Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Visit to Tom Ladshaw's "Museum"

A few weeks ago I took a drive to visit my friend Tom Ladshaw at his home in Covington, KY.

Tom Ladshaw with Stanley Hillman

As you may know, Tom is not only a professional magician, ventriloquist, comedian, author, publisher and creator of tricks and props, but he is recognized around the world as perhaps the most knowledgeable historian when it comes to anything pertaining to ventriloquism.

He has also been an avid collector of ventriloquism related items for over 30 years.

I knew Tom owned a sizable collection (based on the huge quantity of rare collectibles he brings to the Vent Haven Convention each year) and I was very excited to see what other goodies he had in store for me to see at his home.

I was nowhere near prepared as to what I was going to see.

Upon entering Tom's home, I first noticed many framed original movie and promotional posters on the walls.

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Then we headed down to his basement. Wow. My jaw literally dropped when we got to the bottom of the staircase. Tom's basement has been completely refinished and turned into what can only be called a museum. Everything meticulously organized and extremely well lit on walls and shelves.

He could charge admission to this place!

Walls filled with framed pictures, playbills and more posters. He owns more than 100 vintage and antique posters dating back to 1841.

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There are shelves filled with nearly every ventriloquism book, pamphlet and catalog ever published. Tom has over 100 figuremaker catalogs from nine countries dating back to the 1880's and nearly 800 books from more than 20 countries dating back to the late 1700's.

He also owns the original set of the lead-type individual letter mechanicals which were used to hand-set and print Frank Marshall's 1931 catalog.

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An entire wall of Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd antique items:

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Another wall containing vintage toys, games, hand puppets, records and much more:

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Then, of course, there are the figures in Tom's collection. He has dozens and dozens of figures - both on display and in storage.

Figures by Marshall, Insull, Gilmer, Claassen and many others. Tom really searches for figures that are in as near mint of a condition as possible. Look at these great photos:

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Tom's collection also includes Ronn Lucas' very first "Buffalo Billy" (made by Ronn himself) and an extremely unusual and rare Frank Marshall figure with control levers made of coin silver and a body jointed like a humans.

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And, just take a look at Tom's collection of Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead puppets:

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Vent Haven Museum curator Lisa Sweasy joined Tom and myself for a very enjoyable lunch and then I spent the rest of the afternoon just talking with Tom about great ventriloquists of the past and present.

Tom also has an extensive video library of many performances of vents and we watched several of those.
I was originally thinking I'd be out of town heading for home by 4pm, but we were having such a good conversation that when I looked at my watch it was after 6pm.

It was one of the most enjoyable days I've had in a long time.
Thanks Tom.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Lesson From Jeff Dunham

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I had the great pleasure of going to see Jeff's show last night at the beautiful Emens Auditorium in Muncie, Indiana. The theater seats 3800 people and Jeff sold out two shows, as he continues to roll across the country.

My wife Cheryl attended with me and we met up with pro magician, vent, author, ventriloquism historian and all around funny guy, Tom Ladshaw.

This was a college venue so Jeff was playing to a great crowd. It was also "Parents Weekend" at the university and at one point Jeff made the comment after a joke, "That would have gotten a lot bigger laugh if you weren't sitting next to your parents."

We only had a few minutes to chat backstage between shows and then my wife, Tom and I went out for a late dinner. It's always a real treat to spend time talking with Tom. This guy is a virtual encyclopedia when it comes to anything vent (or pretty much anything else, for that matter).

Jeff's show was very good. I have seen his show many, many times over the years and never grow tired of watching a real professional work. There was a lot of new material in the act, which will be on his new Christmas DVD, which is scheduled for release on November 18th.

You can pre-order the DVD at this amazon.com link now:


Jeff has a lot of other REALLY cool things in the works, which I won't go into here as to not let the cork out of the bottle.

While I indeed laughed a lot at Jeff's routine, I found myself watching more last night from the perspective of a ventriloquist/entertainer and studying what Jeff does to really just kill the audience night after night. Jeff has so many great characters.

This leads to a good topic of discussion.

How many puppet characters should you have in your show? I've seen performers who have literally a half a dozen or more dummies and puppets they use in their show.

And, I've seen some very good acts that only use one or two characters. What's the answer?

You should only use as many characters as you can develop a unique personality for. Period.

Remember the comment above about the performer who had over six figures and puppets he used in his show? Well, they all sounded the same. Their mannerisms were the same. The manipulation was the same. In other words, ONE puppet would have been sufficient for this performer.

You MUST have a completely different personality, voice, attitude and mannerisms for all of your puppets. And, just as important, those characteristics need to be different and a contrast to your own personality. The wider the gap you can create between your personality and that of the puppet, the greater the illusion of life with your characters.

This is what makes Jeff such a great ventriloquist and performer. Walter, Peanut, Jose, Achmed, Melvin, etc. all have completely different voices, personalities and character traits. And, those characteristics are different than Jeff's personality.

This is key to making the audience forget that the puppets are not living beings.

So, videotape yourself performing with your different puppets. Watch the video and be honest with yourself. Close your eyes and just listen to the sound. Do all of your puppets sound about the same?

Now watch the video with the sound turned down. Do all of your puppets move about the same? Do they interact with you about the same?

Finally, just watch yourself and see how you react, move, etc. while the dummy is talking. Then watch just the puppet and see how it reacts when you talk.

These movements, actions and reactions should be automatic. That's how you create life in your puppet. And it only comes with practice and experience.

If you see you need improvement in these areas, head back to the practice room and really take the time to develop a unique personality and voice for all of your puppets.

Thanks Jeff and Tom for a great evening. (OK, you too Brian and Robin).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

2008 Vent Haven ConVENTion a huge success!

Well, I just returned from the 2008 Vent Haven International Convention last weekend. Man, what a great time. I think this was one of the most fun conventions I've been to over the past 27 years.

I saw a lot of great friends and made new ones. Over 440 people attended this year, which says how dedicated this group of people are, with gas prices being so high right now.

"America's Got Talent" winner Terry Fator was there and performed. I can tell that his Vegas show is going to be a real hit. Terry donated $10,000 to the Vent Haven museum!

with Terry Fator

Another highlight for me was that at the 2nd annual auction for a private midnight tour of the Vent Haven museum with Jeff Dunham, a group of 6 of us who teamed up to bid won the auction.

So, we went to the museum and took as much time as we wanted to go through all of the buildings and see all of the figures. Jeff also donated $10,000 to the museum this year.

with Jeff Dunham at the Vent Haven Museum midnight tour

I've posted some pictures of the convention here:


If you've never attended the convention, you're missing out on a LOT of information and fun. Put it on your calendar for next year NOW, and start saving.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vent Legend Bill DeMar Releases His Greatest Secret

I'm sure a lot of you have heard of ventriloquist legend Bill DeMar. He has been a professional performer for nearly 60 years.

For 50 years he has performed his version of a "Tape Over the Mouth" routine. It's been the most unbelievable part of his act for decades.

With Bill in semi-retirement, he has decided to release a very limited number (only 50 worldwide) performance licenses and the secret to this routine.

Find out all of the details by going here:


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dunham Continues to Roll...

This past Thursday, March 27th, I had the pleasure of seeing Jeff's show in Mansfield, Ohio.

It was sold out (as are nearly all of his shows on this "Spark of Insanity" tour).

I had a chance to take a look at his tour bus. It is one of those huge Prevost tour coaches like you see rock stars traveling in. He had a custom workshop area built into it to work on figures as he travels across the U.S. Very nice. I told Jeff he must be doing really well with his Amway business.

The show was hilarious.

He and Peanut had a great 15 minute ad-lib session with a guy on the front row who was a police officer for 23 years and then changed careers and became a male nurse.

Jeff and Peanut had a field day with the guy and his story of switching careers.

Plus a lot of fun stuff from Walter, Jose and Achmed.

His set ran close to 2 hours!

"Guitar Guy" Brian Haner did headliner material himself during the opening act portion of the show. Very funny guy. He's also one of the best guitar players I've ever heard. He talks comically about his 30+ year career in music as he plays pieces of popular songs from the 1960's to today.

His son is the lead guitar player in the hit metal band Avenged Sevenfold.

A lot of new material from Jeff as he hones in on the stuff he is going to tape for a Christmas TV special being recorded this summer in time for a holiday release.

Jeff is a lesson in ventriloquism and showmanship just by watching him perform.

I also had a chance to visit with vent Kimberly Yeager, who lives in Mansfield, and was at the show.

Kimberly Yeager and Lee at Vent Haven 2007

On another note, thanks to all of you who invested in Ken Groves new show business course.

There was a good response to my post last week, and I'm sure all of you who purchased it will get a lot out of the information.I do have a handful of the original quantity Ken sent me.

If you have not picked up a copy yet, you can read about it here:


There's nothing like it on the market.

Vent Haven Convention 2008 is fast approaching. It's July 16-19. Go to http://www.venthaven.com/ for more information and to download a registration form.

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Lesson in Performing

I just returned from a week long cruise to the Caribbean with my wife late last night.

Last week was our 15th wedding anniversary, so I thought taking her on a vacation away from the day to day home routine would be a great gift. We left the kids at grandma's and we had a wonderful time. Perfect weather all week.

I also realize that people from all around the world who were on the cruise know the hilarious and always uproarious laughter producing line I hear at least once a week, "How's the weather up there?" (Please. Stop. My side. The pain).

The cruise ship has a large theater and there is some sort of stage show every evening. Friday night was the final show of the week and the closing act was a comedy magician by the name of Chad Chesmark.

Chad Chesmark

It was the first time I'd ever seen his show. And, I'd never heard of him before this past week.

OK, why am I writing about a magician in a ventriloquism blog?

To make a point. Good comedy entertainment DONE RIGHT in any field (ventriloquism, magic, standup, whatever) is critical to being a performer that is in demand.

Let me mention right up front the most important feature of Chad's show.


It was obvious that Chad has worked very long and hard at learning how to be funny first.

His tricks were good. But he did not do any super fancy sleight of hand tricks or amazing stage illusions. He did some tricks that I know how to perform. But, Chad WAS ORIGINAL with the presentation of his tricks. And, HE WAS FUNNY.

He looked, dressed and acted like a pro from the minute he walked out onto the stage. He had the audience laughing 10 seconds into the show.

He looked at the audience and moved around with a lot of energy and exuded a lot of personality from the stage. He did not stare down at his shoes and speak in a timid voice.

He smiled a lot and looked as if he was having a great time - even though I'm sure he does this same show night after night.

HE WAS FUNNY. HE WAS ORIGINAL, even without elaborate tricks.

As he was going from one trick to the next, he had very FUNNY, conversational patter that made the tricks seamlessly flow one into the other.

He just didn't do one trick, say thanks, do another trick, say thanks, do another trick..like so many "performers" do.

He had a logical connection using humor and being FUNNY going from trick to trick.

His act was very well rehearsed and fine tuned so that all of his routine was very strong.

I love good comedy, whether it be magic, ventriloquism, whatever. However, I more often than not see shows where the performer has not perfected (nor tried to perfect) the things that Chad has worked on and does so well.

During Chad's show I was laughing out loud, which I rarely do unless the comedy and performance are really top notch.

Are you funny, original and present yourself on stage as a comfortable, professional performer? How often do you practice? Be honest if you really want to get better.

Or, are you like the majority that practices very little and just strings a bunch of unrelated jokes together?

I'm sure Chad received a lot of compliments after the show from the audience (myself included), and he will be asked back to perform again by Royal Caribbean.

Will you be asked back to perform again for the group you next perform for? Or will folks politely say "nice job" and walk away as you think to yourself "Man, I killed tonight."

Think about it.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Lee with 2 great figures

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OK. So they are not ventriloquist "figures." But still fine figures indeed.

My wife's (Cheryl, the blonde on the right) birthday is on New Year's Eve. Every year we go out to a really nice restaurant to celebrate.

This year, her best friend Cecily did not have any dinner plans. So, Cheryl asked me if I minded if she invited her to join us.

After struggling for seconds with the decision of having dinner with two beautiful (OK...Hot) women, I finally agreed. I made that sacrifice for my wife.

You can see by the photo, however, how truly miserable I was all evening.

All kidding aside, I want to wish all of you a very prosperous 2008.