Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Christian ventriloquists: better than bad

Since those strange and tawdry days of Charlie McCarthy and (shudder) Jerry Mahoney, ventriloquism seems to have gone underground. It still shows up  on novelty shows like America's Got Talent (or Britain, or Ukraine, or Mongolia or wherever), an update of the old vaudeville show glorified in the '60s by Ed Sullivan.

Though the ultimate ventriloquist was Senor Wencez with his "hand puppet" (literally, a puppet made out of his hand, which is a device that still delights toddlers), I found a particularly juicy sub-genre of the art in Christian ventriloquism. Perhaps dogma sounds better coming out of the mechanical mouth of a wood-carven mutant.

Most of these poses are from record albums that enjoyed huge popularity (I nearly said "pup-ularity") in the 1950s and '60s. No doubt these were small labels, for how else would "Do You Know Jesus?" starring Uncle Les and Aunt Nancy Wheeler (Featuring Randy) find an audience?  Quite a few of these acts proclaim family relationships, mostly uncles and aunts who somehow produced a ball-jointed wooden robot with their contribution of DNA. And I have never been able to figure out how it is that a ventriloquist's dummy would work on a record album. It wouldn't matter if you moved your lips, for sure.

I can't help but notice that all these dummies look suspiciously alike. Creepy, I mean. That mausoleum look on the puppeteer's face is mighty strange, as if she's taking a day off from Madame Tussaud's. Both dummy and "manipulator" (the technically-correct term) seem to have the same hairdresser. (By the way, like harness-makers in the early 20th century, did the dummy-maker go into decline when audiences became more sophisticated? Or did they all flee to Bible camp?)

Then we have squicky little Marcy, who has so many albums that I had to pare it down to a couple. I can imagine she had a squeaky irritating voice as she prattled on about Jesus and salvation. The manipulator has perfect helmet-like Mary Tyler Moore hair, placing this somewhere in the early 1960s. I wonder if these records were discounted at Bible camp. I know they still show up in garage sales and thrift shops, eagerly snarfed up by collectors, else why would we be enjoying this display right now?

Marcy sings some more. Yikes. We see her standing up here, which is odd for a dummy, but I'm not sure the puppeteer has so much skill as to make her mouth move without any physical contact. That WOULD be squicky, if not downright supernatural.

Obviously a bargain basement record, with an incomprehensible cover. Why is it that all these things exude so much guilt? I guess because that's what religion is all about. There are many red arrows that say "AND" on them, and many grainy b + w photos of dummies, plus choirs. And, as it says in the upper left corner, it is all FUN.

Maybe the ick factor never even occurred to anyone back then, but the thought of Uncle "D" with a girl on one knee and a boy on the other, a huge Bible in front of them and stained glass in the background is alarming today. The "D" seems to indicate a suspicious anonymity, like something from an AA meeting where people are afraid to give their last name.

Oh, rapture! Grace and Wilbur Thrush have a whole family of gaudy dum-dums, not to mention furries such as you'd see in one of those bizarre conventions (and you can't tell ME that funny business doesn't go on in those). What's that on the left, a chess game? I'll have to blow this one up and try to get the details.


This is a very odd kind of biker ventriloquist act, with Butch and Suzi (both girls, I assume) sitting on Maralee Dawn's lap. This is an obvious pseudonym to hide her Angel Mama past. They all sit precariously atop a cardboard-cutout Harley, with the caption Featuring The Country Ridin' Preacher, which I won't even try to explain.

It's Sunday School pageant time, with a man dressed in his wife's bathrobe and a kitchen towel. His little disciple is no doubt meant to represent a shepherd boy of some sort. The title is hard to read, but it goes (as they say) something like this: Dan Butler and Louie tell the Bible Classics, Volume III.
No shit, VOLUME III! Volumes I and II must've been hot sellers at Bible camp, or maybe they gave them away free. I must try to track some of these down on YouTube. I need some religion about now to salvage this bizarre day before it sinks in a quagmire of wretched depravity.

I've saved the best until last: the inimitable Erick on the Rainbow label, which (believe me) does not mean the same thing now as it did then. Or maybe it did, who knows. Erick's routine is called Pastor Pickin', which sounds so sinister I don't want to go into it. 

My personal favorite. The seeming eroticism of this, the way their foreheads touch, the way they lean into each other, suggests a love that dares not speak its name, because it's not just interspecies, it's - well, what DO you call having a thing for a ventriloquist's dummy? I'm not sure there is even a word for it. It took me quite a while to realize that Erick and his manipulator Beverly Massagee are PRAYING together, that's all. I mean it. And it's on the Rainbow Label, too.

Psycho cycad

It started at Home Depot. No, it started in Hawaii, actually, when I saw a cycad the size of a barrel and became enchanted. It was the most primitive plant I had ever seen, with a prehistoric look to it. It had emitted a clusters of seeds, pink beanlike things that were just sitting there in the middle of it, so I took a handful of them, hoping to take them home and grow my own monster cycad. I left the seeds in the hotel refrigerator. Good thing, I might have been arrested for smuggling.

THEN came the Home Depot part. Amazingly, a couple of weeks ago I saw a cycad in a pot, about the size of a small pineapple. It had short thick spiky leaves and a whole lot of spiky things in the middle, about 3 inches tall. I thought it would probably die within a few weeks due to the wretched light in our house.

Almost immediately, the sucker began to grow. And grow, And GROW. These insane-looking, militant-looking frondlike things shot up out of the middle of it, at a rate of about two inches a day. They splayed all over the place and I had to keep moving the plant because it outgrew the space it was in. My cat is afraid of it and refuses to even sniff it.

I don't know what all this is leading to. I have a grapefruit tree growing in the front room (visible in the top left-hand corner of these photos) which I started growing in Hinton, Alberta, so far north that it gets dark at 3 p.m. in winter, with temperatures of minus 40 C. It began as a seed in my morning grapefruit THIRTY years ago, and today presides over the entire room. Some years it blooms modestly, with perhaps one small cluster of white flowers that drench the room with honeysuckle scent, and one year it presented me with one perfect, pea-sized grapefruit. It has gone through cycles of dying over and over again, losing most of its leaves, but then it will resurrect and put out a new branch that grows at least four or five inches a week. If you were patient enough, I think you could sit there and actually watch it grow.

I am afraid of this plant. I feel like Morticia Addams feeding that carnivorous thing she kept in the greenhouse alongside the dead-headed roses. I don't know what it eats, actually. Has anybody seen the cat?

The art of juju

Just a little bit of something I had lying around the house. No, actually I made it. This is my very first functioning juju doll. Though it's hard to see, there are "instructions" wrapped around his waist which are very explicit.

This was an experimental model with its heart outside of its body. The face, however, is completely accurate. It needed accessorizing, so this is also my very first functioning noose. These are surprisingly easy to make. I can do it in my sleep now. Use hemp or sisal or jute twine for these, not yarn. They need a bit of stiffness.

I did not photograph my dolly, but ran it through the scanner, providing weird effects, made even weirder by using photoshop filters such as posterize, saturation, lightness, etc. And darkness.

Some of these came out quite abstract, but I promise you these are the same photos. This doesn't happen often and means the photos have certain properties that are hard to explain.

Invert. Looks almost like those black velvet paintings sold at gas stations in the 1980s.

The Nijinsky of juju dolls! Note his form as he leaps through the air. Almost weightless.

Closeups, so you can see the devil's handiwork.

Be nice to me. Okay?

"You had me at hello"

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