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Ventriloquists speak out for their cause at Double Talk 2014 family show

Tony Award-winning ventriloquist Jay Johnson will headline “Double Talk 2014,” a family show to benefit Vent Haven Museum, the world’s only museum dedicated to ventriloquism. Johnson won the Tony for his Broadway show, “The Two and Only,” and earlier starred on the 1970s sitcom “Soap” with his sidekick Bob.

Tony Award winner Jay Johnson will headline Double Talk 2014, a fundraiser for the Vent Haven Museum. He's working here with Bob.
Vent Haven Museum
Jay Johnson will headline "Double Talk 2014," a fundraiser for the Vent Haven Museum.
Vent Haven Museum

“Double Talk 2014” will also feature ventriloquists Jake LaMarca, Denny Baker, and David Turner. The show will be 3 p.m. July 20 at the Notre Dame Academy Performing Arts Center in Park Hills, Ky., about a mile from the museum in in Fort Mitchell, Ky. ., just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati,

The annual Vent Haven convention will be July 16-19 at the Cincinnati Airport Marriot. The event is the world’s oldest and largest gathering of ventriloquists.

Fort Mitchell is Vent Central because William Shakespeare Berger took a shine to a dummy on a New York business trip in 1910. The Cincinnati tile salesman bought Tommy Baloney in New York and brought his home to Greater Cincinnati. By 1925, he was collecting in earnest and performing as an amateur.

Soon, the dummies were edging the Bergers out of their Bluegrass home, then their garage and then a second building. Berger set up a charitable foundation to keep this pals together after his death.

Today, Tommy Baloney, all big brown eyes and cherry lips, still greets visitors to the museum, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. He shares the cramped space with Skinny Hamilton and mascot Jacko. Jacko was built, with real rabbit fur, by legendary figure makers George and Glenn McElroy.

All together, the museum now has 827 dummies, and it’s still growing through donations and bequests.

Some standouts:

  • Jeff Dunham, who sells out arenas with his ventriloquism, has given a version each of Walter, Peanut and Jose Jalapeno.
  • Paul Winchell was a hit with sidekicks Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff. Winchell is less well known as the inventor of the first artificial heart. He held 30 patents, including those for such current everyday staples as the retractable ballpoint pen and disposable razor.
  • Visitors of a certain age will recognize replicas of Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, made from Edgar Bergen’s original molds. The trio was on radio, improbably, for 19 years before moving to TV and movies.

When you go

Vent Haven Museum leads guided tours May-September. 859-341-0461.

The annual Vent Haven Convention is July 16-19 in Northern Kentucky, followed on July 20 by Double Talk, the annual show and fundraiser.