Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Truth About Ventriloquist Bill DeMar

Quite a title for a blog post, don't you think? I mean, who doesn't want "the truth?" What deep, dark unknown tabloid secrets are going to be revealed?
I'm here to tell you my "truth" about performer, ventriloquist, magician, impressionist, author and comedian, Bill DeMar.
Some of you know who Bill is. A lot of you don't.
If you are a member of the Yahoo email group "Worldvents" you know that sometimes Bill causes a little  "friction" on that forum by posting topics dealing with vitamins, politics, religion and some other things that you wouldn't think would be topics of discussion on a list about ventriloquism.
But he also posts a TON of funny material, tips, hints, techniques, ideas, etc. from knowledge and experiences he has accumulated over a performing career that spans 65 years.
Some of his posts, I believe, are messages he forwards on - not just to Worldvents, but to others as well, not really thinking about what he is doing. Other times he posts some controversy to make vents think outside of the box to translate some of the "you can't talk about that" material into comedy to build a script or bit around.
I'm sure Bill won't mind me telling his age. He's 81 and will be 82 in November. I always remember his birthday because he and my Dad (who passed away in 2006) share November of 1931 as the month and year of their birth.
Here's the deal. In the world of ventriloquism, Bill DeMar is a living legend.
Jeff Dunham spends some time talking about Bill's influence on him when he was a young up and coming vent in his book "All by Myselves."
I first saw Bill perform at my very first Vent Haven Convention in 1981. He was the closing act for the "All Star" Saturday night show. I sat there in awe as he made character after character come alive during his routine. I had never seen such a master at creating a personality, vocal technique, perfect technical skill, and most of all, the most fluid and smooth puppet manipulation ever.
There was actually an award given at the convention for a few years called the "Bill DeMar Manipulation" award. I believe Jeff won it more than once.
Years after that convention, the only things that still stand out in my mind are seeing a 19 year old Jeff Dunham perform and knowing, even then, that he was going to be a big star someday, and Bill DeMar's performance. That's how big of an impression he made on me.
In his prime, there was not a more talented working ventriloquist than Bill DeMar. No one. If you ask any of his peers who knew Bill in those days (Jimmy Nelson, Sammy King, Jerry Layne and on and on), I would wager that they would agree with me.
In 1999 or so, I joined an earlier incarnation of Worldvents (I can't recall it's name) and then was an original member of Worldvents. I got to know Bill through that first email list. We became friends and over the years we released several items (DVD's, books, etc.) all showcasing Bill's knowledge and talent. I felt it important to make these resources available for future generations of vents.
Some of the younger ventriloquists getting interested in the art today think Jeff Dunham and Terry Fator invented ventriloquism. I admire greatly both Jeff and Terry and their extreme talents, as well as other pros working today - Jay Johnson, Nina Conti, Ronn Lucas, Dan Horn and a whole list of others.
But Bill has to be included in that group of top pros back in his day. He played in every venue imaginable doing multiple shows a week and / or in a day for over 40 years. He performed all over the US and outside of the country as well.
I urge you to learn from the great vents of the past. Absorb all you can about the rich history of ventriloquism, which I realize I've now been involved with for over 45 years.
That's why there are events like the convention and more recently the "Double Talk" shows. It's to make money to keep the Vent Haven Museum running, updated and allow the history of ventriloquism to live on.
Sure, the convention is a fantastic chance to meet other ventriloquists, see great shows, attend workshops, peruse the dealer's rooms and just have fun.
But the bottom line is that it's all to preserve and add to the history of ventriloquism at the museum.
I often find that people are more interested in getting their 10th dummy that they'll never do anything with, than to delve into the history of this unique art form. That makes me a bit sad.
I had people come up to my dealer's table at the convention in July and had no idea who Edgar Bergen, Paul Winchell, Willie Tyler, Jimmy Nelson, etc. were as I tried to talk a little "history" with attendees.
Bill DeMar falls in that category to a degree. I would venture to say that 80% of the people who attend the convention walk right by Bill and have no idea who he is. Especially the new attendees.
He never became "famous" but was a top notch professional in every sense of the word and worked continually for over 50 years.
People will read one of his "controversial" posts on Worldvents and wonder who this Bill guy is who sends these emails.
Bill has so much knowledge in regards to his craft. He's always been more than willing to answer questions from all folks who approach him at the convention, call or email him. He loves to share what he has learned over the decades.
He's a goldmine of information! Sit down with him and ask your most difficult questions as they pertain to ventriloquism, showmanship, manipulation, being funny, choosing a character, staging your show or selecting a voice.
Let me get off my soap box and just repeat - Bill DeMar is one of the best ventriloquists/entertainers I've seen in my lifetime. Take advantage of his wisdom while you can.
And, if you haven't been a student of the history of the great and not so great vents of the past, start changing that today. It's the history that's kept me in love with ventriloquism all these years. All of the other great and wonderful stuff - performing, the friendships, the convention, the figures, are all icing on the cake.
BONUS - AS PROMISED: Bill mentioned recently that he performed a soliloquy with his Frank Marshall figure, Chuck Norwood, as part of his act many years ago (I saw it performed in 1981). Here is a link to a video of that 6 1/2 minute bit:
Tell me you don't get choked up by the end of it and I won't believe you. Chuck is alive during those nearly seven minutes.  Bill was an absolute genius and  master at what he did. The footage is over 30 years old and not anywhere near the quality that today's digital video cameras produce, but you'll still feel the emotion of this routine.
I didn't intend to use this blog post as a pitch for Bill's products, but I feel I do a disservice by not reminding you that I do have his DVD's and books on my website at:
Just click on the "Other Videos" and "Books" tabs and scroll down until you find Bill's items.
We've produced videos on manipulation (his #1 forte), highlight performance and show DVD's, his biography and his teaching video where he covers pretty much everything he knows about ventriloquism and show business.
He's also authored or co-authored two books. One, "Ventriloquism and Related Subjects" teaches the art, and second, an amazing script book written by Bill and Tom Ladshaw, "The Ventriloquial Script Sourcebook." Any and all of these resources can help you be a more complete and funnier performer.
If I had to choose, I'd probably invest in very first video I produced for Bill using old clips he had on VHS video tape. The video (now on DVD) is "The Bill DeMar Show." It's almost 2 hours of live bits and routines Bill performed over a 20 year period. Watch it once and then turn the sound down and just watch the interaction Bill has with his puppets. They ALWAYS look alive. Perfection. It's a lesson in itself watching Bill's technique.
So, for those of you who don't know Bill (and even those who do), cut him a little slack on Worldvents. And Bill, if you're reading this (and I know you will), be a bit more selective on the content you post on Worldvents...
The value Bill provides to the list far outweighs some of the "questionable" posts he makes. It all depends on how you look at it.
Thanks Bill, for making me a better ventriloquist and performer.

In closing:
1). There is a God.
2). Both political parties are corrupt and are destroying the Constitution.
3). CoQ10 helps support the cells of your heart, brain and nervous system.
Oops. Hope I didn't tick anyone off.
Thanks for reading. Leave a comment.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fantastic Ventriloquist Show Coming in September!

Just a quick note to remind you about a terrific ventriloquist
show coming up in just a few weeks! It's "Double Talk" 2013.

This year featuring world famous Ronn Lucas and his one man

This is the second year for Double Talk. Last year there were
two performances and both shows were very well attended.

This year there is only ONE show - at 3pm and I expect the
show to sell out. Ronn is one of the top vents working today.

You may have seen him on The Late Show with David Letterman,
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, L.A. Law and many others.

He was also voted "The World's Best Ventriloquist" by the
New York Times.

This is a show you don't want to miss if you are in the area!
Or make a little road trip to see this amazing talent.

You can find out all of the details here and order tickets:

The show is sponsored by the Vent Haven Museum - the only
museum in the world dedicated to the art of ventriloquism.
But, if you're reading my blog, you probably know that

Proceeds from the show go to help maintain and support
the museum.

Hope to see some of you there!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Throw your voice for 50 cents!

Click the picture for larger image
While I remember the "classic" ads for ventriloquism products in old comic books and magazines as a kid, I had forgotten about this one...found it in a box of my stuff that was at my moms house. It's for a product called the "Venthrillo." The ad was in a "House of Mystery" DC comic book from 1973. Just look at all of the amazing things it can do...all for 50 cents. Sold through the Abracadabra Magic Shop in New Jersey (in this ad anyway). And notice the target audience...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Memories of Clinton

As many of you know, we've lost a true champion of ventriloquism.

Clinton Detweiler passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday, January 22nd of an apparent heart attack.

When I heard the news, I was in total shock. I had just exchanged emails with him the day before and he was his usual positive, busy as ever self. It's taken me a couple of days to accept the news and I'd like to dedicate this blog post to him.

Clinton was a great friend and mentor to me for over 30 years.

When I was nine years old, I saw that little ad in the back of Popular Mechanics magazine (that so many of us did when we were kids) that advertised the Maher Home Study Course in Ventriloquism.

At that time, Maher Studios was still being run by Fred Maher's wife, Madeleine (Fred had passed away several years before). Clinton wouldn't purchase the business from Madeleine until a few years later in 1969.

I asked my Mom if I could get the course, and at the time, I believe, there was a payment plan option. I took a few of the lessons and then for whatever reason, never completed the course during those childhood years.

I still maintained my love of ventriloquism, did learn how to be a ventriloquist and started doing shows when I was around thirteen.

Then in 1975, I ordered a catalog from Maher Studios, with Clinton, Adelia and son Kevin now at the helm of the business.

That catalog was read cover to cover many times and I would write to Clinton to ask about puppets and other items in the catalog. He always took the time to reply and was always willing to provide whatever information I asked for.

In 1979, I decided to finish the Maher course that I started when I was nine. Clinton had revised and updated the course and it was during the study and completion of the lessons that Clinton and I became friends. That friendship continued for over thirty years.

He helped me find my first professional figure when I told him what I was looking for - an Archie figure made by CJ Lovik that was no longer in production. He searched around with people he knew until he found one for me.

When I launched Ventriloquism on the Internet in 1997, Clinton never considered me a competitor. He was always happy to promote new products I came up with and we communicated a lot over the years. He was such a generous man who went way above and beyond with any questions I had about vent, performing, puppets and on and on.

We spent a lot of time talking about how the Internet was changing the way people were doing business online, how folks were purchasing things on the web and tag-teamed on ideas to help both of our websites attract new customers.

That became harder to do as the web got bigger and people could find all kinds of "free" ways on the Internet to learn ventriloquism, find used puppets on eBay and other places to purchase vent materials. However, I always told Clinton that people get what they pay for and that those who "got it" and really wanted to learn EVERYTHING about ventriloquism and being a performer, that the Maher Course was THE gold standard in education.

I still believe that today.

One of my biggest thrills was when Clinton emailed me in 2002 and asked if I'd be interested in carrying his new Maher course, and substitute my Ventriloquism 101 video with the course instead of the great video by Mark Wade that was part of the original package. I sold the Maher / Ventriloquism 101 combo course from my site for almost 10 years. I'll always be grateful for that opportunity.

I honestly do not know of anyone who ever had anything but positive things to say about Clinton. His course taught thousands and thousands of people how to be a ventriloquist over the nearly 40 years he owned Maher Studios. And he personally helped every single student with any questions they had.

I always looked forward to reading each issue of his Newsy Vents publication, his blog - Mr. D's Daily Ventriloquist Journal - and was pleased anytime I heard from him.

I was also thrilled to see him on occasion at the Vent Haven Convention. I live in Indianapolis and Clinton was in Colorado, so I rarely had the opportunity to see him in person. But when I did, his warm smile and genuine interest in seeing me still makes ME smile.

I'm sure many others have the same memories of Clinton and how he always treated people right. And with honesty and integrity.

In my opinion, Clinton did more for ventriloquism in the past 100 years than anyone else. Sure there are some amazing performers like Jeff Dunham, Jay Johnson, Terry Fator and others who have made ventriloquism "cool" again to the masses. But no one had the attention day to day, year after year, decade after decade of people truly interested in ventriloquism than Clinton Detweiler. There is not even a close second.

His passing has left an empty place in the art of ventriloquism that I don't know that anyone will ever be able to step up and fill.

I am also saddened that Clinton will not be there to receive the accolades and much deserved recognition for his huge impact on the world of ventriloquism at this summers Vent Haven Convention. The theme this year is billed as "The Year of Maher: Celebrating Clinton and Adelia Detweiler." I hope the celebration of Clinton's life and contributions to the art are still a focal point of the convention. He's certainly earned them.

To Clinton, running Maher Studios, performing, teaching, writing his daily blog, building and repairing literally thousands of figures over the years was NEVER a job. It was what he loved to do. It was his passion...right behind the passion for his family and friends.

Clinton was a friend and mentor to a countless number of people over his long career in ventriloquism.

I will remember his kindness and what a genuine person he was. I saved a lot of emails between us over the past 10 years and will have those memories to re-live from time to time.

I will miss my friend. Rest in peace, Clinton...and thank you.