used a different alphabet with the following letters: ACDGDGHIJKLNOQRSTUVX and Z. Much redundance was required to substitute one letter for another in an attempt to befuddle the audience. Some letters can be changed easily, while others are essentially impossible.
Side 2 was likewise a challenge to make the wannabe ventriloquist say something different from what the audience heard or thought they heard. This took a sizable quantity of rehearsing to achieve a degree of “ventriloquism.”
Much practive and preservation was required at this point; it took much perseverance. Even though I confusingly used the above alphabet letters, I had to learn how to confuse my audience.
This week, I played my two-sided record to get a feel for how a ventriloquist can become so proficient. Thirteen bands are put to practice on a daily basis. Dummies Danny O'Day and canine Farfel are the key to learning ventriloquism and graduating the course. Ventriloquism today is much of a lost art, though Jeff Dunham leads the pack by entertaining large arenas of fans.
Reach Bob Cox at [email protected] or go to www.bcyesteryear.com.