Friday, June 6, 2014

Uncanny Valley

So I went out onto the Internets, as is my wont, looking for fodder.  Today, I thought it might be nice to have something suitably pensive on this 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Instead, what I found was this horror.  And it doesn't get much better from here on out.

It seems that in 1950, just six years - to the day - after the celebrated landing on the beaches of Normandy, an intrepid photographer documented the unveiling of what was meant to be another addition to the stable of beloved characters belonging to the nation's most celebrated ventriloquist, Mr. Edgar Bergen.

Insofar as he is still known today for anything other than being the father of Candice, Edgar Bergen is remembered as the creator of Charlie McCarthy, the almost freakishly popular pop-culture phenomenon who dominated the radio dial in the '30s and '40s (what to make of the idea of a radio ventriloquist is a whole 'nother story, but that's neither here nor there).  Bergen had other personae - Mortimer Snerd is still fondly remembered in some limited circles - but today's subject?  Not so much.

Ladies and gentlement, meet Miss Podine Puffington:

Ventriloquism is odd enough; somehow, the idea of a girl ventriloquist's dummy seems infinitely more so.

Unlike Charlie, who was comfortably lap-scaled, Podine was the height of an actual (petite) woman.  That first picture up there is Bergen setting up the Podine body, preparatory to adding the head.  In the second shot, we see the rest of her, as it were.  Why the flunky is measuring her bust is a question best left to history.

If you're not entirely convinced that this was a less-than-stellar idea from any angle, the following film clips from Pathé should defintively put your mind at rest.  Even without sound (another paradoxical concept when it comes to ventriloquism, if you think about it), it's almost immeasurably creepy:

At best, it's like watching an old lech hit on Zombie Sonja Henie; at worst, it seems like outtakes from a surreally low-budget gorefest.  However much fun it all may have seemed at the time, Miss Puffington most decidedly did not enter the canon of mid-century radio or TV hits, and apparently after a Thanksgiving special the same year, she was rarely if ever heard from again.  I can't say that breaks my heart.

In fact, I may not sleep for a week. And it was for this that we stormed the beaches, kids.

Bonus Friday Edgar Bergen Fun Fact:  did you remember that he originated the role of Grandpa Walton in the original TV movie, The Homecoming?  I sure didn't...


  1. You really don't get much opportunity to use the phrase "zombie Sonja Henie" these days, do you?

    1. I am going to spend all next week trying to drop that phrase into conversation. Jx

    2. We look forward to a full report...

  2. It never ceases to amaze me that the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy act, a purely visual gag, found such success on radio! To me, it's one of the funniest reveals on my tour when we pass the studio from which it aired. Yet in three and a half years of giving the tour only two tour guests have caught on and asked with incredulity, "Ventriloquism....on the RADIO????"

  3. There's a internet site for those who are into this sort of thing
    somewhere, I'm sure.
    I'm too scared to look, however.