Man in tuxedo and top had stands next to and slightly behind a ventriloquist puppet with same outfit and monocle, both behind an NBC microphone. Photo Credit: Hennepin County Public Library

Photo Credit: Hennepin County Library

Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy

Ventriloquist comedian and puppet

Excerpts from the Ventriloquist Society:

Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen was born in Chicago in 1903. Named Edgar John Berggren, he was the youngest of five children to Swedish immigrants. At 16, Edgar met the famous vaudeville ventriloquist Harry Lester. Known as the Great Lester, the performer was impressed by Bergen’s self-taught skill in ventriloquism. He gave Bergen free ventriloquism lessons on an almost daily basis for three months.

Bergen ordered his first ventriloquist dummy in the fall of 1919. He paid Theodor Mack, a Chicago wood carver, $36 to sculpt the figure. There are several different stories surrounding the figure’s creation. Some say the likeness was of a rascally red-headed newspaper boy Bergen knew. Other stories claim the figure was inspired by a picture of a self-assured newsboy in a textbook. A third story says the figure was a model of a red-headed friend that Bergen knew when he was a child. No matter the story, the head that Mack carved became the world-famous Charlie McCarthy. Bergen constructed a body for McCarthy himself to save money.

Eventually, Bergen changed the look for ventriloquists by placing both himself and McCarthy in tuxedos. This sophisticated air and impertinent McCarthy drew accolades. They appeared in theaters and nightclubs across the country as Bergen’s fame grew.

Bergen and McCarthy appeared in vaudeville, on radio and in films and television until his death in 1978 at age 75. The pair have three different stars on Hollywood Boulevard for their work in radio, film and television.

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