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Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy

While perusing some of my old magazines recently, I came across an old Readers Digest that was of particular interest to me. I don’t remember where it came from, but I think I bought it at a flea market sometime in the distant past. Anyway, it was a March 1938 edition of the magazine, the year and month of my birth. I was excited to see that magazine again and read some of the stories included in it.
As I looked at the content page, an article caught my eye. It was a story titled “Bergen’s Brazen Blockhead.” Of course among us older folks we remember that famous duo of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, but mention them to one of the younger generation and you would probably get a blank stare back at you. I’ve been more than amused at the hilarious exchange between Bergen and his wooden dummy, Charlie. Bergen was not the very best ventriloquist in my view but he made up for it by being a great showman. Ventriloquism is the art of “throwing one’s voice.” In other words making your voice seem to be far away or to project upon another person or object and in the process not move the lips or throat muscles.
While Don Rickles is often thought of as the king of insult comedy, Charlie was not above throwing a few barbs and when he did it laughter followed. The use of dummies goes back thousands of years. Reportedly, Bergen made Charlie’s wooden body but a doll carver made the head from Bergen’s charcoal cartoon of a Chicago newsboy he knew.
Bergen was born Edgar John Berggren on February 16, 1903, in Chicago, Illinois. He died on September 30, 1978 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are three versions of Charlie McCarthy. One is in the Smithsonian Institution; the second occupies a place of honor at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. Magician David Copperfield who bought it at auction for $110,000 owns the third. “The Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy Show ran from 1937 until 1956. Bergen retired at the age of 75. His final show in Las Vegas was packed, and he received six standing ovations. His closing line reportedly was “Every vaudeville act must have an opening and a closing, so I’ll pack up my jokes and my little friends and say goodbye.” Along with Charlie, Bergen had other dummies. One of my favorites along with Charlie was Mortimer Snerd. I remember his often quoted line: “Yap, That’s the Way it Goes.”
Edgar Bergen and his little friends brought laughter to folks through radio and television for many years. Bergen began in Vaudeville, continued on Radio and closed out his career in Television.