Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ventriloquism for Dummies

Howdy Doody Patent No 156,687 (1950)

In the late 18th century, a British entertainer named James Burns, known as "Shelford Tommy," persuaded a freight carrier to empty his wagon in order to search for a child whose cries for help seemed to be coming from inside the load he was hauling.

During the same period, when a York shoemaker was accused by fifty witnesses of having tossed a crying baby into the river, he defined himself in court by producing a second crying baby, which he then shockingly beheaded—but which, upon closer inspection, was shown to be only an inanimate doll.

Both Burns and the shoemaker were experts at ventriloquism, the act of making it seem that a voice or other sound has emanated not from ones own larynx, but from some other adjacent entity. A person who does this professionally is called a ventriloquist or "belly speaker," a coinage that comes from the merger of two Latin words, venter (belly) and loqui (to speak). More